Warm winter weather may come to stop

Is this ski season or golf season?

As recent rains and warm temperatures have melted away much of the snow in the area, community members are thinking spring.

Even the Moffat County road department has put away some of its heavy snow removal equipment and were seen Thursday using street cleaners to remove sand and debris from city streets.

The question is, what's with all the warm weather, including a high of 51 degrees Thursday?

According to Gary Chancey, a hydro-meteorological technician with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, the area has been staying warm because of a low-pressure system starting in the Pacific Northwest and a high-pressure system in the central plains, starting over Texas. This is causing a clockwise circulation of low pressure producing a warm flow over the region.

This has been a "stagnate situation for the past week" and is an "uncommon situation that is way above normal," Chancey said. But like all weather systems, a change is in store.

"Within 48 hours, it will turn colder and precipitation is likely," Chancey said Thursday.

Average high temperatures for January are about 22 degrees for this area and highs this weekend are expected to reach the upper 30s. The highest temperature recorded in January was 53 degrees.

FARMER'S ALMANAC PREDICTIONS

The tell-all weather forecaster, The Old Farmer's 2000 Almanac, says the region will be "colder and drier than normal with near- to above-normal snowfall" with the coldest temperatures "expected in late-December, January and mid-February." It also predicted an average temperature of 21 degrees (5 below average) and said temperatures will be sunny and cold. Sunny, yes, but the cold has been missing.

WATER LEVELS

According to the Office of the State Engineer in the Colorado Division of Water Resources,the Jan. 1 Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) indicated very low water supply conditions. The SWSI is used as an indicator of mountain-based water supply conditions in major rivers of the state and based on snowpack, reservoir storage and precipitation for the winter period.

The Yampa/White River Basins showed an SWSI of -2.5, in the range of a moderate drought and a positive change of 1.0 from Dec. 1.

Patti Halbert, district conservationist for the Natural Resource Conservation Office in Craig, agrees water and moisture are needed in the area.

"Rain would be good if it warms up enough (to unfreeze the ground)," Halbert said. "If it sits on top, it is not necessarily a good thing."

When it rains and the ground is still frozen, the water merely runs off, not allowing seepage into the soil. When snow covers the ground and the ground remains frozen, the moisture from the snow will seep into the ground in the spring, which is what farmers and ranchers are looking for, Halbert said.

Having no snow on the ground also affects vegetation. Snow cover protects plants and without the white shield, plants are susceptible to rain and eventual freezing.

FLOODS IN AREA

Flooding occurred in March 1998. Roads were washed out, homes were inundated and businesses were closed along Fortification Creek in Moffat County. This flooding was caused by warm temperatures at night and large, moisture-rich snowstorms moving through the area.

According to Moffat County Emergency Manager Clyde Anderson, the dikes are in good condition and flood dangers have yet to arise.

"We are not worried and see nothing to worry about now," Anderson said. "The rain and weather have not caused any problems."

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