Moffat County thirsty for rain

— Moffat County is hot, dry and not changing anytime soon. Most of the state has some type of drought classification, and all 4,751 square miles of the county are under a Class D3 drought warning, placing Moffat County in the "extreme" category.

Moffat County currently is under Stage 1 fire restrictions, and Moffat County Sheriff’s Department fire management officer Todd Wheeler briefed the county commissioners about the issue at Tuesday’s commissioner meeting.

There was no precipitation measured for all of June, which brought with it wildfires, dust storms and near record-setting temperatures that soared well into the 90s.

“There needs to be 4.67 inches of precipitation by the end of the (water) year to bring it up to normal,” warning coordination meteorologist James Pringle said. The water year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

Although April and May were wetter than average, the extreme heat and lack of precipitation in June have left the area around Craig 0.58 inch of rainfall short of where it should be by this time of the year.

That in itself is not enough to qualify for a drought classification, however. The combination of several indicators, including streamflow levels and soil moisture content, also are factored into the decision.

“It takes a while to get placed in a drought category,” Pringle said. “You have to fulfill multiple criteria, so just having drier soil or low precipitation levels doesn’t necessarily mean you are in a categorized situation.”

A drought officially was declared Jan. 10, 2012, and Moffat County has been plagued by hot, desiccated conditions ever since, greatly increasing the risk of wildfires.

The latest statewide update puts the total size of currently burning fires at about 1,450,282 acres.

“We’ve been really vulnerable, and it’s not taking a lot to spark these wildfires,” Pringle said. “The weeds and ground vegetation have dried out, and so fires can spread very quickly, especially with the high temperatures, low precipitation and low relative humidity.”

The Yampa River Basin currently has the highest storage levels in the state, running at normal streamflow, and so far, there isn't too much to be concerned about in Craig or Moffat County in part because water is drawn from multiple sources, all of which currently are at or near normal capacity.

“People might just want to be careful going to areas with a lot of dry vegetation,” Pringle said. “They need to watch what they’re doing so they don’t accidentally start a wildfire.”

Andie Tessler can be reached at 970-875-1793 or amtessler@CraigDailyPress.com

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