Dark clouds have hovered over the Craig area on several occasions this summer, but none so far have brought a significant amount of precipitation, leaving Craig residents and the land high and dry.
Heavy rain has not come to Craig in a while, but drought conditions in the area have lessened slightly in spite of the lack of precipitation. Many counties — including Routt County — have lifted fire restriction, but Moffat County still remains under Stage 1 restrictions.
After a bone-dry month of June, in which Craig recorded 0.0 inches of precipitation at a National Weather Service gauge at the Craig-Moffat Airport, July so far has not been much better. Through the 23rd of the month, there had been 0.05 inches of measured rain — still significantly lower than the norm.
However, the northwestern corner of the state, including Craig, has dropped from D3 extreme drought conditions to D2 severe drought conditions since the end of June, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Travis Booth, a forecaster for the NWS’s Grand Junction Station, said after a healthy April for precipitation and a normal May, the rain numbers have dropped off the table.
“Effectively May was near normal, then of course June was below normal,” he said. “It looks like at the airport (gauge) the deficit in rain (compared to the average) is about 2.05 inches from June 1 through July 23.”
According to NWS data, a normal June consists of 1.32 inches of rain, while July 1 through 23 is 0.78 inches.
Booth said while the hot temperatures, dryness and lack of rain over the past two months is a contributing factor to the current drought conditions, the drought is still also being influenced by the past couple of winters.
“Drought can be short term and long term, but in this case we’re probably dealing with both,” he said. “This past winter tended to be dryer than normal and the winter before that was dryer than normal. It’s a cumulative thing, the idea of drought.”
Northwest Colorado relies on the bulk of its moisture during the winter, with significant average snowfall numbers in December, January and February especially. When Craig gets precipitation in the summer, it comes primarily from monsoon conditions, Booth said.
“There is a wind-shift and moisture comes up from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California, then it mixes with the hot temperatures and creates the thunderstorms you see there,” he said. “It happens especially in Arizona and New Mexico but also makes its way up into Northeast Utah and Northwest Colorado.”
Those moistures that create consecutive days of thunderstorms have “not been widespread” in Northwest Colorado, Booth said, likely leading to the low rainfall numbers in the area. That could change soon, though. According to the NWS forecast for Craig, there is a chance for thunderstorms Saturday through Monday.
Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org