Arid weather remains in forecast
August 5, 2001
After a hot, dry summer that has caused wildfires to spark up throughout the area, weather experts have little hope that things will get better in the upcoming months, and are warning residents that they can expect much of the same in the near future.
“It’s going to be hot,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Jeff Colton said. “This summer has been a very hot one, which, coupled with the low amounts of moisture that have been seen in the Craig area and Northwest Colorado in general, has led to some of the results that have occurred throughout the northern-half of the state.”
Several wildfires have blazed throughout Northwest Colorado, the largest being the Mad Creek fire in the Routt National Forest and the Ecklund Complex fire in Dinosaur National Monument. Both fires are still burning. Their ignitions are attributed to lightning.
The average precipitation for the months of June and July is 2.51 inches, with June seeing an average rainfall of 1.14 inches and July hitting an average of 1.37 inches.
This year, .63 inches of rainfall fell on Craig in June, while July saw .91 inches of precipitation.
May saw the most moisture fall this year, with 1.57 inches of precipitation; however, a majority of that came in the form of snow, when 7 inches fell on May 3.
“Conditions just have not been favorable for the northwest part of the state,” Colton said. “Although May saw more precipitation than either June or July, it doesn’t help if it falls in the form of snow. We had 7 inches of it, which only really amounts to about 1 inch of precipitation. Early in the year, when it is still too moist for wildfire conditions, that really doesn’t make a huge difference.”
Also attributing to the arid conditions, which have been the cause of many of the area’s wildfires, is what meteorologists refer to as high-base thunderstorms.
High-base thunderstorms traditionally affect the western U.S. in dry areas, where low-level moisture is non-existent and precipitation does pass over, but does not reach the ground.
“They are the biggest problem that all of the dry areas in Colorado and the surrounding states have to deal with,” Colten said. “You’ll get these storms that produce a lot of wind and lightning, but not a lot of rain, and when you combine those two things, that can spell trouble.
“In a high-base thunderstorm, all of the precipitation evaporates before hitting the ground and the wind from the storm dries out the already dry plants. If you couple this with lighting strikes in these dry areas, which are fanned by the high winds that these storms cause, that is why the wildfires have been cropping up throughout the region.”
Residents who live in the southern half of the state haven’t seen the same problems that residents in the northern half have, something that can be attributed to the higher moisture levels that have fallen there this summer.
“South of Interstate 70, their moisture levels have been much higher than what we have seen here. From Craig to Vernal, Utah, it has been extremely dry and winds have picked up from time to time,” Colton said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as if it is going to get much better in the near future.”
According to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center (CPC), dry conditions will remain throughout the rest of the summer and early fall. Above-normal temperatures and low precipitation are once again in the forecast, creating the threat of wildfires until late September or early October.
“Until we see the first snowfall, fires are going to remain a threat,” Colton said. “But, based on the Climate Center’s predictions, we aren’t going to see any real heavy snowfalls until we get into October. That, however, can always change.”
According to Colton, the CPC makes predictions for 30, 60 and 90-day forecasts, and according to those, residents are going the keep seeing much of the same weather they have been over the last two years.
“We are not going to see much moisture until the snow starts falling,” he said. “Then, we are supposed to start seeing normal temperatures and normal precipitation in the area once again. It can start snowing here as early as September, when we see accumulations, but the heavier snows should hold off until early October.
“One of the main problems that we have this year is the fact that we are dealing with back-to-back years in which we have had dry conditions and high temperatures,” he said. “Because of that, the vegetation takes a beating, the winds are high and problems like the ones we have been seeing this year occur.”