Flood advisory issued in Montezuma and Dolores counties as rain hits southwestern Colorado – The Journal

Durango recorded monthly highs for rain in June with 1.25 inches. (Durango Herald file photo)

Arrival of monsoon season offers hope, but firefighters remain on guard

The National Weather Service issued a flood advisory Sunday evening for Montezuma and Dolores counties, warning of potential flooding in low-lying areas and normally dry arroyos.

The advisory came after weather watchers reported heavy rain that quickly dumped 1 to 1.5 inches in the area. The flood advisory is in effect from 6:38 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

“Minor flooding is underway or expected to begin shortly,” the weather service said. Areas affected included Cortez, Mancos, Dolores, Dove Creek, Rico, Lebanon, Lewis, Arriola, Yellow Jacket, Cahone, Stoner, Towaoc and Dunton.

The evening rain came after previous rainfall on Sunday, which as of 5:55 p.m. had totaled 0.48 inches in six hours, according to the weather service.

Experts said the storms mark the start of the monsoon season in southwestern Colorado.

“There is no doubt that the monsoon season has started. For the monsoon, you need to have high pressure in a specific location that sucks in that moisture. You tend to have low pressure off the coast, and that brings all that moisture,” said NWS meteorologist Tom Renwick.

In Durango, a rainy month of June continued this week, with 0.67 inches of rain as of noon Sunday, bringing the month’s total to about 1.25 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

The Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrological Prediction Service measured 1.5 to 2 inches in northern La Plata County.

Pagosa Springs also had a few soggy days, receiving 1.19 inches and rising to 1.36 inches in June.

The National Weather Service forecast predicts a risk of thunderstorms throughout the new week. However, with the benefit of rain, storms bring the threat of wildfires.

“Where we really struggle with lightning is what we call ‘lightning effects,'” said Durango Fire Chief Hal Doughty. “That’s where a tree gets struck by lightning, and then it kind of stays there, and it might still be hot or smoky. But two or three days later, the wind picks up and it’s on again. dry.

Renwick said there was a strong chance of rain on Thursday. By the weekend, the storm will likely move into the northern San Juan Mountains.

“It looks like Tuesday and Wednesday are sort of down days. But then the high pressure sets in again over Texas, which is what we want for the monsoon humidity. So I would say more widespread precipitation on Thursday,” Renwick said.

On Thursday, La Plata County and the San Juan National Forest Service tweeted that fire restrictions had been reduced in Stage 1. However, a lack of rainfall in parts of La Plata County was still a concern. for firefighters.

“Conditions are probably improving quite quickly. But some areas of the county have seen very little precipitation with the storms we’ve had,” Doughty said.

Fire managers will assess fuels and weather conditions throughout the week.

To estimate the threat of wildfires, Doughty said, officials look more at the moisture content of vegetation than the amount of new precipitation. High fuel moisture means less risk of fire.

Fuel moisture is measured by weighing a sample of dead fuel, such as a stick, cooking the sample, and then measuring the weight of the sample again. The difference in weight determines the amount of moisture in the sample.

“The most dangerous fuels for us are light fuels like grasses and things like that because if a fire starts, the fire can go through them very quickly,” Doughty said.

Small combustibles, such as small sticks and grass, are considered 10 hour combustibles, while fallen trees are considered 1000 hour combustibles. The shorter the delay, the more sensitive the plants are to changing weather conditions, Doughty said. Officials check the moisture content of the fuel weekly to determine the potential fire hazard.

By rating 1,000-hour fuels, officials can estimate how certain trees will burn, Doughty said. Although larger fuels take longer to ignite due to their bulk, they have much more energy when ignited. Smaller fuels can spread quickly but have less energy.

Firefighters are always looking at the amount of combustibles in living trees as well as the amount of moisture in dead combustibles. Doughty said humidity levels may take some time to recover.

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