Durango and Southwest Colorado on Monday experienced what has been a rare sight this spring: dark skies and torrential downpours.
But the precipitation will likely be a temporary respite from the “exceptional drought” conditions that blanket the Four Corners.
“We are experiencing a low-pressure system that is centered over the Southwest United States, and it may sit into tomorrow,” said Megan Stackhouse, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “Unfortunately, it’s not going to bring a whole lot of precipitation; mostly what you got were some scattered afternoon showers.”
Stackhouse said she expected the low-pressure system to begin breaking up and moving off to the northeast on Wednesday.
Monday’s storm also brought lightning to the region, and firefighters were responding to several reports of single trees on fire, including on Middle Mountain north of Vallecito and in the HD Mountains east of Bayfield, said Richard Bustamante, fire management officer for the San Juan National Forest.
Federal firefighters are prepared for the dry conditions, he said. Aircraft is stationed at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, and a hot shot crew is in town that can be airlifted into remote areas, he said.
The potential for fire spread was minimal Monday, thanks in part to the increased moisture, Bustamante said. But firefighters will closely monitor the region for the next week, because lightning strikes can smolder for that long before wind whips them into wildfires.
“Usually after the front goes through, the potential for fire growth is minimal,” Bustamante said. “Some of them may not even show themselves until it starts drying out again.”
Sunny skies and a high-pressure system will be back by Thursday, Stackhouse said, with Friday’s high in Durango expected to be 84 degrees and Saturday’s high 86 degrees. Sunday may cool to the low 80s with the arrival of a few clouds but no precipitation.
Stackhouse said the next chance of precipitation in Southwest Colorado won’t come until June 1, with a Pacific storm possibly moving through the Four Corners, but it’s too early to be sure about the storm’s final path.
Since April, Southwest Colorado, as well as the entire Four Corners, has been listed in an “exceptional drought,” the most intense drought category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
As of Saturday, a weather station at Durango-La Plata County Airport had recorded just 1.39 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1. The historical average is 5.21 inches. By comparison, last year there were 5.40 inches in the same time period.