The sizzling heat in August and the first part of September has set records in Southwest Colorado, and the lack of moisture has increased the drought status from abnormally dry to moderate.
“Due to a failing monsoon season, our drought has returned,” said Jim Andrus, National Weather Service weather observer in Cortez. “Also noteworthy are our persistent above-average temperatures, which continue to set daily records.”
Durango tied four heat records in August and September, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record highs were set on Aug. 25 and 26 in 1985 (92 degrees); on Aug. 27, 2001 (91 degrees); and Sept. 4, 1995 (90 degrees).
In August, Cortez tied one record and set two others, according to records dating to 1929.
On Aug. 16, the high of 95 degrees tied the highs in 1951, 2013 and 2015. Cortez hit 96 degrees Aug. 21, breaking the previous record of 95, set in 1949. On Aug. 27, the high of 94 degrees broke the 2012 record of 93 degrees.
September is setting records as well, breaking three records in three days.
On Sept. 2, the high of 97 degrees beat the previous record of 96 from 1995.On Sept. 3, the high of 95 degrees broke the previous record of 93 in 1995.On Sept. 4, the high of 97 degrees broke the previous record of 95 set in 2017.The two 97-degree records are the highest September temperatures ever recorded in Cortez, Andrus said. Fourteen daily September high-temperature records have been set in the past six years.
Temperatures are expected to drop into the upper 70s and low 80s as cooler air drops in from the north in coming weeks, the Weather Service said.
Meanwhile, the Four Corners returned to drought conditions, and the threat of wildfire has increased.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows the Four Corners is in the D1 moderate drought category, and northwestern New Mexico is in the D2 severe drought category.
Fire danger is rated as high by the Cortez Fire Protection District and has been for several weeks, said Chief Jay Balfour.
There are no fire restrictions in Montezuma County or in the local national forest and Bureau of Land Management lands. Local fire chiefs and federal fire officials are meeting regularly to evaluate conditions, Balfour said.
Cortez firefighters are partnering with federal agencies to patrol for lightning strikes, and Balfour urged the public to be cautious with campfires and controlled burns.
“Controlled burns should be started early in the morning and be done by 11 a.m.,” he said. Do not burn on wind advisory and red flag days.
Controlled burns in Montezuma County must be reported in advance to Cortez dispatch at (970) 565-8441.
The Durango Fire Protection District has suspended all burn permits until further notice. The Durango fire district said agricultural burning is highly discouraged.