A flash flood watch has been issued for Southwest Colorado from Friday night through Saturday afternoon as a strong storm moves into the region, raising concerns about debris flows off the 416 Fire burn scar.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction said the potent storm system will bring significant moisture and winds up to 50 mph to eastern Utah and Southwest Colorado during this time frame.
The flash flood watch applies to most Southwest Colorado communities, such as Durango, Bayfield, Ignacio, Hesperus, Cortez, Mancos and Silverton. And it could potentially cause debris flows off the 416 Fire burn scar.
“The flash flood threat poses the greatest risk for slot canyons, slick rock areas, normally dry washes, areas of steep terrain and over recent burn scars, including the 416 Fire,” the NWS said.
Scott Stearns, a meteorologist for the NWS, said a half-inch to an inch of rain could fall on the fire scar during this time.
Butch Knowlton, emergency manager for La Plata County, said crews will be closely monitoring the storm.
“There’s still potential for flooding after a major fire like that,” he said. “So anytime a storm potentially moves into the area, our concern and awareness is heightened. We’re prepared to move our equipment in and take whatever action may be necessary.”
The threat of flash floods on the 416 Fire burn scar is the new reality for residents north of Durango after the blaze consumed nearly 54,000 acres of mostly forested land in the Hermosa Creek watershed.
“It’s really nerve-wracking because if you’re in town and see rain clouds in the valley, you have to drop what you’re doing and dash back up,” John McLeod, who lives in the area, previously told The Durango Herald. “Because you have to be there to set the sandbags out and stay there until the storm passes.”
Soils burned in a fire no longer have the ability to absorb moisture, so there’s an increased risk of flash flooding, which happened in August and September 2018 when torrential rains damaged homes and businesses around Hermosa.
Recently, a $7 million project to protect homes and private property was nearing completion, fortifying about 45 properties with physical barriers, redirecting debris flows and constructing settlement ponds.
A temporary radar system that was brought in the last two years will not return this summer, Knowlton said. Efforts are still afoot to secure a permanent facility, as Southwest Colorado is considered a black hole in existing radar systems.
The storm is expected to arrive in the region sometime Friday night, and clear up by Saturday evening.