When it rains it pours, and that’s exactly what it has done in Durango for much of September. The numbers tell the story, with precipitation totaling 2.68 inches since the first day of the month to Sunday, up more than 1.75 inches compared with last year, according to the National Weather Service.
Hazardous weather outlooks and flash-flood watches were issued for Southwest Colorado and southeast Utah during the weekend.
Late Saturday evening, a car was washed off U.S. Highway 160 near mile marker 29 in Montezuma County, and pushed into a ditch by water, mud and debris. No injuries were reported, according to the Colorado State Patrol.
Paul Frisbie, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the recent local moisture is significant.
“The departure from normal is very high,” Frisbie said comparing rainfall to past years. “It’s a very high number.”
A combination of weather systems have combined to create heavy moisture, he said, and the perfect set of circumstances has caused problems across the state.
“We’ve had a monsoonal surge and embedded in that was a tropical storm, plus there was low pressure in Nevada and Utah that has been driving the system for several days,” he said.
The weather service, has issued only a lower-level “flash-flood watch,” not a “flash-flood warning,” for the region. A flash-flood warning would be a signal to prepare for the likelihood of flash floods or severe hazardous weather.
While tremendous flooding has affected thousands of residents on Colorado’s Front Range, killing four and prompting mass evacuations, Southwest Colorado has seen minimal damage.
In Arboles, eight families were blocked from leaving their homes when a culvert beneath a private road collapsed, said Archuleta County Director of Emergency Management Drew Petersen. La Plata County has seen heavy rain, and small mudslides and debris slide near Durango West, according to reports from the Colorado State Patrol.
Local gardeners and farmers are pleased.
Elisa Sands, who works at Turtle Lake Refuge, a sustainable farm near Falls Creek, said the rain is fueling a bumper crop of tomatoes, mint, squash, corn, beans, strawberries and other produce.
“The farm is really happy,” she said. “Everything is soaking up the water really well. It looks like a jungle out there.”
Other locals and outdoor enthusiasts know how to turn adversity to advantage. Ryan McRorie, an owner, partner and guide with Heads Up Flyfishing in Durango, said anglers need not hang their rods because of the rain.
“Right now, I hear a lot from fly-fishers, and they take a look at the river, and it looks like chocolate milk, and they get discouraged, but the fish are still eating, and you can still catch fish,”McRorie said.
“Instead of fishing normal patterns in normal places,” he said, “now you shift to darker bugs, bigger bugs, and instead of fishing out in the middle of the river, they’re going to be closer to the sides in gentle water. We tell people to use stone flies, use a lot of weight because there is a lot of water pushing things down, he said.
McRorie is right. There is lot of water.
The Animas River was running at less than 300 cubic feet per second on Sept. 8, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. On Sunday, it was recorded gushing at 2,070 cfs. Lemon Reservoir, northeast of town, is currently up nearly 13 acre feet.
All this water spells fun for local rafters and boaters who see it as a second chance to get their fill of white water.
Ashleigh Diaz, who manages 4 Corners River Sports in Durango, said people are coming to gear up for another go during river season.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s an extended season. The whitewater section of the shop is booming. We enjoy the high water around here.”
While rain is still forecasted to linger into next week, the weekend marked the end of the major storm system, Frisbie said.
“It might not be clear-clear,” Frisbie said, but the rainfalls should lessen.
The weather service is calling for a few days of sunshine this week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, with thunderstorms keeping to higher elevations.