DENVER – Snowpack is well below normal, but close watchers of water, weather and fire in Colorado are heartened by healthy reservoir levels and short- and long-term forecasts of precipitation.
Justin Whitesell of the state’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control told other members of Colorado’s Water Availability Task Force at a regular meeting Wednesday that he expects the coming fire season to be normal. About 3,000 wildfires break out in a normal year, but Whitesell said they may be easier to put out this year because of moisture in the ground.
Whitesell said crews across the state have been setting controlled fires to get rid of debris to lessen the potential for dangerous blazes. Some people living in or near wilderness areas also are taking steps, such as clearing trees from areas near homes, to lessen the risks they face, he said.
After fires in 2012 destroyed hundreds of homes, forced thousands of people to evacuate and killed six, Colorado took steps to better prepare, including creating a new Division of Fire Prevention and Control for which Whitesell works.
Whitesell and other experts at Wednesday’s task force meeting had California on their minds, saying that while both Western states have grappled with drought for years, conditions differ. The rainy season for California, for example, is over, while Colorado’s is just beginning, said Colorado state climatologist Nolan Doesken.
Klaus Wolter, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher, added that storms expected this week could bring significant amounts of rain and snow to Colorado, and he has reason to hope for a wet summer monsoon season.
The most worrying update for the task force came from Brian Domonkos of the Colorado Snow Survey, who said snowpack as of Wednesday only was 58 percent of the median.
The snowpack is an important reservoir, but not the only one for Colorado. Officials from water providers across the state at Wednesday’s meeting predicted full dams and lakes.