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Long Term Climate - Colorado

Summary of Climatic Conditions - June 2002

Nolan Doesken
Research Associate

Here is a brief summary of current climatic conditions and drought status as of Sunday evening, June 9, based on COAGMET, airport weather stations, CoCo RaHS, and whatever other data I could get my hands on.

Since I last wrote on May 31, we have had beneficial and widespread rains over eastern Colorado, but we have also had extreme heat and very low humidities. Today's dense smoke plumes are further evidence of our severe drought situation. It is not getting better.

The early heatwave last weekend (June 1-2) was brutal with 100 deg F + temperatures over much of southeastern and east central Colorado. COAGMET weather stations reported readings of 106 on June 1st in Kit Carson and southern Yuma Counties with 103-105 deg temps in the Arkansas valley.

This was followed by welcome relief in the form of much cooler temperatures June 3-5 and the first major rain of the year for many areas of the eastern plains on the 3rd and 4th. Most areas east of the mountains picked up at least 1/3 inch June 3-4th -- which, this year, seems like a lot. But some areas did receive 1-2" rains with locally more. Over 3" was reported near Ovid. Some hail -- the first major outbreak of severe weather for the year -- did accompany the rain, but not that much.

Since it waited until June, the rains are late for helping wheat, but timely for helping summer crops. Grasslands quickly utilized the water but at this time of year it does not translate into much grass growth. And for western Colorado, this was another dry week. Places like Cortez, Durango and Alamosa have seen no appreciable precipitation in months.

Dry weather and warming temperatures returned on the 5th. A major upper-level low pressure area, the type that can cause days of soaking rains and mountain snows if positioned properly -- and what we all have been praying for, teased Colorado for the weekend but stayed well to the north up over Idaho. Instead of bringing cool, damp weather as it was originally predicted, the storm only brought strong southwesterly winds and hot air from the SW deserts. This is the last thing Colorado needed. The hot temperatures, strong winds, and extreme low humidities that began developing on the 7th and continued over the weekend created extreme fire danger in the mountains. Not surprisingly, several fires erupted and each spread ferociously on Saturday and Sunday. As I write this, I do not know the extent of damage, but the conditions were about as bad as they get from a fire fighting perspective. At this point, no part of Colorado is free of the expanding impacts of this most serious drought. Fire danger is extreme. Even in normal years, the next 5 weeks is a very fire-prone period as we wait and hope for the Southwest monsoon to develop and begin pumping humid air into Colorado from the south later this summer.

One benefit of the recent heatwave is that it proved there was high elevation snow left to melt. There has now been a rapid snowmelt, and Colorado's rivers and high mountain streams have been surging. For at least a few days it actually looked like a normal year with tumbling water flowing out of the mountains. Unfortunately, the flows are still well below average and will likely not last long.

Cooler temperatures are moving into Colorado for the early part of this week. Winds will likely diminish after Monday. This will help the fire fighting efforts. However, no widespread precipitation is expected this week. In fact, precipitation of any kind seems unlikely for several days. The optimism brought on by last weeks storms will be fading fast, if it hasn't already. The drought continues.


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