|There’s a downside to the current spring weather tease of warm temperatures and sunny skies. Valley residents tuned in to local weather and longer range climate patterns are well aware of it: it’s called “drought.”
In spite of the still healthy SNOTEL monitoring station readings—99 percent water equivalency in the snowpack within the 30 year average at South Colony, and 105 percent in the Arkansas River Basin—concern is really focused on the drying effects of recent strong winds, and the lack of significant precipitation over the last few weeks.
Gary Ziegler of historic Bear Basin Ranch east of the towns put this into a down home perspective in a recent communication: “We may be going the way of the ancient Anasazi. Our springs, ponds and ground waters are gone. Two winters back, we had 100 inches of total snow. Last winter we had 75 inches. Now we are at 20 inches. We desperately need several feet of wet spring snow in April- May. On March 15, 2003, we received seven feet of snow over two days—wow, the extremes…Wish I had a 'dry sense of humor'…”
Ziegler’s poignant comments accent the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, which foresees our area experiencing above average temperatures for the next six weeks, and at 33 percent of average precipitation. That outlook keeps our region within the “persistent drought” category.
Tom Magnuson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo says “we’re holding our breath,” because a dry March and April only enhances the wildfire dangers in the area. “There is no strong signal,” he says, “for more precipitation ahead, while there is a very strong signal for above average temperatures. That tells you something.” That “something” is expected and continuing dryness in what is often the snowiest month in these climes—only this year it isn’t.
When Magnuson views the longer reach into the 2017-2018 winter, he notes the likelihood of this pattern predominating. “We’re basically in a neutral atmospheric state over the Pacific; there’s nothing to hang our hat on there, and that’s why the longer range outlooks are trending the way they are—higher temperatures, and equal chances for average or lower precipitation levels.” He was candid enough to admit that the meteorological phrase “equal chances” is “really a professional shoulder shrug.”
There is some hope, Magnuson indicated, for some rain coming into the Valley next week, after this week’s warm and dry days. The pattern though, holds. Even the benefit of some rain next week will vanish with the temperatures and winds; the ground has no opportunity to soak up the moisture.
Yesterday, the Sheriff’s Office issued a “no burning” notice for the county, eliminating burning of trash, stumps, slash, fields, ditches, etc. because of dryness and winds. According to Paula Mankel, the office will evaluate weather conditions on a daily basis to determine what burning restrictions may be put into place on any given day. As of this writing, the National Forest Service has posted high fire danger in this area.
So, Valley and Wet Mountain residents do what we always do: watch and wait. In the meantime, risk seems to be on the increase for wildfire, and for the challenge of drought conditions to our ranchers and growers.