With Colorado’s snowpack all but gone and drought continuing to spread and intensify across the state, wildfire concern will be above average for parts of western and southern Colorado this month, based on data from the National Interagency Fire Center.
The fire center’s July outlook placed most of western and southern Colorado in its above-normal fire risk zone for wildfire danger this month.
“Given drier than average long-range forecasts in conjunction with a continued intensification of drought this summer in southern Colorado, and to a lesser extent western Colorado through southcentral Wyoming, above normal significant large fire potential is predicted to expand from southcentral and southwest Colorado through much of western Colorado into southcentral Wyoming in July,” the center’s monthly outlook report said.
As the report indicated, the growing drought across southern and western Colorado is largely to blame for the higher fire risk this month. A paltry monsoon season last year started the drier trend, and the drought has only continued to grow since the start of the year.
For example, Alamosa has seen less than an inch of rain so far this year (0.97 inches, through Wednesday), only about a third of what the city should typically see over that time frame. Pueblo, La Junta, Montrose, Durango and Cortez are among other Colorado locations that have seen less than half of their average year-to-date rainfall, helping set up the increased fire risk.
There is another component of western and southern Colorado’s increased fire danger this month, though. Last year’s robust snowpack season led to a short-term spike in vegetation growth across most of the state, creating lush greenery across most of Colorado last spring and summer.
But with a drier than average spring and summer so far this year, last year’s vegetation spike only serves to provide added fuels for fires to latch onto and potentially burn. In southern and western Colorado, the early melting of the snowpack also increased the length of the peak fire season in those areas.
If you take all of those factors together, and it creates part of the heightened fire concern for July, in particular.
“One of the consequences is the earlier you melt out, the earlier the fire season can begin,” Colorado assistant state climatologist Becky Bolinger said last month. “You have a longer time to go until the monsoon and the relief.”
There is a glimmer of good news, though. The expected return of the annual monsoon should begin to bring in needed moisture over the back half of July, gradually reducing risk into August.
“Although the southwest monsoon is not expected to be wetter than average, surges of limited tropical moisture are predicted to bring the large fire risk back into the average range during the second half of July in southcentral to southwestern Colorado, then moderating the fire potential across northwestern Colorado and southcentral Wyoming by August,” the report said.
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