By Mckenzie Moore
Both a blessing to land riddled by drought and a curse to those recreating outdoors, monsoon season in southwestern Colorado is beginning to ramp up with afternoon thunderstorms.
Seasonal shifts in upper winds are what cause this change in weather. The North American Monsoon brings precipitation and moisture from the Gulf of California into the southwest region of the state, causing persistent rain and thunderstorms in the area.
While any amount of moisture will be beneficial for the area’s current drought conditions, this year’s monsoon season will be spread out through the region. Most of the rainfall will be seen in Montrose and south from there, with the precipitation reducing as it moves north.
“We do have a lot of moisture coming up on the southwest right now, and it will be capable of producing heavy rainfall. The problem is it may not be widespread, everyone may not get it,” said Jeff Colton, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Grand Junction. “As far as the drought, it will help alleviate some of those stresses that we’ve been seeing on the vegetation over time. Any bit of moisture will make a dent.”
This year, monsoon season will be fairly average despite a late start. It usually runs from approximately June 15 through Sept. 30, but the afternoon thunderstorms didn’t begin brewing until mid-July this summer.
“Right now it’s looking fairly average,” Colton said. “It took a little while to get going, but it is definitely going now and we’ll have to make up some ground because we didn’t start quite on time.”
In addition to providing needed water for vegetation, the rain also reduces dust in the air and promotes increased moisture in the soil.
While the storms are important for the local environment, they can cause dangers for people recreating outdoors, especially for those near bodies of water or in canyons due to the tendency for flash flooding. Monsoon rains tend to fall all at once, creating the potential for rapid mudslides and floods.
“Burn scars are susceptible to flash flooding, and it could take as little as a quarter inch of rain in 15 minutes to start making debris flow and rocks moving,” Colton said. “Be prepared to move to higher ground, rapidly. [A storm] could be 20 miles away, but because you’re in a creek or a wash, all of the runoff from that thunderstorm will come roaring down that creek. Even if it’s not raining at your spot, if there’s thunderstorms nearby, keep an eye out and pay attention to what’s going on.”
While reaching higher ground is necessary during a flash flood situation, Colton also emphasized to stay away from trees and crouch low in order to avoid being a target for lightning strikes as well.
Drivers must also pay attention to road conditions, which can be affected by rainfall. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) encourages drivers to be aware of weather conditions in advance, and to never drive through a flooded roadway. Using cruise control is also discouraged on wet roads, as it can cause a car to hydroplane more easily.
Due to the increased likelihood of mudslides or fallen rocks as a result of the changing weather, CDOT said road closures may take place, which can last anywhere from a few minutes to multiple hours.
Colton said this week will be the best time for heavy rainfall, so Delta County residents should be prepared for changing road and recreation conditions and enjoy the much-needed rain.