DENVER (CBS4) – As Colorado’s Front Range braces for its first major rain in weeks, experts are cautiously optimistic that this infamous wildfire season is finally winding down.
Most of the state is in severe or exceptional drought, and one of the driest summers in Colorado history has led to a series of devastating wildfires, but help may be on the way.
“We’re already seeing some of the fires in Colorado starting to get wrapped up a little better,” said meteorologist Nick Nauslar with the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.
Nauslar is monitoring the dry conditions, and says that in the next seven days significant monsoon moisture will be heading into the state.
“It’s been quite a while since the Rocky Mountain region has seen this sort of moisture,” he said.
But is it enough to finally douse the fire danger?
“Have we seen the worst of the fires for this season? We’re hopeful, but you can’t say that,” he said.
Nauslar says that if the state dries out again after one or two surges or moisture, “We’re back into the fire season.”
RMACC fire expert Steve Segin says that any moisture at this point is worth its weight in gold.
“It’s going to cool those fires down, put out some hotspots and maybe keep new fires from starting,” Segin said.
Long range forecasts are still up in the air. Segin says to really turn the corner, Colorado needs several weeks of steady rain.
“Long term we want moisture. We don’t want to get into a pattern of hot and dry again and not getting enough moisture because then we could get lightning and that could mean new starts,” Segin said.
Another problem may come with the rain that’s forecasted to arrive. Heavy rains bring the possibility of flooding to burn areas. The Waldo Canyon Fire burn area in Colorado Springs has already been warned about flooding and mudslides.
CBS4 meteorologist Dave Aguilera recently explained how the summer monsoon works.
What is the North American Monsoon?
During the month of July you might start hearing talk about the “monsoon.” But, do you really know what it is? The North American Monsoon provides summer thunderstorms from California to Colorado and from Mexico to Montana. The area of coverage is basically the southwestern U.S. and Northwest Mexico. It is sometimes referred to as, the Southwest monsoon or the Mexican Monsoon. The word monsoon simply means a wind that reverses direction. A lot of people when they hear the word “monsoon” tend to think about the torrential flooding rains that typically occur in India and Southeast Asia. Our summer monsoon is not quite that dramatic. But, it does provide lots of moisture during what is often the hottest part of our summer. It can also sometimes produce flooding rains with slow moving thunderstorms.
How does the Southwest Monsoon work?
High Pressure moves in and centers over the Four Corners area. This high may hover around Colorado down into the Southwestern U.S. This can produce dry and hot conditions in June and the early part of July. As the summer moves on this area of High Pressure typically starts to move to the east. This helps to shift the overall wind flow pattern to a more southerly direction. The shift in wind flow opens the door for moisture to flow northward from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, Colorado sees a rise in daily afternoon and evening showers and thunderstorms.
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