Storms mark beginning of monsoon season

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— If you are thinking and hoping that Steamboat's sudden summer storms might mark the end of an unusually dry, hot spell, you're not alone.

Weather forecasters predicted at the beginning of June that the annual Rocky Mountain monsoon season would begin in mid-July, and Steamboat residents have already witnessed its inception.

"What we had earlier this week was the beginning of the rainy season," National Weather Service hydro-meteorological technician Dan Cuevas said. "It's broken up for now, and for much of the week, but by the end of the week we should be seeing more rain."

Northwest Colorado typically slops through its rainy season in July and August. A high-pressure system moving in from the Atlantic generates a clockwise circulation pattern, bringing up warm temperatures and weather from around Mexico.

"It's this late-day heat from down there that causes afternoon thunderstorms," Cuevas said.

The National Weather Service's 90-day forecast is predicting a near- to above-normal level of precipitation between July and September. Normally, an average 4.68 inches of precipitation falls in the Steamboat area during this time period. Meteorologists are expecting that the precipitation level will be slightly higher than that this year.

Until now, it's been an unusually dry summer. In June, approximately .73 inches of precipitation fell in the area, which is 47 percent of the normal precipitation level for the month.

Ranchers, in particular, will be especially dependent on the monsoon season this year, said Car Zimmerman, the Western Slope representative for the Colorado State Soil Conservation Board.

Irrigated hay is at 75 percent of its normal yield, and dry hay is at a 20 to 60 percent yield compared to the same time last year, he said.

"Things are bad," he said. "It's not been a good year. The hot, dry winds, late spring and late summer have left things extremely dry. Ag products, in particular, have suffered. We had a reasonably good snowpack, but it's almost entirely diminished."

For now, Steamboat Springs Water's Joe Zimmerman is not worried about water levels.

"There's plenty of water out there, plenty of raw water," he said, referring to snowpack still melting off of Buffalo Pass. "We're not really anticipating having to institute water conservation or anything like that."

The National Weather Service is predicting normal to above normal temperatures for the next two weeks, with above normal precipitation statewide, including Steamboat Springs.

To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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