Hot weather drying out basin

But heavy rains expected in July

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— Put on the sunscreen and pack lots of water because this year's dry season is shaping up to be drier and hotter than normal.

The good news for ranchers and firefighters is that rains are expected in July.

Though Colorado isn't suffering the drought conditions of other Western states, average temperatures are higher than normal and precipitation amounts are down.

"There is some concern. We haven't had significant rain for a couple of months," said Chris Cuoco, senior forecaster at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Historically, June is the driest month of the year locally. On average, the area receives 1.51 inches of rain.

This year, if April and May are any indication, our normally dry June may be even drier than normal.

According to National Weather Service data, April rainstorms produced 1.72 inches of precipitation in Steamboat Springs about 25 percent below the 2.28-inch average. In May, 1.70 inches of rain were recorded, down about 20 percent from the 2.11-inch average in Steamboat.

Spring temperatures tell a similar story.

This April, the average high temperature in Steamboat was 61 degrees. The historical average high temperature for that month is 53 degrees. May temperatures also were a high this year, averaging 70 degrees compared to the 65- degree historical average.

And it's gotten hotter since.

A 90-degree day on Wednesday in Steamboat broke the record high of 84 degrees set in 1988. The average temperature for that day June 7 is 72 degrees.

The hot weather has caused snowmelt in higher elevations to trickle down earlier than normal. "It's about a month early, it seems," said Ed Patalik, recreational planner for the Forest Service.

Usually the Gilpin Lake trail in north Routt County is covered by snow this time of year, but only a few patches can be found now, he said.

"Most of the Snowtel sites are melted out," said Brian Avery, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service. The sites measure snowpack and they typically have snow in them at this time of the year. Right now, snowpack is 14 percent of average for this time of year.

The early melt-off has caused an early peak season for rivers in the area. But the swollen Yampa is deceiving. Steady high temperatures and regular winds are drying up the Yampa River basin.

Most of Colorado is dry as well, but the state is not dry enough to officially be in a drought situation like Arizona, New Mexico and Utah are now.

Cuoco said Colorado hasn't been lacking rain for long enough and water supplies are ample. Most reservoirs in the state are full because of a large amount of rain last year.

"Fish Creek Reservoir is full and spilling right now," said Dan Birch, manager of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District. "I wouldn't expect to have any problems with Stagecoach either.

Furthermore, forecasters predict a strong monsoon season coming in July to quench the dry ground.

There's been a monsoon season in Colorado between mid-July and the end of September every year for the past 100, Cuoco said. The rains come from a low pressure system that pulls moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.

"This year's monsoon might even be a little wetter than normal," he said.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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