Steamboat Springs A common theme emerges while traveling through Northwest Colorado: vegetation is suffering from weather that has gotten hot, fast.
A winter that dumped more than 400 inches of snow on Steamboat Springs may provide less drought relief than expected. Ranchers and naturalists say an early blast of hot weather has prevented the gradual runoff that is the best remedy for dry fields.
"We went from winter right to summer," said Ron Della--Croce, manager of Yampa River State Park in Hayden. "We forgot about spring, with that long, slow melting we needed."
And relief may not come anytime soon.
"As far as moisture coming our way, it looks like for the next week we're going to have above-normal temperatures and not much precipitation," National Weather Service meteorologist Heather Orow said Friday. "It looks like towards the end of next week we might have some high-based thunderstorms, but they probably won't produce much precipitation, either."
Orow works out of the National Weather Service's Grand Junction forecast office. She said a three-month outlook for July through September forecasts a strong chance of above-normal temperatures throughout the summer in Northwest Colorado. The precipitation forecast calls for equal chances of above-normal, normal, or below-normal rainfall this summer, Orow said.
"There is nothing indicating it being one way or another in terms of precipitation," Orow said. "There is an equal chance of everything."
The hot weather also means wildfire season already has arrived.
"It's definitely been warmer earlier than normal," said Tom Hudson, safety officer with the U.S. Forest Service. "The grasses are really starting to dry out. We're hitting the peak fire season right now."
Hudson made those comments in western Moffat County while on scene at the Thomas Fire. Started by lightning Tuesday night, the wildfire has burned more than 3,500 acres of sagebrush, juniper trees, piÃ±ion pine and grassland near the small community of Greystone.
A Roosevelt Hotshots crew of wildland firefighters arrived on scene Wednesday, fresh off fighting a much smaller wildfire north of Fort Collins. The Thomas Fire was 85 percent contained as of Friday night, at a cost of more than $600,000.
U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said this week that many more wildfires could be in store for the state this summer.
"The extreme fire danger being faced right now in Colorado and across the West is a powder keg waiting for a struck match," Salazar said.
The Senator was responding to a decision by a Congressional conference committee this week. The committee removed $3.9 billion for emergency agriculture relief and $30 million in wildfire combat funds from an emergency supplemental budget bill, which passed the House and Senate on Thursday and is awaiting presidential action.
Salazar said he voted for the bill, despite the cuts, "in support of America's troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."
"Colorado can only hope now that wildfires do not devastate our state and the West as they did in 2002," Salazar said. "Hope is not a strategy -- this funding was."
Locally, DellaCroce said his strategy is to irrigate as efficiently and effectively as possible.
"We're doing everything we can to get our vegetation ready for what's coming," DellaCroce said. "It's going to be very hot and dry in another month. We're going to get hit hard."