For Colorado, spring was merely a continuation of winter.
Snow fell as late as May 21st, temperatures consistently stayed well below average virtually all spring long, and of course, the mountains got socked with unusually high amounts of late-season snow.
Even summer officially started as spring largely ended: wet and cold along the Front Range, with snow in the mountains. And while that assuredly had plenty of locals itching for pool weather – or at the very least a chance to confidently stash away snow shovels until fall – it also has had its fair share of positive meteorological impacts, too.
While fires can still take place in wet overall years, Colorado’s wildfire risk is likely to be heavily reduced this summer season. Ongoing snowmelt likely will last deep into July, keeping soil and vegetation wet and difficult to burn. That same moisture should also keep the ground wet through most of the summer season. As recently as last week, some prescribed burns along the Front Range had to be postponed by the United States Forest Service because the ground was still wet. There’s little question that Colorado’s overall wet and cool start to 2019 will help deter fire chances over the next month or two.
But there’s also a bit of a hidden danger that comes with a spring as wet as 2019. That same lush, fast-growing vegetation also could pose a problem if things quickly go bone-dry come late summer or fall. Should things dry out, that once lush vegetation could help serve as added fuel for future fires, though that appears unlikely in the short-to-medium range.
“One of the concerns is when the grass is really high, there’s more fuel,” said Triste Huse, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder. “On the other hand, we have had such a wet year so far, and precipitation is indicated to be above normal over the next few weeks. If we can continue to have that, it doesn’t mean we sure can’t have wildfires, but we’re going to keep getting intervals of rain. That would indicate maybe not as big of a fire season.”
That scenario, however, doesn’t appear to be in the cards, at least right now. The Climate Prediction Center’s (CPC) official outlookthrough the rest of the summer keeps Colorado squarely in the above-average precipitation zone, likely aided by a continuation of El Nino conditions in the central Pacific Ocean. That should be good news for keeping Colorado largely fire-free over the next few months.
“It might make it a worse situation in September and October if it’s hot and dry. But right now, all of this green grass has lots of water in it,” said Chad Gimmestad, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Boulder. “Even if the rain stops, we’re using the moisture from the ground. The wet spring has pretty well cancelled the first half of the fire season, essentially.”
For now, it appears that this summer should be largely fire-free. But should things unexpectedly get abnormally dry for a prolonged period over the next few months, it could enhance fire chances down the road.
Thank you to our partners at the Denver Post for providing this information.