GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Despite the cookies going soggy in the pantry, and the appearance of moss around the edge of the roof on the woodshed out back, this has not been the rainiest two months on record for this part of Colorado.
As parts of the Front Range hope desperately for some respite from the record rains and flooding there, some Western Slope residents have contacted the Post Independent with stories of heavy rains and minor flooding and have demanded to know why we haven’t done a story about the “record rains of 2013.”
The reason is, they have not occurred, according to an official with the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Grand Junction.
“It’s definitely been a wet late summer and fall so far,” conceded John Kyle, data acquisition program manager for the NWS office at Walker Field, the regional airport in Grand Junction.
Readings from three rain monitor stations in the Glenwood Springs area, he said, show that the rainfall for the period from July 1 until Sept. 15 has averaged 3.05 inches.
“That’s above normal, I guess,” Kyle continued patiently, “but it’s not really remarkable.”
And it is not a record for this area, he said flatly.
According to records kept by Colorado State University’s Extension, the average monthly rainfall for the same period of the year in Glenwood Springs — July to mid-September — is 1.4 inches in July and 1.8 inches each month in August and September.
Taking only the July and August averages gives a total of 3.2 inches for those two months.
Those averages, according to the CSU website, are compiled from the 30-year period from 1971 to 2000.
Kyle said other parts of Colorado’s Western Slope have been much harder hit by rainfall.
Using Ouray and the San Juan Mountains as examples, he said the town received more than 8 inches of rain over the same period, and the San Juans “have had at least twice as much” as the Glenwood Springs area.
The record amount of rainfall for the Glenwood Springs region, he said, came in 2011, when the region soaked up 5 inches of rainfall in the same two-months-plus period.
The next highest amount before that, he said, was in 1998, when the area got 4.94 inches in the same period.
Pointing out that the rainfall records he checked go back for about 100 years, Kyle said on Sept. 16, those records are “the highest amount for July through yesterday” that he could find in that stretch of years.
Couldn’t happen here
He added that making comparisons between what has happened to Boulder and Lyons and other parts of Front Range, where downpours have produced massive and deadly flooding, and what might happen here, is beside the point.
That is because the Western Slope does not exhibit the same topography that contributes to the “upslope conditions” blamed for so many monstrous Front Range winter storms and now for this deluge, he said.
Upslope conditions are when there is a low-pressure center to the east and south of the mountains. As winds rotate counter-clockwise around the low pressure center, they push moist air up against the east slope of the Rockies. As that air climbs, expands and cools, its load of moisture condenses as rain, or in the winter, snow.
Kyle said these conditions simply do not exist for the Western Slope and added emphatically, “We’re never gonna get 9 inches of rainfall in 12 hours here.”
Fall colors affected?
Some have wondered whether the wet weather might have any effect on the coming fall color season, when the aspen leaves turn their much anticipated gold before they fall.
“Well, to answer your question, it all depends, I guess,” said Pat McCarty, extension agent for the Colorado State University Extension Service.
“Earlier in the summer, when it was so dry, I think we were all expecting less color for the fall,” McCarty continued.
But with the last month or so of rains, he said, if the area does not get the usual late September frost it could be good for the colors of the trees, if the moisture gets to the trees’ inner workings before the leaves start to shrivel and die back.
“I think it’s going to be very interesting,” he concluded, unable to give an exact prediction about the prospect for a golden autumn.
“I think people who live in other areas should just travel up here and see,” he remarked, referring to the usual annual migration of “leaf peepers” who drive from the Front Range cities and towns up into the mountains to see the fall colors.