The good and bad of our wet May | PostIndependent.com

The good and bad of our wet May

Randy Essex
ressex@postindependent.com
May's rains left the Crystal River Valley bright green Saturday, while the sunshine made Mount Sopris' snowpack gleam.
Randy Essex / Post Independent |

HERE’S THE BUZZ

Mosquito resources:

• Steve Anthony, Garfield County vegetation manager, 970-945-1377 x 4305

• Steve Shaeffer, manager for Colorado Mosquito Control, 970-644-1326

• Garfield County Environmental Health, 970-625-5200

The county will get its first mosquito trap count data this week from its contractor, Colorado Mosquito Control and will post the information weekly at http://www.garfield-county.com/vegetation-management/mosquito-control.aspx.

Other mosquito information is available at http://www.fightthebitecolorado.com/home.pdf

Winter was too dry, spring was too wet, but summer could be just right. Other than all the mosquitoes.

How wet has it been? Glenwood Springs, for example, went into the weekend just 0.12 inches of rain from having its wettest May on record, with 5.71 inches having been recorded through Friday.

The rain dampened bigger fire fuels and, with cool nights, protected the lower-than-normal snowpack the region had — even adding some snow at higher elevations, said Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service show that while the Upper Colorado River Basin held just 58 percent of median snowpack at the beginning of May, snow water equivalent of the snowpack by the end of the month matched last year and was well above normal. (See accompanying graph.)

Here’s a look at the implications as the state heads into water recreation and fire season:

RAFTING

“We are set up for a wonderful, long season” of rafting on the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers, said Ken Murphy, owner of Glenwood Canyon Adventures. “There’s nothing right now that we are concerned about,” he said, adding that the rafting season could run through September.

While the snowpack is lingering nicely, streamflows are below normal. The Colorado River at Glenwood just below the confluence with the Roaring Fork was running 8,580 cubic feet per second, lagging the normal of around 9,600 cfs. Last year, when the Glenwood Canyon bike path was damaged upstream by fast runoff of a heavy snowpack, flow peaked at 22,000 cfs.

The Roaring Fork at Glenwood was running at 1,860 cfs; normal would be closer to 3,100 cfs. The Crystal River flow was about half of normal, at 568 cfs Friday at Redstone.

“Within the last week, stream flows increased at all locations throughout the Roaring Fork watershed, and Ruedi Reservoir is currently 81 percent full,” according to the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s Snowpack and Streamflow report sent out Thursday.

FIRE

The fire season, of course, is difficult to predict, but the outlook has improved since March. Western Colorado is generally free of fire restrictions. Eagle County has some restrictions in place, but no fire restrictions are in place on lands in the BLM Grand Junction Field Office, the BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office, the White River National Forest or the Colorado National Monument.

“A lot depends on June,” Phillips said. The long-range forecast calls for wetter weather in June and for the next three months, but June is normally our driest month.

This is an El Niño year, with warm temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean fueling storm systems.

“That probably had something to do with our spring and maybe into May,” Phillips said. But “El Niño is not as much of an influence in the summer months here.”

FALLING ROCKS

The wet spring added to rockfall on the state’s roads.

“We had a lot more than normal” statewide, with some slides covering lanes of travel or whole roads, said Bob Group, an engineering geologist with the Colorado Department of Transportation. “This time of year in general has lots of activity with the freeze-thaw cycle,” he said. “The introduction of more moisture this year in particular accelerated the process.”

The problem is calming down, he said, and the state avoided serious incidents like last year’s boulder fall on Highway 82 that severely injured a man just before Thanksgiving.

MOSQUITOES

Finally, June is arriving like the flip of a switch from wet and cool to bluebird days that beg us to get outside.

Take the mosquito repellent.

Garfield County “is concerned about an increased risk of West Nile virus in our area due the higher-than-normal amounts of standing water we are seeing this year because of our spring rains,” said Steve Anthony, county vegetation manager. “This risk could increase in the coming weeks as we move out of the high-precipitation weather pattern and it gets hotter.”

West Nile is a potentially fatal ailment; Anthony said residents can take some steps to reduce their risk.

“Take a few minutes to walk around the yard and drain any standing water from containers,” he advised. “This could be pet water dishes, bird baths, buckets, trash cans, wheelbarrows and plastic tarps. One coffee can full of water can breed up to 10,000 mosquitoes over the course of a summer, so it’s important to check these items and drain them at least once a week.”

Only one species of mosquito, Culex tarsalis, carries West Nile. The focus of the county’s mosquito war each summer is to reduce populations of Culex. Anthony said Culex “tends to be most active around dawn and dusk, so if you are out and about during these periods, wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.”


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