A look at the National Weather Service website, provided a rainbow of colors across the state of Colorado — red, pink, orange blotches all dotted the map. What exactly was going on? Such is the state of weather and micro climates in Colorado. At the same time snow fell on the western side of the Continental Divide near Loveland Pass, a red flag warning was posted for the Front Range foothills. The warmer weather earlier this week combined with windy conditions meant wildfire danger.
Though it’s only April, it’s not too early to be thinking about wildfires given the lack of snow this winter. If you’re wondering how serious this situation is, look no further than my hometown of Nederland. We keep personal records for precipitation and snowfall, and in the eight years we’ve lived here have never witnessed so little snowfall.
Our average snowfall at our home is 150 inches and right now in mid-April, we’ve received around 87 inches, around 58% of normal. In addition, the snow we’ve gotten this year been in small increments — 6 inches here, 4 inches there. Not exactly the type of snow that will saturate the soil and lessen the chance for fires to erupt. In fact, it’s the first winter,we haven’t received a single snowfall of at least one foot.
Normally, April is our big month for snowfall — it is the on record the snowiest month of the year here in Nederland for total snowfall. As my husband says, April is “our” time for up slope snowstorms. The time when the moisture from the Gulf of Mexico provides the ample moisture for two foot storms. Except this year. Instead it has brought warm temperatures of sixty degrees and gusty winds. If the next few weeks don’t bring any more snow, we are in for a very long fire season.
This is not totally unexpected. On Wednesday night, I attended a talk by author Heather Hansen regarding her new book, “Wildfire, on the front lines with Station 8”. Of note, she brought up the fact that due to climate change and warming winter in the west, the number of “mega-fires” of 100,000 acres has dramatically increased during the last 20 years. In addition, the wildfire season itself is on average 40 days longer than it used to be.
Of course, as Mark Twain said, “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” And so, while the trend is looking bleak at the moment, next week could bring that big spring snow storm we so desperately need.
For the sake of us mountain residents, we can only hope that is the case.