Weekend rain has little impact on drought | VailDaily.com

Weekend rain has little impact on drought

Matt Zalaznick

The rain was expected to continue through tonight, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit this afternoon and snow levels hovering around 8,000 feet.

But the risk of wildfires remains “high” to “very high” around Vail and is “extreme” further west in Eagle and Gypsum, said Phil Bowden, a fire management officer with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

“These kinds of storms are short term,” Bowden said. “It’s good for today and maybe part of tomorrow. But as soon as it starts drying up, we’ll be right back into fire danger.”

Another in a string of winters of below average snowfall has left little moisture to soak trees, timber and brush in the mountains. The snowpack in areas around Vail is 50 percent of normal, which is among the highest in the state.

“Maybe next year you might catch up to normal,” said Jerry Smith, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “It’ll be a rainfall and snowfall thing to get the mountains caught up.”

Though forecasters did not consider the storm very substantial, small amounts of rain fell through out the Rocky Mountains.

“Everybody’s getting a little bit; nobody’s getting a lot,” Smith said. “Just a little dust is about it.”

The drought also has firefighters in Eagle County gearing up earlier than normal for wildfire season, though there have been no significant fires in the valley so far this spring.

“You can look out the window and see the grass greening up,” Bowden said. “That’ll help for a short while. But if we don’t get a whole lot of moisture this spring, even with the greening, things will start curing out again.”

More rain could douse the valley Wednesday and Thursday, though a major storm is not expected. Forecasters expect normal amount of rain in May, June and July, but that still won’t make up for the low snowfall this winter, Smith said.

“It’ll be year before we get out of it,” he said.

Firefighters like to see longer, steadier storms once a week instead of sudden, heavy thunderstorms that drop of a lot moisture that dries out quickly , Bowden said.

“We like to see more of a steady rain. Every week would be good to get a steady rain that soaks in,” he said.

Residents can find more tips on protecting themselves and their homes from wildfires from Colorado State University Cooperative Extension at http://www.ext.colostate.edu/PUBS/NATRES/06302.html and http://www.ext.colostate.edu/PUBS/NATRES/06304.html.

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 606 or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.

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