The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning and a fire watch for Southwest Colorado.
The red flag warning is effective from noon to 9 p.m. Monday. The fire weather watch is effective from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday. The area impacted includes Fire Weather Zone 207, which includes Montezuma County and southern La Plata County.
Controlled burns are not allowed during red flag warning days, said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin. Burning should be avoided Monday and Tuesday, he said.
Gusty winds, low relative humidity and dry fuels triggered the warning and watch. On Monday, winds are expected out of the southwest at 10 to 20 mph, with gusts up to 35 mph. Relative humidity is between 8% and 13%.
On Tuesday, winds are expected out of the west at 15 to 25 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph.
A red flag warning means critical fire weather conditions are present or expected. A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior.
The fire weather watch means critical fire weather conditions are forecast.
According to the National Weather Service, highs are expected to reach 65 to 75 degrees Monday, with lows in the 30s. Tuesday is forecast to be cooler with highs in the 50s, with gusty winds up to 35 mph.
Extreme and exceptional drought conditions – the two highest drought levels – persist for Montezuma and La Plata counties, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
National Resource Conservation Service Snotel data for the Dolores Basin shows the snow-water equivalent of snowpack is at 67% of the 30-year average between 1981 and 2010.
Nonetheless, Cortez has seen above-average precipitation for the winter season, said Jim Andrus, local weather observer for the National Weather Service. Year-to-date precipitation is above average.
“We had a lot of snow, but also a lot of warm weather that melted it off fast,” he said.
In Cortez, March saw 1.3 inches of precipitation, or 125% of the average 1.04 inches for the month.
Year-to-date precipitation for Cortez is 3.37 inches, or 118% of the average 2.86 inches.
Avalanche danger ‘considerable’Avalanche danger for the San Juan Mountains is at the “considerable” level, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
“Natural loose wet and wet slab avalanches are possible on most aspects. Wet slab avalanche conditions are lurking and very dangerous,” according to CAIC’s report Monday.
Overnight lows are freezing the snowpack surface, but the quick thaw in the morning will create dangerous slide conditions by midday.
Be aware of overhead hazards like cornices and avoid slopes that do not support your weight. Thin shallow rocky areas, terrain under cliffs with running water on them, and slopes that are shedding snow should be avoided. Water is moving through the snowpack, and slopes do not have to be in the sun to be dangerous.
Getting out early and home early will help people stay safe. Above treeline, north-facing slopes before noon will provide safer skiing and riding options.