Back to normal: Summit County’s summer of 2022 may seem rare, but locals think otherwise

A rainbow lights up an otherwise dull sky on July 3, 2022. Summit County hasn't seen any fire restrictions this summer thanks to the amount of rain its received this season.
Elaine Collins/Courtesy photo

After seven weeks of no fire restrictions in Summit County, 2022 has been a noticeably different summer for many.

But for the people who have been in the area for more than 10 years, the summer of 2022 has left them in shock, remembering how the weather in the mountains used to be. 

Holly Watts has lived in Clear Creek her whole life and has spent 20 years making the trip up to Loveland Ski Area.

The frequent rains have been a daily topic of conversation this summer, Watts said. 

As a young girl, Watts remembered growing up with daily thunderstorms and has missed them these past few years. 

She recalled what they were like in her youth. “​​It’ll be a nice hot, sunny day. And these big black clouds roll in, and there’s lots of thunder and lightning and it just downpours for half an hour, and then it’s gone. And everything is nice and cooled off.”

Watts joked that her mother used that time as an excuse to put her down for a nap. But by the time she turned 16, she noticed that summers got drier, and fire danger became more apparent. Soon enough, fires became a constant worry. 

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said when he moved to the county 18 years ago, a hot summer meant temperatures that reached anything above 65 degrees. Fire season didn’t start until late fall. 

At that time, monsoonal rains would last from the end of June all the way until Labor Day, FitzSimons said. Then, only a short time would pass until there was consistent snow on the ground at the end of October. 

“They used to always say, Summit County’s fire season went from snowmelt to snowfall” FitzSimons said. “In other words, as long as there was a foot of sustainable snow on the ground, we were officially out of fire season.”

He added that now, Summit County summers regularly reach temperatures in the 80s, the monsoonal rains in recent years have been much shorter, and the county doesn’t get consistent snow until at least Christmas.

Both FitzSimons and Watts hope this rain continues in the coming years. 

Watts said this summer has been a welcome relief from the constant worry of wildfires. She’s also loved to see everything between Clear Creek and Glenwood Springs become lush and green from the rain. She’s noticed more wildflowers, birds and plants. 

“What people don’t realize that haven’t been here a long time is that this is beautiful,” FitzSimons said. “Spectacularly green. … With puffy clouds, blue sky and the rain every afternoon.”

However, Bernie Meier, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Boulder, said this summer is an example of normal weather variability, and there’s no telling if this trend will continue. 

He confirmed that 2020 and 2021 were particularly dry, but it was too soon to give an average of this summer’s rainfall to compare. 

“I really hope that it continues so it isn’t something that we have to worry about so much,” Watts said. 

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