The West could get a monsoon this summer — what does that mean?

Pictured is Maryland Creek Park in Silverthorne. If all goes well, monsoon conditions could bring extra precipitation to Summit County this summer.
Shane Morris, Town of Silverthorne/Photo Courtesy

Monsoon conditions are expected to make their way up through the desert southwest of the United States, and if conditions are right, it could affect local weather during the hot summer months.

“The monsoon is not like when you hear monsoon thunderstorms. That’s really kind of a misnomer,” said Greg Hanson, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Boulder. “The monsoon term is actually for just this airflow coming up out of the south bringing moisture with it.”

Hanson said that La Nina, or the changes in Pacific Ocean temperatures that affect weather patterns across the world, will end toward the summer. Because of that, monsoon conditions would continue as normal without La Nina or El Nino effects. Normally, he said, monsoon conditions would be set to create above-normal precipitation conditions in areas south and west of the Four Corners. Hanson said Colorado is in sort-of a “transition zone,” and it could be hit-or-miss. However, he said he does think there’s a decent chance Summit County could see effects.

“Typically, what happens in the summertime, it gets really hot in the plains, so we’ve got a big heat dome — a ridge of high pressure — over the Central Plains,” Hanson said. “That is a counterclockwise flow with the mid-levels of the atmosphere. That’ll pull Gulf of Mexico moisture in, and it taps into the eastern Pacific, as well. That gets moisture in here, and that’s just fuel for those afternoon mountain showers and thunderstorms that we get.”

Current predictions have May being below normal for precipitation, since monsoon conditions are not expected to reach Colorado until later in the summer. March and April are typically some of the snowiest months of the year, followed by a dry May and early June, and Hanson said that July and August tends to be the heaviest month for rainfall at Dillon Reservoir.

Hanson also said that even though precipitation may be greater because of the monsoon, above-normal temperatures in June, July and August will also make that water evaporate faster.

Troy Wineland, water commissioner for Summit County, said at last week’s spring runoff workshop that he has seen drier soil moisture on ranches in the community. When snowpack melts, the soil receives that moisture first before it runs off into the river or reservoirs, meaning that any deficit there may affect fill levels.

In April, the Colorado Division of Fire Safety and Control released its 2022 Wildfire Preparedness Plan, which showed that Summit County’s significant wildfire potential will reach “above normal” levels in June. The plan cited the potential monsoon as a condition that could help alleviate heightened wildfire conditions on the Western Slope — including Summit County.

“Although there is still considerable uncertainty, a robust Southwest Monsoon may develop in July as La Nina conditions weaken toward a neutral climate signal, allowing the western half of Colorado to potentially benefit from wetting rains and closer to normal wildland fire potential,” it reads.

The Climate Prediction Center with the National Weather Service expects that the temperature outlook for the next eight to 14 days will be below average, and precipitation will be near normal or below.

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