Monsoon-like storms to stick around as current weather pattern grips Colorado, but it’s not monsoon season, yet

Rain bands stream down onto Buffalo Mountain as the sun prepares to set on July 22, 2022. Storms are expected to hit Summit County throughout the next week, according to National Weather Service reports.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

While the recent persistent storms may feel like monsoon season, this rain-heavy weather system is different. It’s kind of like an Oreo, and Colorado’s stuck in the middle. At least, that’s how a local meteorologist describes it.

National Weather Service meteorologist Aisha Wilkinson said you can think of the two pressure systems currently squeezing the Rocky Mountain state like the beloved chocolate cookies on either side of an Oreo’s creamy filling. But instead of the white stuff, Colorado is filling with rainy precipitation at near-historic rates.

Meteorologists have issued three flash flood watches and warnings so far this week in Summit County, and forecasters are warning that more are on the way. While Denver Water anticipated a “mild runoff season,” earlier this year, Dillon Reservoir is poised to “fill and spill” due to the recent string of storms moving across Colorado, with outflow rates that could deliver maximum flows of 1,800 cubic feet per second, according to a Denver Water report issued Tuesday. That would translate to nearly 13,500 gallons — equivalent to 850 beer kegs — flowing from the outlet every second.

On average, Dillon Reservoir typically receives around 1.34 inches of precipitation in May, but it recorded 2.62 inches of precipitation in May this year. Across the Continental Divide on the Front Range, Denver had its third-rainiest May on record, according to National Weather Service reports.

The recent wet spell is thanks to an upper-level system, Wilkinson said, and it’s poised to dump above-normal precipitation across the entire state. The pattern is likely to hold through the weekend and possibly into next week, according to a the six- to 10-day weather outlook.

“It is coming from the southwest, which is what we usually see in monsoon,” Wilkinson said, “but that is just due to our upper level pattern.”

It could fizzle out before then, but Wilkinson said though all of the rain and afternoon storms may seem similar to monsoon season, it likely won’t last weeks or months like a monsoon pattern typically does.

This current pattern also isn’t producing the common lightning or hail that is characteristic of a monsoon pattern, but as the two pressure systems are squeezing tighter on the region, it’s pushing more moisture and rainstorms across the mountains and state.

“Since we have such good moisture, we’re getting those weak showers and small hail and also really heavy rainfall. The showers have a lot of water content,” Wilkinson said. “That’s why we’re seeing those strong downpours.”

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The main weather station in Summit County is calling for storms after noon every day through Wednesday, June 14. Temperatures are expected to remain below average, which bodes well for the county’s snowpack, which is currently at 142% of the 30-year median, which is above last year’s mark.

Though rain has the potential to deplete the snowpack at an elevated rate, Wilkinson said that hasn’t been the case so far this year. Temperatures have remained below average for most of the spring, and overcast skies have helped protect the snow from running off into rivers at an accelerated rate.

The snowpack is usually gone by June 22, according to the 30-year median, and the current long-range forecast for Summit County shows promise for it sticking around at least that long or possibly longer.

Most of Colorado is expected to see below average temperatures according to the three- to four-week outlook and the one-month outlook. The three-month outlook expects temperatures to then reach above average, but precipitation is expected to stay near normal.

Last year’s monsoon season proved helpful to Summit County’s climate, helping push the local area out of drought status.

With elevated levels of precipitation over the past year, experts are warning folks to be cautious near rivers or while recreating in swiftwater. So far this year, several people have died in river-related accidents on the Western Slope.

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