Monsoon season brings the rainiest July in 10 years

Drought conditions improve across the state but not erased west of the Continental Divide

Rain is seen from Frisco on Friday, July 30.
Andrea Diamond/Courtesy photo

Summit County is experiencing both a monsoon and a lingering drought.

How does that work? To put it simply, a drought takes a long time to release its grip. Whether the downpours will lift the area out of drought conditions or not, the precipitation is welcome relief, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Hanson.

“We are in a monsoon pattern right now, and so that means we’re getting … a plume of moisture that comes up from the tropics, from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California,” Hanson said. “It’s not the individual storms; it’s the weather pattern that brings the storms to the area.”

The Dillon weather station recorded 3.76 inches of rain in July, which is more than double the month’s 1.87-inch average. On Saturday morning, July 31, the weather station recorded 1.13 inches of rain for the previous 24 hours, which is the most in a single 24-hour period so far this summer. According to National Weather Service records, it has been the rainiest July since 2011.

Graphic by Taylor Sienkiewicz /

While an extra inch or two might not sound like much, Hanson said it makes a difference in the High Country.

“It’s a big difference for sure, especially with the multi-year drought that we’ve been in. This is welcome precipitation, but it also, as we know, has its trouble spots too, especially in the burn areas,” Hanson said, referring to the many mudslides that have closed highways and posed other threats this summer.

Hanson said there have been some drought improvements in western Colorado, and areas east of the Continental Divide are in “great shape.” He said the wet spring and snowy March erased the drought in the east. In western Colorado, where conditions have been more severe, the precipitation has helped but has not gotten rid of the drought.

Summit County’s drought conditions have not changed since the beginning of June, according to weekly updates from the U.S. Drought Monitor. The county currently ranges from no drought in the east to severe-to-extreme drought in the northwest.

“It takes a long time to get into (a drought) and a long time to get out,” Hanson said. “We still have reservoirs that are below normal, and even though it’s rained, these are still scattered showers and thunderstorms. It’s not widespread rainfall, so it’s not going to be filling up the reservoirs. What we need is a winter of heavy snow to help with the water supply issues.”

On any given day, Hanson said thunderstorms can be “hit or miss” and don’t bring rain everywhere in the area at once. In addition, the yearslong drought made for dry soil, so when rain has hit the runoff has been slower.

This week started out with more rain and a flash flood watch on Monday, Aug. 2. Hanson said Tuesday, Aug. 3, will likely bring more heavy rain throughout the day. The storms will be slow moving with the potential to produce upwards of an inch of rain. There will be a drying trend through the rest of the week.

The long-term forecast for August shows normal precipitation levels and chances for above-normal temperatures.

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