Stormy outlook clouds Fourth of July holiday weekend in Summit County

Low-hanging clouds obscure Peak One from the Summit County Library on the afternoon of Thursday June 30, 2022. Rain and thunderstorms are predicted throughout the weekend of July 1, continuing through July Fourth.
Eiliana Wright/Summit Daily archive

As Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said at the Tuesday Summit County Board of County Commissioners meeting, this is the first time in years that Summit County has not been under a fire restriction for July Fourth thanks to recent rains. It’s now looking like that trend will continue since rains are expected throughout the weekend and continuing into the Monday holiday. 

Jennifer Stark, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Boulder office, said scattered thunderstorms are expected throughout the weekend, with the possibility of thunderstorms on Monday. However, the storms aren’t predicted to go past 8 p.m., meaning clear skies for the evening of the Fourth. 

For Summit weekend-campers, Stark said “Friday, Saturday and Sunday, people need to be prepared for potential afternoon and evening thunderstorms.”

She added that campers should bring rain gear and scout out a safe place to shelter in the event of lightning. A tent, under a tree, or even in a camp shelter are not ideal. The safest place, she said, would be in a car with the windows rolled up. 

As always, hikers looking to recreate in Summit County should plan for afternoon thunderstorms.

“Get up early, go early and come back down early,” Stark said.

She added, if hikers find themselves in an exposed area: do not be the tallest thing on a peak, and if caught in an exposed meadow or field, try to be as low as possible. In an emergency, get into a crouched position and try to balance on the balls of the feet to make the least amount of contact with the ground. 

Similarly, David Boyd, spokesperson for White River National Forest, encouraged people to be aware of their surroundings when camping during a thunderstorm. Don’t set up your tent on a peak or under the tallest tree.

He also warned that, due to high rainfall, people who are utilizing dispersed campsites off of “rugged” dirt roads should pay special attention to mud.

And when it comes to rain, for those camping near a wildfire burn scar, there is a high probability that there could be flash fooding, falling trees, mudslides or a rock fall. 

The most recent burn scars Boyd mentioned that could present hazards are the Breckenridge Peak 2 Fire from 2017, the Buffalo Mountain Fire from 2020 near Silverthorne and the most recent Ptarmigan Fire of 2021, also near Silverthorne. 

Boyd mentioned that while there are no fire restrictions on White River National Forest land over this Fourth of July weekend (either at a dispersed campsite or at a developed campsite), campers should still be as careful as possible, despite the recent moisture from rain. 

On Thursday, Boyd said he was in Glenwood Canyon, where it had been raining the entire morning.

“Even on a day like today when you’re thinking there’s no risk, there is. And if you don’t put your campfire out and you leave, those could hang on for a while and it might be a day later that they pick up,” he said.

Boyd said the best way to stay safe is to make sure the logs are cold to the touch before leaving anything behind. 

Boyd added that while many of the “lighter” live fuel moistures have benefitted from the rain and snowfall during this spring and summer, many heavier fuels at high elevation — like trees and logs — are still dry. 

“It’s not anything to prevent people from going out,” Boyd said.

But both Stark and Boyd seemed to expressed that planning ahead, being aware of weather and immediate surroundings is the best way to safely recreate in Summit County.

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