Lightning tree

Special to the Sentinel/Pam Nicholls

When a tree in her Grand Junction yard was struck by lightning Tuesday, Pam Nicholls said it sounded like “a bomb went off.”

Monsoonal moisture in the area this week is helping take the edge off the drought, however so slightly, but also is creating concerns about flash flooding in areas, including the Pine Gulch Fire burn scar north of Grand Junction.

The National Weather Service recorded 0.12 inches of rain Tuesday at the official recording station at the Grand Junction Regional Airport. Jeff Colton, a warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service, said other moisture readings for the day were spotty around the region, ranging from just a trace in Fruita and a tenth of an inch in Palisade to more than a half-inch in Orchard Mesa.

The wet trend in the region continued Wednesday, prompting a flash flood watch for the afternoon through midnight for where the 139,000-acre Pine Gulch Fire burned last year, as well as for the San Juan Mountains and for the site of this year’s 8,952-acre Pack Creek Fire outside Moab. On Wednesday afternoon the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the Pine Gulch Fire area as Doppler radar indicated heavy rains occurring there, with flooding expected to follow.

Speaking earlier in the day, Colton said there had been no reports of flooding at Pine Gulch on Tuesday despite up to a half-inch of rain that fell on the fire site then, but such rain can help prime the pump for future flooding by wetting soils ahead of further storms.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Colorado Department of Transportation shut down Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon due to the potential for flash flooding in the scar area from last year’s Grizzly Creek Fire. Those closures have become common in recent weeks.

RIVER IMPACTS

Cody Moser, a hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, said during a conference call with reservoir operators, local irrigation entities and others Wednesday that Tuesday’s precipitation in the region was heaviest in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“That precipitation did show up in the streams,” with a bump in flows making its way downstream, he said.

Any streamflow increases will provide a welcome boost in water supplies and also aid area fish populations. Colorado Parks and Wildlife continues to have a voluntary fishing closure in place on the Colorado River from the State Bridge Area in Eagle County to Rifle to reduce stress on fish due to factors including high water temperatures.

In addition, low flows are a concern when it comes to endangered fish in a stretch of the Colorado River between irrigation diversion points in the Palisade area and the confluence with the Gunnison River.

Colton said the recent moisture is occurring after a strong high-pressure ridge that had brought hot temperatures to the region broke down, allowing monsoon moisture to come up from the south.

The pulses of monsoonal moisture are becoming a bit more frequent, which Colton said is providing hope for Colorado and some other area states in the grip of drought. The precipitation is far from drought-breaking, as the region needs a lot of rain, he said, “but anything is better than nothing.”

STILL BEHIND ON RAIN

Grand Junction had received just 0.14 inches of rain at the airport all month through Tuesday, and just 2.28 inches of precipitation all year, compared to 4.37 inches through the same date in a normal year.

Still, Colton said this summer is starting to feel like the old days, with an active monsoon season developing. The region saw little monsoonal moisture the last few years.

“Even if it’s a normal monsoon season it’s going to feel wet compared to what we’ve had the past several years,” Colton said.

He said the moisture is slowing down fire activity in the state, but has been kind of hit or miss. Northwest Colorado didn’t get as much rainfall Tuesday, and the most critical burn conditions in the region remain there, he said. The Morgan Creek Fire outside Steamboat Springs had burned more than 3,800 acres as of Wednesday, but officials there said Wednesday that precipitation was helping to temper the blaze.

LIGHTNING STRIKES

Summer storms can bring lightning as well as rain, as Grand Junction resident Pam Nicholls experienced first-hand Tuesday. Lightning struck two of her trees, and she said she heard that people more than a mile away were wondering about the explosion they heard.

“It did sound like a bomb went off and it really dazed and confused me because I had never heard anything like that,” said Nicholls, who was inside her home at the time.

The smell of burning caused her to go outside and see if her house or shed was on fire. Before being driven back inside by more lightning and rain, she was able to see the lightning damage to a big ash tree, which included debris from the tree blowing all over her yard. An insurance adjuster later determined a honey locust tree had been burned from the inside out by the lightning strike as well, she said.

Fortunately, she said, she has supplemental insurance that will cover replacement of the trees, minus her deductible. She’s also glad for the rain that she thinks helped keep the trees from catching fire, and is happy that three baby birds that had been in a birdhouse in one of the trees had left before the lightning struck.

“They had just fledged (Monday) and they were not in the birdhouse,” she said.

Tom Renwick, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said while Tuesday’s storms brought some lightning to the region, the amount wasn’t out of the ordinary. He said he heard of a couple of fires starting Tuesday as a result of trees being struck in the Montrose and Durango areas but didn’t think those fires amounted to anything.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Forest Service said crews had responded to a single-tree fire just northwest of Ouray that was reported Tuesday.

Colton said that unfortunately, hotter, drier weather is in store again for this weekend, with temperatures possibly hitting 100 to 102 degrees locally in the Sunday-Monday timeframe. But another surge of monsoonal moisture is in the forecast for the middle to latter part of next week.