The sizzling heat in August and September is setting records in Cortez, and drought status recently increased from abnormally dry to moderate in Southwest Colorado.
“Due to a failing monsoon season, our drought has returned,” said Jim Andrus, National Weather Service weather observer in Cortez. “Also noteworthy are our persistent above-average temperatures, which continue to set daily records.”
In August, Cortez tied one record and set two others, according to records dating to 1929.
On Aug. 16, the high of 95 degrees tied the highs in 1951, 2013 and 2015. Cortez hit 96 degrees Aug. 21, breaking the previous record of 95, set in 1949. On Aug. 27, the high of 94 degrees broke the 2012 record of 93 degrees.
September is setting records as well, breaking three records in three days.
On Sept. 2, the high of 97 degrees beat the previous record of 96 from 1995. On Sept. 3, the high of 95 degrees broke the previous record of 93 in 1995.On Sept. 4, the high of 97 degrees broke the previous record of 95 set in 2017.The two 97-degree records are the highest September temperatures ever recorded in Cortez, Andrus said. Fourteen daily September high-temperature records have been set in the past six years.
Durango tied four heat records in August and September, the weather service said.
The high of 92 degrees on Aug. 25 and 26 was set in 1985. The high of 91 on Aug. 27 was set in 2001, and the high of 90 on Sept. 4 was set in 1995.
Temperatures are expected to drop into the upper 70s and low 80s as cooler air drops in from the north in coming weeks, the weather service said.
Meanwhile, the Four Corners area returned to drought conditions, and the threat of wildfire has increased.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows the Four Corners is in the D1 moderate drought category, and northwestern New Mexico is in the D2 severe drought category.
Fire danger is rated as high by the Cortez Fire Protection District, and has been for several weeks, said Chief Jay Balfour.
There are no fire restrictions in Montezuma County or in the local national forest and Bureau of Land Management lands. Local fire chiefs and federal fire officials are meeting regularly to evaluate conditions, Balfour said.
Cortez firefighters are partnering with federal agencies to patrol for lightning strikes, and Balfour urged the public to be very cautious with campfires and controlled burns.
“Controlled burns should be started early in the morning and be done by 11 a.m.,” he said. Do not burn on wind advisory and red flag days.
Controlled burns in Montezuma County must be reported in advance to Cortez dispatch at 970-565-8441.
The Durango Fire Protection District has suspended all burn permits until further notice. The Durango fire district said agricultural burning is highly discouraged.
A small wildfire started on Haycamp Mesa south of Stoner, and was fully contained over the weekend.
A Type 4 fire crew successfully fought the one-acre blaze, which was started by lightning Thursday, said Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla.
The full-suppression firefighting effort involved 10-15 firefighters along with fire engines. Hand lines were dug around the fire and no structures were threatened. The fire continues to smolder and will be monitored and patrolled.
The North Haycamp Fire is north of Forest Road 556 and east of Forest Road 558, about 8 miles northeast of Dolores and 3 miles south of Stoner. It burned at low intensity on level terrain in ponderosa pine, aspen and mixed conifers. Smoke may be visible from surrounding areas.
There were no road or trail closures. There is private land a half-mile east of the fire, but there are no structures.
“We don’t see any issues in controlling this fire,” Padilla said. “Due to its size, we should have a line around it today.”Fire activity may continue for the next few days inside the fire line perimeter, he said. A helicopter is available if fire crews request the assistance. There is a chance for thunderstorms in the area of the fire this afternoon.