Summer arrived Monday in Southwest Colorado with a humbling severity not seen since 1936, toppling heat records and bending metal.
Monday in Cortez, the high temperature reached 101.2 degrees, the highest reading in Cortez for June 20 since 1936, when it was 98 degrees.
Monday’s high fell just short of the all-time high of 102 degrees in Cortez, set four times – on July 27 and 28 in 2013, on July 15 in 2003, and on July 21 in 2005.
More records would fall. Tuesday morning, local weather watcher Jim Andrus recorded 81 degrees at 8 a.m., the highest 8 a.m. reading that he’s ever recorded in Cortez, going back to late 1997.
“I’m guessing that we’re gonna break that record today, Andrus said on Tuesday morning.
He was right. By afternoon, the high had reached 99 degrees, toppling the record 97 degrees of June 21, 1954.
It’s not likely that Cortez will cool off soon; highs in the 90s are forecast through Wednesday.
Around town, residents adjusted and remained safe this week.
Cortez outdoor pool administrator Michelle Devall said Monday was slower than normal, but that the pool has been very busy lately. Residents should make sure to stay safe in the sun, she said. Lots of people like to lay out and tan at the pool, and even though they might be wearing bronzer, they still need to take care of themselves, Devall said.
“Get out of the sun and into the shade when you can,” she said.
Cortez Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde said the department hadn’t experienced increased calls because of the heat. But with the start of summer and many people getting outside, he recommended that residents should take precautions to stay safe.
“With biking and hiking, we recommend people do that in the morning or evening and have plenty of water,” he said.
The chief said people should stay inside at the height of the day, especially the elderly. If people need help, they should call for assistance, he said.
Southwest Health System marketing director Haley Leonard said the hospital had no major heat-related emergency room visits to report.
Dr. Randy Davidson and physician’s assistant Chris Bateman recommended staying hydrated with water, especially non-alcoholic beverages, limiting sun exposure and reapplying sunscreen frequently.
Nurse practitioner Shawna Frost emphasized making sure that kids drink plenty of water, at least 20 ounces per hour if they’re playing outside in high heat. Reapply sunscreen every 60 to 80 minutes and wear a hat that properly covers the face.
Train tracks warp in DurangoIt was hot in Durango too – metal-bending and mind-bending hot.
Heat warped the tracks of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad on Monday and delayed the day’s last two trains by several hours. Commercial airlines had to bump passengers to lighten the load so planes could take off safely.
“The tracks suffered what’s called a ‘sun kink,’” said Christian Robbins, marketing director for the train, “and it was definitely due to heat. We run motorcars in front and back, and the engineers are always looking, so it was caught well in time, and passenger safety was never at issue.”
Readers of The Journal’s Facebook page marveled at a photo of the temporarily bent rails. “Is this a joke?” asked one post.
The high temperature Monday topped out at 96 degrees at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, 4 degrees hotter than the record set in 2007 at the airport, according to the weather service.
Sunday also set a record in the Durango area, with a high of 94 at the airport – 1 degree higher than the previous record high set in 2006 at the same location.
The weather service issued a fire watch from noon until 8 p.m. Tuesday for northeast La Plata County and all of San Juan, Hinsdale and Archuleta counties. Forecasters predict gusty winds, low humidity and dry thunderstorms.
Anticipating increased fire danger, the U.S. Forest Service positioned additional firefighting resources in Southwest Colorado, including a helitack crew and three single-engine air tankers. Other resources have been positioned at the San Juan National Forest’s ranger districts in Bayfield, Dolores and Pagosa Springs.
Herald Staff Writers Shane Benjamin and Ann Butler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.