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From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):
The grass is green in Denver, the foothills are lush and Colorado’s rivers are running high. This is the summer of rain.
Above-average rainfall statewide has let those who work in utilities, parks and recreation and agriculture soak up the relief falling from the sky. Feet of rain have dropped in parts of the state this year, filling reservoirs, lessening wildfire risks and quashing fear of droughts like the one that has left California thirsty.
Rain has helped Rocco Snart reclaim the sleep he’s lost over the past few years as wildfires swept through the state. Snart, the acting section chief overseeing wildfire management for the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, has been able to recover from years of “chronic fatigue” as he rests easy knowing that monsoon weather has kept the land he oversees saturated.
“It certainly modified the landscape for fire in 2014,” Snart said. “Frankly, it’s been a welcomed relief.”
Rainfall totals recorded at Denver International Airport were 4 inches above normal between May and August, representing a roughly 51 percent increase over the average. Nearly a foot of rain fell at the airport over 48 rainy days during that time, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder.
“Overall, the state has had above-average precipitation,” said Kyle Fredin, a weather service meteorologist.
“This was just kind of a nice summer.”
Fredin says the increased precipitation and cooler temperatures can be attributed to sub-tropical moisture that drifted into Colorado leading up to what forecasters are expecting to be an El Niño year.
The Denver area saw below-average rainfall in the summers of 2012 and 2013, years that included devastating wildfires and last fall’s floods. Devoid of any major natural disasters thus far — thanks in great part to plentiful rainfall — 2014 has been a gift-wrapped present for Coloradans.
“I’ve definitely surfed a lot more waves on the South Platte River than ever before,” said Alex Mauer, a sponsored stand-up paddle surfer who works at Confluence Kayaks in Denver. ” I’ve seen a crazy number of tubers.”
Mauer thinks the rains have encouraged people to head out on the river.
“We haven’t seen flows like this for a few years,” he said. “Me and all my friends have been waiting for it.”
Denver Water reservoirs are at 95 percent normal capacity overall, and the city has diverted up to 91 percent less water from the Western Slope than average, said Stacy Chesney, a spokeswoman for the utility. Customers also have saved about 5 billion gallons of water — using 10 percent less than usual — this year.
Chesney called those statistics “historic.”
In Colorado Springs, where residents last year were held to strict water restrictions, utilities officials say they have extra storage and that water consumption to date has ballooned.
“We’re in a much better place than we were in last year,” said Patrice Lehermeier, a spokeswoman for the utilities provider.
The Colorado wheat crop is averaging about 60 bushels per acre, an increase from the 25 to 30 bushels farmers have been able to yield in years past, according to Meagan Schipanski, an assistant professor at the Colorado State University’s agriculture school in Fort Collins.
“It’s been great for agriculture in Colorado,” said Ron Carleton, deputy commissioner of the Department of Agriculture. “The moisture that we’ve gotten throughout the summer and late spring, combined with the above-average snowpack this winter, has given our producers the resources that they need.”
Experts say monsoonal weather hasn’t ended water-use issues or the extended drought. In southeast and southwest Colorado, for instance, drought conditions remain.
And the high water has come at a cost for some.
“It’s going to take several years of above-average precipitation to make a difference,” said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress.
Heavy rainfall — paired with this year’s snowmelt — has been blamed for contributing to the 14 deaths on Colorado’s rivers and creeks this summer, including a robber in Pueblo who drowned after he tried to evade police by jumping into an Arkansas River spillway.
“This is the worst year on record that I’m aware of,” said Matt Robbins, statewide spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Rainfall recorded at Denver International Airport
May – 3.51 inches, 1.39 inches above normal
June – 1.82 inches, .16 inches below normal
June – 3.85 inches, 1.69 inches above normal
August – 2.73 inches, 1.08 inches above normal
Normal rainfall from May-August is 7.91. We had 11.91 inches of rainfall at DIA between May and August.
Source: The National Weather Service in Boulder