Rain helps replenish McPhee Reservoir
Sunday storm causes mudslides, road closures in La Plata County
Journal Photo/Jim Mimiaga
Cortez’s rainfall in September of 2.74 inches has more than doubled the 30-year average, of 1.31 inches as of Monday, said National Weather Service observer Jim Andrus.
“We’re still seeing the benefits of the monsoon season, and catching the edge of recent tropical storms in Mexico,” Andrus said. “We’re doing much better than last year.”
The recent rains have bumped up the flows on the Dolores River, helping to fill McPhee Reservoir, Dolores Water Conservancy District manager Mike Preston said.
“Since September 11, we have gained 12,211 acre-feet in storage,” Preston said. “The increase is a combination of all of the recent rains and lower irrigation demand. Chances look good that at the beginning of the new water year, November 1, we will have better storage than a year ago.”
It is tempting to predict that good monsoons translate to heavy snowfall for winter, but historically that is not the case, said Joe Ramey, a weather service meteorologist in Grand Junction.
“Since 1950, there has not been a correlation of a wet fall to a wet winter during El Niño-neutral years, which is what we have now,” he said. “This is similar to the wet fall in 2001, which resulted in a dry winter for your area.”
On Sunday, snow accumulated on the La Plata Mountains, in Silverton, and on Monarch Pass.
In La Plata County, Sunday’s deluge caused problems.
Severe rain and hailstorms closed off streets and highways around Durango and La Plata County. The storms came almost simultaneously with the onset of fall, which officially began at 2:44 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22.
Flooding and mudslides brought destruction and confusion. The afternoon storms came from the west, tore through Durango, and continued toward the Lemon and Vallecito reservoir areas and also hit Bayfield.
Christopher Cuoco from the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said “very powerful storms” moved over La Plata County in a “sharp cold front.” He said 1 to 1.5 inches of rain was reported in various locations around Durango and over Missionary Ridge.
A flood of water coming off Animas Mountain made a lake on U.S. Highway 550 near the Iron Horse Inn. A full-sized SUV, a Toyota Sequoia, became stuck in the southbound lanes at that location. The driver was able to exit the vehicle and was transported to town by authorities.
The highway was closed at that spot Sunday evening. Traffic was able to get around the closure by using Animas View Drive.
Durango Fire & Rescue Authority Marshal Karola Hanks said the impact of Sunday’s storms was worse than the previous storm, which hit Wednesday, Sept. 18.
A partial list of other road floodings and closures:
Florida Road was closed between East Third Avenue and Riverview Drive for several hours because of mud, water and debris.
Water coming down from Animas Mountain ran over the Animas River bridge on 32nd Street, closing it for several hours.
At Gem Village near Bayfield an irrigation ditch was flooding onto U.S. Highway 160.
County Road 250 was again blocked by heavy mud and debris near Woodard Canyon. County road crews worked to clear it Sunday night, but access will be limited for several days for debris removal. The road is open to residents only from Trimble Lane to the 2000 block.
Butch Knowlton, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, said removing the large volume of debris from the road was a priority, to allow for emergency vehicles to pass if necessary. The next priority was to clear Florida Road (County Road 240) east of the city.
“There is equipment all over the county,” Knowlton said Sunday, Sept. 22. “This is the biggest equipment we have, removing massive volumes of debris on three separate occasions this afternoon.”
Villers said at one point the debris on East Animas Road was up to 6 feet in depth.
Damaging golf ball-sized hail was reported in several places.
Jean Campion, who lives between Marvel and Redmesa in western La Plata County, said hail broke out windows at her house and left the siding on her house pockmarked.
Hanks said that fall is typically a time for flooding and severe weather in the area.
“If you look at it, historically, this is when the river will flood, is in the fall,” she said.
She said the wet ground leaves nowhere for water to go.
“The ground is completely saturated, so anything landing is coming off,” Hanks said. “Water goes downhill, and it happens all at once.”
Villers says it will be a week to 10 days for the roads to be completely cleared and drivers should respect the work ahead.
“Crews will be working for days,” he said. “So we ask people slow down and help us. Drive with caution.”
Those who believe in weather forecasts will take heart in the National Weather Service’s forecast for the next week. Cortez’s high Tuesday, Sept. 24, is expected to hit 74, and sunny or mostly sunny skies are forecast through Thursday, with more clouds moving in Thursday evening.
email@example.com. Durango Herald Staff Writer Brandon Mathis contributed to this report.