Weather data confirms Rawlins has had a hot, dry summer
By Trudy Balcom
RAWLINS — It rained in Rawlins on Thursday, the first significant precipitation the city has seen since late spring.
National Weather Service (NWS) data confirms what Rawlins and Carbon County residents already know: it’s been a hot, dry summer.
Monthly data collected at the NWS weather observation station at the Rawlins-Carbon County Airport for June, July and the first 17 days of August shows that the total summer precipitation at about one-third of an inch, about 2.33 inches below normal for the three-month period.
The dry spell appears to have begun in May, when precipitation was down 1.1 inches below normal. The lack of rain in May was not as noticeable after a wet and snowy April, when precipitation was 1.48 inches above average.
June’s weather continued where May left off. June temperatures in Rawlins were five degrees above average, with four days of temperatures that broke the 90-degree mark. A record high temperature of 96 degrees was set on June 21.
Rawlins normally receives about 1.03 inches of rain in June; this year only .19 inches fell during that month.
Rawlins marked its fourth driest July on record this year, with only .06 inches of precipitation for the month. There were 10 days during the month when temperatures reached 90° or higher.
There were two record-low temperatures set in July as well. A chilly 38 degrees set a record on July 12, and a temperature of 42 degrees set a record on July 25.
Dry weather and fire
The U.S. Drought Monitor map, produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, shows the eastern portion of Carbon County as “abnormally dry.” This designation was also given to several counties in Colorado just south of Carbon County, where the Beaver Creek Fire has torched 36,915 acres as of Thursday.
There are 16 active wildfires currently burning in Wyoming. In Carbon County, the Beaver Creek Fire which crept north across the state line into Wyoming earlier this summer, has burned a total of about 2,393 acres in the Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming, and 195 acres of lands in Carbon County outside of the national forest.
A second fire in the Sierra Madre, the Broadway Fire, was reported to be at about 38 acres on Wednesday. The fire was caused by lightning.
Despite the dry weather, local fire experts say that live fuel conditions in the sagebrush and grasses that make up much of the vegetative cover in the county have not merited any kind of fire restrictions.
“We’re sitting pretty good in Carbon County, it remains green in parts of the county,” said Rawlins-Carbon County Fire Chief John Rutherford. “The wet spring kind of helped us out.”
Rutherford said that the dry summer, while not unusual, was pushing conditions in the direction of possible fire restrictions, but actual conditions in the county are just not dry enough.
Rutherford said that he works closely with Chris Otto with the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and other area fire officials in order to assess the need for fire restrictions.
Both Rutherford and Otto point to 2012 as a particularly bad year for fire.
“This is a real easy year compared to 2012,” Rutherford said.
Otto, a fuels specialist for the BLM based in Rawlins, collects samples of live sagebrush and grasses from four locations across the county on BLM property. Otto then dries the samples in an oven and evaluates their volatility as fuel for a fire.
The current moisture levels in the plants are about average, Otto said.
“About this time of year, normally moisture is as low as it gets,” Otto said. But Otto said the plants are not nearly as dried out as they were in 2012.
“It feels dry out and there hasn’t been a lot of rain, but it hasn’t been that bad,” Otto said.