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Record-breaking heat wave comes to SW Colorado

Thursday and Friday are forecast to be hottest on record
Weather forecasters are predicting record-breaking temperatures toward the end of the week ahead of a hot, dry summer. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

A heat wave that is impacting much of the Southwestern U.S. settled into Southwest Colorado on Wednesday, causing the mercury to hit 92 degrees in Durango – matching a historical record for the day, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

The above-average temperatures are expected to stick around through Saturday.

Thursday and Friday are expected to set records in Durango with a high of 96 and 95, respectively, and Saturday is forecast to match the record of 91, according to the National Weather Service.

The previous records for Thursday and Friday were 92 and 91, meaning the heat wave could break the records by 4 degrees. Records have been kept consistently since 1996.

Durango will begin to get some relief on Sunday with a high of 88, and Monday is expected have a high of 82.

Sunday and Monday are expected to include some cloud cover with a cold front moving in from the northwest. Sunday includes a 20% to 30% chance of scattered showers, and Monday has a 40% to 60% chance of showers.

If there is rain, it will probably be a tenth of an inch or less. Heavier, more reliable rain is expected on Sunday and Monday in the San Juan Mountains.

Tom Renwick, senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said the culprit behind this week’s record-breaking temperatures are two phenomena known as “warm advection” and “compressional heating.”

Warm advection, in layman’s terms, is simply the process of warmer air flowing into an area, usually from somewhere farther south. In the case of this week’s heat wave, a counterclockwise spinning low-pressure zone located around the Baja California peninsula and a clockwise spinning high-pressure zone in Texas are working in tandem to send warm air toward Southwest Colorado.

At the same time, a high-pressure zone is moving in from the south. The higher pressure compresses air, which causes it to warm – hence compressional heating.

According to the National Weather Service, Cortez can expect a high of 96 on Thursday, 95 on Friday, 94 on Saturday, 91 on Sunday and 85 on Monday. Pagosa Springs can expect a high of 91 on Thursday, 89 on Friday, 88 on Saturday, 85 on Sunday and 78 on Monday.

The warmer temperatures in Cortez and cooler temperatures in Pagosa Springs relative to Durango can mostly be chalked up to a weaker compressional heating effect, attributable to their lower and higher elevations respectively.

“Since you’re at a lower elevation, you actually have more sky above you that’s pushing down,” Renwick said. “You can’t feel it, but it makes a difference.”

One entity that isn’t too bothered by the heat wave is Cream Bean Berry, an ice cream shop on Main Avenue whose production manager, Monea Monroe, said: “We check the weather every week. Generally, the cloudier it is the less customers and the sunnier it is the more customers. It’s supposed to be in the 90s this week, so we’re busy getting ready.”

Not everyone can just walk into the freezer when the sun starts to scorch, though.

William Kelso, who has spent the past 12 years backpacking cross-country, shared his disappointment with the heat.

“I come north in the summer to escape the heat and now it looks like I’ve got to go a little bit farther north,” he said. “It’s frustrating because I have to go so many more miles into rougher country just to stay cool. Durango’s nice. I’d rather just stay cool here.”

He’s not alone. Cole Lawrence moved to Durango recently from Colorado Springs and expressed his surprise toward the early June heat wave.

“I knew it was closer to New Mexico, but I didn’t know it was going to be this hot,” he said. “I’m going to need to buy more shorts and T-shirts.”

Even locals can’t stand it.

“It’s pretty exhausting, especially if you go outside. It just drains your energy,” said Peter Condrat, an incoming sophomore at Durango High School, who said this heat wave follows a marked trend across his young life. “I feel like in Durango the summers get hotter and the winters get shorter.”

Humans aren’t the only ones struggling to beat the heat.

Kaiya, a bulldog-mix, panted profusely in Buckley Park. Her owner Rob Horn said: “There’s fake wood over there for a temporary sidewalk and she walked on it and burned her paws. She also has a shorter snout and can’t cool down as well as other dogs, so we have to be careful she doesn’t get heat stroke.”

Horn will have to keep his guard up because according to the National Weather Service, Durango is expected to have a warmer and drier summer than average.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the region has already been getting warmer and drier for the past 30 years. So although this week marked the first record-breaking temperatures of a summer come early, they might not be the last.


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