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‘New challenges we never faced before’: Why this summer could bring larger wildfires

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BOULDER, Colo. (KDVR) — A new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder has uncovered a concerning trend in Colorado’s snow melt. Local hydrologists are giving similar warnings.

This summer, wildfire dangers are extremely high with back-to-back winters providing significantly less snowfall than usual. Snowmelts are happening earlier in the year and the impacts are extensive.

“This year definitely has a lot of potential for concerning impacts,” said Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist for the natural resource conservation service. “It’s really going to impact a pretty good chunk of the last within the greater Colorado river system.”

Rivers and reservoirs are expected to not get as much moisture this spring from the winter’s snowmelt. The soil is dry, which means more snowmelt is absorbing into the ground, rather than flowing into local waterways. Scientists hope for significant rainfall entering the summer season.

“That’s really our saving grace to some extent, to see summer rainfall come in,” said Musselman. “That slow trickle of meltwater that reliably occurs over the dry season is something that we have built our entire water infrastructure on in the West.

Last summer Colorado saw the largest wildfire in state history. It’s a milestone they hope remains in the year behind us but the potential for a worse wildfire season isn’t out of question.

“We saw what 2020 had in store, so we should be prepared for the worst-case scenario,” said Musselman.

However, it’s not just fire crews that are on high alert. With persistent dry weather, ski resorts could see fewer powder days early next year. The shift in water delivery timing could also affect agricultural irrigation needs.  

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