High fire danger when it’s supposed to be snowing

Brief by Central Staff

Weather – December 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

On account of the warm, dry weather, Smokey Bear hasn’t gone into hibernation yet.

Instead, fire restrictions were imposed Nov. 12 on eight Colorado counties by state and federal land managers, along with local sheriffs. In essence, all outdoor fires were banned, except those in developed campsites. Outdoor smoking was restricted to “an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material.”

The affected counties were Chaffee, Lake, Park, Jefferson, Teller, El Paso, Huerfano, and Los Animas.

Blame it on La Niña, which is the result of a pool of water in the Pacific Ocean, just like her brother El Niño.

El Niño winters are supposed to be wet and cold. Ours wasn’t, but California did get hammered two years ago. La Niña autumns are supposed to be dry and warm, and as we went to press, even Leadville and Gunnison were fairly clement, especially for November, and there wasn’t enough snow at Monarch (which was supposed to open Nov. 19) to make a sidewalk slippery.

Nobody seems to remember having fire restrictions imposed so late in the year before, according to Dave Steinke, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service.

“It’s very unusual at this time of year to be without snow or rain,” he said. “The dry weather has forced us to put fire restrictions in place.”

The National Weather Service says that once the dry spell ends, though, La Niña winters typically offer heavier than average snowfall. So we hope you’ve enjoyed it while it lasted.