Pacific storms bring risk of floods, hope of relief in parched West

DENVER (KRON/AP) — The latest in a series of Pacific storms spreading damp weather across the West is raising concerns of flooding in areas stripped bare by forest fires, but the storms are also bringing hopes of relief in drought-stricken states.

The Colorado Springs area received up to 3 inches of rain by Tuesday morning, raising the levels of streams and the risk of flooding. The warning area included land burned by a 2012 wildfire that destroyed about 350 homes and burned about 29 square miles. No serious flooding has been reported there yet.

In the mountains, up to 2 feet of snow was expected Tuesday.

The wet weather is good news for the parched Southwest.

“Any precipitation we get here would be beneficial, ultimately, for California,” said Jim Pringle, a weather service meteorologist in Grand Junction, Colorado.

But how much water gets that far depends on how much is held back in dams on the Colorado River. Winter snow in the Colorado mountains is a bigger producer of water for the Colorado River than spring rains, he said. The river supplies water to about 40 million people in seven states, including California.

Pacific storm systems are driving the unusually cold and damp weather, National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Struthwolf said. A weather ridge that protected the West from storms all winter dissipated, opening the door for these patterns of disruptive weather, he said.

“We’re just getting one storm after another,” said Struthwolf, who is based in Salt Lake City.

The storm has dropped heavy rains in Utah and parts of Arizona and California in recent days. Up to 2 inches of rain fell in some areas of northern Utah over the weekend, causing minor flooding and a rock slide.

In Nevada, dark clouds in the Las Vegas area unleashed severe thunderstorms and hail the size of quarters Monday in neighborhoods close to the mountains.

On its march toward Colorado, the storm dumped up to 2 inches of rain in some areas and several inches of mountain snow in Utah, flooding several homes, triggering an avalanche warning and forcing the closure a canyon road after a boulder the size of a car blocked the road.

Showers came to the plains of southeastern Colorado, which has been hit hard by drought in recent years. Rain and snow this weekend also helped out parched parts of Montana.

The storm is expected to linger in Colorado most of Tuesday. May is typically one of Colorado’s wettest months, and so far, it’s rained almost every day.

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Associated Press writers Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and Dan Elliott in Denver contributed to this report.

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