Under the heat dome: Durango keeps breaking records for temperature highs


Residents across Southwestern U.S. find ways to beat the heat
Record-setting heat caused the top of this Coca-Cola can to blow off inside a vehicle Thursday. The high temperature hit 94 degrees – 2 degrees hotter than the previous record – based on temperature records being kept at the Durango-La Plata County Airport. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

How hot was it?

It was so hot that a fire ignited in Buckley Park at the slightest provocation from a half-lit cigarette butt. It was so hot that an aluminum Coca-Cola can exploded in someone’s vehicle seemingly out of nowhere. It was so hot that an eerie quiet fell over the Animas River as song birds stopped singing and scurrying rodents languished in the shade.

Strange things happen when it gets this hot.

On the sidewalk alongside Florida Road, bikers and runners had to watch their step as the concrete buckled under the heat.

A sidewalk along Florida Road buckles in the heat Thursday evening in Durango. (Shane Benjamin/Durango Herald)

If one visited the La Plata County Humane Society, they could see dogs taking a walk inside, doing lap after lap around the air-conditioned thrift store, retreating from their grassy field with burning paws and swelling tongues, said Cassidy Crisp, spokeswoman for the organization.

Southwest Colorado wasn’t alone in its record-breaking temperatures Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The whole Southwestern U.S. was trapped under a phenomenon known as a “heat dome,” which occurs when warm air becomes trapped over a certain area as a result of a high-pressure zone.

That heat dome is encapsulating parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, pushing much of the Southwest into triple digits and creating heat advisories and extreme heat warnings, said Erin Walker, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

The Durango area set records on Wednesday with a high of 93 degrees, Thursday with a high of 94 and Friday with a high of 93 – beating previous records by 3, 2 and 2 degrees, respectively.

The temperatures were recorded at Durango-La Plata County Airport, 15 miles southeast of town, where it is generally a bit warmer than within city limits. Records have been kept consistently there since 1996.

Large swathes of Durango were shielded from the brunt of the sun’s wrath on Friday by clouds formed by moisture whisked in from the Gulf of Mexico, Walker said.

During the late-spring heat wave, air conditioning repairers haven’t been able to catch their breath, said Danny Whatley, owner of Whatley Heating and Cooling. Clients have been turning on their units for the first time since last summer to find lukewarm air blowing out of their units, he said.

Durango Fire Protection District was called Thursday to douse a small fire that started in a mulch pile after someone apparently deposited a lit cigarette. (Shane Benjamin/Durango Herald)

The town of Silverton, located at 9,318 feet in the San Juan Mountains, was expecting increased visitation this weekend as Western Slope residents seek to escape the boiling temperatures, said DeAnne Gallegos, executive director of Silverton Chamber of Commerce. But even the cold-hardened mountain people of Silverton were feeling the heat, which was hitting the mid-70s late last week.

The trails around Purgatory Resort remained closed until June 29 last year as a result of record-breaking snowfall. But the resort planned to launch its summer season June 15 this year, two days ahead of schedule, thanks in part to less snow and above-average temperatures. Only small amounts of snow remain on north-facing, high-elevation slopes, said Sara Knight, marketing manager with Purgatory.

How hot was it?

It was so hot Thursday that Willy Kneebone, who described himself as looking like “Cousin Itt,” was forced to lop off his luscious locks to beat the heat. It was so hot that Peter Thorton, a retiree living in his RV, worked frantically in Schneider Park to try to bring his busted air conditioning system back to life. It was so hot that Gavin Dunker, a runner on the Animas River Trail visiting from swampy Georgia, complained that the dry heat had turned his throat into a desert.

Post courtesy of DurangoHerald.com.

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