Latest Western storm raises flood danger in wildfire area while kayakers and skiers play



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DENVER — Rain and snow from the latest Pacific storm to hit the West renewed the risk of flooding in Colorado on Tuesday while providing two seasons of fun for kayakers and skiers and some relief from the drought.

The storm brought winter snow to parts of the mountains and spring rain to the eastern part of the state.

Up to 3 inches of rain fell in the Colorado Springs area, raising streams and putting residents on watch for potential flooding.

The area at risk included land burned by a 2012 wildfire that destroyed about 350 homes and burned about 29 square miles.

No serious flooding had been reported there yet, but officials in Green Mountain Falls, a small town in a valley north of Pikes Peak, requested sand bags for protection.

In the mountains, as much as 2 feet of snow was expected at the highest elevations.

Skiers took advantage of the 6 inches of new snow that fell at Arapahoe Basin, normally one of the last ski resorts to close for the season. In Denver, Cherry Creek spilled its banks and flooded bike paths, and kayakers played in the rapids of the South Platte River near downtown. A duck swam along followed by her babies.

May is typically one of Colorado's wettest months, and so far, it's rained almost every day in the Denver area.

"I think Denver moved to Seattle. I'm ready to move back," resident Jim Armstrong of Denver said.

Pacific storm systems are driving the unusually cold and damp weather, said Mark Struthwolf, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Salt Lake City. A weather ridge that shielded the West from storms all winter dissipated, opening the way for storm after storm, he said.

The wet weather has provided much-needed relief for the farms and ranches of southeastern Colorado, which have been hit hard by drought, and some limited help for the parched Southwest which draws much of its water from the Colorado River.

The river that starts in Colorado supplies water to about 40 million people in seven states, including California.

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

However, winter snow in the Colorado mountains is a bigger producer of water for the Colorado River than spring rains, he said.

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, causing minor flooding and a rock slide.

Rain and snow this weekend also helped parched areas of Montana.

The wet weather in Colorado has made it difficult to clear snow from passes on high mountain roads — many of which usually open for Memorial Day weekend. Four feet of snow have fallen this month on a road to the top of Mount Evans.


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

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