Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bad Western Wildfire Situation May Get Worse

One of the larger weather-related stories in the last couple weeks have been wildfires in New Mexico and Colorado. In New Mexico, the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire is raging out of control, burning over 275,000 acres, making it the largest fire in New Mexico's modern history. In Colorado, crews are battling the High Park fire, which is the second largest in Colorado's modern history. Many details on the fires can be found here.

This year (and last year too for that matter), much of the southern half of the Southwest has been enduring quite a drought, thanks in part to the multiyear La Nina we've had in place in the Pacific. Last year wasn't so bad for Colorado and Utah. This year, however, soil moisture is running extremely low. Check out the percent of normal precip that's fallen out West over the last six months.

Notice most of Arizona, new Mexico, Utah, and Colorado are running at 70% of normal or (in many cases) much less.

Here is 2011's map, so you can see that New Mexico and Arizona especially have endured two years of this. The problem is that last summer was warm...but not exactly hot in those areas. This summer, however, we're starting off red hot and trending hotter...fed in part by drought, as well as just the general weather pattern. 

And looking ahead, we may be headed for worse conditions out West. At left, check out today's Euro/GFS ensemble mean for days 8-10 from the PSU E-Wall. Ridging continues out West. Today's models backed off a bit, but we're looking at the potential for continual ridging in place out there, leading to hot temperatures. As monsoon season kicks off in the next 10-15 days, daily thunderstorms may provide some relief, but they more than likely will also cause major fire hazards, with dry lightning becoming a significant issue on top of the heat. Either way, fire season is here in full force and looks to be another doozy in much of the Western US.