Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:23 PM GMT on July 01, 2011
The largest fire in New Mexico history is now the dangerous Los Conchas wildfire, which continues to threaten Los Alamos, New Mexico. The fire had consumed 94,000 acres (147 square miles) as of Thursday night, matching the 2003 Dry Lakes Fire in Gila National Forest in Southern New Mexico as the largest fire in state history. The Los Conchas fire was fanned yesterday by winds that reached sustained speeds of up to 25 mph, gusting to 34 mph, along with temperatures in the low 80s and humidities as low as 15%. The fire was 3% contained as of Thursday night. Today, winds will be lighter, 10 - 15 mph, and according to the NOAA Storm Prediction Center, these will not be critical fire conditions. Critical fire conditions are not expected in the Southwest U.S. through July 8, which should allow firefighters to gain control of the Los Conchas fire over the weekend. Conditions in the area are so dry that flames reached 500 feet into the air yesterday, and the fire burned downed trees that were scorched in the huge Cerro Grande fire in 2000.
The 4.7 million acres that have burned in the U.S. so far this year is more than double the 10-year average of 2.3 million acres, according to the Interagency Fire Center. Both Arizona and New Mexico have seen their largest fires in recorded history, and Texas has seen the most acreage burned in recorded history. The Christian Science Monitor today quoted Grant Meyer, a geologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque who studies the interaction of climate and weathering processes, as saying: "these big, severe fires are not unprecedented" in hot, dry intervals the region has experienced during the past 10,000 years. "But recent experience down here suggests that what we're looking at in the last few decades is at least as severe and maybe more so than anything we've seen since the last Ice Age." A build-up of fuels from forestry practices that emphasized fire suppression is partly responsible, he said, "but part of it as well--and the data are very good on this --it's climatic warming", as human industrial activity and land-use changes have pumped increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A long-term average decline in annual snow pack, which provides the bulk of the region's water, along with rising average temperatures have lengthened the fire season and dried out the fuel.
Figure 1. Summertime temperatures in New Mexico have increased by about 1°F over the past 100 years. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.
Figure 2. Change in the average date of onset of the spring snow melt runoff pulse between 1950 - 1999. Reddish-brown circles indicate significant trends towards onsets more than 20 days earlier., Lighter circles indicate less advance of the onset. In a few locations, onset is later (blue circles.) The earlier snow melt in large portions of the West has led to a much longer fire season in recent decades. Image credit: Changes in Streamflow Timing in the Western United States in Recent Decades, USGS, 2005 (as reproduced by the USGCRP.)
Warmest and driest month on record for portions of Texas
June 2011 was the warmest and driest month of all-time in Midland, Texas, since records began in 1931. The average temperature was 88°F, beating the old record of 87.2°F set in August 1964. No rain fell, making it the first June in recorded history in Midland where no rain fell. June 2011 was the warmest on record in San Angelo and Borger, 2nd warmest in Austin and Amarillo, 3rd warmest in Dalhart, 4th warmest in San Antonio, and 10th warmest at Brownsville. Yesterday's 3.39" of rain that fell in Brownsville from Tropical Storm Arlene helped make June 2011 the 4th wettest June on record for the city.
The Atlantic is quiet
The Atlantic is quiet, and none of the computer models is predicting tropical cyclone formation through July 8.
Enjoy your holiday weekend, everyone, and I'll be back with a new post on Tuesday at the latest.
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