Wildfire smoke shrouds Denver; climate change expected to increase Western fires

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:16 PM GMT on June 13, 2012

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Colorado's third largest fire in recorded history, the High Park Fire, shrouded Denver and Fort Collins in acrid smoke Tuesday, causing an increase in emergency room visits related to smoke inhalation. The fire, currently burning fifteen miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado, covered over 43,000 acres (68 square miles) as of Tuesday. Firefighters reported that it was only 10% contained, and was exhibiting "extreme" behavior. A lightning strike triggered the fire on Saturday. While fire fighters try to control the southern edge of the fire, the northern perimeter is burning out of control. Six hundred eighty people and 100 fire engines are working on the ground to contain the blaze, along with air support from air tankers and helicopters. The fire has killed one person, burned 100 structures, and cost $1.6 million to fight so far. An air pollution action day has been declared for Wednesday all along the Front Range of the Rockies, from Denver to Fort Collins, due to smoke from the fire. Air pollution levels from smoke will be unhealthy for sensitive groups.


Figure 1. Fire burns in trees behind homes in the High Park wildfire near Fort Collins, Colorado, on Monday, June 11, 2012. (AP Photo)

Beetles, climate change, and Colorado fires
According to the Denver Post, the High Park Fire is burning in an area where 70% of the trees that have been killed by mountain pine beetles; the insects have devastated forests in western North America in recent years. As our climate change blogger, Dr. Ricky Rood explains, the pine beetle is killed (controlled) by temperatures less than -40°F. This is at the edge of the coldest temperatures normally seen in the U.S., and these cold extremes have largely disappeared since 1990. In Colorado, the lack of -40°F temperatures in winter has allowed the beetles to produce two broods of young per year, instead of one. The beetles are also attacking the pine trees up to a month earlier than the historic norm.


Figure 2. The historical mountain pine beetle (MPB) univoltine life cycle (above calendar arrows and linked by black arrows) and the observed MPB bivoltine life cycle (below calendar arrows and linked by red arrows). Univoltine means one brood per year, and bivoltine means two broods per year. Calendar arrow colors represent monthly temperature regimes: blue for less than 0°C, yellow for 0°-4.99°C, orange for 5°-9.99°C, and red for 10°C and higher. From Mitton and Ferrenberg, "Mountain Pine Beetle Develops an Unprecedented Summer Generation in Response to Climate Warming". This figure appeared in Dr. Ricky Rood's blog, "A Hot Day's Night: The Beetles".

A letter from the field in Colorado
Our climate change blogger, Dr. Ricky Rood, is in Boulder, Colorado this summer, and had this report on the fire Tuesday:

Saturday morning Iz and I were driving along 95th Street to Longmont to the Fairgrounds. We saw the initial plume; Iz said, "Looks like a volcano." At that time it was Colorado clear, with blue skies. The plume got to the top of its ascent and kicked off a little convection that looked like cauliflower. For the next few hours you could see the fire grow by the trunk of the plume getting thicker. It mostly blew to the east, with an occasional white cloud topping. It seemed to double in size every couple of hours.

By Sunday, the smoke was spreading all over the state. We had a couple of cool days with a northerly component in the wind. It filled up the sky, here, with haze - most of the day could not see Long's Peak. Part of the day couldn't see the foothills, say Flagstaff Mountain, which is about 8 miles away. Even with the wind moving around to the south, it's remained hazy. Today it has smelt of campfire-like smoke most of the day. Woke up sneezing. There is fine dust drawn to my computer screen and key board, which is at this point simply dirty. The dogs seem a little crazy.

It's not as acrid as the much closer Fourmile Fire a couple of years ago, but for some reason, it's the most dramatic fire I have experienced, perhaps because of the explosive nature of it. Tankers and helicopters fly over all day; they must stage from somewhere south of here. The tanks on them look hopelessly small compared with the fire, but they say, today, they finally made progress. The drought or drought potential is currently stunning, and we expect a lot of fire this year. Water only flowed in our irrigation ditch for four days before we lost priority.

There is a very nice figure in a local magazine, YS, that shows the percentage of snow pack compared with normal. We are South Platte - mid-May at 19 % normal, and not the worst in the state. Really, a nice little article in YS about how to predict a drought. Last year was nearly record wet. Right now this is setting up to be worse than the 2002 drought, which the article says was a 300 year drought. If true, then we had two 300 year droughts 10 years apart--some of our readers should be able to work on that as an attribution problem. The largest fire in Colorado history, the Hayman, was during the 2002 drought.


New Mexico's massive Whitewater Baldy Complex fire continues
The largest wildfire in New Mexico recorded history, the Whitewater Baldy Complex, continues to burn in the Gila National Forest. The lightning-sparked fire began nearly a month ago on May 15th, is 37% contained, and has devoured almost 280,000 acres (438 square miles.) Though fire weather advisories are not in effect in the region, the humidity is extremely low--humidity values of 6% were reported yesterday afternoon in Reserve, New Mexico, inside the burned area. Afternoon winds are expected to remain moderately strong, around 15 mph, over the next few days, as firefighters focus on keeping the southern edge of the fire from spreading. The fire has cost $22.6 million to fight so far.


Figure 3. The Whitewater Baldy Complex fire seen on our wundermap with the fire layer turned on. The red region outlined in yellow is the active fire perimeter.


Western U.S. wildfires expected to increase due to climate change
Expect a large increase in fires over much of the globe late this century due to climate change, says research published this month in the Journal Ecosphere. Using fire models driven by output from sixteen climate models used in the 2007 IPCC report, the researchers, led by Max Moritz of UC Berkeley, found that 38% of the planet should see increases in fire activity over the next 30 years. This figure increases to 62% by the end of the century. However, in many regions where precipitation is expected to increase--particularly in the tropics--there should be decreased fire activity. The scientists predicted that 8% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability over the next 30 years, and 20% will see decreases by the end of the century. The models do not agree on how fire danger will change for a large portion of the planet--54% for the period 2010 - 2039, and 18% for the period 2070 - 2099. Six key factors were found to control fire probabilities in the models. Most important was how much vegetation there was (NPP, Net Primary Productivity). Three other factors, about half as important, were precipitation of driest month, mean temperature of warmest month, and the difference between summer and winter temperature. Two other minor factors were mean temperature of wettest month, and annual precipitation. The authors found that future fire occurrence appears to primarily be a function of available moisture in many areas, and that the expected global increase in temperature of 3.5°C used in the models will not become the single dominant control on global wildfire. In the U.S., the regions most at risk of increased fires are the tundra regions of northern Alaska, and the West, with Arizona and Colorado at particularly high risk.


Figure 4. Predicted fractional change in fire probability for the period 2010 - 2039 (top) and 2070 - 2099 (bottom) for the average of sixteen climate models used for the 2007 IPCC report. For the 2010 - 2039 period, the models agree that 8% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability, 38% will see increases, and the models are too uncertain to tell for the other 54%. For the 2070 - 2099 period, the models agree that 20% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability, 62% will see increases, and the models are too uncertain to tell for the other 18%. Image credit: Climate change and disruptions to global fire activity, Moritz et al., 2012, from the journal Ecosphere.

Rare tornado hits Venice, Italy
A tornado hit Sant'Erasmo island in the lagoon surrounding Venice on Tuesday, ripping the roofs off of at least 12 buildings. No injuries were reported. The Capital Weather Gang has more videos and information on the event. Tornadoes are not unheard of in Venice; a strong one hit the city in 1970, killing 30 people.


Video 1. A waterspout/tornado in the Venice Lagoon on June 12, 2012.

The Atlantic is quiet
There are no threat areas to discuss in the Atlantic today. The NOGAPS and GFS models are predicting formation of a broad area of low pressure in the Western Caribbean early next week, and we will have to watch this area for development. The waters offshore of North Carolina may be another region to watch, over the next few days, along the edge of a cold front that has moved off the U.S. East Coast.

I'll have a new post Thursday or Friday.

Jeff Masters and Angela Fritz

Smokin' Hot Sun (BisonDoc)
Evening sky above the High Park Fire
Smokin' Hot Sun
Fire on the Mountain (BisonDoc)
This is the High Park Fire in Larimer County, Colorado on Day 2. The fire, first reported Saturday morning, June 9th, grew to 20,000 acres by late Sunday. More than 2,600 evacuation orders have been issued. View is looking west across Fort Collins toward the foothills above Horsetooth Reservoir.
Fire on the Mountain
Smokey Monday Sunset (MikePic)
The smoke has been nasty all along the front range, but made for a nice sunset.
Smokey Monday Sunset
High Park Wildfire (apphotos)
Fire burns through trees on the High Park wildfire near Fort Collins, Colo., on Monday, June 11, 2012. The wildfire is burning out of control in northern Colorado, while an unchecked blaze choked a small community in southern New Mexico as authorities in both regions battled fires Monday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
High Park Wildfire

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Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting winter123:
Did anyone else think the fire map (figure 3) looks like Antarctica?

That's really random, but yes actually, at least a little.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 84 Comments: 8035

Quoting winter123:
Did anyone else think the fire map (figure 3) looks like Antarctica?
Not really.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21302
Quoting ncstorm:
the GFS ensembles continue to show the tropical wave developing and affecting somewhere on the east coast from Florida to NC with the different scenarious..even might be two storms..one affecting the Eastern Atlantic



and one affecting the GOM simultaneous..






They didn't know what to think of those lows this morning. Probably still don't. :)

SOUTHWEST NORTH ATLC S OF 31N W OF 55W...
THE MODELS CONTINUE TO DIFFER WITH THE EVOLUTION OF THE COLD
FRONT EXPECTED TO PASS OFF THE MID ATLC COAST TODAY. THE ANCHOR
LOW PRES SYSTEM IS FORECAST TO PASS OFFSHORE NEAR THE NC/VA
BORDER WHILE A WEAK SURFACE WAVE IS PROJECTED TO BE NEAR 30N78W
AT 14/06Z. THE MODELS HAVE TRENDED WEAKER WITH THIS SURFACE WAVE
COMPARED TO RUNS FROM YESTERDAY. THERE IS GENERAL AGREEMENT THAT
THE MID LEVEL ENERGY ASSOCIATED WITH THIS WAVE WILL FUJIWARA
WITH THE ENERGY ASSOCIATED WITH THE ANCHOR LOW LATE THU INTO
FRI. THE DETAILS ON THE STRENGTH OF THESE TWO VORT MAXES AND
THEIR TRACKS IS UP IN THE AIR. THERE CONTINUES TO BE AGREEMENT
IN THE GEFS AND ECMWF ENSEMBLES ON A 1011 MB LOW NEAR 30N70 AT
16/00Z. THE 00Z ECMWF IS ABOUT 200 NM NE OF THIS POSITION AT
THAT TIME WHILE THE GFS IS ABOUT 200 NM SW. A BLEND OF THEIR
SOLUTIONS CONTINUES TO LOOK LIKE THE BEST WAY TO LEAN FOR THIS
HIGHLY UNCERTAIN FORECAST.
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 253
Did anyone else think the fire map (figure 3) looks like Antarctica?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Hurricanes305:


Confused! how would it help? I though it would competing with each other?

umm no I am not,umm what, not that I know of I think that well there is one in the W carib now it will move into the GOH TD3 will move into Guatemala and cross over into the GOH and merge with the low
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Hurricanes305:


Confused! how would it help? I though it would competing with each other?
There is nothing to compete with in this case, because the only significant weather system that's moving through the Caribbean right now is a tropical wave. Also, don't forget that the mid-level remnants of a tropical cyclone can sometimes induce convergence/instability, bringing about another tropical cyclone. Two recent examples are Hermine in 2010, whose genesis is partially attributable to Eastern Pacific Tropical Depression Eleven-E, and Tropical Storm Arthur in 2008, which originated from the remnants of Tropical Storm Alma, which brought flooding and killed many people in Central America.

You were on the right track, except nothing is trying to develop in the western Caribbean at the moment, so there's nothing there to inhibit.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21302
Quoting allancalderini:
you think so?


Sure, if most models are developing it 24-48 hours out, I think I would be confident that it will at least be tagged an invest, perhaps develop.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Hurricanes305:


Confused! how would it help? I though it would competing with each other?


I don't understand him either sometimes.... may have to do with him living in the Cayman Islands.

Meanwhile... a tale of two lows off the east coast.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I'll have my blog out after the first advisory for TD Three-E so it has the latest information.

Aside from the official coordinates, what else could you say that would be different than if you wrote it now?
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21302
Quoting tropicfreak:


That's a bit low.... could be a little higher since it does have some model support.
you think so?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting wunderkidcayman:
I think that TD 3E may very well end up in the GOH
and help the W carib development


Confused! how would it help? I though it would competing with each other?
Member Since: May 25, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 2043
Quoting MAweatherboy1:

I think we'll probably get an invest out of it and then the question becomes warm core or cold core which the models aren't able to agree on right now.


Yeah.... we will just have to see how it interacts with the Gulf Stream.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I'll have my blog out after the first advisory for TD Three-E so it has the latest information.

Going to forecast a 60 knot peak and since the storm is a significant threat to Mexico, I'll have two blogs out a day until it dissipates: one in the morning and one at night



Wish I had time for that
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting wunderkidcayman:

XTRP is not a model

That's the joke, lol.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 84 Comments: 8035
Quoting KoritheMan:


Cool, what for?


A friends grandparents live there and we had a basketball tournament so between games we went there.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting MAweatherboy1:
You gotta love the GFDL's attempts at intensity forecasting



The GFDL forecasts intensity almost as well as the XTRP forecasts track.

XTRP is not a model
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Thank you Dr. Masters.
The smoke here in Colorado has been persistent over the past 5 days. Can't even see the Rockies on some days!
Hopefully they clear out the situation soon.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I'll have my blog out after the first advisory for TD Three-E so it has the latest information.

Going to forecast a 60 knot peak and since the storm is a significant threat to Mexico, I'll have two blogs out a day until it dissipates: one in the morning and one at night

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32813
Quoting tropicfreak:


That's a bit low.... could be a little higher since it does have some model support.

I think we'll probably get an invest out of it and then the question becomes warm core or cold core which the models aren't able to agree on right now.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 84 Comments: 8035
Quoting weatherh98:


I was there a couple of weeks ago


Cool, what for?
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21302
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
XX/XX/XX

thanks I was waiting for you to post that
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting KoritheMan:


Prairieville. I'm farther inland than you, but close enough to where they don't weaken too much.


I was there a couple of weeks ago

I get stronger winds than most because I live a few hundred yards from the lake
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
You gotta love the GFDL's attempts at intensity forecasting



The GFDL forecasts intensity almost as well as the XTRP forecasts track.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 84 Comments: 8035
Quoting allancalderini:
I give a 20% of the system of the carolinas of becoming a td or ts and a 30 to 40% of ever becoming a invest.


That's a bit low.... could be a little higher since it does have some model support.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
the GFS ensembles continue to show the tropical wave developing and affecting somewhere on the east coast from Florida to NC with the different scenarious..even might be two storms..one affecting the Eastern Atlantic



and one affecting the GOM simultaneous..




Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 16223
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Yes I do.


Why?
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21302
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Yes I do.


It's called forecasting
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting KoritheMan:


lol, no you don't.

Yes I do.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32813
Quoting HurricaneHunterJoe:
looks like nuke hit central louisana


You could say that... I watered the garden when it looked like it would miss here, go all around us. But now I'm listening to almost nonstop thunder. And getting one weather alert after another.
Member Since: August 22, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 3167
The National Weather Service in Miami has issued a

* Severe Thunderstorm Warning for...
central Palm Beach County in South Florida.

* Until 945 PM EDT

* at 907 PM EDT... National Weather Service meteorologists detected a
severe thunderstorm capable of producing damaging winds in excess
of 60 mph. This storm was located 9 miles west of lion country
safari... and moving east at 15 mph.
Member Since: May 23, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 4984
Quoting weatherh98:


Wait where do u live?! I'm in mandeville


Prairieville. I'm farther inland than you, but close enough to where they don't weaken too much.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21302
Quoting Patrap:
Northern Gulf of Mexico (Updated every ~10-15 mins) GOES-13 Low Cloud Product
looks like nuke hit central louisana
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I give a 20% of the system of the carolinas of becoming a td or ts and a 30 to 40% of ever becoming a invest.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting KoritheMan:


Bring it on. Lee wasn't enough to satiate my desire for a tropical storm. And besides, maybe I can improvise a day or two for a local chase.


Wait where do u live?! I'm in mandeville
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting wunderkidcayman:
I think that TD 3E may very well end up in the GOH
and help the W carib development


Agreed. I think this is what the models are seeing now.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21302
I think that TD 3E may very well end up in the GOH
and help the W carib development
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting GTcooliebai:
The front pushes whatever that is NE towards NOLA.


Bring it on. Lee wasn't enough to satiate my desire for a tropical storm. And besides, maybe I can improvise a day or two for a local chase.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21302
Big Thunderstorms!!:)
Member Since: May 23, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 4984
XX/XX/XX
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

It's been renumbered. I gotta wait for the advisory now. :F


lol, no you don't.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21302
Quoting Patrap:


Will be interesting to see what it does now that it's over the warm waters of the GOM... could pull off a surprise. I don't like looking at models long range anyway, so what the heck I want something to track in the Atlantic now.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
585

WHXX01 KMIA 140035

CHGE77

TROPICAL CYCLONE GUIDANCE MESSAGE

NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL

0035 UTC THU JUN 14 2012



DISCLAIMER...NUMERICAL MODELS ARE SUBJECT TO LARGE ERRORS.

PLEASE REFER TO NHC OFFICIAL FORECASTS FOR TROPICAL CYCLONE

AND SUBTROPICAL CYCLONE INFORMATION.



EAST PACIFIC OBJECTIVE AIDS FOR



TROPICAL CYCLONE THREE (EP032012) 20120614 0000 UTC



...00 HRS... ...12 HRS... ...24 HRS. .. ...36 HRS...

120614 0000 120614 1200 120615 0000 120615 1200



LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON

BAMS 9.0N 92.2W 9.7N 93.1W 10.6N 93.7W 11.9N 94.0W

BAMD 9.0N 92.2W 10.1N 93.2W 11.6N 94.2W 13.2N 95.1W

BAMM 9.0N 92.2W 10.2N 93.1W 11.8N 93.9W 13.5N 94.7W

LBAR 9.0N 92.2W 10.2N 93.7W 11.9N 95.5W 13.7N 97.5W

SHIP 30KTS 37KTS 46KTS 51KTS

DSHP 30KTS 37KTS 46KTS 51KTS



...48 HRS... ...72 HRS... ...96 HRS. .. ..120 HRS...

120616 0000 120617 0000 120618 0000 120619 0000



LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON

BAMS 13.5N 93.8W 16.3N 93.4W 16.7N 93.8W 16.2N 94.1W

BAMD 14.7N 95.7W 16.3N 96.3W 15.3N 96.8W 13.7N 96.4W

BAMM 15.3N 95.3W 17.4N 96.2W 16.6N 97.3W 14.7N 97.2W

LBAR 15.5N 99.5W 19.2N 102.7W 21.1N 104.2W 19.6N 105.1W

SHIP 58KTS 64KTS 67KTS 68KTS

DSHP 58KTS 49KTS 30KTS 27KTS



...INITIAL CONDITIONS...

LATCUR = 9.0N LONCUR = 92.2W DIRCUR = 295DEG SPDCUR = 8KT

LATM12 = 8.5N LONM12 = 90.7W DIRM12 = 295DEG SPDM12 = 8KT

LATM24 = 7.8N LONM24 = 89.2W

WNDCUR = 30KT RMAXWD = 50NM WNDM12 = 30KT

CENPRS = 1006MB OUTPRS = 1008MB OUTRAD = 220NM SDEPTH = M

RD34NE = 0NM RD34SE = 0NM RD34SW = 0NM RD34NW = 0NM



$$

NNNN
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting GTcooliebai:
The front pushes whatever that is NE towards NOLA.


Nola? Of course
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
10 day..
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting GTcooliebai:
Good luck hope you guys get some more. Looking down the road we could be tracking a tropical system in the western gulf.


Thanks, looks like even if the storm, or whatever it will be, is picked up by the trough and heads east we still might get a little rain out of it. :)
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 253
Quoting gulfbreeze:
I think 94 will cross over into the BOC!
I agree!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting KoritheMan:
Still waiting on your blog, Cody.

*snaps finger*

It's been renumbered. I gotta wait for the advisory now. :F
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32813
Still waiting on your blog, Cody.

*snaps finger*
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21302

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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