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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Still waiting on your blog, Cody.

*snaps finger*
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21330
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


that is likly within the realm of the play of these things

fast and furious there is not much time
DOOM!!!!!!!.................LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting hydrus:
84 hour forecast images..

Somethings getting stirred up in the Caribbean.
Member Since: July 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 453
84 hour forecast images..
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting GTcooliebai:
Like always it will be about timing and strength.

Yes sir, exactly.
Member Since: July 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 453
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Latest JMA update puts it at 50 knots as well, which is utterly ridiculous.


Doesn't the JMA use 10 minute winds? Admitting to not knowing the proper conversion formula for this type of thing, I'd assume that as a general rule it works relative to 1 minute wind speeds.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21330
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Latest JMA update puts it at 50 knots as well, which is utterly ridiculous.

I believe JMA uses 10 minute sustained winds though... Still probably too low but not as ridiculous as 50kt 1 minute winds.

And I see we have a new TD in the East Pac.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 84 Comments: 8047
Quoting GHOSTY1:

If it makes it there fast enough.
Like always it will be about timing and strength.
Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
Quoting AtHomeInTX:


We had a few over this way today. My local guy said how nice that was to have them back after 2 years. He says that almost every day now. And I understand completely. Lol. You don't know what ya got til it's gone.
Good luck hope you guys get some more. Looking down the road we could be tracking a tropical system in the western gulf.
Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
LOL

This is a 50 knot cyclone?



Gotta love the JTWC


Latest JMA update puts it at 50 knots as well, which is utterly ridiculous.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32856
And yes, I realize it's been renumbered. Oh well. :P
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21330
Quoting GTcooliebai:
The front pushes whatever that is NE towards NOLA.

If it makes it there fast enough.
Member Since: July 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 453
T.C.F.W.
03E/TD/C/CX
MARK
10.10N/93.03W
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting hydrus:
Very interesting 9 day GFS. Notice the front draped to the north.
The front pushes whatever that is NE towards NOLA.
Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
I just wrote a blog on 94E. Have a look.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 602 Comments: 21330
Quoting hydrus:
Very interesting 9 day GFS. Notice the front draped to the north.

Thats interesting, but also look at the largeness of the area of disturbed weather around that low that is in the Gulf and even better, its headin for Texas it looks like but thats a ways out.
Member Since: July 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 453
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
Northern Gulf of Mexico (Updated every ~10-15 mins) GOES-13 Low Cloud Product

I can't tell if the Mobile Spinner is responding late to DMIN or early to DMAX? Still doesn't have a purple circle. Which way do you think it will go, Patrap?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Very interesting 9 day GFS. Notice the front draped to the north.
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Quoting TAMPASHIELD:


touché

Sorry, couldnt resist the "beyond a reasonable doubt" idea that he could have made an accidental error on his comment. :)
Member Since: July 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 453
Quoting gulfbreeze:
Maybe the blob coming off the cost near Pensacola can be our gift to someone who needs the rain we sure don't!!!

Hopefully Texas if the 18 GFS is right that it will head this way, and that spin will move through the GOM in our general direction and maybe get some rain to build up for us.
Member Since: July 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 453
Quoting GHOSTY1:

Haha, very slim but there and that very slim chance could be that it was a miscommunication :D


touché
Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
LOL

This is a 50 knot cyclone?



Gotta love the JTWC

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Maybe the blob coming off the cost near Pensacola can be our gift to someone who needs the rain we sure don't!!!
Member Since: June 13, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 931
Quoting TAMPASHIELD:


Very slim.

Haha, very slim but there and that very slim chance could be that it was a miscommunication :D
Member Since: July 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 453
Quoting GHOSTY1:

But a possibility :P


Very slim.
Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
BEGIN
NHC_ATCF
invest_RENUMBER_ep942012_ep032012.ren
FSTDA
R
U
040
010
0000
201206140032
NONE
NOTIFY=ATRP
END
Sweet a system to track.
Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
EP, 03, 2012061400, , BEST, 0, 90N, 922W, 30, 1006, TD
Member Since: April 29, 2009 Posts: 75 Comments: 14908
Quoting TAMPASHIELD:


Not likely.

But a possibility :P
Member Since: July 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 453
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

I see what you did there...



but don't do it again..


You owe me an apology.
Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
Quoting Patrap:



"Spurious Low's" aloft can be vary tricky tings if given the right conditions and persistence.

It's 2012 so I'm not discounting anything with the GOM toasty and inviting.

Haha true, i guess its possibly the year of surprises. if it does form something i dont mind it heading this way as long as it brings us rain. if it wants to be stronger, i dont mind either, just nature and a new challenge.
Member Since: July 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 453
Quoting GTcooliebai:
Popcorn Thunderstorms:



We had a few over this way today. My local guy said how nice that was to have them back after 2 years. He says that almost every day now. And I understand completely. Lol. You don't know what ya got til it's gone.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TAMPASHIELD:


Hurricanes spin clockwise. Stable air can produce severe thunderstorms. Positive tilted tropical waves are acute.
We drive on parkways and park on driveways..what a troubled world we live in....its almost over now so i can relax..:)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Good night 94E Tropical Depression Three-E.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32856
551. Tropicsweatherpr
12:36 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
BEGIN
NHC_ATCF
invest_RENUMBER_ep942012_ep032012.ren
FSTDA
R
U
040
010
0000
201206140032
NONE
NOTIFY=ATRP
END
Member Since: April 29, 2009 Posts: 75 Comments: 14908
550. hurricaneben
12:36 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Strong lightning storms exiting Lake Okeechobee into Northwest Palm Beach County, heading SE and that's in my direction (Boca). I'm looking forward to nice lightning activity, if the storms can hold themselves together.
Member Since: May 15, 2009 Posts: 421 Comments: 679
549. Patrap
12:36 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting GHOSTY1:

I saw on another weather related website that the 18z GFS showed this particular system to move towards Texas as soon as it departed the coast. Does anyone know if it will be anything substantial in terms of rain or strength?



"Spurious Low's" aloft can be vary tricky tings if given the right conditions and persistence.

It's 2012 so I'm not discounting anything with the GOM toasty and inviting.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129902
548. TAMPASHIELD
12:36 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting GHOSTY1:

Miscommunication perhaps?


Not likely.
Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
546. GHOSTY1
12:33 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting TAMPASHIELD:


That is absurd!


Miscommunication perhaps?
Member Since: July 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 453
545. TAMPASHIELD
12:31 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

That was directed towards you and your lollipop/finger comment.


That is absurd!

Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
544. GHOSTY1
12:31 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting Patrap:

I saw on another weather related website that the 18z GFS showed this particular system to move towards Texas as soon as it departed the coast. Does anyone know if it will be anything substantial in terms of rain or strength?
Member Since: July 25, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 453
543. 10Speed
12:28 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting Hurricanes305:


Whats wrong with polls?


Polls are a compilation of opinions and we all know what they say about opinions. :)
Member Since: June 14, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 117
542. TropicalAnalystwx13
12:28 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting gulfbreeze:
Did Levi do a update today?

No.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32856
541. Patrap
12:27 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
EP942012 - INVEST


Storm Relative 1km Geostationary Visible Imagery

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129902
540. GTcooliebai
12:27 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Popcorn Thunderstorms:

Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
539. Patrap
12:26 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129902
538. gulfbreeze
12:25 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Did Levi do a update today?
Member Since: June 13, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 931
537. TropicalAnalystwx13
12:24 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting TAMPASHIELD:


I believe you did.






That was directed towards you and your lollipop/finger comment.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32856
536. TropicalAnalystwx13
12:23 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting Hurricanes305:


Whats up TropicalAnalystwx13, are you doing a blog on this?

Yeah, I am. Will start on it soon.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32856
535. gulfbreeze
12:23 AM GMT on June 14, 2012
Quoting KoritheMan:


Wait, no. Wrong storm. Dammit.
Good to see you on a before the late hours.
Member Since: June 13, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 931

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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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