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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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: 912
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

I didn't ask him a question..?


I believe you did.





Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
this invest looks poised to become TD 3E at any moment.
Member Since: October 15, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 4400
Quoting CosmicEvents:
The life of this blog depends upon just one thing: finding someone here who can not only fly this plane, but knows the question, and who didn't have fish for dinner.


Lmao!! At least I'm having fried snapper for dinner!
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

I didn't ask him a question..?


Whats up TropicalAnalystwx13, are you doing a blog on this?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
The life of this blog depends upon just one thing: finding someone here who can not only fly this plane, but knows the question, and who didn't have fish for dinner.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Da Globe!

Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
I think 94 will cross over into the BOC!
Member Since: June 13, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 912
Quoting TAMPASHIELD:


You didn't answer his question...

I didn't ask him a question..?
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32253
Quoting TAMPASHIELD:


You didn't answer his question...
Sorry I don`t know what the answer is I don`t even knew of what the topic is.
Member Since: October 15, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 4400
Quoting TAMPASHIELD:


I'm still waiting for those "superior knowledge" users, with their "relentless links".

Or do I have to wait for Happy Hour?

According to Chairman Mao:-
A hungry man will stand atop a mountain with his mouth open for a long time, waiting for a roast duck to fly into his mouth.
Knowledge has to be acquired, information is in books!
the superior knowledge suppliers are probably on tea break!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I am counting on Carlotta by tomorrow morning.
Member Since: October 15, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 4400
Quoting allancalderini:
i thought you say 90%btw i think that tomorrow is the day that we are going to know if a system can for near the southeast coast of the USA.


You didn't answer his question...
Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I'm going to say that 94E remains at 60% on the next TWO.


What kind of question is that and how does it have ANYTHING to do with weather?
i thought you say 90%btw i think that tomorrow is the day that we are going to know if a system can for near the southeast coast of the USA.
Member Since: October 15, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 4400
Quoting TAMPASHIELD:


Hurricanes spin clockwise. Stable air can produce severe thunderstorms. Positive tilted tropical waves are acute.



That broke my brain for a second. lol.
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Quoting CosmicEvents:
TD at 11?
I think you can count on it.
Trust me.


I'm taking it to the bank.

I heard this was also written in stone.
Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
TD at 11?
I think you can count on it.
Trust me.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting PlazaRed:

A thought in the head is worth 2 in a book!



I'm still waiting for those "superior knowledge" users, with their "relentless links".

Or do I have to wait for Happy Hour?
Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
Quoting HurricaneDean07:

Ha you sure do gt excited with these Caribbean systems, don't ya?

not really right now kinda feel like sleeping


Quoting HurricaneDean07:

000
ABPZ20 KNHC 132337
TWOEP

TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
500 PM PDT WED JUN 13 2012

FOR THE EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC...EAST OF 140 DEGREES WEST LONGITUDE..

SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS ASSOCIATED WITH AN AREA OF LOW PRESSURE
LOCATED ABOUT 360 MILES SOUTH OF THE BORDER OF MEXICO AND GUATEMALA
HAVE BECOME A LITTLE BETTER ORGANIZED THIS AFTERNOON. ENVIRONMENTAL
CONDITIONS APPEAR FAVORABLE FOR ADDITIONAL DEVELOPMENT...AND THIS
SYSTEM COULD BECOME A TROPICAL DEPRESSION LATER TODAY OR THURSDAY
AS IT MOVES NORTHWESTWARD AT ABOUT 10 MPH. THIS SYSTEM HAS A
HIGH CHANCE...90 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING
THE NEXT 48 HOURS. INTERESTS ALONG THE SOUTHERN COAST OF MEXICO
SHOULD MONITOR THE PROGRESS OF THIS DISTURBANCE. A TROPICAL STORM
OR HURRICANE WATCH COULD BE REQUIRED FOR A PORTION OF THE SOUTHERN
COAST OF MEXICO BY THURSDAY MORNING.

A BROAD TROUGH OF LOW PRESSURE PERSISTS SEVERAL HUNDRED MILES
SOUTHWEST OF ACAPULCO MEXICO. THE ASSOCIATED SHOWER ACTIVITY
REMAINS DISORGANIZED...AND DEVELOPMENT...IF ANY...OF THIS
DISTURBANCE IS EXPECTED TO BE SLOW TO OCCUR AS IT MOVES LITTLE.
THIS SYSTEM HAS A LOW CHANCE...10 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL
CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER BROWN

yep it's expected

Quoting hurricaneben:
POLL: How strong will 94E be at peak?
a)TD
b)TS
c)Hurricane
d)Major Hurricane
e)None of these.

B or C (Cat 1)

Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 12140
Quoting washingtonian115:
Ah great who the hell put up a poll now?.


Whats wrong with polls?
It gets everyone involves since they like to respond to them. Having too much is when it becomes annoying. LOL
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Quoting TAMPASHIELD:


Hurricanes spin clockwise. Stable air can produce severe thunderstorms. Positive tilted tropical waves are acute.

A thought in the head is worth 2 in a book!

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Quoting Hurricanes305:


Not really, they just wanna get this info out to the Mexican citizens since its on such short notice.

Ususally the NHC is very cautious and conservative about storms though, especially ones that haven't developed yet... To see them calling 94E a possible developing hurricane is pretty unusual.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 83 Comments: 7833
Quoting MAweatherboy1:
That looks like a strong tropical storm/minimal hurricane
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Rapid increase in thunderstorm activity with 94E. I think there is a very good chance (60%+) that we see Tropical Depression 3-E at 11PM EDT.



Gotta get a blog out.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32253
Quoting PlazaRed:

We are all just lurking/running in the background, waiting for somebody to make a blatant error and then we can jump on them with superior knowledge and relentless links.
Are you planing on publishing an illustrated book of your recent and achieved avatars? Which we are now experiencing several a week? It could have commercial potential!


Hurricanes spin clockwise. Stable air can produce severe thunderstorms. Positive tilted tropical waves are acute.
Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
Quoting MAweatherboy1:

If the NHC is worried then we're really in trouble, lol.


Not really, they just wanna get this info out to the Mexican citizens since its on such short notice.
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Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 83 Comments: 7833
Quoting hurricaneben:
POLL: How strong will 94E be at peak?
a)TD
b)TS
c)Hurricane
d)Major Hurricane
e)None of these.


C) Hurricane (85 mph) but 75 mph at landfall.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Try again Kori. :P
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32253
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
The NHC seems worried about this storm.

II. PACIFIC REQUIREMENTS
1. NEGATIVE RECONNAISSANCE REQUIREMENTS.
2. SUCCEEDING DAY OUTLOOK: FIX OF A POSSIBLE DEVELOPING
HURRICANE
AT 15/1800Z NEAR 13.5N 95.5W
JWP

If the NHC is worried then we're really in trouble, lol.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 83 Comments: 7833
Quoting washingtonian115:
Where'd everyone go?.

We are all just lurking/running in the background, waiting for somebody to make a blatant error and then we can jump on them with superior knowledge and relentless links.
Are you planing on publishing an illustrated book of your recent and achieved avatars? Which we are now experiencing several a week? It could have commercial potential!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32253
Ah great who the hell put up a poll now?.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting KoritheMan:
If this is what I think it is, we could be looking at a much stronger system than anticipated:



Wait, no. Wrong storm. Dammit.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 582 Comments: 20773
The NHC seems worried about this storm.

II. PACIFIC REQUIREMENTS
1. NEGATIVE RECONNAISSANCE REQUIREMENTS.
2. SUCCEEDING DAY OUTLOOK: FIX OF A POSSIBLE DEVELOPING
HURRICANE
AT 15/1800Z NEAR 13.5N 95.5W
JWP
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32253
Me, I'd have to go with a C. 75-95 MPH at peak would be a fair bet. Unfortunately, land stands in the path of 94L/Carlotta so residents in the Pacific Coast of Mexico should consider having their preparations ready or making it ready if not.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 582 Comments: 20773
Quoting washingtonian115:
But-but I wanted a chocolate chip cookie...


The oven is not set for cookies today.
Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I stand corrected. It is all the way up to 90%.


90% at 8pm

93E looks little better organize as the low pressure area looks healthy and well-define. It also has some improved its banding feature. All indicates this could be a depression by 11pm

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Just from the wording of the last sentence on the TWO, the "Possible hurricane" request for recon and the TWD of "dramatically increasing max winds in the vicinity of 94E if it becomes a TD" seems to imply that the NHC is worried about this storm.
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Quoting hurricaneben:
POLL: How strong will 94E be at peak?
a)TD
b)TS
c)Hurricane
d)Major Hurricane
e)None of these.

High B/Low C
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 83 Comments: 7833
From the 2205 UTC Tropical Weather Discussion --

"ALL OF THE GLOBAL MODELS INDICATE THIS SYSTEM COULD
DEEPEN QUICKLY ONCE THE CENTER BECOMES BETTER ORGANIZED.
INTERESTS ALONG THE COASTS OF SOUTHEAST MEXICO SHOULD CLOSELY
MONITOR THIS SYSTEM. IF THE SYSTEM IS UPGRADED TO A TROPICAL
DEPRESSION OR STORM TONIGHT...THE HIGH SEAS FORECAST OF MAXIMUM
WINDS WITH THIS SYSTEM COULD BE SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASED."
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32253
Well see Carlotta SOON.
Chris in A BIT
Debby AFTERWARD
And Ernesto LATER, like a couple of weeks.
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I wonder what kind of watches/warnings they currently have up for the Mexican coastline.

I'd expect Tropical Storm Warnings and maybe Hurricane Watches.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32253
But-but I wanted a chocolate chip cookie...
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Quoting hurricaneben:
POLL: How strong will 94E be at peak?
a)TD
b)TS
c)Hurricane
d)Major Hurricane
e)None of these.
B) 50 knot TS at landfall.  Dissipation into Mexico.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

C.


That's correct. Now here is your lollipop.
Member Since: April 21, 2012 Posts: 4 Comments: 307
Quoting hurricaneben:
POLL: How strong will 94E be at peak?
a)TD
b)TS
c)Hurricane
d)Major Hurricane
e)None of these.

*everyone yells*
C!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Quoting hurricaneben:
POLL: How strong will 94E be at peak?
a)TD
b)TS
c)Hurricane
d)Major Hurricane
e)None of these.
Strong tropical storm.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 582 Comments: 20773
Quoting hurricaneben:
POLL: How strong will 94E be at peak?
a)TD
b)TS
c)Hurricane
d)Major Hurricane
e)None of these.

C.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32253

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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.