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 tornadodude:
Hey all, hope everyone is doing alright


I have a poll question (I know, I know) haha

Would you consider $1,200 for a 10 day storm chase tour across the Great Plains a good deal? This includes all gas, hotels, and some snacks. Also included is a copy of the DVD from the chase trip.

A. Yes
B. No
C. Other

433. hydrus 10:33 PM GMT on June 13, 2012 +0

Quoting severstorm:
A Sounds like a good deal to me.

Absolutely..If fact it sounds a little to reasonable. A ten day anything usually costs a lot more than twelve hundred dollars.
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18Z Nogaps..

Huge Broad pressure
Tropical Wave as well near the bahamas


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Quoting severstorm:
A Sounds like a good deal to me.
Absolutely..If fact it sounds a little to reasonable. A ten day anything usually costs a lot more than twelve hundred dollars.
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I had a wonderful time visiting my son in Florida, though it rained almost the entire time I was there. Did get to have a wonderful seafood dinner before I left. Drove home through more pouring rain. I may go back to Florida so I can enjoy the beach a little.
Member Since: August 22, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 3125
Quoting tornadodude:
Hey all, hope everyone is doing alright


I have a poll question (I know, I know) haha

Would you consider $1,200 for a 10 day storm chase tour across the Great Plains a good deal? This includes all gas, hotels, and some snacks. Also included is a copy of the DVD from the chase trip.

A. Yes
B. No
C. Other
A Sounds like a good deal to me.
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Quoting hydrus:
Yes. Possibly a good section of the Gulf of Mexico as well. My guess right now is this will be a large system with several vortex centers. It will liger for what seems like forever before one of the wins out and start to organize and grow stronger...Sounds familiar dont it..

Sounds a lot like both Allisons (1989 & 2001)
Member Since: September 2, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 1148
Quoting HurricaneDean07:
I don't really feel like even looking at the models today, I expect to see about the same as yesterday.

I'll force you to look at them though... 18z GFS 174 hours

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Quoting Grothar:


I hope you're talking about the Caribbean?
Yes. Possibly a good section of the Gulf of Mexico as well. My guess right now is this will be a large system with several vortex centers. It will linger for what seems like forever before one of the wins out and start to organize and grow stronger...Sounds familiar dont it..
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I don't really feel like even looking at the models today, I expect to see about the same as yesterday.
Member Since: October 3, 2010 Posts: 40 Comments: 4129
Depth of the GOM 26C Isotherm



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Quoting ncstorm:
the GFS is developing the storm currently in the EPAC which crosses Mexico and then redevelops it in the BOC

Precisely...
Member Since: October 3, 2010 Posts: 40 Comments: 4129
the GFS is developing the storm currently in the EPAC which crosses Mexico and then redevelops it in the BOC
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

I would do it if that time period was supposed to have a lot of major weather and tornado outbreaks, but nothing like we have now with just wind and hail. That's not worth 1200 dollars lol.


Lol well yeah, that's a given. But, that's also part of the risk. Typically, between April and June there are tornadoes somewhere, almost every other day. And, if you have the right people in charge, it is very feasible to get there and see the tornadoes. That's part of the deal, they would drive wherever the tornadoes are, not just be confined to Traditional Tornado Alley.
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Quoting tornadodude:


Elaborate, please haha

I would do it if that time period was supposed to have a lot of major weather and tornado outbreaks, but nothing like we have now with just wind and hail. That's not worth 1200 dollars lol.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32046
GFS thinks about closing the GOM blob off :)

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Quoting ncstorm:
Low near Virginia

Current Surface Analysis Map



Yeah it's been quite windy today here in Richmond, gusts up to 25. Probably it's the pressure gradient between the low offshore and high pressure.

Beautiful weather though with temps in the upper 70s lower 80s. We have seen a lot of this in the past week or two and it's such a blessing to have that especially at the beginning of summer. Hope we don't see triple digits this year.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

C. It depends.


Elaborate, please haha
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Quoting tropicfreak:


Am I seeing a circulation at the tail end of the front? Or am I just seeing things?

You're not seeing things, it is there.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32046
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


Am I seeing a circulation at the tail end of the front? Or am I just seeing things?
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
That's the strongest 50kt TS I've ever seen...


It's probably a typhoon right now. Will JTWC declare it that at the next update? No.

13/2101 UTC 11.0N 135.8E T4.0/4.0 GUCHOL -- West Pacific
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32046
Quoting tornadodude:
Hey all, hope everyone is doing alright


I have a poll question (I know, I know) haha

Would you consider $1,200 for a 10 day storm chase tour across the Great Plains a good deal? This includes all gas, hotels, and some snacks. Also included is a copy of the DVD from the chase trip.

A. Yes
B. No
C. Other


A
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Quoting nigel20:

We don't alligators in Jamaica, but we have American Crocodiles...
them crocs are no joke :).. I flats fish with them for redfish in a kyack.. scary stuff
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Quoting weatherh98:
Me saying this may lead some of you to believe I don't live in Louisiana but I do and I HATE SEAFOOD
thats why you dont like seafood your is covered in oil lol j/k
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Quoting Hurricanes305:


GFS tends to overestimate the High's strength.
I was referring to the Euro.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16971
That's the strongest 50kt TS I've ever seen...

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Quoting washingtonian115:
I just don't believe that the storm will be shoved that dang on far south into Mexico.On one of the runs today it was showing a pretty strong trof coming by then.As far as the east coast is concerned I don't see it happening right now.


GFS tends to overestimate the High's strength.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

What? No, seafood is disgusting.
seafood is amazing its seasoned with salt its whole life lol
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Quoting hydrus:
Oh Yeah....just wait another week or so...its gonna look like a quivering mass of angry white olives...lol


I hope you're talking about the Caribbean?
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Quoting washingtonian115:
I just don't believe that the storm will be shoved that dang on far south into Mexico.On one of the runs today it was showing a pretty strong trof coming by then.As far as the east coast is concerned I don't see it happening right now.


because the models have been all over the place from Florida to Texas, its just too early too tell I think..as the days get closer and the center forms, then data can be fed into the model and hopefully a better conclusion can be derived as to where it will end up but Irene was the same way and the models still couldnt get it right..
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Quoting LargoFl:
...................check this out..caught in Canada..a BLUE LOBSTER
freaking awsome
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Quoting tornadodude:
Hey all, hope everyone is doing alright


I have a poll question (I know, I know) haha

Would you consider $1,200 for a 10 day storm chase tour across the Great Plains a good deal? This includes all gas, hotels, and some snacks. Also included is a copy of the DVD from the chase trip.

A. Yes
B. No
C. Other

C. It depends.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32046
Quoting ncstorm:


I think the GOM and the East Coast may see landfalling storms before the end of the month..
I just don't believe that the storm will be shoved that dang on far south into Mexico.On one of the runs today it was showing a pretty strong trof coming by then.As far as the east coast is concerned I don't see it happening right now.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16971
Hey all, hope everyone is doing alright


I have a poll question (I know, I know) haha

Would you consider $1,200 for a 10 day storm chase tour across the Great Plains a good deal? This includes all gas, hotels, and some snacks. Also included is a copy of the DVD from the chase trip.

A. Yes
B. No
C. Other
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
and this is what I like most about the blog..possible cyclone formation and great opinions of others! very exciting!
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Quoting HurricaneDean07:

Good answer.
I'd give you a cookie, but were limited on stock this year. Dàm economy.
When the economy improves, I would still like to have that cookie.....i eat them
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Quoting washingtonian115:
I think the track of future Chris/Debby will be further north than what the Euro is showing..


I think the GOM and the East Coast may see landfalling storms before the end of the month..
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Quoting Grothar:
Hello boys and girls.

Looks like a lot of moisture moving into the Caribbean.

Oh Yeah....just wait another week or so...its gonna look like a quivering mass of angry white olives...lol
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I think the track of future Chris/Debby will be further north than what the Euro is showing..
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16971
Quoting DJMedik91:


From CNN:

" According to the University of Maine Lobster Institute, blue lobsters are a one-in-2-million phenomenon. A genetic variation causes the lobster to produce an excessive amount of a particular protein that gives it that azure aspect."

I wonder if it tastes the same......
Me too.
Member Since: October 15, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 4323
Just got rocked by thunderstorm in lake mary fl...... No hail but 40 to 60 mph gusts and severe lightning... now the sound of firetrucks and ambulances :( Typical afternoon in central florida
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Quoting LargoFl:
I wonder what caused that Lobster to change colors that way


From CNN:

" According to the University of Maine Lobster Institute, blue lobsters are a one-in-2-million phenomenon. A genetic variation causes the lobster to produce an excessive amount of a particular protein that gives it that azure aspect."

I wonder if it tastes the same......
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392. TXCWC
Finaaallly able to take a good look at last night and this afternoon model runs. I see GFS came back in line with a Western Gulf Storm instead of Florida. Ensemble Mean and Individual Ensembles saying same thing at this point. While 12Z EURO is much less organized than 0Z it still none the less brings what ever may or may not develop to the Western Gulf area. Given what latest few runs have been saying and that they are devloping something now in the 7-10 day range as opposed to 10 plus days, I believe the odds of getting a Gulf System have gone up significantly. I personally will be 100% onboard with a Gulf Storm IF 0Z runs tonight continue with development. While less certain at this point (nothing "actual" to track yet) I will be initially leaning toward a Western Gulf States track (Louisiana or Texas) as this is what the general model data has been saying for some time now.
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Quoting hydrus:
There are many different things that can happen as the El nino forms and settles in. All el nino,s differ a little, no two exactly the same. If it is weak, it will take much longer for the atmosphere to shift into nino mode. The Modiki nino has a lesser effect on the QBO and other anomalies that slow the development of tropical cyclones. If for some reason this nino comes in very strong and vigorous, it will still probably be late in the season and will not have much of an impact on development. El nino does not influence late season storms that much because they usually occur outside the MDR where nino has little or no effect.

Good answer.
I'd give you a cookie, but were limited on stock this year. Dàm economy.
Member Since: October 3, 2010 Posts: 40 Comments: 4129
Hello boys and girls.

Looks like a lot of moisture moving into the Caribbean.

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Quoting gator23:


Is this the same system tha GFS has moving in to Florida?


I'm assuming so. The earlier GFS runs showed it going to Florida. The new run just started.
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Quoting K8eCane:
Hurricane Bertha in 96 had two eyes for awhile


Picture?
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Quoting bohonkweatherman:
If El Nino develops I think it will be late in the year before it does?
There are many different things that can happen as the El nino forms and settles in. All el nino,s differ a little, no two exactly the same. If it is weak, it will take much longer for the atmosphere to shift into nino mode. The Modiki nino has a lesser effect on the QBO and other anomalies that slow the development of tropical cyclones. If for some reason this nino comes in very strong and vigorous, it will still probably be late in the season and will not have much of an impact on development. El nino does not influence late season storms that much because they usually occur outside the MDR where nino has little or no effect.
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...DISJOINTED TROUGH COALESCING OFF THE EAST COAST...

PREFERENCE: ECMWF
CONFIDENCE: AVERAGE

THE NAM DUMBBELLS THE HYBRID SYSTEM CLOSER TO THE CAROLINA COAST
DAY 2 THAN THE GFS AND ECMWF. WILL RELY ON THE DETAILS OF THE
CONSISTENT ECMWF...AS SUPPORTED BY THE GEM GLOBAL AND UKMET.



This from HPC Model discussion
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Hurricane Bertha in 96 had two eyes for awhile
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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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