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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Comes from the Caribbean. Looks to hit TX/LA.
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looks like the Nogaps wants to split the energy as the GFS was doing in its previous runs..one to Mexico and one to Florida

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Quoting wunderkidcayman:
true I'll call it a western outlier anyway to overall consesus show a W carib storm that tracks NEward to Cuba Bahamas or Florida


How so 0zECMWF and 0zCMC showed a similar scenario as the 12zGFS. Until we get a closed circulation the models are going to be all over the place tho.
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Quoting Hurricanes305:


This prove my point notice most of the low pressure is in the GOH which means that if a low pressure develops it will be in the W Caribbean in the BOC.

ok don't get yo is it GOH or BOC
I say development will be in the GOH as it moves around in the W caribbean
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Quoting jeffs713:


Hard to know which fires are just low-level and which ones are incipient disasters. Definitely, a build-up of fuel is bad. I guess they could do planned controlled burns and hope they don't get out of control. Or we could remove the built up fuel some other way. Or we could watch these fires do their thing, and think of the huge blazes as a lot of little blazes happening all at once. The pine beetles seem to be the kicker. They will destroy the forests whether they burn or not.
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Quoting Patrap:
Itsa all smoke and mirrors till ya get a Vortex and some bones on it.






Wow the MJO is not completely back yet and look at the moisture in the Caribbean we may see this thing establishing itself in the w Caribbean by Sunday and organizing early next.
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My thoughts.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31554
Quoting Hurricanes305:


Also it reminds me of Alex
Quoting GTcooliebai:
More like Hermine part deux.


Neither, Alex went farther south and Hermine went due north and also into Mexico. This is similar to track and development to Hurricane Dolly in 2008.


Also please remember that this is only one run, the 18z GFS could very likely show a more southern route and even weaker. What I'm interested in is if the ECMWF will be stronger than the 00z.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
If I'm looking at the GFS right, the spark that will develop ''Chris'' will be this over the islands.


TAFB showing lowering of pressures in the WCARB.


This prove my point notice most of the low pressure is in the GOH which means that if a low pressure develops it will be in the W Caribbean in the BOC.
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east pacific is one great big cyclonic turning area

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Itsa all smoke and mirrors till ya get a Vortex and some bones on it.




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If I'm looking at the GFS right, the spark that will develop ''Chris'' will be this over the islands.


TAFB showing lowering of pressures in the WCARB.
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Quoting yqt1001:
The images in the blog post about future fire probabilities shows a decrease in forest fires up here! :O I don't know how that is possible since as it is 99% of this region is solid boreal forest.

Maybe your area is predicted to get wetter?
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Quoting Hurricanes305:


The GFS 12z over reacts to the High and it develops in the BOC the system gets cut off from a trough so it moves west to Texas/Mexico border. Mmmm don't see that being likely in fact, this is more of a western senario.
This is just one run lets see what the other models have in store.
true I'll call it a western outlier anyway to overall consesus show a W carib storm that tracks NEward to Cuba Bahamas or Florida
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GOES Imager Spectral Difference
June 13, 2012 - 14:45 UTCIt is my belief that this will be a large system. Here is the 126 hour GFS, and it already looks interesting in the gulf and the Western Caribbean..
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Quoting Hurricanes305:


The GFS 12z over reacts to the High and it develops it in the BOC. Tthe system gets cut off from a trough and the High pushed it west to Texas/Mexico border. Mmmm don't see that being likely. In fact, this is more of a western senario.
This is just one run lets see what the other models have in store.
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:
I still say that the W carib system will track NE to cuba and S florida
The longer it takes to form the less likely that happens, but if it forms quickly there is a chance. However, on the latest GFS run there is no signs of a trough digging down towards the Southeast.
Member Since: August 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 5628
Daily SOI: -2.3
30 Day SOI: -3.8
90 Day SOI: -8.6
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:
I still say that the W carib system will track NE to cuba and S florida


The GFS 12z over reacts to the High and it develops in the BOC. The system gets cut off from a trough so it moves west to Texas/Mexico border. Mmmm don't see that being likely. in fact, this is more of a western senario.
This is just one run lets see what the other models have in store.
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Thanks Dr. Masters and Angela...good morning everyone!
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Quoting ProgressivePulse:


One thing to remember is that these broad areas of low pressure take a painfully long time to develop most of the time. Personally I always add a couple days to what I think will happen to compensate for that. Human nature is always to speed things along. While it may start to form later this weekend, it could be mid-week before anything interesting evolves.
These systems that you speak of tend to have extreme rainfall events associated with them. Hopefully if this thing comes together it will not move over flooded areas in the panhandle and Alabama.
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Easily a 70mph TS being shown on the 12z GFS into Texas by 240 hours. System is similar in track to Hurricane Dolly in 2008.
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I still say that the W carib system will track NE to cuba and S florida
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Quoting GTcooliebai:
More like Hermine part deux.


Also it reminds me of Alex
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Texas/Mexico border is targeted at 240 hours.



996 millibars at landfall.

More like Hermine part deux.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Texas/Mexico border is targeted at 240 hours.



Mmmm This run shows that the High is much stronger. It weakens temporarily so the system moves north. But another high from the west merges with the Atlantic high forces it back west.
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Texas/Mexico border is targeted at 240 hours.



996 millibars at landfall.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31554
998mb in the southwest Gulf at 204 hours.

And landfall in south TX as a moderate/strong TS in 252 hours.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
GFS is taking a more southern route, 1002mb low in the BOC by 162 hours.


The GFS is responding to the High northeast of it forcing convection to organize farther west. Where the system develops really depends on the Location of the High and any troughs in the atmosphere. Lets see if any troughs swings by and forces it ENE/NE as it did on the 0z run
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Keeper those pushing the Rights agenda know very well that GW is happening. They know, if the majority knew how bad it was going to get that real change would inevitably come; and that would be bad for big business the Godfather of the Republican party.
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Galveston, 4 yrs post Ike
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
GFS is taking a more southern route, 1002mb low in the BOC by 162 hours.

Alex Part II?
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XX/AOI/XXL
MARK
36.36N/73.76W
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Quoting ProgressivePulse:
Could possibly squeeze in another before the subsidence sets in at the end of the month, maybe further east in the Western or C-Atl?


Could be possible as the MJO will move from the Caribbean to the eastern Atlantic and as a tropical wave comes out of Africa the MJO could support and allow the wave's convection to be persistent and lower pressures however it needs to find an anticyclone and warmer sst in the Atlantic to organized into a system. But its a possibility.
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174 hours as a moderate TS in the BOC, so far stronger than the 06z.
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Quoting Hurricanes305:


Me either as most of the moisture is in the Caribbean and GOM as well as the upper ridging conditions so the shear off the east coast will increase and wont be favorable for development.

Local Mets in Wilmington NC are only calling for a max of 25 Kts with 7 foot seas.
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Quoting Barefootontherocks:
A kick in the arse is what humans understand, Keep. I doubt global warming is on the general public's daily worry list, let alone that they are refusing to face it out of fear.
no there have been a few that are noticing something is wrong they just claim they don't know what it is
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GFS is taking a more southern route, 1002mb low in the BOC by 162 hours.
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Quoting weatherh98:


TA13 explained it yesterday, that is in a very high pressure environment. So it doesn't take as low of a pressure to get high winds.

The one off the Florida coast is at least a tropical depression, maybe even a storm
Quoting allancalderini:
I really don`t see from where we could get Chris of the Southeast coast.


Me either as most of the moisture is in the Caribbean and GOM as well as the upper ridging conditions so the shear off the east coast will increase and wont be favorable for development.
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Trollnken, whatever his handle, is a perfect case for what's happening in Republican leaning states. Void of truth, unwilling to truly seek truth, willing to ridicule truth, willing tries to corrupt truth in others, and when undeniable truths are presented; they still deny with non-truths. It's generational, just like racism, ignorance is passed down too.
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Could possibly squeeze in another before the subsidence sets in at the end of the month, maybe further east in the Western or C-Atl?
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:

people have always been scared
to face the truth
until its kicking them in the arse
A kick in the arse is what humans understand, Keep. I doubt global warming is on the general public's daily worry list, let alone that they are refusing to face it out of fear.
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Quoting allancalderini:
I really don`t see from where we could get Chris of the Southeast coast.


can ya see it now

XX/AOI/XXL
MARK
36.36N/73.76W
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Quoting weatherh98:


TA13 explained it yesterday, that is in a very high pressure environment. So it doesn't take as low of a pressure to get high winds.

The one off the Florida coast is at least a tropical depression, maybe even a storm


That is correct, the pressure gradient is what causes the winds. Low pressure is always relative to the surrounding environment.
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The MJO is notorious for dropping ducks in the pond. The other dynamics remain to be seen but, there is a high chance of an entity at least with good model support.

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To me Dr. Masters is expressing a concern that wild fires are set to become even larger and more destructive. I feel that is a fair concern, even ignoring climate change. There is evidence that wild fires are growing larger and are becoming more destructive just in the last few years. The fact that more land is being developed only naturally puts us at a greater risk for destruction; not just from wild fires but in general.
I hate labels, they're often inaccurate or too general. I don't believe in black and white - just varying shades of gray nobody is so far on one extreme that they cannot at least understand where the other side is coming from unless they have some psychological disability to empathize. But I digress.

Coming back to climate change, I wouldn't be so pessimistic as to think we're all doomed; all that is happening is mother nature has more energy to play with, and now that we are all spread out, we're a bigger target to hit.

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Quoting washingtonian115:
some1Has2bTheRookie come out from hiding.



cloak /active -n

Hi, washingtonian!

cloak /active -y
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Quoting allancalderini:
I really don`t see from where we could get Chris of the Southeast coast.


TA13 explained it yesterday, that is in a very high pressure environment. So it doesn't take as low of a pressure to get high winds.

The one off the Florida coast is at least a tropical depression, maybe even a storm
Member Since: June 17, 2011 Posts: 11 Comments: 6461
Quoting CybrTeddy:

Sure, 72 hours has a system off the US East Coast.
I really don`t see from where we could get Chris of the Southeast coast.
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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.