Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:42 PM GMT on June 12, 2013
Destructive wildfires erupted in three locations in drought-baked Colorado on Tuesday, fanned by strong winds and the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the state so early in the year. The mercury soared to 100°F in Denver on Tuesday, their earliest 100° day on record (previous earliest 100° day: June 14, 2006, 102°.) It was the second consecutive day Denver recorded its hottest temperature for so early in the year. At Lamar in Southeast Colorado, the mercury soared to 111°, just one degree below their hottest temperature ever measured, and 3° shy of the all-time hottest temperature ever measured in Colorado, the 114° reading in Sedgwick on July 11, 1954. The most destructive fire in Colorado Tuesday was the Black Forest fire burning near Colorado Springs. The fire destroyed over 60 buildings and forced the evacuation of several thousand people. The fire was aided by nearly ideal conditions on Tuesday afternoon--Colorado Springs hit 97° (only the 2nd time the city has been that hot this early in the year), with sustained winds of 29 mph gusting to 36 mph, and a humidity of 4%. Colorado Springs is under extreme drought.
Figure 1. A garage is fully engulfed in flames as the Black Forest Fire continues to burn out of control northeast of Colorado Springs, Colo. on June 11, 2013. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post/Getty Images)
Figure 2. Wild fires burn near Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Springs, and Royal Gorge in Colorado, and in two locations in New Mexico, at 4:40 pm EDT June 11, 2013. Record heat and strong winds hit the region on Tuesday, causing critical fire conditions. The Image credit: NASA.
The forecast: better, but still dangerous
Fire conditions will not be as dangerous in Colorado today, as winds will be lower, and temperatures will be a few degrees cooler due to a weak cold front that moved through the state overnight. Nevertheless, the air is still extremely dry and temperatures will be very hot, making it difficult for firefighters to gain the upper hand on the blazes. A red flag warning for dangerous fire conditions is posted for Colorado Springs, where winds of 10 - 20 mph, gusting to 30 mph, are expected in combination with relative humidities as low as 9% and temperatures in the low 90s. Colorado and New Mexico can expect a destructive fire season the remainder of June and into July, due to severe to exceptional drought conditions and hot temperatures. Relief will likely come in July with the arrival of wetter conditions thanks to the annual Southwest U.S. monsoon. Colorado Springs experienced the most expensive wildfire in Colorado history in 2012, the $353 million Waldo Canyon fire. The burn started on June 23rd and burned through July 10th, burning a total of 18,247 acres. Approximately 347 homes were burned, 2 people were killed, and over 32,000 residents were evacuated.
Video 1. A close escape from the Colorado Springs Black Forest fire. "I could hear the roar and the explosions of residential propane tanks heading toward Black Forest and Shoup Roads. Then came a wave of intense heat followed by a burst of fast-moving, oncoming flames. Firefighters and cops panicked, ordering me to leave: "Take pictures somewhere else," yelled one officer. I'm certain within moments of my escape the fire gobbled up a gas station and Firehouse BBQ restaurant at the corner I was standing on."
Related: Wildfires in the U.S. will be at least twice as destructive by 2050, burning around 20 million acres nationwide each year, according to a federal report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012. The report cited research predicting that a 1.8°F increase in temperature in Colorado would cause a factor of 2.8 - 6.6 increase in fire area burned.
Wunderground member mfrazzz has a webcam pointed at the Colorado Springs Black Forest fire.
Figure 3. Severe weather outlook for Wednesday.
Severe weather outbreak Wednesday and Thursday
Tens of millions of Americans will be subject to a large outbreak of severe thunderstorms on Wednesday and Thursday, as a powerful low pressure system moves from the Great Lakes area to the East Coast. The greatest danger on Wednesday is for an organized complex of thunderstorms, possibly becoming a "derecho" event that brings widespread damaging straight-line winds to multiple states. A few strong tornadoes are also possible, and the Storm Prediction Center has issued their highest level of alert "High Risk" for Chicago and northern Indiana. This is the first "High Risk" forecast SPC has put out in 2013. Today marks the first "High Risk" forecast for Chicago since May 30, 2004, and the 16th since 1980. You can follow the outbreak on our severe weather page.
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