Colorado's Costliest Fire in History Kills 2; Severe Thunderstorms Pound Mid-Atlantic
Dr. Jeff Masters
Published: June 14, 2013
Two people are dead in the Colorado Springs area due to the Black Forest fire, which continues to rage virtually unchecked about five miles northeast of Colorado's second largest city (population 400,000.) The fire' had burned through 15,700 acres by late Thursday afternoon, and was 5% contained. Over 38,000 people in 13,000 homes had been evacuated. The weather was no help on Thursday, as afternoon temperatures spiked to 90°, winds were sustained at 33 mph, gusting to 40 mph, and the humidity dropped as low as 14%. The fire began on Tuesday, June 11, during a record heat wave. Colorado Springs hit 98° on June 10--the city's hottest temperature ever recorded so early in the year. The temperature topped out at 97° on June 11. The extreme heat, combined with the extreme drought gripping the region, made for ideal fire conditions. Fire conditions will not be as dangerous in the Colorado Springs area on Friday, as a weak cold front is expected to pass through the region during the afternoon, bringing cooler temperatures and increased humidity. Strong winds may still be a problem, though.
Figure 1. The Black Forest Fire burns behind a stand of trees on June 12, 2013, near Colorado Springs, Colo. (Chris Schneider/Getty Images)
Figure 2. Aerial view of a Colorado Springs neighborhood burned in the Black Forest Fire on June 13, 2013. (Image: AP Photo/John Wark)
The three most expensive fires in Colorado history have all occurred in the past year
The 360 homes burned by this week's Black Canyon fire are the most ever destroyed in Colorado by a fire, and will likely make it the most expensive fire in Colorado history. The previous record was the $353 million Waldo Canyon fire of June 23 - July 10, 2012. That fire killed two people, destroyed 347 homes, forced the evacuation of over 32,000 people, and burned 18,247 acres of land. The High Park fire of June, 2012, which destroyed 259 buildings near Fort Collins, now ranks as the third most expensive Colorado fire (it was the most expensive one at the time.) The Black Forest fire has a long ways to go if it wants to challenge the 2002 Hayman Fire as the largest fire in Colorado history. The Hayman fire burned 138,000 acres, an area about nine times as large as this week's Black Forest fire.
According to a federal report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012, Colorado can expect to see a sharp increase in wildfires during the coming decades, if the climate warms as expected. The report cited research predicting that a 1.8°F increase in Colorado's average temperature--the level of warming expected by 2050 under a moderate global warming scenario--would cause a factor of 2.8 - 6.6 increase in fire area burned in the state.
Video 1. Aerial view of the Colorado Springs Black Forest fire on June 11, 2013.
Severe thunderstorms pound the Mid-Atlantic
It was another intense day of severe thunderstorm activity for the Mid-Atlantic region on Thursday. A child was killed in Virginia by a falling tree, and at least three people were injured in Albemarle, North Carolina when a violent thunderstorm blew trees onto homes. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) logged 376 reports of damaging thunderstorm wind gusts in the 15 hours ending at 11:25 pm EDT Thursday night, and three of these gusts were 74 mph or greater. SPC is now acknowledging that Wednesday's bow echo that traveled 600 miles from Indiana to New Jersey was a low-end derecho, with over 150 damaging wind reports. The most impressive thunderstorm winds from the derecho occurred in Wabash County, Indiana, where a "macroburst" produced winds of 90 - 100 mph across an area seven miles long and three miles wide, destroying three buildings and causing extensive tree damage. Total damage from the two-day severe weather outbreak over the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic will likely run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Figure 3. Severe weather reports for the 15 hours ending at 11:25 pm EDT June 14, 2013, from SPC.
Figure 4. Radar composite of the June 12 - 13 bow echo that traveled from Indiana to new Jersey. Image credit: NOAA/SPC.
Record heat fuels destructive fires in drought-baked Colorado
Dr. Jeff Masters
Published: 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.
Fires, Floods, and Heavy Snow: an Extreme May Weather Situation
Dr. Jeff Masters
Published: May 3, 2013
A highly unusual jet stream pattern is bringing a bizarre combination of heavy May snows, flooding, extreme fire danger, and well below average severe thunderstorm activity to the U.S. A strong "blocking" high pressure system has set up over Greenland, blocking the normal west-to-east progression of weather systems. A truly unusual situation has developed where the blocking high has forced a low pressure system near Greenland to move southwestwards to a point just off the New England coast. The blocking high has also forced an unusually sharp southwards dip in the jet stream over the Central U.S., where all-time May snowfall and cold temperature records are being set. This loop in the jet stream will get cut off from the main flow of the jet over the weekend, forming a "cutoff" low that will drift over the Southeast U.S., bringing cold, flooding rains of 2 - 4" over a wide swath of the Southeast. But over the Western U.S., an unusually sharp ridge of high pressure has set up, bringing record high temperatures, a strong Santa Ana wind event, and dangerous fire weather. The Santa Ana wind event has entered its second day over Southern California, where a clockwise flow of air has brought offshore winds, record high temperatures in the 90s, powerful winds gusting from 40 - 75 mph, and relative humidities less than 5%. Three destructive fires have erupted since Wednesday. The largest of these fires is called the Springs fire, and has burned 10,000 acres near Camarillo, California, about 50 miles west-northwest of Los Angeles. According to Cal Fire, the blaze was 10% contained at 6:30 am PDT May 3. The hourly observations from Thursday, May 2 at Camarillo show the onset of the Santa Ana winds impressively. The temperature jumped from 54° to 81° between 7 am and 8am, and the wind went from calm to sustained 35 mph, gusting to 43 mph, by 9 am. The temperature Thursday afternoon topped out at 98°--a new record high for the date--and the humidity dropped to a desiccating 4%. The Santa Ana wind event will not be quite as strong Friday, but will still be powerful enough to keep firefighters from gaining the upper hand on the blaze. The situation will improve dramatically over the weekend, when a low pressure system will bring in air 10 - 15° cooler, onshore winds, and rain.
Figure 1. Residents look on as a back fire set by firefighters consumes the hillside behind their homes as a wildfire burns on May 2, 2013 in Newbury Park, Calif. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Figure 2. A bad day to be on the Channel Islands. Offshore winds blow smoke from the Springs fire, burning about 50 miles west of Los Angeles on May 2, 2013, over the Channel Islands, where the smoke mixed with brighter marine stratocumulus clouds. Image credit: NASA.
A early start to the California wildfire season
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, as of April 26, the U.S. had the fewest fires and the lowest acreage burned by wildfires in 2013 for any year-to-date period over the past ten years. But in just the past two days, the acreage burned for 2013 has jumped by 20%. Severe drought conditions across much of the Western U.S. are likely to help fuel an early and severe wildfire season during 2013, they said in their latest monthly outlook, issued May 1. Fire season is expected to be in full swing during May--a full month earlier than usual--in Southern California, California's Sacramento Valley and adjacent lower foothills, and South Central Oregon. In California, “precipitation pretty much shut off at the beginning of the year,” NIFC wildfire analyst Jeremy Sullens said during a conference call with reporters. “Since they’re not expecting a lot more precipitation for the remainder of the summer, conditions are going to worsen as we go into the hotter part of the year.” Significant fire potential will increase to above normal during May in southeastern Arizona, much of western New Mexico, and northern Virginia. Late-season snows across the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and Colorado have dumped enough moisture to delay wildfire season until its usual June start. However, these storms have largely missed southern Colorado, where the wildfire risks remain elevated.
Figure 3. Predicted May fire activity from the National Interagency Fire Center.
Water a precious commodity in California in 2013
As of May 2, California's Sierra Mountain snowpack was just 17% of average for the date, with a water content more typical of what is seen in early July. That's bad news for a state that relies on a steady stream of meltwater to keep reservoirs filled during the summer. The poor 2012 - 2013 snow season comes on the heels of a poor 2011 - 2012 snow season, as well. But thanks to good water years leading up to 2011 - 2012, two key reservoirs are above 80% capacity: Lake Oroville, the main reservoir for the State Water Project (86%), and Lake Shasta, the main reservoir for farmers in California's Central Valley (83%.) So, California will likely weather the dry conditions of the summer of 2013--but the snows of the winter of 2013 - 2014 had better be plentiful, or the state could be looking at a serious water shortage in 2014.
Figure 4. The water content of the snowpack in the Southern Sierra Mountains of California, from San Joaquin through Kern and Owens, was 9% of average for the date on May 2, 2013 (and 7% of the average for April 1.) The snowpack is usually not this thin until early July. Statewide, the snowpack was 17% of average for the date. Image credit: California Department of Water Resources.
Amazing May snowstorm smashes more records
A rare and historic May snowstorm continues to set all-time snow and cold records for the month of May. Winter Storm Achilles brought Arkansas its first May snowfall in recorded history this morning, and four other states have set unofficial new May snowfall records for a 2-day storm: 18" in Blooming Prairie Minnesota (previous record of 15"); 17" in Rice Lake, Wisconsin (previous record, 15.4"); 12" in Chariton, Iowa (previous record: 8"), and 6" in Warrensburg, MO (previous record: 4.5".)
Here are the latest peak snowfall totals by state as of 11am EDT May 3:
Buckhorn Mtn., CO: 28.2"
Near Warren AFB, WY: 22.3"
Blooming Prairie, MN: 18"
Rice Lake, WI: 17"
Bessemer, MI: 13"
Chariton, IA: 12"
Dalton, NE: 8.5"
Beresford, SD: 6"
Warrensburg, MO: 6"
Traer, KS: 5.3"
Maysville, AR: 3"
West Siloam Springs, OK: 1.5"
And here is a partial list of cities that have set all-time low temperature records for the month of May:
Shreveport, LA: 41° on May 3 (previous May record: 42°) Records for the city go back to 1874.
Abilene, TX: 33° on May 3 (tied with 33° on May 4, 1907.)
Denver, CO: 19° on May 2 (tied with 19° on May 3, 1872)
Fort Benton, MT: 14° on May 2 (tied with 14° on May 10, 1946)
Denton, MT: 9° on May 2 (previous May record: 13° set on May 1, 2005.) Denton's records began in 1948.
Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt plans to fully document the records from this week's epic storm in his post coming on Saturday.
Figure 5. The jet stream pattern for Winter Storm Achilles showed a very high-amplitude trough over the Midwest U.S., which allowed record-breaking cold air to flow southwards out of Canada.
Nor'easter for Northeast Florida
Adding to Mother Nature's unusually varied bag of tricks for the U.S. today is a very wet and windy Nor'easter centered just east of Melbourne, which is lashing the east coast of Florida with heavy rains and rough surf. The storm brought 8.29" of rain to St. Augustine, Florida in the 24 hours ending at 8 am EDT May 3, and a daily record deluge of 1.7" of rain to Orlando, 3.1" to Fort Lauderdale, and 4.14" to Key West on May 2. The storm also spawned an EF-0 tornado with 70 mph winds that touched down in Boca Raton on May 2, causing minor damage. Radar loops out of Melbourne, Florida show disorganized heavy rain bands with a bit of rotation just offshore, and satellite loops show disorganized heavy thunderstorms extend from Cape Canaveral to Georgia. Development into a subtropical depression is unlikely due to very high wind shear of 40 knots, but this system will hang around through Saturday, generating heavy rains of up to three inches along the northeast coast of Florida. Gale warnings and flood watches are posted along much of the East Central and Northeast coasts of Florida.
Increased Fire Danger for NYC
Published: April 3, 2013
The National Weather Service issued Red Flag Warnings for parts of the Northeast on Wednesday, April 3rd valid through 8 pm EDT (some areas through 10 pm EDT). Dangerous fire conditions stretched from northern Maryland through Massachusetts, including New York City.
A Red Flag Warning means that critical fire weather conditions are expected or occurring. Any fires that start may spread rapidly and become difficult to extinguish.
The forecast of low humidity and gusty winds on Wednesday increased the risk of brush fires across the region. These conditions seemed to pan out, check out today's observations at Central Park, La Guardia Airport, and Philadelphia.
Dangerous fire conditions will persist for Thursday across the region as humidity will remain very low, generally under 25 percent. However, the winds will be much weaker with gusts under 20 mph. Nonetheless, outdoor burning is not recommended.
For more information about wildfire danger, burn restrictions and wildfire prevention and education please visit your state forestry or environmental protection website.
Record January Warmth in France and Australia while Record Cold in China and
Published: January 7, 2013
Record January Warmth in France and Australia while Record Cold in China and India Persists
January has gotten off to an extreme start temperature-wise for many parts of the world although it has been fairly normal so far in the U.S.
On January 5th the temperature peaked at 25.2°C (77.4°F) at Llau, France, the warmest January temperature on record for the country on the mainland and aside from the French Mediterranean Island of Corsica. The record for Corsica is 25.5°C (77.9°F) set at Solenzara on January 2, 1962. Switzerland also saw near record warmth for the month with a 23.7°C (74.7°F) temperature measured at Brissago. The January record for Switzerland remains 24.1°C (75.4°F) at Grono on January 19, 2007.
Australian Heat Wave
Temperatures remain in record territory for much of Australia following a blistering weekend. Wild fires in southeastern Tasmania burned to the ground at least 100 homes last Friday and Saturday and officials are still searching for almost 100 residents unaccounted for. The temperature peaked in the state capital of Hobart at 41.8°C (107.2°F) on Friday, the hottest temperature on record for the city (records began in 1882) and tied for the 2nd hottest temperature ever recorded in Tasmania (the record is 42.2°C (108°F) at Scamander on January 30, 2009). The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has issued a statement saying that today and/or tomorrow (January 7 or 8) will nationally average over 40°C (104°F) which, should it occur, approach or break the all-time record for the country. The hottest day (average national maximum temperature) on record is 40.17°C (104.3°F) on December 21, 1972.
An enormous wild fire burns near Ouse and Dunalley north of Hobart in Tasmania, Australia last Saturday. 100 people are still unaccounted for in the area. Photo by Kaycie Bradford/EPA.
The northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where New Delhi is located, continued to suffer from record cold temperatures that have so far claimed the lives of 175 people. Temperatures in New Delhi fell to a low of 1.9°C (35.4°F) on January 6th and the high temperature on January 2nd was just 9.8°C (49.6°F), the coldest daily maximum in 44 years. The coldest temperature at a low elevation site in the state so far has been -0.7°C (30.7°F) at Muzaffarnagar. Narnaul in Haryana State reported -3.0°C (26.7°F) an all-time record cold temperature for the site. In the Himalayan region of Ladakh temperatures fell to -16.4°C (2.5°F) at Kargil.
Dense fog enshrouds New Delhi as a week of unusual cold continues. Photo by S. Subramanium for The Hindu newspaper.
China has been experiencing its coldest winter in 28 years so far according to media reports. Since late November the national average has been -3.8°C (25.2°F). The average temperature in normally frigid northeast China (Manchuria) has been even more anomalous at -15.3°C (4.5°F), the coldest for the period in 42 years. Temperatures below -40°C (-40°F) have been reported in Manchuria and far western Xinjiang province (these temperatures are far from record values for the region where the Chinese national absolute minimum temperature of -52.3°C/-62.1°F was measured at Mohe in Heilongjiang Province on February 13, 1962). The Chinese Meteorological Administration reports that 27,000 square kilometers (10,500 square miles) of sea surface has frozen in Bo Hai Bay, the greatest ice extent since records of such began in 2008.
Investigators inspect ships frozen to their docks in the port city of Jinzhou, Liaoning Province in China. Photo from REUTERS.
KUDOS: Maximiliano Herrera for European warmth statistics.
Christopher C. Burt