A ‘potentially historic’ bushfire episode threatens the southwest

Placeholder while loading article actions

Wildfire conditions ranging from critical to extreme are about to take over the southwestern United States and parts of Colorado, resulting in long, multi-day and unforgettable wildfires and/or wildfires. Warm temperatures are set to overlap with local temperatures, dry air, and strong mountain storms for several days, part of a summer weather pattern that comes without a chance of any meaningful rain.

The National Weather Service in Albuquerque describes it as a “dangerous, prolonged and historically critical fire event.” Tinderbox conditions that lead to the rapid spread of fires are expected to continue into next week. Sunday may represent the most intense combination of high winds and hot dry air.

On May 4, President Biden declared the Calf Valley Fire, the second largest fire on record in the state, a major disaster. (Video: John Farrell/The Washington Post)

“New Mexico faces 100 straight hours of the worst possible combination of fire conditions, with high temperatures and strong winds,” Tweeted by Gov. Michelle Logan Grisham (D) on Friday. “It is extremely important to comply with the evacuation orders. Your life and safety is a top priority.”

she added: “I ask every New Mexican to do everything in their power to prevent any further fire, anything that could cause a spark. No open flames, no bonfires, no open grills, no soldering, no falling cigarette butts—please work with us to prevent fires and keep on resources.”

As it stands, a number of ongoing fires will continue to burn and will be made worse by the weather this weekend. A new ignition could also be expected, which could quickly spiral out of control.

Earlier this week, the Calf Canyon fire became New Mexico’s second largest fire ever. In late April, it merged with the Hermit’s Peak fire just to the east, a described burn that the crew lost control of amid strong winds. The cause of the Calf Canyon fire is still under investigation.

Located in the highlands east of Santa Fe in Mora and San Miguel counties, Calf Canyon Fire has already burned 170,665 acres and is 21 percent contained. More than 1,400 personnel from three states are actively involved in fighting the fire, which has destroyed at least 276 buildings and forced an estimated more than 4,000 to evacuate.

Andy Lyon, a media officer for the Southwest Incident Management Team, told the Washington Post that 15,000 residences could be threatened over the weekend along the road around the perimeter of the fire.

Big fires are raging in New Mexico, and the worst may be coming

The Calf Valley Fire is among six major fires burning in New Mexico. The fires prompted President Biden to declare a major disaster for parts of the state Wednesday so that federal aid could reach the affected residents.

Red flag warnings, for dangerous weather conditions, cover New Mexico, as well as western Texas, eastern and northern Arizona, southern Nevada, the Inland Empire, the deserts of California and much of southern and eastern Colorado.

The Albuquerque Weather Service urges residents to prepare to evacuate, telling them to “remember [their] ps” – people, pets, prescriptions, photos, papers, PC, phone.

“But if there’s not enough time, just take your family and go,” she wrote.

In addition to fanning the flames, high winds are also expected to stir up areas of dust, limiting visibility. Dust and smoke will degrade air quality.

The turbulent weather pattern is the result of the great plunge into the jet stream – a river of high winds – in the western United States. That dip will remain firm through at least the middle of next week, channeling an avalanche of winds from the west and southwest over the southwest and south of the Rocky.

The strongest winds over the weekend will swirl over the higher terrain of Colorado, where gusts of up to 70 miles per hour are likely. Elsewhere, widespread winds of 40 to 55 mph are likely to be blowing in the mountains through Monday, with some slowing each night but returning in full force during daylight hours.

Meanwhile, low pressure will blow out of the Colorado Front Range on Sunday, pulling a bullet of dry air eastward. This will strengthen the “dry streak” in West Texas and Oklahoma. To the east, tropical humidity will prevail, but the desert air will spread to the west.

The combination of abnormally high temperatures, highs of 95 to 100 degrees in western Texas and eastern New Mexico, and “slope” air rushing down the Rocky Mountains will contribute to the relative humidity ratios in the single digits. Computer models indicate that humidity can drop as low as 4 percent in the Permian Basin in Texas.

This is added to the level of 4 of the 4 “exceptional” droughts that already exist, bull’s-eye are concentrated in eastern New Mexico and parts of the Texas Panhandle and Hill Country.

Conditions may improve as next week approaches, but a quick look at the extended pattern shows little moisture flowing into the water-starved area. “More severe weather fires are expected on Tuesday during the rest of the week, although coverage is likely to be lower overall,” the Albuquerque Weather Service wrote.

Fires in New Mexico have burned more than 270,000 acres so far this year, the second-largest burn in the past decade, and fire season is now entering its peak period. An unusually active season is associated with continued strong winds, drought, and warmer-than-normal temperatures. Many fires were ignited in areas where there was much less winter ice than usual.

Officials urged residents in northern New Mexico to prepare to evacuate May 1, with wildfires still spreading to the summit of Hermets and Canyon. (Video: Reuters)

Across the United States, wildfire activity is 78 percent above the 10-year average so far this year, according to a White House fact sheet.

Research links rising temperatures and more droughts from human-caused climate change to longer and more intense fire seasons. Hot, dry conditions dry out vegetation quickly, making the Earth’s surface more combustible. This year’s conditions may portend a fiery future not only for New Mexico but also for much of the Southwest.

Leave a Comment