Fire Danger

Thursday, August 15, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Thursday, August 15, 2013:

We’ve had a very lucky summer so far this year with regard to wildfires.   Lately, however, that seems to have changed as the monsoonal flow ceased in Northern Utah and continued hot temperatures dried out vegetation.  Over the past week, we’ve seen occasional convection develop over high terrain, but the dry lower levels of the atmosphere led to a significant amount of dry lightning.  As most of us know, dry lightning is the plague responsible for most wildfires in the western half of the United States.

At least 7 fires are currently burning in Northern Utah right now.  The fire receiving the most attention is the Rockport fire east of Park City.  This fire has thus far consumed 13 homes and on Tuesday was responsible for the ominous looking (and sounding) “firenados” seen here:

Source: Steve Griffin/Salt Lake Tribune

Source: Steve Griffin/Salt Lake Tribune

“Firenados” are actually more technically referred to as fire whirls.  When you already have breezy weather, coupled with the stark contrast of temperature masses around a wildfire,  you end up getting swirling eddies of air, not too dissimilar from their more destructive cousin–the tornado.  A fascinating, but frightening phenomenon.

The weather for today (Thursday) and tomorrow will be continued dry and breezy as a low pressure system approaches us from the west.  Red Flag Warnings are up for much of Northern and Western Utah.  Don’t be surprised to see existing fires flare up again this afternoon, or even for new fires to begin.  Both days should be at or above 100F at the SLC airport.  This would put us at 21 days of 100+ degree temperatures for the summer — tying the all-time record set in 1994 and 1960.

The weather will turn a bit cooler and wetter this weekend as the low gets close enough to draw moisture up into the area.  Saturday thru at least Monday should feature more clouds and hopefully some rain to help douse the fires.  Assuming we are able to reach 21 days of 100+ it will be interesting to see if we get warm enough again to break the record.  If so, it will likely have to wait until at least later next week.  I don’t think any of us will complain about a bit of a cool down, even if it is only 5 degrees or so.

Fall (and winter) can’t come soon enough!



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