POSTED: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 12:14pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 12:27pm
Lack of Rainfall, Dry Vegetation and Strong Winds Can Spread Wildfires Quickly
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 — Fire danger is expected to be extra high today, Wednesday, so National Weather Service Meteorologists and firefighters are urging the public to be careful, especially for people operating gas or electrical powered machinery outside. A strong upper level weather disturbance will increase winds with possible gusts of 40 to 50 mph in some areas of New Mexico and Far West Texas as it tracks through this afternoon into the early Thursday. There are already a couple fires that started up in northern New Mexico, and one is still burning. This is why I decided to write today’s “Weather Talk” on our regions current drought and high fire danger.
Fire season is getting an early start in New Mexico. A fire, named the “Rec Fire” has been burning in the Bosque on the Isleta Pueblo since Sunday afternoon. As of this morning, February 19th, the fire has burned 449 Acres and is 50% contained. There are currently no structures threatened and no evacuations currently in place. Also on Monday, a grass fire spread near Belen, New Mexico. Because of high winds, the Bernalillo County Fire Marshall has issued a ban on open burning. The ban means no burning weeds, no burning brush in the yard, no burning farmland and no campfires.
The combination of warmer temperatures, dryness, and high winds cause high fire danger and we have all three across our region.
The entire Borderland is under a Red Flag Warning from 1 P.M.. until 8 P.M.. this evening. What is a “Red Flag Warning”? According to the National Weather Service;
The National Weather Service (NWS) issues Red Flag Warnings & Fire Weather Watches to alert land management agencies about the onset, or possible onset, of critical weather and fuel moisture conditions that could lead to rapid or dramatic increases in wildfire activity. This could be due to low relative humidity, strong winds, dry fuels, or any combination thereof. You may have noticed that the Watch/Warning/Advisory map on our homepage turns red or orange when a Red Flag Warning or Fire Weather Watch is issued. Each year, the NWS coordinates with each state to implement a State Operating Plan related to fire weather services. Red flag criteria are set in these plans and vary from state to state.
I called up the National Weather Service office in Santa Teresa, New Mexico this morning to find out a little more. Lance Tripoli, Meteorologist for NWS El Paso, told me;
“The County Warning Area criteria are similar for a Red Flag Warning across the nation, but have some slight regional differences. The southwestern U.S. criteria are; 15% or lower minimum Relative humidity. The 20 foot winds, winds from the surface to 20 feet above, have to be sustained at 20 mph or more or if the sustained winds are below 20 mph the wind gusts have to be 35 mph or stronger. The Fire danger rating has to be at “High or higher”. A Fire Danger Rating level takes into account current and upcoming weather pattern, fuel types, and both live and dead fuel moisture. All these thresholds have to met for a consecutive period of 3 or more hours to elicit a Red Flag Warning.”
Here in El Paso back in September we saw a monthly total of 3.85” rainfall at the airport which was 2.34” above average. The last soaking rain we saw at the airport was December 5th, 2013. We had 4 days of light rain and 1 day of recorded snow fall at the airport during the month of December. Since then our area has really dried out. El Paso had a record dry January with no rainfall recorded for the entire month of January at the El Paso International Airport.
El Paso as of today has gone 59 consecutive days without any measurable rainfall. (a trace or less)
This above U.S. Seasonal Outlook put out by NOAA, the National Oceanic an Atmospheric Administration and the U.S.. Department of Commerce does not look good for our regions drought or high fire danger levels. The Borderland is mainly in the “Drought Persists or Intensifies” area. Our area is in the highest category for a continued drought from January 16th through April 30th, 2014.
We have to be extremely careful with outdoor burning and working any gas powered or electrical equipment. One spark could turn into a larger, out of control fire in a hurry. The danger increases even more as now we are headed into our windy season.