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April 5, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Colorado Wildfires: Dry and Sad

I have friends in Colorado and almost daily I read their emails and Facebook posts about what’s going on there. The fires are close enough to my high school friend Susan’s home that the neighborhood is enveloped in smoke and she’s hoping her horses (stabled a few miles away) only have to deal with smoke — not fire. From Susan: “Given the difficult nature of evacuating large, frightened animals in adverse conditions, wildfire is a big fear of mine.  We had to do it a couple of years ago during the Olde Stage Road fire — over 50 horses with fire literally all around us.  The firefighters initially told us we had to leave. Once they realized our reluctance to abandon our beloved animals to their fates, they were incredibly supportive of our efforts.”

The Indian Gulch Fire. Photo: Jeff Warner

My friend Bob has taken his hurricane kit and hurricane survival tactics to Colorado, as he lived on the Texas Gulf Coast for many years while working for NASA. The former USMC F/A-18 pilot can’t help but be prepared. His supplies at the ready include, “lots of extra potable water, several weeks worth of canned goods, couple of containers of fuel, cash, drag bag with guns/ammo.”

The Indian Gulch Fire at night. Photo: Jeff Warner

The long-range weather outlook for the Ft. Collins area does not look good. In addition, it’s a double whammy as the region is in a downslope area. With a persistent westerly wind flow, the local effect of subsidence (downslope) further intensifies the already critically-dry weather. Fortunately, a brief respite is expected this weekend as a large upper-level storm system moves by the area bringing cooler weather and maybe a few showers.  Overall,  there is little change expected over the next month or two with the dry weather likely continuing.

High pressure and sinking air over Colorado and the Southwest will keep preipitation a precious commodity through April. The outlook for May and June looks almost as dry. Image: ImpactWeather

Moderate La Niña conditions continue to persist across the eastern Tropical Pacific with anomalies still averaging around -0.8C (~1.5F) below normal.  Typical La Niña events like this one will result in a much weaker southern storm track and higher pressure aloft resulting in sinking air and widespread drying conditions over the southern U.S.  Sinking air is cooler and drier than rising air, yet as the air sinks it compresses, heats and dries even more. This is the main reason why the ImpactWeather forecast for the early part of spring calls for drier than normal weather over a large part of the southern and southwestern U.S.

Note the brown and red colors of eastern Colorado and Texas indicating severe-to-extreme drought conditions. The higher elevations of western Colorado have had just enough Pacific moisture (rain and snow) to keep that area of the state out of drought conditions. Image: NOAA

Visit Jeff Warner’s Photographic blog for more photos of the Indian Gulch fire.

More on the fires burning west of Ft. Collins can be viewed here.

In other news: Visit for the latest on ImpactWeather’s fast-approaching hurricane seminar.


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