(Trends Wide) — Record temperatures expected in the fire-ravaged Southwest will continue to worsen the deepening drought, creating difficult firefighting conditions as an intense heat wave is felt across most of the southern US. USA this weekend.
“We’re expecting temperatures above normal and what that means for fires is generally unstable conditions,” Todd Shoemake, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, told Trends Wide. “So if you start to see fire growth, a lot of times it can get quite explosive and gain energy and heat very quickly.”
The cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Roswell, New Mexico have the potential to tie or break records this weekend and early next week, making weather conditions in the Calf Canyon/Hermits wildfire even more serious.
Temperatures may not reach record levels in Southern California, where communities are still being evacuated from this week’s coastal fire. Still, many in the region will be at least ten degrees above normal. When you combine that with gusty winds, it creates grueling conditions for firefighters who are already very busy this year.
“The high temperatures are tough on our firefighters,” said Isaac Sanchez, CalFire battalion communications chief. “Just existing in those conditions is more difficult. Our ability to fight a fire for a long time and the resiliency of our firefighters suffer.”
“When it happens this early in May, it takes time to acclimatize. But we have to be prepared to fight fires at all times,” he added.
Sánchez points out that the fuel (the vegetation) is ready to burn much earlier than normal in the year, “an effect of the drought and also of climate change.”
Other factors are also at play, including very low humidity levels and wind gusts. In Santa Barbara, California, temperatures on Friday are expected to be at least 10 degrees above normal with wind gusts between 46 and 64 km/h, in addition to humidity levels below 25 percent.
“The higher temperatures during the day and the lower humidity mean that the fuel will react faster and more easily,” Sánchez told Trends Wide. “It creates a more responsive fuel bed.”
Essentially, the heat and low humidity combined create a more hospitable environment for fires to grow.
High temperatures will last well into next week, when winds will pick up again, making the fire danger even worse.
“There will be flurries of wind Monday and possible critical fire weather conditions in some areas Tuesday,” the NWS office in Albuquerque warned Friday morning. “Then winds will strengthen through the middle and latter half of the week, causing fire weather concerns to become more and more widespread.”
There are currently nine major fires active in the southern US states and they have so far burned more than 121,405 hectares. All but two of those large fire locations are expected to experience near-record temperatures sometime in the next seven days.
Any improvement in wind conditions or humidity levels will be extremely helpful to firefighters who hope to increase fire containment in the coming week.
But it’s not just the desert Southwest that will see record heat levels; In many Gulf Coast states, which have largely been spared the worst of the intense heat so far, temperatures will start to rise this weekend.
Heat spreads across the southern US.
From Arizona to Louisiana, more than a dozen cities are expected to break record temperatures this weekend. From Phoenix to Amarillo, Texas, those records are expected to hit triple digits.
However, this heat wave will also expand and extend into next week. Some areas of Texas could break daily high temperature records every day for at least the next seven days.
High temperatures caused six power generation facilities to go offline, resulting in a loss of electricity, according to a statement issued by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
“We ask Texans to save energy when they can by setting their thermostats to 78°F (25°C) or higher and avoiding the use of large appliances (such as dishwashers, washers and dryers) during peak hours between 3 pm and 5 pm. 8 p.m. over the weekend,” interim CEO Brad Jones said in the statement.
According to the release, unusually hot weather is driving record demand across the state.
Beginning Sunday, Roswell, New Mexico, and Midland and Odessa, Texas will see high temperatures of up to 100°F (37°C) and stay there until at least Thursday of next week.
For much of East Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, the concern is not just the temperatures themselves, but the extended period of time the heat will stick around.
“This will be the last week of school for a lot of our local kids and the air temperature will be hotter for July than it is for May,” the NWS office in Shreveport said Friday morning. “Average highs are around 80°F (26°C) for mid-May, but we’ll be a good ten degrees above that each day. Certainly as the ground continues to dry out, some readings above 32° C (90°F) will be glimpsed above record levels by next Friday.”
Anyone outside this weekend needs to take extra precautions.
“We have very dry conditions expected through the weekend with very little moisture,” Shoemake told Trends Wide. “So you combine the heat with those very dry conditions, dehydration can really become a problem fast. And if you’re outside, whether you’re working or exercising, take lots of frequent breaks.”
Trends Wide’s Derek Van Dam, Amy Simonson, Taylor Ward and Sharif Paget contributed to this story.