Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Waldo Canyon Fire

Credit:  Jerilee Benett, The Colorado Springs Gazette 
The Waldo Canyon Fire raging in Colorado Springs currently represents the nation's #1 wildfire priority.  News reports suggest that more than 32,000 people have been evacuated.

The weather in Colorado yesterday couldn't have been much worse.  It was one of the hottest days ever observed along the Front Range.  Denver and Colorado Springs tied or set their all-time maximum temperature records.

Denver hit 105ºF, Colorado Springs 101ºF, and Pueblo 106ºF.  I don't believe the 106ºF in Pueblo was an all-time record, but it was the third consecutive day of 105ºF or higher, which is a record.  The relative humidity at Colorado Springs was as low as 6% at 2200 UTC (4 PM MDT).

Media reports near the fire suggests winds yesterday afternoon reached 65 mph.  Unfortunately, a power outage in a server room last night means we can't take a close look at observations near the fire, but radar imagery shows some marked changes late in the day.  The blue box in the loop below roughly identifies the area of the fire.  Radar returns emanating from this area are likely the result of ash from the fire.  Note how this trails off downstream, but shifts later in the loop with the passage of an outflow boundary, the leading edge of denser outflow from precipitation to the north.

At the Air Force Academy, winds ahead of this outlfow boundary were southeasterly, gusting to as high as 31 miles per hour.  With the passage of the outflow boundary, winds shifted to westerly and then northwesterly, with gusts to 31.

All-in-all, a terrible situation.  Dry fuels, high shifting winds, low relative humidity, and a fire moving into the urban-wildland interface.  Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown described it as a "firestorm of epic proportions."  Today probably won't be quite as hot and dry, but conditions will still be difficult.  There is also a chance of afternoon showers and thunderstorms, which could produce strong wind gusts.  Let's hope that they get wetting rains instead.

Addendum 10:35 AM MDT:

Below is yesterday afternoon's MODIS image of the fire plume and pyrocumulus.

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