“Dangerous heat wave over the West,” the National Weather Service (NWS) headlines blared on Friday.
The outlook for this weekend calls for more warm and dry, not only for the Four Corners region, but from Southern California to the Interior Northwest to the northern Rockies.
The NWS has called near-record-breaking heat “likely.”
And the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) issued an Air Quality Health Advisory for wildfire smoke emanating from the Bull Draw fire. The fire, which is located 12 miles northwest of Nucla, was caused by a lightning strike on July 29; as of press time Thursday afternoon, it had torched 8,900 acres and was 35 percent contained. A 17-mile section of National Forest Service Road # 402, known as Divide Road, has been closed (for the latest on the Bull Draw Fire, and a link to a map detailing the most recent closures, visit tinyurl.com/ybgotrez).
There is wildfire smoke throughout Colorado at this point, not only from fires burning in this state but from the effects of California wildfires, and the effects of the Bull Draw Fire have compounded the problem. The CDPHE warned of “periods of moderate to heavy smoke” through Friday morning in northwestern Montrose County and southern Mesa County in locations, including “but not limited to” Paradox, Bedrock, Nucla, Naturita, Redvale and Norwood.
“If visibility is less than 5 miles” due to smoke in your neighborhood, the agency advised, “smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy.”
According to a release from fire Incident Commander Brian Pisarek, a “northerly wind shift is likely by Friday and this has the potential to push the fire aggressively in new directions. …Weather conditions and fuels could contribute to more extreme fire behavior if slope and wind align. If wind speeds increase, the fire has the potential for some torching and runs.”
A Bull Draw Fire Community Meeting is scheduled for Friday night at Nucla Baptist Church. The meeting will feature a panel of community leaders and fire personnel, and will include a question-and-answer period. It begins at 6:30 p.m. The church is located at 294 E. 4th St.
Over the next few days, “the high pressure to the west will be weakening, and it will bring a little more moisture up over the southwest mountains over the weekend and possibly the first part of the week,” said Dan Cuevas, a hydrometeorological technician at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “But I wouldn’t call it a good monsoonal flow yet.”
The monsoonal flow usually occurs between mid-July and mid-September, but even after that, big rains can still come.
“A lot of times in September or October, we get remnants of old hurricanes that come up from the eastern Pacific and give us considerable rainfall,” he added.
Indeed, remnants of Hurricane John may — or may not, depending which forecast model prevails — impact this region next week. Though not part of a proper monsoon, every bit of moisture counts. “And hurricane season goes until the end of November” in the eastern Pacific, Cuevas pointed out.
As for why the actual monsoon hasn’t materialized yet, Cuevas declined to speculate. “I’m not a forecaster,” he said. “So much of this is wait-and-see. We get the forecast models in, and one says one thing and another says another, and it’s up to the forecaster to make the call.”
Tom Renwick is a forecaster — he and Cuevas are colleagues in the weather service’s Grand Junction office — and he offered his thoughts about the lack of a monsoon.
“I can’t say 100 percent for sure, but my gut tells me this has to do with La Niña,” Renwick said, referring to the atmospheric pattern that is the opposite of well-known El Niño (which favors winter storms in the Southwest).
Renwick was reluctant to pin the fault for the paucity of precipitation on climate change. “We can’t definitively say why there’s been no moisture,” in a time of year when there should be, he said. “If this continues for 10 years, well, maybe. But right now, we’re talking about weather. We hardly ever have two La Niñas in a row,” Renwick continued. “But we have. And when that happens, it gets very dry in the Southwest” in summertime.
“I’m talking about all of us — Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada. And that is exactly what’s happening now. I didn’t even know about it until this year.” Then he read several scientific studies that described the phenomenon.
“And I thought, ‘Oh my god, they’re right.’”
On Thursday, the NWS’ Climate Prediction Center put the odds of an El Niño winter at 70 percent.