(CNN)An early season heat wave will build across the southern tier of the United States, creating “unstable conditions” for wildfires and forcing some residents to conserve power usage.
“We are expecting above normal temperatures and what that means for fires is generally unstable conditions,” Todd Shoemake, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, told CNN. “So if you do start to see fire growth, a lot of times it can become pretty explosive and really rapidly gaining in power and heat.”
A ridge of high pressure will build across the Southwest this weekend, allowing for record-breaking heat to settle in.
High temperatures will soar into the 90s and triple digits, which will pose a threat to those who are outdoors for extended periods of time.
The cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Roswell in New Mexico all have the potential to tie or break record highs this weekend and early next week, making weather conditions at the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak wildfire even more dire.
The largest fire in New Mexico state history (the Whitewater Baldy fire in 2012) burned 297,845 acres. The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire has currently burned more than 288,000 acres and could surpass the number one fire in the next couple of days, as it is only 36% contained.
Makoto Moore, an incident meteorologist (IMET) at the NWS office in Pueblo, Colorado, is on location at the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire.
IMETs provide on-site weather support and products to teams on the ground, including firefighters, needed to complete their mission.
“I am there primarily for firefighter safety, because I provide a safety weather watch throughout the shift, monitoring radar, satellite and observations to hopefully eliminate any weather-related surprises for all the people working in the field,” Moore explained.
“If thunderstorms develop over or near the fire, I will send out a weather alert for lightning, hail, etc. to the crews via radio. I will also alert for thunderstorm outflow winds that could alter the speed and direction of fire spread.”
One thing which could help firefighters increase containment is the wind forecast, projected to remain relatively light across the region during the next 24 hours.
“A ridge of high pressure over the area this weekend should allow for a general relaxing of the winds, though it will also push high temperatures to near-record levels,” Moore said to CNN.
However, weak winds aren’t always a good thing because it can cause plume-dominated fire activity also known as “plume collapses.”
“Plume collapses occur when the heat generated at the surface by the fire is no longer sufficient to maintain an updraft,” Moore said. “It could be because of the fire running out of fuel, or shading of the solar insolation, or any number of reasons, but the energy at the surface is cut and the column collapses due to its own weight and gravity.”
Insolation is a measure of the solar energy on a specified area in a set period of time.
It is not uncommon with fires and is usually not a significant concern. However, it does become a huge deal if a pyrocumulus cloud forms.
Given enough energy and available moisture, the clouds can turn into a thunderstorm on top of the smoke column and fire.
“This thunderstorm will produce all of the hazards of a normal thunderstorm: lightning, gusty and erratic winds, precipitation, etc., except much or all of the activity is hidden by the smoke column,” Moore said. “Firefighters on the ground may have very little warning before strong gusty winds sweep across an area.”
Meteorologists have signs they can look for in order to forecast such events, inclu
The southern US could break more than 200 high temperature records this week
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