Western drought worsens and winds pick up, fueling wildfire concerns for millions

Wildfires remain a growing concern with over 4 million people under red flag warnings, as drought conditions across the western US continue to worsen.

There have already been 13 red flag warnings issued in California so far this year, the most year-to-date since 2014 when more than 40 were issued by this time of year.
    Winds could gust up to 65 mph in some locations the next two days. The combination of high winds with dry soil and air are the ideal ingredients for wildfires to get started and rapidly spread.
      The best chance for fires on Friday will be across southern Utah and northern Arizona, according to the Storm Prediction Center, and that will persist through at least Saturday.
        “Five to 15% relative humidity values are expected from southern Arizona into central Utah, and fuel conditions will remain supportive of wildfire spread,” says the Storm Prediction Center. The severe drought conditions often add fuel to these fires.

        Western drought worsens

          The US Drought Monitor updated the current conditions for the country Thursday morning, revealing an increase in drought by about 1% in the West. Over 58 million people in the West are now dealing with a drought.
          Current US Drought Monitor

          The situation in California continues to deteriorate, with about 16% of the state in the most severe category, exceptional drought. This is an increase from 13.5% last week. This type of drought is now present for portions of the Bay Area and locations north of there.
          The only other time period on record when any region of California had exceptional drought conditions was from 2014 through 2017, when up to 58% of the state was in this drought category.
          Los Angeles, which is currently in severe and extreme (level 2 and 3 of 4) drought, has not received measurable rain in over two months. In February — the wettest month of the year — not a drop of rain was measured compared to the typical 2.99 inches. The city averages rainfall every month of the year except August.
          “Drought persistence or development is favored for most of the West and High Plains, based on elevated probabilities of below normal precipitation and above normal temperatures for June-July-August,” says the Climate Prediction Center.

          Late-season mountain snow not enough

          A factor taken into account when it comes to forecasting drought conditions is mountain snowpack.
          Satellite imagery shows a stark contrast between snow cover right now, which is about 5% of the average for May 19 according to Hannah Chandler-Cooley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sacramento, compared to the near-average coverage in 2016.
          “On average, California snowpack supplies about 73% of the state’s water needs. Snow cover now is the lowest in the 21-year satellite record,” says the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

          While the Southwest will remain windy and dry, a slow-moving weather system will bring rain and snow showers to interior portions of the West.
          One of the regions expected to see snow is the Sierra Nevada. These mountains are desperate for snow and so are the surrounding areas, which rely on snowmelt during the summer months.
          “The amount of snow that we’re forecasting this weekend won’t add very much snowpack at all. We’re expecting temperatures to warm up again next week, so a lot of the snow that falls today probably won’t still for very long,” Chandler-Cooley told CNN.
            Winter weather advisories are in place for the northern half of the range, with generally 2-4 inches of snow above 6500 feet through Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service office in Sacramento.
            Snowfall accumulation forecast through Monday

            Snow showers will remain possible for the Sierra Nevada in addition to the higher elevations of the Northwest through Sunday, with a few inches expected in some locations.

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