Another Ridiculous Ridge — Western Wildfires Grow as US Heatwave Casualties Mount

In Borrego Springs, CA at 10 AM this morning, the temperature was a scorching 116 degrees F. Temperatures today are expected to hit 122 degrees F (50 degrees C) for this California location — which would tie the all-time high for any date there. But it’s just a microcosm of the record-shattering heat that is now settling in over the US West. Heat that looks like it will remain in place for days and possibly weeks. Heat that is now resulting in tragic instances of loss of life even as it is sparking numerous massive widlfires, melting snowpacks, worsening droughts, and otherwise sparking conditions that are related to a human-forced heating of the globe.

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In Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix, temperatures rocketed to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 C or 14 degrees F above average) as numerous locales recorded temperatures well in excess of 120 throughout the region (see map below). Tuscon hit 115 (46 C or 15 F above average) and Phoenix soared to 118 (48 C or 15 degrees F above average). California saw its own spate of record heat with Los Angeles soaring to 96 F (36 C which is 23 F above average), Burbank hitting 109 F (43 C and also 23 F above average), Riverside seeing 111 F readings (44 C and 19 F above average) and Thermal rising all the way to 119 F (48 C and 13 F above average). Seven communities in New Mexico also saw record hot readings for the day.

Google Maps Phoenix Temperatures on Sunday

(Sections of Phoenix scorched on Sunday with this Google Map from Ben Newmann showing some areas experiencing 127 degree F [or 53 C] readings. Image source: Google Maps via Ben Newmann.)

The record heat resulted in 4 separate incidents of hiker deaths as rescue personnel responded to trail-goers suffering from heat injuries Sunday. Two of the fatalities occurred along trails near Tuscon while another pair of fatalities cropped up just outside of Phoenix. A fifth hiker is now also reported missing.

Today, the extreme heat is predicted to make a repeat comeback as readings are expected to hit or exceed 121 F in some regions. Meanwhile, Tuesday is expected to be even hotter.

Thousands of Firefighters Battling Blazes

As heat expanded beneath a sprawling dome of high pressure, groups of firefighters the size of small armies battled numerous blazes.

In Los Angeles 2,000 firefighters and 23 aircraft were engaged with the Sherpa Fire raging through the Santa Barbara region. By late Sunday, nearly 8,000 acres had burned (12 square miles), a section of a water treatment plant was consumed, and the fire was 54 percent contained. However, 55 mph winds overnight and temperatures rising to or near triple digit heat today were expected to give those fighting the blaze a grueling challenge.

Near Albuquerque, the Dog Head fire had consumed fully 18,000 acres and was only 9 percent contained by late Sunday evening. The swift moving and raging fire had damaged or consumed 45 structures by that time as 1,000 firefighters fought to contain it. Continued extreme heat in the region through at least Tuesday is expected to make fighting the blaze a very difficult prospect over the next two days.

Cedar Fire Changes Direction Late Sunday

(Cedar Creek Fire grows in size as it changes direction late Sunday. Image source: Chris Gross.)

North of Phoenix, the Cedar Creek Fire had swelled to 26,000 acres Monday, cut off route 60, and jumped the containment line. A shift in the wind caused the fire to dramatically alter course Sunday night — outflanking firefighting efforts in the process. The blaze had been 40 percent contained as of late Sunday, but these estimates will have to be revised downward. The fire is now threatening the town of Carrizo — which is expected to receive evacuation orders later today.

Conditions in Context

Fueling both the extreme heat and wildfire outbreaks across the Western US are conditions consistent with human-caused climate change. Very strong high pressure ridges dominate both the ocean zones of the Northeastern Pacific and the North Atlantic. These high pressure systems are both more powerful and extend further north than is typical. In addition, water temperatures both off the Eastern Seaboard and off the US West Coast are much warmer than normal. These features have all fed the development of a powerful heat dome high pressure system that is now forming over the US.

Another Ridiculous Ridge

(Ten day forecast shows an extremely powerful ridge in the Jet Stream extending all the way into the Arctic as an associated heat dome swells beneath. This kind of system threatens to propel 90 degree heat all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean over the next two weeks. To be very clear, these conditions are not normal. They represent an extreme south to north transfer of heat that threatens to deliver a brutal blow, not only to the US and Canada, but also to the Arctic itself. Image source: NOAA NCEP via Zack Labe.)

Over the coming days, this ridge is expected to swell and strengthen as it drives the Jet Stream far north over Canada and into the Arctic. There, sea ice extents continue to range in record lows for this time of year — lending power to the forming ridge and the heatwave inducing dome high pressure system developing underneath. As a result, we will likely continue to see fire hazards spike throughout the Central and Western US, we will likely continue to see record or near record heat, and we will likely see a re-expansion of drought conditions in the US West.

In addition, this heat dome is so powerful and has such a strong predicted northward extent that temperatures in the 80s or even 90s may extend as far north as the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Canada and Alaska. So wildfire and heatwave risks will be moving north into Arctic regions over the coming days as well.

Links:

Heatwave Scorching the Southwest Proves Fatal

National Interagency Fire Center

Sherpa Fire 51 Percent Contained

Wildfires Burn as Southwest Swelters Under Triple-Digit Heat

US Climate Data

NOAA NCEP

Zack Labe

Chris Gross

Ben Newmann

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Caroline

Leave a comment

48 Comments

  1. Sheri

     /  June 20, 2016

    Here is one household in Phoenix doing ok. It wasn’t the psychologically devastating 120 degrees it was only 118. Officially, the morning weather said 118.i am sure that it got hotter in different parts of metro Phoenix. Also, at least one person died on a outing in a park here.She was experienced outdoor hiker and personal trainer with two male companions who were drs. She didn’t survive, it is sad. Yes, somebody will be out again in the heat of the day hiking or biking. There just is always someone.

    Everyone I know is okay, we avoid the really hot parts of the day, but we can go outside for like garbage disposal, fetch something from the yard or car. I discovered my car AC needs coolant badly. Everyone has water bottles with them most of the time also.

    Heat lets up some in the next dsy or so.

    Thank you for your big picture of it all,
    Sheri

    Reply
  2. “To be very clear, these conditions are not normal. They represent an extreme south to north transfer of heat…”

    – You said it. Thx, Robert.
    It’s that simple. there will likely be far reaching consequences — snow, ice, and permafrost melt…
    In urban settings, there will be urban heat areas many degrees above normal, or comfortable.
    Areas near, or on, black asphalt will be unbearable.
    As a response, more fossil fuels will be burned in a quest to accommodate, or escape, the heat.

    – This is one big ridge.

    – PDX is on the cool side — for now. But will see how long this condition lasts.

    Everyone, take care.

    Reply
    • Thanks DT.🙂

      Yeah, you guys are in one of the downslope slots in front of the big NE PAC high right now. Count your blessings. Any shift East in that thing would kinda hurt right now.

      Reply
  3. – A picture worth a thousand…

    Canadian Climate Denial Group, Friends of Science, Named as Creditor in Coal Giant’s Bankruptcy Files
    -desmogblog.com/2016/06/20/canadian-climate-denial-group-friends-science-named-creditor

    Reply
    • Notice the Orwellian double-speak here. Brought to you by big corporations, not big government.

      Reply
    • Ryan in New England

       /  June 20, 2016

      This makes my head want to explode! And think how many suckers will believe it because it’s on a billboard? To the kind of person who thinks Trump is in any way fit to be President, this billboard is downright scientific.

      Reply
      • Cate

         /  June 20, 2016

        Slick website and 20,000 + likes on their FB page. They’re based in Calgary. Surprise surprise.🙂

        Reply
    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  June 21, 2016

      At least we are getting some concrete evidence for the inevitable trials for Crimes against Humanity and Life on Earth.

      Reply
      • Steven Blaisdell

         /  June 21, 2016

        Yes, the showers are clean and pure, fresh clear water don’t worry about a thing, just keep moving forward, don’t ask questions, don’t believe those things you hear about….

        Reply
  4. Andy in SD

     /  June 20, 2016

    There should be a good load of car-b-ques in the afternoon rush hour crawl on I-15 today.

    Reply
  5. A fire ash covered dry hillside frames this resting firefighter. The ash will soon blow away.

    SBCFireInfo ‏@EliasonMike 7m7 minutes ago

    #SherpaFire – #CalFire FF Jason Casillas from #Tulare CA beats the heat by taking a rest under his fire engine.

    Reply
  6. Reply
  7. And I say, “What about the children’s playgrounds, and the like, which are covered in black heat absorbent asphalt.
    It’s too weird that dogs get the attention. I see this all the time.
    Our children…?

    Reply
    • – AMA: ‘Thermal contact burns.’

      Reply
    • You’d think we could come up with a material that was less destructive to the climate, to the air, and to our poor children and pet’s feet? Something white and carbon absorbing would be nice. The Romans knew how to do it… A civilization captured by fossil fuel interests, not so much.

      Reply
      • Right, all infused with FF.

        Reply
      • Abel Adamski

         /  June 21, 2016

        I have lost the article, but I believe the secret of the Roman Concrete was that was basically a specific Volcanic ash and has lasted thousands of years in oceans etc

        Reply
    • Abstract
      Most studies on thermal burns are concerned with high-temperature injuries. This study involves accident victims who sustain cutaneous thermal burns upon contact with highway pavement at relatively low temperatures in summer climates. Medical and paramedical personnel have apparently not been alerted to the occurrence of highway contact thermal burns and to their prevention.
      -researchgate.net/publication/17646394_Thermal_Contact_Burns_From_Streets_and_High

      Reply
      • ‘Medical and paramedical personnel have apparently not been alerted to the occurrence of highway contact thermal burns and to their prevention.’

        The public has generally accepted this too.

        Reply
  8. WTF hikes in 120 degree weather?!

    Reply
    • Staying out of the heat is a literally life-saving measure on days like that. These guys and gals can get over-confident sometimes. And heat has a way of sneaking up on you really quick. Especially dry heat.

      Reply
    • Ryan in New England

       /  June 20, 2016

      People like to think of themselves as tough, and think they can handle it by being strong and determined. They don’t realize hyperthermia is not something that can be “toughed out”. They’re probably unaware of just how lethal extreme heat can be, or underestimate their own reaction to the conditions. It’s tragic.

      Reply
  9. Ryan in New England

     /  June 20, 2016

    Great reporting on a very dangerous situation, Robert. I imagine if the heat does reach the shores of the Arctic it won’t help the sea ice much.

    I just heard on the local weather (have not yet verified, was busy reading Robert’s new post about the heat) that planes are having a difficult time taking off in the heat. The aircraft are experiencing reduced lift due to the extreme heat. Does anybody know anything about this?

    Reply
  10. “Cedar creek.” Wildfires, like housing developments, are often named after the things that they destroy.

    Reply
  11. It’s 107 degrees F (42 degrees C) at my house again today. Previous record here at our shady place at 4500′ altitude in central Arizona was 101 F (38 degrees C).

    Reply
    • Kevin Jones

       /  June 20, 2016

      At 4500′. Stunning.

      Reply
    • labmonkey2

       /  June 21, 2016

      My weather station recorded 111.4 w/ RH = 9% @ 12:42pm in Santee, CA. today with a Westerly wind, too. Yesterday we hit 108.5 and RH at 3%. We don’t usually see temps or dry air like this without the Santa Anna winds bringing the dry heat from the desert.
      Glad I have AC.

      Reply
      • That’s hot! It’s a dry heat though, right? We have no AC here, but the loft is packed with insulation, ceiling fans waft gentle breezes, the trees are tall, and the attic exhaust fan runs steady.

        Reply
  12. The Mackenzie River valley is sweltering today, relatively speaking. https://i.imgur.com/dyJmaxb.png

    Tulita, Elev 322 ft 64.91 °N, 125.57 °W, 88 °F , https://www.wunderground.com/q/zmw:00000.3.WCZFN?MR=1

    Norman Wells, Elev 236 ft 65.28 °N, 126.80 °W, 86 °F, https://www.wunderground.com/q/zmw:00000.1.71043

    Fort Good Hope, Elev 266 ft 66.24 °N, 128.64 °W, 84 °F, https://www.wunderground.com/q/zmw:00000.1.WCYGH

    Tsiigehtchic, Elev 141 ft 67.40 °N, 134.85 °W, 71 °F, https://www.wunderground.com/q/locid:CAXX2384;loctype:1

    Reply
  13. Just got back from Yosemite — was driving on I-5 through the San Fernando Valley (inside LA city limits), and my wife took this snapshot of the outside-temperature indicator on the dashboard: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0pXYsr8qYS6MFc1dzN2MnVsOGM/view?usp=sharing The snapshot was taken at 5PM (after the hottest part of the day).

    All I can say, as a lifelong SoCal resident, is “Holy $#@!”

    Reply
  14. Kurt

     /  June 22, 2016

    We should send Jim Inhofe (R-senator from Oklahoma) to the front lines to fight these fires. He can bring his snowball.

    Reply
    • Absolutely. And we should send him to the Siberian Arctic afterwards, give him two days to find a snowball, and if he doesn’t come back with one, have him removed from office. Hint — Arctic snow cover is at record lows for this time of year.

      Reply

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