Heat wave to continue through weekend, leading to record low fuel moisture in some areas

Ike Fredregill
Post Independent
Smoke from the Grizzly Creek Fire billows from Glenwood Canyon as the fire continues to grow on Wednesday afternoon.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Temperatures around Garfield County could reach upward of 100 degrees this weekend, but winds should calm down starting Friday, a National Weather Service meteorologist said. 

“Hot and dry is going to be the name of the game going forward,” NWS Meteorologist Mark Miller said. “There hasn’t been much to change the pattern going forward, and it seems like that will continue through the end of the month.”

Garfield County and most of northwestern Colorado entered into a red flag warning Thursday, meaning the area was experiencing critical fire weather conditions.

Strong winds, low relative humidity and high temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior as firefighters combat the growing Grizzly Creek Fire, as well as the Pine Gulch Fire on the Mesa-Garfield county line north of Grand Junction.

While no significant moisture is forecasted to help battle the blaze, Miller said the county isn’t likely to enter another red flag warning this weekend.

“The jet stream will lift away from northern Colorado (Thursday night), which will relax the winds quite a bit,” he explained. “Garfield County will probably see winds of 5-15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph.” 

With recent highs in the low 90s, the area is experiencing above average temperatures for August, but a high pressure system moving north could cause even higher temperatures.

“The jet stream has been focusing more north and diving south over the eastern U.S.,” Miller said. “In response, we get these big surges of high pressure from the south, which leads to a hot pattern that gets even hotter.”

Moisture can wrap under a high pressure system, leaving room for isolated showers later into next week, but Miller said the chance for significant rain was low through the end of August.

Live fuel moisture

Reflecting the above average temperatures, live fuels such sage brush and timber are experiencing below average live fuel moisture content, according to the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Aviation Management Unit (UCR Fire).

Moisture content levels have been measured every 14 days between May and October since the late 1990s, said Patrick Kieran, a fire management specialist for UCR Fire.

Collecting the data gives fire management teams access to the  historic highs and lows for live fuel’s moisture content, and based off samples collected Aug. 1, all of Garfield County’s collection sites are considered to be at a critically low threshold, Kiernan said.

Additionally, record low moisture content was measured in sage near the Garfield County Airport and Gambel’s oak south of Rifle.

Kiernan said UCR Fire, a joint agency between the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, also uses Energy Release Component (ERC) data of special interest groups, such as timber, brush and grasses to guide their firefighting plans.
Measured in the percentile, Garfield County’s ERC sites are rating in the 97th percentile, he said.

“Basically, low is good and high is bad,” Kiernan explained. “On any given day, if you are in the (ERC’s) 97 percentile, that means only about 3 percent of the days on record have been this high.

“It means it’s very hot and dry for this time, for this day,” he said. 

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