Millions in the Southwest could see ‘dangerous and dire’ weather take shape, weather service says


Other higher population centers threatened include Albuquerque in New Mexico and Colorado Springs in Colorado.

“A dangerous and dire weather situation will take shape today,” the National Weather Service (NWS) in Albuquerque said. “Extremely critical fire weather is possible today when very strong winds will combine with exceptionally low humidity, above normal temperatures, and an unstable airmass.”

Some sites in the southern and central high plains are seeing “extremely critical strength winds” — meaning sustained winds of at least 30 mph — and temperatures were already in the 80s across eastern Colorado, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) said in a Friday afternoon update.

More than 10 million people from Arizona to Nebraska are under red flag warnings Friday, meaning conditions are perfect for wildfires to start and to spread.

“Any fire that starts will have the potential to spread rapidly, and would be difficult if not impossible to control,” the NWS office in Boulder said.

Relative humidity values as low as 5% and sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts from 60 to 70 mph are possible.

Some areas could see scattered wind gusts reaching 80 mph, strong enough to topple trees or knock over utility poles.

“These winds could potentially be catastrophic for ongoing wildfires or any new ignitions,” the NWS in Albuquerque said.

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Dry thunderstorms are also a concern, according to the SPC.

These thunderstorms can produce lightning that can start new fires, with very little to no rain. The area at greatest risk for dry thunderstorms overlaps parts of the “extremely critical” fire threat near the Colorado/Kansas border down to the New Mexico/Texas border.

Much of the area is suffering from prolonged, severe drought that’s a symptom of the growing climate crisis. New Mexico’s drought area has more than tripled since January and now covers more than 60% of the state.

Friday’s is the seventh extreme fire danger issued since December, and the number of people in the extreme risk area — 4.2 million — is higher than all the previous six combined.

Last year, there were only two extreme risk days. That followed seven in 2020 and 11 in 2019.

In the past two years, Colorado has experienced the three largest wildfires in its history, Gov. Jared Polis said Friday in announcing a wildfire preparedness package designed to provide relief for people affected by the fires and invests $15 million in tools to fight future fires.

“We know that this issue is about more than just one fire,” Polis said. “It’s really about tackling the increased fire threat. It’s a combination of climate, drought, increased population, and increased utilization of our wild lands, all conspiring together to lead to higher risk levels than Colorado has ever had in our history.”

More than 19,700 wildfires have been reported this year, more than any year-to-date period of the last 10 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The 10-year-average for the period is 13,720.

CNN’s Brandon Miller contributed to this report.

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