Extremely critical fire conditions return to the Southwest and tornadoes threaten the Central Plains

Apr 29, 2022, 6:32 AM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 3:16 pm
A strong storm system moving through the Rockies and Plains will whip up winds, raising worries of ...
A strong storm system moving through the Rockies and Plains will whip up winds, raising worries of more fires in the Southwest and tornadoes on the Great Plains. (CNN Weather)
(CNN Weather)

(CNN) — A strong storm system moving Friday through the Rockies and Plains will whip up winds, raising worries of more fires in the Southwest and tornadoes on the Great Plains.

With the West in the grips of one of the worst droughts in decades, the fire season has not only started early, but has been setting records.

Since January, over 1 million acres have burned, well above the year-to-date average of around 632,000 acres. New Mexico has been especially hit hard with 5 large fires currently burning and the next couple of days provide no change in the forecast.

New Mexico has already reached its annual fire activity and it’s only April.

“Our season started earlier than in the past,” says Andrew Church, a National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist with the Albuquerque office.

“Because of climate change and the mega-drought across the western U.S., there’s just no moisture in the soil anymore,” he goes on to say.

This lack of soil moisture, high temperatures and strong winds are main factors that will lead to existing fires and new ones to spread uncontrollably.

Critical fire threat increases to extreme today

Red flag warnings have been issued as winds will be whipping in some of the driest air yet, particularly in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Friday’s fire danger will rise to a level 3 of 3 “extremely critical” range as conditions worsen.

The level 3 encompasses portions of southeast Colorado, including the city of Pueblo.

“Winds in this area are expected to be sustained at 30 to 40 mph with gusts up to 55 mph,” says the Storm Prediction Center.

“We’ve already had three days at the extreme level this year and were a bit concerned about this one. We’ve had multiple fires so far this year,” says Kyle Mozley, a meteorologist with NWS in Pueblo.

“Any fire that does start will have the ability to spread rapidly and that includes throwing cigarette butts out to campfires to down power lines and things like that, that would be another fear,” Mozley says.

“Along with this ‘extreme’ concern, we cannot dismiss the expanded ‘critical’ area which covers portions of five states (NM, CO, TX, OK and KS) and includes Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Lubbock, Amarillo and Midland, Texas,” the Storm Prediction Center said. “Dry, windy conditions in the region will be at the top of the critical threshold, near extreme critical criteria.”

Current major fires they are monitoring include the Tunnel Fire in Arizona at 19,075 acres and 89% containment along with the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire in New Mexico which is at 63,720 acres and 33% containment.

Hard to believe but the drought gets worse

The U.S. Drought Monitor brought more bad news on Thursday. The Southwest and southern Plains saw further drought intensification in the last week.

“Deterioration was common across the Southwest, with extreme to exceptional drought (the two highest designations) broadly expanding in New Mexico and moderate to severe drought increasing in coverage across parts of Arizona and Colorado,” the drought summary said.

New Mexico doubled the area covered by exceptional drought (the highest level) — now covering over 15% of the state. Drought in the state has steadily intensified since the beginning of the year with nearly 68% of the state now in extreme to exceptional drought.

“It looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” says Church. “We used to see relative humidity go up behind the cold fronts, but with the soil moisture completely depleted, the air stays dry with single-digit relative humidity and leads to these fire threats.”

He continues, “we might have to wait quite a while until the monsoon rains kick in, hopefully sometime in late June.”

Rain to the east, but that comes with another threat

It’s a different kind of threat in the Plains on Friday. As needed rains miss the West and Southwest, thunderstorms could become violent in the Plains with severe weather elements such as damaging winds, large hail and even tornadoes, as a potent storm tracks from the Rockies eastward.

The Storm Prediction Center has a level 3 of 5 risk across portions of Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, including Tulsa, Wichita, and Lincoln, where the tornado threat will be highest.

The severe storms are expected to be most active into the afternoon and evening hours.

Meteorologist Ray Sondag with the NWS in Tulsa told CNN he expects the worst time to be between 6 p.m. and midnight.

“If we get a dryline setting up, which we think we will, these thunderstorms will move into southeast Oklahoma and could produce tennis ball-size hail along with 70 mph winds and a few tornadoes.”

On Saturday, Midwestern cities St. Louis, Chicago and Indianapolis will see the threat of severe storms.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

In an aerial view, freight rail cars sit in a rail yard near shipping containers on November 22, 20...
JOSH FUNK, AP Business Writer

Biden calls on Congress to head off potential rail strike

President Joe Biden is calling on Congress to pass legislation to intervene and block a railroad strike before next month’s deadline in the stalled contract talks.
21 hours ago
U.S. President Donald Trump listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference at...
JILL COLVIN, Associated Press

Pence calls on Trump to apologize for dinner with antisemite

Former Vice President Mike Pence says Donald Trump “demonstrated profoundly poor judgment” and is calling on him to apologize after his supposed dinner a with Holocaust-denying white nationalist.
21 hours ago
Onlookers watch as law enforcement investigates the site of a fatal shooting in a Walmart on Novemb...
Associated Press

Virginia city holds vigil to honor Walmart shooting victims

The city of Chesapeake, Virginia, has scheduled a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the mass shooting at a Walmart store.
21 hours ago
RSV and flu...
Deidre McPhillips, CNN

Flu season intensifies, holiday gatherings could make it worse

Americans gathered for Thanksgiving last week amid a flu season that's worse than any has been in more than a decade, and experts continue to urge caution as multiple respiratory viruses circulate at high levels nationwide.
21 hours ago
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are all making news with wild up-and-down swings in value. (File...
KEN SWEET and MICHELLE CHAPMAN, The Associated Press

BlockFi files for bankruptcy, latest crypto company to fail

Cryptocurrency lender BlockFi filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday, the latest casualty of the collapse of crypto exchange FTX.
21 hours ago
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 11: Election workers open mail in ballots at the Maricopa County Tabula...
JONATHAN J. COOPER, Associated Press

GOP-controlled Arizona county refuses to certify election

Republican officials in a rural Arizona county refused Monday to certify the 2022 election ahead of the deadline.
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Extremely critical fire conditions return to the Southwest and tornadoes threaten the Central Plains