Wildfires have been dominating Colorado news headlines this month, from the Kruger Fire in Estes Park to a grassfire prompting evacuations in Colorado Springs and a fire in the median of I-25 creating a traffic nightmare.
Parched weather pattern
Greg Heavener, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo, notes that the median number of red flag warning days in November is 2 or 3 in southern Colorado. As of Friday, November 19th, there have been 6 red flag days in our region. The highest number in recent years was 2010 with 9 days. And we still are likely to see red flag conditions into next week.
Red flag warnings are issued when the relative humidity drops below 15% and winds are sustained at 25 mph and/or frequently gusting over 25 mph. In addition, fuels need to be sufficiently dry.
Through the 18th, November's average high in 2021 is 60.5° and the normal average high is 52.9°.
November has also been terribly dry with no significant precipitation recorded at the Colorado Springs airport through November 19th. We have yet to record our first snow of the year.
Fuels (grasses, shrubs, and trees) are bone dry, and moderate drought is creeping back into southern Colorado.
Dry fuels. Dry weather pattern. No matter the calendar date, fires can burn under these conditions.
Heavener states that fire activity is typically suppressed in late fall and winter due to cold temperatures and more humid nights, as well as snowpack. This allows fire personnel to slow fire progression much quicker in the cool months.
In a 2016 study co-authored by Jennifer Balch from the University of Colorado in Boulder, it was found that 84% of wildfires are human-caused nationwide. Good news for Colorado, only 30% of wildfires are human-caused.
Unfortunately, even that 30% accounts for a 216% increase in the duration of wildfire season, versus natural lightning-caused fires. Logically, a human-caused spark is much more likely to start a fire than a rogue thunderstorm during November.
A reality to account for
The reality of longer wildfire seasons due to drought or weather patterns is one that Coloradans know we must live with. It is worth a reminder to continuously mitigate your home, especially if you live in the wildland-urban interface. This is also your reminder to finalize or revisit your evacuation plan with your household.