The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning Wednesday afternoon for the front range of Colorado from the Wyoming border south almost to Colorado Springs. It will be in effect until 5 p.m. MT January 24. Conveniently for the weather forecasters, the extreme fire weather stops EXACTLY at the Wyoming/Colorado state line.
Here is the text from the announcement:
LARIMER AND BOULDER COUNTIES BETWEEN 6000 AND 9000 FEET, JEFFERSON AND WEST DOUGLAS COUNTIES ABOVE 6000 FEET, GILPIN, CLEAR CREEK, NORTHEAST PARK COUNTIES BELOW 9000 FEET-
…RED FLAG WARNING IN EFFECT UNTIL 5 PM MST THURSDAY FOR WIND AND LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY FOR THE FRONT RANGE FOOTHILLS…
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN DENVER HAS ISSUED A RED FLAG WARNING FOR WIND AND LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY…WHICH IS IN EFFECT UNTIL 5 PM MST THURSDAY.
* AFFECTED AREA…FIRE WEATHER ZONES 215 AND 216.
* TIMING…TONIGHT AND THURSDAY…WITH THE MOST CRITICAL CONDITIONS LATE TONIGHT AND THURSDAY AS WINDS INCREASE.
* WINDS…WEST 15 TO 20 MPH WITH GUSTS 30 MPH THIS EVENING INCREASING TO 20 TO 30 MPH WITH GUSTS AROUND 45 MPH BY THURSDAY AFTERNOON.
* RELATIVE HUMIDITY…SINGLE DIGIT HUMIDITIES LATE THIS AFTERNOON ONLY RECOVERING TO 25 TO 35 PERCENT TONIGHT. HUMIDITIES THEN DROPPING BACK TO AROUND 15 PERCENT THURSDAY MORNING WITH SOME IMPROVEMENT THURSDAY AFTERNOON.
* IMPACTS…EXISTING WILDFIRES OR NEW FIRE STARTS MAY EXPERIENCE RAPID FIRE GROWTH DUE TO THE VERY DRY FUELS…LOW HUMIDITIES…AND GUSTY WINDS. THE MOST CRITICAL CONDITIONS WILL OCCUR ON SOUTHERN EXPOSURES AND AREAS WITH NO SNOW COVER.
The map above was current as of 8:10 p.m. MT on Wednesday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the dozens of National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts. For the most current data, visit this NWS site.
The map shows Red Flag Warnings in effect for today.
I wonder if the weather forecasters at the National Weather Service realize that when their map shows weather patterns adhering to state boundaries it reduces the credibility of their product. This map brings up some questions… are there really no warnings for Utah, Colorado or western North Dakota? Or, are there really warnings for all of Wyoming and South Dakota? Which portions of the map are accurate?
UPDATE at 9 a.m. September 11, 2012:
I asked Darren R. Clabo, the South Dakota State Fire Meteorologist, for his insight about this issue, and he was kind enough to provide the following:
…It really has to do with the NWS Local Forecast Area boundaries and the boundaries of the individual GACCs.
Here is the link that shows the local NWS office coverage areas as the NWS issues the Red Flag Warning (RFW). Each individual office has the responsibility to issue RFWs for their forecast area. These areas encompass distinct counties, some of which have common borders with other states. Each NWS forecast office does talk to neighboring offices to try to make their forecasts ‘mesh’ but often times, one office will issue a warning while another will not; it all depends on forecaster confidence in the particular weather situation.
It can even get more confusing: The GACCs, in concert with the NWS, determine the criteria for a RFW for their region (due to the different climates within the GACCs). For example, the Rocky Mountain GACC has specific RFW criteria, while the Northern Rockies GACC has a slightly different RFW criteria. If we look at western SD, Harding County typically sees more RFWs than the rest of West River. This is because Harding County is in the Northern Rockies GACC while the rest of SD is in the Rocky Mountain GACC. Furthermore, the GACC boundaries do not correspond to the NWS local office boundaries which contribute to the confusion as well.
Geographic “boundaries” in meteorology always present large hurdles in terms of communicating a forecast, especially when it comes to forecast areas. The zero-order boundaries for RFWs on the map do look goofy but I am not sure how else they could go about it.
The map for April 6 shows Red Flag Warnings covering large areas of the United States. And again, the map shows the warnings-constrained-by-state-boundaries-syndrome. This makes a person wonder if the forecasters on one side of the state boundary were too aggressive with their warning, or if the folks across the border were too timid, or it simply didn’t occur to them to post a warning. Or none of the above.
Check out the map below showing the locations of spot weather forecasts.If you go to the National Weather Service web site and click on one of the large flame icons, you’ll see that most of them are for prescribed fires — few are for wildfires. And almost all of the prescribed fires are less than 100 acres.
Two spot weather forecasts are for locations in the Pacific Ocean. One was for a prescribed fire near Coburn, North Dakota, and the other one, in the Gulf of Alaska, was requested by the Coast Guard. I’m thinking that the latter is for the incident involving the derelict ghost ship Ryou-Un that was set adrift during last year’s tsunami in Japan. The Coast Guard decided to use a cannon on one of their cutters to blast holes in the ship and sink it rather than risk the chance of it running aground or endangering other vessels in the busy shipping lanes between North America and Asia.
From the photo below, it appears that the ship took quite a few cannon rounds from the Coast Guard cutter.