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Western US weather

Wind creating high fire danger across the Southwest; Snow to start summer in Montana?!

By Brian Thompson , AccuWeather meteorologist
6/22/2019, 10:26:10 AM

Strong winds will persist through Saturday across portions of the Southwest, especially in Arizona and New Mexico.

The strongest winds will be across northern portions of Arizona and across much of New Mexico. On Friday, even some of the high deserts of California and Nevada will get in on some of the stronger winds as well.

Wind gusts in most areas will be between 30 and 40 mph, but some of the highest gusts could reach 60 mph.

This wind is making things difficult for firefighters fighting the Woodbury Fire east of Phoenix. The fire has been burning for nearly two weeks, and has grown from around 50,000 acres Thursday evening to nearly 80,000 acres Saturday morning. As far as I can tell, that's the largest wildfire in the Lower 48 so far this year.

The fire was 42 percent contained as of late Thursday night, but the gusty winds Friday and Friday night cut into that progress. By Saturday morning, containment had dipped to 34 percent. The strong winds Saturday into Saturday night will continue to make it difficult for firefighters to get the fire any more under control.

Across California, it's been pretty much business as usual with the marine layer along the coast.

The one exception is across the Sacramento Valley, where there will be some strong winds from Friday into Saturday. Because of this, Red Flag Warnings are up for high fire danger.

Western Blog Wind Gusts 6/21

Forecast wind gusts (in knots) from the NAM valid Friday afternoon. Note the large area of strong winds from the high deserts of California through Arizona and into New Mexico. There's also a smaller maximum in the Sacramento Valley of California.

Conditions should improve across this area heading into Sunday, with a decreased fire danger. Elsewhere, the fire danger will persist in New Mexico into Sunday, and other portions of the West will have increased wind early next week. These areas include Nevada, eastern Oregon and southern Idaho, where the fire risk will be elevated somewhat by that gusty wind.

Farther north and east in Montana, it may be hard to believe, but there are Winter Weather Advisories posted in parts of the state on this first day of summer. Some areas above 6,000 feet have had an accumulation of snow, and could get a little more snow. It's not unheard of in this area to get snow around this time, but it is unusual.

Most of the accumulation has been in the higher terrain, but some of the snowflakes did make it a bit lower into places like Bozeman.

Meanwhile, the Northwest is where any precipitation will be confined over the next week or so. Seattle picked up close to 0.50 of an inch from some rain early Thursday morning.

This is good news, as the Seattle area was added to the "severe drought" (the darker brown area below) area in the latest Drought Monitor issued on Thursday.

Drought Monitor WA 6/21

More good news appears to be in the works, as there will be additional rain chances in the week ahead. There will be spotty showers around on Sunday as a weak upper-level disturbance passes through.

The bigger shot at rain, though, appears to be around the middle of next week. A potent upper-level low will barrel into the Northwest sometime from the late Wednesday into Thursday time frame.

Western Blog Upper-Level Map 6/21

An upper-level forecast from GFS valid Wednesday 6/26, showing a large upper-level low moving into the Northwest.

This will likely lead to more widespread showers and even some thunderstorms across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana, from Wednesday through Friday. Some areas will pick up another 0.50 of an inch or more of rain.

Every little bit helps, although it won't be enough to put a big dent in the deficit. In addition, the upper low will stir up the winds some, which may increase the fire danger if lightning sparks any fires. We'll have to keep an eye on this heading into next week.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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Western US weather