Bud's moisture to bring much-needed relief to fire-ravaged southwestern US this weekend

By Kyle Elliott, AccuWeather meteorologist
June 14, 2018, 5:20:05 AM EDT

After gusty winds over the weekend fanned the numerous blazes charring the southwestern United States, tropical moisture from Tropical Storm Bud, currently churning in the East Pacific, may offer relief in the form of beneficial rainfall from late Friday to Saturday night.

Fires continue to burn in the region

The Ute Park fire, which began on May 31, expanded to 36,740 acres burned as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Inciweb. This area is more than 2.5 times the size of Manhattan.

Significant improvement on the containment of the wildfire has been made with 95 percent of the fire now contained.

Fire Stats Wed Static

The Ute Park fire is just one of the expansive wildfires burning in the Southwest.

Farther to the north and west in southwestern Colorado, the 416 fire broke out on Friday, June 1, near the town of Durango. As of Wednesday evening, the fire had scorched nearly 27,450 acres with containment only at 15 percent.

Gusty, southwesterly winds on Sunday caused the fire to nearly double in size, spreading rapidly on its northern and eastern flanks. Additional growth was observed from Monday to Wednesday.

These fires, in addition to the Buzzard fire in western New Mexico, may continue to spread this week before Mother Nature brings some relief this weekend.

Static Bud SW US 3 pm

Bud's moisture to ease fire concerns, raise risk of isolated flooding

A southerly flow of air will provide a pathway for tropical moisture from Bud to get pulled into the Southwest late this week and into the weekend.

Beneficial rainfall and higher humidity may be enough to deter the spread of existing fires and slow the ignition of others.

The risk of new wildfires igniting will be reduced in areas that receive rain, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey.

Duffey added that firefighters in the rainfall areas may be able to get an upper hand on the current blazes.

Rainfall is likely to be localized, but the heaviest amounts may target western New Mexico, eastern Arizona, western and central Colorado and southeastern Utah. Localized rainfall in this swath may range between 2 and 4 inches. More common rainfall in this zone may be on the order of 1-2 inches.

It would not take much rainfall to set a daily record for the major cities in the region. For example, in Phoenix, the rainfall record on Friday is 0.08 of an inch set in 1918 and on Saturday is 0.01 of an inch set in 1930.

In Tucson, Arizona, rainfall records for Friday and Saturday are 0.14 and 0.29 of an inch respectively.

Typically, the monsoon, or rainy season, does not kick in until late June or early July.

"While this is not typical monsoon rainfall, Bud could initiate the monsoon season by bringing up humidity levels on a semi-permanent basis for the summer," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. "This moisture may then be recycled on a daily basis in the form of spotty thunderstorms, even in the wake of Bud."

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The combination of steep, rocky terrain and localized heavy rainfall will also raise the risk of isolated flash flooding. Dry stream beds, known as arroyos, may suddenly fill with rushing water. The risk of flooding will be greater in recent burn scar locations.

Before the best of Bud's moisture arrives during the upcoming weekend, fire personnel may have to deal with a slight uptick in wind speed late this week.

"Winds across the West will turn a bit stronger later this week, making firefighting more difficult," Duffey, who is also a volunteer firefighter, said.

Beyond the weekend, it is unlikely that a prolonged stretch of dry and hot weather makes an immediate return. More frequent showers and thunderstorms should decrease the likelihood of rapid wildfire growth and ignition.

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