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Intense Heat, Wildfire Risk to Continue in the Western US

By By Brian Lada, Meteorologist
July 08, 2015, 12:38:17 AM EDT

The unrelenting heat across the interior West will continue through the first part of this week, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel for those looking for cooler weather.

Records will continue to be challenged on a daily basis with afternoon highs in the 90s F and low 100s F across much of the region's interior. This is the equivalent of 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for early July.

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Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Washington, is one of the many locations across the Northwest that could set a new record high on multiple occasions this week. Highs each day through Thursday will be within a few of degrees of 90 F. The normal average high is 74 F. As of Sunday Seattle-Tacoma has had five days in a row of 90-degree-Fahrenheit temperatures, which has tied the record set in Aug. 7-11, 1981.

Temperatures in downtown Seattle will peak in the 80s F each day through Thursday.

The hottest conditions will focus just east of the Cascade Mountains and across the Desert Southwest with temperatures reaching the triple digits on a daily basis.

This can make it dangerous for outdoor activities, especially in the heat of the afternoon. If you must work in the outdoors in the West this week, make sure to take frequent breaks and to drink plenty of water to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke.


This extreme heat can help contribute to the heightened risk of wildfires across the region.

The scorching heat and ongoing drought conditions have left vegetation starved of moisture, making it more susceptible to catching fire and starting a massive wildfire.

Afternoon thunderstorms over the mountainous terrain can be one of the ways to spark a wildfire.

"The nature of the current weather pattern tends to favor thunderstorm formation, but low doses of moisture in many cases will stop drenching rainfall from reaching widespread areas of the West," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Thunderstorms like this that produce little to no rain are commonly referred to as dry thunderstorms. Despite the lack of rain, lightning is still able to strike the ground, potentially sparking a new wildfire.

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Lightning strikes account for only a portion of wildfires. Many of the other fires are man-made.

"Lightning along with man, accidental or deliberate, are the two main causes of wildfires in the West," said AccuWeather Western Weather Expert Ken Clark.

A smoldering cigarette could be all that it takes to start a fire due to the persistent dry weather, intense heat and low humidity.

Campers in the backwoods should also use extreme caution when starting a campfire for cooking or recreation.


If you are planning on having a contained campfire, there are several steps that you should take to keep it from spreading. Before you light the fire, ensure that you have a proper campfire ring to contain the flames.

Additionally, make sure to keep a supply of water nearby to extinguish any sparks or flames that jump out of the ring.

Finally, when you are done with your fire, make sure that it is thoroughly put out. You should pour enough water on it to the point where it is no longer smoking and you can run your hand through the cooled ashes.


The record-challenging heat in the West is expected to ease heading into the second part of the week due to an upper-level disturbance moving over the region.

This disturbance will not bring much, if any, rain to the West but will be responsible for a decrease in temperatures.

Afternoon highs along Interstate 5 from Seattle through Sacramento are forecast to run from the upper 70s to the upper 80s on Thursday and Friday. This is noticeably lower than highs in the 90s during the first part of the week.

People should still exercise caution in relation to wildfires with the continuation of primarily dry weather in the lower evaluations and spotty afternoon storms over the mountains.

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