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Risk for wildfire development, spread to increase again this week in southwestern US

By Kyle Elliott, AccuWeather meteorologist
May 11, 2018, 9:22:15 PM EDT

The intense, summerlike heat and abnormally dry conditions that have been plaguing the southwestern United States are in no hurry to leave this week.

High temperatures through midweek will run 10-20 degrees above normal in the Four Corners region and challenge or even break records in many cities.

On Thursday, temperatures in Albuquerque came within one degree of setting a new daily record high.

The Mallard Fire, which broke out southeast of Amarillo, Texas, around midweek, burned over 30,000 acres as of Friday afternoon. The blaze lead to the development of pyrocumulus clouds which sparked lightning around the fire.

mallard fire

Temperatures will continue to hover around the century mark in Phoenix through the weekend.

southwest regional 5/11

The ongoing heat will continue to fuel and breed an expanding area of extreme to exceptional drought in the Four Corners region, as well as in southwestern Kansas and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.

Over 60 percent of the state of Arizona is currently immersed in extreme drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. Only 48 percent of the state was impacted by severe drought the previous week.

The combination of dry soil, parched vegetation, low humidity and heat will lead to an enhanced threat for wildfire development and spread, especially late in the week when gusty winds return to the region.

The Tinder Fire in Arizona, which has been burning since April 27, has scorched over 16,300 acres of land and destroyed 33 homes, according to Inciweb. As of Monday morning, the fire was 79 percent contained with over 270 personnel still battling the blaze.

In southwestern New Mexico, the OK Bar Fire that was ignited by lightning on April 22 has burned nearly 60,000 acres and is still not fully contained.

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“Any spotted fires should be reported to the authorities, and residents should be careful when disposing of cigarettes, burning outdoors and parking over dry foliage in order to prevent accidentally starting a fire,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Faith Eherts warned.

A pair of storm systems diving southward through the central Rockies spanning through Saturday will help to kick winds back up across the Southwest. Blowing dust and crosswinds threaten to create hazardous driving conditions for motorists, especially when traveling at highway speeds.

SW fire threat 5/11

These detrimental weather conditions also threaten setbacks to ongoing firefighting efforts and may make it difficult to maintain current containment status.

“The prolonged heat can perpetuate heat-related health concerns, while the strong winds hinder ongoing firefighting efforts,” Eherts added.

While clouds and showers may bring much-needed relief from the heat and drought in portions of Utah and Colorado by week’s end, little if any precipitation is expected outside of the highest terrain of Arizona and New Mexico.

Another prolonged stretch of dry, hot weather is forecast to build into to the area next week.

“Dry conditions and above-normal temperatures are expected to dominate the western U.S. spanning May 16-20, with cooler air and showers confined to the Pacific Northwest late in the period,” said AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok.

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