Heat wave forecast in Southwest as drought-fueled wildfires rage

·4 min read

A heat wave is overtaking parts of the Southwest this week, worsening already severe drought conditions and increasing the risk for wildfires.

As AccuWeather forecasters predict another bad fire season in the West, fires are already raging across Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and even Colorado.

The Tussock Fire continued to burn out of control on Tuesday in Arizona, scorching about 4,400 acres north of Phoenix. The Copper Canyon Fire also raged to the west of the city and northeast of Globe, Arizona. It has been active since last Friday, forcing officials to close parts of U.S. Highway 60 for a time. It has since reopened, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Phoenix received only 4% of its normal precipitation last month and has yet to have any rainfall during the month of May, allowing drought conditions to intensify.

The Valley of the Sun reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time this year on Wednesday, May 5, and then reached the century mark again the next day. Temperatures have since remained above normal and will continue to do so.

"A persistent northward bulge in the jet stream will continue to allow unseasonably warm air across much of the Desert Southwest into late week," said AccuWeather Meteorologist Mary Gilbert.

Phoenix has the chance yet again for temperatures to rise above 100 degrees Thursday and Friday.

"Through Wednesday, the core of the heat will be centered largely across interior California, western Nevada and portions of Arizona," Gilbert said.

"Sacramento, California, a city that usually encounters high temperatures in the upper 70s at this time of year, is forecast to soar above 90 degrees through Thursday," Gilbert added.

This could be the start of a heat wave for this area.

"This stretch of unseasonable heat will work to further increase the city's departure from normal temperatures," Gilbert said. As of May 11, Sacramento is a whopping 8.5 degrees above normal for the month.

"The entirety of California's San Joaquin Valley is in the midst of extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor," said Gilbert.

Reporting only 1% of the usual monthly rainfall for April, Sacramento is off to a dry start to May as well with no rainfall yet.

On Monday afternoon, California Governor Newsom extended the emergency drought declaration to include 41 of the state's 58 counties.

However, California is not the only state affected.

Temperatures will also be several degrees above normal across the interior Northwest and most of the Rockies later in the week.


After highs in the 40s and some snow early in the week, Denver will have temperatures soar above average into the lower 70s starting on Thursday.

"Past midweek, the jet stream will continue to push farther north each day, which will allow heat to build and spread farther north and east across more of the western United States," Gilbert said.

"One area likely to not feature temperatures well above average will be along the immediate Pacific coast, where a predominantly westerly flow may keep a daily marine layer in place and temperatures closer to normal," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tyler Roys.

After having above-average temperatures since last Friday, San Francisco will ease back to normal or even slightly below average in the upper 60s by the end of the week.

"While coastal areas will remain cooler than inland areas due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean, even the coast will continue to experience high temperatures 5-8 degrees above normal through Wednesday," said Gilbert.

Los Angeles, for example, will have temperatures rising to the upper 70s throughout the week, peaking at 77 Wednesday and 74 Thursday.

An end to this warm streak is in sight, though.

After an expected cold front late next week across the Northwest, there may be another reinforcing shot of cold air courtesy of another storm approaching the West Coast, according to Roys.

Some weather models are depicting a rather potent storm that could march into the West Coast next week, while other models are not as bullish and keep the storm centered farther north across the Pacific Northwest, said Roys.

Some much-needed moisture is not out of the question for California next week.

Current long-range forecasts suggest Central and Northern California may even have a chance at some rainfall during this time, according to Roys.

"However, based on climatology and other model guidance, our current forecast keeps moisture limited to the Northwest," Roys said.

Officials ask residents of the Southwest to help prevent wildfires by ensuring campfires are completely put out, avoid dragging chains from vehicles and properly disposing of cigarettes and matches.

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