New Mexico’s governor urged residents in mandatory evacuation areas Saturday night to “GO NOW,” as the state faced dangerous fire weather that’s set to last into next week — with high winds, low humidity and near-record heat combining.
Why it matters: The extreme weather, on top of widespread, long-term and dangerous drought conditions, was likely to rapidly spread the flames of the Calf Canyon Fire — the state’s second-largest wildfire on record — and let new blazes grow, the National Weather Service warned.
Threat level: The Southwest is in the midst of its most severe and extended drought in at least 1,200 years. Studies show this drought is tied to human-caused climate change.
- A strong storm system will slowly move across the West this weekend, bringing warm and dry air into Arizona and New Mexico.
- “A relentless period of strong winds and dangerous fire weather conditions will exacerbate the fire threat across NM,” the NWS office in Albuquerque stated on its website.
- A red flag warning is in effect for all of New Mexico Saturday and will likely be extended for several more days.
The big picture: President Biden on Wednesday approved an N.M. disaster declaration, enabling federal aid to flow to the state to help recoup firefighting costs and help thousands of evacuated residents unable to return to their homes.
- Biden’s declaration, which came Wednesday following a request from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), makes federal funding available to affected residents in the fire-ravaged counties of Colfax, Mora, San Miguel, and Valencia.
Context: The Calf Canyon wildfire has grown to more than 170,000 acres at 21% containment, as several other blazes were burning across the state.
- The volatile conditions will affect other parched southwestern states this weekend too, including Arizona and parts of Colorado, which saw a devastating wildfire strike Boulder County in late December and numerous wildfires since.
- In New Mexico, the total acres burned so far this year is about equal to the seasonal average, and it is only early May. Relief may come in late May or June with rains from the Southwest monsoon.
Between the lines: The hot, dry airmass affecting New Mexico will expand northward and eastward over time, with an unusually early season heat wave enveloping Texas and Oklahoma, and eventually moving toward the Central states and Midwest by midweek next week.
- This weekend, locations in the entire state of Texas will be in the mid-90s or above, with some areas exceeding the triple-digits.
- Numerous daily high temperature records are likely to fall, as cities including Dallas see summer-like highs in the upper 90s.
- Parts of Texas, particularly in the Panhandle, will see dangerous fire weather conditions during the weekend as well, with hot temperatures, low relative humidity and breezy conditions threatening to quickly spread any fires.