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Progress has been difficult and slow fighting the forest fires in the western states. But, there have been some recent gains made by firefighters according the Washington Post.

Firefighters around the West on Friday were taking advantage of improving weather conditions to make strides against stubborn wildfires — even containment in some locales — that have destroyed homes, forced evacuations and scorched hundreds of thousands of acres of timber and brush.
In Colorado, crews expected to have the state’s most destructive wildfire fully contained by day’s end. Colorado Springs officials lifted evacuation orders for 126 more homes at a 28-square-mile fire that started late last month and has damaged or destroyed nearly 350 homes and killed two people. In Wyoming and Montana, a lull in hot weather, damp conditions and shifting winds helped thousands of firefighters at separate blazes.
NASA Earth Observatory web site released this image of the Waldo Canyon region burn scar in dark. The vegetated region is in orange. Click on the image to be taken to the full story.
The Waldo Canyon Fire was first reported on June 23, 2012, burning in Pike National Forest, three miles (5 kilometers) west of Colorado Springs. Fueled by extremely dry conditions and strong winds, it had burned 18,247 acres (74 square kilometers) by July 5. The blaze severely damaged or destroyed 346 homes, making it the most destructive fire in Colorado history. Mountain Shadows, a neighborhood northwest of the Colorado Springs city center, experienced some of the most severe damage. According to an analysis conducted by the Denver Post, the combined value of the homes that burned to the ground in the neighborhood was at least $110 million.

More below the squiggle.

The fires have raged for weeks fed by excessive heat, tinder dry conditions, insect destruction, and lack of precipitation. There was a large amount of discussion following this recent diary about forest fire science.

Land Surface Temperatures This Year

NASA also recently released this image of the land surface temperatures of the U.S. Click on the image for the full story. Land surface temperatures (LST) are not the same as the air temperatures that meteorological stations measure. LSTs indicate how hot the surface of the Earth would feel to the touch. Satellites see the “surface” which includes objects that capture and retain heat. Sand, dark roofs, or pavement are usually higher than air temperatures.
Warmer than average temperatures are shown in red. Normal temperatures are white. Cooler than the 2000-2011 base period are blue. Colorado experienced the brunt of the heat wave. Eight large wildfires were burning on June 28, 2012. Wyoming and Utah together had nine wildfires burning.

The intensity and scope of the heat wave in the western United States is visible in this map of land surface temperature anomalies for June 17–24, 2012. Based on data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, the map depicts temperatures compared to the 2000–2011 average for the same eight day period in June.

Snowfall Comparison Past Two Winters

Winter 2010-11 was marked with widespread and abundant snowfall. But, much of North America was very mild in the winter of 2011-12. Weather patterns often kept snow from falling. Warm temperatures didn't let it stay on the ground for long. This snow deficit meant fewer spring floods. But, less snow melt filled reservoirs and lakes.
These maps were made with data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. The left map depicts snow cover in North America from October 1, 2011, to March 20, 2012; the right map shows the same period in the autumn and winter of 2010 to 2011. The colors depict the percentage of days in which a parcel of land was covered by snow. The deepest blues had snow cover just 10 to 20 percent of the time, while the palest blue depicts near complete snow cover for the season. Gray areas had no measurable snow. The map does not reveal snow depth.
Notice there is a slider control in the center of the maps image. Click on the image to be taken to the page with the interactive. Below the two separate snowfall maps is a box that says VIEW IMAGE COMPARISON. Click it. Move the slider to the right to see the region in 2011-12. Move it left to see 2010-11. You should notice snow deficits over most of the country, especially problematic here is the deficit in the western states now enduring fires.
“A major reason for the snow deficits was the persistent position of the jet stream close to the U.S.–Canadian border,” said climatologist Dave Robinson of Rutgers University. “This kept the cold air at bay to the north and permitted mild conditions to persist winter-long across most states. With only infrequent buckling (troughs) in the jet to the south the number and severity of winter storms was reduced—as it is the interaction of different air masses that helps spawn storms.”
Forecasters at NOAA said in March 2012 that “for the first time in four years, no area of the United States faces a high risk of major to record spring flooding, largely due to the limited winter snowfall.” The agency noted that eight of eleven western states still had reservoir levels at or above the normal capacity—a residual effect of last year's thick snow pack.

Fortunately, the fires are being brought more under control. Let's hope that normal precipitation and temperature patterns return. And, let's hope the region receives normal snowfall in the 2012-13 winter season. A return to the fires and drought would not be welcome next summer.

Originally posted to SciTech on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 11:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by J Town.

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