Oh, did you foolishly think we'd finally gotten rid of that cruel, soulless winter? Hah! Nothing doing. Not only is there cool air and even some snow on its way, but breezy conditions and dry air are setting the stage for wildfires in places from New England to the coasts of southern California.
The Storm Prediction Center, which issues fire weather forecasts in addition to their severe thunderstorm outlooks, shows numerous areas across the country experiencing weather conditions that are favorable for the development of wildfires. The fire weather outlook has three categories: elevated, critical, and extreme. A critical risk for fires exists this afternoon and evening across the upper Plains, the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, parts of the southwest, and areas of southern California from around Oxnard down through San Diego.
Even the smallest spark or lit cigarette can ignite a fire in dry vegetation when relative humidity levels are very low and gusty winds are present to help feed and spread the flames. Thousands of acres have already burned as a result of these favorable conditions, including a prescribed burn in South Dakota that quickly got out of control, and a wildfire in Utah's Fishlake National Forest that destroyed two cabins.
The threat for wildfires should subside east of the Rockies tomorrow, with the greatest risk confining itself to the Lower Colorado River and areas of southern California that experience strong Santa Ana winds.
The same system that brought powerful winds to the Intermountain West yesterday, causing a pretty ugly set of duststorms in Nevada and Utah, will lead to several opportunities for snow across the Rockies over the next couple of days. The highest peaks could see two or more feet of snow through Friday evening, according to the National Weather Service.
The snow won't be limited to the mountain peaks, either. Denver stands the chance to see several inches of snow over the next couple of days, but with high temperatures climbing well above freezing, it probably won't stick around very long. Salt Lake City could even see a light coating—they've seen just 9.9 inches of snow so far this year, which is just 19% of their 30-year average of 51.7 inches. This was also Salt Lake City's warmest winter on record, beating out the winter of 1976-1977 by 0.4°F. Records at the city's airport go back to 1928.
A potent cold front will sweep through the eastern half of the country on Monday and Tuesday, allowing chilly air to filter down from Canada. Temperatures could dip 10-20 degrees below average over the period. Don't worry, though—20 degrees below average for this time of the year isn't as brutal as it would be in, say, January. The above model image shows temperatures on Tuesday morning as predicted by the latest run of the GFS
Take Minneapolis, for instance. Highs will dip down into the 50s with lows hovering around freezing for the first half of next week. Chilly? Sure! Sensitive plants? Potentially dead! Brutal? Not by a long shot. The average last freeze across much of the northern United States doesn't occur until May, and the last freeze can occur as last as June up near the Canadian border.
Pay attention to forecast low temperatures if you've got a green thumb and your yard already looks like a nature preserve.