2013 New Mexico Fire Weather Review
 
A detalied summary of the 2013 fire season and associated fire weather highlights is available in pdf format.
 
 Overview
Similar to the fire seasons of 2011 and 2012, locations in northern and central New Mexico experienced large fires during the 2013 wildfire season. A few of the fires exhibited extreme fire behavior and required type 1, 2 and 3 wildland management teams as well as additional out of area resources. Some of the fires affected elevations above 9000 feet. Fires at high elevations typically have a harder time spreading due to the normally moist conditions. However, below normal snowpack and warmer than normal temperatures during the spring season contributed to worsening drought conditions and a very dry fuel bed across most of the landscape from the spring to early summer period. Significant Red Flag or strong wind and low humidity events were a little less common in 2013 compared to 2012 and much less common than what occurred in 2011. Regardless,
extreme drought, above normal temperatures and unstable conditions led to another memorable wildland fire year in 2013.
 
Fine fuel or grass growth has been lackluster the last few years due to elevated drought conditions. Thus, similar to 2012, large fire activity was generally absent across the eastern plains. The graphics below describe and illustrate the large fires (>100 acres) across New Mexico in 2013.
listing of 2013 NM wildfires
locations of NM wildfires in 2013

 

The charts below list the number of acres burned by all fire across New Mexico and the total number of wildfires for each year since 2000. Total acreage burned by wildfires in 2013 was around 221,000 compared to the long term average of 357,000. The number of wildfires in 2013 was also below the average of 1635 and very similar to the number of fire starts during 2012.

 

 charts depicting annual values of total acres burned and the number of wildfires
 Statisics courtesy of Southwest Coordination Center (SWCC)

 

The annual number of acres burned by wildfires due to lightning (left) and humans (right) since 2000 are illustrated in the following charts. The amount of acreage burned due to lightning during 2013 was much lower compared to 2011 and 2012. Lightning acreage during 2013 was over twice as much compared to human caused. The lack of significant spring wind events, higher general population situational awareness as well as less fine fuels around greater populated areas most likely led to this result.

 

charts of annual acres burned by lightning and human caused wildfires
 Statisics courtesy of Southwest Coordination Center (SWCC)
 

Fire weather business at the National Weather Service (NWS) in Albuquerque decreased compared to 2012. Red Flag warnings were issued on 45 days and that is slightly up compared to 2012. Red Flag warnings are issued by the NWS to highlight critical fire weather and fuel conditions that lead to rapid and dangerous fire growth. Issuance criteria includes: strong winds, low humidity (15% or less) and high fire danger  The amount of site specific or spot forecasts produced for land managers decreased rather substantially. Only 376 forecasts were produced by NWS-Albuquerque. The last time spot forecasts dipped below the 400 mark was in 1998.  The very dry fuel conditions across the mid and high level elevations during April and May, lack of grass or fine fuels across the lowlands during the spring and the two week Federal government shut down during prime fall burning conditions most likely led to this result. Charts below show historical numbers of fire weather business for NWS-Albuquerque.

 

charts with stats for red flag warning days and number of spots for NWS ABQ

 

By spring of 2013, a lack of runoff from a meager snowpack, very low soil moistures and continued extreme drought conditions set the stage for the fire season.  In late May, from the 26th through the 31st, critical fire weather conditions were in place. Two significant wildfires started on consecutive days.  On May 30, strong winds downed power lines in the upper Pecos river valley sparking the Tres Lagunas fire that eventually burned just over 10,000 acres. The following day, the Thompson Ridge fire started (also by downed power lines) in the Valles Caldera Preserve. This fire would eventually burn nearly 24,000 acres, much of it in ponderosa pine forests. The satelitte image below, from the NASA Earth Observatory archive shows the two active fires on June 1, 2013, and was obtained using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Red outlines indicate the fire "hot spots" detected by MODIS.  Other major fires in the NWS Albuquerque area of responsibility during 2013 included the Jarosa fire which was started by lightning in the Pecos wilderness in early June and the White's Peak fire that started later in June in the front range of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

satellite imagery of NM fires on 6/1/2013
 
Source: NASA Earth Observatory (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/)

 

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