Fire Risk

High fire risk is expected across the Southwest through Wednesday.

PHOENIX — Temperatures are expected to plummet across the West through the early week as storms threaten to spark wildfires across a drought-stricken region.

Rain and scattered showers peppered the Northwest over the weekend, and snow even fell in the highest portions of the Cascades, creating hauntingly beautiful scenes on Mount Rainier.

Unfortunately, most areas to the south have not and likely will not receive much rainfall from this pattern change.

“A large dip in the jet stream will begin to approach the West coast on Monday,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist Alex DaSilva. This dip in the jet stream will only exacerbate the fire danger across the Southwest.

Over half of the West, which is made up of states such as Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, are currently in an extreme drought, according to the United States Drought Monitor.

“Fire danger will be extremely high across the Southwest through the middle of the week as strong winds sweep across the area,” DaSilva said. There will be little relief for the hardest-hit areas of drought across the Southwest, because any rain will stay far north.

Since May 1, several cities across the Southwest have received mere fractions of their average rainfall amounts. Downtown Los Angeles hasn’t reported any rain at all since the beginning of May. About 60% of Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir of California, has dried up.

In Nevada and Arizona, Lake Mead, located to the east of Las Vegas, is expected to reach record low levels sometime this week as dry weather persists.

The record lowest level of Lake Mead is 1071.61 feet from July 1, 2016, and the water level is currently at 1072.19 feet as of Sunday morning, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist John Feerick. Water levels have fallen an average of 0.23 foot per day.

“There may be a bit of rain across Northern California and northern Nevada during the middle part of the week, which will help the drought in those locations,” said DaSilva. Even still, the amount of rain anticipated is not expected to be significant.

Arizona, southern Utah, Southern California and southern Nevada are anticipated to remain “bone dry” through the week, according to DaSilva.

Any thunderstorms can spell trouble for areas in desperate need of rain. With such dry vegetation, lightning and high winds can be catalysts for wildfire.

The threat for dry lightning will increase with isolated thunderstorms from Oregon and Idaho, southeast to the Four Corners region through the weekend, according to long-range meteorologists.

Though drought conditions are not anticipated to lessen, this pattern change will cool the region down quite a bit. The Pacific Northwest was noticeably cooler on Sunday.

“This dip in the jet stream will provide heat relief across most of the West Coast,” DaSilva said. Temperatures will be 5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit below average in most areas across the West Coast by the middle of the week.

This image, captured early Monday morning, June 6, 2021, shows the sharp contrast of temperatures in the West.

After starting the month in the 80s, Seattle reported high temperatures in the mid-50s on Sunday, over 10 degrees below average. Similarly, Portland, Oregon, usually has temperatures in the lower 70s in early June, but dove from 95 F last Tuesday to the lower 60s on Sunday.

Contrasting the red flag warnings, freeze warnings have been issued in areas of southern Oregon and Northern California, as temperatures dropped to near freezing at some relatively higher elevations on Sunday night. Residents were recommended to cover or bring sensitive plants indoors.

Snow is possible again at the highest points of the Cascades on Wednesday and Wednesday night as rain and showers impact the Northwest.

Not everywhere will experience the chill, though. After hitting 91 F on Saturday, Denver is forecast to challenge that temperature on Tuesday, rising into the lower 90s again.

“There will be little relief for the Rocky Mountains as temperatures are expected to remain above average through the week,” said DaSilva.

The heat that once spread across the West has now made its way to the Northeast, causing the first heat wave of the year.

This generally cooler time in the West is expected to hang around for a bit, and temperatures will stay at or below average, until next week, when heat could return.

There are signs that an upper-level dome of high pressure will build across the Southwest, according to long-range meteorologists. This should produce above-normal temperatures in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson.

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Jessica Storm is an AccuWeather writer.

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