Fire Risk in West

SEATTLE -- While the West is in need of rain, the storms will also bring an increased risk of lightning-induced wildfires.

Storms from the Pacific set to swing into the rain-starved West Coast this week may end up turning detrimental, AccuWeather forecasters say, by whipping up gusty winds and heightening the risk of lightning-induced wildfires.

With over 87% of the Western states in moderate to exceptional drought, the news of Pacific storms poised to sweep onshore may sound good on the surface. However, the pattern will be a double-edged sword.

Each storm is expected to arrive with "very limited moisture," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

One such storm arrived Sunday night and continued into Monday, bringing only light showers to northwest Oregon and Washington state.

A second storm is forecast to reach the Northwest during the middle of the week. This storm may bring a more concentrated area of rain and thunderstorms to the northern Rockies Wednesday night, as well as the potential for some snow at the highest peaks.

Light showers in the Pacific Northwest Friday will mark the arrival of the third storm of the week.

As a whole for the week, temperatures will be several degrees lower than average across the region due to the more frequent clouds and chances for wet weather.

Meaningful rainfall will fall well short of reaching the Southwestern states where the worst of the drought is ongoing.

Late last week, Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox declared June 5-6 a “weekend of prayer,” and asked residents to pray to "God or whatever higher power you believe in for more rain," The Washington Post reported.

“By praying … [or] asking God or whatever higher power … we may be able to escape the deadliest aspects of the continuing drought,” Cox said according to The Post.

The entire state of Utah is in a drought, with 90% enduring extreme or exceptional drought, according to the United States Drought Monitor.

AccuWeather meteorologists say that no rain is expected across Utah or much of the balance of the Southwest this week and perhaps beyond.

In addition to all of the rain staying north of the region, gusty winds will be kicked up to the south and east of the storms rolling through the Northwest.

"Wind will continue to be an issue through the middle of the week, with the strongest winds across Nevada," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist and western U.S. blogger Brian Thompson said.

Red flag warnings were in effect from southern Oregon and California to Nevada, western Arizona, Utah and Colorado in anticipation of the ramp-up of winds. High temperatures of 6-12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal across the Four Corners states will add to the severity of the wildfire setup through the middle of the week.

"This is not an unusual setup for this time of year, as we're still in that pre-monsoon season where the vegetation continues to dry out and temperatures are on the rise," Thompson added.

New wildfires can quickly be fanned into existence and ongoing blazes may grow farther beyond containment lines. Experts urge residents and visitors to avoid using outdoor flames in the dry, hot and windy pattern.

Locally gusty conditions could extend as far south as where firefighters are battling two large wildfires in Arizona, east of Phoenix. The Telegraph and Mescal fires have each burned over 50,000 acres and prompted evacuations and road closures since igniting last week.

This also looks like a setup for lightning and lightning-induced fires in the higher elevations, according to Sosnowski.

While moisture will be limited across the Sierra Nevada and southern Oregon Cascades, there may be enough energy in the upper levels of the atmosphere to set off spotty thunderstorm development. Given how dry it is, these thunderstorms can produce little to no rainfall but plenty of dangerous lightning that can be the spark for a new blaze.

Experts urge campers, hikers and anyone else spending time outdoors in the high terrain to keep a close eye on the sky and be on the lookout for tall, darkening clouds, which can indicate a developing thunderstorm.

In terms of temperatures, there will be some heat relief across the interior West by Thursday as cooler air pushes inland with the midweek storm. Salt Lake City, for example, is expected to dip into the 70s F Thursday following highs in the lower 90s through Wednesday. However, heat is likely to return as quickly as the weekend.

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