Hopefully, you’ve heard of Friday’s potentially memorable fire danger. If you haven’t, assume others haven’t and spread the word.

Fire danger hasn’t been this high since 2011 in and around Denver.

It’s an important enough weather event that the National Weather Service is warning almost everyone from the foothills to the Eastern Plains to prepare an emergency kit should the area you live in have to evacuate due to a wildfire. More than 2 million residents of Colorado are under red flag warnings Friday.

Let’s talk about what is making this day so dangerous.

It will not be “Fun day Friday” in Denver.

Highest fire danger since 2011 expected across the Mile high. #Colorado #COwx pic.twitter.com/NYEpiHJ1FZ

— Rain or Shine I’m Andy Stein (@AndySteinWx) April 22, 2022

First off, forecasting fire danger involves looking at temperatures, humidity levels, wind speeds and moisture in the ground and vegetation. A nearly perfect storm will come into play to create such a dangerous day.

For another perspective on the rarity of this event, @NWSSPC has placed most of our forecast area in a Day 2 Extremely Critical risk. Since 2010, this has only happened 1 other time in the Denver metro and a few times further south. PLEASE avoid ANY sparks tomorrow! #COwx #COFire pic.twitter.com/6FDKOAyip9

— NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) April 21, 2022

Drought and lack of moisture

Colorado has had very minimal moisture in the last 30 days. Most areas around Denver have only seen a fraction of what typically falls in that time. Denver has been placed back in drought conditions recently after a short stint without them.

The lack of moisture isn’t just affecting ground conditions. Vegetation is drying out as well. Vegetation as dry as it is now acts as the fuel for fires.

After the wet spring we had in 2021, grasses grew big and many of those long grasses are still around now. There have been many fires already this year that have used these grasses as fuel.

Strong winds

It has been a very windy month already and although the winds Friday may not be the strongest our area has ever seen, the winds will be the most widespread, especially in recent memory. That means that a lot more people will see just how windy it can get here.

A storm developing and strengthening while moving over Colorado is the culprit. Sustained winds should reach 25 mph to 35 mph while gusts will be commonly blowing up to 60 mph. Some areas further to the south and east of Denver could gust to 70 mph.

A difference in Friday’s winds is that they’ll be blowing from the south and southwest. This will allow any fires that start to move north and northeast. It is important to know your directions. This southerly wind will also be bringing in some big-time heat.

Winds will shift Friday evening. The foothills should prepare for an extremely windy Friday night with gusts to 70+ mph expected in Boulder, Estes Park, Conifer and the adjacent Plains.

Near record high temperatures

Temperatures across Denver are expected to rise into the mid-80s today, a good 20 degrees higher than normal for this time of the year. The higher the heat, the happier the fire.

Warmth helps to feed warmth, and these near-record temperatures will be plenty high enough to allow vegetation to dry out even further. It will also help to evaporate even more moisture from the ground. Friday should be our hottest day so far of 2022.

Desert dry air

If you’ve been using extra ChapStick and lotion lately, you’ll really need it Friday. For a red flag warning to be issued, humidity values have to reach 15% or below.

Friday’s humidity values are expected to dip down between 5% and 10%. Although our humidity values have been frequently dipping below 20% lately, values below 10% are not seen very often.

This fire danger event is a once in every 10- or 15-year event. Russ Schumacher, the Colorado state climatologist, compared Friday’s event to April 17, 2018. During the event, two 40,000-acre wildfires ignited that sparked and spread rapidly under similar conditions.

Not a perfect analog, but the fire weather tomorrow has some similarities to April 17, 2018, which had two 40,000+ acre fires in southeast Colorado (MM117 and Badger Hole). Winds might even be somewhat stronger tomorrow. Let’s not see a repeat of that tomorrow, please! #cowx pic.twitter.com/03MkNDyEH6

— Russ Schumacher (@russ_schumacher) April 21, 2022

Blowing dust

Thanks to the dry ground, dust and dirt will be easily blown around Friday. Dust storms are expected Friday across all of the Eastern Plains. These can greatly and suddenly reduce visibility while driving. Keep this in mind if you have plans to travel east of the mountains or in the San Luis Valley.

Please prepare and plan for an impactful weather event. Again, any fires that spark will move from south to north. Talk to your friends and neighbors about this weather as well.

There will be extreme fire weather conditions across the foothills, plains, and South Park tomorrow afternoon. An evacuation kit, or “go bag”, is an important part of being prepared for fire weather emergencies. #COwx pic.twitter.com/6aGnLZYsBI

— NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) April 22, 2022

Winds will shift Friday night after a cold front moves through. This will bring better fire conditions Saturday and Sunday, but there won’t be enough moisture to extinguish any existing fires. In fact, new blazes sparked Friday could continue to spread through Saturday under continuing windy conditions.

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Unfortunately, the cooler and more damp air won’t last long. We will be returning to warmer and more dry conditions next week. Fire danger could once again rise, so we will have to prepare for the possibility of more fire danger and windy conditions.

Stay safe and stay vigilant. Please take extra precautions to mitigate any risks for sparks or flames.

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