All About Fire
An unusual set up across the Northeastern United States and southeastern Canada has me feeling like I am forecasting for the Rocky Mountains this morning, not the Finger Lakes.
The prolonged dry spring and low relative humidity values have increased our local fire risk while already producing large fires nearby in Canada. Last week, we got some smoke from fires to our east in Nova Scotia. This week, fires in Quebec are only about 400 miles to our north.
Low pressure stalled off the coast of New England is producing north winds over Quebec and into the Finger Lakes, resulting in a direct path of the smoke plumes from these fires over our region.
While wildfire smoke in our atmosphere happens several times a year, the amounts of smoke both in the atmosphere as a whole and near the surface for today and tomorrow (at least) are impressive and much less common in our area.
A particularly thick batch of smoke is showing on the satellite imagery this morning across northern New York and the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario. This should move overhead later this morning, increasing the haze and decreasing the air quality in our area.
An Air Quality Alert is in place with sensitive groups especially at risk from the poor air quality. You can refer to https://www.airnow.gov for the latest air quality levels, forecasts, and action points.
However, fires over Canada are not the only fires to discuss. The NYS DEC continues to place our region in a LEVEL 3 – HIGH fire danger, and the fire weather forecasting arm of the Storm Prediction Center also has parts of our region and neighboring areas highlighted for hazardous fire weather conditions.
Including in this is a superbly rare mention of the possibility of dry thunderstorms. Dry thunderstorms are exactly what they sound like: lightning strikes with very little to no rainfall. They are a major concern for new fires out west when they occur, and any such storms today could also spark fires.
While the risk for this phenomenon is greater across Pennsylvania, it is worth nothing that a few small showers overnight producing a surprising amount of lightning, possibly due to the extra particulate in the atmosphere from the wildfire smoke. Especially over the eastern Finger Lakes, which will be on the fringe edge of influence from a disturbance rotating around the stalled low, there could be some concern for lightning induced fires. Precipitation will be almost unheard of today in the Finger Lakes, though.
The other factor at play for the fire risk today will be another round of blustery north and northwest winds. Wind gusts of 30-35 mph will be common, again especially over the eastern Finger Lakes. Any fires that spark may quickly spread.
There have been grass and brush fires reported in recent days, so more of the same can be expected today. Burning of all sorts is discouraged.
Lastly, the thick smoke in the atmosphere will be enough to block out the warming effects of the sun. High temperatures will struggle to get much beyond 70 today, which is several degrees cooler than it would be without the smoke.
Thick smoke is also expected into Wednesday, particularly during the morning hours when smoke levels may reach new highs. Smoke forecasting is highly sensitive to subtle air currents, though, and outlooks are currently limited to just a day or two in advance.
So, for the forecast beyond Wednesday, I’ll not mention smoke as much, but it will remain a distinct possibility thanks to a continued northerly flow and little expected rainfall to help douse the fires in Quebec over the coming days.
As I mentioned above, the chances of actual rain today in the Finger Lakes are very low. Any showers that do pop up will be brief and light, and mainly limited to the far eastern Finger Lakes.
Wednesday will be dry with few clouds, but plenty of smoke. Highs will only make it into the upper 60s.
The chances for showers will increase Wednesday night, and particularly on Thursday and Friday afternoon. The rain on these days will be hit or miss, and probably mostly light in nature. But, there should be enough shower activity to at least wet the ground in many places.
Temperatures will bottom out on Thursday with highs in the low 60s. If the smoke remains thick into Thursday, a few more degrees may need to be knocked off that forecast. The same goes for Friday, which should be a couple of degrees warmer.
Saturday looks mostly dry, though a few stray showers may become possible in the afternoon. Temperatures should return to the 70s, pending the presence of thick smoke.
The chances for smoke should diminish by Sunday and Monday as a new weather system moves into the Ohio River Valley and stalls out in the Great Lakes. This should give us more of a southerly flow, which will at least remove the direct connection to Quebec.
Our rain chances will increase with this system with some showers Sunday and Monday, and possibly some more substantial rain Monday night into Tuesday. It remains too early to count on this, especially since the low will be stalling out. Weather model performance tends to decrease in these set-ups.
Temperatures will remain near or slightly below average for much of next week before the possibility of some warmer weather towards next weekend.
This graphic represents an average over the entire Finger Lakes region. Localized variations should be expected.