Fire weather risks increase with incoming storms; lightning safety

This 2013 photo illustrates fire weather in Southern Utah which occurs when dry conditions combine with thunderstorms and lightning. Here thunderstorm and lightning are seen over the Diamond Valley area of Washington County, Utah, July 23, 2013 | Photo by Yvonne Baur, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The National Weather Service has issued a fire weather watch for Southern Utah counties that will be in effect from Tuesday afternoon through Tuesday evening. Thunderstorms are expected to develop with lightning. Given the extremely dry period the region has experienced, these storms may fuel ongoing wildfires as well as start new ones.

A fire weather watch means there is a potential for critical fire weather conditions.

A fire weather watch has been issued for portions of Southern Utah | Image courtesy of National Weather Service, St. George News
Dots denote areas subject to a fire weather watch alert for Southern Utah Tuesday | Image courtesy of National Weather Service, St. George News | Click on image to enlarge

Affected areas

Of particular concern with the incoming storms are fire weather zones 494 (Henry Mountains), 495 (Color Country West Desert), 497 (Mojave Desert) and 498 (Grand Staircase).

Thunderstorms and wind

The service forecasts widely scattered showers and thunderstorms developing over Southern Utah Tuesday afternoon but likely with little rain associated with them. The storms are expected to decrease in coverage Tuesday evening although some may persist into the overnight hours.

Any showers and thunderstorms that develop will be capable of producing gusty outflow winds.

Impacts

The thunderstorms that develop will produce lightning that may start multiple wildfires. Due to the dryness, any fires that start from lightning are expected to spread quickly. In addition, gusty outflow winds in the vicinity of these fires may result in extreme fire behavior.

Lightning: “When thunder roars, go indoors!”

What shelter you choose can make all the difference when lightning is active.  The National Weather Service describes both safe and unsafe shelters:

• A safe shelter from lightning is either a substantial building or an enclosed metal vehicle.

• A safe building is one that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and floor, and has plumbing or wiring. Examples include a home, school, church, hotel, office building or shopping center. Once inside, stay away from showers, sinks, bathtubs, and electronic equipment such as stoves, radios, corded telephones and computers.

• Unsafe buildings include carports, open garages, covered patios, picnic shelters, beach pavilions, golf shelters, tents of any kinds, baseball dugouts, sheds and greenhouses.

• A safe vehicle is any fully enclosed metal-topped vehicle such as a hard-topped car, minivan, bus, truck, etc. While inside a safe vehicle, do not use electronic devices such as radio communications during a thunderstorm. If you drive into a thunderstorm, slow down and use extra caution. If possible, pull off the road into a safe area. Do not leave the vehicle during a thunderstorm.

• Unsafe vehicles include golf carts, convertibles, motorcycles, or any open cab vehicle.

Prevent human-caused wildfires

While people cannot stop the lightning, there are a number of things they can do in their everyday and outdoor activities that can prevent human-caused fires.

  • Check and secure chain chains on vehicles, trucks, trailers and the like for both on road and off-highway use to be sure they don’t drag and hit the ground. Chains against the ground cause sparks that ignite wildfires.
  • Enjoy campfires in permitted areas only and be sure they are cold to the touch before leaving them, stir the dirt with water until it is cold.
  • Heed fire restrictions that are in place – read more here.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when target shooting and avoid areas with cheatgrass and dry fuels.
  • Don’t smoke in fire risk areas except within an enclosed vehicle, camp trailer, building, developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least 6 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared to mineral soil.
  • Don’t welding, cut and grind metal in fire risk areas.
  • Use fireworks only where permissible in your region. Fireworks safety includes being mindful of your surroundings; don’t use them near vegetated areas or where you could start structural fires; put spent fireworks into a bucket of water, not in a trashcan; if a firework does not ignite, leave it alone – don’t try to reignite it; have a bucket of water or fire extinguisher nearby as well as a shovel before starting your fireworks.

Email: jkuzmanic@stgnews.com

Twitter: @JoyceKuzmanic  @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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