A red flag warning is in effect for critical fire weather conditions north of Iliamna today. Unseasonably warm temperatures and dry conditions have primed southwest Alaska for potential wildfires. The warning extends north from Iliamna to the Lower Kuskokwim valley. Meteorologist Michael Lawson says the dry air is a central factor, as relative humidity levels drop as low as 12 to 15 percent.
"That's generally been happening in the afternoon and evening hours, that's not something that's sustained. Temperatures cool at night and recover a bit. The most dangerous conditions are in the afternoon. Things have been so hot and dry that fuels are so incredibly ready to go at the first nudge towards combustion," said Lawson.
The high pressure system that produced these conditions is still dominant, but as it shifts, there’s another risk factor that will emerge.
"The high [pressure system] aloft will be retreating to the northwest, which will start to allow your area northward to increase chances for thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening hours. That's another one of our red flag criteria. If we're expecting thunderstorms to have very little precipitation with them, it's so dry in the lower levels that right now, any precipitation that falls is going to immediately evaporate. Any lighting associated with these thunderstorms is going to be prone to igniting new wildfires," said Lawson.
The current red flag warning is in place until 9 p.m. Tuesday. The city of Dillingham has instituted a burn ban within city limits.