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Missing monsoon worsens Phoenix heat as Texas drought and fire risk grows

By Jennifer Gray, CNN Meteorologist

(CNN) — Record dry streaks and a long-lasting ridge of high pressure are teaming up to lock in dangerous heat and trigger an expanding drought across parts of the Southwest and Texas.

This is particularly true in Phoenix, which just endured the hottest month on record for any US city and still hasn’t had any measurable rain, even though the monsoon season, which is responsible for bringing the Southwest at least 50% of its annual rainfall, started nearly two months ago.

Phoenix is currently experiencing its driest three-month period on record, fueled by the second-latest first rain of the monsoon season.

This, in combination with the much talked about stubborn area of high pressure, will keep temperatures in record territory for the foreseeable future.

Phoenix needs monsoon rain to break the heat. It brings added moisture, cloud cover and rain which can moderate temperatures, especially from oppressive afternoon highs.

It’s getting drier by the day, with nothing more than a 20 to 30% chance of rain through the week.

Highs in Phoenix are expected to come down slightly this week – from a scorching 116 degrees on Saturday down to a forecast high of 104 degrees on Wednesday.

However, the added monsoonal moisture will bring the humidity levels higher, which means the heat index, or “feels like” temperature, will be higher. It’s a no-win situation right now, unless they get rain.

By the end of the week, moisture decreases and so do the chances for rain. And you guessed it: temperatures climb right back up to 110 degrees.

Growing drought and extreme fire conditions in Texas

The lack of rain is also putting the Lone Star State in a dire drought situation which is causing the threat of fires to grow.

“It’s just going to keep deteriorating,” said Logan Scherschel, fire analyst for Texas A&M Forest Service. “There’s a pretty good recipe for a bad week coming up because the fields have been drying out for over a month.”

Texas had a really wet spring, which produced a lot of fresh grass growth. Then the summer has been very dry and very hot.

Several Texas cities, including Waco, Austin, Houston, Midland, San Angelo and Del Rio, have had little-to-no rainfall during the last few months and are all now experiencing their driest 30-day stretch on record.

The heat is also helping dry out the ground even more. El Paso is expected to hit 109 degrees Monday, then hover around 105 degrees the rest of the week. The city has had 30 days this year with temperatures above 105 degrees, breaking the record for the most such days.

Austin is also expected to stay around 105 degrees all week. The city endured 11 consecutive days above 105 degrees ending in late July, which was an all-time record.

Much of the new grass that grew during the spring is dead now, creating the perfect fuel for the spread of fires.

“We’re starting to not only see a lot of fires easily started and carried by the grass, but they’re starting to get what we call significant fires because they get very resistant to control as the brush and trees start burning,” Scherschel explained.

Texas has had more than 100 fires burn in the last seven days alone, most of those in the more populated areas of the state from Dallas to Houston to San Antonio.

“So even if fires don’t get thousands and thousands of acres in size, a small fire can still impact a pretty good-sized population,” Scherschel said.

Much of the state is under heat alerts on Monday. There is also an elevated fire risk for West and Central Texas.

“The combination of extremely hot temperatures, 20-30% RH (relative humidity) and very dry fuels has resulted in aggressive fire behavior,” according to the storm prediction center.

More than 50% of Texas is in drought, with a small pocket of the most extreme level of drought covering the Hill Country. According to Scherschel, they need rain and a lot of it.

“Pretty much at this point, it’s going to take some type of season-ending event, such as like a tropical storm or hurricane to bring a lot of Gulf moisture, a lot of rainfall on a lot of real estate,” Scherschel said.

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Article Topic Follows: cnn-weather/environment

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