Red flag warning issued for Susitna Valley due to lightning, ‘dry thunderstorms’ in forecast

Thunderstorms in the forecast following a week of unusually dry, warm weather prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning for the Susitna Valley on Saturday.

The potential for lightning that could increase fire danger in the area means Alaskans should take additional care Saturday to avoid inadvertently starting a fire, said Pam Szatanek, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

“They really need to take their activities seriously that involve fire,” Szatanek said. “Whether it’s something that could produce sparks, like welding — anything that could be a potential fire starter, without doubt, you want to be in tune with that situation.”

The red flag warning is in effect from 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday. Such warnings indicate potentially serious fire weather conditions are imminent, and are typically directed to firefighters to prepare them for the possibility of a fire.

A long stretch of hot, sunny weather across much of Alaska is being followed by a low-pressure system over the Gulf of Alaska that is expected to bring some shortwave energy into the area that will contribute to thunderstorm development, Szatanek explained.

“The concern is that the thunderstorms won’t produce enough precipitation to put themselves out, so we call it dry thunderstorms,” she said.

Two Red Flag Warnings are in effect today. One for the Susitna Valley, due to the threat of dry lightning. Dry...

Posted by Alaska DNR- Division of Forestry (DOF) on Saturday, June 4, 2022

Temperatures in the Susitna Valley will be in the mid-70s to near 80 Saturday, and wind gusts could reach up to 25 mph in the area of the thunderstorms, the weather service said.

The Alaska Division of Forestry, in a Facebook post about the red flag warning, reminded Alaskans that burn permit suspensions “are under effect for the majority of Alaska state lands, and while not illegal, campfires are not advised under these circumstances.”

The possibility for fire spread is also high because of the many days of dry, hot weather in the area and through much of Alaska, Szatanek said. Notably, moderate drought conditions have formed over Hope, though a slice of the Kenai Peninsula and up along the Parks Highway, she said.

The last time drought conditions were reported in Southcentral Alaska was in 2019, she said.

In Anchorage, Saturday marked the ninth day in the row temperatures at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport broke 70 degrees, a pattern that is considered highly unusual for this early in the summer in Alaska. The warm weather is expected to continue through the end of the weekend before cooling off Monday with rain expected overnight.

A burn ban was also in place Saturday in Anchorage, according to a municipal website. That means all open fires are prohibited including campfires, burn pits and portable outdoor fireplaces.

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Annie Berman

Annie Berman covers health care for the Anchorage Daily News. She's a fellow with Report for America, and is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A veteran of AmeriCorps and Vista volunteer programs, she's previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in the Bay Area.