Drought Increases Wildfire Risk In the Great Plains Through Spring

January 18, 2018 09:56 AM
 
Drought in the central and southern Plains is causing a higher than normal risk of wildfire through April.

Kansas State University scientists and the National Interagency Coordination Center are warning producers and fire managers that drought in the central and southern Plains is causing a higher than normal risk of wildfire through April. Areas with elevated risk include Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

“Some parts of Kansas, especially the south central and southwest areas, saw above-normal moisture during the growing season, with many reports of large to significant fuel loads as a result,” says Chip Redmond, meteorologist with the K-State Mesonet and an incident meteorologist. “Areas west of US-81 have seen considerable drying the previous months with many locations exceeding 90 days without a wetting rain. This, combined with persistent dry air masses, sunny skies, and breezy winds, are rapidly depleting any remnant moisture.”

Fire Risk Increases for Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas

On the interactive map below, used the white middle bar to slide left and right to see how the fire risk increases from January to February 2018.

While fall and winter dryness is not uncommon for this time of year, any deficit developed will be difficult to overcome without above-normal moisture between now and March. The report, “National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook,” offers an in-depth assessment of current weather and fuel conditions and how they will evolve in the coming months.

 

Fire Risk Increases for Arizona, California, New Mexico, Montana, North and South Dakota

On the interactive map below, used the white middle bar to slide left and right to see how the fire risk increases from February through early spring.

“The biggest concern during the next few months will be the occurrence of very warm days,” said Mary Knapp, assistant climatologist. “These are typically associated with very dry air and high winds in advance of a strong storm system. Kansas’ largest wildfires are usually dependent on the shifting winds and the lack of moisture associated with these systems. Normally, Kansas will see several of these systems before one can eventually tap into the Gulf moisture and provide much needed rainfall.”

But the Southern Plains isn’t the only area facing dryness. The current National Drought Monitor shows widespread drought in the Southwest through the Midwest and Southeast. March and April will present elevated fire risk for portions of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, as well as Arizona and New Mexico.

 

A Repeat of 2017 and 2016?

Ranchers and farmers in the area faced similar situations in 2017, when massive wildfires covered more than a 1.6 million acres in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, on March 6, 7 and 8.

Later in the year, wildfires affecting cattlemen were reported in North and South Dakota, Montana and California.

2017 wildfires

 


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