‘It looks like a really bad scenario,’ expert says of today’s extreme fire threat

Extremely dry conditions, wind gusts over 50 miles per hour and highly responsive fuels across the Texas/Oklahoma Panhandle and into southern Kansas “set the stage for exceptionally volatile fire conditions,” according to the Storm Prediction Center (SPC).

“It sounds like a really bad scenario. The grasses we have here in West Texas are about as dry as they can get, which is one of the main factors. And then of course, you have the wind and the very dry and hot air that is going to visit us,” Gary Skwira of the National Weather Service (NWS) in Lubbock, Texas, told CNN.

Areas of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas will be exposed to extreme fire hazard – the highest possible risk – when passing through a low-pressure system.

The threat does not end there.

“Extremely dry conditions will persist at least through Friday,” the NWS office in Amarillo said, adding that high wind speeds could contribute to critical fire danger despite cooler temperatures later in the week.

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The latest round of fire danger comes following a host of high, critical and extreme weather forecasts the SPC has issued for the region so far this year.

Many places, including areas near Abilene and Fort Worth, Texas, have already been ravaged by fires, with tens of thousands of acres scorched.

“A force of nature”

“The fuel environment across the Panhandles is very unstable to fire spread, which could result in large fires Tuesday if fires break out,” NWS Amarillo warned.

Once fires start, they are very difficult to control.

“A SPWO [Southern Plains Wildfire Outbreak] event is a force of nature, and just like a hurricane or tornado, it cannot be stopped,” explained the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Wildfires can grow massively in a very short time and are difficult to contain, causing widespread damage to the landscape.

Fires in the region have accounted for 49% of all acres burned nationwide since 2005, even though they represent only 3% of all reported wildfires, the forest service added.

It highlights the responsibility of people living in fire-prone areas to be aware of the risk and to avoid activities that could cause a wildfire.

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“We will most certainly want to do our part and prevent wildfires by exercising extreme caution with any sparks of flame outside,” the NWS told Amarillo.

In an emergency, “have multiple ways to get messages from the weather service and local media and authorities,” advised Trenton Hoffeditz, a meteorologist at NWS Amarillo, encouraging people in vulnerable areas to have a “go bag” with necessities such as documents and medication.

Drought and La Niña are major players

“Dry conditions under this low pressure system will exacerbate continued extreme drought over the southwest and south/central plains,” the Weather Prediction Center (WPC) wrote.

At 26,000 square miles, Texas has more “exceptional drought” — the most severe drought category — than any other state, according to the US Drought Monitor.

The area of ​​exceptional drought is three times larger than Massachusetts.

“When you have a drought like this, it’s pretty hard to break that cycle, to have a meaningful change in the weather pattern,” Hoffeditz told CNN.

In addition to long-term drought conditions, we are currently under a La Niña advisory, which adds even more fuel to the fire risk.

“Historically, SPWO events occur more often during La Niña years. This is because La Niña conditions result in warmer than normal and drier than normal conditions for Texas during the winter months. and spring. Increase the potential for high-impact weather and SPWO events,” according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

This year brings conditions similar to those seen in 2011, where we experienced extreme drought in conjunction with La Niña conditions.

“We never really had a rainy or thunderstorm season,” Skwira said of the 2011 season, adding that this caused the risk of fires throughout the summer.

With a 53% chance of La Niña conditions continuing through August and persistent dry conditions in the southern plains, the region could face a similar pattern of fire risk unless more rainfall occurs. do not come into play.

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