Wildfire Outlook Is Bad News For Late-Winter and Spring in Plains, Southwest

Chris Dolce
Published: February 7, 2018

Drought conditions have blossomed across the southern Plains and Southwest since fall, and that's bad news for the late-winter and spring months ahead.

With a lack of rain or snow falling in those regions the last few months, vegetation will be tinder dry before the spring green-up begins. That, in turn, will provide fuel for the potential of explosive wildfire growth.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) has highlighted the areas of greatest concern for wildfire activity during the next few months in a new outlook released Thursday. This is depicted by the red shaded locations from parts of the southern Plains westward to the Southwest and Southern California.

(MORE: Parts of Teas Have Been Drier Than Death Valley)

Wildland fire outlook through April/May. Areas in red have an above-normal risk of fire activity while green shaded locations have a below-normal risk of fire activity. (NIFC)

The northern Plains are also shown as having a greater fire potential compared to average given drought conditions that remain in place there from last spring and summer.

Also playing a role in the outlook for above normal fire activity is that late-winter and spring are notoriously windy in the Southwest and Plains due to storm systems ejecting out of the Rockies.

"Periods of special concern will be highlighted by passing weather systems that create periodic strong, westerly, downsloping winds. During such events, ignitions will be able to quickly become significant fires," the NIFC said its outlook.

The combination of the dry fuel and periods of windy weather will make those areas prime for large wildfire growth in the months ahead should any ignite.

Conversely, many areas east of the Mississippi River have a below-normal risk of wildfire activity through spring.

(MORE: Drought-Helping Rain in the Southeast This Week)

Drought Intensification Fuels Fire Danger

This U.S. Drought Monitor comparison of early November to the beginning of February showshow  drought conditions have expanded throughout the regions where there is a heightened level of wildfire danger late-winter into spring.

(USDA/NDMC/NOAA)

Amarillo, Texas, has not seen measurable precipitation (0.01 inches or greater) since Oct. 13. That shatters the previous record dry streak in the city of 75 consecutive days ending in early January 1957.

In New Mexico, Albuquerque saw its driest November-January with just 0.03 inches of precipitation in those three months.

(MORE: Is Growing Drought Caused By La Niña?)

Oklahoma City has seen less than an inch of precipitation since Nov. 1. That's about 17 percent of their average precipitation for Nov. 1-Feb. 4 which is 5.44 inches.

As a preventive measure, burn bans have been put into effect in over 100 Texas counties and in the western half of Oklahoma.


The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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