Drought and Wildfire Concerns Highlighted for April Through June
CAMP SPRINGS, Md. — At a news conference today in Phoenix, Ariz., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, inpartnership with the National Interagency Fire Center, announced that despite periodicprecipitation, NOAA’s U.S. Spring outlook supports the potential for a significant wildfire season in the Southwest and central and southernPlains.
“Recent storms have eased the drought situation in many areas of thecountry, but the rain and snow arrived too late to offset the impacts from months of record dry weather across the Southwest, resulting in the continuingpotential for a dangerous fire season,” said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service.Weak La Niña conditions, which developed this winter, contributed to significant drought concerns in the Southwest, central and southernPlains.
“April through June is typically dry in the Southwest, so drought will very likely persist or even worsen until the thunderstorm season arrives thissummer,” said Ed O’Lenic, chief, forecast operations branch, NOAA’s ClimatePrediction Center. “NOAA’s outlook also indicates a continued drought concern for the southern and centralPlains.”
“The National Interagency Fire Center’s Seasonal Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for February through June 2006 calls for an above normal firepotential for Southern California, the Southwest, Southern Plains to Florida; and a below normal potential in the Northeast,” said RickOchoa, National Interagency Fire Center fire weather program manager.
As of March 13, nearly unprecedented dry weather, unseasonably hightemperatures, and gusty winds have already contributed to more than 13,000wildfires, scorching in excess of 930,000 acres nationally since January 1, mainly in Texas and Oklahoma. This is well above the five-year average of6,363 wildfires and 98,476 acres burned.
In the southern Plains, the drought has had a major impact on farmers andranchers. The lack of rain has dried up many stock ponds and led to abysmalpasture, range, and winter wheat crop conditions, especially in Texas and Oklahoma.Currently, severe to extreme drought extends across the Southwest into the southern Plains and northward into Kansas. The U.S. Drought Monitor gives itshighest drought rating, D4 (exceptional), to portions of southern Texas and eastern Oklahoma. Heavy rains including severe thunderstorms have easedshort-term drought in Illinois, Iowa, and southward into Arkansas, but ongoing drought concerns may linger. The recent heavy rains and flooding endeddryness concerns over most of Hawaii.
The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook calls for dry conditions persisting through June in the Southwest and the southern and centralPlains, despite temporary improvement in some areas. Also, drought is expected to expand ineastern Colorado. Some drought improvement is predicted for areas in the northern Rockies and northern Plains, as well as the Mississippi Valley andeastern Plains. Drought is expected to continue in North Carolina and possibly expand into portions of the Mid-Atlantic andSoutheast.
For the nation as a whole, the U.S. Spring Outlook for April through June indicates below-normal precipitation for much of the central and southernPlains, as well as the Southeast and Gulf Coast. Above normal precipitation is favored across the northern Plains and Great Lakes region as well asHawaii. The remainder of the country, including Alaska, has equal chances ofabove, near or below normal precipitation. Meanwhile, above normal temperatures are indicated for the Southwesteastward into the Southeast and the northwest islands of Hawaii; below normal temperatures are likely for the northern Plains, northern Rockies andWashington State. Western Alaska and the panhandle may see above-normaltemperatures. The remainder of the country has equal chances of above, near or below normaltemperature.
An equal chance, either for temperature or precipitation, is predicted when there are no reliable and skillful signals on which to base the seasonaloutlook.
“There is a silver lining in today’s announcement,” said Johnson. “NOAA’sNational Hydrologic Assessment does not indicate a dramatic flooding potential this spring for the contiguous U.S.” However, substantial snowpack in theWest has produced areas of above average flood risk. Wet fall and near normal winter conditions have primed the Red River of the North, the boundary betweenNorth Dakota and Minnesota, for flooding this spring. Also, recent heavy rains across the Ohio Valley region and southern Mississippi have causedflooding on rivers, increasing the risk for future flooding.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and nationalsafety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal andmarine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and 60 countries todevelop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet itobserves.