Plains states endure a season of weather extremes

Plains states endure a season of weather extremes

14 April 2011

published by www.usatoday.com


USA — What Bob Dillard of Fort Davis, Texas, saw last weekend when a wildfire broke out in was “unbelievable, just horrific. There were horses on fire, buildings on fire, houses on fire.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles to the north, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple described the floods in the eastern part of his state on Monday: “The area from Harwood to Argusville is under siege, more than it probably has been in history.”

Such is life across the Plains, which typically endure some of the most volatile, varied weather on the planet, and the last couple of months have been no exception. Plagues of floods, wildfires and even tornadoes have wreaked havoc from the Dakotas to Texas.

While parts of the northern Plains this week slog through what the National Weather Service called “unprecedented” flooding — with flood warnings posted in nine states — hundreds of miles to the south, the southern Plains have been scorched with raging wildfires and bone-dry conditions not seen since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Today is expected to be another rough day, with continued flooding in the north, “extremely critical” fire conditions in Texas and New Mexico, and a severe weather outbreak likely in parts of Kansas and Oklahoma, according to Tom Moore of the Weather Channel.

Blame tropical troublemaker La Niña. This climate pattern — a seemingly innocuous 2-to-5 degree Fahrenheit cooling of sea water thousands of miles away in the Pacific Ocean — can trigger weather catastrophes such as what is happening in the central USA this year.

During La Niña winters, the Climate Prediction Center reports that “large portions of central North America experience increased storminess and precipitation” while the southern states see less.

Moore says that many storms this winter and spring have spun out of the Rockies and dumped rain and snow across the northern Plains, but only the dry, gusty winds circulating around those storms reach the southern Plains.

Revis Daggett, co-owner of Wayside Inn B&B in Fort Davis, Texas, called the wildfire situation “gut-wrenching” last Sunday.

“It’s very personal and it’s quite surreal,” said Daggett, whose business did not burn. “And you look around and you just keep thinking, ‘Well, you can’t control the fire, so what are the possibilities it comes back at you?’”

So far this wildfire season, which began Nov. 15, more than 1 million acres have burned in Texas, more than the state typically sees burned in an entire year.

“These conditions are putting us in uncharted territory,” says Mark Stanford of the Texas Forest Service in College Station.

While the flood threat in such major cities as Fargo, N.D., and St. Paul, appears to be ebbing, “there have been floods in a lot of the smaller communities, says Scott Dummer, with the North Central River Forecast Center in Chanhassen, Minn. “There has been some record flooding in the tributaries leading into the Red River. They’ve seen water where they’ve never seen it before.”

Dummer says that thanks to La Niña, the storm tracks have come right across the Dakotas and Minnesota.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he says.


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