Wildfire potential, April – July, 2014

The Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center has issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for April through July, 2014. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the eleven Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit. If their prediction is correct there will be increasing wildfire potential during the period in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Oregon.

April – Above normal significant fire potential will continue over portions of southern California; the central Plains from southeastern Colorado to Iowa and northern Missouri; and southwestern and south central Alaska. – Below normal significant fire potential will develop over most of the Ohio, Tennessee, and lower Mississippi Valleys, the central Gulf Coast; eastern Texas and eastern Oklahoma. The Canadian border region from northern Minnesota to Maine will also have below normal fire potential.

Wildfire Outlook, April, 2014

May – Above normal significant fire potential will expand over portions of southern, central and northern California; and over most of western Alaska. – Above normal fire potential will increase in the Southwest and decrease over the central Plains. – Below normal fire potential will continue over the lower and mid-Mississippi, Tennessee and Ohio Valleys.

Wildfire Outlook, May, 2014

June through July – Above normal significant fire potential will expand over most of northern California, central Oregon and northwestern Nevada; over the far southern Gre

Wildfire Outlook, June-July, 2014

Yesterday the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center released their monthly drought outlook for April 30, 2014:

Monthly drought outlook, April 30, 2014The latest Drought Monitor, released March 27, is below:

Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

 

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Red Flag Warnings, March 12, 2014

NWS Warning - March 12, 2014

I like the way the National Weather Service is putting together graphics that illustrate their warnings — for example, the one above for California. They can get a person’s attention more effectively than simple text.

Red Flag Warnings for elevated wildfire danger have been issued by the National Weather Service for some areas in California, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas.

Red Flag Warning - March 12, 2014

The Red Flag Warning map was current as of 10:01 a.m. MDT on Wednesday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts. For the most current data, visit this NWS site.

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New Mexico’s fire season potential

The National Weather Service at Albuquerque has published information about the winter weather in New Mexico and how that could affect their wildfire season. Below are some excerpts:

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“…The grasses have since turned dormant and now provide significant carryover fuel. Wildland fire mangers next consider whether there has been sufficient enough heavy-wet snow to mat or compress the standing grass. Snowfall thus far has been well below normal but some areas did receive enough early season (November-early December) snow to partially mat down some of the previous grass growth. This is important because standing grass is much more susceptible to fire spread than matted grass. Figure 3 shows a photo series taken at similar times at a Sandia mountain location (at 8000 feet) east of Albuquerque from 2010 to 2014. The 2014 photo shows some grass compaction while the 2013 photo showed little grass compaction.”

wildfire season New Mexico Snow at Sandia Mountain

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Drought monitor, February 18

Drought Monitor 2-18-2014

Yesterday the latest version of the drought monitor for the United States was released, current as of February 18. Below is the description:

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“During the past week, a persistent pattern of ridging (high pressure) over the Southwest and troughing (low pressure) over the East prevailed. Unfortunately, the ample moisture that finally visited drought-ravaged California (especially north-central sections) last week was shunted northward by the southwestern ridge into the Pacific Northwest this period, dumping widespread precipitation totals of 4-8 inches, locally 12-18 inches, from extreme northwestern California into western Washington. Additionally, the precipitation was accompanied by mild air, producing mainly rain instead of snow in southern sections of the Cascades in Oregon and limiting any snow pack increase for those mountains.

Farther north, however, the precipitation fell as snow in the northern Cascades (Washington) and northern Rockies, increasing the average basin SNOTEL snow water content by 10-20 percentage points in six days (from Feb. 12 to 18). Farther east, a series of winter storms brought wintry precipitation to the Midwest (light to moderate snow), Southeast (severe icing in Georgia and South Carolina), and the Northeast (heavy snow) as cold air remained entrenched in those regions. In contrast, dry and mild weather continued in the southwestern quarter of the Nation, further degrading conditions there. In Hawaii, scattered showers continued, with Kauai and Oahu receiving the greatest totals, while Puerto Rico and most of Alaska saw light precipitation, except for moderate amounts (more than 2 inches) in the southeastern Alaskan Panhandle.”

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January was 5th driest on record

January precipitation in US

According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center January was the fifth driest January on record in the contiguous United States.

More details from NOAA:

The average January national precipitation total was 1.32 inches, 0.90 inch below the 20th century average, ranking as the fifth-driest January on record and the driest since 2003. Dry conditions dominated much of the western and southern United States, with severe-to-exceptional drought engulfing much of California and Nevada. Numerous winter storms impacted the central and eastern U.S., bringing above-average snowfall but closer-to-average total precipitation for the month.

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Wildfire briefing, February 14, 2014

Fire near Wallan

Fire near Wallan, 60 km north of Melbourne. New South Wales RFS photo.

Police investigating 14 suspicious fires in Victoria

Police and fire investigators in Victoria, Australia are looking carefully at 14 fires that occurred over the last week for which arson is suspected. In over 400 fires since Thursday of last week, homes, animals, and crops have been destroyed or killed. A radio and print ad campaign will urge residents to report any suspicious activity to Crime Stoppers.

Wild meteorology terms go mainstream

Melissa Mahony has written an op-ed for livescience.com in which she examines some interesting and sometimes complex scientific weather terms that have crept into the mainstream over the last year or so. Ms. Mahony goes into a little detail about each one, but here is the list… how many are you familiar with?

Doc Hastings, of “Cantwell-Hastings Bill”, to retire

Rep. Doc Hastings

Rep. Doc Hastings

One of the two federal legislators who deserve most of the blame for passing the infamous Cantwell-Hastings Bill, which did irreparable harm to the process of learning lessons after wildfire accidents, is retiring.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell and U.S. Representative Doc Hastings, and became Public Law 107-203 in 2002. It includes this passage:

In the case of each fatality of an officer or employee of the Forest Service that occurs due to wildfire entrapment or burnover, the Inspector General of the Department of Agriculture shall conduct an investigation of the fatality. The investigation shall not rely on, and shall be completely independent of, any investigation of the fatality that is conducted by the Forest Service.

The Cantwell-Hastings bill, signed into law in 2002, was a knee-jerk reaction to the fatalities on the Thirtymile fire the previous year. The Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General’s office had no experience or training in the suppression or investigation of wildland fires. They are much more likely to be investigating violations at a chicken ranch than evaluating fire behavior and tactical decisions at a wildfire. The goal of the Inspector General investigation would be to determine if any crimes were committed, so that a firefighter could be charged and possibly sent to prison.

After the bill was passed, a firefighter on the Thirtymile Fire was charged with 11 felonies, including four counts of manslaughter. Now firefighters have to lawyer-up after an accident and they sometimes do everything they can to avoid talking to investigators. After the 19 fatalities on the Yarnell Hill fire, the U.S. Forest Service prohibited their employees from providing information to one of the investigation teams, a decision that may have been a result of the environment created by Cantwell-Hastings. Lessons are now much more difficult to learn.

The Cantwell-Hastings Bill and Public Law 107-203 need to be repealed, or at least modified to more resemble the investigations that the military conducts following aviation accidents regulated by law,10 U.S.C. 2254(d). More information about this procedure is at Wildfire Today.

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