Strong winds have pushed large fires across the plains of South Dakota and Nebraska over the last two days. The largest, the Okreek fire between Winner and Mission in South Dakota has burned 7,500 acres and is 22 miles long. Spokesperson Jeni Lawver told us at 10:35 a.m. today that there were no evacuations in effect and there have been no serious injuries. Joe Lowe’s Type 2 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday. At least some of the fire is on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
A reporter for KELO television said the winds were so strong that it made it difficult to stand. The weather forecast offers little relief and calls for 33 to 41 mph winds out of the northwest with gusts up to 57 mph on Thursday. There is a 19% chance for thunderstorms Thursday afternoon, increasing to 40% Thursday night.
There are media reports that two firefighters from Yankton, SD were injured on a fire in Nebraska’s Cedar County, but they are reported to be in good condition after receiving medical treatment. Another report says a firefighter from Kennebec, South Dakota suffered minor burns and smoke inhalation while working on a fire in Lyman County. The “Harvest CA” fire, five miles south of Stapleton, Nebraska, has burned 7,000 acres.
The Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center has issued their National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook for October, 2011 through January, 2012. According to their prediction, most of the United States is in for a quiet autumn and early winter with the exception of the southeast.
According to NIFC, the primary factors influencing these outlooks are:
La Niña: La Niña conditions have redeveloped, as evidenced by a marked cooling of the equatorial Pacific. It is not unusual to have a second La Niña after one of such magnitude as the 2010-11 event. However, the impacts may be greater given the degree of drought across much of the south central and southeastern U.S.
Drought: Extreme to exceptional drought will persist across Texas, eastern and southern New Mexico, Oklahoma, southern Kansas, western Louisiana, Georgia and western South Carolina.
Fuel Dryness: A significant change in fuel conditions occurred across much of the west in the latter part of September. Cooler temperatures and increasing humidity coupled with shorter days and burning periods caused indices and fuel moistures to dip to normal or below normal. Even with short warming and drying periods much of the West will not return to any significant conditions or level of concern this season. The exception may be Southern California where near normal conditions currently exist and offshore wind events remain possible through the fall. Drought conditions persist across a portion of the Great Lakes region, however with recent moisture and decreasing temperatures, fuels will not likely recover to the point of causing above normal significant fire potential after the early portion of October. Drought will persist and worsen across much of the southern U.S. from Texas through North Carolina. With leaf fall already underway and significantly below normal precipitation likely, fuel conditions will continue to be critical. The lee side of the Hawaiian Islands will also remain in a drought and fuels conditions will continue to be dry.
Wildland firefighters usually follow the weather forecasts religiously, so I was interested to find in the Southern Area Coordination Center Morning Report for Friday, September 30, 2011 in addition to the standard short range forecast an extremely long range forecast for the next 10 years:
An Even Longer Range Outlook Beyond 2011 Into the Next Decade: Given the abnormally low solar activity in combination with cold sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific and the trend for La Nina episodes to be stronger and longer, the Southern Region can expect more frequent and prolonged drought conditions. This will amplify fire potential in the South for the next 10 or so years. The fire problem will likely be particularly poignant for Oklahoma and Texas. Drought conditions that are occurring in Texas currently are comparable to those of the mid 1950s as well as the later 1800s during the Dalton Solar Minimum. While the Atlantic Ocean is still in a warmer than average cycle, some cooling has become apparent since the widespread “hot” temperatures seen during the 2005 summer season. A gradually cooling Atlantic ocean in conjunction with a cooler than average Pacific cycle would indicate conditions leading to more frequent cooler than average temperatures for the US – especially during the fall and winter seasons.
The Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center has issued their National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook for September through December, 2011. If their prediction holds true, it looks like average or below average wildfire potential for most of the United States, except for Texas, Oklahoma, and the southeast.
Today the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook for June through September, 2011. If this turns out to be accurate, it looks like it will be a quiet or average summer season for the United States, with the exception of portions of Arizona, New Mexico, west Texas, central Alaska, and Florida.
The primary factors influencing these outlooks are:
La Niña: La Niña continues to weaken with neutral conditions expected by July. However, soil moisture extremes resulting from La Niña will continue to affect temperature and precipitation patterns through the season. Temperatures will generally be below average with above average precipitation in areas where soil moisture is significantly above normal, until.
Drought: Drought will continue across much of the southern third of the U.S. with some improvement expected along the Gulf Coast and in parts of Texas and the Southwest.
Fuel Dryness: Fuel conditions across the southern tier of states are expected to continue to be dry through June, gradually improving across west Texas, the Gulf Coast and Florida as the month progresses. Across the northern tier heavy snow and precipitation this spring has delayed green up and curing, generally delaying the onset of fire season.
Below is the latest version of the Drought Monitor: