We decided to take a break from the water extraction and water damage talks, and discuss other topics, like fire suppression. We were talking to our friends at the National Climatic Data Center, and they calculated that during the January-July 2011 period, 6.1 million acres burned across the United States – the largest on record for the year-to-date period by nearly one million acres. Talk about red hot!
We have to put the blame somewhere, and it’s a no-brainer that the drought in the southern United States has enabled the wildfires. During July across the contiguous U.S., the overall size of the drought footprint expanded to cover 32.3% of the country according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. More recently that percentage has grown to 40%. On a state scale, as of mid August 2011, more than 78% of Texas, 64% of Oklahoma and nearly 50% of New Mexico are deep in the grips of an exceptional drought – the most extreme drought level.
How can droughts cause wildfires you may ask. Well, the dry vegetation provides high-octane fuel for the fires to breathe off of, the dominant ridge of high pressure has made it almost impossible for rain to occur, the surface soil moisture is now a stranger, and the humidity levels drop more and more each day. Aside from random thunderstorms, there really is no successive pattern that points to steady rainfall.
Even more bad news? There are signs that La Nina, one of the main factors that have led to the dire drought and wildfire situation we face now, will make a return this coming fall and winter season.