Advertisements

Worsening Prairie Fires: Exceptional Central Heat and Drought Spurs More Oklahoma Blazes

Today, as with many recent days, Oklahoma is experiencing hot, dry, critical fire hazard conditions. And over the past month, historically exceptional drought and hotter than normal weather have spurred a spate of very severe and seemingly unrelenting wildfires across the state.

(The Rhea Fire burned nearly 300,000 acres in Oklahoma during mid-April. This large fire is now 100 percent contained. But blazes continue to break out. Image source: Climate.gov.)

During mid-to-late April, the Rhea Fire scorched 286,000 acres destroying more than 50 homes and killing hundreds of cattle. At about the same time, the 34 Complex fire burned through 62,000 acres and forced many Oklahoma residents to evacuate. For reference, the massive Thomas Fire which burned hundreds of structures in California this past December was 240,000 acres in size.

Unfortunately, severe fire conditions continued through today with 500 acres going up in flames near Pawnee Oklahoma in just the past 24 hours. In total, about 350,000 acres have burned so far this year (an area half the size of Rhode Island), numerous structures have been destroyed and an estimated 2,000 cattle have likely been killed. With severe drought, heat, and extreme fire conditions expected to continue throughout at least the next month, there is little relief in sight.

 

(The U.S. Drought Monitor shows severe dry conditions expanding across the Central U.S. during early 2018. Long range forecasts show drought continuing or worsening over Central and Southwestern States over the coming months. Image source: Drought Monitor and NOAA.)

The causes of the present fire hazard are quite clear. Throughout fall, winter, and spring, the Central U.S. has experienced both hotter and drier than normal conditions. During recent weeks, drought in this region has become exceptional — the highest drought category provided by the National Drought Monitor. In addition, strong, warm south-to-north winds have tended to prevail over the region. These winds have rapidly fanned many recent Oklahoma fires to massive size.

Over the coming month, this drought is expected to dig in as temperatures warm. And, as a result, fire danger is expected to be quite high for a broad region of the U.S. South stretching from just west of the Mississippi all the way to California.

(Above normal wildfire potential is expected to remain in place for Oklahoma even as risks rise for neighboring states. Image source: NOAA.)

Though spring wildfires do occur across Oklahoma and parts of the plains states, the trend has been for an increasing large fire incidence. This trend, in turn, has been driven by human-caused climate change. For as the U.S. has warmed, the rate of evaporation from soils, vegetation and lakes has increased. This higher rate of moisture loss both intensifies drought and spikes fire risk.

Warming and worsening drought has been a particularly acute set of affairs for Central and Western states. The number of weeks when large fires are a risk has increased from 50 to 600 percent for most of these regions. In other words, if it seems like there are more large fires, it’s because there are. And what we see now are spring prairie fires that are far more intense than they were in the past.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

32 Comments

  1. Robert E Prue

     /  May 1, 2018

    Yes, it is so very dry here. It’s terrible! There’s a chance of thunderstorms, which provide rain,but also cause lightning strike fires. The Oklahoma fires have all been south and southwest of my location. A few small fires around town. Luckily, the wind drove them away from town and were put out fast. This is our stormy weather season. Maybe the pattern will change

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • The longer range NOAA forecast points toward some relenting of extreme drought over the plains states by June. Let’s hope that forecast holds. But for May, it looks pretty rough still.

      Like

      Reply
  2. Dave McGinnis

     /  May 2, 2018

    This kind of weather, with hot dry SW winds, has fanned many fires down through time. The Chicago fire, Peshtigo WI, Hinckley MN and Waco TX, are a few. There was elevated fire danger in Minnesota last few days.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • It’s not that we haven’t had fires or large fires before. The trend, however, is on the upswing. Fires are becoming larger, more dangerous, more destructive. This, according to NOAA, is driven by climate change.

      I’ll add this related NOAA graph. Hopefully the link will hold:

      Like

      Reply
  3. wili

     /  May 2, 2018

    High winds and mostly dry conditions here in MN, too.

    OT and apropos of nothing in particular:

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • wili

       /  May 2, 2018

      “The one redeeming thing about my morning commute is that the commuter trains in Stockholm are named by the local pre-schools.

      This week I’ve commuted on Best Friend, Glitter, Princess Train, and Wizard Train.”

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  4. Abel Adamski

     /  May 2, 2018

    The excellence and effectiveness of the GOP and Trump Maladministration post Hurricanes

    Protest in Puerto Rico Over Austerity Measures Ends in Tear Gas

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  5. kassy

     /  May 2, 2018

    Some science (partly) from my town:

    Why Antarctic snow melts even in winter

    Even though the sun does not shine in Antarctica in winter, in some places snow on the glaciers can melt. The cause: warm wind.

    Utrecht glacier researcher Peter Kuipers Munneke discovered that fact by combining the results of weather stations and satellite images. His findings were published in Geophysical Research Letters on Wednesday 2 May.

    Winter in Antarctica is pitch black and freezing cold for months on end. In the interior of the continent, temperatures can drop to -80 Celsius. On the coast, however, the winter is usually a bit milder: around -25 degrees Celsius.

    It now turns out that at those relatively warm spots around the coast, winter temperatures can be even warmer. When the mercury rises above zero, snow begins to melt, causing several meltwater lakes to accumulate on top of the underlying glacier. These lakes can be fifty meters wide, up to a kilometer in length and one or to two meters deep.

    Around once per week, an extremely warm, dry wind blows down from the mountains to the west of the ice sheet. This foehn wind (German for ‘hairdryer’) can raise the temperature by 15 to 20 degrees in just a few hours.

    Kuipers Munneke: “All of the winter heat comes from the foehn wind, there is no other heat source this period of year. During a strong foehn, so much snow can melt that it forms huge lakes on the surface of the ice. We had known about these lakes during the summertime, but apparently 20 to 25 percent of the meltwater from the past few years actually occurs in the winter instead.”

    Really that warm

    Kuipers Munneke was first informed of the high temperatures by a colleague in Swansea, UK. “In May 2016, I got an email from Adrian Luckman, the co-author of my article. He wondered if it was indeed true that one of our weather stations had given a temperature reading of eight degrees Celsius. At first, I thought that there was something wrong with the instrument, or that it was a value that needed to be corrected for other weather influences that make it seem warmer than it is. But that wasn’t the case. It really was that warm.”

    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-05/su-was050218.php

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  6. kassy

     /  May 2, 2018

    Shock and Thaw—Alaskan Sea Ice Just Took a Steep, Unprecedented Dive

    Weather conditions and a boost from global warming led to the stunning record low ice cover in winter 2018

    April should be prime walrus hunting season for the native villages that dot Alaska’s remote western coast. In years past the winter sea ice where the animals rest would still be abundant, providing prime targets for subsistence hunters. But this year sea-ice coverage as of late April was more like what would be expected for mid-June, well into the melt season. These conditions are the continuation of a winter-long scarcity of sea ice in the Bering Sea—a decline so stark it has stunned researchers who have spent years watching Arctic sea ice dwindle due to climate change.

    Winter sea ice cover in the Bering Sea did not just hit a record low in 2018; it was half that of the previous lowest winter on record (2001), says John Walsh, chief scientist of the International Arctic Research Center at The University of Alaska Fairbanks. “There’s never ever been anything remotely like this for sea ice” in the Bering Sea going back more than 160 years, says Rick Thoman, an Alaska-based climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    much more on:
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/shock-and-thaw-alaskan-sea-ice-just-took-a-steep-unprecedented-dive/

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • cushngtree

       /  May 2, 2018

      In the summer of 1989 I worked in Barrow, and on July 4th, in a bulky down jacket, hat and gloves, I walked 100 ft off the shore on the ice pack. Not no more.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
    • Not much in the way of stable ice left to stand on.

      Like

      Reply
  7. kassy

     /  May 2, 2018

    Antarctic glaciers’ collapse could cause sea levels to rise more than a metre

    An Antarctic glacier the size of Britain is threatening to submerge coastal towns as distant as the U.K. by collapsing into the ocean and raising sea levels, according to scientists.

    British and American experts are launching the largest joint mission for more than 70 years to investigate how long the 113,000 square-mile Thwaites Glacier can last in its current form.

    A fleet of research ships, submarines and aircraft and more than 80 scientists will be dispatched to the remote West Antarctic region later this year following warnings that the ice structure could collapse within decades.

    Glaciologists predict the collapse of both Thwaites and the nearby Pine Island Glacier, two of the largest and fastest retreating on the continent, could cause sea levels to rise by more than a metre. This, in turn, could trigger the collapse of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet, resulting in ocean rises of more than three metres.

    http://calgaryherald.com/news/world/antarctic-glaciers-collapse-could-cause-sea-levels-to-rise-more-than-a-metre-humanity-cannot-afford-to-wait/wcm/48d991c7-f9eb-4324-9b4c-07df152aaeb4

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • So if present levels of greenhouse gasses remain so high or continue to ramp higher, in my opinion, it’s inevitable that we lose most or all West Antarctic land ice, most or all of the Greenland ice, and a decent chunk of East Antarctic land ice as well. The question is how long does the melt take.

      The rational solution is to halt carbon emissions as swiftly as possible (while maintaining civilization stability and healthy economic conditions) and then attempt to draw carbon down from the atmosphere through various means. Other measures are false promises or stop-gaps.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  8. bostonblorp

     /  May 2, 2018

    Looking at all that surrounding farmland makes me wonder when we’ll read an article like this about fire devouring hectares of drought-stricken corn or wheat.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    • The prognosis for the US bread basket isn’t too great as the Earth continues to heat up. The favorable climate zone shifts north away from favorable soils. The frequency of severe drought and fires increases. And seasonality becomes rather less predictable (cool periods, wet periods, warm periods, feasible growing periods).

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
      • Scott Walters

         /  May 4, 2018

        That’s the part the apologists don’t get. You can’t just move food production north. Dirt is organic. Robust plant growth creates rich soil, which supports plant growth, which enriches soil, which….
        Northern Minnesota, Maine, Ontario, Quebec…none of these places have the kind of rich soil that the breadbasket states have. When Iowa, Illinois, eastern Nebraska, Indiana, become inhospitable to crop growth, you can’t just go north. There’s no dirt there.

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
        • Yes, exactly. You are both spot on. This has long seemed to be a glaring vulnerability to me. From everything I’ve seen, everything west of the Mississippi will become some grade of desert by century’s end. I don’t get why only devotees like us get this.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. wili

     /  May 2, 2018

    https://earther.com/pakistan-may-have-just-set-a-world-heat-record-1825690035

    “Pakistan May Have Just Set a World Heat Record”

    “Temperatures reported to have cracked 50.2 degrees Celsius (122.3 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday in Nawabshah, located about 127 miles northeast of Karachi. If confirmed, that could make the measurement not just the hottest ever recorded for April in Pakistan, but the hottest ever reliably recorded for April anywhere on Earth…”

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    • wili

       /  May 2, 2018

      No indication at that site of humidity levels or wet-bulb temperatures there.

      Like

      Reply
      • wili

         /  May 2, 2018

        The most recent relative humidity value for the area according to nullschool was 30%. And value of 5% or more for rh while dry temp is 50C yields a wet-bulb temperature at or above 35 degrees, the point at which the heat/humidity combination starts to kill you.

        see:
        http://www.chrononhotonthologos.com/misc/hygromtr.htm

        and there find “Wet Bulb Globe Temperature Approximation”

        But note that this is an approximation, since other things come into play (dew point? pressure?) for a completely accurate estimate of wbt, as I understand it.

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
  10. PlazaRed

     /  May 2, 2018

    Hell of a cold becoming warm future in store.
    I can’t comment on the situation in North America but here in Europe its abnormal as usual.
    We had some wildfires last week but now we have floods and hail stones settling on the ground to a depth of several inches. Needless to say, this is in the desert of Almeria, not an area normally associated with hailstone inundations!
    Cold for the time of year and with reports of inches of rain on May the 1st day here, yet another sign that things are not going according to the smooth plan of society in which everything just flows from one generation to the next and “nobody” asks any difficult or awkward questions!
    So with local small steams running up to 15 foot above their normal level (hence major devastating rivers temporally) plus major vegetable green house facilities destroyed by hailstones, We happily face what the future has to offer and cap in hand hold out our hands for another European grant to “re-build!”
    Thank you so much Robert for letting us know what is happening in the mid west, north America, I wish we could inform you as well of what is happening in the south of Europe and into the middle east with this historic fruition of the meddling with the climate.
    More later no doubt when I sift through the data?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  11. Abel Adamski

     /  May 3, 2018

    And a contributing factor as to why there is so much doubt.
    https://www.sciencealert.com/majority-science-textbooks-missing-important-topic-climate-change
    A Worrying Number of Science Textbooks Are Missing an Important Topic: Climate Change

    Science textbooks are failing us.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    • Shawn Redmond

       /  May 3, 2018

      It would seem that the capture of the educational system by the corporate world is pretty much complete.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  1. Climate Change Ignores all Borders as Rain Bombs Fall on Kauai and the Middle East Alike | robertscribbler
  2. Climate Change Ignores all Borders as Rain Bombs Fall on Kauai and the Middle East Alike | RClimate

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: