cracked earth

Wildfire outlook intensifies as drought conditions improve

Aug 5, 2016  | Ep4150

Extreme weather forces have been raising their battle flags for some time.  The West has been dry for nearly half-a decade. And, as Paul Yeager found out, the long lingering conditions have reduced water levels in area reservoirs and spawned massive forest fires. 

While the California wildfire season is the second most devastating in four years, it’s still well behind last year’s damaging summer.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho reports nearly 3.5 million acres have been charred in more than 34,000 wildfires in 2016. That’s just a little behind the 10-year average,

Currently, a dozen states are reporting large blazes. One of the biggest is north of Big Sur on California’s Central Coast. It was started by an unattended campfire July 22. More than 5,500 personnel are working the fire in steep, forested terrain. Penalties are possible for those responsible for starting the blaze.

The possibility for more fires is high. The Fire Center released an outlook this week revealing above normal wildland fire potential for August from California through Wyoming.

Ed Delgado, National Interagency Fire Center: “We’re also going to see parts of Texas and a good portion of the southeastern U.S. start to increase in activity as recent dry periods this summer have left fuels very dry and as we approach the fall leaf drop, we’ll start to see an increase in potential fires there.” 

Much of the fire forecast follows the conditions laid out in the Drought Monitor. The University of Nebraska’s weekly report indicates intensifying drought in much of the same areas at risk for wildfire. The West has experienced more dry conditions the last three months in addition to an area from Mississippi to North Carolina.

Overall, last week nearly 51 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in some form of drought. That’s the lowest since October of 2015.

This week’s drop to just over 50 percent, was a slight improvement due mostly to rains in the eastern two-thirds of the country. However, locally heavy precipitation failed to bring significant drought relief.

Downpours like this one in Phoenix, Arizona caused a major problem in Tuesday’s evening commute. The heavy monsoon stranded drivers prompting water rescues.

Even as intense drought remains for much of California, residents conserved less water in June than state officials hoped.

As the Golden State endures its fifth year of parched conditions, new locally-controlled regulations took the place of mandated conservation instituted by Governor Jerry Brown.

Some water districts indicate they have enough water in reserve they could sustain another 3-years of drought.

Statewide consumption was down 21.5 percent in June, a drop of 6 percentage points from a year earlier.  The entire state has reduced water use by 24 percent over the last 13 months, which is close to the 25 percent target.

For Market to Market, I’m Paul Yeager.

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