“A lot of bad luck”: Drought and severe weather fuels record Oklahoma wildfires
“A lot of bad luck”: Drought and severe weather fuels record Oklahoma wildfires.
Wildfires fueled by gusting winds, hot, dry weather, and desiccated plant life have burned nearly 900,000 acres of Oklahoma so far this year, a record, as well as parts of Kansas and Texas.
But this season has been particularly active because of drought conditions that have creeped up during the winter, driven by record warm temperatures and a lack of precipitation.
Climate change is expected to impact many of the factors, such as precipitation, that can contribute to wildfires.
“A lot of bad luck” While this time of year is typically the main wildfire season for Oklahoma and surrounding areas, this season has seen a record-breaking amount of land scorched by 133 large wildfires ignited in the Panhandle and eastern Oklahoma, with conditions exacerbated by a perfect storm of ideal fire weather and a deepening drought.
That drought has developed due to a combination of exceptionally warm fall and winter temperatures and a lack of precipitation.
October through February was the warmest on record for Oklahoma; on Feb. 11, temperatures in Magnum, in the southwest of the state, hit 99°F (37°C), tying the highest winter temperature ever recorded in the state.
“That’s when we saw the large leap in drought conditions, when normally we wouldn’t see that,” state climatologist Gary McManus said.
Hot, dry, windy conditions are perfect for wildfires to develop, and that’s exactly what Oklahoma has periodically seen in recent weeks, first in the Panhandle and more recently across the eastern half of the state.
Future fire risk Like many other natural disasters that strike, this record fire activity raises the question of how climate change may impact wildfire risk in the future.