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Hopes lean toward more rain, less wildfires for 2013 in Oklahoma

Since October 2010, the statewide average precipitation is more than 2 feet below normal, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
by Bryan Painter Published: February 2, 2013
/articleid/3751228/1/pictures/1942259">Photo - WILDFIRE: A helicopter drops water on a large grass fire east of 120th near Cemetery Road on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, east of Norman, Okla.  Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman
WILDFIRE: A helicopter drops water on a large grass fire east of 120th near Cemetery Road on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, east of Norman, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman

“Extremely dry wild land fuels, high temperatures, high winds and low relative humidity allowed for fire behavior that presented fire control challenges,” Goeller said. “Active crown fires and long-range spotting commonly occurred during the summer of 2012. These two fire behavior characteristics caused major fire control issues on numerous fires across Oklahoma during late July and August.”

An active crown fire is when the fire is moving through the treetops. Those are common during summer drought years, Goeller said.

Long-range spotting occurs when burning embers are lofted into the atmosphere and fall out ahead of the advancing fire and start a new fire.

This winter

So far this winter has a little of both of the last two winters mixed into it, McManus said.

Much like last winter, it has been fairly warm for the most part, but is lacking abundant moisture. And like the first two months of the 2010-11 winter, it has been fairly dry.

“I think we can hope we finish like last year's winter with a somewhat warm and wet February rather than the record-setting cold and snow of February 2011,” McManus said.

This January actually had above-normal precipitation, with a statewide average of 1.61 inches. That's the first month in which that has happened since April 2012.

“Given that it is normally the driest month of the year, however, that extra 0.2 inches is hardly a drought-buster,” McManus said. “Combine that with December's drier-than-normal statewide average of 0.9 inches and the first two months of this winter have come up short by about 0.8 inches.

“The hardest-hit area of the state through the winter so far has been north-central Oklahoma. Much of that area has received less than an inch of moisture this winter.”

Looking ahead

McManus said the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center's U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for February through April shows the possibility of drought either persisting or intensifying across the entire state. The outlook for the primary rainy season in Oklahoma, April through June, calls for increased odds of above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation.

“The latest models looking towards spring are tipping the odds to the dry and warm side,” McManus said.

“The sea-surface temperature patterns in the Atlantic and Pacific are looking somewhat like what we saw in the 1950s, a period of terrible drought across the Southern Plains.

“Hopefully the similarities end there, but some experts are saying we might be in an extended period of drought susceptibility over the coming years thanks to those sea-surface temperature patterns.”

by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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