Recent rain, snow helping with wildfire season; moisture levels ‘close to normal’


AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Though drought conditions still persist across much of the High Plains, the recent snow and rain have helped bring us closer to our normal moisture levels.

Mike Gittinger, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service (NWS) in Amarillo, said we have been pretty close to normal across much of the panhandle since about January.

“We still have drought designations, especially to the south and west of Amarillo. There are still areas that are classified in exceptional drought to the southwest, Deaf Smith County and counties to the south of there, and then extending into New Mexico,” Gittinger said. “A lot of the desert southwest is in a pretty high level of drought. The panhandle’s right on the edge of that.”

This moisture helps in terms of the wildfire threat. Gittinger said our current drought started last summer, which means a lot of the area was unable to grow grass fuel. He said that grass is what really fuels the fires we have in our part of the country.

“So our loading of fuels, our “fuel loading” as the firefighters call it, is actually below normal because the drought started so early. It happened during our growing season last year, and so really only the northeast panhandle, kind of parts near the Canadian River Valley in places, but especially towards Perryton . . . Some of those areas are above normal, but a lot of the area is average or below average on the amount of grass it’s there to burn to begin with, which is also helping the situation,” said Gittinger.

Gittinger said we are still in the peak of wildfire season and to not let your guard down. He said the thing to watch is what the conditions do over the next few weeks.

“It appears that we’ve probably had enough precipitation over the last month or two, that with enough warming, we’re starting to see an attempt at a green-up. If we warm up enough and get a green-up, that’ll greatly mitigate that fire concerns once that happens, unless the rain shuts off again,” said Gittinger.

Gittinger said there is still a lot of old grass fuel from the previous season, and unless we get that complete green up, we are not out of the fire season.

According to Gittinger, if the system that produced the round of tornadoes a few weeks ago moved north, that puts the area in a bad fire situation.

“It’s the same systems that give us precipitation that also if they go a little further north, give us the bad fire conditions,” Gittinger said. “So normally La Nina does track further north and that’s why we’re in this issue, but we’ve had just enough of them go further south to give us precipitation. That has really helped to mitigate it, from what we can tell.”

Gittinger also stressed the importance of reporting fires when you see them.

“Call it in, you know, because once these things get going, they get really hard to control, especially on these high fire weather type days, these red fly type days where the winds blowing and the humidity is low. They’re gonna have a really hard time stopping it,” said Gittinger.

The sooner crews can get to the fire the better off.

“Don’t assume that they know,” Gittinger said. “Everybody kind of tends to think that and then nobody calls it and so, you know, go ahead and call it in. It’s the safest thing to do. Don’t assume that they’re aware of it.”

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