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Weather: Little relief seen for tinder-dry conditions

Thu., Aug. 22, 2013

Very dry conditions in the western U.S. have been one reason why the wildfire season has been tough for many firefighters.

According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report, extreme drought conditions have expanded in California, Nevada, south-central Idaho, southeastern Washington, New Mexico and the western Great Plains, especially western Kansas, western Oklahoma, eastern New Mexico and western Nebraska. Most of the eastern Midwest, the Atlantic Coast and the southeastern U.S. have reported above normal amounts of moisture and some lowland flooding.

Some portions of the western U.S. are experiencing the driest season on record. As a result, rivers are drying up, vegetation is stressed and new water restrictions are being considered. The biggest area of drought is in the Southwest, because this part of the nation has experienced extreme dry conditions for the past decade.

Lake Mead, on the Arizona-Nevada border, the largest reservoir in the nation, is drastically shrinking because of the persistent dry weather. Federal officials say water levels in the Colorado River system are reducting hydropower production by about 8 percent.

One of the biggest effects of the drought are the wildfires. As of early Tuesday, there were 53 large fires burning in 10 states, including Alaska. This year, Californians have fought 43 percent more wildfires than in the past four years.

One of the worst fire seasons was in 2006 when 9.8 million acres burned in the U.S. In 2012, 9.2 million acres went up in flames. Officials say that nearly 3 million acres have burned this season. Last year, nearly 6 million acres were burned by this time.

The long-range computer models show a chance of scattered showers and thunderstorms next week in parts of Nevada, Utah and southern Idaho, where the fires near Sun Valley have been the worst in the region’s history. Any moisture at all would certainly help the fire situation, but rainfall totals will likely be on the light side. Also, firefighters don’t need any thunderstorm activity, because lightning has triggered a number of these fires across the West.

In our area, we might see an isolated shower or thunderstorm between now and Labor Day, but most of the activity will be over the higher mountains. Much of September also looks dry, but moisture totals are expected to climb to above normal levels later in October and November as we go from one extreme to the other in short order.

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