ND Beware: Our drought has led to an early fire season

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North Dakota is used to extremes… whether it’s incredibly cold or warm… wet or dry. It seems we rarely meet “normal” criteria. We went into the Fall and winter already abnormally dry… and with both Bismarck and Minot getting only just over thirteen inches of snow so far, we’ve seen our drought worsen.

The amount of moisture snow brings isn’t as much as a Spring rain but it means something and it all adds up. So when we stayed very dry with each passing week, the drought monitor steadily worsened.

With the future outlook, the National Weather Service says we could be in this dry spell for the long haul. Megan Jones is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“We don’t see anything that would lead to that changing in the Spring. and as we get further into the late Spring and early Summer, we are favored for below-normal precipitation and above normal temperatures overall.”

Megan is not only a National weather Service Meteorologist, but she specializes in climate and long-range patterns. She stresses that this doesn’t mean we’re destined to stay in a drought, just that the trends aren’t there for the needle to move quickly on this one. But these dry conditions are posing a fire danger, unlike other years.

Megan adds, “The problem with the drought continuing through the winter and into the spring is that we are expecting an early and an active fire season… we started our fire weather products at least a month early maybe even a bit more”

Many counties already have burn bans or restrictions in place earlier than normal. Each one has a different ban or restriction based on the local conditions. It’s expected more counties will be added as the dry forecast continues.

The Fire Manager at the North Dakota Forest Service told me we have already seen 33 fires that have burned more than 20-thousand acres… and that’s with a lag in reporting. Comparing it to years in the past and at this time, a high number would be just over 10.

The top reasons for wildfires in 2020 were all human-caused with debris burning being the number one reason, then equipment use, smoking, campfires, and children.

This year alone, we have burned more acreage already than in all of 2020 combined. We’re well on our way to having a very active and possibly destructive fire season without the help of the public.

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