This Spring, North Dakota has already burned three times more acreage than in 2020 with almost 29,000 acres burned since January 2021. In 2020, there were just over 9-thousand acres burned for the year. For the season, we’ve only seen a quarter of the amount of snowfall we normally see. The dry fall and lack of snowfall pushed us deeper into a drought and led to an early and active fire season. Red Flag Warnings are issued when the weather conditions can contribute to fire danger.
That criteria for a Red Flag Warning is met when we have extremely low relative humidity combined with strong winds. These conditions have to be met for three hours or longer. This year we’ve seen eleven consecutive days with Red Flag Warnings… which’s more than we’ve seen even for a yearly total since 2015.
Jeff Schild is a Senior Forecaster and also the Fire Weather Program Leader at the National Weather Service. He says there’s a common misconception with Red Flag Warnings.. and it has to do with the temperature.
“You can have a day where we have active fires where it’s 80° and the next day it looks like we’ll have a high of 50°… well we could still have a very high fire danger on that 50-degree day because it could be very dry.”
So cool temperatures don’t always mean relief. Shild also says that the fire season won’t be over until we start to see what’s called a “green-up”. That’s when things start growing and turning green again. That doesn’t usually happen until late April or May. Until then, while a good rain will be helpful, soaking rain won’t take us out of fire danger.
Schild adds, “Grasses are what we call a one-hour fuel. So what that means is they can dry out very quickly. Let’s say it rains today but tomorrow we have hot dry conditions, they will dry out and be ready to burn very quickly”
All brush and trees are rated as to how they dry out. A one-hour fuel would be grass… it doesn’t take long for it to dry out. A 100-hour fuel would be a smaller tree – it takes a little longer to dry out. It’s been so dry that we’ve had reports here of trees that shouldn’t burn as quickly, have been burning rapidly this year.
That lack of snowfall doesn’t just dry us out… it changes how the dry grass lays. High snow years push the grass down flat. Low snow years allow for the dry grass to stand upright which makes for an easier burn. That’s been a big issue for us this year with spreading fire.
For the latest on burn bans and restrictions as well as fire ratings: https://www.kxnet.com/weather/
More Weather Whys topics: https://www.kxnet.com/weather/weather-whys/