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Drought and Wildfire Concerns Highlighted for April through June

NOAA image of NOAA spring 2006 precipitation outlook.March 16, 2006 At a news conference today in Phoenix, Ariz., NOAA, in partnership with the National Interagency Fire Center, announced that despite periodic precipitation, NOAA's U.S. Spring outlook supports the potential for a significant wildfire season in the Southwest and central and southern Plains. (Click NOAA image for larger view of NOAA spring 2006 precipitation outlook. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

"Recent storms have eased the drought situation in many areas of the country, but the rain and snow arrived too late to offset the impacts from months of record dry weather across the Southwest, resulting in the continuing potential for a dangerous fire season," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, director of the NOAA National Weather Service.

NOAA image of NOAA spring 2006 temperature outlook.Weak La Niña conditions, which developed this winter, contributed to significant drought concerns in the Southwest, central and southern Plains. "April through June is typically dry in the Southwest, so drought will very likely persist or even worsen until the thunderstorm season arrives this summer," said Ed O'Lenic, chief, forecast operations branch, NOAA Climate Prediction Center. "NOAA's outlook also indicates a continued drought concern for the southern and central Plains." (Click NOAA image for larger view of NOAA spring 2006 temperature outlook. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

"The National Interagency Fire Center's Seasonal Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for February through June 2006 calls for an above normal fire potential for Southern California, the Southwest, Southern Plains to Florida; and a below normal potential in the Northeast," said Rick Ochoa, National Interagency Fire Center fire weather program manager.

As of March 13, nearly unprecedented dry weather, unseasonably high temperatures, and gusty winds have already contributed to more than 13,000 wildfires, scorching in excess of 930,000 acres nationally since January 1, mainly in Texas and Oklahoma. This is well above the five-year average of 6,363 wildfires and 98,476 acres burned.

In the southern Plains, the drought has had a major impact on farmers and ranchers. The lack of rain has dried up many stock ponds and led to abysmal pasture, range and winter wheat crop conditions, especially in Texas and Oklahoma.

NOAA image of U.S. Drought Monitor as of March 16, 2005.Currently, severe to extreme drought extends across the Southwest into the southern Plains and northward into Kansas. The U.S. Drought Monitor gives its highest drought rating, D4 (exceptional), to portions of southern Texas and eastern Oklahoma. Heavy rains including severe thunderstorms have eased short-term drought in Illinois, Iowa and southward into Arkansas, but ongoing drought concerns may linger. The recent heavy rains and flooding ended dryness concerns over most of Hawaii. (Click NOAA image for larger view of U.S. Drought Monitor as of March 16, 2005. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook calls for dry conditions persisting through June in the Southwest and the southern and central Plains, despite temporary improvement in some areas. Also, drought is expected to expand in Kansas and eastern Colorado. Some drought improvement is predicted for areas in the northern Rockies and northern Plains, as well as the Mississippi Valley and eastern Plains. Drought is expected to continue in North Carolina and possibly expand into portions of the mid-Atlantic and Southeast.

Image of seasonal wildland fire potential outlook for February through June 2006.For the nation as a whole, the U.S. Spring Outlook for April through June indicates below-normal precipitation for much of the central and southern Plains, as well as the Southeast and Gulf Coast. Above normal precipitation is favored across the northern Plains and Great Lakes region as well as Hawaii. The remainder of the country, including Alaska, has equal chances of above, near or below normal precipitation. (Click image for larger view of seasonal wildland fire potential outlook for February through June 2006. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “National Interagency Fire Center.”)

Meanwhile, above normal temperatures are indicated for the Southwest eastward into the Southeast and the northwest islands of Hawaii; below normal temperatures are likely for the northern Plains, northern Rockies and Washington State. Western Alaska and the panhandle may see above-normal temperatures. The remainder of the country has equal chances of above, near or below normal temperature.

An equal chance, either for temperature or precipitation, is predicted when there are no reliable and skillful signals on which to base the seasonal outlook.

"There is a silver lining in today's announcement," said Johnson. "NOAA's National Hydrologic Assessment does not indicate a widespread flooding potential this spring for the contiguous U.S." However, substantial snowpack in the West has produced areas of above average flood risk. Wet fall and near normal winter conditions have primed the Red River of the North, the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota, for moderate to major flooding this spring. Also, recent heavy rains across the Ohio Valley region and southern Mississippi have caused flooding on rivers, increasing the risk for future flooding.

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Relevant Web Sites
NOAA National Weather Service

NOAA’s U.S. Drought Assessment

NOAA Climate Prediction Center

NOAA Climate Prediction Center Seasonal Outlook

NOAA National Hydrologic Assessment

NOAA Drought Information Center

NOAA Fire Weather Page

Media Contact:
Jim Teet, NOAA National Weather Service Western Region, (801) 524-5692 ext. 226 or Carmeyia Gillis, NOAA Climate Prediction Center, (301) 763-8000 ext. 7163