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September 6, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Texas Continues to Burn, Mostly Out of Control

The out-of-control forest fires are close enough to Houston that we can smell the smoke (Bastrop State Park in the photo below is about 110 miles northwest of Houston). In Magnolia, a nearby and popular escape from urban Houston, thousands of acres have been consumed by fire. In the state’s capital, wildfires have forced thousands to evacuate. Sunsets take on a crimson hue and the sun itself becomes as red as I’ve ever seen when the sun’s rays penetrate the smoke just before slipping below the horizon. Some of the most scenic areas of Texas are burned almost beyond recognition as strong high pressure traps the smoke and prevents rain. But at least the winds have died down…for now.

The other day this inferno was known as Bastrop State Park, one of the most scenic areas of Texas. Each April, the MS150 bicycle ride passes through this park as thousands of cyclists pedal from Houston to Austin. Photo: MSNBC

Strong high pressure dominates the western 2/3s of the country. Significant rain is not expected in Texas for the foreseeable future. Image: ImpactWeather StormWatch

Ironically, Tropical Storm Lee brought the wind — not rain. The tropical storm over Louisiana and the high pressure over central Texas pinched the pressure gradient to drive up the winds over the eastern half of Texas. The drought is already infamous in these parts and with no end in sight, it was only a matter of time before Texas started burning. Again.

Wildfires this spring rolled across the small community of Ft. Davis, Texas. Many, but not all, cattle were freed from their pastures in time to outrun the flames. Photo: Big Bend Now

This is not the only Texas fire that has destroyed lives and property in Texas. Back in early July,  ImpactWeather’s IT VP, Kyle Tupin, wrote about his personal experiences when he volunteered to help fire survivors sift through the ashes looking for anything salvageable following the wildfires in Grimes and Bazoria Counties of Southeast Texas. In April, it was the arid high country of Ft. Davis, Texas that was burning — dramatic images of cattle and fire becoming the stuff of nightmares. Though news accounts say the 2011 wildfires of Texas reached their peak in April and May, there is literally no relief in sight. Almost every area of Texas is at significant risk of fire. As of last week, 3.5 million acres of Texas have burned. In April, Texas Governor Perry asked that President Barack Obama declare 252 of 254 Texas counties as disaster areas due to drought, wildfires and wildfire danger. The request has, thus far, been ignored.

This low-Earth angle easily reveals the smoke across East Texas late yesterday afternoon. Image: NOAA

When will it end? As the term “urban wildfire” enters the Houston vernacular, the long-range experts, like ImpactWeather’s Fred Schmude, are not bearing good news. Once again, we can blame La Niña. “Most of the long range signals are now calling for a stronger La Niña with a continuation of the current pattern. We may get a break during the winter as the westerlies shift south, but overall below to well below normal rainfall will persist through next spring,” says Mr. Schmude.

Remember, La Niña means below-average sea surface temperatures of the eastern Pacific Ocean. This typically translates to a drier-than-average winter season for the southern United States.

The 90-day precip outlook keeps the western half of the U.S. in near normal conditions. However, how long will La Niña persist? Image: ImpactWeather























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