Forecasters warn of fire danger, crop damage
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Latest on the growing drought across the United States' southern high plans (all times local):
Forecasters and climatologists say the amount of moisture received across the United States' southern high plains since October has been ridiculously low, resulting in critical fire danger and winter wheat crops being reduced to stubble across several states.
Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said Friday during a national briefing that some areas in the region have received less than one-tenth of an inch of rain in the past five months.
He said the lack of rain has combined with above normal temperatures across parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas to make for record dry conditions in some spots.
He warned that the warm and dry weather is expected to continue through the spring, resulting in continued crop damage, dwindling irrigation supplies and more wildfires. He showed satellite maps that show smoke and dust plumes moving across the region.
The National Weather Service has issued fire warnings for six states in the nation's midsection.
The Red Flag warnings issued Friday include most of Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, southern Kansas, northeastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado and southeastern Missouri.
Oklahoma Forestry Services has already requested and received firefighters and equipment from Alabama, Kentucky and Louisiana because of the fire threat that is expected to continue into next week. Additional firefighters and equipment from Georgia and Mississippi are on the way.
Forestry spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker says they are positioned at various areas of the state and that could change daily in anticipation of which area is under the greatest threat of wildfire.
Finch-Walker said the firefighters and equipment could be sent to any of the other states as needs arise.
Federal and state experts in drought assessment and long-range forecasting are expected to provide an overview of the critical situation facing much of the United States' southern high plains.
They're meeting Friday as dry conditions intensify from the plains of eastern New Mexico to the Texas Panhandle and parts of Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.
The latest map shows swaths of red covering the Four Corners Region and the southern high plains, indicating extreme to exceptional drought — the worst categories of drought.
For Oklahoma, this marks the first time exceptional drought has made an appearance since May 2015.
In New Mexico, the lack of water and an unseasonably warm winter have already resulted in a run on hay reserves and some livestock owners have been forced to trim their herds.