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Drought And High Risk Of Wildfire Are Likely In Texas At Least Through Winter

Large plumes of smoke rise from Kellar Road in Smithville in 2015.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
Large plumes of smoke rise from Kellar Road in Smithville in 2015.

The risk of wildfires will be higher than normal through the winter in much of Texas. It's yet another effect of the drought that continues to worsen in much of the state, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Though parts of Texas got some rain after the Thanksgiving holiday, the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor map shows nearly a quarter of the state is now classified in “extreme drought.”

The story behind the drought is simple. Heavy fall rains, which are helpful in locking moisture into the soil before the cool winter months, never materialized this year. That caused a dryness that began in West Texas in April to creep eastward.

Add to that trend a La Niña weather system, which typically means warmer and drier winters in Texas, and you get a recipe for a parched and potentially fiery winter.

“These cold fronts and the strong north winds that we get actually increases the fire danger,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Aaron Treadway said. “When you combine that strong north wind with dry vegetation, all it's going to take is a spark to get a good grass fire or something going.”

How Bad Could It Get?

It’s been around six years since a quarter of Texas was last in “extreme drought.”

The fact that the state has reached such a designation in the fall — a time of year that is normally wetter — has some people worrying about what’s in store next year when the summer heat returns.

Could we be due for a repeat of 2011, the worst single-year drought in state history?

Don’t bet on it just yet, Victor Murphy, climate service program manager with the National Weather Service, told KUT in late November.

Murphy said spring is typically a very wet time of year and could still bring relief to Texas.

“It's really going to be key, that April, May, June wet season that occurs across most of the state,” Murphy said. “If that doesn’t pan out, then things could start getting dicey.”

Got a tip? Email Mose Buchele at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.

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Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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