KLVT news director, Jody Rose attended a drought and wild fire planning workshop on Thursday, February 9 in Lubbock. The workshop was organized by the National Weather Service office in Lubbock. A full summary of the meeting is posted below.
The National Weather Service, Lubbock office under the direction of Justin Weaver, the meteroligist in charge for the Lubbock office held a drought and wildfire decision support workshop on Thursday (2/9) in Lubbock. It was attended by several emergency planners and managers from the area as well as fire and ems representatives from the area. The speakers included representatives from the NWS office in Lubbock, Midland and Amarillo as well as state emergency directors and Texas Forest Service representatives.
The Director of the Texas Emergency Management team opened the meeting by saying they are expecting another dangerous wildfire year and the drought conditions on the High Plains will likely continue. Numbers from 2011 will speak for their self and show 2011 as the worst year in Texas History for wildfires with 4 million acres burned and 4 thousand structures lost and 10 fatalities. In Hockley County alone over 10T acres burned. The dollar figure of property damage from wildfires in 2011 is 10B dollars and growing. There are estimates of 3.1B dollars in crop losses—1.8B in Cotton alone in this region. The La Nina weather pattern was to blame for the wildfire and drought of 2011. It was also noted that historically in a LaNina weather pattern the primary impacts in the first year will be wildfires and in subsequent years it will impact water supplies.
A meteroligist from the National Weather Service in Lubbock said there is hope in 2012 but still lots of uncertainty. It was pointed out that there are some moisture plumes in place that could move through South and East Texas which leads most to believe that this drought will get worse before it gets better in most of the state including the High Plains of Texas. NWS forecast seem to indicate that the LaNina weather pattern could end by mid to late spring however for the next 3 months it is expected to be warmer than normal and dryer than normal which will lead to the wildfires we saw last year.
A representative from the Texas Forest Service gave a presentation on how they use different models from the NWS along with the Drought Index as well as the availability of fuels for the fire. It was also noted that prior to the major wildfires of 2006 the NWS and TFS did not collaborate together to try to forecast a wildfire danger—the TFS and other agencies basically reacted after the fact. Since that time much research has been done by 3 meteroligists from the Midland, Amarillo and Lubbock offices of the NWS to help forecast a wildfire danger. One example of that was the February 2010 fire. A meteroligist in Midland began to notice a dramatic change in the weather pattern and called meteroligists in Lubbock to discuss. After watching forecast patterns, 2 days later the NWS sent a warning to the Texas Forest Service that February 27 would be the day to watch, that it was going to be an extremely critical fire weather event. A short time later the message had reached Governor Perry and he issued an official directive from the Governors office to deploy all available resources to west texas area for this event. A meteroligist out of Midland was also deployed to the TFS Command Center in Merkel to give forecast information to the people in the field. As predicted you will recall February 27 to be a very big fire day with a large complex fire in Amarillo as well as several others in the High Plains area.
The day long workshop was an invaluable tool for planning for this wildfire and drought season.