Growing Drought Brings Dust Storms, Fires

Source: EMR-ISAC

About half the country is currently experiencing drought conditions ranging from moderate to exceptional, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, with Texas and California being hardest hit. Some areas have suffered through drought since 2011 and parts of the nation are drier than they were during the 1930s Dust Bowl.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), dust storm warnings are up. Lubbock, TX, has had 15 dust storms since the beginning of the year. The NWS is expanding their dust storm forecast areas to include southern Colorado.

The drought also increases the likelihood and severity of wildfires. Easier to ignite, faster to spread, and more difficult to extinguish (especially as water supplies run low), states affected by drought report twice as many wildfires as the average from the same months in previous years. Several wildfires sparked near San Diego in the past weeks, causing massive evacuation notices and burning thousands of acres.

Power outages are also sometimes caused by drought as dust builds up on lines. The dust, when mixed with moisture like morning mist, can spark and catch utility poles on fire, burning transformers and shorting out lines.

A drought is a complex emergency bringing with it a variety of complications. In addition to the items above, communities in affected drought areas face economic hardship, water conservation issues, and farming and agricultural hardships. The National Drought Resilience Partnership, begun in late 2013, will be working to help address these issues. Some resources can be found on their web site.

Additional resources to help prepare communities in advance of wildfire can be found from the NVFC’s Wildland Fire Assessment Program.