Monday, 15 January 2007
Climate Variability and the Texas Fire Weather Season of 2005–2006: An Historic Perspective of a Statewide Disaster
Exhibit Hall C (Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center)
Climatic variability resulted in an exceptional drought across Texas that began in September 2005 and continued through May 2006. The peak of the drought occurred during December 2005 through April 2006. This event led to devastating wildfires of historic proportions across the state. The climatic record indicates a relatively gradual drying in 2005 that became critical during autumn and early winter of 2005/2006. At this point, synoptic weather patterns developed, causing critical fire weather conditions that continued through spring 2006. Red Flag Warnings and Fire Weather Watches were frequently issued by National Weather Service offices throughout the state. Multiagency Incident Command Posts (ICP) were established to allocate resources, combat life threatening fires, and manage the protection of property.
The substantial climatic departures from normal of temperature and rainfall, combined with the seasonal weather patterns, contributed to a record setting prolonged fire weather situation over most of Texas.
The climate record for the various regions of Texas was reviewed. The data indicate Texas is subject to periodic multiyear droughts, and studies of expected global change scenarios suggest the state of Texas might become more susceptible to such multiyear droughts. That, coupled with the increasing population in the state over the past 25 years, will likely result in a greater potential for wildfire ignitions and also a greater threat to life and property, as more people move into the wildland/urban interface.
An overview of the synoptic fire weather patterns that facilitated the rapid growth and spread of major fires in Texas in 2005-2006 will be presented. Finally, the human efforts (ICP and inter-agency contributions) to mitigate the deadly fire potential will be described.