Fox News Weather Center

Elevated wildfire risk to grip central US into April as winds howl, drought worsens

The risk of wildfires will continue into April over the southern High Plains as drought prevails.

As of the middle of March, large wildfires have burned more than 800,000 acres in Oklahoma and Texas alone, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Conditions over much of the region from central New Mexico to western Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, eastern Colorado and southern Nebraska range from abnormally dry to extreme drought, according to the United States Drought Monitor.

Storms originating from the Pacific Ocean will frequent the region. However, most of these storms will bring little to no precipitation to the southern High Plains.

Static Long Range SW US Fire Risk

Storms this time of the year tend to be strong, but have little moisture left after crossing the Intermountain West. The mountains tend to screen out much of the moisture. It is not until the storms reach the lower Plains and Mississippi Valley, where they can tap into Gulf of Mexico moisture and have the potential to bring prolific rainfall.

"Dry vegetation will play a major role, as will wind," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey.

The strong storms will generate quite a bit of wind and can cause temperatures to surge.

"When warmth and strong winds occur over dry vegetation, you have a recipe for rapid wildfire ignition and expansion," Duffey said.

Gusts from the passing storms will range from 40 to 60 mph and can reach 70 mph in extreme cases during the weather pattern well into April. In some cases the winds alone can be strong enough to topple trucks and kick up a considerable amount of dust.

In the short term, areas from central Texas to southern and eastern New Mexico to southeastern Colorado and southwestern Kansas will face an elevated risk of wildfire ignition.

Static Friday Saturday Wildfire Threat Area

People should use extreme caution with outdoor power equipment. Closely monitor and properly extinguish campfires. Never park a vehicle over high brush as the hot exhaust system can start a fire.

"It will not be until later May, when most days will feature light winds and somewhat higher humidity levels, that the risk of wildfires will diminish over the High Plains," Duffey said.

However, Duffey and the team of AccuWeather long-range meteorologists expect drought conditions to build and expand northward and westward to some extent through the summer.

"The combination of drought and heat could create problems for agriculture in the region into this summer," Duffey said.