The Heat Is Online

Record Heat, Drought Ignites Texas Fires

Firefighters’ focus turns to Texas

Fires follow 42 days of 100+ temperatures and 66 days of drought

MSNBC – Sept. 5, 2000

Sept. 5 — Texas on Tuesday took over the role as the nation’s hot spot for fires, as rain and even some snow doused blazes in the Northwest. There were record-high temperatures in parts of Texas on Monday, and the northern part of the state has not seen rain in 66 days. Three other southern states were also seeing more fires and have requested additional firefighting resources.

One fire 40 miles northeast of Houston on Monday forced the brief evacuation of 92 homes in Liberty County, while another north of Dallas destroyed seven houses and three barns.

And a fire 40 miles northwest of San Antonio forced the closure of two large power grids, and threatened two subdivisions and two apartment complexes.

Temperatures have been 100 degrees or higher on 42 days so far this year, well above last year, when there were 33 days in the triple digits. Dallas hit 111 degrees — an all-time high for the day and the highest temperature ever recorded in the city in September. The previous record was 108, set in 1980; the highest ever was 113, was set in June the same year.

Twelve deaths in the city this summer have been blamed on the heat. In the Houston area, the medical examiner’s office has confirmed 28 heat-related deaths this year. Temperatures in Houston hit 108 degrees on Monday.

While forecasters aren’t promising widespread rain any time soon, some relief was in sight in the form of isolated showers in some parts of northern Texas this week.A high-pressure system moving south from Canada was expected to bring east to southeasterly winds to Texas starting Tuesday afternoon.

"Temperatures will be in the upper 90s to low 100s for a few days, said Lonnie King, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Fort Worth. "That’s still going to be 10 degrees above normal but not near the record levels we are seeing today."

The National Interagency Fire Center reported that Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi were also seeing record temperatures and low humidity. The states have requested additional firefighting resources, the center noted, and wildfire activity is high in parts of those states.

North Texas breaks drought record
Aug. 29, 2000

Donna Sauer & Stephanie Watson,

Hot, dry weather is expected again today in North Texas, where even a little rain would be a welcome sight.

Monday was the 59th day in a row without rain in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, breaking a record set first in the city during the Dust Bowl in 1934, then tied in 1950.

"The current dry pattern is due largely to a persistent area of high pressure that has dominated North Texas weather since the end of June. The pattern blocks the more normal moisture flows across the South," said National Weather Service Forecast Office Meteorologist in Charge "Skip" Ely.

The long-range forecast offered little hope of precipitation. "We could very well have 65 or 70 days without rain," said Fort Worth meteorologist Michael Mach.

This summer marks the third in a row that has seen persistent dry conditions. And the drought is not the only problem. It's hot - 36 days in a row of 100-degree temperatures in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Statewide, the drought has taken a costly toll on agriculture and livestock producers, who say that they’ve already lost $595 million this year due to the dry conditions, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs said.

"There are people selling all their cattle now because they're out of grass, water or both," said Rayford Pullen, agricultural extension agent for Montague County. "It looks like the middle of winter. Everything's brown," he said.

Lakes and ponds are running dry near Houston, while levels of the Edwards Aquifer continue to fall in Central Texas, threatening water supplies in San Antonio and surrounding areas.

Northwest of Dallas, the town of Throckmorton hasn’t seen rain since spring, and is within weeks of losing its water supply to the drought. Volunteers are working to link a new pipeline to another town’s reservoir to pump water into the town.

As the landscape grows drier with each passing day in Texas, the wildfire threat looms larger. Dozens of fires are burning across the state, and resources to fight them are running thin. Crews from as far away as South Carolina have been called into service to assist Texas firefighters.

Kansas swelters under oppressive heat wave

On Sunday, it was hotter in Lawrence, Kan., than in Death Valley. The heat wave continued Monday, as temperatures soared into the triple digits across the state.

By mid-afternoon, thermometers read 109 in Lawrence and Manhattan, and hit 107 in Topeka, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The NWS issued a heat advisory for central Kansas on Monday, and for the south-central and southeast portions of the state Tuesday.

"Hopefully, this is the hottest we have for the rest of the year," said NWS meteorologist Scott Whitmore. "It looks like temperatures will stay hot for the week but hopefully not as hot."

Local health officials warned residents to stay indoors whenever possible, drink plenty of water, and check on elderly friends and neighbors.

Louisiana drought disaster

Soybeans, corn, and cotton may be the biggest victims of the severe drought across Louisiana.

State officials have requested that 41 of the state’s 64 parishes be declared farm disaster areas, which would make farmers eligible for low interest loans to help with their losses.

Thirty-three parishes have already suffered crop losses of 30 percent or more, according to Willie Cooper, director of the State Emergency Board.

More than half of the state’s soybeans and pastures are listed in poor or very poor condition, with more than a third of the state’s other major crops in similar categories, State Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom said.

Alabama wetlands drying up

A 20-inch rainfall deficit has left the wetlands of Hale County, Ala., parched, according to two University of Alabama biology professors.

The husband and wife research team of Milton and Amy Ward has been studying the wetlands for the past eight years with elaborate experiments and weather monitoring equipment.

"This is the driest it has been since we’ve been here," Milton Ward said.

Ground once covered by water is now dry, leaving plants that normally flourish in the area struggling for survival. Animals native to the habitat are roughing it out for the most part, according to the Wards.

"The beavers are secretive, but they are still here. There are two herons that are still here. There used to be wood ducks. They are gone," said Milton Ward. He adds that it is much easier for the plants and animals to adapt to drought than it is for a farmer trying to grow a crop.

"The farmer has to make that one crop grow," he said. "In the wetland there are many different kinds of seeds in the ground and the one most compatible with conditions is the one that will grow."

The Wards say that long-term drought forecasts would help farmers adapt their planting plans much like the plants and animals in the wetlands adapt to changing weather conditions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.