A Quiet But Deadly 2013 U.S. Fire Season

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 8:00 PM GMT on December 23, 2013

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It was an unexpectedly quiet and deadly year for wildfires in the U.S. in 2013. The 4.2 million acres burned ranked as the 2nd lowest amount in the past ten years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC.) The total number of wildfires was just over 43,100, which was well below the ten-year average of about 68,000 fires, and the lowest number since accurate record keeping began in the early 1980s. According to meteorologist Steve Bowen of Aon Benfield in an interview with USA Today, total wildfire economic damages during the year were approximately $700 million, or 46% below the 10-year average of $1.3 billion. However, 2013 was the third deadliest wildfire season for firefighters since records began in 1910, with 34 firefighters perishing.





The deadly Yarnell Hill, Arizona fire
On June 30, 2013, the third deadliest wildfire in U.S. history, Arizona's Yarnell Hill Fire, took the lives of 19 firefighters with the Prescott Fire Department's interagency Granite Mountain Hotshots. Close watch was on the weather during the fire, as temperatures hit 100° and winds gusted over 20 mph. However, a line of thunderstorms caused winds to increase and shift, gusting to over 40 mph, and changing direction from west-southwest to north-northeast. This rapid change in the winds caught the firefighters off guard, allowing the fire to quickly grow from 300 acres to 2,000 acres. It was this wind event with persistent hot temperatures and dry surface conditions that caused the erratic wildfire behavior and killed the 19 out of 20 Hotshots crew.


Video 1. The June 30, 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona as seen from the air.


Figure 1. The Yarnell Hill Fire was the third deadliest wildfire in U.S. history. Image credit: ecowest.org.

Didn't they say something about a record-breaking fire year? What happened?!
During the winter of 2012 and 2013, the nation was in the worst drought conditions since 2000 due to below normal snow pack across the West, according to the US Drought Monitor. The snowfall maps below show the percent of average snow pack over the Four Corners and Great Basin, respectively, measured April 1st, 2013 by the NRCS.





The chart below shows percent of drought conditions across the Contiguous U.S, with Exceptional Drought in dark red, Extreme Drought in red, Severe Drought in orange, Moderate Drought in tan, and Abnormally Dry in yellow.



As you can see from this chart, we started off 2013 at nearly the driest conditions across the U.S. since 2000, with nearly 80% of the country abnormally dry and over 6% in exceptional drought conditions. Due to the dry conditions, fire management agencies were expecting an exceptionally active fire season, since dry conditions in 2011 and 2012 caused historic fire years. (For example, the massive Wallow Fire in 2011 burned 538,000 acres in AZ and NM; the Whitewater-Baldy fire in 2012 was the largest single fire in New Mexico's history, at 297,845 acres; and the devastating 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado was the most destructive fire in state history, with 346 homes burned.)

So what happened? During the summer of 2013, the Southwest benefited from a much wetter and more active monsoon season than in previous two years, which led to one of their wettest summers on record. For example, Colorado and the Four Corners reported record to near record wet conditions from July - November. Additionally, an active weather pattern across the Southeast U.S. brought near record wet conditions to Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Traditionally, these two regions account for a large percentage of the annual acreage burned for the US. As you can see from the the NOAA statewide rank anomaly map below, for July - November, California was one of the few states that was dry during the peak part of fire season. This was a result of the quasi-stationary ridge of high pressure over the East Pacific for the majority of the year.



To a certain degree, luck was a significant component this year, as a major weather event like the 2008 Lighting Bust or the 2007 Santa Ana wind event simply did not occur in 2013. The Rim Fire, which burned into Yosemite National Park and ended up being the third largest wildfire in California history, was caused by a hunter's illegal campfire. The fire eventually consumed over a quarter million acres, and shows what the potential of the 2013 California wildfire season could have been if weather played a greater role.

Have a great Christmas, everyone, and I'll be back on Friday with a new post.

Jeff Masters, with major help from wunderground's fire weather expert, Kari Strenfel

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1214. Climate175
3:42 PM GMT on December 28, 2013
Lol this is interesting. The nam keeps showing a surprise system for VA , DC/Baltimore.
Member Since: September 24, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 4412
1213. ARiot
6:33 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1196. Climate175:
PARTY !!!!!


I'll call it 4-6 in Harford County Maryland.

Put my dollar on that.

Not a party though for us.

Just shovel the driveway.

I'm hoping for 12" on a workay in our winter of 14.
Member Since: June 24, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 366
1212. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
5:57 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
JeffMasters has created a new entry.
1211. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
5:48 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1200. ricderr:
57,750 still without power in Michigan after severe weather
32,000 here
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54770
1210. Patrap
5:43 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Published on Sep 12, 2012

A musical investigation into the causes and effects of global climate change and our opportunities to use science to offset it. Featuring Bill Nye, David Attenborough, Richard Alley and Isaac Asimov. "Our Biggest Challenge" is the 16th episode of the Symphony of Science series by melodysheep.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
1209. TropicalAnalystwx13
5:42 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
TornadoTitans posted a picture of the Luther-Carney tornado on May 19, 2013. This was before the Shawnee tornado. The one that Reed Timmer and Jim Cantore intercepted live. TornadoTitans said the motion on this tornado was more insane than any other tornado they'd ever seen, and it would've been rated as a very violent tornado if it hit structures. In the NCDC database, it will go down as an EF-3.

May was a crazy time.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32499
1208. LargoFl
5:39 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1207. txjac
5:38 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1205. PedleyCA:


not even a week into Wwinter and you are folding....


LOL ...Washi will never fold ..
Member Since: April 24, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 2568
1206. LargoFl
5:36 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1202. ricderr:
Around 70,000 without power in Ireland after 'worst storm in many years,' state-owned electricity company says
yes they were getting 80mph winds wow..hurricane force winds
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1205. PedleyCA
5:35 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1191. washingtonian115:
I still don't have hope for anything.I highly doubt that snow amounts to much anyways besides what we've been getting in the D.C/Baltimore area so far this winter.Just skip to spring this winter is hopeless.


not even a week into Wwinter and you are folding....
Member Since: February 29, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 5999
1204. txjac
5:34 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
The Russian spacewalk is being streamed on Fox News if anyone is interested. They are repairing telemetry cables on this walk. Totally different perspective then the one I watched the other day.
Member Since: April 24, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 2568
1203. Patrap
5:30 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Typhoon Haiyan, one month later
By Johnny Simon, Clare Kim and Olivia Kestin



Filipino groom Earvin Nierva, left, lifts the leg of his bride Riza as they pose for their wedding pictures beside damaged homes and a ship that was washed ashore when Typhoon Haiyan hit Tacloban city, central Philippines on Dec. 7, 2013.
Aaron Favila/AP
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
1202. ricderr
5:27 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Around 70,000 without power in Ireland after 'worst storm in many years,' state-owned electricity company says
Member Since: June 27, 2006 Posts: 675 Comments: 21972
1201. ricderr
5:26 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Nearly 10,000 homes in western France without power as rain and wind return
Member Since: June 27, 2006 Posts: 675 Comments: 21972
1200. ricderr
5:26 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
57,750 still without power in Michigan after severe weather
Member Since: June 27, 2006 Posts: 675 Comments: 21972
1199. ricderr
5:26 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
12,523 still without power in Maine after severe weather -
Member Since: June 27, 2006 Posts: 675 Comments: 21972
1198. StormTrackerScott
5:23 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
7 day GFS precip accum. I sure hope this pans out.



Member Since: February 28, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 3747
1197. LargoFl
5:21 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
scotts area may get some rain later this afternoon..
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1196. Climate175
5:18 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1195. ncstorm:
from facebook Wxrisk.com


***ALERT ** in this DIFFICULT weather pattern ** IGNORE ALL the operational Models and ONLY use the ENSEMBLE means past PAST DAY

AFTER SUNDAY RAINS... AFTER ... ON JAN 1-2 at least a few inches of snow VERY possible over a good portion of NC all of VA ... yes even into Hampton Roads ... all of Richmond Metro area into Charlottesville up to DC and yes into northern neck and Lower MD eastern shore

WHAT AM I LOOKING AT ?

There are 3 maps. The FIRST map is the European Model ENSEMBLE mean -- an average of 51 verizons of the european Model. Right now the " regular " euro does NOT show this snow but the ensemble does. Since it is 6 days away the % is VERY HIGH that 51 model mean is going to be far more accurate than 1 Model. ( for those of you that have trouble with math google it ... 51 is much bigger number than 1 ... really ) . The SECOND map shows snow fall from European Model ensemble. Its a few inches. NOT big deal. but something... The THIRD map is the 6Z GFS precip for JAN 2... and it shows 0.25 to 0.50" ... which would be something like 2-4 or 3-6"... Notice the dark Blue over far eastern NC and over Va Beach ... that shows precip up to 0.75" which could be SIGNIFICANT snow for that area

PARTY !!!!!
Member Since: September 24, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 4412
1195. ncstorm
5:15 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
from facebook Wxrisk.com


***ALERT ** in this DIFFICULT weather pattern ** IGNORE ALL the operational Models and ONLY use the ENSEMBLE means past PAST DAY

AFTER SUNDAY RAINS... AFTER ... ON JAN 1-2 at least a few inches of snow VERY possible over a good portion of NC all of VA ... yes even into Hampton Roads ... all of Richmond Metro area into Charlottesville up to DC and yes into northern neck and Lower MD eastern shore

WHAT AM I LOOKING AT ?

There are 3 maps. The FIRST map is the European Model ENSEMBLE mean -- an average of 51 verizons of the european Model. Right now the " regular " euro does NOT show this snow but the ensemble does. Since it is 6 days away the % is VERY HIGH that 51 model mean is going to be far more accurate than 1 Model. ( for those of you that have trouble with math google it ... 51 is much bigger number than 1 ... really ) . The SECOND map shows snow fall from European Model ensemble. Its a few inches. NOT big deal. but something... The THIRD map is the 6Z GFS precip for JAN 2... and it shows 0.25 to 0.50" ... which would be something like 2-4 or 3-6"... Notice the dark Blue over far eastern NC and over Va Beach ... that shows precip up to 0.75" which could be SIGNIFICANT snow for that area

Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15990
1194. ricderr
5:14 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
The wu radars work a lot better here as one can zoom, animate, or use a lot of "Modes".



i like mine...posts the edges but nothing else....that way one can make up their own weather
Member Since: June 27, 2006 Posts: 675 Comments: 21972
1193. Climate175
5:14 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1191. washingtonian115:
I still don't have hope for anything.I highly doubt that snow amounts to much anyways besides what we've been getting in the D.C/Baltimore area so far this winter.Just skip to spring this winter is hopeless.
Let me rephrase that, Im Done, I guess Spring has won.
Member Since: September 24, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 4412
1192. Patrap
5:12 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
The wu radars work a lot better here as one can zoom, animate, or use a lot of "Modes".

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
1191. washingtonian115
5:10 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1183. Climate175:
All local weatherman and women say there is a chance of snow showers Jan 2. I believe we will get it first week of Jan still.
I still don't have hope for anything.I highly doubt that snow amounts to much anyways besides what we've been getting in the D.C/Baltimore area so far this winter.Just skip to spring this winter is hopeless.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17471
1190. ricderr
5:05 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
http://radar.weather.gov/Legend/N0R/EPZ_N0R_Legen d_0.gif
Member Since: June 27, 2006 Posts: 675 Comments: 21972
1189. LargoFl
5:03 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
not much going on in south florida just yet.........
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1188. LargoFl
5:01 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1187. LargoFl
4:59 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
looks like the showers are going north of Orlando so far....
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1186. LargoFl
4:56 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1185. LargoFl
4:55 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
looks like the light rain will be sticking around here for awhile..
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1184. LargoFl
4:54 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1176. Sfloridacat5:


Still lots of liquid sunshine down here. 76 degrees and clear. Looking for a high of 84.
we are getting light rain now..we sure need this soaking in kinda rain...
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1183. Climate175
4:52 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
All local weatherman and women say there is a chance of snow showers Jan 2. I believe we will get it first week of Jan still.
Member Since: September 24, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 4412
1182. Climate175
4:46 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1181. Doppler22:

I approve :p
I want you and me to get some good snow at the same time lol
Member Since: September 24, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 4412
1181. Doppler22
4:43 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1179. Climate175:
There we go.

I approve :p
Member Since: February 13, 2012 Posts: 11 Comments: 3816
1180. calkevin77
4:34 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Good morning all. I hope everyone had a nice Christmas. Cheers and glasses raised wishing y'all a great 2014.
Member Since: June 9, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 864
1179. Climate175
4:23 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
There we go.
Member Since: September 24, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 4412
1178. Patrap
4:11 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
1177. hurricanes2018
4:10 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
HERE WE GO AGAIN!!
Member Since: March 12, 2013 Posts: 45 Comments: 74030
1176. Sfloridacat5
4:08 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1170. LargoFl:
cool overcast dreary day here...............


Still lots of liquid sunshine down here. 76 degrees and clear. Looking for a high of 84.
Member Since: September 16, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 8088
1175. Climate175
4:04 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
The GFS model is just flip flopping i still think we will get some good snow soon.
Member Since: September 24, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 4412
1174. Patrap
4:02 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Naw, not many Fla posters here ric.

: P
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
1173. Patrap
4:01 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service New Orleans la
823 am CST Friday Dec 27 2013



Sounding discussion...

Most recent sounding shows slightly more moisture with a precipitable water of 0.59in.
Moisture mainly contained above 15kft. Temperature profile similar
to previous sounding but warmer from from h800 to h680. Winds north
from the surface to 6700ft then SW flow peaking over 50kt above
24000ft. Freezing level is 11619ft.

&&

Previous discussion... /issued 405 am CST Friday Dec 27 2013/

Short term...
current synopsis shows upper level trough swinging across the
northeastern Continental U.S. And an area of low pressure cutoff over West
Texas near the Permian Basin. The County Warning Area is caught between these
features with surface ridge to the north thats keeping northern flow
in place. This in combination with increasing cloud cover will keep
cooler temperatures in place again today with highs around 60 despite a
slight increase in 500mb heights.

An upper level trough will be quickly diving south across the
northern rockies on Saturday. This will cause the cutoff low
currently west of the area to start moving east-northeast across Texas and
Arkansas. A surface low will develop over the southwestern Gulf of
Mexico and race northeastward ahead of the trough with the center
passing across coastal waters Saturday afternoon
. The combination of
falling heights and pressure drop from the low will promote
widespread shower development. Latest model runs indicate high
coverage across the area... especially the southeastern half of the
County Warning Area as the surface low tracks across the north-central Gulf. Have
increased probability of precipitation into the 70-90 percent range for Saturday afternoon
and evening as run to run consistency continues to be good. The
system will be moving at a steady rate with 12-24 hours of impact.
Overall rainfall totals look to be around 1 to 2 inches with
possibly higher amounts along the coast. Temperatures on Saturday
will not moderate too much with extensive rain coverage...so have
kept highs in the lower to middle 50s.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
1172. ricderr
4:00 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
cali?...is that in florida? :-)
Member Since: June 27, 2006 Posts: 675 Comments: 21972
1171. Patrap
3:59 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
We dint get many Cali Fire posts and such in this entry seems.

We should see Dr. Masters pop up a new entry anytime now.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
1170. LargoFl
3:58 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
cool overcast dreary day here...............
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1169. LargoFl
3:56 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1168. LargoFl
3:53 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
real light rain here now,just enough to slightly wet the street but any rain is good rain here..just read my county is under stage 2 water restrictions..
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 40723
1167. VirginIslandsVisitor
3:49 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1164. RainDanceGirl:

Thanks Lindy!! :) Nice to see you too! Hope you had a great Christmas! 85 degrees...oh man. And here I thought my weather was lovely. haha.


Christmas on the island, was forecasted to be a rainy, miserable day but turned out to be absolutely beautiful. Spent the day on the beach, along with 18,000 tourists off six ships, and a great bunch of friends. Hung paper snowflakes in the palm trees around us. That got a few giggles from the tourists! ;-)
Member Since: July 30, 2011 Posts: 3 Comments: 677
1166. GeorgiaStormz
3:46 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
Quoting 1161. wxchaser97:
I like this. It would probably get me a snow day on Thursday as I'm about the only school district in the area that goes back on the 2nd instead of the 6th.



lucky.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 9737
1165. Climate175
3:42 PM GMT on December 27, 2013
AHHHHHH! We are under a curse !
Member Since: September 24, 2013 Posts: 7 Comments: 4412

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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