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When the Other Shoe Drops

September 7, 2011 - Texas has been on fire since November of last year. Over 3 1/2 million acres have burned. The Texas Forest Service now gives daily updates regarding the status of various fires occurring within the state. Let's talk, first of all, about why this is happening.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report in 2007 which said, among other things, that the arid regions directly north and south of the U.S./Mexican border would become even drier in the future, as a result of climate change. Mother Nature must have read the report, because those chickens have already come home to roost. While the report predicts that these regions will become 10-20% drier by the end of the century, the weather forecast for west Texas tomorrow predicts humidity of anywhere from 5 to 20 percent, i.e., very, very low (desert humidity is 25%). How much lower than 5% can the humidity go? The answer is not much. It's an old story by now: climate disruption is happening much faster than anybody thought it would.

The content of the report to which I referred can be summed up this way: dry areas will become drier, wet areas will become wetter. Generally speaking, the United States east of the Mississippi will become wetter/snowier, something we have already witnessed. While the report also predicts that west of the Mississippi, the country will become drier, flooding this spring belied that forecast, with extreme flooding taking place along the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, much of it the result of snow melt, as well as spring rains. Perhaps an area relatively close to the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers will turn out to be transitional, i.e., some years wet, some years dry.

The Texas Forest Service (TFS) has got to be feeling like they're in hell, with no way out. The Houston Chronicle's account of the lastest round of wildfires begins by saying it "stretched the state's firefighting ranks to the limit," though later in the same article, Mark Stanford of the TFS is quoted as saying "We're getting incredible support from all over the country - federal and state agencies." (Our hats are off yet again to our nation's top-notch firefighters.) Over one thousand homes have been destroyed by this most recent fire outbreak, which is centered in Bastrop, east of Texas' capital Austin.

Here's what's happening in other locations around the state:

In Grimes County, there is a 3,000 acre fire, with unknown containment. Twenty homes have been destroyed.

In Williamson County, there is a 300 acre fire, with no containment. Thirtenn homes destroyed.

In Travis County, there is a 6,500 acre fire, 40 percent contained. Sixty-seven homes destroyed.

In Fayette County, there is a 2,000 acre fire, 50 percent continaed. Seven homes destroyed.

On September 5, TFS responded to 22 new fires of 7,544 combined acres. Ten of them were considered large fires. In the past seven days, TFS has responded to 181 fires comprising 118,413 acres. Daily fire information can be found at www.inciweb.org.

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