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

    By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
    March 26, 2017, 12:40:54 AM EDT

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

    As of March 24, large wildfires have burned more than 850,000 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.

    Wildfire March 25

    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.

    "The storm around midweek may be one of the exceptions as it could bring substantial and welcome rain to northeastern New Mexico and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said.

    Severe weather will threaten the rest of western Texas.

    "This rain will help to suppress the wildfire danger out of these areas for a time later this week and into early April. However, places such as Lubbock and Midland, Texas, will first have to endure another round of gusty winds, blowing dust and a high fire danger on Sunday," Pydynowski said.

    Drier weather should also follow as April progresses, once again drying these locations out.

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    "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.

    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.

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