Less rain could mean more wildfires - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Less rain could mean more wildfires

The sign at the Georgia Forestry Commission office in Albany says it all - fire danger is very high. The sign at the Georgia Forestry Commission office in Albany says it all - fire danger is very high.
Chuck Norvell of the Georgia Forestry Commission.  He says that more than 40,000 acres burned in the Okefenokee Swamp in March alone. Chuck Norvell of the Georgia Forestry Commission. He says that more than 40,000 acres burned in the Okefenokee Swamp in March alone.
Dry grasses in a stand of forest in Dougherty County.  The dry grasses are the perfect fuel for wildfires. Dry grasses in a stand of forest in Dougherty County. The dry grasses are the perfect fuel for wildfires.

If you look at the grasses on the floor of forests in South Georgia, you can tell the story of the weather in May.

"We haven't had any rainfall this month," said Chuck Norvell of the Georgia Forestry Commission.

For May, Albany is about one and a half inches below the normal already. That's after April finished more than 2" below the normal. Going back to the beginning of the year, there's a more ominous trend developing.

Norvell said, "February rainfall was about the same as it was in '07."

So far, the totals for this year look a lot like what they were that year. Through May of 2007, Albany was 11.63" below the normal. So far in 2011, the rainfall deficit is 11.43". It should come as no surprise, then, that all of South Georgia is in at least severe drought.

As for the area around the swamp: "southeast Georgia is in extreme drought conditions right now," said Norvell.

That means that there could be another similarity with 2007 in our future.  All of the hot and dry weather that we've seen so far this year, could spell trouble for forests this summer.

The dry weather means that the grasses on the forest floor have turned brown. If fire does break out, it can quickly go from a forest to an inferno.

Norvell said, "if a fire happens to get out, I mean it'll really go."

Already fires have broken out in the Okefenokee Swamp, and that's on top of the fire that was burning on and off for months in the Arabia Bay swamp.

"We had about 40 some thousand acres burn in March," said Norvell.

While showers are in the forecast, they may not provide much relief, unless the rain is fairly heavy.

Norvell said, "if we get more than an inch, that's going to penetrate down into the ground in the forested areas."

And before the rains begin, the fire danger actually goes up.

"Even though the humidity might come up right before the front gets here, we always have extreme fire behavior because the winds get to shifting from one direction to the other," Norvell said.

But if the rains don't come, this summer could wind up featuring more wildfires - just like in 2007.

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