Daily weather conditions in Nebraska last summer worsened fire conditions created by the drought, turning the hot, dry summer into a combustible one.
Jessica Brooks and Chris Buttler, meteorologists at the North Platte office of the National Weather Service, said hotter than normal temperatures, stronger than normal winds, unusually low humidity and prematurely cured grasses fueled the explosive fires.
Typically, summer is not a windy time in north-central Nebraska, Buttler said. But winds blew stronger and warmer in June and July than is typically the case.
One reason the wind blew so hard and hot was that it was being pulled down from higher up in the atmosphere, Buttler said.
Winds, for example, were sometimes being pulled down from 15,000 feet in the atmosphere instead of the more typical 6,000 to 7,000 feet.
At the higher level, the air is warmer and the winds blow stronger. When those winds reach the surface, they are carrying that warmth and strength with them, Buttler said.
Also, last year was less humid than normal. The line that separates relatively humid central and eastern Nebraska from relatively dry western Nebraska set up farther east than normal. As a result, a much broader area of central Nebraska was less humid, overall, than it normally would have been.
Additionally, grasses dried and cured earlier, leading to an earlier and longer fire season.
Because the air was so dry, thunderstorms that moved through couldn't wring out enough moisture to drop rain. Instead, lightning strikes from the storms sparked numerous fires.
“Things just fed off themselves once we dried out,” Buttler said.
Source: National Weather Service, North Platte