Despite recent drizzly weather, stretches of central, eastern and southeastern Kentucky are experiencing moderate levels of drought amid the fall fire season.
Sixteen Kentucky counties have a burn ban in place as of Friday afternoon, and Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency Thursday due to wildfires blazing across roughly 13,000 acres of Eastern Kentucky land.
Crews have worked nonstop for days to contain wildfires and protect occupied structures, and the governor’s Thursday order gives them access to additional resources. Out-of-state fire crews are also expected to offer relief, along with a “break” afforded by Friday morning showers, an official with the Kentucky Division of Forestry told the Herald-Leader.
Often caused by humans, wildfires are not uncommon in the Bluegrass State, especially during the fall fire season, which stretches from the first week of October to mid-December. Here’s a roundup of where conditions stand, the weather forecast and what you can do to help protect property and prevent fire where you live.
Kentucky drought conditions
A number of central, south and southeastern Kentucky counties were experiencing at least moderate drought conditions as of Tuesday, according to data collected by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Even more were seeing “abnormally dry conditions.”
In all, 1.2 million people are estimated to live in the areas of the state affected by drought.
Conditions are more severe elsewhere in the U.S., including Louisiana and Mississippi, where vast portions of the states are experiencing “exceptional drought,” the most severe category on the monitor’s scale.
In Kentucky, this September was the 19th driest on record, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System, with rainfall about 1.45 inches below normal.
It’s not unexpected, the fall season does tend toward drier conditions, National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Vorst, with the office in Jackson, told the Herald-Leader.
“We’re in our fall fire season, and as a climatological norm being a little on the drier side, in combination with fall foliage coming off,” Vorst noted.
Kentucky fall fire season
The state recognizes two fire seasons, a spring and fall, with the autumn period running Oct. 1 to Dec. 15.
The seasons set regulations in place to prohibit opening burning in and near woodland areas between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., and additional local ordinances may prohibit burning activity further.
As of Friday, Breathitt, Bullitt, Clay, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Knox, Lawrence, Letcher, Metcalfe, Morgan, Nelson, Perry, Pike and Whitley counties were under an additional burn ban due to local conditions. The bans, issued largely at the county level, prohibit the following activities, according to the state Division of Forestry:
Any burning of grass, forest, woodlands, crops or marshes
Any burning of leaves, yard debris and trash
Any campfires or bonfires
Charcoal grilling and open-pit burning
Lighting or using fireworks and potentially prohibiting welding activities
In areas where no burn ban is in place, caution is still advised during fire hazard season. Those considering open burning or holding a permit to do so are advised to to wait for good weather conditions, including little wind, according to forestry officials.
If you’re open burning, you should:
Put out your fire completely if weather conditions change or the wind kicks up
Keep you burn pile small and controllable
Never leave your pile unmonitored, and have a shovel and water on hand before you light it
Build your burn pile a safe distance from structures and woodlands, with a 10-foot clearance of vegetation
Never light a burn pile over or near utilities or under trees or tree cover
Forecast and chance of rain
A forecast issued Friday morning by the National Weather Service in Jackson predicted rainy conditions and a cold front would move out of the area by midday. The result would bring drier air to the region, as well as dropping humidity levels.
Vorst said there are some systems forecast to possibly move through portions of Eastern Kentucky in the coming days, but the forecast through the weekend doesn’t offer much in the way of precipitation.
Rain continues to taper off today, with skies clearing partially through the afternoon. Autumn like temperatures will run about normal through the weekend, but moderate into the 60s through the rest of the week. Overnight lows dip into the upper 20s to 30s. #kywx pic.twitter.com/UfZACGaH3X
— NWS Jackson KY (@nwsjacksonky) November 10, 2023
Though the region got a bit more rain than expected Thursday into Friday, he noted, rainfall totals are down for the months of September and October. Precipitation in September came in about 2 inches below normal, while in October totals were about 1.6 inches below, as measured at the NWS office in Jackson.
“So a combination of a dry September and dry October, which would put us in a deficit for the year,” Vorst said.
A longer-term view from the Climate Predication Center indicates expected below-normal precipitation in Kentucky for the one-month outlook and normal levels over the course of the three-month outlook, November through January.
Vorst encouraged residents to take basic precautions, like raking foliage and debris away from their homes, as well as monitoring any county burn bans issued well into the fall.
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