By Jennifer Gray, CNN meteorologist
In parts of Texas, smoke fills the sky.
Wildfires are burning out of control; the brush is dry and all it takes is a single spark to create the next fire that could rage out of control.
No home or neighborhood is safe from this reality in Amarillo.
Extreme temperatures are another factor. Record-breaking, triple-digit heat is only making matters worse.
As one meteorologist put it, “It’s just not good.”
A summer heat in May
Temperatures in Amarillo this time of year are supposed to be at a comfortable 78 degrees.
However, since Friday, they have been soaring into the triple digits — even setting records.
On Friday, the city hit 90 degrees.
“That was the first time in May that we did that,” said Alex Ferguson, meteorologist for the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Amarillo.
But it only got worse from there. The next day, May 7, Amarillo hit 101 degrees, setting more records. “That beat a (daily high temperature) record from 1916. The previous record for May 7 was 97,” said Ferguson. “That also represented the earliest 100-degree day here in Amarillo.”
The weather service in Austin/San Antonio is also keeping track of records. Their region has been in the triple digits since Friday, making it the earliest they have ever seen 100-degree consecutive days. San Antonio hit triple digits on Saturday and Sunday, and could do it again today.
It might seem like just a bunch of numbers to some, but for the people in Amarillo, it means much more.
“You know, it’s just not good. It’s not good out here,” said Ferguson. “Both for the fire danger and for agricultural concerns.”
The heat has only added to a host of problems. The region is in extreme drought.
The entire Texas Panhandle is currently in the highest two categories of drought, which has gone hand in hand with their wildfire problems.
“You know that the odds are that a grass fire is going to run through open country here. But they can threaten towns,” said Ferguson. “I know we had the town of Skellytown that was threatened by a fire earlier this year.”
The fire burned nearly 24,000 acres and destroyed several homes.
Just in the last few weeks, towns have been evacuated due to a fire risk in the area.
And as we’ve seen time and time again, these fires can travel so quickly, burn ferociously, and people have very little warning.
It’s grown to be New Mexico’s second-largest wildfire in history.
With very low humidity levels during the last few weeks across the Southwest, lack of rainfall, and winds topping 50 mph, fires have been raging.
Three new large fires were reported over the weekend, two in Arizona and one in Texas.
Currently, 12 uncontained large fires have burned 322,309 acres in four states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The dangerous heat will only make the brush drier and more susceptible to fires.
The Climate Prediction Center recently released their summer climate outlook, and it doesn’t bring good news for much of the Southwest — or the entire country for that matter.
The center’s forecast shows we will likely see above normal temperatures for the Southwest in the summer months, as well as below normal rainfall for these areas, including Amarillo.
Places like New Mexico could see some relief from monsoon rains, but it’s probably not going to help in the long term, according to Brad Pugh, meteorologist at the CPC.
“Later in the summer, July and August, if enhanced monsoon rainfall does occur that could provide at least a temporary relief to the drought across Arizona and New Mexico,” said Pugh. “Unfortunately, the summer months are typically dry for California and the Great Basin, so we would expect drought conditions to persist for those areas through the summer.”
One contributing factor to the climate outlook is the fact we are still in La Niña conditions.
La Niña is a phenomenon which causes warmer than normal temperatures across parts of the West and below normal precipitation.
It can also result in a more active Atlantic hurricane season.
Hurricane season could get an earlier start
Sounds like the last thing you want to hear if you live along the coast.
As if six months of monitoring weather data, looking at spaghetti models and stalking the National Hurricane Center website wasn’t enough.
I know. I’ve lived it most of my life. It’s stressful to say the least.
But the truth of the matter is hurricane season is starting to not recognize the boundaries we’ve set as a “season.”
“Named storms have formed prior to the official start of the hurricane season in about half of the past 10-15 years, including each of the past seven years (2015-2021),” said Dennis Feltgen, meteorologist and public affairs officer at the NHC.
We are now just a few weeks away from the official start of hurricane season — which begins June 1, and the possibility remains for this season to have something develop before June 1.
In fact, on Sunday, the NHC’s Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch highlighted the “first tropical wave of the season” coming off the coast of Africa. And there was an interesting little spin in the forecast models off the Southeast coast, which got the attention of some of my colleagues over the weekend.
It shows me things are already starting to come alive in the tropics, even if nothing seems definite at this point.
So, it begs the question, should the start of hurricane season be changed?
“In 2021, the National Weather Service assembled a team to determine quantitative thresholds for adding or removing dates from the official Atlantic hurricane season, along with an examination of potential ramifications of moving the beginning of hurricane season to May 15,” said Feltgen.
As of now, no changes will be made to the hurricane season dates for this season, but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen sometime in the future.
While we continue to see storms spin up outside of our typical season, most of them have proved to be quite brief and weaker systems.
“Many of the May systems are short-lived, hybrid (subtropical) systems that are now being identified because of better monitoring as well as policy changes that we now name subtropical storms,” said Feltgen.
Last year, the NHC began issuing their tropical weather outlooks in mid-May to account for any preseason storms developing.
The outlooks highlight any areas the NHC is watching for potential development. So, this Sunday (May 15), the NHC will begin issuing them four times a day.
Also, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center will put out their forecast for the upcoming hurricane season on May 24.
It will include the number of named storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes expected over the entire six-month season.
Read what the experts at Colorado State University are forecasting this hurricane season will be like here.
Last year broke records. Read a recap here.
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CNN meteorologists Haley Brink and Judson Jones contributed to this article.