CLINTON — For the second time in as many years, Clinton County experienced somewhat of a weather anomaly this week — a red flag warning.
Residents in the western part of the United States see those warnings on a pretty regular basis during the warmer months of the year, but for those who live in the Midwest, specifically eastern Iowa, the presence of the warning is an uncommon occurrence, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Pierce.
“Yesterday’s red flag warning was only the second one in Clinton County,” Pierce said. “The first one came on April 9, of last year, for exactly the same reasons.”
And what exactly is a red flag warning? It’s a warning issued by the National Weather Service when strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures combine to create a threat for critical fire conditions.
For the past several days, Clinton County has experienced those conditions making the chance for natural wildfires or uncontrolled burns to occur at a higher rate than normal. To limit and even prevent some of those things from happening, the Clinton County Emergency Management Agency will enforce temporary bans on field, ditch and yard waste burning, though director Chance Kness said this week’s conditions didn’t require that extreme of action.
Because the warning was only in place for approximately six hours Wednesday, Kness said there wasn’t enough time or a high enough reason to enact the ban, though he said people should still be cautious during this time of the season.
“Usually it’s observational based. We look at a temporary burn restriction when we are having a lot of fire calls in the county for grass or field fires,” Kness said. “(But) a temporary burn ban is not like a light switch. It takes me most of the day to get it in place, then it takes a few hours to inform all of the county fire chiefs and the state fire marshal. So, if it’s only going to be a six hour period it doesn’t really work very well.”
Though the red flag warning was lifted around 7 p.m. Wednesday, Kness did say the area is still at a slight risk for grassland fires. That is because of the fire danger indexes issued through the National Weather Service.
Like the red flag warning, the fire indexes increase when humidity is low and temperatures and winds are high. One thing that is an advantage to seeing those increases this time of year as opposed to others, said Kness, is the lack of fuel for fires to burn.
“Generally I’m more concerned in the fall because the crops are still out there; the corn crops and bean crops are bigger fuel for large fires,” Kness said. “All the crops are still out at this point so we don’t have a lot of area in the county that has a lot of fuel to burn.”
That doesn’t mean the potential is eliminated, he added.
“I would hope that people wouldn’t do a lot of (ditch or yard waste) burning when it’s windy and dry,” Kness said. “Hopefully they use good discretion.”
As the season shifts and the area begins to see the traditional April rain and thunderstorms, the risk is drastically reduced because moisture is added to not only to the ground, but also the air.
According to Pierce, that shift is expected to begin as early as next week.
“Once we start the green-up process, then the rate of (it) will dictate whatever the (fire) threat level is,” Pierce said. “Winds won’t be very strong on Saturday and it’ll be a tad cooler so there’s not much risk there. After the weekend we go into a pattern of more active weather with several chances of rain so if we can actually start getting some rain that threat level will reduce drastically.”
Clinton Herald Staff Writer Amy Kent can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.