Skywarn 6 Storm Week 2012: Drought & Dry Lightning Wildfires

Bowman Volunteer Fire Chief John Strenski knows all too well the dangers posed by dry lightning.

"Dry lightning is probably one of our biggest enemies, second only to man-made fires. With the dry fires, it's just hard to predict where it's going to come from. Usually with the dry lightning, you've got wind as well, so the lightning will start the fire and then we'll end up getting wind all over the place."

Dry lightning is simply lightning from a thunderstorm that strikes an area where there's been little or no rain. Rick Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, says dry lightning is a fairly common occurrence in Texoma.

"We see that around here occasionally when the lower levels of the atmosphere are very very dry. So, it may be raining thousands of feet off the surface, but by the time that rain falls through that very dry layer, it's all evaporated or mostly evaporated, but we still get the bad parts of the thunderstorm like the lightning and even the damaging winds can happen too."

Dry lightning is most commonly found in thunderstorms that form along a dryline, a front that separates warm, moist air to the east and hot, dry air to the west. Behind the dryline, strong winds and dry air lead to perfect conditions for spreading wildfires. In the midst of a dry spring like in 2011, local emergency management officials have to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to dealing with possible fires.

"A lot of the volunteers are really dedicated and they'll go to the station and wait it out, especially during a Red Flag Warning. They'll stay there and they'll rotate and wait the thing out to increase response time. So yeah, there's definitely differences in protocol," said Wichita County Emergency Management Coordinator Lee Bourgoin.

Despite the added dangers of having a thunderstorm nearby, dealing with the fire after it sparks is still the top priority for fire fighters.

Bourgoin explains that "you just have to brave the storm. You have to go out there and do what you can. Use precautions during any lightning storm that you can, but no, once the lightning sparks a fire, you just gotta deal with it whether there's lightning out or not."

While we can't prevent dry lightning from happening, there are steps we can take to limit the risk to our homes. Strenski has a few tips to help us do just that.

"Please make sure that your yards are cleaned up so we can get in there and knock the fire back. Make sure that, if you've got stuff sitting outside and you know it's going to be a red flag day, bring the stuff inside. Your house can go up in flames just by having wood lawn furniture sitting outside, so take a look at that."