Listen to Smokey Bear: 'Extreme' fire danger in SW Minnesota

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The warm weather and Thursday's low humidity is putting parts of Minnesota in fire danger.

Southerly winds and dry, warm conditions are making southwestern Minnesota very susceptible to fires Thursday, KSTP says.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for the southwestern portion of the state from noon until 7 p.m. Thursday because these conditions can lead to "extreme" fire behavior.

As Smokey Bear says, "Only you can prevent wildfires" – and the weather service is asking people to avoid outdoor burning because fires will start easily and spread quickly, with the likelihood of fires becoming erratic, the weather service notes.

Over 60 percent of wildfires that start in Minnesota are caused by debris burning out of control, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says.

These red flag warnings are common in western states, meteorologist Paul Huttner wrote on MPR News' Updraft blog, and with this spring's expanding drought, we'll likely be seeing much more of them in Minnesota.

Abnormally dry conditions

The Department of Natural Resources' drought monitor indicates abnormally dry conditions exist over nearly the entire state, with small pockets of moderate drought conditions in southern portions of the Red River Valley.

Meteorologist Paul Douglas wrote on the Star Tribune weather blog that much of the state is nearly 2-4 inches below average for precipitation, while some areas across central and northeastern Minnesota may be nearly 6-8 inches below average.

And the outlook in the Twin Cities isn't looking like it'll help, Huttner wrote. There's zero precipitation expected in the next 16 days, and he says another two weeks without rain or snow will cause drought to expand quickly across the state.

But experts say not to worry about a drought this summer – at least not yet.

"We've frequently seen situations where we go this early in the spring into a dry situation and then we gain relief from it when it turns wetter in April and May," University of Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley told The Associated Press.

Much of souther Minnesota was in a moderate drought at this point last year, the AP notes, but relentless rainfall in the late spring made it the wettest start to the year in Minnesota since 1871.

There is some good news with the current dry situation: At this time, there's little chance of significant flooding from melting snow in areas that are prone to flooding, like the Red River Valley, the weather service notes.

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