No. 2: Drought and Wildfires in Oklahoma

Spring was a season of excessive polarity for the nation. While the Midwest and Mississippi areas were bracing for record river levels and rainfall, the Southwest was experiencing historic drought levels. The season was set to provide some of history’s most extreme weather events including fires, tornadoes, and floods.

In March, while public attention was on the tragic earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan, a large swath of grass fires burning in Central Oklahoma received little mention in the national news. With 30 fires in all, a state of emergency was declared in all 77 counties, and hundreds of residents were evacuated as windy conditions caused flames to spread. The most high-profile of the fires started March 11 in Harrah, a suburb of Oklahoma City. The fire destroyed at least 30 homes and caused several injuries.

By the end of March, 1.7 million acres had burned in wildfires nationwide. The drought that had begun would only continue to worsen and cause some of the worst fires in U.S. history. This time-lapse map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) graphically illustrates the severe drought in the Southwest as 2011 progressed with still worse fires to come.

Becky Uline is an editor and musician living in San Francisco, where she enjoys digging into Yahoo! data as a sidekick to trend-finding sleuth Vera H-C Chan. Most of her writing is of the musical variety for her band, the Northerlies.