A year after Nebraska had its worst wildfires on record, the state experienced record lows, said Don Westover, who oversees fire management for the Nebraska Forest Service.
As of Thursday, state records indicated 465 wildfires had burned 10,797 acres in 2013. Westover said reports continue to be finalized, so the total could end up near 500.
In 2012, the state's hottest and driest ever, about 1,600 fires burned 510,987 acres. Nebraska's two biggest blazes in 2012 were larger than any previous fire. Hundreds of ranches were damaged.
So threatening was a massive 2012 wildfire in the Pine Ridge that officials set fire to Nebraska's oldest state park, Chadron State Park. Their successful effort protected places like the nearby community of Chadron.
Converted to miles, nearly 800 square miles burned in 2012, compared with about 17 square miles in 2013.
The drop in fires was a surprise, because the state was still in the grip of severe drought at the start of 2013. But cooler than normal weather and timely rains worked together to lessen the threat.
“We had very well-timed rains,” Westover said. “They came just perfectly. . .It was quite a relief.”
Darren Snively, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in North Platte, took a look at the timing of rains between the two years.
In 2012, the drought roared to life in July as rains shut down. In 2013, rainful remained relatively plentiful from summer through early fall.
Snively said last year brought four times as much precipitation to Valentine from May to October as occurred in 2012.
About 17.7 inches of rain fell during those months, while about 4.2 inches fell in 2012.
Source: Nebraska Forest Service, National Weather Service