Red flag warning issued during unusually warm February

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COLUMBIA - The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for central Missouri, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday. 

According to the notice, "A Red Flag Warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now, or will shortly." 

Pat Guinan, a climatologist with the University of Missouri Extension, said all the environmental variables are primed for any type of outdoor fire to spread rapidly and out of control.

"Those variables are being low humidity, anything around 20 percent or so, and strong gusty winds. We're expecting that today anywhere from 20 to 30 miles per hour, and well above normal temperatures," Guinan said.

During red flag warnings, the fire district discourages any type of open burning whatsoever.

"Be very diligent about discarding cigarettes, diligent about anything that could cause a spark or could case a fire," Assistant Chief Gale Blomenkamp said. 

Blomenkamp said no one should have controlled burns during red flag warnings.

"If you do a prescribed burn and you do a controlled burn and it gets out of control, you’re liable for other people's property that it may damage,"  he said.

Blomenkamp said a red flag warning is typical for this time of year in central Missouri.

"This is our natural cover fire season, unlike the western part of the United States when theirs starts in June, July and August." he said. "Ours is now because all of the grasses are either dead or dormant, so there’s no uptake of moisture into the plant." 

Carrie Hargrove, the director of urban farming for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, said it is quite unusual to have such warm weather in February. 

"It just seems like its been a really dry winter, which can have implications for the growing season. So we’ll just see if we have a wet spring I guess," she said. 

According to Guinan, the unseasonably mild weather conditions in January and February creates cause for concern, especially for plants that might be coming out of dormancy.

"Right now most of the state is either abnormally dry or witnessing drought conditions, so it's imperative we do get some moisture over the next few weeks and as we roll into spring, when the planting season arrives pretty quickly," he said. "For this weather to occur in February, that’s very concerning because there could be a vulnerability issue when it comes to freezing weather, and it is highly likely highly to experience subfreezing conditions well into March."

As the warm weather continues into the weekend with predicted highs of 70, Blomenkamp said people should continue to be on alert for spreading fire.