Fire and ice: Range of weather events impact the U.S.

May 24, 2019

Tyson Fisher


From snow to wildfires, a wide range of weather events are causing problems across the nation. In addition to costing lives and destroying property, several highway closures are also the result of Mother Nature’s wrath.

In Florida, a wildfire has jumped across a highway. Meanwhile in Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona, late-season snowstorms have canceled flights. When it comes to weather, the transition from spring to summer can be a volatile one. Below is a roundup of weather-related events across the country.


Unusually high amounts of precipitation have fallen across the Midwest in recent weeks. Storms have flooded highways and formed several tornadoes.

In Oklahoma, flooding has shut down several highways, including portions of Interstate 40, US-77 and US-69. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has cited historic rainfall since winter 2018 through the spring as the cause of flooding.

Closures are too numerous to list, but motorists can check current conditions by clicking here.

Oklahoma road closures map
Road closures in Oklahoma as of noon CDT on Friday, May 24.

The situation in Missouri appears to be worse. According to MoDOT’s website on Friday at noon, nearly 300 closures were reported due to flooding. Although most of closures are on smaller state routes, there are several closures on US-24, US-61 and other national highways. Click here for current road conditions in Missouri.

Missouri road closures map
Road closures in Missouri as of noon CDT on Friday, May 24.

A significant closure on US-61 in Iowa has also been reported. To find up-to-date closures in Iowa, click here.

On Thursday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration extended a regional emergency declaration as flooding continues. Affected states include Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Google Crisis Map shows flooding severity across the U.S.


Earlier this week, the Yellow Bluff Fire in Jacksonville, Fla., was burning as much as 450 acres by Thursday, May 23. Eventually, the wildfire reached Interstate 95, shutting down both northbound and southbound lanes. The highway reopened Friday morning.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, April experienced below-average fire activity as a result of above-average precipitation. However, precipitation creates vegetation, which is also known as fuel for wildfires. Also known as greenup, plant growth picked up in May with less precipitation drying it up.

NIFC predicts increased fire activity beginning late May and early June in California and the southern Great Basin area. The drying of vegetation will continue throughout other parts of the West in July.

August kicks off peak wildfire season. NIFC predicts “normal” conditions for most of the country, with sections of the West Coast being the exception. Some areas that experienced above-average snowpack, including higher elevations in the Sierra, will likely see a delay to the start of peak season. For the most part, a milder wildfire season could occur this year compared to 2018.


It’s not too early to talk about hurricanes. The National Hurricane Center announced the first named storm of the season on Monday, May 20. Subtropical Storm Andrea formed in the middle of the Atlantic before quickly dissipating. Hurricane season does not officially start until June 1.

On Thursday, May 23, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its predictions for the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season. NOAA predicts a near-normal season this year. More specifically, the administration forecasts a 40% chance of a near-normal season, a 30% chance of an above-normal season, and a 30% chance of a below-normal season.

Below is a chart detailing NOAA’s predictions.

NOAA 2019 hurricane prediction graphic

It’s worth noting that these predictions are based on overall seasonal activity and do not necessarily predict the occurrences of landfall.

On the West Coast, NOAA is predicting a 70% chance of an above-normal season for both the eastern and central Pacific regions. The eastern Pacific outlook calls for a 70% probability of 15 to 22 named storms, of which eight to 13 are expected to become hurricanes, including four to eight major hurricanes. The central Pacific outlook calls for a 70% probability of five to eight tropical cyclones, which includes tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes.

Hurricanes rarely make landfall in the United States on the West Coast. Most Pacific hurricane landfalls occur in Mexico and Central America.


Believe it or not, snow is still causing some problems in the United States. The latest closure comes out of Montana.

According to the Montana Department of Transportation, U.S. 212, also known as Beartooth Pass, opened on Friday morning after more than 3 feet of snow shut the highway down.

Beartooth Highway is a seasonal pass that was supposed to open on Thursday, May 23. However, inclement weather delayed that opening for approximately 24 hours. Montana DOT’s website states that Beartooth Pass is open to Vista Point only. Motorists will need to turn around at Vista Point and return to Red Lodge.

Weather permitting, the pass will open to the Wyoming state line on Saturday, May 25. Wyoming’s DOT will advise when they can open their side. US-212 is a highway, so trucks are allowed on the pass, according to Montana DOT.