A communal sitting space around a fire at Camp Comfort.
The burn ban approved Tuesday expires Jan. 20, 2021. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Bexar County Commissioners declared a burn ban Tuesday as warm temperatures and a lack of rainfall continue to drive the county back into drought conditions.

Though Bexar County’s most recent burn ban ended only five days ago, the drought index over the past several days has exceeded the threshold that allows the county to declare a ban on outdoor fires, Bexar County Fire Marshal Chris Lopez told commissioners. The ban approved Tuesday expires Jan. 20, 2021.

“If we don’t get any rain [by then], we’ll probably have to work with our fireworks vendors to not sell specific types of fireworks,” Lopez said. “But for now, all we’re asking for is a burn ban for the next 90 days.”

Following wetter conditions in September that led to a reprieve from dry weather, Bexar County slid back into drought over the past two weeks, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which listed the county as in “moderate drought” in its latest update on Oct. 13.

So far in October, San Antonio has received almost no rain – 0.03 inches, nearly 2.6 inches below normal, according to National Weather Service data. The average temperature this month was also nearly 4 degrees warmer than normal, with a high of 97 degrees on Oct. 11 breaking the previous record for that day of 96 degrees, set in 1926.

Climate data across the U.S. show that summer weather is lingering longer into fall, on average. In San Antonio, the final 95-degree-or-above day per year now comes an average of 17 days later than it did in 1970, according to temperature data analyzed by climate science journalism nonprofit Climate Central.

Dry conditions last week led the San Antonio Water System to declare a return to Stage 1 watering restrictions, which allow only the use of an outdoor sprinkler, irrigation system, or soaker hose one day per week. Days are designated by the last digit of the residence’s street address, with watering permitted only before 11 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

“San Antonio has missed the lower temperatures and rain we typically receive at this time of year. This has triggered higher water use for landscape irrigation,” SAWS Conservation Director Karen Guz said in a prepared statement. “We are also seeing continued agricultural production to the west, which also affects aquifer levels in the San Antonio area.”

City ordinance requires San Antonio to declare Stage 1 restrictions when the 10-day average level of the Edwards Aquifer drops below 660 feet above sea level. The aquifer stood at 659.6 feet as of Tuesday, a drop from a recent high of 664 feet on Sept. 13.

Locally, forecasters are mostly predicting continued dry weather over the coming days, with the possibility for some isolated showers Wednesday and Thursday.

Longer-term, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting continued heat and drought across most of the southern U.S., in part because of ongoing La Niña conditions in the southern Pacific. Over the next three months, NOAA forecasts state that San Antonio could see temperatures 60 percent above normal and rainfall 50 percent below normal, when compared to 1981-2010 averages.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.