Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fire Season 2016

Now that we are into the middle of August, some may be wondering how the rest of this fire season will pan out.  So far this fire season has been quiet with the exception of some large grass fires over portions of the Columbia Basin.   While these fires have been brief in nature, they have consumed over 200,000 acres of grass and sagebrush.

So what lies ahead?  First let's take a step back to this time last year.  Several large fires were burning across the region.  Here is a look at the MODIS satellite imagery from August 20th, 2015 last year.

A day later, here is what it looked like outside our NWS Office in Airway Heights just to the northwest of Spokane.

Smoke obscuring the sky over NWS Spokane - August 21st, 2015

Enough of last year, let's move forward to this year.  For the next couple weeks forecast models are showing a dry weather pattern.

The dry weather will lead to drying of the fuels across the region.  However dry timber and grass by itself does not start fires.  Typically a lightning episode is required for prolonged significant fire activity, and fortunately there is no signs of this through the middle of next week.  We will see a significant increase in winds however this Thursday and Friday (August 18th and 19th), so please be careful.  Here is the wind forecast and hazards for Thursday.

These winds will continue into midday on Friday across the Upper Columbia Basin and the Spokane area while decreasing over North Idaho and the Okanogan Valley.

What about the long range outlooks.  Here are the 8-14 day outlooks issued today (Aug 16th) from the Climate Prediction Center.

CPC 8-14 day outlooks issued August 16th, 2016

The outlook from August 24th through the 30th shows highly elevated odds for warmer than normal temperatures with drier than normal conditions favored as well.

What about September?  The latest climate models are suggesting a warm September.  Several models are showing this.  Here is a look at the latest CFS model forecast for temperatures in September.  

CFS Model forecast for temperatures September 2016

The model is predicting September to be about 2C (3-4F) warmer than normal.  What about precipitation?  Most (but not all) of the climate models suggest a drier than normal September.  Here is a look at the CFS model forecast...

CFS Model forecast for precipitation September 2016

This could result in fire season lasting well into September.  Fortunately, lightning events in September become less likely but still occur on occasion such as 2012 when a significant lightning event started several fires around Wenatchee.  Hunting season in September and October often leads to an increase in fires as well.  However one abnormal cool and wet day in September could bring a significant slowing or end to the fire season.    

Overall, most people will probably consider this fire season to be rather quiet, especially since last year is still fresh in many people's mind.  But we aren't out of the woods yet, with probably about another month or so of fire season to get through.