June 28, 2019

A Quieter Than Average Wildfire Season So Far

With all the talk this spring of a severe and early wildfire season in the Northwest, the opposite appears to be occurring.  Currently, there are no major fires in Washington or British Columbia, with one small fire (140 acres) in Oregon.

Compare this situation to last year, when there were already a number of large fires in British Columbia.  As shown by the NOAA HRRR smoke model, the air is smoke-free over the Northwest (there are fires over the Southwest)

Looking more broadly, the Year to Date fire statistics for the entire U.S. (from the U.S. Interagency Fire Center) shows that there have been less fires and less acreage burned this year than any time in at least 10 years (see below).  But for the Northwest, it is even better than that, since most of the fires so far have been Alaska.

A key factor in this smoke free situation has been the normal weather conditions with precipitation and clouds that we have "enjoyed" much of the month.  Of particular note has been a persistent trough of low pressure over the region the last few weeks.  As a result, fuel moistures have been reasonable and the official North American fire danger map shows low danger over much of the Northwest, BC, and Alberta.

Proof of this benign situation has been the lack of fire starts after we got hit hard by lightning the last few days.  For example, here are the lightning strikes during the past two days from the national lightning network. Impressive for our region.

And the precipitation and clouds are not over.  Although we will have breaks with sunny skies and normal temperatures, the trough is going to hang around.  The European Center ensemble for precipitation through 5 AM Monday July 8th, shows plenty of precipitation in BC and northern WA. over the next 10 days.

At this point, it is becoming clear that there won't be a big early start to the fire season in BC.  Southern Oregon and N. CA have been wet, so fires will be delayed there.  I believe we can look forward to at least a month before significant fires and smoke will be in the picture.  Quite possibly longer.

And, as I have noted before, the long-term forecasts are favorable, with the International Subseasonal Ensemble (IMME)  and US CFSv2 models suggesting normal or wetter than normal conditions over the region (see below)

There has been quite a bit of hype and exaggeration about a very bad smoke season this year (from some unnamed politicians and media outlets).  Reality looks far better.  And even though things look favorable at this point, it is always good to prepare--like getting a top-of-the-line furnace filter, a N95 face mask, and the like.


  1. Another good set of observations, countering the pearl clutching of local media and government.

    I appreciate you sticking to facts unlike the rabid emotional pandering that the others have been using.

    Cliff, is there any way you can turn off the ridiculous "captcha" proof. For some reason it gets triggered every few visits, and you have to spend a ridiculous amount of time (5+) validating that you are not a robot.

  2. This is great news.
    I can remember not that long ago when we would gripe about Summer not happening until July 4th and cursing the May-June rain. Now we rejoice when it rains in June.

  3. I'd be fine if that trough sticks around all summer. When was the last time we had a mild summer through September?
    I'm not letting my guard down regardless. Last year I didn't think that June or July was that bad, but then August hit and we slid back into misery again. But every week we get through without a mega heatwave is a plus in my book as it draws us one week closer to September and the relief of autumn.

    PS Joseph - You do not have to subscribe to climate change to wholeheartedly agree that it is good to reduce emissions and pollution. Nor are we helpless. I have a full-proof test for you. After starting your car stand a few feet behind the exhaust. The smell and fumes will be the sensory proof that some humans need to see something as "bad". We used to call it "reducing pollution". It remains a solid reason to support us getting off of fossil fuels to this day. Other reasons you can use besides climate change is energy independence and geopolitics (not enriching countries like Venezuela, Saudi Arabia or Russia).

  4. “Knowing that the climate operates in cycles we likely can't do much about”.

    The climate operates in natural cycles, but also according to the composition of the atmosphere. It’s not one or the other.

  5. Temp about 70, cool marine breeze out of the northwest, clear, blue air. The weather couldn't be more pleasant.

  6. If that hype in the media prevents even one idiot from throwing a cig onto the super dry grass in E. Wa then it’s a win. I do think all the coverage at least made (some) people think, and also prepare.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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