June 09, 2020

The Upcoming Wildfire Season: Near Normal Conditions Should Prevail

With all the challenges we have dealt with during the past months, there does appear to be some good news on one front:  there is no reason at this point to  expect an unusual wildfire season over Washington State this summer.

As shown by this plot of the average number of wildfires over time in our region, we are now entering the period of typical rapid growth in the number of wildfire events (blue line shows today), with the peak in August.  There are currently no wildfires burning in our region.

And the situation looking forward is quite favorable in most aspects.

During the past 30 days, Washington State has been wetter than normal and the eastern quarter MUCH wetter than normal (see below).  This is very important, because the surface fuels and upper soil layers are being wet down immediately before the fire season.

The National Interagency fire danger forecast for today shows low (dark green) risk.

The forecast of accumulated precipitation over the next week is quite wet (see below), with some of our mountain regions receiving 2-5 inches.  Bad for wildfires and a damper on outdoor recreation.

The most accurate extended forecast is from the European Center and its 46 day forecast  (through 24 July) is quite favorable, with much wetter than normal conditions from the Cascade crest westward, wetter than normal over northern Oregon and the eastern extreme of Washington and northern Idaho, and near normal conditions over the Columbia Basin (which receives very little precipitation this time of the year in any case).

The European Center also runs a seasonal forecasting system, which is predicting normal precipitation over the region in July and August (see below).

I could show you many more graphics and forecasts, but the bottom line is clear:  wildfire fire risk is currently very low over Washington State and there is no reason to expect the risk will be higher than normal this summer, something claimed in certain media (see below).

Some media is taking it up a notch, even bringing COVID-19 into the mix:

Will there be wildfires this summer? 

There certainly will be and we must be prepared, as Washington DNR and others are doing.  And they will have to deal with the fires, while protecting firefighters from COVID-19. 

 But there is no reason to expect more wildfires than normal, and perhaps some expectation of a more benign season with all the rain.   Since at least half of our regional wildfires are human-initiated, what will be the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in reducing the number of people traveling around the State and interacting with our wildlands?   Will more people being at home increase or decrease fire initiation?   


  1. Looks like a good year to visit the Rockies.

  2. So, how is it that these news organizations produce exactly the opposite of the truth? I wonder if they might make a habit of doing that..

    1. News orgs' report on forecasts, they don't do them themselves. Just yesterday the NWS tweeted a graphic that implies we're all in a drought, which I'm guessing Cliff would dispute (https://twitter.com/NWSPortland/status/1270351149262987264). If a news org hears from the NWS that there's a drought and therefore an elevated fire danger, they will report it as such. What else do you expect them to do?

      In other words, forecasting is hard because predicting the future is hard. Those that predict the future rarely agree, therefore those that forecast don't always agree. Journalism is only as good as the data it is given.

      So maybe lay off the conspiracy theories and apply some common sense.

    2. According to Sen. Maria Cantwell: , we are in the bullseye of what is likely to be a very challenging fire season." Cantwell drew comparisons to the 2015 fire season during which, 1,500 wildfires in Washington state burned more than 1 million acres, costing more than $250 million. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources called it the "worst-ever" fire season. What does she know that Cliff does not know? (or maybe what does Cliff know, that she does not) This was in a release from Cantwell yesterday 6/9/20

    3. Senator Cantwell is quite excellent and she is right to be calling for good preparation. My specialty is weather prediction and I make use of the state-of-science models, several of which are not available to Washington DNR. I don't anyone is calling this a "worst ever" upcoming season...there is no support for that in the meteorology...cliff

    4. All of this reaction could be relative to funding levels. Almost all public funding has taken a massive blow thanks to the resultant drop in tax revenue due to the pandemic. A moderate fire season could slip to severe if there is no money to fight. Even if fires are fought with volunteers or conscripts, there is the matter of food, shelter, consumables, fuel etc for the effort. It all has to be paid for with public funds.

      Its really on the public now to be mindful about their surroundings and fire safety. No tossing butts on the car window. Be safe with recreational fires. Not even going to get into private fireworks use.....

  3. Good news!! We need it at this time!!

  4. Wait. I'm sure we're not talking about the new normal as discussed in the 2018 press trying to connect the smokey skies with climate change. But when *you* say normal, are you referring to the historical "new normal" as discussed in your article from that time period, or the old normal of our settlers days? https://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2018/08/northwest-wildfires-are-we-seeing-new.html. I just want things to be normal. Just for a day.

  5. Unless ducks can be vectors for Covid-19, we should be OK.

  6. Cliff,

    Lessened potential for wildfire crisis is welcome news among all the other issues people are experiencing. I hope it is some comfort for those in areas vulnerable to wildfires.

  7. 71 degrees and dewpoint of 61.. pretty humid out there!

  8. Granted rain is important, but so is sunshine... Maybe you can tell us where to find it this weekend during your radio spot tomorrow morning.

  9. Why are we having such consistently cold and wet weather? Is there a formation in the pacific ocean that is driving this?

  10. Near normal conditions sounds good to me. It is reassuring to know that no wildfires are burning in our region right now. We don't need another crisis on our hands. My husband went to India to discuss business with some Ups battery dealers in Chennai . We are hoping he will be able to return soon.


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

Subtropical Warmth, Heavy Rain, and Filling Reservoirs

You did not have to travel to Hawaii this morning to experience subtropical warmth or tropical-intensity showers.  It was here in the Pacifi...