August 12, 2022

The Most Threatening Wildfire Period is Ahead. But Why? And a Warm, Pleasant Forecast.

This has been a very benign wildfire season so far this year, with far fewer than normal wildfires over the western U.S., with considerably less than normal area burnt (see figures below).

Number of wildfires by year:  WA DNR area

The area burned by year:  WA DNR Area

The area burned by year, California.

But we can not become complacent!   Historically, the most threatening wildfire season in the Northwest is the end of August and early September as the atmosphere starts to cool.

But why?  What is so threatening about the cool late summer/early autumn periods?  All is revealed in the podcast.

And I also provide the forecast for the next week.  Very pleasant in the west, but a bit toasty in the east. 

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  1. No disagreement about your comment on the importance of wind this time of the year in the spread of wildfires. I would say that in Eastern Washington, the more serious pattern regarding the spread of fire has been from westerly winds, especially those which follow the passage of a trough that touches off dry lightning. Our largest wildfires have been with strong westerly winds. The lack of dry lightning storms has also been a factor in keeping the fire loss down this summer, so far. The combination of dry lightning storms followed by strong westerly winds have resulted in many of the large fires in Eastern Washington in the past, often because of the number of fire starts in remote areas which are harder to attack, and this overwhelms of initial attack effort.

  2. It's been plenty warm the last few weeks on the west side with widespread 90s, but it's a little unusual in that we've had dewpoints in the high 50s and low 60s with no offshore flow. But a September east wind event like the doozy in 2020 would make things real interesting.

  3. The grass in eastern Washington is thicker and taller than it was last year because of the unusually cool and rainy weather this spring. I was driving between Prescott and Walla Walla the other day. The grass in that area has dried out for the most part, and the fire danger this year is now quite extreme. They don't call it 'grassoline' for nothing.


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