Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Fire Season Is Upon Us

The most recent National Interagency Fire Center wildland fire outlook projects that Utah will have a "normal" wildland fire potential this summer.  Although that sounds good, a normal wildland fire season in Utah is still one with a significant threat of major fires.  As I see it, there's no such thing as a good fire season in Utah and this year certainly has the potential to be problematic.

Drought conditions for most of the state range from abnormally dry to severe (exceptions include the Bear River Range and a few other locations in extreme northern Utah that saw considerable midwinter snowfall).  Although other portions of the southwest have even more extreme drought conditions, we're still running dry.

The drought in the southwest and most of Utah reflects both long-term conditions (e.g., the dry winter, especially in California and Utah) and short-term conditions.  During the past 3 months, nearly the entire western U.S. has seen below average precipitation.

In Utah, nearly the entire state has seen below average precipitation during the past 3 months, and much of the state saw 75% or less of average (scale for the image below same as above).

The irony in that map is that we probably got just enough precipitation at just the right times to allow for a heathly wildland grass crop, which is now drying out as we head deeper into June.  In the Salt Lake Valley, we haven't had measurable rain since May 24th and the last major dousing was on May 9th when the airport recorded 0.45 inches.  Although we may see some thunderstorms today, it is very dry in the low levels and we probably won't see much precipitation reaching the ground.  

Looking at the medium range model forecasts, I don't see much hope of a significant precipitation event.  Thus, it looks like we will be quite dry and vulnerable as we head into late June and the 4th of July holiday approaches.  Let the insanity begin. 

1 comment:

  1. I think there's a deeper context that is missing from most discussions on fire. "As I see it, there's no such thing as a good fire season in Utah and this year certainly has the potential to be problematic." We live in a fire prone landscape, and fire is an intrinsic part of our ecosystems in the West. We can't exclude fire, and just about every part of Utah that is vegetated is going to burn eventually. Given that fires are inevitable, I think we can have a good fire season, and the recipe for one looks something like this:
    1. Weather and fire conditions stay predictable, so when fires do happen, firefighters and the public are at minimal risk.
    2. Where fires do threaten homes, homeowners are prepared.
    3. Areas where cheatgrass is established don't get hammered by too much fire, especially following a fire in recent years.
    4. Whatever smoke blows in doesn't stick around for long.
    Phil Dennison