SPOKANE, Wash. — Fire season is quickly approaching in the northwest and our VERIFY team has been getting several questions about what it might look like this year.
We are heading into the 2023 fire season after a healthy year for the snowpack. Many rivers are currently running high as a warm spring has already melted much of the snow away.
So, what impact will the snow have on our wildfire season? Let's Verify.
One of our VERIFY viewers, Nat, asked, "Will all the heavy snow we've gotten this winter help to prevent the wildfires from getting so bad this summer?"
- Nick Bond, research scientist for the University of Washington & State Climatologist
- Matthew Dehr, meteorologist for the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
No, snowpack is not a good indicator of how the wildfire season will play out. Rather, the summer heat is a better predictor.
"We have had pretty good snowpack across Washington this year including in the Columbia mountains, the northern Rockies out toward Spokane," Dehr said. "However a snowpack doesn’t necessarily correlate directly with fire season."
Dehr says the heavy snow is certainly good for things like replenishing reservoirs, and our streams and river, but it’s not the best predictor for how severe our fire season will be. A better predictor: the temperatures we see in June, July, August, and September.
Bond agrees. High heat, low humidity, and wind are the biggest drivers of wildfires. And, predicting those factors weeks and months in advance with accuracy isn’t easy.
”How the fire season is going to play out is really dependent on the weather going ahead," Bond said. "And of course... our crystal ball is a little murky in that regard.”
WHAT WE FOUND
First, let’s start with the snowpack. It was a good snow year in the Inland Northwest with several of our local ski resorts extending their seasons because the snow kept falling. Both Dehr and Bond say Washington finished the season with a slightly higher-than-average snowpack for most regions in the state.
Dehr said the heavy snow is certainly good for things like replenishing reservoirs, and our streams and rivers, but it’s not the best predictor for how severe our fire season will be. A better predictor: the temperatures we see in June, July, August, and September.
"So, while good snowpack is really beneficial for the eco-system, it’s beneficial for the streams and the hydrology of the area, it doesn’t really correlate that much with how many acres we’re going to burn it the summer," Dehr said.
To get an idea of what we can expect, Bond and Dehr look at historical trends. And, both say the data isn’t great news for wildfire potential.
"The odds are, again, it’s going to be a little bit on the dry warm side," Bond said. "And I’m just hoping that we don’t have any devastating heat waves or any combination of heat and wind.”
So, we can VERIFY, No, our snowpack is not a good indicator of how wildfire season will play out.
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