Much-needed cool, wet weather system on the way - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Much-needed cool, wet weather system on the way

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MISSOULA - After only two days of measurable precipitation in nearly 11 weeks in much of western Montana, a much-needed weather pattern change is heading our way. 

Meteorologist Russ Thomas explores the impact this will have on our ongoing wildfires. 

With over 1.3 million acres scorched this summer, 2017 is now the second bigger fire season on record in the Northern Rockies Region, surpassed only by the summer 2012.  Now, two much needed wet, cool weather systems are targeting Montana over the next week. It won’t completely clear the smoke, but it’s a start…

“We won’t be ending our fire season with these events," said NRCC Meteorologist Michael Richmond. "We’ll be slowing it down, but there is so much fire in the landscape across the region, and many of the fires are in heavy timber and the fuels are just so dry because of our summer drought.”

History shows that mid-to-late September is when we often begin to see a seasonal change in the weather pattern. The extended forecast shows a trend to cooler, wetter conditions over the next two weeks. 

This is good news, as each system may not cover all areas, but the more opportunities we have, the better.

“Unfortunately, the first system looks like it’s going to miss out for northwest Montana and northern Idaho, where we do have some very active fires, but the models are showing an even stronger, wetter system coming in directly from the west and that will really help northern Idaho and western Montana, and northwest Montana,” Richmond said.

The expected cooler temperatures are helpful, and the rainfall certainly beneficial, but there is one extra factor that would trump it all.

“The second system next week, we could actually see widespread areas of snowpack developing next week over the mountains throughout western Montana.”

More good news, the dry periods between our rain events won’t be as problematic as what we’ve had in recent weeks.

“The days will be so much cooler, the nights will be longer, so our burning periods each day will be a lot shorter and less intense.”

A sure sign that the worst of the fire season is officially behind us. 

Richmond says that snow levels should be as low as 5,500 feet in most areas, and 4,500 feet in the West Glacier Region with the system expected to move through early next week.

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