MISSOULA – It’s looking like we’re headed for a “normal” fire season here in Western Montana.
The problem is, the “new normal” could still mean a worse fire season that you would have expected 20 or 30 years ago.
The forecast released at the beginning of the month from the Northern Rockies Coordination Center shows the region coming off a winter that started off as a typical “El Nino” weather pattern that turned much colder, and wetter than normal starting in February.
Generally, that’s a good factor for the coming fire season, although factors like an extended dry spell to start summer can quickly erase such an advantage.
But moisture has been plentiful. Still, NRCC forecasters are also expecting a continued pattern of strong high-pressure ridges that divert moisture, and temperatures averaging more than 3º warmer than 70 years ago.
Forecasters warn that a longer, hotter summer could quickly turn conditions again this year. Of special concern is the northwest corner of Montana, which precipitation continues to trend below average.
Last year was fairly quiet with 147,000 acres burning statewide, far below the 1.5 that burned in 2017.