MISSOULA — A large percentage of western Montana already is in abnormally dry to drought conditions and the intense and prolonged heatwave expected in the coming days has the Northern Rockies Coordination Center (NRCC) concerned as we sit on the cusp of wildfire season.
“We’ve already had three heatwaves which is unusual for this time of year anyway, this third heatwave is different because it’s more prolonged and it’s also very extreme in terms of magnitude," NRCC Fire Weather Meteorologist, Coleen Haskell said.
Haskell detailed the biggest drawback of the sweltering early summer temperatures.
“This is going to be drying out even our highest elevations where typically we have a little bit of a buffer and we buy some time going into fire season," Haskell explained. "We’re already very dry with our heavier fuels with the timbers and the slash so it’s going to elevate our fire danger over the next week to 10 days.”
It’s already been a busy fire season in the desert southwest, and Haskell says part of their job now is navigating managing a workload while sharing manpower and supplies with 10 other geographic regions -- some of which are projected to have severe fire seasons too,
“What right now is already looking more like late August or a record August type condition we’re trying to manage those expectations in terms of our workload," Haskell told MTN News.
The combination of drier than average conditions in recent months, our pending heatwave, and long-range forecast models continuing to project hotter and drier conditions than normal this summer.
Haskell says it’s not unreasonable to think we might have a fire season similar to our record-setting summer of 2017.
“It looks similar in terms of what’s on the ground to 2017 with the drought. The onset of that was following a very snowy year, a very wet spring, and it was a very sudden onset of the drought," Haskell said. "This is a little bit different, but we are seeing some similarities.”
She added that monsoonal moisture will also play a role in the 2021 wildfire story as we’re expecting to see more than in the two previous years, and in fact, it looks like we’re going to see some of that creep into the area in late this week which means the likelihood of lightning strikes.