MISSOULA - Fire season forecasters see an "above normal" wildfire threat won't hit Western Montana until mid-summer. But a lot depends on everything from a wet spring to normal temperatures.
Conditions turned quite dry in the second half of the winter after a robust start with plenty of snow, throwing another factor into an already complicated outlook for the 2022 fire season.
Forecasters with the National Interagency Fire Center (NFIC) say easing of the drought in Western Montana — and near-normal readings for moisture in the mountain snowpack — could forestall the intensity of the fire risk in late spring and early summer.
While fire risk may hit sooner in eastern, and southwest Montana, the April 1 outlook is more optimistic. However, after last year's unusual June heatwave accelerated fire season, NFIC Predictive Services Forecaster Steven Ippoliti warns a lot of factors are in play — including the threat of human-caused fires.
"Besides those factors, it also depends, do we see dry thunderstorms? Do they happen to be big this year, or do we see a reduced amount of those? The other part of the equation is people. Are people smart about what they do in the outdoors? Do they put out their campfires if they're allowed to have them? Do they light fires when they're not supposed to be lighting fires? Do they take care when they're using outdoor recreational vehicles? Not to go into dry grass with hot engines." - NFIC Predictive Services Forecaster Steven Ippoliti
Ippoliti will also be watching to see if an earlier fire season forecast in central Oregon and coastal California will once more send heavy smoke into the Northern Rockies, as we've seen the past few summers.