MISSOULA - Fire forecasters are confirming what we've all expected.
A cooler, wetter spring is helping to delay the start of Montana's fire season but all that extra green could pose problems in the weeks ahead.
All those spring snow storms, persistent rain, and cooler temperatures between the warm days are tied to the weather still being generated by La Nina sea surface temperatures, giving the Northwest a more typical pattern.
"Since it's weakened some, we have this prolonged cooler wetter season, which is actually prolonged green up,” National Interagency Fire Center (NFIC) Predictive Services Forecaster Steven Ippoliti said. “We've kept the snowpack longer and that has kept fire season from starting till later at least."
"It's also helped drought relief for the Northwest Montana, Northern Idaho area. Even Southwest Montana and the southern tier of Montana has had some relief,” Ippoliti explained. “In the latest Drought Monitor, they've pulled some of the extreme drought out of Southwest Montana. Although they've added exceptional drought kind of in that Great Falls to the Northern Front Range area."
While last year we went from early June rain -- and even snow – into an unprecedented early summer heat wave in just a matter of days, that isn't in the forecast now. However, the rain has created a heavier growth of grass and brush, a problem east of the Divide.
“So, we're getting rain on and off for the next week-and-a-half in the models. So, I don't think we're looking at anything starting anytime soon. However, what happens east of the Divide is the moisture -- and now we're warming up, you start getting green up and the grass grows. So, you get fuel loading. And then if we dry out also you have a lot more fuel than what we had last year. And it dries and cures and is ready to burn. And then you have a really dry summer. If it gets hot, that's why we're looking at there's potential for higher than normal for the grasslands." - NFIC Predictive Services Forecaster Steven Ippoliti
The last few summers, the Northern Rockies have been hurt by the lack of summer monsoonal moisture, creating dry thunderstorms. But right now, we could see a more robust monsoon push.
"I think a lot [is] going to depend on how strong La Nina persists. If it weakens and it gets a little bit more towards normal, I think we'll have better chances of seeing some more moisture coming in,” Ippoliti told MTN News. “But if it does persist a little bit stronger, it doesn't weaken enough, then it'll keep it to the south."
The NFIC has additional information on its website at https://www.nifc.gov/.