April rainfall increased snowpack, but fire season in southwestern Washington unclear

By Katie Fairbanks / The Daily News

After a drier than normal start to the year, snow and rain in April helped increase snow accumulation and push back the start of the fire season, but the next two months will provide better predictions for summer conditions, according to the National Weather Service.

“What really matters for fire season is what happens with the rainfall in May and June and the amount of lightning that occurs during fire season. It’s really impossible to predict that far,” said Scott Weishaar, meteorologist with the National Weather Service for the Portland District.

Since January, temperatures have been above average at higher elevations in Washington state and Oregon and most areas have been drier than usual, according to a monthly and seasonal report from Northwest Interagency Coordination. Center.

Western Washington and Oregon recorded above average precipitation in April, improving snowpack in the Pacific Northwest. However, drought is expected to persist across much of eastern Washington and most of Oregon, according to the outlook report.

Although last year was warm and included the Great Heat Wave in late June, the fire season in southwestern Washington and northwestern Oregon has not been as severe as years. previous ones, Weishaar said. Temperatures hit 109 degrees during the June heat wave. Cowlitz County saw a high of 94 in July 2021, with almost no rain, and a high of 100 in August, according to the Western Regional Climate Center.

Seven of the past 10 years were in the top 10 for acres burned in Washington and Oregon, with the highest in 2020, 1.98 million acres, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

The risk of large and costly fires remains at normal levels through June across most of the Pacific Northwest, with the exception of central Oregon, according to the outlook report. In July, this risk extends to central Washington and southwestern Oregon.

The May-July outlook calls for average temperatures in southwest Washington, but below-average precipitation for Washington and Oregon, the report said.

A continued wet pattern would help push back the start of the fire season, Weishaar said. This year is already different from 2021, which saw extremely dry April and May, with fires in April, he said.

“The more rain and snowfall we can receive in the mountains during the month of May, the better,” he said.

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