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10 year climate update emphasizes longer Western MT wildfire season

Lolo Peak Fire
Posted at 8:18 AM, May 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-12 10:18:07-04

MISSOULA — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released their new climate averages and there were some interesting trends for the Northern Rockies.

The one that gives cause for concern is the lengthening of wildfire season.

“One of the things that kind of surprised us a little bit was the amount of warming we see within some of our shoulder seasons, and that does explain why we are seeing more of a fire year versus a fire season," observed Predictive Services Wildfire Meteorologist Coleen Haskell.

Those shoulder seasons include the late spring and early fall months of June and September which Haskell notes have both trended warmer and drier in recent years.

In the month of July alone, the average temperature in the Northern Rockies increased from 2º to 4º degrees while average precipitation dropped 20% to 30% from the last update released in 2011.

“The significance of that is that we can have a rapid onset of warming and drying of those fuels that are receptive to carrying fire, so setting the stage really for any lightning ignitions we can get when the monsoon kicks in," Haskell said.

She added that with longer stretches of hotter and drier weather it's becoming more important than ever to have a plan in place to ease the stress on available manpower and resources.

“If we have longer summers or longer fire seasons that continue into the fall months -- similar to what we saw last September we may not have a militia of folks that is quite as strong," Haskell told MTN News.

Haskell says people can do their part by taking precautionary steps now and through the months ahead.

“Clear any of the brush from around your property and also be very cognizant when using fire, campfires or any agricultural burns do it on days that are not going to be as warm and dry, and certainly not on days that are windy," advised Haskell.

Making sure campfires and other burns are completely out will also help alleviate fire starts, although Mother Nature will certainly have her say in the form of lightning strikes as the summer season wears on.