Busy times

Brief update from Grangeville smokejumper Patrick Gocke, who hasn’t had much time to correspond with us this summer due to a very active wildfire season across nearly all of the western US. At the moment fires are burning across much of northern California and northward into Oregon and Washington; however, the primary action is in the inland northwest with several large 100,000 acre + fires in Idaho that has brought smoky skies to Idaho and Montana in recent days.

 

A couple glimpses of recent correspondence with Patrick on fires in Idaho and Montana.

August 20th, 2012: Wedge Creek Fire, Lolo N.F. Montana

“We saw some fire behavior that night that included fire whirls extending hundreds of feet into the air, crown runs and long range spotting. We did not engage the fire do to lack of resources and safety concerns.”

 

August 29th, 2012: McGuire Complex, Nez Perce National Forest, Idaho

“The best thing we are doing is getting bucket work (helicopter drops) on our fires to help check them and aid us in catching them. The last couple of weeks have had poor (overnight) relative humidity recoveries that allow even the small 0.1 acre fires to grow without the aid of H2O. Is there any relief in sight?”

Relief in the form of fire slowing or even season-ending precipitation is not apparent in the next couple weeks.  The climate prediction center has maintained warmer and drier than normal conditions through the first couple weeks of September across the inland northwest as the ridge in the west stays locked in, albeit not being particularly strong ridge by any standard.  One potential concern as we head toward the tail end of fire season is wind. Temperature contrasts increase with the seasonal turnover of heating on a global scale, resulting in a more active jet stream we tend to associated with strong winds in the region during the transition seasons. We’ll keep our eye out for dry frontal systems that have storm trajectories that pass north of us bringing precipitation to BC and Alberta, but deliver only a bunch of wind and temperature changes to the inland northwest.  The good news is that longer nights tend to allow for more overnight relative humidity recovery and less favorable conditions for wildfire.

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About John Abatzoglou

John is an associate professor of Geography at the University of Idaho. John's interests are centered around climate and weather of the American West and their impacts to people and natural resources of the West. John and his Applied Climate Science Lab at the University of Idaho have published nearly 100 papers and book chapters on climate science, meteorology, and applied climate science connecting climate to water resources, wildfire and agriculture. The research group also develops web-based climate services that connect climate data with decision makers to help improve climate readiness of societies and ecosystems.

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