Alaska, Southwest could see early season forest fires
April precipitation may have helped dampen the potential for a severe wildfire season in parts of the Rocky Mountain region and in the adjacent Great Plains, according to a new outlook from the interagency Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.
The projections is based on various seasonal indicators including precipitation, snowpack average, temperatures, wind, plant and soil moisture, and the timing of green-up. These indices support a below average to near average fire season in 2016.
“The timing of the recent precipitation events, primarily in April, has been critical to assure the availability of soil moisture and subsequent green-up, which diminishes the threat of an early onset of fire season,” said RMACC fire meteorologist Tim Mathewson.
Historically, severe Rocky Mountain wildfire seasons in the Rocky Mountain region have been characterized by persistent dry, warm, and windy spring weather. Those conditions led to an early onset and extended fire seasons in record fire years of 2000, 2002, 2006, and 2012.
Although a below average to near average fire season is expected in 2016, fine fuel loading from both the 2015 and 2016 growing seasons could lead to more ignitions, resulting in greater impact on local resources, the RMACC outlook.
Nationally, 2016 is off to an active wildfire start. Already, the National Interagency Fire Center reports that wildfires have burned across 1.47 million acres, four times last year’s total at this point in the season — which became the biggest wildfire year on record. This year’s acreage is also about 50 percent higher than the 10-year average (933,000 acres) for January through March.
The NIFC is also projecting increased wildfire activity across the Southwest and Great Basin, and lower elevation areas of southern and central California due to heavy fine fuel loading. Fire activity will begin in May and June across the Southwest and transition northward as usual throughout the June and July.
Poor seasonal snowpack and early snowmelt in South Central Alaska will likely to lead to above normal wildfire conditions in May, especially in the populated corridors.
Significant moisture across the Central U.S. is expected to produce below normal significant fire potential, especially coupled with green-up occurring throughout this area.
Most other areas of the U.S. are expected to see normal significant fire potential throughout the summer fire season. It is important to note that normal fire activity still represents a number of significant fires occurring and acres burned.