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Wildfire Outlook Gives Different Prospects For East-West Divide

A 2012 photo of a fire outside Sisters, Oregon.
Oregon Department of Transportation
A 2012 photo of a fire outside Sisters, Oregon.

It was a particularly snowy and wet winter this year.  But a fire official says that doesn’t mean it’ll alleviate the summer’s potential for wildfires.

A 2012 photo of a fire outside Sisters, Oregon.
Credit Oregon Department of Transportation
A 2012 photo of a fire outside Sisters, Oregon.

John Saltenberger is with the Northwest Coordination Center.  His agency did find snowpack in late March was exceptionally high, owing to heavy snowfall in late February.

“It certainly can set the stage and delay the onset of fire season," says Saltenberger. "But if we look back at records, we find that the preceding winter and spring snowpack and rainfall doesn’t have as big an influence on fire season as we might like to think. 

Night backburn on Shasta-Bally, 2008.
Credit Hayden / Flickr.com
Night backburn on Shasta-Bally, 2008.

"Just takes a few weeks of dry weather going into July and August, and fire danger in the season will come right up to average or above average, despite the fact that the preceding winter might have been quite wet.”

The 2019 wildfire outlook for the Pacific Northwest suggests it’ll be a more normal year, not as intense as previous ones.  But Saltenberger outlines what’ll happen on either side of the Cascades this summer.

“The longer range forecast and outlooks that we get from NOAA, are indicating that east of the Cascades in Oregon and much of Washington, the summer looks like it’ll have more than typical summertime rain showers and thundershowers, more moisture than typical.”

Saltenberger says by comparison, areas westof the range will be hotter and drier starting in late June and possibly into September.  Yet for now, he expects 2019 to have less fire activity across the Pacific Northwest…which also means less smoke funneling through the Willamette Valley.

Copyright 2019, KLCC.

Copyright 2019 KLCC

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. He is a 20-year reporter who has worked at NPR, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including three Edward R. Murrow Awards and the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award in 2012.