California snowpack lowest on record since 1950

CA drought

California’s snowpack has reached an all-time low since 1950, the California Department of Water Resources announced last week.

Like most states in the West, the department takes regular snowpack measurements, which are used to predict the amount of water California can expect to see in its reservoirs. The measurements are also an indicator of how dry and possibly fire-prone California’s landscape has become.

California’s snowpack accounts for 30 percent of the state’s water, once it melts, the release said.

Snowpack measurements are taken against an average — at 100 percent — making anything less than 100 less than average. California’s snowpack has been on a steady decline since January of this year. The latest measurement was 8 percent of the historical average. Typically, snowpack is at its peak in California by April 1.

The state is going into its fourth year of extreme drought, following three of its driest years on record.




Another Montana wildfire claims two homes near Columbus

Pine Crest Fire, InciWeb

Pine Crest Fire, InciWeb

The Pine Crest wildfire near Columbus, Montana burned two homes this weekend and forced dozens of residents to evacuate, the Billings-Gazette reported on Sunday.

The fire started around 1 p.m. on Saturday five miles west of Columbus, which is west of Billings. As of Monday morning it had burned 3,000 acres and was 10 percent contained on Sunday night. Three helicopters fought the fire along with 98 firefighters, according to the Billings-Gazette. InciWeb reports show that one firefighter was injured.

A subdivision was expected to remain on evacuation until Monday morning, when the Columbus Fire Department planned to host a public meeting. The fire’s cause is still under investigation, according to InciWeb.

Another Montana fire near Red Lodge briefly shut down a local ski area on Saturday. The West Fork fire was 20 percent contained at 400 acres as of Saturday night. In a post on its Facebook page, Red Lodge Fire Rescue said the fire ignited when a days-old controlled burn rekindled.

Snowpack in south-central Montana is below average, hovering around 89 percent of normal, according to the latest reports from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. In the National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook released for March through June, Montana was not expected to have an above-average early fire season.

“The periods of warm chinook flow during this time melted snow accumulations over all but the highest elevations east of the Continental Divide in Montana, and dried fine fuels enough to allow sporadic grass and brush fire activity,” the report said. “This is not an unusual occurrence as these warm dry periods in winter occur most years to some degree.”



Red Flag Warnings, March 30, 2015

red flag warning

Red Flag Warnings or Fire Weather Watches have been issued for areas in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and eastern Colorado.

The map was current as of 9:15 a.m. MDT on Monday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts and maps. For the most current data visit this NWS site or this NWS site.


Colorado man’s controlled burn triggers evacuations

A southern Colorado man was cited on Saturday for arson, after a possible private controlled burn got out of control on the grassy plains east of Colorado Springs.

The small fire near Ellicott prompted evacuations in the communities of Ellicott and Peyton — at first evacuations were mandatory, until firefighters started to contain the burn and evacuation orders were relaxed to voluntary.

The fire sparked around 5:30 p.m. and spread to 150 acres in less than two hours, KOAA news in Colorado Springs reported.  The blaze was quickly contained by 7 p.m., and the homeowner who allegedly started the fire cited with fourth-degree arson, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Colorado Springs is home to the state’s most destructive fires. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire burned more than 18,000 acres, destroyed 347 homes in Colorado Springs and killed two people. Almost exactly a year later, the Black Forest fire ignited east of Colorado Springs, and went to burn more than 15,000 acres, 486 homes and kill two people.

This year, El Paso County in southern Colorado has already had several small grass fires, although Saturday’s fire was the first this year to threaten homes.


UPDATE: Rekindled controlled burn caused Montana fire near ski area

Update 5:30 p.m. MDT: 

New maps have updated the West Fork fire perimeter to 400 acres, down from an estimated 700 as of Saturday night.

Seventy people are working on the fire, including crews from Red Lodge Rural 7 and the U.S. Forest Service. Crews determined that the fire threatened 30 structures, although none were damaged or destroyed. There were no evacuations on Sunday and the Red Lodge Mountain ski area was operational on Sunday.

The fire was estimated to be 20 percent contained as of early Sunday evening. In a post on its Facebook page, Red Lodge Fire Rescue said:

“(The) fire was believed to have been rekindled from a controlled burn that was started last (Wednesday), when there was still snow on the ground. Yesterday’s high wind and temperature brought it back.”

fire image


Original post:

A wildfire a few miles from the southern Montana town of Red Lodge forced a brief evacuation of the local ski area, Red Lodge Mountain, on Saturday afternoon, the Billings-Gazette reported. 

A controlled burn on private land might have ignited the wildfire when it was fanned by winds and spread out of control on Saturday. Incident reports show that fire was human caused, with an investigation on-going. By Saturday night it had burned more than 700 acres.

Officially named the West Fork fire, the blaze has been working its way through timber, grass and sagebrush. The ski area was evacuated around 2:30 p.m. as a precautionary move and to allow fire crews better access, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service told The Associated Press. 

The ski area was closed for a few hours; officials with Red Lodge Mountain said that the area will be open on Sunday.

Conditions at the resort are warm and dry, and it has been more than three days since the area last saw snowfall, according to forecast histories. Snowpack in the Upper Yellowstone basin, where the ski area is, was below average, according to the most recent measurements taken by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The basin’s snowpack came in at 89 percent of normal as of measurements posted on March 29.

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Red Flag Warnings, March 29, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 10.44.19 AM

Red Flag Warnings or Fire Weather Watches have been issued for areas in South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of Texas.

The map was current as of 10:30 a.m. MDT on Sunday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts and maps. For the most current data visit this NWS site or this NWS site.