Contemplating the Alaska fire season

grizzly bear

A grizzly bear near Bill Gabbert’s campsite in Denali National Park in Alaska. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

It can be a fool’s errand to attempt to predict the severity of a wildfire season. Using past weather data to predict the nature and number of future fires often fails.

But an article written by Ben Boettger for the Peninsula Clarion is more intelligent than most about discussing what affects a fire season and what this one might look like.

Below are some excerpts from his article:

…[Meteorologist Sharon Alden of the Alaska Fire Service’s predictive office] said there is not a correlation between a warm winter and a busy fire season, nor a correlation between a less-snowy winter and a busy fire season.

“However, there is a correlation between snowpack and the early fire season—how fast things melt out, how soon fire season starts,” Alden said.

Alden said that the intensity of fire season is more tied to precipitation than temperature, leading Fire Services to begin early preparation during the critical months of spring.

“In early spring, before green-up, the forest fuels are dryer,” Alden said. “When you have green-up, when you have trees fleshing out and new green grass is growing, you have more moisture around and it becomes a little less receptive to getting a fire started.”

In addition to leaving less moisture on the ground, a lack of snow contributes to an early fire season through its effect on grass, since grass crushed down by snow burns less easily than standing grass. Kristi Bulock, fire management officer for the US Fish and Wildlife Service region that includes the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, said that the locally-abundant calamogrostis grass is a particularly good wildfire fuel.

“One of the concerns we have this year is that without the snowpack, the grass is still three feet tall,” Bulock said. “It’s up and it’s fluffy, and it’s available for burning, where generally, under a good snowpack, it would be matted down. And then as we start getting green-up we would start getting green shoots in between, and that would lessen the potential for that fuel to carry fire. But if you look out your window now you see these giant patches of cured grass… if we have any kind of ignition source — a cigarette, somebody dragging a chain on the road — the potential could be there for it to really move through that grass…”

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Critical fire on Wednesday in Nebraska

Critical fire danger 3-11-2015

The map showing critical fire weather and a Red Flag Warning in Nebraska for Wednesday looks like a bulls eye in the center of the country. Elevated fire danger is in the forecast for parts of South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.

Over the next couple of days portions of South Dakota and Nebraska are expecting highs in the 60s and 70s, winds 20 to 35 mph, and relative humidity of 20 to 35 percent.

elevated fire danger south dakota nebraska

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Contest: when will the first Type 1 Incident Management Team be assigned

question markOn March 8 we looked back at the weather in the United States over the last three months knowing that it could have an effect on wildfires over the next three to six months. However the extent to which past weather influences future fires is debatable and can be overridden by the weather conditions during the fire season.

What is YOUR prediction for the 2015 fire season? Like the first robin you see in the spring, the assignment of the first Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT) is a sign that things are getting real. In the last few years there have been about 30 to 50 assignments each year for T1 IMTs.

So let’s have a contest about the date the first Type 1 IMT will be assigned on a fire.

How to enter: In a comment below this article give us your prediction of the date the first Type 1 IMT will be assigned to a fire in 2015. In case more than one person selects the correct date, include the state. A second tie breaker will be the general area within that state. The date is defined by the date they are actually dispatched to a fire, not necessarily arriving at the fire. For the purposes of this contest, a Type 1 IMT includes only the 16 national interagency IMTs listed here. Only one entry per person, of course.

Deadline for entries: write your date with the two tie breakers in a comment below this article before April 1, 2015. If an IMT is assigned before April 1, the deadline for entries will change retroactively to the day before that fire started.

Prize: the winner will receive a limited edition Wildfire Today cap. So that we can contact the winner, you must enter your correct email address in the form when you are writing your comment. As usual, email addresses will never be disclosed to anyone without your specific permission.

Thanks and a tip of the hat for the idea go out to Dick.

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This winter’s temperature, precipitation, and snow cover

Astronomical winter does not end until March 20, but we are already mentally summarizing the weather we experienced over the last three months and are thinking about what the spring and summer wildfire seasons might look like. Below are charts from NOAA showing this winter’s precipitation, temperature, snow cover, and lastly the drought outlook.

Winter 2014-2015 average temp

Winter 2014-2015 precipitation

 

Below is the legend for the amount, in inches, that the predicted snow depth (shown on the following maps) on March 9 will depart from normal.

Legend, snow depth departure inches

 

Snow depth departure WA OR N-CA

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