Wildfire potential, January through April

With huge amounts of rain and snow hammering California and Oregon, few people in those areas are thinking about wildfires this week.

But in spite of the rain delivered to the west coast on what meteorologists are calling an “atmospheric river”, on January 1 the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for January through April. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.  If their predictions are correct, in February wildfire activity could begin to pick up in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico, with Florida and Georgia getting busier in March and April.

Below are the highlights of their report. Following that are outlooks for February through April, temperature and precipitation forecasts, and the Drought Monitor.


“To begin 2017 significant wildland fire potential will be normal throughout entirety of the United States, except for below normal in Puerto Rico. For the majority of the U.S. this normal condition means that significant wildland fires are unlikely and normal indicates an out of fire season condition.

Beginning in February the seasonal increase in wildland fire activity will begin in the southern plains where the combination of abundant fine fuels and the potential for dry and windy conditions will occasional come together to produce periods of significant fire activity impacting the Southwest, Rocky Mountain and Southern Areas.

After February predictions for significant fire activity become increasingly difficult. It is likely that the same fire potential will continue across the southern plains, but pregreen up fires will also become increasingly likely in a large portion of the U.S. These fires are difficult to predict and rely on short term localized significant weather events.

Also during this period it is likely that we will see the onset of fire activity in south central Alaska, where warmer and drier than typical winter conditions are occurring.

Significant fire potential will also increase to above normal in Florida and portions of Georgia. Long term drought remains the primary concern in this area and moisture deficits in this area are likely to lead to occasional fires that burn deep into the soil layer and are more difficult to suppress.”


Continue reading “Wildfire potential, January through April”

Huge amounts of precipitation expected in the Sierras

A weather system meteorologists are calling an “atmospheric river” is bringing massive amounts of rain and snow to California.

precipitation forecast
Seven-day precipitation forecast for the period beginning early Wednesday morning.

As a high pressure system over the west coast moves out of the way, massive amounts of precipitation are being funneled into California and Oregon. As orographic lifting squeezes the moisture out of the air mass some areas in the Sierras could receive up to two feet (24 inches!) of precipitation before this event is over. If most of it falls as snow in the mountains, the peaks in the Sierras could see up to 10 feet of snow.

It has already started, as you can see in the graphic below showing the snow received as of Wednesday morning. And the storm has just begun.

snow reports Sierras

It remains to be seen how this will affect California’s five-year drought and the 2017 fire season. In 2016 the northern part of the state saw some relief from the drought, but there was not much change farther south.

Amid predictions of an unusually warm and dry summer, temperatures in Sydney soar to highest in 11 years

Above: The chance of above median maximum temperature in Australia, December through February.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology is predicting that the eastern half of their country will experience a summer that is warmer and dryer than normal. That season is just beginning; their highest temperatures usually occur in January and February, but Tuesday produced the hottest December day in Sydney in the last 11 years, hitting 39.2C (102.5F) at Sydney Airport.

australia precipitation
The chance of above the median rainfall in Australia, December through February.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Australia’s ABC News about how Tuesday’s weather could affect wildfires:

Fire danger warnings are in place across a large part of Australia, with hot temperatures and windy weather expected, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says. Fire authorities are on alert in the south-eastern states, with total fire bans in place in regions of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, and a high danger in Tasmania.

Temperatures were forecast to reach the mid-30s in the southern states, with a maximum of 36C in Sydney and Adelaide, 34C in Melbourne and 33C in Canberra.temperature conversion

In Darwin, the maximum expected temperature was 34C, 29C in Hobart. Perth’s forecast top was a cooler 26C and Brisbane 29C.

High temperatures in several capital cities at the same time is “a bit different”, senior BOM meteorologist Claire Yeo said.

“Those hot temperatures ahead of that wind change [are] increasing the fire dangers into that very, very high to severe range,” Ms Yeo said

“But there is also an added impact that we don’t necessarily or aren’t necessarily able to reflect in the fire danger rating, and that’s the way the atmosphere behaves in these kinds of conditions.

“Today is a classic example where if a fire was to start in your particular area, the atmosphere is primed for [it]. If a smoke plume develops over that fire, it can get to quite an extensive height … and we see very erratic fire conditions and fire behaviour in that kind of atmospheric condition.”

Ms Yeo said more frequent fire danger ratings were expected in coming days.

Wildfire potential, December through March


On December 1 the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for December through March. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.

If their predictions are correct, the elevated wildfire danger that has plagued the southern states for weeks will be returning to normal. From January through March their analysis shows no areas with above normal wildfire potential.

January wildfire outlook

Continue reading “Wildfire potential, December through March”

Precipitation reduces wildfire smoke in the central U.S.

Above: Snow cover in the United States, November 18, 2016. The Weather Channel.

Precipitation in the northwest quarter of the United States this week has put even more of a damper on the occurrence of wildfires, the execution of prescribed fires, and agricultural burning.

After weeks of warm, dry weather the Black Hills finally received a little precipitation over the last 24 hours. I won’t know the exact amount at my house until the snow in the rain gauge melts, but there was an inch or two of the white stuff on the ground. Today is sunny with a high of 32 predicted, so maybe it will trickle through the tipping bucket this afternoon.

snow rain gauge
Snow captured by my rain gauge since Thursday afternoon. Photo at 11 a.m. MT November 18, 2016 by Bill Gabbert.

Small amounts of precipitation in southern Saskatchewan may be the reason smoke from that area is no longer immigrating into the United States, as you can see in the two maps below. The first one was the smoke forecast for November 15 and the one after that is for today, November 18.

wildfire smoke forecast
Prediction for the distribution of smoke from wildfires at 6 p.m. ET, November 15, 2016. Produced at 7 a.m. ET November 15.
wildfire smoke forecast
Forecast for wildfire smoke at 6 p.m. ET November 18, 2016, created at 1 a.m. ET November 18, 2016.

However, prescribed fires, wildfires, or agricultural burning in Louisiana, Arkansas, and eastern Texas are still producing large quantities of smoke that at times moves north into the midwest.

No rain is predicted until the middle of next week for the areas where wildfires are smoking out the residents in some areas of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina.

24 hour precipitation
Accumulated precipitation estimated by radar over the 24 hours before 7:07 a.m. ET November 18, 2016.


Wildfire potential, November through February

On November 1 the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for November through February. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.

If their predictions are correct, firefighters in the southeast and in southern California could see significant wildfire activity in November and December.

wildfire potential november

Scroll down to see additional wildfire potential maps, the drought monitor, and the 90-day temperature and precipitation outlooks, but immediately below are highlights from the wildfire potential outlook.


November significant wildland fire potential is generally very minimal throughout the northern tier of the U.S. as conditions transition out of normal fire season. Areas of the Great Basin and Rocky Mountains that are currently seeing increased levels of fire activity are likely to see much of that activity diminish and transition to out of season conditions through early November.

Exceptions will continue in Southern California where long term drought is still in place. Conditions in this area will slowly transition to normal from north to south through the Outlook period. Normal implies a significant reduction in fire activity, but some fires should still be expected. Also, the southeastern U.S. will continue to see a large area of above normal significant fire potential for November and December that will slowly transition back to normal through the Outlook period as well. This condition is also largely due to long term drought that is going to be exacerbated by dry leaf litter falling on top of already dry fuels and also occasional dry and windy periods. For the southern Plains there is a plentiful grass crop that presents the potential for occasional dry and windy periods to increase fire activity.

Normal winter conditions will prevail across the U.S. in January and February. There will be occasional periods of increased fire activity, but these will be infrequent and difficult to predict accurately. During this outlook period winter precipitation and snowpack development will be a critical situation to monitor as the 2017 fire season becomes the focus of many fire managers.


wildfire potential december

wildfire potential january february

Continue reading “Wildfire potential, November through February”