After the atmospheric rivers, a changing outlook

To interpret a wildland fire outlook can be a bit like posting a scenic photo to Instagram. You share the images and phases that capture the moment, with hopes that these will intrigue us into deeper connections to the months ahead.

AND THE RAIN AND SNOW FELL … From the latest National Significant Wildland Fire Outlook (for February through May 2013, with hints to the future), one image may lay claim to this month’s Instagram shot. The Total Precipitation Anomaly for January 2023 features a piercing finger of deep-green and blue anomalies from the central California coast eastward to upper Wisconsin – this being the precip falling from “multiple moderate to strong atmospheric rivers,” leading to moisture from 150 to more than 400 percent of normal.

January 2023 Precipitation Anomaly.
January 2023 Precipitation Anomaly.

What this means for fire potential long-term is to be determined. Though this was a wide and significant flow, it was not a universal flood. Wide areas are likely to remain in drought yet many regions, including northern California to Oregon and east into Idaho and Montana, are likely to improve, as depicted by the tan (improvement) and green (out of drought) shading in the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook through April.

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook through April.
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook through April.

WHAT TO EXPECT: The result of this precip is a fire potential outlook that is nearly Normal by May of 2023, with a slot of Above Normal red from west Texas to central New Mexico and a blob in the Georgia-Florida pinelands.

Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for May 2023.
Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for May 2023.

WHAT NORMAL LOOKS LIKE … in a typical season, for March into May, fires (including prescribed fires) may be relatively active on the land, particularly in the Southeast and southern Great Plans into the Trans-Pecos and Rio Grande, as illustrated in this map of normal fire activity for April.


Our tracking with “normal” will be influenced by global transitions as we’re likely leaving a record-long period of La Niña conditions. As the Outlook observes: “The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is forecasting an 82% chance of neutral El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions returning in spring. Other teleconnection patterns, such as the Madden-Julian Oscillation, Pacific Decadal Oscillation, Pacific-North American Pattern, and Arctic Oscillation are likely to influence weather and climate during the outlook period.” But we’re not through with the cool-ocean pattern yet: “La Niña is forecast to remain the dominant influence through February.”

So expect some variability to be foretold, as fuels grow into green-up and cure into summer.

For more, see the NIFC Predictive Services’ National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for February through May 2023.

President Biden visits National Interagency Fire Center

In Boise, Idaho

5:08 p.m. PDT Sept. 13, 2021

President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021
President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021.

President Biden visited two locations in the West Monday to gather information about the current wildfire situation. His first stop was in Boise where he became the first US President to visit the National Interagency Fire Center since it was created 50 years ago.

During a tour of NIFC he talked with a group of smokejumpers and the President was seen holding a pulaski fire tool. Later, sitting in front of what looked like shelves of parachutes he met with Idaho Governor Brad Little, George Geissler of the National Association of State Foresters, and Grant Beebe, BLM’s Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation. The President said Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley intended to be there but their flight was cancelled due to weather.

President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021
President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021.

Mr. Biden praised wildland firefighters for the work they do and reiterated that he is committed to raising their pay. The full text of his public remarks at Boise are below, but here is an excerpt:

The fact is that we’re in a situation where too many memorials are — have been held. And I’ve directed my administration to provide for pay bonuses and incentives to ensure every federal firefighter — because that’s the only authority I have — makes at least $15 an hour. I mean, they should make a hell of a lot — heck of a lot more, but at least $15 an hour. And I’m committing to work with Congress to raise the pay gap for federal wildland firefighters.

And so, you know, believe it or not, there’s massive shortage of fire hoses. I think you all get it. But the idea that we went into this fire season with a shortage of fire hoses — that’s all I heard from my guys back East and in the Midwest: no fire hoses.

Well, fortunately, they thought a long time ago about a thing called the National Defense Act. And what I was able to do — excuse me, the Defense Production Act.

And I was able to restart production of bringing — bringing a lot of people back to work, delivering 21,920 new feet of fire hose in the frontlines, putting a company back to work that was out of business that stopped — stopped manufacturing.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the administration’s use of the Defense Production Act helped an Oklahoma City nonprofit called NewView Oklahoma, which provides the bulk of the U.S. Forest Service’s hose, obtain needed supplies to produce and ship 415 miles of fire hose. If that is correct, two zeros should be added to the 21,920 feet mentioned by the President, making it 2,192,000, which is 415 miles.

President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021
President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021. L to R: Idaho Gov. Brad Little, President Biden, Grant Beebe (BLM).

About two hours after Air Force One landed, it departed for Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento. After landing he visited California’s Office of Emergency Services and received a briefing on the wildfires in the state. At one point a map of the Caldor Fire was displayed on a large screen. The plan was for the President to then take an aerial tour of a fire in El Dorado County, the location of the huge 210,000-acre Caldor Fire. And following that, more public remarks about wildland fire.

President Biden receives briefing about the Caldor and other fires
President Biden receives briefing about the Caldor and other fires in California after flying to Mather AFB, Sept. 13, 2021.
President Biden receives briefing about the Caldor and other fires
President Biden receives briefing about the Caldor and other fires in California after flying to Mather AFB, Sept. 13, 2021.

Below is the text of the Presidents public remarks while at NIFC September 13, 2021, provided by the White House:

12:08 P.M. MDT

MR. BEEBE: Mr. President, on behalf of the wildland fire community, I’m proud to welcome you to the National Interagency Fire Center — or NIFC, for short. And we always say NIFC is a place, not an organization.


MR. BEEBE: We’re incredibly proud of it.

Thank you for coming. We’re honored you’re the first President to visit in the 50-year history of the Fire Center, and it’s quite an honor.

I’m Grant Beebe. I’m the Bureau of Land Management’s Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation. And speaking for all the NIFC partners, I’d like to thank you particularly for being here and for your genuine and intense interest in wildland fire management.

I just want to point out: This is a coalition of partners. We have a team here. We have National Park Service, DOD, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Association of State Foresters representing the states, FEMA, U.S. Fire Administration, and, of course, U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service.

I think I got them all; somebody will correct me. Oh, and of course, National Weather Service — one of the original partners here at NIFC. The inception of this was a Forest Service, BLM, NOAA, Fish and Wi- — National Weather Service operation.

So, we’re incredibly proud of it. We’re so proud to have you here.

NIFC was created 50 years ago, and it is the original and durable model for interagency, intergovernmental coordination. Extremely lengthy, intense, and damaging fire seasons like the one we’re experiencing now reinforce the purpose of places like this.

Through the hard work, ingenuity, and persistence of generations of fire professionals, wildfire response across the nation is unified, cooperative, and professional. And I’ll say that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. We inherited this place, and we’re trying to keep it going.

In wildland fire, there’s no one community, agency, Tribal organization that has enough resources to manage all of its fires. Fires don’t know jurisdictional boundaries, and we try to ignore jurisdictional boundaries ourselves. One of our speakers will speak to that particularly.

But the kind of fires we’re experiencing these days — the kind of long-duration, massive, destructive fires we’ve witnessed in recent years in places like California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and, unfortunately, for Governor Otter [sic] this year, in Idaho — they’re teaching us that we need to maybe change the way we’re doing business.

Continue reading “President Biden visits National Interagency Fire Center”

An understatement from NIFC

The National Interagency Fire Center does not bother to publish a daily Situation Report during about half the year, no matter how many wildfires are burning. Their last one was on March 3, 2017.

CNN is reporting that about a million acres have burned in the central plains in the last few days and five people have been killed in the fires. This morning we wrote that three fires alone near the Oklahoma/Kansas border burned over 833,941 acres.

But at least NIFC is giving us SOME information about the fires. At 1:55 p.m. MST on Wednesday they sent this tweet:

nifc fires

Maybe they will say their account was hacked! 🙂

“Flames of anxiety” in Boise

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NIFC fire
Representatives of the land management agencies in Boise meet in front of a map showing the wildfire situation in Alaska. BLM photo by Randy Eardley.

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about some of the decisions that land managers at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise are making as fires break out in Alaska and other areas this summer. Below is an excerpt:


Flames of anxiety at the U.S. fire command center in Idaho

by John Glionna

The map on the large video screen at the far end of the room provides a real-time snapshot of the forest fires raging across the western U.S.

On this morning, the picture isn’t pretty. It’s ominous in a hold-on-to-your-seat way that casts a pall over two dozen fire analysts, meteorologists and forest experts. They see a growing scourge of fierce yellow and red dots, each representing a new fire, and they furrow their brows.

Alaska is burning.

The incident report for this day, Monday, June 22, at the National Interagency Coordination Center — the nerve center for the white-knuckle job of fire-control nationwide — shows the state at Planning Level 5, the highest possible.

Sixty-four new infernos have been sparked since the day before. In all, 12 large fires burn out of control, with 2,000 firefighters already on the ground.

Remote Alaska town threatened by lightning-sparked blaze; wildfires rage in West
Remote Alaska town threatened by lightning-sparked blaze; wildfires rage in West
In drought-baked California, 49 new blazes erupted in the previous 24 hours. The Lake Fire in San Bernardino has roared for days, and on this Monday is still only 21% contained. Two conflagrations further north — the Corrine fire near Merced and the Sky fire near Yosemite — have closed roads and threatened structures.

The fire watchers here at this wooded high-security complex hail from a phalanx of federal agencies — Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Weather Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Previously, they met once a month to pool resources, manpower and ideas. Now they huddle daily. Soon they will meet twice a day…”