While it is still too early to make accurate predictions, residents of Northeast Oregon can likely expect a “normal” fire season for the summer of 2019.
Both the National Weather Service and the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center are projecting Northeast Oregon will have higher than average temperatures for the next few months. In fact, much of the West will be experiencing higher temperatures. That forecast, though, is much different from the Midwest states, which are actually set to have lower than normal temperatures for the summer. The Eastern U.S. can expect higher than normal temps.
“What it tells me is the seasonal average would indicate there is more of a trough over the (middle) part (of the country), and a ridge of high pressure on the east and west,” said meteorologist Joe Solomon of the NWS in Pendleton.
Much of Eastern Oregon should fare better on the temperature end than the western side of the state. A three-month forecast for June through August on the NWS climate prediction center webpage shows Western and Central Oregon with a 50% probability of being warmer than average, with Northeast Oregon a bit lower at 40%.
Precipitation also appears to be better for Northeast and Eastern Oregon than the rest of the state. The June through August outlook gives Eastern Oregon a 33% chance of seeing higher than normal precipitation. Most of Western Oregon has an equal chance of receiving above or below average precipitation. Extreme Northwest Oregon and much of Western Washington are likely to have below normal precipitation.
Those projections are in line with what Jamie Knight, a public information officer with the Oregon Department of Forestry’s La Grande office, is seeing.
“Looking at our predictive services, that’s pretty much on point with what were expecting — a warm and dry July and August,” Knight said.
That likely means, Knight added, “here in Northeast Oregon we’re looking at a normal fire season.”
One item that seemingly would be positive is that the condition of the snowpack in the upper elevations of Northeast Oregon. A video posted to the NWCC website this week showed that in late May, Northeast Oregon’s overall snowpack was about 165% of average.
That helps drought conditions, Knight said.
“They have subsided over much of the West, and over much of the United States,” Knight said of the region’s, and nation’s, drought conditions. “How that plays into fire season, (though), is hard to tell. It really depends on what conditions persist through the drier months.”
Knight anticipates the fire season to be more in line with what transpired in 2016-2018, and unlike the conditions that led to the Cornet/Windy Ridge Fire that burned about 104,000 acres in Baker County in 2015.
Larisa Bogardus, public affairs officer for the Vale District of the Bureau of Land Management, agreed with that assessment, but noted that what happens over the next few months could change that.
“We’re not looking at extreme fire conditions right now. That is something that may or may not develop as the season progresses. When the conditions are technically very wrong, you could get (another) Windy/Cornet fire,” she said.
A bigger concern for both Knight and Bogardus is keeping the message out about preventing human-caused fires.
“At least for Vale BLM, a lot of our fires are started by ricochet shots from shooting or by equipment. Those are things people can be more aware of,” Bogardus said. “We’re not telling people not to shoot or enjoy their equipment, we’re just asking them to be careful and be more aware.”
Knight added that human-caused fires were up a year ago and said the agency is “asking folks to follow the restrictions as they come up and change.”
As for if Northeast Oregon could face the same smoky conditions that have plagued the area in recent years, Solomon said that is extremely difficult to predict.
“A lot of it comes down to where the fires originate, how much smoke they’re producing and what the wind patterns are,” he said.
Higher temperatures and lower precipitation are projected in Western Oregon and Western Washington, Northern Washington and Northern California, and smoke from fires in those regions could impact Northeast Oregon as they have in the past.
“The last two or three years have been the worst I have seen,” Solomon said. “(But I) can’t guarantee it’s going to be another bad smoke season. All those things are unpredictable.”