Northwest Will Welcome Moisture but What Will This Do for the Fire Risk?

Posted: August 2, 2021 10:07 am

What does the first week of August have in store for the Northwest? It will be a mixed bag of weather, including some chances of rain for the drought-stricken region toward the end of the week.

Recapping July

Before looking ahead to August, it makes sense to look back on July. There is no doubt that the Pacific Northwest was one of the driest areas of the US this month. For example, both Seattle and Portland only recorded trace amounts of rain in July. While it is true that the month is generally dry across the region, both of these cities usually receive about half of an inch of rain in July.

A bit of rain finally fell on parts of the interior Northwest last week as the moisture present in the North American Monsoon pattern inched upward from the Southwest. Cities such as Jackson, Wyoming, and Boise, Idaho were a few of the beneficiaries of this northward shift of monsoonal moisture. Although this rain did little to quell the ongoing drought in the western US, every little bit helps heading into the peak of wildfire season.

Will the Northward Flow of Moisture Continue?

Unfortunately for those areas desperate for any rain, this northward shift of moisture is expected to continue this week. As high pressure moves to the west, dry air will move into the Northwest. This will effectively kill any chances of monsoonal moisture as far south as Las Vegas.

The areas most likely to see thunderstorm activity this week include the Rocky Mountains and down into New Mexico. Cities that may see this rain and the threat of severe weather include Helena, Montana, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the mountain resort towns of Summit County, Colorado, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The greatest chance of this rain will come in the afternoon and evening hours on Monday and Tuesday.

The bulk of the monsoonal moisture will be pushed to the south into New Mexico and Arizona. While the monsoonal system will not likely bring moisture to the West, another storm is predicted to fire up late Wednesday and into Thursday.

Wildfire Risk to Increase with Mid-week Storm System

The bad news is that there is not a lot of moisture expected to accompany this new storm system. Instead, it may just bring the threat of dangerous lightning to ignite wildfires. Any rain shower activity will not hang around for long. In addition, the windier conditions that the system will bring could also boost the risk that fires become more widespread in the coming days. The wind will also make it more difficult for fire crews to battle the existing blazes.

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According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), there are currently over 75 active wildfires burning in the Northwest. The largest inferno is the Bootleg Fire. Burning in southern Oregon, this fire is already over 400,000 acres, giving it the unwanted distinction of being the third-largest wildfire in Oregon history.

Looking to the End of the Week

Another change in the weather is forecast for the specific region of the Pacific Northwest by the end of the week. A larger storm system is predicted to come in from the Pacific Ocean on Friday, delivering a significant amount of moisture to parts of Washington state and northern Oregon. This system may bring measurable rain to Seattle and Portland. Both of these cities have gone 45 straight days without measurable precipitation, closing in on the record books.

The system should also prove helpful in improving the air quality in the region.