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The Mountain West News Bureau is a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Despite High Snowpack, Severe Wildfires May Still Burn In Northern Rockies

Hotter and drier conditions this summer would negate high snowpacks in the Northern Rockies.
Hotter and drier conditions this summer would negate high snowpacks in the Northern Rockies.

While Colorado and Utah are prepping for a severe wildfire season this year, Montana, Wyoming and northern Idaho have been counting their lucky stars because all three states had a huge snowpack this season.

“We have the best snowpacks in the country,” said meteorologist Michael Richmond.

When all that snow melts, it’ll keep the forest wet and protected from fire.

However that doesn’t mean the region is free and clear.  Richmond said it may get hotter and drier than usual this summer. A lot of heat and no rain can dry out a forest within a week or two.

That’s what happened last year in Montana.  It had an average snowpack but still had one of its most severe and expensive wildfire seasons on record.

Richmond said those fires were spurred by something he called a ‘flash drought.’  He described it as a sudden onset of very warm, dry conditions that are un-forecasted by climate models.

He said they can’t predict whether the Northern Rockies will see another flash drought this year, but there is that potential.

Both Colorado and Utah had low snowpacks this year and have already seen some wildfires.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, and KUNC and KRCC in Colorado.

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