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Fire Season Pauses For Now Thanks to El Nino

U.S Bureau of Land Management


Utah’s cold, wet spell is expected to continue through Wednesday, and that could cause a welcomed pause in the fire danger.

The long-term forecast projects a 70 to 80 percent likelihood of El Nino weather conditions for the rest of the year. And that could ease the drought in Utah.

“With El Nino at the moderate and high levels, you get a flip flop of what you typically see,” says Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. “So, the desert Southwest, which is typically warm and dry, becomes cooler and wetter, and southern Utah should do better with regard to precipitation and snow during this event.

Forecasters say this ought to be a normal fire season. But cool, wet spells have kept fires pretty small so far.

“In the summertime, what an El Nino would typically do for Utah’s weather is just create less extreme hot and dry conditions,” says Shelby Law, a fire weather meteorologist for the Eastern Great Basin Coordination Center in Salt Lake City. “So, we will have hot and dry conditions, but they just won’ last as long, so we’ll get some relief that will keep our fires from burning out of control for long periods of time.”

That doesn’t mean that the fire danger is wiped out. Drought conditions continue, especially in southern parts of the state. Law points out that the El Nino could delay the busy period for fires or the monsoons that usually temper Summer’s dryness.

“We are just at the beginning of the fire season right now,” says Law. “And certainly the hot and dry weather will come. It’s inevitable. Typically, during the month of July, we do see some relief coming from the monsoonal moisture out of the Southwest. And, in a year like this year, when we have the El Nino, that may not set up like it typically does. So we may not get the relief in July that we’re used to getting.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor says most of Utah is experiencing some level of drought.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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