Weather

Low pressure, more rain prevented an intense fire season and is providing a mild summer

Early forecasts for this summer predicted warmer-than-normal weather and a dangerously dry wildfire season. But those predictions didn’t pan out — much to the relief of many.

A stark change from the last two years has been the lack of intense wildfires in Western Washington. Multiple organizations predicted an intense wildfire season, including the National Interagency Fire Center, which forecasted above-normal wildland fire potential from May to August. The Department of Natural Resources was gearing up for a heavy fire season as well.

DNR meteorologist Josh Clark recalled that drought concerns as well as a below-average snow pack and forecasts of high temperatures put experts on high alert for possible wildfires this summer. However, Clark said breaks in high-pressure conditions, with more precipitation than expected, made for a less intense fire season.

“In peak fire season, the first week of August, we got one inch to two inches of rain, so we’re having these low-pressure systems that are coming in that are bringing cooler, moist conditions,” Clark said.

According to the state Department of Ecology, Olympia has gotten 2.08 inches of rainfall so far this summer, nearly twice as much as in 2018, when there were 1.12 inches of rainfall between June and August. The average expected rainfall for this region is 3.33 inches in the summer.

Less persistent heat waves also contributed to a less devastating fire season.

Overall, June’s average temperature was 71 degrees, July’s average was 76 degrees, and Augusts’ average temperature is about 78 degrees, according to Weather.com. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, June’s expected average was 68 degrees, July’s was 73 degrees, and August’s was 73 degrees. So the average temperatures do correlate with the prediction that overall temperatures would be 3-5 degrees higher this summer.

However, the region experienced fewer spikes in temperature than in past years. According to Ecology, the Olympia Regional Airport measured 14 days above 90 degrees this time last year. So far this year, only three days had highs in the 90s. The hottest day this summer was June 12, which reached 93.

Thanks to this combination of factors mitigating this year’s fire season, the air quality is much better than it was in the summer of 2018. This time last year there were 6 days in August when the air quality was either “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy,” according to the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, with air quality scores between 162 and 233.

This year’s highest air quality score was a 43, which still qualifies as “good” on the Washington Air Quality Advisory scale.

However, the traditional fire season runs into October, so there’s still the possibility of fire activity before the summer is over.

“I would say that fire season is not over. ... There’s still the potential out there when we have an east wind event for us to see abundant new fires and large fires,” Clark said. “The risk is low with what remains in the season, but that doesn’t mean it’s not in the cards.”

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