Drought and Wildfires Plague the Northwest

CNN iReporter Lara Matthews captured this shot of the Pole Creek Fire near Sisters, Oregon on September 10, 2012.  This fire began on the morning of September 9 and is still blazing today after having consumed nearly 26,000 acres, but the good news is that containment has now reached 65%.

by Sarah Dillingham
CNN Meteorologist

In recent months, extreme heat and drought have dominated weather discussions for much of the Contiguous U.S., and residents of the Northwest have seen similar conditions in place over the past several weeks.  Many have been dealing with above normal high temperatures and below normal precipitation, and this has has contributed to “very high/extreme fire danger” across parts of the region according to the Department of Natural Resources.

28 wildfires are burning across 4 states: five in Washington; 11 in Idaho; eight in Montana; and four in Oregon.   These fires have already consumed over 1 million acres and have strongly impacted air quality across eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, and northern and eastern Idaho, prompting the local National Weather Service offices to issue Air Quality Alerts for areas highlighted in gray.  These alerts mainly affect people in sensitive groups, such as those suffering from heart and lung disease, older adults, and children, and encourages them to limit outdoor exposure.

To illustrate how dry conditions have been for areas west of the Cascade Mountains, neither the Seattle Weather Forecast Office, nor Seattle-Tacoma Airport recorded any measurable precipitation for 48 days!  This incredible dry streak ended on September 10 in Seattle and September 9 for Seattle-Tacoma after light showers pushed through the area.  This was almost a record dry period for Seattle-Tacoma, falling short a stretch of 51 days with no rainfall which ended on August 26, 1951.  In the September release of the Washington Climate Office newsletter, State Climatologist Nick Bond commented on the unusually dry conditions seen across the state during the month of August.  “August is typically dry throughout the state, and while zero recorded precipitation is not unprecedented, it is rather unusual for the locations west of the Cascade Mountains.  It is worth noting how dry Augusts are more common east of the Cascades.  The “trace” recorded for Yakima last month was recorded during 10 other years, for example.”

At the time this newsletter was published earlier this month, other locations  west of the Cascades were on pace to set new “consecutive dry day” records, so it will be interesting to see how many of those records fell during the month.

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