Wild fire scientists are anticipating a normal season over much of Alaska this summer. That would mean about 1 million acres burned. Recent years have seen an early start to fire season, but Alaska Interagency Coordination Center Fire Weather program manager Heidi Strader says that’s less likely over much of Alaska this year.
Snowpack was slightly below normal for the middle to lower Tanana Valley, and on the North Slope, but Strader says wet weather last fall means fuels had a higher moisture content going into the season. Other factors considered in wildfire forecasting are climate patterns, like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the fluctuation of North Pacific Ocean water temperatures. It’s currently in a cold phase, and Strader says that normally correlates with winter and summer extremes.
The shorter term El Nino-La Nina southern Pacific Ocean temperature shift, also affects Alaska weather, but Strader says its impact is currently a big question mark.
Strader says lightning and rain shower activity are always major wildfire drivers, and are hard to forecast days out, let alone months prior to the season. She says coming up with a general outlook is important as managers gear up for the season, and try to anticipate moving resources to higher risk area in Alaska and outside. She says mangers meet this week to prepare updated forecasts for Alaska and the Western Lower 48 for release later in the month.
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