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Wet spring feeds fire fuels

If you’ve lived in the Inland Northwest for very long, you’ve probably figured out that the area is not exactly thunderstorm central.

I have probably only seen two or three flashes of lightning all year, and June is the peak thunderstorm month. While central Washington has dealt with everything from flash flooding, hail, strong winds, and even a tornado this year, the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area has seen little more than cold and rain – lots of rain.

Based on data out of Spokane, the last 30 days have been the third wettest, and also the third coldest on record. We rang in the summer season with nearly an inch of rain, bringing the June precipitation total (as of June 24) for Spokane to 2.56 inches, 3.32 inches in Spokane Valley, and a whopping 4.63 inches for Coeur d’Alene.

While it may seem like all this precipitation would put a damper on fire weather across the Northwest, unfortunately that is not the case. While a warm, dry spring might make for an early start to wildfire season in the area, a cool and wet one just delays the inevitable – and can even make conditions worse.

The average precipitation total (in Spokane) for July, August and September is only 2.20 inches. In between those rare summer rains, are plenty of windy, hot days – and just enough lightning to wreak havoc. When the previous months have been moist, those conditions serve to increase the fire fuels (i.e. grasses) that can dry out quickly once the wet weather subsides.

Though it has been extremely wet across the Northwest, parts of the Southwest are dealing with a mild to moderate drought situation. The Shultz fire burning in northern Arizona near the town of Flagstaff has scorched more than 14,000 acres since it began last Sunday. The last three months in the Flagstaff area have been the third driest on record. But one can’t solely blame Mother Nature for the disastrous fire. Officials believe that an abandoned campfire started the blaze.

Locally, it looks like the soggy weather has ended just in time for Hoopfest. Sunshine and near to slightly above normal temperatures will mean that sports drinks, sunglasses and sunscreen will be in high demand. Players will be thankful, however, that the weather is not a replay of the 2008 Hoopfest weekend, when temperatures soared into the upper 90s.

Michelle Boss can be reached at