As of early Tuesday morning, showers were falling across the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area with only scattered showers across Central Washington.
Forecasts were calling for more showers across the entire region through Wednesday, which will hopefully help weary firefighters. Unfortunately, thunderstorms are also in the forecast and we certainly don’t need any more lightning strikes to trigger more blazes.
The horrible fires in Central Washington will likely be compared to the firestorms of 1991, 1910 and other years. In 1910, a series of devastating forest fires that broke out in August became known as the “Big Blowup” and the “Big Burn.” The fire burned about 3 million acres across northeastern Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana in what’s believed to be the largest forest fire in U.S. history.
In October 1991, 92 fires burned for six days before they were contained in Eastern Washington. The Spokane firestorm began from very strong winds that downed power lines and ignited dry grass and trees. The blaze destroyed 114 homes and resulted in the Washington Legislature passing a law expanding the mobilization of resources during large fires.
This July started out as one of the warmest months in recent memory. Through the 17th, there were 13 days with high temperatures at or above 90 degrees. There were a string of 12 days with temperatures in the 90s from July 6th through the 17th with a 99-degree reading on the 16th. Average temperatures through July 17 were approximately 8 degrees above average, before dropping earlier this week.
Despite the recent dryness, the airport has received about 9.5 inches of moisture for the year, very close to normal. Last year, we only had 6.79 inches at this point. Once this storm system leaves the area – likely today – high pressure is expected to rebuild across the Inland Northwest and bring hotter and drier conditions by early next week. There may be some scattered thunderstorms developing over the higher mountains in the next week or so, but, hopefully, we don’t see any dry lightning, which started the massive wildfires last week.
Longer-term, rainfall totals between now and the middle of September should be below normal as the high pressure ridge hangs on. We’ll also see additional 90-degree days, especially in early to mid-August. I wouldn’t be surprised to have a 100-degree day at the airport and surrounding locations.
By late September and early October, conditions should start turning much wetter as we should start to see the effects of the new, warmer El Nino in the Pacific Ocean.