Fewer smoke-filled days this summer showed that 2017 and 2018 may not be the new weather norm for the Inland Northwest.
That’s in part because 2019 had more rain and fewer long heat spells than the past two years, officials say.
The hottest period in the Spokane area this summer fell between Aug. 4 and Aug. 8, when the temperature was at least 90 degrees each day and reached 98 on Aug. 7, according to National Weather Service data. The mean maximum temperature this summer was just short of 81 degrees, compared to 81.6 in 2018, and 84.7 degrees in 2017.
Timely rain that came along with thunderstorms on seven days this year also helped prevent large wildfires, said Guy Gifford, a spokesperson for the state Department of Natural Resources.
So far there have been 518 wildfires in the northeast Washington region since January, slightly more than the 492 through August 2018. But 44,000 of the 48,500 acres burned this year were from a single fire, the Williams Flats Fire.
“And when we did get a few of these large fires, we did have adequate resources on those fires,” Gifford said.
The Spokane Clean Air Agency saw the effects on air quality from that, spokesperson Lisa Woodard said.
Only two days, Aug. 5 and 7, had air quality ratings that were unhealthy for some groups, with air quality indexes of 107 and 129, while the Williams Flats Fire was burning. In 2018, there were 13 days in the unhealthy for some groups, and in 2017 there were 16.
“In terms of air quality, the summer of 2019 was pretty friendly,” Woodard said. “Not only did we have fewer bad smoky days, but those smoky days weren’t as concentrated as we have had in the past.”
In 2017 and 2018 there were three days where the air quality index reached “very unhealthy” with numbers above 200.
“If we will be this fortunate next summer remains to be seen,” Woodard said. “Because we can’t predict what will happen, we will continue to be prepared.”
Fire officials aren’t predicting that the fire season is over, either.
Temperatures will be in the low 70s by the middle of September, but Gifford alluded to how the 1991 firestorm started in October. Countywide burn restrictions that became effective in July were still in place as of Tuesday afternoon.
“We aren’t letting our guard down yet, fire season isn’t over yet,” he said.
After the temperature peaks at an expected 90 degrees on Thursday, a weather system coming through the Spokane area that night will bring cooler air to keep high temperatures around the mid-80s through Saturday, NWS meteorologist Joey Clevenger said. Another system coming in late Sunday will keep the heat away, with high temperatures in the the low 70s projected early next week.
“Fall is definitely coming,” he said.
This story was updated to reflect that there have been been 518 wildfires in the region, not the state as a whole, since January 2019 and there were 492 wildfires through August 2018.
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