Stormy Start to July will be Followed by Above Average Temperatures

Officials expect a normal start to fire season sometime in August

By Justin Franz
Two CL-415 planes, known as “super scoopers,” drop water on the Sprague Fire in Glacier National Park on Sept. 10, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Missoula said the stormy weather over the Fourth of July holiday would make way for above average temperatures and below normal precipitation later this month.

But sunny weather also means Northwest Montana could be inching closer to fire season.

Alex Lukinbeal, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the recent thunderstorms would likely come to an end within a week or two. The below normal precipitation during the second half of July will likely be followed by a normal level of precipitation in August. Temperatures will remain higher than normal, Lukinbeal said.

The frequent thunderstorms have resulted in a handful of lightning caused fires, although most have been small. On July 1 and 2, firefighters responded to four lightning-caused fires on the Lolo National Forest in Missoula. All of them were quickly doused. Rick Connell, fire management officer on the Flathead National Forest, said he knew of two lightning-caused fires in the Flathead Valley, both were limited to a single tree and did not spread.

Because the storms have brought rain, it’s unlikely the Flathead will see major wildfires over the next few weeks. Traditionally, the Flathead’s fire season has begun in August and lasted into September. But that’s not always the case, as recent years like 2015 have proved. That year, the Glacier Rim Fire along the North Fork Road began on June 27.

“We know that we’re not going to have an early season,” Connell said.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise issued its latest wildfire outlook on July 1. In it, the agency predicts an above normal potential for wildfire in parts of the Pacific Northwest in July, including Washington and Oregon. In August, that above normal potential moves into Northwest Montana, specifically Lincoln County and the Kootenai National Forest region. That above normal potential will extend into September. Forecasts suggest a “normal” fire season for the Flathead.

Connell said what exactly the Flathead’s fire season looks like depends entirely on the next few weeks and if the area continues to get rain periodic rain storms to keep fuels damp and humidity up.