Northwest caught in a dangerous cycle of wildfires, drought and heat

By Jessica Storm, AccuWeather Meteorologist Updated Aug. 9, 2021 9:31 AM MDT

The Dixie Fire destroyed numerous structures as it swept through Canyondam, California, on Aug. 5.

A brief wet and cool stretch is already on its way out across the Northwest this week, making way for dangerously hot, smoky and gusty conditions to take hold once more.

Rain and cooler conditions arrived in the Northwest late last week, ending dry streaks and bringing short-lived relief from the heat across the region. Cities like Seattle and Portland, Oregon, were steadily racking up days of no measurable precipitation, which is defined as anything more than a trace.

“Seattle received 0.05 of an inch of rain just before midnight last Thursday evening, snapping a streak of 51 consecutive days without measurable rain in the city,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist Ryan Adamson. The Emerald City was just four days from tying the all-time record of 55 days without more than a trace of rain, which occurred from June 18 to Aug. 11, 2017.

Portland also received some rain last Friday for the first time since July, but precipitation remained light throughout the first half of the weekend.

A storm and associated cold front moved through the Northwest on Sunday and brought much-needed rain for some, but an uptick of wind for others.

Heavier thunderstorms moved through parts of Montana into early Monday morning. Nearly 70% of the state is in an extreme drought, according to the United States Drought Monitor, so some of this heavy rain is likely beneficial.

Similarly, the state of Washington reports that nearly 40% of the area is under exceptional drought. Seattle has only received 11% of normal rainfall since July 1, and Portland only 5%.

In dry areas, lightning from these storms may have sparked new wildfires across an already singed region. A local area emergency was issued early on Sunday morning by NWS Billings, notifying residents of an area wildfire near Nye, Montana, and urging them to take necessary precautions.

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“An extremely challenging stretch is in store for area firefighters over the upcoming days as episodes of gusty winds will precede the building heat,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Brandon Buckingham said. (Click Here)

As of Monday morning, there were already 23 large active wildfires across Montana, the most across any state in the United States, with Idaho right behind it with 20 large active wildfires, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. The Trail Creek Fire is the largest active wildfire burning in Montana currently, having burned close to 36,000 acres near Wisdom, Montana.

Residents are warned to heed all burning restrictions and evacuation orders as the drought and fire conditions continue. Those who are sensitive to smoke or reduced air quality are encouraged to remain indoors.

“Although the widespread gusty conditions will ease by midweek, one hazard will simply be out for another as the heat expands over the drought-stricken region,” Buckingham said.

After such a short active period across the Northwest, the weather is expected to revert back to dry and hot this week.

“Yet another stretch of record-challenging high temperatures is in store for some across the Northwest this week as an expansive dome of high pressure settles over the region,” Buckingham said.

Temperatures are forecast to reach 15-25 degrees Fahrenheit above average, worsening the already intense drought across the region. On Wednesday in Medford, Oregon, temperatures can rise to near-record levels. Fortunately for some areas, the core of heat will remain mainly across the westernmost states. Highs will still be above normal in most places, including in Montana and Idaho.

Highs in Washington and northern Oregon are typically in the upper 70s and lower 80s in early August, while highs in southern Oregon can be in the lower 90s typically.

“Although temperatures will not approach all-time record-high temperatures like what was observed during the June heat wave, daily record-high temperatures are expected to fall in places like Seattle and Portland mid- to late week,” said Buckingham.

With a record of 96 degrees set on Aug. 12, 1977, the temperature in Seattle is anticipated to rise into the lower to middle 90s this Thursday, taunting the record. Portland is expected to tie its record from 1977 as well, aiming for 104 F. Medford will likely shatter its 1935 record of 107.

On Friday, the records will be even easier to attain as forecasters expect highs to soar into the middle to upper 90s in Seattle, past the Aug. 13, 2002, record of 92 F. Portland is yet again anticipated to shatter its own record of 102 by rising to nearly 105 F. Boise, Idaho, will also join in on Friday, dabbling close to the record of 106 set in 2015. Medford will also near its own 2002 record of 108.

Other cities that could each record levels include Spokane, Washington, and Eugene, Oregon.

Drought conditions, worsened by heat, can allow wildfires to spark easier than if the ground was cool and saturated. Additionally, there will be no assistance to firefighters in the form of rain in the near future.

(Twitter/@MTDNRCFIRE)(Twitter/@MTDNRCFIRE)

Excessive heat watches have already been issued for Wednesday through next Saturday across southwestern Oregon. Medford and Ashland, Oregon, will be among the locations impacted by extreme temperatures that can increase the potential for heat-related illnesses. There may not be much relief overnight either, as overnight lows are expected to remain high.

Experts urge residents to plan ahead for the coming heat. Staying hydrated, wearing light-colored clothing and sunscreenchecking vehicles before locking them, staying out of the sun in an air-conditioned room and checking in on relatives and neighbors are all ways to safely deal with the upcoming heat wave.

“The most intense heat will likely target the Pacific Northwest Wednesday through Friday, before the heat dome shifts inland away from the Pacific coast this upcoming weekend,” said Buckingham. (Click to Source)

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