Six-month weather prediction shows ‘huge’ wildfire potential |

Six-month weather prediction shows ‘huge’ wildfire potential

LAKE TAHOE and#8212; Early summer showers slowed the start of the fire season, but on-going drought conditions are expected to make the next six months long ones for Western firefighters, according to a fire prediction released this week.

and#8220;Nationally, the acreage that is expected to burn is about average, but there’s an unusual concentration of the activity in the West,and#8221; said Ron Neilson, a professor of botany at Oregon State University and bioclimatologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in a statement released Monday.

The prediction is particularly bleak for the Sierra Nevada.

and#8220;Along with its ongoing drought, huge fires are indeed projected for much of Northern California and the Sierra Nevada range,and#8221; Neilson said.

The fire danger in the Lake Tahoe Basin is expected to rise in coming weeks and the U.S. Forest Service anticipates implementing fire restrictions and#8212; that include limitations on smoking and campfires and#8212; in early August, said Forest Service spokeswoman Cheva Heck.

Illegal campfires have been a big problem this year, and a recent rash of house fires highlights the potential for a house fire turning into a wildfire, Heck said.

The prevalence of thunderstorms is one of the key variable when predicting wildfires, and one that is difficult for scientists to foresee, Neilson said. The National Weather Service in Reno predicts slight chances of thunderstorms in the Lake Tahoe region throughout the weekend.

and#8220;It’s usually lightning storms that trigger multiple fires,and#8221; Neilson said. and#8220;Our computer models are pretty accurate at determining the vegetation, moisture and climatic conditions that set the stage for fire, but can’t always predict whether or not something will actually light them.and#8221;

Part of what’s interesting about this year, Neilson said, is that it appears an El Nino is beginning and there may even be tentative shifts in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Both El Nino and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation are large climatic forces that can affect weather on broad regional or global scales, Neilson said.

The concern is that an evolving El Nino, reinforced by a changing Pacific Decadal Oscillation, could be exactly the type of conditions that set the stage for the broad, turbulent storms that can produce a lot of lightning, Neilson said.

and#8220;Lately we’ve had unusually turbulent weather in the U.S. for the summer months,and#8221; Neilson said. and#8220;The Midwest is getting heavier-than-normal rain, and we’ve had some very unusual and powerful storms in the West as well. Everywhere I go, people keep saying the weather is just really, really weird.and#8221;

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