Report: Western U.S. Will See Greater Wildfire Activity in 2010

BOISE, Idaho – Portions of the western United States will enter the 2010 fire season drier than normal, according to the annual Fire Season Outlook released by the Predictive Services group at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) May 4.

The drier conditions suggest higher than normal wildfire potential for the Northern Rockies of Montana and Idaho; parts of eastern Washington; northwestern Wyoming; and a portion of south-central Oregon stretching down into the northeastern corner of California.

“The strong El Niño in the southern Pacific Ocean over the winter flexed its muscle,” said Robyn Heffernan, the deputy fire weather program manager for NIFC. “Consequently, a lot of the northern half of the western United States got significantly less snowfall over the winter, which will mean drier fuels once summer arrives.”

Several other regions of the country are also abnormally dry heading into late spring and early summer: the northern Great Lakes region; central Alaska; southern Arizona; and a section of southern Georgia, Alabama, and northern Florida. These areas, however, will probably benefit from normal seasonal rains by midsummer. Hawaii was also influenced by the winter weather pattern, resulting in the leeward side of the islands being dry. Hawaii’s dry conditions should persist all summer.

Although it too had a dry winter, Nevada should see a below-normal fire season because dry weather will prevent normal desert grass growth-grass that typically fuels summer fires.

While El Niño denied normal snowfalls and winter rains in some parts of the country, it had a dampening effect in other regions heading into the traditional summer fire season. The mountainous areas of Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah and southern Colorado were inundated with heavy snows over the winter, and forested areas will not have enough time to dry to critical levels before summer rains begin to fall.

“After good moisture last year that inhibited wildfires over most of the country, 2010 might see a spike in fire activity-particularly in the northern half of the west,” Heffernan added.

The seasonal outlook produced by NIFC evaluates wildland fuels, weather forecasts, climate and drought data and identifies the general outlook for wildland fire activity across the United States.  For more information, visit

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