Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.
By: Christopher C. Burt , 7:35 PM GMT on August 12, 2014
U.S. Wildfire Season as of August 12th
It has been one of the hottest summers on record for the Pacific Northwest and especially for central and western Washington State where the largest wildfire on record (for the state) has finally been almost 100% contained. However, in spite of the devastation in Washington, the U.S. fire season has (so far) burned ‘only’ 2,533,648 acres, which is just 51% of the 10-year running average for this time of the year.
The temperature reached a daily record 96° in Seattle, Washington yesterday (August 11th) as the blazing hot summer of 2014 in Washington continued. July was Spokane’s 2nd hottest month on record (any month) with an average monthly temperature of 75.7°, just shy of the all-time record of 75.9° set back in July 1906. Ironically, firefighters announced yesterday that they have now almost fully contained the Carlton Complex fire which was ignited by lightning on July 14th and burned 256,108 acres and 312 homes (with one fatality) in an area of central Washington about 200 miles east of Seattle. It was the largest wildfire in the state’s history.
The Carlton Fire Complex bears down on Brewster, Washington on July 18th. Twitter image, photographer not identified.
Pyrocumulus form above the Carlton Complex fire as seen in this aerial image during the early stages of the fire’s development in mid-July. Photo from AP.
All-told, wildfires have now burned 323,721 acres in Washington so far this summer with many still active as the map below illustrates.
Map of locations of active major wildfires burning as of August 12th. As can be seen, virtually all of them are occurring in the Pacific Northwest. The color coding is related to the priority and type of incidence teams each fire is being given by the respective agencies involved with each threat. Map from the National Interagency Fire Center based in Boise, Idaho.
As of August 12th here is a list of acres burned in each state:
What is surprising is that California has not yet had a truly catastrophic wildfire (so far) given the record dry conditions and extensive lightning activity. Just yesterday (August 11th) some 11,678 lightning strikes were recorded as monsoonal moisture edged into the eastern portion of the state.
Lightning strikes over California on August 11th. Although the source of the storms that produced all this activity were of seasonal monsoon origins, very little precipitation reached the ground making for extremely dangerous fire conditions. Map from BLM and NWS-Sacramento.
The largest active fire in California at the moment is the so-called Bald Fire Complex (#19 on the map) in the Lassen National Forest where 39,736 acres have so far burned. Of course, the worst of California’s fire season has yet to get under way since September through November is traditionally the most dangerous time of the year fire-wise. Despite, the sobering statistics, the year 2014 has, as of August 12th, seen the 2nd lowest amount of acreage burned nation-wide over the past 10 years. Since 2004, only 2010 saw fewer acres burned.
Table of annual number of fires and acres burned as of August 12th over the past 10 years. This year is running just 51% of average so far as acreage burned and 71% of average total number of fires. Given the drought situation in California it is unlikely that this pattern will continue into the fall. Table from National Interagency Fire Center. Statistics for acreage burned every full year going back to 1960 can found here on the NIFR web site.
The fire situation is much worse in Canada where some 8.5 million acres have burned this summer in the country’s Northwest Territories. Angela Frtiz reports this from the Capital Weather Gang at the Washington Post. Sweden is also suffering an extreme wild fire event as this report details.
Christopher C. Burt
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