The National Weather Service in Great Falls, Montana has just posted the following:
“Since July 1, 2018, only 0.01 inches of rainfall has fallen at the Helena Airport. This is the driest period on record from July 1 thru Aug 14th. The map below shows how much of MT has below normal precipitation just in the past 30 days, including in the Helena valley.”
As you can see in the graphic above, many other parts of western Montana have also had the driest 45 day period on record. Missoula has had the 2nd driest 45 day period on record, but that’s only because last year was the driest mid-summer period on record…when all those wildfires burned around Montana due to a “flash drought.”
Anyway, this “driest 45 day period on record” for many parts of western Montana follows a heavy winter snowpack and also record-break springtime flooding in many parts of Montana, including Missoula, the Rocky Mountain Front, Great Falls and Helena areas. In other words, record snowpack and flooding followed immediately by a record dry spell is a pretty good recipe for big wildfires. So we shall see….
So, what’s the solution to a couple of summers of the some of the driest mid-summer periods recorded over the past 130+ years? If and when wildfires burn in the fire-dependent ecosystems of the Northern U.S. Rockies will it be because of “environmental terrorist groups,” as Secretary Ryan Zinke insists?
Most of the forested ecosystem of the Northern U.S. Rockies is comprised of mixed conifer forests, which were born out of, and are maintained, by mixed- to high-severity fire regimes. The notion (spread often by the timber industry and certain politicians) that in the past all the forests of our region experienced frequent, but low-severity, wildfire is just totally not true. In fact, that Dry Montane, open, park-like ponderosa pine forest type makes up a tiny percentage of the forested ecosystem in the Northern Rockies. So, if and when mixed- to high-severity wildfires burn in forests that evolved with mixed- to high-severity wildfires who should be ‘blamed?’ Because we obviously have to blame someone, right?