Why heavy winter snowpack does not always mean a summer free from drought

Blog Post created by luciandeaton Employee on Jul 16, 2020

A wide brush of red across the American West stands out in the July, 2020, Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook from the National Interagency Fire Center.  It marks a greater than usual likelihood that significant wildfires will occur and is a reminder of how drought increases the risks on our landscapes.  Two recent articles that explore the issues of persistent drought and recurring heatwaves provide good context for what is happening and what we can expect in wildfire-prone areas for years to come. 

This past winter brought heavy snowfall to the Rocky Mountains and was expected bring a needed reprieve from a long-term drought that has impacted down-stream river flow in the American West.  Instead, current dry conditions are being blamed on a warmer and dryer than usual April and May, which caused winter snowpack to melt too quickly.  The article, “In Parched Southwest, Warm Spring Renews Threat of ‘Megadrought’”, explores how snowpack is measured and how the region is being effected by shifting spring weather. 

The second article showcases recent research out of Australia that made the first worldwide assessment of heatwaves at the regional scale.  Reviewing data trends since 1950, their findings illustrate that its not only hotter, but that the increased number of heatwaves seen and how much extra heat a heatwave can contribute on the landscape is stressing already high-wildfire risk areas.   

Severe fire conditions can fuel wildfire spread.  Yet, the risk to homes remains the embers from a fire and there are steps you can take to reduce its potential impacts, especially during persistent drought. 

Photo Credit, Predictive Services, National Interagency Fire Center

As we navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

Follow NFPA’s FireBreak blog and you can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire and policy related topics.