Cliff Mass: Upcoming wet weather ‘crucial’ for WA wildfire season

Jun 13, 2023, 5:09 PM

El Niño winter prepare...

Upcoming wet weather in the Puget Sound region should help prevent an extreme case of wildfire season in western Washington this year. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor Cliff Mass says he is “becoming more optimistic” about the wildfire season this summer.

In an interview with The Jason Rantz Show on AM 770 KTTH, Mass said the upcoming wet weather will be a major benefit to the region.

“The big thing is that we’re going to get extremely wet starting this weekend, major shifts in the atmospheric circulation, and there’s gonna be plenty of rain over the weekend,” said Mass. “And then we stay in this cool wet pattern through next week. So this is very crucial to get this much rain. This late in the spring really is very, very useful in pushing down the potential for wildfires.”

Rain is expected to move into western Washington on Saturday and stays through next week. Highs will be around 60.

Mass said most weather certainly has an impact on forest wildfires, but he points to management as the key.

“The fact that we’ve allowed these forests, especially the Eastside forests, to become completely overgrown, very dense, and prone to catastrophic, large fires,” Mass said. “During a summer like this, I think the key issue is how wet the surface is. And what does the precipitation look like. And at this point, the fuel moistures are near normal.”

Mass said June is an unpredictable month and can have plenty of precipitation.

“June is certainly drier than the middle of the winter time. But you know what, June is often cloudy, and often has some light rain. And so this is not unusual.”

Mass said the region was a little drier than normal to begin the month.

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“We were locked in this pattern, which is actually associated with the rain in California, at this deep trough in California. And that left us high and dry. But that appears to be breaking down and shifting to a pattern that we get wetter and cooler. And that’s what the next week is all about.”

Mass said the coming week will have a surge of marine air and we’re cooling down.

“This whole week is not going to be a hot one. It’s not like we’re gonna get into the 80s this week, and then the weekend, boy it gets bad. And interestingly enough, the rain is gonna be mainly on the west side, which is really important because that’s where it’s been dry.”

Mass noted that eastern Washington has not been that dry and there are no drought conditions.

“If you look at the Drought Index, you know, it’s white, there’s nothing going on in eastern Washington, the dry situation has been in [western Washington]. The West doesn’t burn, unless we get very specific weather conditions and that strong easterly flow coming from the east going to the west. That is the only way we can get wildfires in [western Washington]. And at this point. I can’t see any of that happening.”

Mass said that there is no reason to expect this summer to be anything different than normal.

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Cliff Mass: Upcoming wet weather ‘crucial’ for WA wildfire season