How Can Oregon’s Record Snowfall Effect the Fire Season?

As a result of Oregon’s chilly and rainy spring, the state’s snowpack is much higher than usual. Some people think it’s OK to put up with the cold if it means less severe wildfires, but experts say that outcome depends on more than just snowfall.

On Monday, April 10, snowpack levels over almost the entire state were at or above 150% of the median. As the Natural Resources Conservation Service reported, snow levels in Harney County reached 304% of the area’s median snowfall.

However, Erica Fleishman, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute and professor at Oregon State University, has noted that precipitation levels across the state have been below average, which is cause for concern in a state that has been experiencing drought for the last several years.

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“It’s been cold, and that helps to maintain the snow, but precipitation totals from January through March were on the low side,” she said.

According to statistics issued by the Natural Resources Conservation Service on Monday, the Willamette Valley has only gotten 89% of its median precipitation in the water year, which started on October 1, 2022.

According to Fleishman, the start of wildfire season might be delayed if the spring continues to be chilly and rainy. Yet, the danger of wildfires may swiftly return if the rain stops and the temperature suddenly rises.

According to Fleishman, no magic number of dry days signals the onset of wildfire season. In locations prone to wildfires, the chance of an ignition relies on some factors, including the plants’ moisture levels and the air’s relative dryness.

Rain in March and April might be a warning indication that the fire season will be delayed, but it can also cause flooding. The extra rainfall may accelerate the growth of non-native, extremely combustible grasses east of the Cascades.

While Fleishman noted that flames have been more common and slightly more significant over the previous few decades, the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute has no estimates for the 2022 wildfire season.

“Every year it is different, and there’s so much chance involved in whether there’s an ignition and whether it spreads,” she said.

When it comes to the elements, humans have no say, but they do have power over themselves. Anyone may help avoid wildfires, particularly in hot and dry weather, by being cautious while constructing fires or burning waste.

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When asked if a wetter-than-usual winter or a slow transition into summer would be better, Fleishman responded both since the longer the snowfall Oregon receives, the better.

“Ideally, that snow that snowpack melts relatively slowly, and the ground can absorb the water, and you sort of have a steady water supply. The melt isn’t flashy,” she said.

According to forecasters, April’s rains and mild temps are here to stay. Portland will keep seeing daytime highs in the 50s, approximately 10 degrees below average for the city at this time of year.

On Monday, the Cascades received further snowfall from the atmospheric river that brought rain to Portland.

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Anya K.

Anya is a passionate news writer who has been covering local and national stories for for the past five years. With a sharp eye for detail and a dedication to accuracy, Anya brings a fresh perspective to each article she writes, whether it's a breaking news story or an in-depth feature. Anya's love of journalism began at a young age, when she would devour newspapers and magazines, fascinated by the power of words to inform and inspire. She went on to study journalism in college, where she honed her skills as a writer and reporter, and discovered a talent for investigative journalism.

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