The United States is in a weather drought right now—there’s not much to talk about outside of the tropics. However, this weekend will feature some active weather in an area they need it the most. Heavy rain is possible in the interior northwest around Idaho and Montana over the next several days, potentially aiding firefighters in their war against raging wildfires that are burning hundreds of thousands of acres of land, covering the region in a thick blanket of smoke.
People who live west of the Rocky Mountains often complain that the media (and this blog) seem to only ever cover weather that happens east of Denver. It’s like the western half of the country doesn’t exist, they say. The only problem is that the west really hasn’t seen much weather lately. There’s not much to talk about when it’s sunny, hot, and dry for months on end.
Just about every piece of land west of the Rockies is in some level of drought as of this morning’s update of the Drought Monitor. Extreme drought—the second-highest level—stretches from southern California up through Canada, with the worst fires squarely in the areas hardest-hit by the ongoing, slow-motion disaster of dryness.
A couple of days ago, a powerful storm made landfall in the Pacific Northwest, producing extensive wind damage in Vancouver, B.C., and bringing up to five inches of rain to parts of Washington and British Columbia. That was great for their drought, but it didn’t do much to help the widespread fires plaguing the northern tier of the Intermountain West.
There are dozens of large fires burning across Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington right now, and months of warm, dry weather has made it exceptionally difficult for crews to extinguish the flames. That storm did leave behind cool, damp weather in its wake—which is at least helping to prevent the rapid spread of the fires—and more change is on the way.
A sharp trough in the jet stream will trigger the development of a low pressure system near the Canadian border this weekend, bringing the potential for widespread rainfall over areas that need it the most.
The latest forecast from the Weather Prediction Center shows a good soaking across many areas experiencing fires right now. Much of Montana and northern Idaho could see an inch or more of rain by this time next Thursday, and locations that get caught under heavier showers and thunderstorms could see even more than that.
If current forecasts hold true, the heaviest rain will miss the bulk of the fires centered around far western Montana and the neck of Idaho (or whatever you call it), but an inch of rain is more than nothing at all, and any rain is positive at this point. Even a little bit of steady precipitation could help firefighters gain the upper-hand against the world’s most destructive force.