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Science Behind The Weather: Storms and Wildfires
WILDFIRES |

Here's how rain can be bad for wildfires


Sunday, July 2, 2017, 10:00 - Heavy rainfall in parts of the West over the winter and spring helped delay the onset of wildfires, but it also spurred the growth of dense vegetation that has now dried out and is fuelling fire activity as summertime heat sets in, say officials.

Dozens of wildfires continue to rage across the West, as heat and low relative humidity grip Arizona, California, Utah and Colorado.

While rainfall was plentiful in the winter, this summer has been bone-dry with deadly temperatures soaring well over 110 F for several consecutive days across the Southwest. The heat and lack of precipitation has caused the vegetation to completely dry out, providing the perfect setting for wildfires.

“Volatility in conditions, from rains to extreme drought, can prime the land for fire,” notes Climate Central in a report. “And we see similar patterns across many places in the Southwestern US.” 

Most of the western United States was wetter than average in February, with heavy precipitation causing widespread flooding and mudslides in California and Nevada forcing area residents to evacuate impacted areas, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Credit: Image produced by DuKode Studio for Climate Central.


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Five states in the Northwest and Northern Rockies were much wetter than average. Above-average snowpack was also observed for most mountain locations in the West at the end of the month, with record high totals in parts of the Central Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Now, all that precipitation and consequently fresh vegetation is beginning to backfire -- quite literally. 

As of Tuesday, wildfires across Arizona, California, New Mexico, Idaho and Oregon had blackened a total of 150,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. 

The Brian Head blaze ranked as the largest of 20 major, active wildfires burning across Utah and the five Western states mentioned above.

On a positive note, the onset of monsoon season provides some hope for the desert southwest. On average, about half of Arizona receives about half of its annual rainfall during the monsoon season, which runs from June 15 and ends September 30. Arizona receives a statewide average of only 12.5 inches of rain per year.

Watch below: The science behind the monsoon season

Sources: NOAA | Climate Central | Reuters

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