Wednesday, September 22, 2021

After reprieve, heat, smoke coming back

| August 9, 2021 1:07 AM

Weather patterns seem to be evolving earlier than average in North Idaho and other parts of the world. For the last two winter seasons, record snows arrived in October. In fact, in 2019, we had over an inch of snow at the end of September. This year, blistering heat baked the northwestern U.S. in late June. Then, much cooler, fall-like weather was welcomed on Sunday.

After this much-needed break from the long heat waves of this summer season, temperatures are expected to go back into the 90s around the middle to the end of this week. Highs may once again top the 100-degree mark from this next round of heat. Readings should briefly cool down again around the middle of the month, but Cliff and I believe that more heat will return in late August or early September. As of the weekend, there have been 38 days this year with highs at or above 90 degrees in Coeur d’Alene. Seven of those days were at or above 100 degrees. The highest temperature so far this summer was a blistering 107 degrees on June 29.

Some much-needed rainfall was expected to arrive in Coeur d’Alene on Sunday. Prior to that event, only 0.08 inches of rain was measured during the summer beginning on June 20. Not much moisture is expected over the next several weeks in North Idaho as that strong ridge of high pressure continues to dominate.

In the meantime, we’re still going to have to deal with more days with occasional haze and smoke. Last week, the smoke from the western wildfires helped to drive up air quality levels to 175, which was in the “unhealthy” category. The air quality did improve over the weekend.

In 2017, air quality in the region was not only the worst in the country on that date, but perhaps the worst in history here in Coeur d’Alene. On Labor Day, Sept. 4, air quality levels hit an unbelievable 303 in North Idaho, which is in the “hazardous” category.

Some of my relatives in California are already asking me about the upcoming winter season as they are surrounded by more heavy smoke from the third biggest wildfire in the state’s history. They are hoping for a good moisture year as it continues to be bone-dry with no rain in sight. Based on the current patterns, it looks like another drier than normal rainfall season across at least the central and southern parts of the state. With a La Nada sea-surface temperature pattern, which is the in-between warmer El Nino and cooler La Nina, we’re not expecting a lot of rain and mountain snow during the first half of the winter. The second half might be a little better.

Last week, water regulators in California took what was called “unprecedented action” by passing an emergency regulation. This will prohibit thousands of Californians, especially in the agricultural sector, from diverting stream and river water due to the extreme drought.

Reservoir storage across the state is getting very low. Lake Mead went to the lowest level in history in July. The runoff of this year’s snowpack was much lower than expected as much of the water was lost to the dry ground and into the atmosphere due to the warmer spring weather. A large hydroelectric power plant in northern California was closed down last week for the first time in its history at Lake Oroville due to historically low water levels, which were down to near 20 percent.

While California continues to remain dry, the desert areas of Arizona and New Mexico have seen heavy rain and flooding. Tucson, Ariz., reported its wettest July in history as the active monsoon season dumped 8.06 inches of rain. This has certainly helped to ease the drought in this part of the country as the region went from “extreme” drought to “severe” drought.

The rest of August and September will be very tough for the western U.S. As of late last week, there were 11 states reporting large wildfires. There are over 100 major fires including approximately two dozen in Montana, 21 in Idaho, 12 in California and 12 in Washington. It was also the worst July on record for wildfires across the globe as major blazes were reported in the U.S., western Canada, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Morocco, North Macedonia, Lebanon and Siberia.

For the Inland Northwest, the chances of moisture should be increasing by late this month and into the fall season. Don’t be surprised to see moderate to heavy amounts of moisture late this year as we go to the other side of this drought pattern. However, despite the expected moisture in the Northwest, the western “megadrought” will likely continue, perhaps for years. Once again, the extreme weather pattern is still going strong with no signs of letting up anytime soon.

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