Weather News

New fall forecast ignites wildfire worries for Tri-Cities and Eastern Washington

An unusually warm and dry fall is expected to escalate the risk of more wildfires in the Mid-Columbia.

The National Interagency Fire Center has warned of an increased risk of fires in late summer and early fall in Western Washington, but now that concern has moved east of the Cascades.

Wildfire risk will be above normal in August and September in most of southcentral and southeastern Washington state, showed the forecast issued this week.

Temperatures that were near normal in the Mid-Columbia and late spring moisture have helped reduce fire activity, particularly through the first half of July.

But the chance of large fires is expected to increase with windy weather and low humidity during late summer in Eastern Washington.

AccuWeather and the National Weather Service both are predicting above-normal temperatures in the Pacific Northwest for August through early fall.

An above normal chance of significant wildland fire potential is forecast for the Tri-Cities area in August. The September forecast is similar. Courtesy National Interagency Fire Center

The specific weather service outlook for the Tri-Cities calls for warmer than usual weather in August, when normal highs are about 89 and lows are about 58.

Temperatures should be heating up soon, with a high of 101 forecast for Monday and 103 on Tuesday. Lows will be as warm as 67 degrees.

Irrigation outlook improves a bit

The outlook for water for the Kennewick Irrigation District and others who rely on the Yakima Basin for water improved slightly.

The Bureau of Reclamation on Friday increased its estimate of water available from 67 percent of entitlements for those with junior water rights to 69 percent.

Courtesy National Weather Service

“The moderate temperatures and precipitation at our reservoirs at 84 percent of average in July helped stream flows hold up fairly well,” said Chuck Garner, Yakima Project River Operations supervisor for the bureau.

The forecast is based on flows, precipitation, snow pack and reservoir storage through Aug. 1, along with estimates of future precipitation and river flows.

The Kennewick Irrigation District holds mostly junior water rights. Those with senior water rights get 100 percent of the water to which they are entitled.

“We are encouraged by the increased projection,” said Jason McShane, KID engineering and operating manager.

The district has asked for voluntary rationing.

Voluntary cooperation and cooler temperatures have been successful in reducing the amount of water used, he said.

Residential users have been asked to water lawns just twice a week, for 30 minutes per zone. it is the same schedule that was mandatory during the 2015 drought.

Residents can still water trees, shrubs, perennials and vegetable gardens with a single hose or high-efficiency device as well as their scheduled times for lawns.

Few hot July days

Weather in the Tri-Cities for the month just past was largely typical for a July, but with some lower highs than normal.

A persistent weather pattern with a westerly flow kept the high pressure area that normally brings hot temperatures to the region suppressed to the south of the Mid-Columbia, according to the weather service.

graph PASCO Aug 2019.png
Temperatures and precipitation as recorded at the Pasco airport in July 2019. Courtesy National Weather Service

Temperatures were about average, and only two days had temperatures the reached at least 100, as recorded at the Tri-Cities Airport. They were July 23 and 26, which both had temperatures of 101.

Other regional cities — including Walla Walla, Yakima, Ellensburg and Pendleton — had no 100 degree days in July, according to the weather service.

Only 17 days in July had temperatures of at least 90 degrees in the Tri-Cities, compared with a normal of 20 days, according to the weather service.

The Hanford Meteorology Station, which keeps daily temperature records back to World War II, reported no new daily temperature records set and no records tied for the month.

The most notable weather of the month was the thunderstorms after dark on July 23, with lightning putting on a show from the Tri-Cities to Hanford.

The peak wind gust for the month in the Tri-Cities was 39 mph recorded on July 1. At the Hanford Met Station it was 42 mph on July 23.

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Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.