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Drought, forecasted hot temperatures to raise wildfire risks in Terrace this summer

Terrace to face a challenging summer with elevated temperatures: Environment Canada
Environment Canada and BC Wildfire Service are calling for a hot, dry summer in Terrace, with an elevated risk of wildfires. The city’s forest fire danger rating was classified as “high” on June 10. (Viktor Elias/Terrace Standard) Environment Canada and BC Wildfire Service are calling for a hot, dry summer in Terrace, with an elevated risk of wildfires. The city’s forest fire danger rating was classified as “high” on June 10. (Viktor Elias/Terrace Standard)

A dry spring here is expected to continue through the summer as temperatures continue to remain above normal, escalating wildfire risk, said Environment Canada meteorologist Ken Dosanjh.

Between March and May, Terrace typically receives 224.5 millimetres of precipitation, but this year it received about 60 per cent of its normal, or 134 millimetres, Dosanjh said. May temperatures were substantially warmer than normal, while the other months were more seasonal.

“We saw a mean temperature around 13C in Terrace, whereas the normal is around 10.6C,” Dosanjh said. “Having that anomaly greater than three degrees is much warmer, I would say, at this point.”

That anomaly, in terms of temperature, was also found across B.C.

“We saw this not only in Terrace, but pretty much throughout British Columbia, where we had a region of high pressure that was pretty stagnant and trying to amplify these warming conditions,” Dosanjh said. “Now, on top of that, with the warm weather, it also leads to drier weather.”

“Looking at June, we are anticipating an increased probability of above seasonal temperatures. “And, in terms of precipitation, it looks to be kind of on the order of either near normal or slightly below normal for this time.”

Dosanjh said Environment Canada is seeing signals for above normal temperatures for the summer but in terms of precipitation there’s low confidence on whether or not Terrace will see below normal amounts.

“There’s either no signal or a weak signal of seeing below normal precipitation,” Dosanjh said. “Our current seasonal forecast — so June, July and August — shows a low probability of below normal precipitation.”

Environment Canada’s main concern with these ongoing patterns in temperature and precipitation, especially over the next few weeks, is the ongoing drought.

“Our concerns primarily for the next few months is the dry weather that we’ve been seeing, leading to drought concerns, as well as wildfire activity,” Dosanjh said. “The lack of precipitation is hardening the ground, so it becomes more hydrophobic in time.”

That hardening translates into making it more difficult for the ground to absorb moisture, increasing the risk of fire.

READ MORE: Officials warn of ‘very challenging’ fire season ahead in B.C.

As it is, BC Wildfire Service and other provincial officials are predicting a challenging fire season.

“Already, the number of hectares burnt this season exceeds the total number of hectares burnt in 16 of the last 20 wildfire seasons,” said emergency management and climate readiness minister Bowinn Ma June 8.

BC Wildfire Service Lead Fire Weather Forecaster Matt MacDonald said an unusually dry October, coupled with record-breaking temperatures in May set the stage for current conditions.

More locally, the conditions are a bit different, but still concerning.

“Typically, the number and the severity of wildfires in July and August really does depend on the amount of rain that we receive in June, so in a way it’s a bit of a wait-and-see scenario,” said BC Wildfire Service’s Northwest Fire Centre Information Officer Casda Thomas. “We have a cold-front passage that is forecast to bring some cooler and wetter weather for the second-half of June, but that will likely be temporary.”

Thomas said that, even under a normal rainfall scenario for June, we would still see drier forest fuels than is typical in northwestern B.C.,

“Currently, our fire load is low, but we have had 33 wildfires in the northwest this year, compared to 14 last year and 21 over a 10-year average,” Thomas said. “We are somewhat higher than we have typically seen in previous years for this time of the year.”

With that in mind, Thomas said BC Wildfire Service is prepared for the coming months amid an heightened risk of wildfires in the region and province more broadly.

“We do still have a crew on standby in the Skeena Fire Zone, which includes Terrace,” Thomas said. “And the resources that we have on standby throughout the Northwest Fire Centre are able to be moved around, so they will respond wherever they’re needed and we are ensuring that we have them positioned where we expect them to be needed.”

Thomas said the Northwest Fire Centre monitors conditions on an ongoing basis, updating its publicly-available fire danger rating daily and checking with its own forecasters and Environment Canada.

Forecasting months in advance can be challenging, but Environment Canada’s Dosanjh said there are some early indications that are concerning.

“Moving onto the latter part of the year, there are indications that this winter could see an El Niño event, something southwestern B.C. is more accustomed to,” Dosanjh said.

In an El Niño event, temperatures remain elevated and conditions stay drier in northwestern B.C. For the last three years, we’ve been experiencing a La Niña event, resulting in a colder and wetter pattern in the winter months.

With the ongoing drought and hardening soil in the northwest and across the province more broadly, that forecast doesn’t relieve concerns.

Right now, though, a continued bridge of high pressure is steering most of the precipitation in the area towards the Alaskan Panhandle.

“Should those precipitation plumes start to slump slightly to the south Terrace might begin to see more precipitation,” Dosanjh said. “For now, it does look like Terrace will see above seasonal temperatures and a drier conditions.”

Viktor Elias joined the Terrace Standard in April 2023.

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