As the decrease in temperatures and increase in Winter Storm Watches start to trend, we may find ourselves checked out of the fire season mentality. The focus of fire safety usually shifts to indoor hazards such as fire places, cooking, and candle burning. However, keeping an eye on winter weather may have some long-term benefits. Some variables in the winter weather can actually help us forecast and better prepare for the following fire season.

The Dangers of a Wet Winter

The dangers of a dry winter are a given: less moisture means dryer fuels which will lead to an earlier and longer fire season. This may lead people to believe that wet winters are nothing but positive for our fire season outlook. Wet winters are usually defined as a winter season with increased rain, snow, or moisture. This moisture is generally increased atop mountainous regions and runs off into the lower valleys. With these conditions, fire season may be shorter or later than dryer winters.

On the other hand, the grass and crops will absorb the moisture which stimulates growth and results in higher and denser crops. In climates with hot dry summers, such as California, when temperatures start to rise again the vegetation quickly dries out and becomes ripe fuel. This cycle can lead to fast and far reaching fires that are more difficult to contain. The Scientific American goes on to explain that these factors combined with Santa Ana winds in the south could cause wildfires during winter months to continue to rise as well.

December Director's Update | U.S. Department of the Interior

Fire burning in wildland area over snow.

Planning Ahead

Information like this can be critical in preparation for emergency managers and disaster relief workers in the public and private sector. Ample time to assess climate behavior and forecast the following fire season can make a significant impact in emergency planning. This includes allocating resources and personnel to meet upcoming needs and providing strategic and logistical support to frontline workers. As the emergency management motto says, “Don’t wait to plan.”


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