Heat to Ease in Northwest, But Fire Threat to Persist

By Jordan Root, Meteorologist
July 22, 2014; 1:55 AM ET
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A home and a burned-out car and golf cart remain from a wildfire the night before, Friday, July 18, 2014, in Pateros, Wash. A fire racing through rural north-central Washington destroyed about 100 homes, leaving behind smoldering rubble, solitary brick chimneys and burned-out automobiles as it blackened hundreds of square miles. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The scorching heat that has gripped the Northwest for much of July is finally coming to an end. However, danger still looms for many.

The lengthy period of extreme heat, known as a heat wave, has turned the Northwest into a tinder box.

"Temperatures east of the Cascades are running 8 to 10 degrees above normal so far in July," according to Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark.

The unusual heat factored in with the dry climate has left much of the region susceptible to wildfires.

Several major wildfires continue to rage across the Northwest, including the Carlton Complex in Washington.

At least 150 homes have been destroyed from this fire near Pateros, Washington, according to the Associated Press.

The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (NWCC) reported around 238,000 acres had burned and that the fire was only two percent contained.

A crew member aboard the International Space Station captured this image of wildfires burning in Washington on July 19th. (Note: south is at the top of the frame). (Photo: NASA) Enlarge

Mandatory evacuations and advisories have been lifted across northern California from the Bully Fire, according to the California government. A total of 12,661 acres has burned with 86 percent of the fire being contained as of Monday evening.

Wildfires continue to spread across Oregon as well. "Fifteen large fires were reported throughout Oregon on Friday," cited the Associated Press.

The Buzzard Complex continues to spread across eastern Oregon. According to the NWCC, around 1,434 people, 86 fire engines, and 10 helicopters are fighting the fire that has burned nearly 400,000 acres so far.

The recent hot and dry weather pattern extended into much of western Canada as well, where numerous wildfires are ongoing.

Most of these fires originated due to lightning strikes from nearby thunderstorms.

Although typical thunderstorms tend to bring relief in the form of rain, these storms have done more harm than good.

Due to extremely dry conditions in the lower part of the atmosphere, most of the rain from these storms evaporated before reaching the ground. These storms are referred to as dry thunderstorms. Frequent lightning still occurs however, which is what makes them dangerous.

The threat for dry thunderstorms will continue early this week across Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon. As a result, more wildfires may be ignited, putting many more lives and property at risk.

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Firefighters have been fighting with gusty winds over the past few days which has only made conditions worse. Winds will lessen early this week, hopefully allowing some progress to be made on these fires.

Temperatures will continue to be on the downward trend through the middle of the week across the Northwest which will provide some help. The heat that has been locked into the region is expected to shift into the northern Plains.

Along with the heat, smoke from the wildfires in the Northwest will also invade the Plains.

Hazy skies have already been observed the past few days from the Northwest to the Great Lakes, partly due to other wildfires located in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

"While mostly in remote areas, these fires are producing considerable smoke that has caused a health risk for people around the town of Yellowknife," said Clark.

A MODIS satellite captured this image of several plumes of smoke coming from wildfires in northern Canada. (Photo: NASA) Enlarge

Sensitive groups across the northern United States may be affected from the increase in smoke and may want to limit time spent outside.

Additional relief is expected to come by the middle of the week. A disturbance is expected to dive into the Northwest by Wednesday and will bring beneficial rain to some fire ravaged areas, although the risk for lightning will accompany it.

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