CHEYENNE – Continued low levels of precipitation in Wyoming this winter could mean a bad wildfire season this summer.
“We are experiencing the worst drought, of coverage and intensity, historically and recently since the 2012-13 drought,” Tim Troutman, a warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Riverton office, said Wednesday morning during NWS’s virtual mont-hly weather briefing for Wyoming.
“(2012) was also one of our more active fire seasons, so it’s important to highlight that fact,” Troutman said. “If we begin to get more moisture into the area, and more snow and rain, that definitely can alleviate conditions.”
In 2012, Wyoming recorded one of its most devastating wildfire seasons in living memory. According to an Associated Press report from the time, fires burned roughly 560,000 acres and cost $100 million to contain. During last summer’s fire season, the Mullen Fire burned at least 129,000 acres across southeast Wyoming soon after the Cameron Peak Fire set a new record as the most damaging in Colorado history.
More moisture now is key to preventing similar conditions later this year, but it’s not yet clear if Wyoming will reach its desired precipitation threshold.
In Cheyenne, it only snowed about 3.4 inches in January, a month which has an average monthly snowfall of 5.9 inches, according to a NWS report. With the exception of northern and western parts of Wyoming, Troutman said most of the state is experiencing the effects of low precipitation, and has only recorded about one to two inches since April.
In January, Cheyenne recorded less than half the precipitation it did this time last year.
“That’s definitely indicating we’ve been in this strong La Niña pattern, and it’s definitely continuing,” Troutman said, referring to the weather pattern that has caused the drought in Wyoming and other parts of the western U.S.
Last month’s limited snowfalls will make snow during February, March and early April, when the most snow typically falls, critical to preventing drought and the devastating wildfires that usually follow. This past weekend’s snowfall, which brought several inches of snow across the state, including in Cheyenne, offered a glimmer of hope.
“We still have a little catching up to do, but this is definitely an improvement from last month,” said Jared Allen, a warning coordination meteorologist at the NWS’s Cheyenne office.
He had a caution, however: “If we dry out early in March and April, we’ll have to watch out for an early start to fire season.”
The forecast for the next week shows below-average temperatures and a chance of precipitation over the mountains in western and south-central Wyoming.