The late wildfire season moves to the Pacific Northwest-

This year’s great Western wildfire season began in Arizona and New Mexico with huge fires in May and June.  These are now out and the states have had a nice and wet summer monsoon season.

Fires then moved to Utah, Colorado, and then to the more easterly (or central) parts of Wyoming and Montana. Then Idaho and Nevada burned, and Idaho still is burning. Finally Washington State got fire, with the Wenatchee Complex Fire getting a start from a lightning strike on September 9.  These groups of fires, especially Wenatchee, have proven to be real smokers, stinking up Idaho and east central Oregon almost as much as the many Idaho fires.

Science Digest has a good article on the Washington State fire season. Wildfires in Washington State.

The immediate cause of the fires is ignition and plenty of dry fuel, but the dryness itself after June is explained by a persistent and huge ridge in the polar jet stream over the Western United States.  This has kept all but thunderstorms at bay in the West, but pushed storm after storm over SE and Central Alaska, causing record summer flooding up there.

Changes in the jet stream are one of the things that you would predict with the Arctic Ocean melting as it has. There is no longer the temperature differences between the polar side and southern side of the jet to keep it relatively tight and symmetrical.  The result is the development of huge and persistent troughs in the jet stream carrying strong rainstorms coupled with equally large and scantly moving ridges of dry, dry weather.

With the Arctic melt, the current situation of extremes might be irreversible.  The Arctic melt is not just a problem for polar bears, that is the least of our worries.

A distorted polar jet stream makes snow in northern Mexico desert and 90 degree March weather in New York state easy to explain.

Here is a web site showing the polar jet in detail for folks to watch and worry about. Jet Stream Analyses

About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

22 Responses to Wildfires break out in many parts of Washington State

  1. SEAK Mossback says:

    I flew from Minneapolis to Seattle early last week and was glad for once to overfly the west and return to the land without fire (although we occasionally get smoke from fires behind the coast range). Actually, by then the Cascades were looking worse than the Rockies — full of smoke. I wish I could send some of our rain down — the little creek that produces our power is raging, the rain is really drumming with water streams shooting off the eves and the satellite internet is cutting out. Yesterday was not bad, with fog but no real rain. I spent the day hunting uphill from sea level in big timber in fog and mist, and caught up with a Sitka blacktail buck in the broken subalpine forest around timberline.

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      How far up the coast are you?

      • SEAK Mossback says:

        I’m in Juneau area. I remember only two thunder storms with lightening in the 31 years I’ve lived here, so there is not any real non-human potential ignition source and the woods are generally damp and green enough that it would be difficult to get ignition. However, human-caused fires do occasionally occur, but in most cases usually don’t involve the canopy, but rather are peat fires from careless location of campfires that burn and smolder for a long time in the ground, killing trees in a limited area. However, a couple of weeks ago a pilot pointed out a limited but unsightly burn on a point of land in Icy Strait that I suspect ignited by a human.

    • DLB says:

      A lot of smoke has crept west of the Cascades. You can see how thick the haze has become by looking across the short expanse of lake Washington. The other morning downtown Bellevue was almost completely obscured looking across from I-90, just outside the Mt. Baker tunnel.

      I’ve read that there has been some record flooding in parts of SE Alaska. Apparantly you are receiving almost all of our rain.

      This has been the driest summer we have had in several years.

  2. mike post says:

    I was in the Rockies near Banff 3 weeks ago and lived for a week in the smoke that was touted as coming from hugh fires in Siberia.

  3. Mike says:

    I should be heading out on the 27th. The Yellowstone ecosystem is supposed to be getting rain today and tomorrow.

    How is Idaho looking? It looked like rain from’s radar yesterday. Smoke appears to be down a bit in Montana’s SCAN webcam system.

    • elk275 says:

      All I see is blue skies with some clouds. Very little smoke and a wonderful fall day, wish I could be grouse hunting.

      • Mike says:


        Where are you located?

        • elk275 says:

          Sitting in my office in Bozeman looking out the window wishing that I was in the mountains or fishing the Gallatin. I have had this problem since first grade and a lengthly and costly education did not fix it. If you call me when you are in Bozeman I will treat dinner and drinks at the brew pud. 406 580-2627 Cell

          • Mike says:

            Thanks for the mighty kind offer, Elk. 🙂 I’ll jot down your number in my notepad.

            And it’s good to hear that the sky looks relatively normal.

            My father is flying into Bozeman on the 29th, and we have already postponed twice due to the fire season, so I hope this is the last one.

            • Savebears says:

              Looks pretty normal here in NW Montana as well, spent the weekend on the Fisher river and it was pretty smokey, but things seem to be clearing up.

  4. Jerry Black says:

    I’m living in Ronald….5 miles from Roslyn. Lots of smoke!
    We need RAIN!!

  5. Mike says:

    85-100% chance of rain in West Yellowstone and Big Sky late afternoon to evening.


  6. Nancy says:

    Had about a dozen raindrops hit the window panes yesterday evening and a few more drops over night. (If I’d had the time, could of probably come up with a total in the dry dirt this morning 🙂

    Mid morning a very light shower passed thru the area, though not enough to “wet one’s whistle” or bring any kind of real relief to the parched landscape.

    There are some clouds building off towards Idaho right now but I’ve seen that kind of buildup a few times in the last couple of months and it’s produced no moisture.

    Some thoughts on this site:

  7. Ralph Maughan says:

    It rained in Pocatello, SE Idaho on Sunday and threatened to most of today, Monday, but we only had a trace. For now the smoke is all gone and the temperature is way down.

    The smoke had been at the unhealthy for everyone level until noon Saturday. Now there is no smoke at all, but if there is no more rain I can see it could come back from the Washington fires and maybe the now smouldering central Idaho ones.

    • Mike says:

      Good to hear. And now a good-sized cloud is moving due west from Yellowstone to the heart of Idaho fire country….

  8. Cobra says:

    I can’t remember the last clear day we’ve had in North Idaho, it’s been smokey for days and seems to be bothering most people in our area.
    It’s really dry in the mountains so everyone should be extra careful, hope they are.


September 2012


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey