The latest U.S. winter outlook spells trouble for dry California water supplies. In addition to record-setting snowfall for many of the state’s mountain valleys, a historic lack of rain is causing historic fire-related problems.
Winter is often a time of increased fire risk in California and many other wildland and grassland landscapes. But this year’s conditions are so exceptional that a fire year is possible.
For the first time in 40 years of record-keeping, California’s drought is now an extreme fire risk. And with new, dry conditions expected for much of the next decade, fire danger is likely to increase.
“It is unusual to be in an extreme fire year,” said Kevin Roth, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “That doesn’t happen very often.”
While record-setting fire conditions may seem to be a given in California after the state experienced a record-breaking fire season in 2017, the 2018 outlook is likely to be even more extreme.
According to the state’s new outlook, the chances of being in a wildfire year are at 95 percent in January and May of 2019, with chances dropping to 86 percent in April and June.
That’s particularly true for the state’s dry parts of the Sierra Nevada, the Sierra-Cascade Lowlands and the California Central Valley.
The new outlook is the result of a comprehensive fire history study, conducted by University of California, Berkeley’s Global Change Institute, and produced to inform the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Fire history in California, including the 2018 outlook, is available here.
“This is a study that we had to do a year in advance because we were expecting it to be a record-breaking fire season,” Roth said. “And it was a record-breaking fire season … but we were expecting it and it wasn’t quite as extreme as we were expecting.”
The U.S. Department of Interior’s fire outlook, issued last week, shows a slight improvement for California and other areas of the United States; California was among 10 states in the top 10 nationwide for the risk