Alberta, Canada — Fire experts in Alberta’s mountain parks are taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather this winter to create a fire guard near Jasper National Park.
Dave Smith, a vegetation specialist for the park, says crews are using torches to ignite brush. They’re hoping to protect residential areas from a major forest fire that could break out once the warm, dry weather returns.
Smith says the lack of moisture in the area could lead to drought conditions similar to those in the summer of 2003, and burning now is one of the only ways to be prepared.
“We’ve just gone through four years of drought,” he says. “We did have a bit of a reprieve last summer with quite a bit of rain, but all that did was bring us back to normal, and now with this dry winter in the valley bottom, we’re again spiralling into drought.”
Prescribed burns have been used in the mountains for six years now but never this early in the year.
Eastern Europe and Siberia have been having one of the worst winters in recent memory. But Canada and much of the United States have been enjoying an extended warm spell.
Meteorologists point to the unusual position of the polar jet stream, the high-altitude river of air that flows west-to-east across North America.
Usually, it dips south, carving a path for cold Arctic air to follow. But this year, it has flowed east in almost a straight line, keeping cold air out and allowing in milder air masses from the Pacific Ocean.