Canada — The lack of snow this winter doesnt mean more wildfires this summer.
Despite one of the lowest snowfalls on record in more than 100 years, weather experts say summer weather, not the winters snow accumulation, will dictate what kind of fire year Alaska has in 2010.
Studies by the Alaska Fire Service in Fairbanks and fire experts in Canada show there is no relation between winter snowfall and summer fire danger, she said.
It has more to do with the weather during the fire season, Sharon Alden, a meteorologist at the Alaska Fire Service, said. We could have a really low snow year and a really dry spring and then it rains the rest of the summer.
Meteorologist Mike Richmond, who specializes in fire weather at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks, agreed.
In the boreal forest of Alaska and Canada there is no relationship between winter snow pack and summer fire danger, he said.
For example, during the winter preceding Alaskas biggest fire season on record in 2004, when more than 6.7 million acres burned, Fairbanks received
62.2 inches of snow, which is only about 10 inches below normal.
We had a near average snow pack and we had our worst fire season ever, Richmond said.
The picture was much the same the following year, when approximately
4.7 million acres burned after an above-average winter snowfall of 77.4 inches.
Conversely, only 28 inches of snow fell at Fairbanks International Airport during the winter of 2006-07, the third lowest snowfall total on record since 1904, but only 550,000 acres burned in the summer of 2007.
Last winter, Fairbanks received 71.5 inches of snow and approximately 2.95 million acres burned last summer.
With only 24.8 inches of snow as of Friday, Fairbanks is on track for one of its lowest winter snow accumulations since the National Weather Service began keeping records in 1904.
Up to this point, there have been only two winters 1918-19 with 12.0 inches and 1952-53 with 22.9 inches in which Fairbanks has recorded less snow than this year.
Fairbanks is experiencing one of its driest winters on record, Richmond said. Only 4.54 inches of precipitation has been measured at Fairbanks International Airport since the start of July.
This is the fourth-driest period in Fairbanks recorded history from July until now, Richmond said. We are in a drought basically.
But its a matter of how dry it is in May, June and July that dictates what kind of fire season Alaska will have.
Its all short-term weather process driven, Richmond said. If we have rains every two or three weeks or closer together, we dont get a fire season.
We have to have periods of three weeks or longer of dry weather for there to be a fire season (in Alaska), he said. When we get a dry season, thats when we get the fires.