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No relief for Pacific Northwest drought

It does not appear there will be any major relief this spring or summer from the unusually dry weather that has recently hit the Pacific Northwest, according to new projections of drought severity and fire risk that are based on "general circulation" models that forecast global climate.

The analysis, which was developed by researchers at the U.S.D.A. Forest Service and Oregon State University, also shows that the northwestern part of the country will face forest and rangeland fires this year that could be unusually severe and generally the worst of any area in the nation.

Wet weather has recently predominated in the Southwest, Central and Atlantic coast regions of the United States. As a result, 2005 should be a fairly mild fire season in most areas of the nation.

But the same forecasts for a period from now to August show some pockets of drought severity and associated fire risks in southern Florida, Maine and southeastern Arizona. And there is a major problem of historic proportions developing in a six-state region that includes Oregon, Washington, northern California, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

"We project that the drought severity the northwestern states are now experiencing will only get worse in coming months, and reach levels that were generally seen during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s," said Ronald Neilson, a bioclimatologist with the U.S. Forest Service and professor of botany at OSU.

Severe drought does not automatically translate into major fires, said Neilson and colleague James Lenihan, a fire and ecosystem modeler.

"It takes ignition sources such as lightning storms to trigger multiple fires, and that doesn't always happen," Lenihan said. "But those events are fairly common and, because of that, fires will often occur if vegetation, moisture and climatic conditions are right, which it appears they will be this year."

The latest consensus forecast for fire risk this spring and summer indicate huge fo
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Source:Oregon State University


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