Meteorologists predict shorter, possibly more intense fire season

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – New Mexico is no stranger to drought, but this past winter was wetter than we’ve seen in the past several years. Meteorologists say that could have big impacts on the season.

They say when it comes to moisture and the snowpack, this past winter is the best we’ve seen since 2011-2012.

Brent Wachter is a fire weather meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He says we saw a mixed bag of precipitation in terms of snowfall across the state. Wachter says there were parts of the season where it was very wet, giving us a near average snowpack in the Sangre de Cristos. However, in other mountain regions in the state, the snowpack was below normal.

Wachter says this will have an impact on the length of the fire season. Yet, he says we’ll need to keep a close eye on what happens in spring and early summer.

“Is it going to be cool and moist? Or is it going to be hot and dry? Right now, all the indications point to a cooler and more moist period this spring and that’s going to shorten the fire season,” said Wachter.

There are several reasons for this shorter season, one of which is called green up and it could have severe consequences down the road.

“When all the grass is green, fire danger is low, and so here in the next few weeks when the soils warm up, we’re going to see a lot more grass growth. But then that’s going to be the thing that will drive the fire season once that grass dries out,” Wachter said.

Wachter says that dryout isn’t going to happen until late May and into June, but it will mean heightened fire activity during that time. That’s because extra fuel means you don’t need as much wind to have larger fires. Wachter says that may or may not lead to a more intense season.

“You still have to have someone doing something stupid or a natural event like lightening. That would create the ignition to promote the fire, so if everybody is safe with what they’re doing, then it doesn’t necessarily matter as much how much fuel you have,” explained Wachter.

Yet, Wachter says he’s expecting a lower than average fire season in the mountains due to timely spurts of humidity and precipitation that will keep fuels from becoming critically dry. He says that’s going to give land managers the opportunity to let naturally sparked fires burn. Wachter says it’s important to let those fires burn in order to get rid of some of the undergrowth that’s been building up for hundreds of years.

With a wetter winter, you might be wondering why we’ve seen several fires recently, including one in Española’s Bosque. Wachter said the state saw a lot of growth the past two monsoon seasons. He says that means there’s extra grass and more fuel for fires to burn.

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