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Looking ahead to Washington's summer: Hotter and drier than normal, with a wildfire threat

Amid warmer temps and sunnier skies, Washingtonians are looking away from the current pandemic and toward potential complications from wildfires in the summer months ahead.

That’s according to state climatologist Nick Bond. The latest forecast for the coming summer months indicate that the region will experience higher-than-average temps, with lower levels of rain.

Weather forecasts can be tricky, especially the further out the predictions go. But the current outlook hints at more wildfires on the horizon.

“Around here, there is an old joke – ‘April showers bring May showers,’” Bond told KUOW's Angela King. “I’m afraid that’s not going to be the case this year … our snowpack is in pretty good shape, but there’s part of the landscape here in Washington state that is on the dry side; that has not gotten as much of precipitation over the last few months as usual, and that’s especially on the east flank of the Cascades."

On the west side, Sea-Tac Airport has recorded a mere .01 inches of rain so far in April, indicating a dry few weeks in the area. So perhaps not as many April showers. Meanwhile, UW Climatologist Cliff Mass has also noted a "dry storm" striking the Northwest.

"And we’re looking at a warmer-than-normal summer," Bond said. "So that combination of the landscape starting out on the dry side, plus a warm summer is raising some concerns.”

“I think we have a bigger threat of wildfires this year,” he said.

"Wildfire season is here"

Those concerns are only more complicated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

According to Washington's Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, "Wildfire season is here." For example, the Stanwood Bryant Fire in Snohomish County was burning at 70 acres on April 16, and the Porter Creek Fire in Whatcom County had grown to 80 acres.

Despite being largely spared over the 2019 summer, Washington has experienced significant wildfires in recent years. They have sent smoke throughout the region and have prompted air quality warnings for sensitive groups.

While Washington has just above 100% snowpack for the 2020 summer, the National Weather Service has already noted "drought conditions" on the east side of the state. As of April 10, Eastern Washington went under an early season burn ban.

Officials with the Department of Natural Resources said that the state had responded to 160 wildfires so far in 2020 (as of April 16); nearly 70% of them were east of the Cascade Mountains. Deputy Supervisor of Wildland Fire Management George Geissler noted the numbers recently via Twitter.

"Our state’s fire season is getting off to a busy start," he said. "Please be cautious and not spark a wildfire!"

Potential 2020 summer weather

According to Bond, current climate models indicate that that the 2020 summer could be about 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal.

What exactly does that mean?

Temperatures are expected to reach the high 70s, and even rise into the 80s toward late July. Bond said there is a chance of temps reaching into the 90s as well.

“Obviously, Mother Nature holds the cards here," Bond said. "And if we have a really hot summer -- not saying that is going to happen, but it is possible -- then some problems could develop…”