SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Officials claim southwestern monsoonal moisture is the main reason why most of Utah has so far avoided a devastating wildfire season in 2022, despite the fact that some flames have already begun.
“We were expecting a more robust monsoon and that did in fact come to fruition,” said Basil Newmerzhycky, meteorologist with Great Basin Predictive Services. “It has really taken the edge off fire season across the eastern and southern parts of the state.”
Newmerzhycky said Utah gets monsoonal moisture when high pressure systems form over the Four Corners region of the American southwest. However, it’s too soon to tell if that moisture will stick around for August.
“The long-range forecasts for the monsoon are all over the place for August,” he said. “If it starts to wane, we could see a much bigger part of the state coming more into play so we’ll have to wait a few weeks before making that judgment.”
Newmerzhycky said western and northern parts of the state are at more of a risk for destructive fires.
“The Oquirrh Mountains, the Stansbury Range, and all the higher terrain as you go further east, mainly north of the I-80 corridor,” he said. “So out by Ogden, toward the Idaho border, those areas should be the most critical for the next several weeks.”
State fire officials welcome the moisture but they also call it a double-edged sword.
“The monsoonal moisture is good and it can help,” said Karl Hunt, public information officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands. “But it can also help increase the fuel load as well that’s out there.
Hunt said an increased fuel load can prove disastrous if a fire were to break out, even if it’s not a large one.
“We have to be very conscious because those fuels can still dry out and create potential issues down the road,” Hunt said.
Newmerzhycky also said the hot weather we’ve been experiencing goes hand-in-hand with monsoonal moisture.
“One comes with the other,” he said. “When you have the Four Corners high pressure establish itself, it is a hot dome of air. So when you’re not seeing the showers, you’re hot.”
Newmerzhycky said increase fire danger could actually come with cooler temperatures.
“If the monsoon wanes, we’ll start seeing more cold fronts dropping out of the north, bringing more wind, cooler temperatures, but drier air and the threat of a worse fire season possibly,” he said.