Watching for lightning generated fires after first threats of season

Weather

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon had one of the first real lightning threats of the summer this week.

The summer in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) can bring lightning storms in with little moisture to work with. These events are quite the sight, but they can be miserable for the wildfire season.

Storms from earlier in the week produced roughly hundreds of lightning strikes for central and eastern Oregon. The hardest hit area was to the northeast in the Blue Mountains.

Below is a generated map of the lightning across the United States over a span of 24 hours, including the event above. Notice the swath of lightning extending from central Oregon all the way up to the northeast and eventually slicing into Idaho.

Courtesy of lightningmaps.org and Blitzortung.org

There was no lightning west of the Cascades on this date. According to the Central Oregon Fire Info, “a storm passed through Central Oregon last night blanketing the area in approximately 100 lightning strikes. Firefighters have responded to five new incidents from that lightning today, the largest of which is the Alder Creek Fire 5 miles northeast of the Service Creek area”. This is what we want to avoid during the summer and so far we’ve been fortunate.

What’s next? We do have another chance for more lightning for those areas to the east on Thursday. It’s likely not going to be as developed from the event earlier in the week, but there is enough to work with for some more thunderstorms to develop with lightning.

Where will this be an issue? Likely again for the area around the Blue Mountains in Oregon, impacting areas near La Grande. Below are a few weather models to help pinpoint some of the locations to watch for on Thursday night, while also supporting the development of a few thunderstorms. Additionally, the wind has been consistently cranking for a lot of central Oregon. Many locations seeing wind gusting to the 30 mph range a few times a week. Obviously pairing any fires with dry and windy conditions is not a good thing.

CURRENT WILDFIRES TO MONITOR

The Paulina Lake Fire near Highway 97 on Prineville District BLM managed lands is now 40% contained at 48 acres.

According to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (NWCC) there were 22 new fires as of July 8 and 85 acres of concern. For Oregon, there were 13 fires for 81 acres and for Washington, 9 fires for 3 acres.

The NWCC stated Wednesday that the thunderstorms were accompanied with precipitation. They also said that “fires igniting in lower elevations are beginning to spread more readily. Ignitions at higher elevations are still easily contained.”

LIGHTNING IN THE PNW

Thunderstorms can be tough to get going in the Pacific Northwest because of our proximity with the Pacific Ocean. We tend to have a chance for lightning storms east of the Cascades because of the ability to heat up and have a contrast in temperature.

However, sometimes, the wind aloft may direct those storms over the Willamette Valley. For lightning, you also need a good amount of water vapor. However, the air is relatively cool coming off the Pacific Ocean so it just can’t hold the amount of moisture you really need. Now this isn’t always the case, but it is definitely a reason for our limited thunderstorms and lightning storms.

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