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Wetting rain expected Friday through Sunday, offering some relief from smoke, wildfires

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | August 2, 2023 12:55 PM

The region should see some relief from the heat and fire weather in the coming days, the National Weather Service is saying.

Chances for a wetting rain of 0.10 inch or more from Friday to early Sunday is in the forecast, with light to moderate rain expected Saturday.

The chance for a quarter-inch of rain is about 60% at this time, said National Weather Service meteorologist Luke Robinson.

The Flathead is in the depths of a drought, while other regions of the state are actually above normal precipitation for the water year.

In Kalispell, the region is 5.44 inches below normal for the water year, Robinson said. The water year is measured from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

In West Glacier, a normal water year sees 29.3 inches of precipitation. This year, to date, it’s had just 17.17 inches.

In the historic fire year of 2003, when tens of thousands of acres of forest burned in Glacier National Park and the Flatheda National Forest, West Glacier saw 22.93 inches of precipitation total.

So far this year, it’s even drier than that.

Meanwhile some regions east of the divide are above average for precipitation. Choteau, for example, is at 10.67 inches currently. The mean for this time of year is normally 8.87 inches and for the entire water year is 11.09 inches.

That would explain why the grass was still green east of the divide in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park just a couple of weeks ago, when normally it is brown or turning brown by late July.

Bozeman is also 1.49 inches above average, Robinson noted.

Missoula is below average, but not as bad as the Flathead, at 1.89 inches below normal.

Next week should see cooler temperatures, with highs in the 80s.

The area has been beset by wildfires in the past week, but not as bad as 2003.

The largest local fires are the Tin Soldier complex on the west side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir.

It’s four fires burning on and near Kah Mountain and Bruce Ridge and is mapped at just under 1,500 acres total. The Ridge Fire and Doris Point Fires closer to Hungry Horse aren’t as big, but they are pouring smoke into the Canyon.

An evacuation order for Heinrude community along the reservoir was issued by the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office. Some closures were expected on the Spotted Bear district.

The fire danger level for Northwest Montana was elevated to “extreme” on Tuesday, prompting Flathead County commissioners to declare a state of emergency for the county.

The emergency status activates portions of the county’s emergency plan and authorizes aid from the emergency and disaster fund.

Gov. Greg Gianforte has asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to declare Flathead County, and 10 other counties in Montana drought disaster areas.

Lincoln, Glacier, Toole, Sanders, Lake, Pondera, Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli, and Sheridan counties are also under the request by the governor.

In addition, F.H. Stoltze has announced that it will close all of its lands to any kind of public use, including non-motorized and walk-in use, starting Monday until further notice. The only exception is traveling through their lands on an open public road.