Kootenay forests are unusually dry for this time of year. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Kootenay forests are unusually dry for this time of year. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

On summer’s cusp, Kootenay forests are at record dry levels

Southeast Fire Centre says 4 months of unusually dry weather have had effect on the region’s forests

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

Some Kootenay forests are at their driest levels ever recorded for this time of year, and recent cool wet weather has only slightly eased the situation.

A fire forecaster with the Southeast Fire Centre says four months of unusually dry weather have had their effect on the region’s forests, making them tinder-dry.

“It’s anomalously high for this time of year, though later in the summer we’ll see higher values than we are currently experiencing,” says Jesse Ellis. “The reason this draws our attention is if it’s really high now, and we don’t see significant precipitation, you can see it continue on that trend of remaining very high compared to what we have seen in the past.”

Ellis says he relies on an index called the BUI, or Build-Up Index, as a guide to how dry the forests across the region are. The BUI uses measurements of different kinds of forest materials to determine how much fire fuel is available. It’s not the only guide to fire danger, but it is an important one.

“The higher BUI indicates less moisture in the deeper fuels,” Ellis told the Valley Voice. “Right now most areas are seeing higher-than-average BUI for this time of year.

“Before this little shot of showers we got in the last week or so, we had some areas that were breaking records for BUI for that time of year. However, the showers haven’t been heavy.”

So even the recent “June-uary” rains, as they are commonly called – a series of cool, wet bands of moisture that commonly ruin picnics planned this time of year – only marginally brought down the BUI index.

That leaves the forests starting out very dry just as the baking-hot Kootenay summer gears up.

“Most of the long-range computer weather models are showing the beginning of a hot, dry weather pattern kicking off,” he says. “It could be prolonged … that could initiate the beginning of a more summer-type pattern.”

Driest month in a decade

Ellis made the comments with the release of his weather summary for May 2021.

“This is the fourth consecutive month with drier-than-average conditions and it is also the driest May of the last 10 years,” he notes, adding that only seven Pacific frontal waves reached the area during the month – half of normal. And they were fed by a “relatively weak source of moisture.”

“The month’s total precipitation (21.4 mm) was only 30 per cent of normal, and there were only half as many days with measurable precipitation (eight) as is the norm,” he added.

While May was setting records for lack of moisture, Ellis notes no temperature records were broken during the month, and the monthly temperature average was just about normal.