Because of forest fire smoke 2017 was one of the worst years on record for western Montana air quality, especially for areas like Seeley Lake, where the health department warned the public about even going outside. Meteorologist Michael Richmond with the Northern Rockies Coordination Center has been studying the weather to try to find out how this year’s fire season will behave. The good news, is that this year, Western Montana has the best snowpack since 1997, which should hold off fire season till late July. The bad news is analysts are still predicting a worse than average fire season.

“For August and September, they are calling for warmer and dryer than normal,” Richmond said. “Our fire potential would be above average probably for western Montana, but you have to remember it is not just temperatures and drought that cause our fire season, it is lightning too. It could be that we get a later fire season that last year, but a longer one going further into August and September than we did last year.”

Despite the chances of a later fire season, Richmond says it is unlikely things get as bad as last year.

“Last year was very extreme because of that flash drought that occurred,” Richmond said. “We had our only rainless summer in the period of record in Missoula in July. That has never happened before. The potential looks to be a little higher than other years. The slower years like 2014 and 2016, it looks like our potential will be a little higher than those years, but not necessarily as bad as last year.”

While lightning playing a major role in Montana fire seasons, Richmond says the ability of meteorologists to forecast lightning is limited to within about a week of a possible storm.