When you think of winter in Montana, you think lots of snow, not wildfires. But on Tuesday the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for the eastern and north-central part of the state.
The red flag warning program has been around for almost two decades and "none of us have issued them this late in the year," says Tanja Fransen, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Glasgow.
High winds, low humidity and a lack of snow cover mean areas around the Fort Peck Reservoir are at risk for wildfires until 10 p.m. Tuesday. Many counties shut down open burning and are urging residents to check county websites or Facebook pages for burn bans.
Fransen says the strange weather is due to a resilient ridge of high pressure hovering over much of the American West.
“This is why we’re seeing all the massive fires that are occurring in the California area," she says. "They’re getting the Santa Anas and they’re getting those really extreme, dry conditions. That warmth has extended all the way across the northern Rockies and the northern plains.”
There’s even a 3,000 acre fire burning in the black hills of South Dakota. Here in Montana, parts of the state are still under an extreme drought that’s gripped the area since last spring.
“Glasgow, Montana has only had 2.3 inches of snow fall this year and areas just north of Atlanta has had a foot," Fransen says. "So there is something up with the weather.”
Montana’s first-ever climate assessment, released earlier this year, warned that the state would see higher temperatures, more extreme wildfires and decreasing snowpacks due to climate change. Conditions should improve on Wednesday but weather conditions forecasted for Sunday could bring a return of fire danger in the region.