Storms, searing temps and fire threat

Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, August 1, 2019
Article Image Alt Text
Article Image Alt Text
Article Image Alt Text
Article Image Alt Text

Photos by Hanna Osgood
            These spectacular storm photos were captured by Park City High School alum Hanna Osgood last week. National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Tom Frieders explains the colors produced by such storms at lightning strikes as follows:
 “When lightning occurs, particles in the atmosphere around it will begin to scatter light and change the color of the flash. The nitrogen and oxygen molecules in our atmosphere can produce a violet, purple or blue color. Dust or smoke in air can sometimes produce more orange colors at a distance.”

Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger likes to say that even when the rain is pouring and the temperature is cold for months, we are always just a few weeks away from a “flash drought.”

Although year-to-date, Columbus is 4.10 inches above its normal precipitation amount, temperatures are climbing into the mid and upper 90s and a handful of small fires have occurred.

Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Coordinator Carol Arkell spoke Tuesday morning to commissioners about the start of something called severity staffing that will kick into gear next week, as emergency crews begin to focus on fire preparedness.

By definition, severity staffing is increased staffing to fire stations “meant to bolster the system to rapidly attack wildland fires to attempt to keep them small and save money,” according to CFR Assistant Chief Nick Jacobs.

Developed and paid by the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC), severity staffing entails trained firefighters spending 12 days at specific locations looking for smoke or any reports of smoke and flames. Crews must stay at the assigned locations, which are staffed during what Arkell described as peak hours. The positions are paid by DNRC and include a strike force leader. If there is a fire, all of the severity staff responds immediately.


Arkell also told the commission that if the hot temperatures persist into next week, the county burn permit system will likely be shut down. According to the NWS, that will likely be the scenario, with highs in the low to mid 90s through at least Monday.

Several days also bring 20 to 30 percent change of thunderstorms.