Canada's Burning

Canada’s Burning

Many Wildfires Remain Out of Control in the Great White North

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – While the last few months here in Northwestern Middlesex County, and the rest of the Garden State have been dry, conditions pale in comparison to those affecting our neighbors to the North.  Canada has experienced a brutal wildfire season.  Perhaps the worst on record.  Simply put Canada’s Burning.  A couple of years ago, the Northwestern provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were hit hard by heat and wildfires.  This year, nearly all of Canada is dealing with drought and unyielding brush blazes.

According to information provided in a webinar on Drought and Wildfires presented by AEM on Wednesday afternoon, there are 2,690 wildfires that are currently active in the Great White North.  The fires have consumed an area twice the size of the state of Massachusetts.  AEM’s Molly Robinson stated that approximately 5.8 million hectares or 14.3 million acres of land have been scorched.  In terms of square mileage, the land coverage is roughly 22,000 square miles.

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Burning Begins in Saskatchewan and Alberta

Canada’s Burning first began out west in Saskatchewan and Alberta.  According to Reuters, officials in the province of Alberta indicated that 23 of its 90 active wildfires at the time, were out of control as of May 19th.  The wildfire risk in Alberta forced the closing of parks.  Residents of Calgary were wearing facial masks while walking their dogs in a smoky haze.  Within the week, the wildfires moved east into the coastal provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The Tantallon wildfire near the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia resulted in mandatory evacuation orders for 18,000 residents according to Reuters.  The suburban communities of Hammonds Plains, Upper Tantallon, and Pockwock where many of Halifax’s workers reside were in the evacuation zone.  Another 400 homes in the adjacent province of New Brunswick were evacuated as well.  The smoke from these fires began to affect the Garden State and Mid-Atlantic on the first day of June

Wildfires Break Out in Ontario and Quebec

A northeasterly flow from the Atlantic that is typical for this time of year, helped usher in the first round of smoky haze to GWC and the rest of New Jersey.  It was only the beginning as more smoke was on the way from a different Canadian locale.  Canada’s burning shifted to Southern Ontario and Southern Quebec several days later.  As the winds shifted to the north and north-northwest, smoke began to build into New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic again.

On June 7th, the smoky haze became so pronounced that it turned daylight into a scene from Mars or Tatooine from Star Wars.  Smoke particulates in the air were estimated to be upwards of 300 parts per million.  Greg’s Weather Center traveled and captured the impact of the smoke from the Canadian Wildfires in Spring Lake Park.  The resulting poor air quality caused activities to be postponed and school districts to close.

Quiet Wildfire Season So Far in the United States

Usually, this time of year, the wildfires begin to get going in the Western United States.  Fortunately, not this year.  Water levels are back to around normal throughout California. Wetter conditions resulted from numerous atmospheric rivers that brought flooding rains and mountain snow. Robinson stated that the wildfire spread currently in the United States is only about 645,000 acres. For this time of year that is about 50 percent of the average.

Meanwhile, here in New Jersey, conditions have been quite dry as well.  A nor’easter brought enough rain late in the month to make April’s rainfall near normal. However, the month of May and much of June have been drier than usual.  Since the middle of April, there have only been approximately 6.56 inches at GWC in South Plainfield.  Of that total, there have only been 1.06 inches to date this month.  And that was on top of only a total of 1.02 inches in May.  So over the last 52 days, there has only been 2.08 inches of rain at GWC.

Garden State Wildfires

The Garden State has also seen its fair share of wildfires this Spring.  Two notable ones occurred in Burlington and Ocean counties.  The first one was in Burlington County near Washington Township.  The second occurred in the area of the Bass River State Forest in Southern Ocean County.  Both took several days to get under control.  The latter was probably overlooked due to the smoke coming from the Canadian Wildfires on June 7th and 8th. 

Robinson and fellow AEM Meteorologist James Aman further indicated that the fire danger in Canada should remain very high to extreme.  Only when the summer progresses into August and September, the fire danger should decrease.  The drought has made a bit of a dent in Canada’s agricultural industry.  According to Aman, there has been “some loss of acreage, about 10 to 15 % below normal. Only the extra planting in the Canadian Prairies due to the War in Ukraine has helped to keep yields closer to normal.

Canada’s Precipitation Outlook

Canada’s Burning will continue in the short term. Aman went on to state that the forecast doesn’t look good for above-normal precipitation in Canada.  “At best, it will be near normal, which won’t do much to make it any better,” Aman said.  The overall climate pattern is shifting from a La Niña phase that has lasted three years.  The shift is toward a moderately strong El Niño. A moderate strength El Niño rates either a W2 or W3 on the ENSO intensity scale.  The migration to El Niño will rapidly increase during the course of the summer.

The El Niño phase is when sea surface or ocean temperatures in the Eastern and Central Pacific become warmer than normal.  This climate pattern usually results in increased tropical activity in the Eastern Pacific, and less action in the Atlantic.  It also has an impact on drought and wildfires around the world.  During La Niña, the opposite happens.  Sea surface temperatures become cooler than normal in the Eastern and Central Pacific.

There could be another round of significant smoke and haze from the Canadian Wildfires in the Mid-Atlantic too.  The best potential for another instance of severe smoke and haze for the Garden State and Mid-Atlantic could be either later this month or in July according to Robinson.  “It all depends on the severity of the wildfires and the wind direction,” said Robinson.  A wetter pattern is developing over the area and will last into the middle of next week. So the threat of more smoke and haze from Canada’s burning is very low right now.