Rain, snow on the way

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A few tourist walk down the smoke-filled street at Apgar Village on Tuesday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

Meteorologists expect a cold, wet weather front to arrive in Northwest Montana on Thursday, one that could wind down a brutal fire season.

National Weather Service models show a fall weather system moving into the Flathead Valley later this week, bringing rain, mountain snow and steep temperature drops. On Friday, the Kalispell area can expect a high of 57 degrees — down from 83 on Tuesday — and a 70 percent chance of precipitation.

“It’s an entire air mass exchange,” explains Corby Dickerson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula. Dickerson said that as the cold front moves in, it will “flush out the hot air mass we’ve been living with all summer, and replace it with a cooler, moister air mass.”

The expected change is so sharp that the Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch, effective Thursday evening and Friday morning for areas above 6,000 feet. Logan Pass could have an inch of snow on the ground Friday, Dickerson said.

That could bode well for those fighting the wildfires stoked by this summer’s low rainfall and high temperatures.

“It’s going to take a pretty significant precipitation event” to quench the fires, he explains, “and those usually come in the form of snow.”

“This weather system,” he continues, “marks the beginning of what should...be the end of the fire season.”

Below the snowline, models show rainfall on Thursday and Friday.

Lincoln Chute, Fire Service Area Manager for the Flathead County Office of Emergency Services, explains that while rains don’t always put out a wildfire, they can stop it from spreading, and allow firefighters to close in on the flames.

“You can do work safely...right up close to the fire line,” he tells the Daily Inter Lake.

However, he makes clear that “we aren’t going to change any tactics at this time based on what’s predicted.”

The Weather Service’s Dickerson projects about a quarter-inch of rain in Kalispell. The Sprague Fire, he says, could receive a quarter-inch to a half-inch, but the Caribou and Gibralter Ridge fires could get one-tenth of an inch.

That may not prove sufficient. Chute says that “it’s going to take two, three, four days of constant soaking rain...to saturate enough that the fire damage would really diminish.”

Even if this front doesn’t deliver that rain, Dickerson says models suggests another one coming next week, and predicts that Thursday’s will deal a “strong first blow to fire season.”

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