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Significant Rainfall To Bring Wildfire Relief To Western Canada Next Week

Parts of the Midwestern United States were warned to limit outdoor activity due to the Canadian wildfire smoke in Alberta.

A storm system will bring a healthy dose of much-needed rain to drought-stricken and wildfire-ravaged western Canada from late this weekend into next week, according to AccuWeather forecasters.

The rain, which will total several inches (or locally over 100 mm (0.33 feets)) through Tuesday, will fall over areas hardest hit by the nearly 100 wildfires that have scorched over a million acres early this spring and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

The wet weather, while not expected to extinguish the impacts from the fires fully, will have positive downstream effects, helping to diminish smoke that has been leading to poor air quality and visibility in large swaths of Canada and even parts of the United States in recent days.

A smoke column rises from a wildfire near Lodgepole, Alberta, Canada on May 4. More than 13,000 people who live in the Canadian province of Alberta have been evacuated as wildfires rage across the region. ALBERTA WILDFIRE/ACCUWEATHER

For weeks now, the weather pattern fueling the wildfires in western Canada has been one of very dry and warm conditions.

According to the North American Drought Monitor, nearly 85% of Alberta is considered at least “abnormally dry,” and about 41% of the land is in drought conditions due to a lack of rain and snow in recent months. Large swaths of British Columbia and Saskatchewan are also considered very dry, according to the Monitor.

Temperatures in the region have also been smashing numerous daily record highs since the beginning of May. In Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city, four new record high temperatures have been established this month — ranging from 85 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit (29 to 31 degrees Celsius) — and temperatures have been running about 10 F (about 15 C) above historical averages. Additional record high temperatures are forecast through this weekend, say AccuWeather forecasters, but a major shift in the weather pattern is on the horizon.

“A dramatic shift in the weather pattern from hot and dry conditions to cool and very wet conditions is ahead,” said AccuWeather Senior Storm Warning Meteorologist William Clark. “The storm responsible for this change will arrive late this weekend and continue into next week across eastern British Columbia and into central Alberta.”

Much like the record-smashing warmth, the amount of rain ahead could reach levels not usually seen this time of year. COURTESY/ACCUWEATHER

“Most of the area will get 1 to 2 inches (25 to 50 mm (0.16 feets)) of rain from Sunday evening to Tuesday afternoon, with up to 4 inches (100 mm) possible across west-central Alberta,” said Clark. “Typically, much of this area gets only around 1.50 inches (40 mm) for the entire month.”

While the beneficial aspects of the rain will largely outweigh the negative, for some, this amount of rain could prove too much of a good thing. Localized flash flooding will be possible in downpours, especially in areas with land scarred by the fires, or on streets and in low-lying areas in more urbanized locales.

The immediate impacts of the rainfall over wildfire-ravaged areas will be quick and dramatic.

Current and recent wildfires within the last week, as of Friday, May 19. COURTESY/ACCUWEATHER

According to the Government of Alberta, over 90 wildfires were burning in the province as of Friday morning. Dozens of other wildfires were also raging in neighboring British Columbia, Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan, and more than 20,000 people have been displaced overall, according to Natural Resources Canada.

The rain will provide immediate relief for firefighters battling the wildfires and help with overall containment, but it likely won’t fully extinguish the flames. The wetter soil produced from the rain will also lower the risk for new wildfires, at least in the short term, say AccuWeather experts.

The smoke produced by the wildfires, and carried downstream by wind patterns, has been noticeable for millions across large swaths of Canada and even the U.S. In Canada’s western and central provinces, and parts of the northern and central U.S., the smoke particles have even made it toward ground level, prompting air-quality alerts. COURTESY/ACCUWEATHER

Officials in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Yellowstone National Park, among other locations, have warned residents to limit time outdoors in recent days, especially those with respiratory ailments.

More harmless impacts from the smoke have been observed on the fringes of the thickest plumes in the northwestern U.S. and along the East Coast where vibrant sunrises and sunsets have been noted as of late.

The fires have also proven impactful for Canada’s fossil fuel industry. Nearly 2.7 million acres of daily oil sands production in Alberta is in “high” or “extreme” wildfire danger zones, Rested Energy told CNBC. Additionally, outage volumes stood at about the equivalent of 240,000 barrels of oil per day, which has sent oil prices soaring.

Current plumes of smoke across Canada and the U.S., as of Friday, May 19. COURTESY/ACCUWEATHER

The upcoming relief provided by the rain could prove fleeting. While sustained dry and warm conditions won’t immediately return following the rain, AccuWeather’s 2023 summer outlook for Canada, which will be released on Wednesday, paints a dim picture.

Early indications from AccuWeather’s long-range forecast team are that high pressure will dominate across British Columbia and Alberta this summer. This pattern would deflect most storms toward Alaska and prolong drier-than-normal conditions in the region which would be bad news for fire containment.

Produced in association with AccuWeather

Edited by Alberto Arellano and Joseph Hammond

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