Dangerously dry conditions, what rainfall amounts are required

Dangerously dry conditions, what rainfall amounts are required
WATCH ABOVE: Cooler temperatures and moisture in the forecast provide relief for people living in fire ravaged prairie centres but will it be enough? Meaghan Craig talks to the experts about how much rain is required to stave off the threat of flames in Saskatchewan.

SASKATOON – The fire in Fort McMurray isn’t doing what everyone feared it would do, move towards Saskatchewan. At least for now according to fire officials in the province who are monitoring the situation.

During a conference call on Monday, wildfire management and emergency management officials said they remaining in constant contact with teams in Alberta to gain as much intelligence as they can on an unpredictable fire.

FULL COVERAGE: Fort McMurray Wildfire

Year-to-date there have been 137 wildfires in Saskatchewan, 17 are actively burning and are all contained.

“In Saskatchewan, our wildfire hazards remain high and extreme in some portions of the province but have eased off in other portions,” said Steve Roberts, executive director of Saskatchewan Wildfire Management.

Officials say there is no telling if or when the Fort McMurray fire could cross into Saskatchewan.

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“I haven’t been helping out with any of the forecasting in Fort McMurray because I have been concentrating on Saskatchewan and helping out with emergency management community here,”said John Paul Cragg, an Environment Canada meteorologist.

“Out of my own personal interest of course I’ve been looking at the meteorological situation out in Fort McMurray.”

How catastrophic a wildfire can be depends on a couple different factors; wind, wind direction, humidity and rainfall. Precipitation and humidity levels are the most crucial to watch according to the Ministry of Environment.

Weather, however, is just as unpredictable as a fire and just as tough to predict long-term.

“If you’re looking at seasonal forecast for precipitation in the Prairies it’s a very, very hard thing to do,” said Cragg.

“A lot of that is because we can get convective storms and so small thunderstorms that affect local areas and drop a huge amount of precipitation over a short period of time.”

A single storm can hammer an area with three months worth of rain.

On Monday, a rainfall warning was issued for southern Saskatchewan with 50 to 80 millimetres of rain expected to fall over a 48-hour period.

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READ MORE: Parts of southern Sask. under a rainfall warning

According to the Ministry of Environment, a fraction of that could ward off wildfires for approximately one week in regions most at risk in the province.

While 0.5 millimetres of rain wouldn’t make a significant different to an area’s fire risk, 15 millimetres would.

To put things into prescriptive, Saskatoon’s average rainfall in the month of April is 22 millimetres; the city has seen just 0.4mm.

“All of the winter months and even the start of spring is generally fairly dry in Saskatchewan,” said Cragg.

“Those precipitation numbers start to ramp up as we move into the summer.”

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June and July tend to be big rainfall months in the province but things can change year-by-year, even day-by-day.