Storms may add to fire woes, or bring relief

Meteorologists say it all depends on how much moisture can be generated

Thunderstorms are predicted to intermittently shake the skies over Southern Oregon this week, bringing with them the potential for more lightning-sparked fires.

But accompanying rainfall may help snuff out any new starts and clear some of the smoke that's been plaguing the Rogue Valley for nearly two weeks, forecasters say.

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Low pressure in the upper atmosphere is increasing the moisture in the clouds over Southern Oregon and Northern California. Thunderstorms are likely through Friday across the region, according to a special weather statement released Tuesday.

"One of the concerns we have for tonight (Tuesday) is we'll have thunderstorms in the area, but they'll be more isolated," said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Petrucelli. "But certainly given that the fuels are as dry as they are, and that we're in high fire danger, all you really need is one strike."

Gusty and erratic winds could accompany the storms. Weather officials also warned that heavy rainfall could result in flash floods in areas that have recently burned.

Firefighters who continue to battle wildland fire complexes across the region are aware of the danger.

Fire officials said updates from meteorologists on current weather conditions are part of the crews' regular morning briefings. The main focus is on fighting the fires that are already there, but crews are cognizant of the potential threat for more.

"Folks are never out there without observers and situational awareness," said Bureau of Land Management spokesman Joel Brumm. "(They're) alert to what's going on with fire operations as well as the weather."

Storms with lightning are expected to increase as the week continues. Forecasters predict the moisture will increase, too, bringing a better chance of snuffing any new fires before they roar to life.

"You'll still have the lightning threat, but you'll have some rain to come along with it," Petrucelli said. "It could produce some rainfall amounts. It's kind of hard to pinpoint exactly how much is going to come out there."

Weather officials reported that rainfall would provide some smoke relief by thinning out the layers that continue to smother the region. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's air quality index showed Medford's air Tuesday was unhealthy for sensitive groups because of fine particles in the smoke. Shady Cove, Cave Junction and Grants Pass remained at unhealthy levels through the day.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or

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