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Heavy Winter Precipitation May Not Impact Fire Season in California

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A wintry mix of precipitation falls during an unusually cold winter storm system on February 21st, 2019, in Los Angeles, California. Some parts of Los Angeles County received a brief dusting of snow during the storm.

This winter has been abnormally wet for California, which seems like good news for a state that has been plagued with a long-lasting drought and devastating wildfires in recent years. However, a study published Monday—the day before another atmospheric river hit Southern California—in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that heavy precipitation in the winter months will have minimal impact on the severity of wildfires later in the year. 

The research team led by Eugene R. Wahl studied the behavior of the North Pacific jet stream (NPJ), which has had a historically strong influence on winter precipitation and summer fire conditions in California, from the 17th century to the present. While the relationship between the NPJ and extreme precipitation has remained strong, the researchers found the relationship between the NPJ and extreme fires has deteriorated since modern fire suppression began in the 20th century. Other factors have since overshadowed the NPJ with their influence over fire severity. 

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