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Fire and Drought: Looking at the Threat to Northern Michigan

Driving around Northern Michigan, one can see lawns are turning brown, and haze fills the air from dirt roads, farm fields and even forest fires - all a testament to just how plain dry it is.

As of June 8, places like the Gaylord area have only had a total of seven days with measurable precipitation since May 1. Big Rapids has had eight days, and Houghton Lake only five days with precipitation above trace amounts.

According to data from the National Weather Service, Houghton Lake ended up 2.08 inches below their normal precipitation amount for the month of May. Big Rapids ended May 2.98 inches below normal.


These places aren’t the only ones experiencing below-normal precipitation. Between May 8 and June 8, everyone in the state is some amount below normal. Some locations are close to having 0% of how much rain they typically see between May 8 and June 8. That means areas that see roughly 1 inches of rain for the time, like Houghton Lake, have only had about 0.01 inches of rain.

Central Michigan areas are currently facing the worst deficit so far, and with little rain in the forecast, it could get worse.

With a lack of precipitation this spring, the state has been dealing with the highest levels of fire danger and battling large wildfires.

RELATED: What Happens After a Fire? Here’s What the DNR Thinks About the Wilderness Trail


Northern Michigan has been dealing with occasional “red flag warnings” and fire weather conditions caused by the lack of rain and dry vegetation since April, and it has worsened through the month of May and followed us into June.

RELATED: What Exactly is a Red Flag Warning?

While the concern for fire is high, so is the concern for the onset of drought.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated their drought monitor. The weekly update has now placed portions of Wexford, Osceola, Lake, Mecosta and Manistee counties in a moderate drought. The surrounding areas are considered abnormally dry.


What does it all mean? “Abnormally dry” is classified as conditions where there are some deficits of moisture but not yet in a drought (or could be leaving a drought). Plants may grow slow and fire risk is higher.

The next level is a drought, with four classifications: moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional. With locations in Northern Michigan entering drought conditions, it is important to know the risks at play.

In a moderate drought, certain crops and pastures can begin facing damage. You will also begin to notice that streams, wells and other water resource levels will be lower. The dryness of soils and plants creates a growing concern of fire risk. The higher the level of drought, the worse these issues become. By the time exceptional drought is reached, there is widespread loss to croplands and water shortage emergencies.

In order to get out of abnormally dry and drought conditions, the amount of precipitation needed is the amount we would normally see plus more to make up for what we lack. With areas being over an inch below what is normal, a couple of 2-inch rains could do the trick!


The exact amount depends on the region and the consideration of long-term and short-term issues such as type of soil, vegetation, precipitation and water levels.

RELATED: Keep Smoky Bear Happy By Recognizing Fire Weather

Stay updated on the latest forecast.

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