Rain probably (fingers tightly crossed) is on the way to Missoula.
While it's difficult to exactly pinpoint how much precipitation the Missoula area will get later this week, it’s likely between “a quarter of an inch to three- quarters of an inch, but in the half-inch range," according to National Weather Service meteorologist Luke Robinson.
“The forecast models have been very consistent” showing showers on Thursday for the Missoula area, bringing cooler temperatures with them, Robinson said Monday.
Friday will probably see low temperatures in the low 40s, while Saturday might see lows in the mid- to upper 30s, a major cooling off that will help slow fires in the area, he said.
“It may not be a (fire) season-ender, but it will put a dent in it,” Robinson said. At the very least it will clear out a “good portion, if not all the smoke” in the valley.
“It’s a welcome change,” Robinson said.
In other welcome news, air quality in the region turned "pretty decent," according to air quality specialist Sarah Coefield of the Missoula City-County Health Department. That's not an official category, but it was a clear improvement over the too-long string of Hazardous and Very Unhealthy designations.
Unfortunately, Seeley Lake — which has suffered the brunt of the summer's smoke — got the worst of it again Monday with Unhealthy air quality. Elsewhere, air quality was Good to Moderate.
But fires from Idaho continue to send smoke into Montana, and Coefield predicted deteriorating air quality for the Bitterroot Valley as a result.
As for the weekend's expected rain and cool weather, "first we have to get through Tuesday, and it's probably going to start out fairly smoky," she wrote in her Monday-evening report.
"Conditions in Lolo, Florence, Arlee and Seeley Lake are likely to be Unhealthy or worse. Florence and Seeley Lake, in particular, have the potential to be Very Unhealthy or Hazardous by (Tuesday) morning."
Everywhere else should expect widespread haze.
The downside to the breezes that improved air quality for some areas Monday? They made life more difficult for firefighters. According to Monday evening's reports on Inciweb, the national wildfire reporting center, most fires saw and will continue to see warm, windy weather, with some Red Flag Warnings that conditions were particularly dangerous.
One bright spot Monday came on the Lolo Peak fire, where Ravalli County Sheriff Stephen Holton rescinded the evacuation warning for the area west of Highway 93 from Holloway Lane to Tie Chute Lane. The warning affected 279 homes.
An evacuation warning remains for residents west of Highway 93 from South Kootenai Creek Road to Holloway.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester announced Monday that two more Montana wildfires have been granted FEMA disaster assistance. The fires are the Highway 200 Complex in Sanders County and the Moose Peak fire in Sanders and Lincoln Counties.
The Fire Management Assistance Grant provides FEMA funding for 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs, a release from Tester’s office said, easing the strain on Montana’s hard-pressed firefighting fund.
“Fire Management Assistance Grants can assist with expenses for field camps, equipment, mobilization and demobilization activities, tools, materials and supplies. These grants do not provide assistance to individual home or business owners and do not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire,” the release continued.
FEMA has already approved assistance for the Alice Creek fire near Lincoln, the Rice Ridge fire near Seeley Lake and the West Fork fire outside Libby. Earlier, it authorized funds for the Lolo Peak fire and ones in eastern Montana.