Reviewing the top Idaho news stories of 2013, the Associated Press settled on the big fires of the fall, the monsters that burned and smoked so much of southern and central Idaho, as the biggest. It's a reasonable choice.
The AP may do a repeat at the end of this year. One of the most important factors driving fire ferocity is how much water is on the ground, which depends heavily on how much snowpack developed the previous winter. As 2012 ended (three month's into the standard “water year”), Idaho seemed not to be in bad shape. All but one of its 22 main river basins were running above, mostly well above, the normal precipitation for that time of year – the Salmon River at 126%, for example, the Little Wood at 147%, Henry's Fork at 111%.
At the end of this year, every Idaho basin was running below average, below 100%. The Salmon was at 65%, the Little Wood at 47%, Henry's Fork at 84%. Those are spooky numbers.
The precipitation could still turn around – and Idahoans had better hope it does. If not, Idaho could face not only more really bad fires, maybe a round of fires worse than last year's, but significant drought as well come this summer.
As with water, so with much else: Many of the big stories of last year will have counterparts in 2014. Even the Boise State University football coach transition; from the fans' perspective, definite eras ended last year and will commence next season. And the closing out of the Corrections Corporation of America management of a prison at Boise, which took a turn last year (as the state seemed to move away from private management of the prison it has operated) and is likely to reach its destination this next.
The area of Obamacare and health insurance exchanges will see a real mirror image, since up to this new year, everything was in the realm of preparation and transition, and that was a big story in the last few months. Now the practical effects of the new system come home, and that will have its own distinctive effects, on people's lives and on politics.
And then there's politics, where 2013 was in large part a prep for 2014.
More major candidates than usual announced full-throated campaigns well before 2013 was done, to the point that the shape of many of the major races next year in the state already are startlingly clear. The Tea Party and allied activists used 2013 as a major development period, and the battle for the Idaho Republican Party, between that group and what might be considered mainstream conservatives, is well set in place. At year's end we're set for significant Republican primary contests for a whole range of offices, from at least one congressional seat to governor, secretary of state and likely a good many more. Idaho Democrats too have a number of major candidates lined up.
We can't yet know for sure how this will play out. In recent weeks I've repeatedly asked the question of which side likely will prevail on primary election day May 20 (and we certainly will get an answer then if not before). The overwhelming response I heard was that the Tea forces would fall well short of the mainstreeters, and some pointed to the November election results in Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls as evidence.
They may be right, but there's often a disconnect between downtown Boise and activists outside. We still have months to go between here and there.
Let the tale of 2014 start to spin.