Climate change could triple frequency of large wildfires
Report: No doubt that warming is caused by human activity
Residents of the Western United States should prepare for a potential tripling of large wildfires in the coming decades, a new federal report on climate change revealed Friday.
And, it warned, the region should also expect additional water shortages, heat wave deaths and smoke pollution.
According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, California and the West have already witnessed an expansion of catastrophic blazes because of climate change and rising warming, with twice as much acreage burned by wildfire than what have would occurred otherwise.
“Higher temperatures sharply increase the risk of megadroughts – dry periods lasting 10 years or more,” says the report, administered by the National Oceanic and Atmodry spheric Administration with contributions from the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and other research agencies.
Such “megadroughts” will trigger a cascade of impacts, including possibly three times as many large wildfires – those roughly 20 square miles or larger – than what has historically occurred.
The report comes as California continues to count the dead from the Camp Fire in Butte County, which has killed at least 84 people, burned nearly 240 square miles and is 95 percent contained. More than 13,500 homes have been destroyed in the blaze, making it California’s most destructive in history.
President Donald Trump toured devastation caused by the Camp Fire last weekend, but declined to link the blaze to conditions exacerbated by climate change. He instead blamed them on lack of forest management, including “raking” of the forests.
NOAA earlier this week reported that last month was the second hottest October on record worldwide, and fourth hottest on record. NOAA also reported that conditions that summer set the stage for the Camp Fire and others in November.
“Summer 2018 was much warmer than average across the state – record warm in some places, especially at night – and in Northern California, precipitation ranged from below average to record dry,” NOAA said in a report earlier this week.
“Precipitation across much of the state was less than 5 percent of average in September, and the summer dry signal extended into beginning of the fall wet season, with below-average precipitation in October as well. With all the heat and dryness, the ground was dry to start November, with vegetation turned into excellent fire fuel,” NOAA added.
Mandated by Congress, the National Climate Assessment is product of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, aimed at helping the nation and world “understand, assess, predict, and respond to humaninduced and natural processes of global change.”
Volume I of the report was released a year ago, and outlined the current understanding of the science behind climate change. Friday’s report went further into the known impacts of climate change, on a region-by-region level.
Overall, the report concluded that global average temperature has increased by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit from 1901 to 2016. “Observational evidence does not support any credible natural explanations for this amount of warming,” the report said.
In a chapter on the Southwest’s climate, the report includes an analysis of forest area burned between 1984 and 2015, concluding that roughly 24 million acres burned during that period, twice the amount that would have been torched without climate change’s impact.
Eyler Harrison of Grass Valley, a contractor for Cal Fire, clears damaged trees Monday in the wake of the Camp Fire. The wildfire in Butte County killed at least 84 people, burned nearly 240 square miles and destroyed more than 13,500 homes.