Western Wildfires and Climate Change

Summer is wildfire season in the American West, and it is off to a raging start. Fueled by prolonged drought and extreme heat, many experts agree that climate change is a significant contributing factor to this year’s widespread fires.

According to NOAA, the past eleven years have all ranked among the warmest on record in terms of global average temperatures. This warming trend, scientists report, is causing an increase in both the frequency and intensity of many dangerous weather phenomena, including forest fires.

This year, hot and dry conditions have dominated much of the United States.  In fact, this summer’s excessive heat follows our country’s warmest spring ever and fourth warmest winter to date.  In the West, these unusually mild conditions did not allow a sizeable snow pack to accumulate in the mountains, reducing spring run-off.  As a result, the region is parched and susceptible to any type of spark.

Warmer winters have also allowed the Rocky Mountain Pine Beetle population to explode and spread to higher elevations.  Feeding on various types of pines, the beetles leave large stands of dead trees in their wake when they move through an area. These ghost forests then essentially act as kindling for potential wildfires.

As of today, nearly forty large fires are burning in ten western states. Despite the arrival of the region’s monsoon season, many of these destructive flames are expected to continue blazing throughout the summer.

Intense wildfires burn across the American West.

Image Credit: KSTP