The New Normal Quantified: Key Triggers of the Costly 2017 Wildfire Season


Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 07 June 2018

 

CLIMATE CHANGE NEWS
Seasonal Changes & Fire

The New Normal Quantified

2017: 71K Fires, 66 lives lost, 18 Billion Dollars, Much More to Come

The key triggers of the costly 2017 wildfire season,
University of Colorado at Boulder, June 5, 2018.

 

2017

"The 2017 wildfire season cost the United States more than $18 billion in damages. That year, 71,000 wildfires scorched 10 million acres of land, destroying 12,000 homes, evacuating 200,000 people and claiming 66 lives. By comparison, 2016 saw 5.4 million acres burned."

 

The New Normal

"Last year, we saw a pile-on of extreme events across large portions of the western U.S: the wettest winter, the hottest summer and the driest fall--all helping to promote wildfires."

"Western wildfire seasons are worse when conditions are dry and fuel-rich, raising the chances of ignition. Climate change likely exacerbates fuels and dryness, the paper found, and human behavior contributed the sparks."

"2017's wet winter acted as the first trigger. Increased precipitation early in the year fed the growth of fine grasses across the western United States--grasses that would later serve as fuel for fire. Then, summer and fall brought dry, arid conditions, baking the dense fields of grasses into dehydrated kindling."

 

Bottom Line: The New Normal

"We expect to see more fire seasons like we saw last year."

"The paper notes that computer climate models project an increased risk of extreme wet winters in California and a decrease in summer precipitation across the entire West Coast. Those models also tend to project a delay in the onset of fall rain and snow."

"Although naturally occurring climate variability influences environmental conditions that affect the wildfire season, that variation is superimposed on an anthropogenically warmer world, so climate change is magnifying the effects of heat and precipitation extremes."

 

 

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