Climate Warming Directly Responsible for 400% Increase in California Fires

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 08 October 2019



Recent Extreme Warming
The years 2014-2018, averaged on this map, were the warmest years in the modern record, NASA.
The years 2014-2018, averaged on this map, were the warmest years in the modern record compared to GISTEMP's 1951-1980 baseline. The areas in red experienced warmer than normal temperatures, while the areas in blue were cooler than normal during this period. NASA, Big.


Climate Warming Directly Responsible for 400% Increase in California Fires

Rising Global Temperatures Influence California’s Fire Season,
NASA Earth Observatory, August 30, 2019.

Read the Research


Increasing Fire
"...the annual burned area across California has increased fivefold over the past five decades, and the main driver is higher temperatures."

Seasonal and annual burned areas in California for 1972–2018
Seasonal and annual burned areas in California for 1972–2018, Columbia University, DOI, University of Colorado, NOAA, USGS...
"Total burned area in the four regions of focus: North Coast, Sierra Nevada, Central Coast, and South Coast. Annual burned area is decomposed into that which occurred in January–April (green), May–September (red), and October–December (orange). Columbia University, DOI, University of Colorado, NOAA, USGS..."

1972-2018: 405%
"Overall, the annual burned area increased by 405 percent during that period."

When & Where
"...the greatest increases in burned area occurred during the summertime (May-September), and particularly in the forests of the North Coast and Sierra Nevada regions."

Global Warming DID IT
"Overall, burned area from summertime forest fires increased by eightfold over the past five decades. “Essentially all of the increase we’ve seen in annual wildfire area in California over the last 50 years is driven by warming in the atmosphere during summertime."

The Fuse
"...found the strongest relationship between summer forest fires and the aridity of the atmosphere—a combination of heat and the absence of water vapor."

Also See
New Feedback Phenomenon Found to Drive Increasing Drought and Aridity

Draining California
How to Kill Trees
"From 1896 to 2018, the maximum temperature for March to October increased by 1.81°C, which corresponded to a 13 percent increase in vapor pressure deficit (the amount of water missing from the atmosphere)."

"Over the same period, the maximum temperature for October to November increased by 1.67°C, which corresponded to an increase of vapor pressure deficit of 14 percent."

Bringing Two Fire Seasons
"Fall wildfires also evolved."

Fall Fire Season
"...if the winds are strong and rains are late, then the extra warming helps create destructive fires."

Fall Conditions
"...warmer by about 1.5°C than it was century ago. That means fuels are drier today than they were a century ago.”"

Only Our Forests are Burning…
"Outside of the forested areas of California, wildfire area has not significantly increased since 1972."





This trend of warming and drying conditions across the Sierra Nevada is continuing and deepening as the climate of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range transitions from its ancient and traditional ranges of cold and wet, into its new, warmer and drier configuration.

A Short View
140 Years

This line plot shows yearly temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2018, with respect to the 1951-1980 mean, NASA’s Earth Observatory.
"This line plot shows yearly temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2018, with respect to the 1951-1980 mean, as recorded by NASA, NOAA, the Japan Meteorological Agency, the Berkeley Earth research group, and the Met Office Hadley Centre (UK). Though there are minor variations from year to year, all five temperature records show peaks and valleys in sync with each other. All show rapid warming in the past few decades, and all show the past decade has been the warmest." Credits: NASA’s Earth Observatory.

New Warm World
These changes are clearly bringing a completely different seasonal progression, with a completely different and much warmer range of seasons, with rising temperatures affecting their lengths, the timing of their transitions, and a different and still changing distribution of snow and rain precipitation.

This juxtaposition of conditions is already demanding a different flora and fauna.


Top of Charts



A Longer View
2000 Years

We Batshit Crazy
Global mean warming / cooling rates over the last 2,000 years, University of Bern.
"Global mean warming / cooling rates over the last 2,000 years. Big Version. In red are the periods (each 51 years) in which temperatures increased. Temperatures decreased in the periods in blue. At more than 1.7 degrees per century, the current rate of warming is significantly higher than the expected natural rate of warming, and higher than values for every previous century. Instrumental measurements since 1850 (in black) confirm these figures. University of Bern."

New or No Forests Coming
In the foothills and High Sierra these changes to the character of our climate and weather, while altering the timing of our seasons are already demanding, no, they are requiring a completely different forest stratification across the elevation ranges of the Sierra Nevada, to match the change climate and weather.
What will return after these warming-climate driven fires clear the current stratification will be very different than anything we've seen since the end of the last ice age, ten thousand years ago... We are hiking into very unknown territory. I figure the Sierra will be as dry as the Sierra Madre in fifty years or so.


Top of Charts



The Whole Holocene View
11,000 Years

Global Temperature Reconstruction for the Last 11,000 Years
 Klaus Bitterman.
"...a group of researchers from Harvard and Oregon State University has published the first global temperature reconstruction for the last 11,000 years – that’s the whole Holocene (Marcott et al. 2013), Graph: Klaus Bitterman." More.


March 2019
The End of Ice Ages
Amazing Ancient Human Climate Interactions


Top of Charts



Where Did All the Heat Go?
Into the Sea
Land, Sea, Ice, & Atmosphere
Total Earth System Heat Content
Total Earth System Heat Content, From Nuccitelli et al.
Most of the excess heat from Global Warming has entered the Oceans. Land, atmosphere, and ice heating (red), 0-700 meter OHC increase (light blue), 700-2,000 meter OHC increase (dark blue).  From Nuccitelli et al. (2012), and added to the SkS Climate Graphics Page.


April 2019
Global Warming News, Recent 2015 Huge El Nino: Shifted Global Temps into New Gear

Jan 2019
Where Has All the Heat Gone? Into Changing the Circulation of the Deep Blue Sea...


Top of Charts



The Longest View
Out of the Last Ice Age
20,000 Years into Earth's Climatological Past

20,000 Years into Earth's Temperature Past, chart by Jos Hagelaars.
"The temperature reconstruction of Shakun et al (green – shifted manually by 0.25 degrees), of Marcott et al (blue), combined with the instrumental period data from HadCRUT4 (red) and the model average of IPCC projections for the A1B scenario up to 2100 (orange)." Big Chart. Chart by Jos Hagelaars. More info.


Top of Charts




Living Damages
The certainty of these changes are not just seen through the physical increases in the number, size, and intensity of these fires and megafires brought by warming, that we've seen so far, but can be seen in the trees themselves, in the damages these climate changes, cited in the research above, have done to the metabolic health of the forests themselves.

Feb 2019
Northwestern Forest Succession Underway Under Our Changing Climate

These stresses have pushed the forests up against the edges of their transpiration ranges, making them more susceptible not just to fire, but to a range of domestic and invasive pests and problems which make them even more vulnerable to vast transformations by fire.

The rising heat has, and is continuing to dry and weaken the forests before burning them. Our warming trends continue unabated.

June 2019
Second Fastest, Largest C02 Growth in 2019, Carbon Dioxide Levels Hit Record Peak in May

And, this new range of climate that's clearing out the current forest stratification will not support the regrowth of same species, but require species more suited to our still evolving warmer climate.

March 2019
TWO FACES of FOREST DEATH: Heat Causing Fires Preventing Forest Regeneration

Oct 3, 2019
High Sierra Forests: Plant Diversity a Casualty of High-Severity Wildfires

Out of Eden
These changes to our climate and forests we have been observing for the past few decades are not just cyclic changes, part of a range of changes that will eventually return to, "normal." What we are observing is the extinction of a unique combination of terrain, weather, and life that makes the High Sierra so very special. We are pounding the crap out of the weather and life. The High Sierra is not alone.

Virtually all the sub-alpine zones are disappearing, being slowly but steadily, "evaporated," away by the rising heat, from everywhere they exist in the Northern Hemisphere, taking their ancient and traditional forest stratifications with them.


 Aug 2018
Tree News, Dire Warning for California Plants: Half of You are Dead by 2100



Background Research

Sept 2019
Growing into Destruction: The Diminished, and Diminishing Western US Snow Packs


May 2019
2019 Tree Mortality Report: Forest Succession Underway, Continuing Through 2018


April 2019
ECO-CRASH NEWS: Tree Mortality, High Sierra Carnage


March 2019
TWO FACES of FOREST DEATH: Heat Causing Fires Preventing Forest Regeneration


Feb 2019
2017 Floods, Fires, Storms: Most Expensive Disaster Year Ever


Feb 2019
Northwestern Forest Succession Underway Under Our Changing Climate


Jan 2019
High Sierra & Great Basin Transforming from Seasonal to Ephemeral Snow Pack



Jan 2019
41% Sierra & Rocky Mountains Snow Pack Loss since ‘82


Dec 2018
79% Reduction, from Today’s Reduced Pack, by 2100


Dec 2018
More Coordinated Global-Scale Heatwaves in Our Future


Dec 2018
Climate Research, 2018: Extreme Heat Expanding with the End of Cold


Dec 2018
TREE & CLIMATE NEWS: High Sierra Forest Succession Disaster Looms


Feb 2018
Ultra Dry 2018 Winter Fire in Bishop: New Normal Emerging: Wait 'till Summer


Dec 2017
The Ring of Fire is now A Ring of Forest Fire: California Leads the Way to Destruction


Backpack into, and engage the unique realities created by the Sierra Nevada while it's still standing within its ancient, traditional configurations, before they, the weather, the forests, and all the living things within them change under our changing skies. See it now, while you can.




Plant & Tree News & Reseach, Summer and Fall of 2019

News of Trail & Weather, September 2019








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research, global warming, increases, California, Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, fires, fire season, forest, forest fires, forest succession, forest stratification, trees, tree mortality


Originally Published
2019-09-20 22:55:03

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