According to the National Interagency Fire Center as of last Thursday 102 active large fires have burned more than 4.4 million acres in 12 states. That is an area about three times the size of the state of Delaware. Smoke has reached as far east as Russia and our skies here retain a smoky haze. So, what does that have to do with global warming or climate change?
According to Simon Wang, a professor of climate at Utah State University, the fire season used to be less than four months per year and now fires routinely burn year-round. The climate has changed. Warmer spring and summer temperatures, reduced snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt create longer and more intense dry seasons. The West is coming out of its most intense heat wave in modern history, where Death Valley hit 130 degrees, the hottest temperature ever recorded. A rare lightning outbreak sparked the first round of fires in California.
According to Dr. John Abatzoglou, a climate professor at the University of California Merced, the West has heated up 2 to 3 degrees since the 70’s. This extra heat is enough to increase evaporation on the soil surface creating a moisture deficit that accelerates foliage drying. Also, because the Arctic is warming, the jet stream is thrown off kilter creating strong southerly winds. Dr. Abatzoglou says to expect this year’s fire season to become the norm rather than the exception. Climate change.
So, why does that matter here in Chicagoland? First, it is currently directly affecting our air quality. Also, what we do here, affects climate change world-wide. Is it only a matter of time before fires spread past the western states?
What can we do? We can be diligent about the results of Northbrook’s Sustainability Study and work towards reducing Northbrook’s carbon footprint and creation of greenhouse gases. As individuals, we can reduce our single use plastic, reduce our input to landfill, reduce our use of fossil fuels, and increase our use of renewable natural energy as solar and wind.