Fire weather is getting worse in the American West

Fire weather is getting worse in the American West

Enlarge (credit: Kyle Monoon | Mercury News | Getty)

California is famous for its beach weather, but it’s also growing increasingly infamous for its “fire weather,” which is when high temperatures, strong winds, and low humidity combine to prime the landscape to burn. It’s no accident that you’ve been hearing so much about wildfires in recent years: Thanks to climate change, fire weather is on the rise, a new analysis shows.

“It’s not just that it’s hot. It’s not just that it’s dry. It’s that all these conditions are happening at the same time,” says Kaitlyn Weber, a data analyst at Climate Central, a nonprofit news group that published the analysis. “There’s very clearly an increase in these fire weather days that’s been happening since the early 1970s across most of the western United States.”

Weber analyzed data from 225 weather stations from 17 western states going back to 1973, looking at temperature, humidity, and wind speeds, the three main variables that drive catastrophic fires. High temperatures and low humidity suck the moisture out of vegetation to create dry fuels, so one spark easily ignites a wildfire, which swift winds can then push across a landscape with incredible speed. The Camp Fire of 2018, for instance, moved so quickly that it overwhelmed the city of Paradise, killing 86 people, many in their cars trying to get out of town.

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