With more than 1,000 wildfires burning in California alone, there's more hot, dry windy weather on the way for much of the West.
Red flag warnings cover parts of several states.
Across the country, 45 large wildfires are burning nearly 450,000 acres in 9 states, according to the latest tally from the National Interagency Fire Center.
While the sheer number of fires is awe-inspiring, the number of large fires is a larger concern in many ways. So far in 2008, 36,761 large fires have burned 2.14 million acres, about 15% more than the average acreage to date. That larger acreage has been burned with 12% fewer fires, demonstrating the influence of the largest of the fires.
California is facing the most fires by far:
NASA Earth Observatory
Besides the 29 large fires in California (including the stubborn blaze near Big Sur that threatens a scenic landscape of national significance), eight other states were battling fires this weekend:
Robust just a couple of months ago, California's mountain snowpack had dwindled to just two-thirds of its normal level by the time the wildfire season started. Runoff to reservoirs and farm irrigation ponds was expected to drop by 35-45% from normal.
Drought across the nation has set the stage for a bad wildfire season. The U.S. Drought Monitor's latest weekly report showed worsening conditions across the West and South.
No weather event can be said to have been caused by global warming. There's no scientific way to prove that. But these conflagrations are consistent with what scientists have told us we should expect from climate change.
Scientists have documented an increase in wildfires attributed to climate change. They have predicted that global warming will produce more frequent and intense wildfires, in large part because mountain snowpacks are expected to dwindle. With less runoff, valley conditions will be drier throughout the season, leaving any dry wood more prone to ignition. (Certainly, forest management also plays an important role, as the buildup of dead wood over years or even decades has contributed to the conflagration.) Even the Bush Administration's science advisers recently endorsed these conclusions in a sweeping report that predicts more bouts of extreme weather in the United States and across North America.
Give that, the burning West is something we can expect more of in the years and decades to come.
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