Wildfires are a part of life in large parts of the American West, and it's been well documented that research predicts more intense and frequent wildfires due to global warming, as snowpacks dwindle, vegetation dries out and heat and drought become more intense.
But those same factors could do even more to increase catastrophic wildfires where they are now uncommon: In the Southeast and Northeast U.S.
Here's what the Christian Science Monitor had to say about the subject today:
That global warming might bring a greater fire risk to the already arid Western US might seem obvious. But the big surprise in the future may come farther east, says Ronald Neilson, a bioclimatologist at the US Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station in Portland, Ore. It's in the east and southeast where global-warming-related wildfire risks will grow the most dramatically, his research suggests, even though the western US remains the country's wildfire hot spot.
Why? As temperatures warm, the growing season will get longer. Woodlands will grow faster -- at least for a few decades -- fertilized by more atmospheric CO2. But annual precipitation amounts are expected to remain relatively constant.
Today, forests usually dry out just as the trees are going dormant for winter. In the future, however, eastern forests may dry long before the trees have a chance to shut down. Combined with bark beetle infestations (themselves a product of warming temperatures; they have occurred in the southern and western US and recently moved east), an increasing number of eastern woodlands could become prime wildfire fuel.
In other words, the combination of suburban sprawl and wildfire risk that led to thousands of homes and several lives being lost in Southern California could be repeated across the country. In no other region are more homes built in the woods than in the East. Now, those homes and their inhabitants are rarely threatened by fire. Global warming could change that.
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