August Forecast: What’s Next for a Hot, Dry U.S. Summer?
Michael Hambrick has been extinguishing fires for over 25 years. But last month, the Dixie fire raged so quickly in Plumas County, California that Mr. Hambrick, a helicopter attack firefighter, couldn’t even save his own home.
At the time of his evacuation, his porch was on fire and windows were shattering as 40-foot-high flames swept through his sparsely populated mountain community of Indian Falls. The wildfire has grown to a size and intensity rarely seen so early in the season, as climate change exacerbates a drought that is drying out the West.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Mr. Hambrick, who lost everything he owned. He had installed sprinklers three feet high around his house as a preventive measure, he said, but “the fire went through him like nothing had happened.”
Extreme weather conditions hit large swathes of the United States this summer, with at least four major heat waves fueling fires that filled the skies with smoke so thick it reddened the sun in New York City. And the heart of wildfire and hurricane season is yet to come.
Here’s a look at what happened and what to expect.
The wildfire season started early, with giant fires in Oregon and California.
Major fires forced thousands of people to flee their homes in northern California last week, while the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, which first started nearly a month ago , continues to burn. It is already the third largest in the state since 1900.
Fires of this size usually don’t spread west until August or September. But this year, after a remarkably dry winter across much of the West, the season began as early as April, when fires in the pine-covered mountains of northwestern Arizona forced hundreds of people to evacuate. .
Authorities have issued dire warnings about the fires to come.
“No corner of our state is safe,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown recently said, blaming “the urgent and dangerous climate crisis.”
Despite a return of the monsoon rains, the western drought is worsening.
Monsoon rains in the southwestern desert brought much appreciated downpours. Parts of northern Arizona received several times more rain in July alone than during the entire 2020 monsoon, which runs from June to September.
But experts say that won’t be enough to relieve drought conditions for long.
Ninety percent of the American West is subject to drought conditions, with much of California and the Southwest experiencing “severe” or “exceptional” drought.
“This is a very large deficit that these states need to fill to get back to normal – if you want to call it that,” said David Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Many parts of the southwest are nearly a year short of precipitation, he said.
Meteorologists expect the dry conditions to last all summer, and they are likely to return even if fall and winter provide a respite.
Deadly heat waves have broken temperature records.
A heat wave roasted the Pacific Northwest in late June, breaking temperature records across the state. Many local records have also fallen as extreme temperatures scorched one region of the west after another.
The weather service predicts that much of the western and central United States will continue to experience above-average temperatures for at least the next two weeks.
Extreme heat waves are difficult to predict more than a few days in advance, Lawrence said. But models producing above-average temperatures show little sign of easing, and heat warnings were in effect this weekend across much of the Southeastern United States and parts of the Northwest.
Smoke from forest fires creates dangerous air quality thousands of miles from the flames.
“Why is the sun red? Was a buzzword on search engines in mid-July, as smoke from a large number of western wildfires helped create a hazy and unhealthy air to a more distant continent.
The Air Quality Index, a measure developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, has increased in the Midwest and East Coast, with numbers hovering between 130 and 160 in New York City – a range that can trigger adverse effects about health. (The index ranges from 0 to 500, with readings above 100 considered particularly unhealthy.)
In Minnesota, over the weekend, smoke from wildfires north of the Canadian border created air quality so dangerous that meteorologists warned people to stay indoors as much as possible. As forest fires burn more intensely, experts say smoke will continue to be a nationwide danger.
The hurricane season got off to a quick start, resulting in dangerous flash floods.
Tropical Storm Elsa flooded New York City roads and subway stations in early July. It also placed this year’s storm season ahead of the record pace of 2020: it was the first time on record that the Atlantic Basin has experienced a fifth named storm.
The first, Ana, formed on May 23, making this the seventh year in a row that a named storm has developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the hurricane season on June 1. The past two weeks have been calm, but the busiest part of the hurricane season usually doesn’t start until late August.
In their most recent forecast, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, of which three to five would be Category 3 or higher major hurricanes.
But experts are optimistic that colder sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic will make this hurricane season less intense than in 2020, when there were so many named storms that meteorologists have exhausted the alphabet. for the second time and switched to the use of Greek letters.
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