Catastrophic drought “taxes” US reservoirs and fuels wildfires | Climate News
Decades of climate change promote drought Scientists say that reservoirs in the western United States are drying up, causing the wildfire season to advance.
So far this year, the flame has burned more than 1 million acres (over 404,000 hectares) across the country. There will be more than 28,000 fires in 2021, which is the highest number of fires at this time of year since 2011.
As people turn to air conditioners to survive Heat waveCalifornia and other states are warning people to save energy to avoid grid tensions.
according to U.S. Drought Monitoring, The western states are experiencing extreme and abnormal drought conditions. This situation has been going on for two decades, leading scientists to call it an “extraordinary drought.”
John Abatzoglou, associate professor of climate and weather research at the University of California, explained: “The southwestern United States is in a period of long-term drought or extreme drought that has never been seen in the observation records of the past millennium.”
“In the west this year, astronomical amounts of land are experiencing severe drought,” Abatzoglou said. He said that in the past winter and spring, the lack of precipitation combined with warm temperatures meant that there was less snow in the mountains, resulting in rapid drying of the surface.
Wildfire threatens Arizona ranch
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, Arizona’s spring wildfire season is the state with the most fires and the largest area so far this year. Seven fires have destroyed 270,000 acres (109,265 hectares) of land across the state. The hot and dry conditions caused the Bureau of Land Management to issue fire restrictions.
Firefighters are working to contain the largest wildfire in the Tonto National Forest and Mountains east of Phoenix, the Telegraph Fire, which burned nearly 166,000 acres (67,178 hectares). It is now controlled by 72%, but continues to threaten nearby communities.
Armando Rodriguez, a professional bull rider in Winkelman, Arizona, told Al Jazeera that he could see the smoke from the top of the mountain. The sheriff warned that his community and others in the vicinity were in “preparation mode.”
Rodriguez said on the phone on Thursday: “Everyone packs up things more or less, ready for the green light, if it does reach the point where they must leave.”
If an evacuation is ordered, he plans to call a neighbor to help him collect 500 cattle, load them on a trailer, and then drive them to a safe place.
Since the 1960s, his family has been operating a ranch in the area. “We are no strangers to it,” he said of wildfires.
According to the Associated Press, in April, flames burned in the nearby Dudleyville community, burning at least 12 houses and forcing 200 people to flee.
“We have dealt with fires and floods, so this is nothing new to us, but it seems to happen more frequently this year,” Rodriguez said.
Blaming climate change
Abatzoglou said that it is not yet clear whether this year’s reduction in precipitation in the west is directly attributable to climate change, but it must be the culprit for the larger factors that have accelerated the drought.
He said that global warming is causing more precipitation to fall in the form of rain rather than snow, which changes the water cycle (the movement of water from the ocean to the atmosphere to the earth). Our warming climate also leads to more dryness and increased evaporation.
“Warming is basically a long-term tax on the western water budget,” he explained.
Scientists predict that California will usher in another dangerous wildfire season.
Craig Clements, director of the Center for Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research at San Jose State University, explained that lack of precipitation and snow means that plants across the state are dry, crisp and ready to burn. He said this means that the state may see earlier wildfire seasons, as fires in summer and fall become more and more dangerous.
Clements said multiple factors have contributed to more serious wildfires in California: poor management has led to too many trees and bushes in the forest. Wildfires are part of the natural cycle that allows life to flourish, but he explained, “For a hundred years, we have not allowed fires to enter our ecosystem.”
Now, climate change is depleting excess fuel, so there is a large amount of fire to ignite and burn.
In Arizona, Rodriguez hopes for rain and prays for the safety of his community. “Scream out to all the firefighters and first responders who are now providing help, may God be with them, and hope that no one gets hurt,” he said.
“As far as fire is concerned, this is a breathing beast, it will burn what it will burn,” he added.