Climate change is a hugely important topic from an emergency preparedness standpoint, mainly because it correlates with an increase in severe weather and, subsequently, outages. I’ve previously written about how climate change is likely increasing the frequency and severity of hurricanes, tsunamis and even earthquakes, and now according to a NY Times article (citing a study published in the National Academy of Sciences), there is evidence that forest fires are on the rise as well. Specifically, since 1984, the amount of land considered at risk for a forest fire has increased by a whopping 16,000 square miles – about the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.
The research utilized something called “fuel aridity” to measure the dryness of the climate, and subsequently the dryness of forests, over time. It showed a clear correlation between the level of dryness and the probability of forest fires. In addition to dryness, warmer average temperatures increase the frequency of lightning, boost tree-eating beetle populations, and reduce snow cap thickness, all of which also contribute to a higher probability of forest fires.
You’re probably thinking this is bad news, and if so you’d be correct. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about it other than improve our level of preparedness, especially by incorporating weather disaster and forest fire scenarios into exercises and drills.
But hey, it’s not all bad – the researchers say that this uptick in forest fires is “likely to continue as long as there is enough fuel to burn, but there will come a point, probably in the middle of the century, when there are not enough trees left to sustain wildfires.” Whew, that’s a relief!!