When you imagine the Pacific Northwest of the United States, you think of the green ferns, the moss-covered trees in Olympic National Park, or the Hoh Rain Forest, where annual rainfall is measured in hundreds of inches. Humidity, vegetation, evergreens, abundant rivers. It's a big part of the reason I live here.
But thanks to the abrupt disruption of the anthropogenic climate (ACD), this region is changing at a rapid pace. In the Olympic Peninsula where I live, this has been the summer of smoke and forest fires.
As I write this, Puget Sound, Seattle, and the Olympic Peninsula are all engulfed in thick smoke from wildfires and ash from wildfires burning in eastern Washington and Montana. A local Seattle meteorologist commented that he "had never seen a situation like this."
Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency for his entire state on Saturday, September 2.
Smoke from various wildfires has been nearly constant in this part of the country for the past month. About a week ago, we were engulfed in smoke from several wildfires across Oregon, and before that, we spent nearly two weeks breathing in thick smoke from the more than 1,000 wildfires that burned British Columbia off the coast.
As you leave, the world appears yellow, surreal. The sun varies from not being visible, to emerging as a yellowish orange bulb even in the middle of the day. When set, red blood has often appeared through the thick smoke.
NASA satellite photos show that the smoke plume even reaches the east coast.
Given recent and past scientific reports, this is apparently the world that we, and much of the rest of the World, must prepare to live in from now on.
Extreme heat, extreme drought
The plume of smoke from all these fires, as of this writing, stretches from British Columbia to central Oregon.
A wildfire outside Portland has forced hundreds of residents to evacuate as it burned out of control in the Columbia River Gorge. That's just one of 81 fires burning in the United States at the time of this writing, with 20 of those fires in Oregon alone.
Climate researchers have long been warning us that rising temperatures and more intense droughts will logically cause dramatic increases in the number, heat, and ferocity of wildfires.
A study published earlier this year showed that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have increased the likelihood of extreme heat events on more than 80 percent of the planet.
Last fall, researchers released the results of a study that showed ACD accounted for about half the increase in fuel aridity from wildfires (forest dryness) in the western U.S. since 1979, causing the western US area size since 1984.
According to Inside Climate News: “Nine of the 10 worst fire seasons in the last 50 years have happened since 2000, and 2015 was the worst fire season in United States history, surpassing 10 million acres for the first time in On the annual record, wildfires in the US have burned 7.8 million acres, but the fire season is not over. The average fire season is 78 days longer than it was in the 1970s and now lasts nearly seven months, beginning and extending beyond the typical summer heat. By April of this year, wildfires had burned more than 2 million acres in the US, nearly the average consumed in an entire fire season during the 1980s.
When it comes to hot weather, and consequently fire, this has been a summer for the record books in the West. During the first week of September, San Francisco saw an impressive high temperature of 106 ° F, amid a heat wave that saw 36.5 million Californians (98 percent of the state's population) living under a heat advisory issued by the National Meteorological Service.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles saw its largest wildfire on a record 7,000 acres before rains from a remnant tropical storm helped firefighters tame it.
Yale Environment 360 warned of this possibility last December. The magazine, published by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, reported that as the Arctic continues to warm twice as fast as the rest of the globe, winds in the upper part of the atmosphere would be pushed toward the polar zone and would cause the jet stream to ripple during extreme weather patterns. This is a more technical explanation for the fact that, as another study warned in March, these new weather patterns will generate record heat waves and wildfires, precisely what we are seeing now in the West.
And since there are no large-scale ACD mitigation efforts underway, let alone within the United States, we can count on these trends to amplify and worsen over time.
By Dahr Jamail
Original article (in English) Truthout