The Washington Post reports: “Colorado and U.S. Forest Service firefighters are battling the state’s most destructive wildfires ever. Lightning and suspected arson ignited them four weeks ago, but scientists and federal officials say the table was set by a culprit that will probably contribute to bigger and more frequent wildfires for years to come: climate change.” The President was in Colorado Springs touring the fire on Friday and said nothing about the connection to global warming. He again talked about the fires on his Saturday radio address. No mention of global warming.
Washington Post, July 2 (excerpt; published online July 1 with the title “Colorado’s table was set for monster fire“)
By Darryl Fears
…Colorado and U.S. Forest Service firefighters are battling the state’s most destructive wildfires ever. Lightning and suspected arson ignited them four weeks ago, but scientists and federal officials say the table was set by a culprit that will probably contribute to bigger and more frequent wildfires for years to come: climate change….
“We’ve had record fires in 10 states in the last decade, most of them in the West,” said Agriculture Department Undersecretary Harris Sherman, who oversees the Forest Service. Over the past 10 years, the wildfire season that normally runs from June to September expanded to include May and October. Once, it was rare to see 5 million cumulative acres burn in a year, but some recent seasons have recorded twice that.
“The climate is changing, and these fires are a very strong indicator of that,” Sherman said….
[C]limate change has been been linked to warmer temperatures that cause snow to melt earlier and rain to evaporate faster, parching the land, contributing to drought and drying out the vegetation that can fuel fires, said John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas’s state climatologist.
Under such conditions, snow and rain can fall at the same rate as before but the drier earth is slower to revive.
In Colorado’s warmer climate, a plague of pine beetles has thrived. Without extremely cold winters that reduce their numbers, the beetles breed twice per year instead of once. They nibble trees until they die, leaving millions of acres of potential firewood.
The High Park fire west of Fort Collins, where 33,000 residents were evacuated, is feeding on forest filled with trees eaten by beetles….
The National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder was among the first to sound an alarm.
Climate scientists there saw temperatures warming nationwide. Rain cycles changed from mild and prolonged to hard and short. During the longer dry spells, land was susceptible to burns, said Bob Henson, meteorologist and science writer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.
Colorado is in the middle of “a terrible dry period,” Henson said. The snowpack statewide was less than 3 percent of the normal level on June 1, about the time the fires started….
Boykoff: Obama’s rhetoric of ‘clean energy’ vs. the reality of climate change Obama’s evasive approach to talking about the inconvenient truths of global climatic disruption.
Also see these excellent posts:
David Roberts at Grist: Did climate change ’cause’ the Colorado wildfires? One insightful framing for how Obama and other ‘leaders’ might begin to show some leadership in talking about such issues.
Climate Communication: Heat Waves and Wildfires