The horrific wildfires in California this fall may be more commonplace as the planet warms: Climate change has doubled the odds that a region will suffer the brutal combination of hot and dry weather at the same time, a new study said.
In addition to scorching and ruining crops, those hot, dry conditions can also worsen fire risk, drying out vegetation in the summer and fueling intense, fast-spreading wildfires like those that burned through more than 375 square miles in California this month, killing dozens.
When those extremes occur at the same time, it exacerbates the impacts far beyond what they would have caused separately, according to study lead author Ali Sarhadi of Stanford University.
The study makes intuitive sense since the Earth has warmed about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century: “If it’s getting warmer everywhere, then it’s more likely to be hot in two places at once,” study co-author Noah Diffenbaugh said in a statement. He added that “it’s probably also more likely to be hot when it’s also dry in two places at once.”
Specifically, the frequency of warm and dry conditions happening at the same time in the mid-20th century was around 20 percent, the study said. Now, early in the 21st century, it’s about 40 percent.
“So, what used to be a rare occurrence can now be expected to occur with some regularity, and we have very strong evidence that global warming is the cause,” Diffenbaugh, also of Stanford University, added.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.
Looking ahead, within the next several decades, there’s as much as a 75 percent chance that average temperatures will rise well beyond what they were around 1950.
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