As climate change warms the world, wildfire conditions are worsened. The National Climate Assessment concludes simply that a warmer climate leads to drier forests, which increase the potential and intensity of wildfires. This is because dry vegetation is highly flammable, creating a spreading ground for wildfires. In addition, the "wildfire season" is expanding. Both earlier snowmelt and decreased precipitation in drier areas lead to an expansion of the season because there is less water available during the summer. For the same reasons, the geographical area that wildfires take place in the United States is expanding. Similarly, worsening drought has increased wildfire risk.
In the western United States, the area burned by wildfires could increase by 2-6 times (depending on location). Already, this effect has been experienced; a 2018 study estimates that climate change doubled the area burned by wildfires since 2018. Destroying forests is very damaging to ecosystems, threatening animals' habitats. Stable ecosystems are vital, as they provide stable drinking water and fertile soil for agriculture, among other important things. Wildfires also cost more than $1 billion each since the year 2000, not to mention the thousands of neighborhoods and small towns burned by each one. Wildfires also have a negative impact on public health because smoke reduces air quality, increasing the risk for illness.
Effects Category: Effects on Extreme Weather
Effects Category: Effects on Human Health
Effects Category: Effects on Animals
Effects: Deluge and Changing Precipitation
Effects: Droughts and Heatwaves
Image: Grillot, Kyle. California Wildfires. Scientific American. Springer Nature American, Inc., October 29, 2020.
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Last Updated: Mar 15, 2021