Explaining the Pine Ridge Fire
HOW WE GOT HERE
After last year’s wet and wild winter encouraged vegetation growth, this winter’s anemic snowpack left that vegetation literally high and dry.
This year’s winter ended with Colorado’s snowpack more than 80 percent below average and 14 percent of last year’s.
Meanwhile, early spring temperatures melted that snow at an exceptionally rapid pace, by early May in most places as opposed to late June, which is more typical historically, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Record temperatures and extreme winds throughout the spring have further dried out vegetation.
All this created prime conditions for a lightning strike, stray cigarette butt, firework spark or campfire ember to ignite and rapidly engulf thousands of acres, as has happened at the Pine Ridge Fire.
That fire is suspected of being started by lightning that struck during thunderstorms Monday night.
A NEW NORMAL?
Despite last year’s snowy winter, the scientific consensus is that the Southwest will continue to get hotter and drier throughout this century, though other parts of the country are predicted to get hotter and wetter.
Winters can be expected to be, in general, shorter and warmer and summers longer and hotter, those predictions say.
A study published earlier this month found that higher temperatures will mean more wildfires in North America and Europe over the long-term. For the western U.S., however, that increased fire activity will start in the short-term — over the next few decades — according to their analysis of satellite data and multiple climate models.
Though researchers are generally hesitant to tie specific events to climate change, climate predictions have long held that extreme weather events — wildfires, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, etc. — will become more frequent and more severe over the next 100 years.
“What we’re seeing is a window into what global warming really looks like,” Princeton climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said Thursday in a conference call with reporters on the ties between Colorado’s wildfires and climate model predictions. “It looks like heat, it looks like fires, it looks like this kind of environmental disaster.”
— Matthew Berger