Wildfire season sets record for days on high alert


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 5, 2021

In 2021, the United States Forest Service saw more days on the highest level of wildfire preparedness consecutively than ever before.

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore spoke to the United States House of Representatives subcommittee on Sept. 29 regarding the increasing intensity and of wildfires. Moore said the fires are getting harder to control, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. Wildfires started in January across the western United States and they continue to burn into October. Millions of acres have burned as fewer firefighters fight the flames, according to Moore.

In June 2021, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued air quality alerts due to winds from the West Coast changing the air quality in some Midwestern states. Iowa saw poor air quality on various days throughout the summer because of the wildfires throughout the west. Wildfires are also worsening by scaling mountains and reaching higher elevations than in previous years. According to The New York Times, 50 percent of these fires in 2021 were started by lightning. The other half were traced back to a variety of human-made causes, including power lines and cars.

Moore said these wildfires are milder than in past years based on a couple of metrics, but with fewer firefighters they become tougher to fight. The 2021 season did, however, start earlier than normal.

Air quality, climate bulletin highlights quality patterns, shifts


Screenshot from YouTube.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 7, 2021

The World Meteorological Organization published its first Air Quality and Climate Bulletin on Sept. 3, discussing where air patterns are improving and deteriorating across the globe.

The report discusses the strong connection air quality and climate change have because of the chemical species that impact both. One of the similarities is the affect the combustion of fossil fuels has on air’s breathability and on global warming. A large problem when it comes to air quality is wildfires, according to the bulletin. The report said the fire seasons expose people to “varying levels of pollutants” alongside putting millions of people at high or very high health risks as a result of being downwind from wildfires.

Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research co-director Greg Carmichael assisted in the creation of the organization’s bulletin. He serves on the editorial board for the bulletin and chairs the Environmental Pollution and Atmospheric Chemistry Scientific Steering Committee of the World Meteorological Organization, the group that inspired the report.

Iowa saw poor air quality this summer because of the wildfires in Western states. In late June, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued air quality alerts due to winds from the West Coast changing the air quality in some Midwestern states. The alert specifically focused on warning sensitive groups to limit their outdoor exertion within the state. According to the Des Moines Register, these alerts also signaled several towns in the state having “unhealthy” air based on the Air Quality Index. Poor air quality returned later in the summer to Iowa, as residents saw more alerts in August.

The bulletin by the World Meteorological Organization included a section on how COVID-19 and air quality have impacted one another — something that has worried some health officials in Iowa. During various lockdowns of differing degrees, international emissions of air pollutants fell drastically, improving air quality across the world. The report showed nitrogen dioxide emissions dropped nearly 70 percent as a result of COVID-19.

The World Meteorological Organization intends to continue putting out bulletins with more air quality information in the future.

California wildfires have burned 3x more land than last year’s record setting season


Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | July 14, 2021

Severe drought coupled with the climate crisis has culminated in a second record setting year for land burned in California’s annual wildfire season. 

Reduced snowpack and early snowmelt alongside warmer temperatures in the spring and summer have created drier seasons according to CNN.  In 2020, around 4.1 million acres were estimated to be burned according to the National Interagency Fire Center. However, 2021 is expected to cause far more damage. On Monday, fires had burned over 142,477 acres in the state, 103,588 more than during the same time period last year. 

Scientists say the interconnectedness of heat and drought are causing a vicious feedback loop which climate change makes even more difficult to break in the region. As heat increases the drought, the drought increases the heat. 

Across the country, more than 30 million people are under heat warning. The risks for underlying health issues and other dangers for those working outside are “very high” according to the National Weather Service

Biden meets with Western states, plans for harsh wildfire season


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 1, 2021

President Joe Biden met with governors from Western states on Wednesday to discuss the record-breaking heat wave their states face this summer. He said climate change is what is driving the increased threat of wildfires on the coast.

Governors from California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming met with the president. Portland, Oregon, set a record-high temperature three days in a row this week. Seattle, Washington, also saw high temperatures, hitting 108 degrees, eight below Portland’s high. The heat is causing some medical emergencies and sudden deaths in states, according to CNN.

This was the first meeting of its kind, however, there are annual meetings between the Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and presidents to discuss the Atlantic hurricane season. The wildfire season this year is shaping up to be devastating. Biden said the states are “playing catch-up” when it comes to counteracting these fires and their root causes, calling the area “under-resourced.”

The National Interagency Fire Center estimated more than 1 million acres in Western states have burned already this year.

At the meeting, Biden announced his plans to create an incentive program for firefighters to improve recruitment and retention. The administration also plans to expand the federal government’s wildfire prevention and response.

Hurricane Sally Hit the Gulf Coast on Wednesday as Wildfires Rage on in West Coast


Image of Hurricane Sally from NASA

Maxwell Bernstein | September 18, 2020

Hurricane Sally hit near Gulf Shores, Ala. on Wednesday as a Category 2 hurricane, and caused 377 people to require rescue in the Florida Panhandle, according to the New York Times

Around 275,000 people are without electricity in Alabama and 240,000 Floridians are without power. 

This hurricane season is the most active on record, with around 20 storms so far. The active hurricane season and the fires in the West Coast are heavily exacerbated by climate change, which will only create more severe weather conditions, according to The New York Times. 

Trump Denies Climate Change as Wild Fires Burn Through the West Coast


Image from NASA

Maxwell Bernstein | September 16, 2020

The August Complex wildfires on the West Coast have resulted in more than five million acres burned, with 27 people dead, according to The New York Times. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced as the wildfires threaten and burn homes and communities. 

The wildfires are creating the worst air quality on the planet, according to the air quality tracker, PurpleAir.  

Climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of forest fires as warming temperatures create hot and dry conditions, according to NASA. Despite the scientific evidence, President Donald Trump and California Secretary for Natural Resources, Wade Crowfoot, debated over the validity of climate change. 

“It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch,” President Donald Trump said to Crowfoot, referring to the warming climate. 

“I wish science agreed with you,” said Crowfoot. 

“Well I don’t think science knows, actually,” replied President Donald Trump. 

Unhealthy Levels of Pollution Spread Across Western U.S. as California Wildfires Burn On


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | August 24, 2020

More than 600 individual fires and some of the largest wildfire complexes in California’s history are still burning after thousands of lightning strikes triggered them last week.

Unhealthy levels of pollution have been reported across the state in the last few days. The large number of individual fires and the size of the fire complexes has caused an unusually high amount of of smoke to enter the atmosphere, and the smoke has spread across parts of the western United States and the Pacific Ocean. Atmospheric testing showed that Northern California had the worst air quality in the world on August 19.

Extremely hot and dry conditions in California could cause the smoke to stay in the air longer. The black carbon particulates in the air will cause health problems for humans and animals as they enter the lungs and bloodstream, and they play a role in global warming, according to an article published by NASA. The National Weather Service issued a poor air quality alert for California’s Central Valley until the fires are extinguished.