Weather Talk: Is climate change the cause of the Western fires? | The Dickinson Press

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From California to British Columbia, wildfires continue to burn out of control across the Western part of North America. The persistence of smoky skies here is reminiscent of the summer and fall of 1988 when Rocky Mountain fires, including the infamous Yellowstone fire, kept dirty smoke in our sky well into September. Some blame global warming for the fires. To others, the cause is a natural, albeit uncommon, set of circumstances. To resolve this sensibly, it is important to separate weather and climate.

Given the natural variability of weather, it is possible for wildfires to reach this extent in any season, past or future. The causes for the fires this year are numerous, but an unusually hot and windy dry season out West is certainly a big part of the problem. Climate change, meanwhile, has increased the frequency of drought and heat waves in the West and made wildfire seasons more frequent and potentially more severe in any given season.

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