The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track planetary extreme, or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉
Main Topic: Smokey Wildfires…The “New Abnormal”
Dear Diary. An article with a catch phrase of the “new abnormal” caught my eye this weekend, which I’m sharing as my main topic of the day. My question is, has climate changed enough such that portions of the United States and other countries will always have to contend with wildfires, producing unhealthy choking smoke blanketing our cities and countryside alike most every warm season…leading to a “new abnormal?”
According to experts interviewed for the article indeed we are seeing a new abnormal. We’ve seen unprecedented wildfires take place across vast stretches of Siberia during the last decade leading to vast areas of smokey skies. Canada began to see a threat from extreme wildfire events in 2021 when it got up to as high as 120°F from a historic heatwave, which I dubbed Beta. This heatwave led to widespread smoke in the Pacific Northwest that year. This year extreme warmth in Canada has produced the worst wildfire season on record in that country’s history. Canada’s wildfires have led to choking skies across the northern tier of states this year. So yes, I agree. Most every year we will see wildfires leading to unhealthy, smokey conditions, which will only get worse as the planet warms from carbon pollution.
Here is that Fortune article:
Why smoky skies are ‘the new abnormal’ and ‘wildfire’ is a dated term: They’re part of life in the climate change era
July 1, 2023
A man talks on his phone as he looks through the haze at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., June 7, 2023. AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG, FILE
It was a smell that invoked a memory. Both for Emily Kuchlbauer in North Carolina and Ryan Bomba in Chicago. It was smoke from wildfires, the odor of an increasingly hot and occasionally on-fire world.
Kuchlbauer had flashbacks to the surprise of soot coating her car three years ago when she was a recent college graduate in San Diego. Bomba had deja vu from San Francisco, where the air was so thick with smoke people had to mask up. They figured they left wildfire worries behind in California, but a Canada that’s burning from sea to warming sea brought one of the more visceral effects of climate change home to places that once seemed immune.
“It’s been very apocalyptic feeling, because in California the dialogue is like, ‘Oh, it’s normal. This is just what happens on the West Coast,’ but it’s very much not normal here,” Kuchlbauer said.
As Earth’s climate continues to change from heat-trapping gases spewed into the air, ever fewer people are out of reach from the billowing and deadly fingers of wildfire smoke, scientists say. Already wildfires are consuming three times more of the United States and Canada each year than in the 1980s and studies predict fire and smoke to worsen.
While many people exposed to bad air may be asking themselves if this is a “new normal,” several scientists told The Associated Press they specifically reject any such idea because the phrase makes it sound like the world has changed to a new and steady pattern of extreme events.
“Is this a new normal? No, it’s a new abnormal,” University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann said. “It continues to get worse. If we continue to warm the planet, we don’t settle into some new state. It’s an ever-moving baseline of worse and worse.”
“It makes you think about climate change and also how it essentially could affect, you know, anywhere,” Bhatia said. “It’s not just the California problem or Australia problem. It’s kind of an everywhere problem.”
Wildfires in the U.S. on average now burn about 12,000 square miles (31,000 square kilometers) yearly, about the size of Maryland. From 1983 to 1987, when the National Interagency Fire Center started keeping statistics, only about 3,300 square miles (8,546 square kilometers) burned annually.
During the past five years, including a record low 2020, Canada has averaged 12,279 square miles (31,803 square kilometers) burned, which is three and a half times larger than the 1983 to 1987 average.
The type of fires seen this year in western Canada are in amounts scientists and computer models predicted for the 2030s and 2040s. And eastern Canada, where it rains more often, wasn’t supposed to see occasional fire years like this until the mid 21st century, Flannigan said.
If the Canadian east is burning, that means eventually, and probably sooner than researchers thought, eastern U.S. states will also, Flannigan said. He and Williams pointed to devastating fires in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, that killed 14 people in 2016 during a brief drought in the East.
America burned much more in the past, but that’s because people didn’t try to stop fires and they were less of a threat. The West used to have larger and regular fires until the mid-19th century, with more land settlement and then the U.S. government trying to douse every fire after the great 1910 Yellowstone fire, Williams said.
Since about the 1950s, America pretty much got wildfires down to a minimum, but that hasn’t been the case since about 2000.
“We thought we had it under control, but we don’t,” Williams said. “The climate changed so much that we lost control of it.”
The warmer the Arctic gets and the more snow and ice melt there — the Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of Earth — the differences in the summer between Arctic and mid-latitudes get smaller. That allows the jet stream of air high above the ground to meander and get stuck, prolonging bouts of bad weather, Mann and Francis said. Other scientists say they are waiting for more evidence on the impact of bouts of stuck weather.
A new study published on June 23 links a stuck weather pattern to reduced North American snow cover in the spring.
For people exposed to nasty air from wildfire smoke, increasing threats to health are part of the new reality.
Wildfires expose about 44 million people per year worldwide to unhealthy air, causing about 677,000 deaths annually with almost 39% of them children, according to a 2021 study out of the United Kingdom.
One study that looked at a dozen years of wildfire smoke exposure in Washington state showed a 1% all-ages increase in the odds of non-traumatic death the same day as the smoke hit the area and 2% for the day after. Risk of respiratory deaths jumped 14% and even more, 35%, for adults ages 45 to 64.
Based on peer-reviewed studies, the Health Effects Institute estimated that smoke’s chief pollutant caused 4 million deaths worldwide and nearly 48,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2019.
The tiny particles making up a main pollutant of wildfire smoke, called PM2.5, are just the right size to embed deep in the lungs and absorb into the blood. But while their size has garnered attention, their composition also matters, said Kris Ebi, a University of Washington climate and health scientist.
“There is emerging evidence that the toxicity of wildfire smoke PM2.5 is more toxic than what comes out of tailpipes,” Ebi said.
A cascade of health effects may become a growing problem in the wake of wildfires, including downwind from the source, said Ed Avol, professor emeritus at the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California.
Beyond irritated eyes and scratchy throats, breathing in wildfire smoke also can create long-term issues all over the body. Avol said those include respiratory effects including asthma and COPD, as well as impacts on heart, brain and kidney function.
“In the longer term, climate change and unfortunately wildfire smoke is not going away because we really haven’t done that much quick enough to make a difference,” Avol said, adding that while people can take steps like masking up or using air filters to try to protect themselves, we are ultimately “behind the curve here in terms of responding to it.”
Borenstein reported from Washington and Walling from Chicago.
Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Very much related:
Here are some “ET’s” recorded from around the planet the last couple of days, their consequences, and some extreme temperature outlooks, as well as any extreme precipitation reports:
Here is some new June 2023 climatology:
Here is more climate and weather news from Sunday:
(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)