U of U data shows climate change making fire season worse

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, (News4Utah) – Data from the University of Utah shows climate change is causing longer, hotter fire seasons throughout the West. Experts note it could get much worse if more isn’t done to mitigate the danger and reduce climate changing emissions.

This comes as Utah has experienced a series of catastrophic wildfires which have impacted communities around the state.

William Anderegg is an Assistant Professor at U of U who for the last decade has studied the impact of climate change on forest health. He notes that fire season now last 105 days longer than it did in the 1970’s, and burns four times the number of acres.

“Climate change is super charging our wildfires in the West,” said Anderegg. “It’s giving longer fire seasons and bigger fires.”

He notes land management and pests have also had an impact, but changing temperatures have shown to be the main contributor to the problem.

“Climate change is really a triple threat to Western U.S. forests,” said Anderegg. “It’s the drought stress, it’s the beetles, and it’s fires.”

With so many areas overgrown, and fires burning hotter it’s also preventing some areas from recovering. While fire can be a major part of a healthy forest. Those that burn too hot can take out the nutrients from the soil and kill what’s left.

“They destroy the forest instead of just clearing out the extra trees or the under story,” said Anderegg.

The things making the season longer is the faster snow melt which used to help keep fire season at bay.

ABC4 Chief Meteorologist Dan Pope said climate change is bringing stronger periods of high pressure systems which keep storms with moisture out.

“More high pressure for longer periods of time means dryer weather not only in the Summer time but also in the Winter time,” said Pope.

It’s the same thing that caused such a dry winter this year which led to lower than normal snowpack.

Anderegg hopes his work studying the impact on forests will help predict where fire could be the worst. So crews can get in front of it. He says the numbers are clear and something needs to be done.

“To see these forests dying off and burning in mass, it’s a sign of climate change in our backyard and it’s time to take it seriously,” said Anderegg. “It matters to our air quality and it matter to our economy.”

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