Drought Hit California Continues To Burn

In Americas, Drought & Fires, News Headlines

California is burning. One of the worst wildfire seasons in the state’s history has killed six people and destroyed over a thousand homes, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Monday.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares across the western US – from Alaska to California – are alight with multiple wildfires. But only California, the most populous state in the country, has seen deaths and widespread property damage.

The fires are stoked by drought, in California’s case the worst its history. Earlier this year, officials went to measure the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which provides much of the state’s water. Instead of the traditional 1.5 metres of snow, they found just dry earth. This year’s snowpack is at a 500-year low, thanks to unusually warm winter weather and poor snows – conditions that are expected to become more common as climate change hits.

Climate change is widely acknowledged as being behind the severity of the drought. Warmer temperatures mean precipitation is more likely to fall as rain rather than snow. Rain runs off the mountains fast rather than piling up into a natural water reserve as snow does.

Uneven heating of the planet also moves precipitation zones – in California’s case, shifting the tracks of winter storms that roll in off the Pacific Ocean. This year’s El Niño is expected to bring rains to California, but it is unlikely to be enough to end the drought.

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