CREDIT: NASA Earth Observatory
It hasn’t been a typical summer in Siberia. High temperatures for this time of year are usually in the mid-to-low 60s Fahrenheit, but this July they hit 90 degrees, and didn’t drop much below a high of 80 until just this week. Meanwhile, potentially record-breaking wildfires continue to rage, with over 22,200 acres of active burning.
The Siberian Times emphasized the lighter side of the heat wave, with photos of young people playing beach volleyball in swimsuits, a rare sight in Novosibirsk.
But high temperatures are becoming more frequent, and they are an important factor in Siberia’s historic fires. And although the whole planet is warming, Russia has seen it happen particularly quickly, “about .51°C per decade compared to about .17°C globally,” according to NASA’s Earth Observatory. Even Verkhoyansk, a contender for coldest continuously-inhabited city in the world, posted an 82 degree day as recently as July 30.
Some burning is typical for Siberia’s wildfire season, but 2013 is approaching 2012’s record of 74 million total acres burned. The years 2000 to 2008 averaged only 50 million acres burned each year. Fires are burning further north than usual as well, into the dense evergreen forest known as the “taiga” that usually remains safe from fire. Smoke was heavy enough to close airports in the cities of Omsk and Tomsk, and blanket the cities in smog.
Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev set out on a trip to Siberia to see the firefighting first-hand. “The wildfire situation is abnormal,” he said. “We have not had such a situation for decades.” His remarks came amidst criticism from RT that the burning has been aggravated by large cuts to forest management and firefighting.
Siberia’s heat wave and fires join a host of other extreme weather events across the globe this summer. The U.S. alone has seen deadly heat waves, record high temperatures in Alaska, prolonged and severe drought, and the unprecedented burning of the American west.