Wildfires in Canada and the United States are prompting evacuations and shuttering businesses, combining with worsening heat waves across the globe to set the stage for what forecasters fear could be another brutal summer for disasters worldwide.
As western states like California continue to reel from last year’s onslaught of fires, South Asia is in the midst of a staggering heat wave. Areas within the Arctic circle, meanwhile, are shattering their own heat records.
In Northern California, wildfires are already a threat this year. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the state’s electric utility, shut off power to around 1,600 customers over the weekend as a safety precaution. Wind-damaged transmission lines are associated with last year’s Camp Fire, the worst in Californian history. (PG&E filed for bankruptcy following that fire.)
“PG&E will continue to monitor the weather conditions in Nevada, El Dorado and Placer counties, and may still de-energize lines there overnight if necessary,” the company announced in a statement addressing this year’s new onslaught of wildfires.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issued an excessive heat warning early Monday morning, cautioning residents in several Northern California counties to prepare for “a prolonged period of dangerously hot temperatures.” Those conditions have helped fuel wildfires, which are naturally occurring but exacerbated by rising temperatures along with encroaching development and human activity. A red flag warning — indicating an increased risk of fire danger — remains in effect for the wider area.
Experts have predicted that this summer will be exceptionally hot in the coastal United States, with the Plains and Midwest eyeing lower-than-average temperatures coupled with an uptick in extreme rain and flooding in those areas. The influence of El Niño, a warming and fluctuating climate phenomenon, is playing a role in ominous summer predictions, with much of the wider country potentially experiencing severe heat by August.
That dire forecast comes amid massive job cuts by the Trump administration, which recently announced the largest federal work reduction in a decade — one that includes wildfire fighting jobs.
The Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (CCCs), which are run by the Forest Service, train young people from disadvantaged areas for jobs including inland wildfire fighting and disaster recovery. But centers in a number of states are slated for closure, with around 1,100 jobs on the line. In previous years, hundreds of CCC employees have assisted with combatting wildfires.
That has implications for states like Washington, which is among the areas losing a CCC. Parts of that state have already seen a major uptick in outdoor burns this year following an abnormally dry season. Wildfire responders in the state have said they are expecting an unusually bad fire season.
And that’s true further north as well. More than 700,000 acres of land have burned in Alberta, Canada, since May, with some 11,000 people forced to evacuate.
Scientists have connected Alberta’s uptick in fires in recent years to climate change. While the causes of fires are complex, experts say unusually hot and dry conditions are both exacerbating disasters as well as increasing their frequency.
“Colleagues and I attribute this to human-caused climate change. I can’t be any more clear than that,” University of Alberta professor Mike Flannigan, a wild land expert, told CBC.
Other parts of the world are also experiencing extreme climate impacts. India and neighboring Pakistan are currently in the midst of a severe and deadly heat wave, with temperatures topping 120 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas. At one point last week, five of the hottest 15 places globally were in India or Pakistan; almost all of India was under a heat advisory last Wednesday.
Experts project that South Asia will be among the global regions worst-hit by climate change, given that those countries are already disproportionately prone to high temperatures and weather events.
But colder parts of the world are also reeling from climate impacts. Alaska is currently experiencing a record-breaking heat wave, worsening the already steady decline of sea ice in the state. In northwest Russia and around the Arctic Circle, temperatures around 84 degrees Fahrenheit were recorded in May.
Meanwhile, Finland is also in the midst of its own ongoing heat wave.
Historical chart. There are no known cases in Finland's climate history when it has been hotter than now so early in the summer. pic.twitter.com/CrJAEKw49D
— Mika Rantanen (@mikarantane) June 7, 2019
Mika Rantanen, a Finnish meteorologist, analyzed the warming trend in the far north, and noted that, while many factors are in play, the link between climate change and the temperature rise is clear-cut.
“[Climate change] increases the risk of record-high temperatures,” he wrote. “It’s like how alcohol increases the risk of crashing your car, or how doping increases the probability of setting new records in sports.”