The Link Between Wildfires and Hurricanes
Climate Change is Coming Harder Than Ever
“Just because there's a wildfire or hurricane doesn’t mean it was because of global warming and climate change,” my father says as we stare at the red sun through the smog-covered sky.
“Why can’t it be related?” I inquire.
He replies, “There is no evidence that clearly links them together.” No evidence?
Scientists since 1988 have been trying to inform us of the connection between global warming and human activities. In 1896, Nobel Prize winner Svante Arrhenius was the first to calculate estimates of how increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase the surface temperature of the Earth. This cycle is called the Callendar Effect. It led him to conclude that human-caused CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel burning and other combustion processes are large enough to cause global warming.
The trend in wildfires is becoming more painstakingly visible, yet the link between them and climate change remains near-invisible. For the past 10 years, BC’s average amount of hectares burnt per year from wildfires lies around 154,000 hectares a year. But as of right now, the number lies at 1,215,746 hectares burned in 2017, 790 percent more than the yearly average. This is equivalent to burning one tenth of the city of Vancouver, and almost surpasses the BC 1958 record of 1.4 million hectares of land burned. The western U.S. is also experiencing record-breaking wildfire statistics. Multiple wildfires continue to rage, making the air quality similar to the hazy yellow skies of Beijing.
On the East coast of America, the people of Texas, Louisiana, the Caribbean Islands, and the Gulf of Mexico were hit with the category 4 Hurricane Harvey starting on August 17, 2017. Quickly following Harvey was Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm hitting the North Coast of Cuba and moving up the Florida Strait as of September 8. Seven million people have evacuated from Florida due to floods up to 40 inches high and strong winds of up to 160 mph. Ninety percent of all the buildings on Barbuda in the Caribbean Islands have been destroyed.
Dr. Nikolaos Skliris, a climate researcher at the University of Southampton, said that, “As the world gets warmer, wet regions will continue to get wetter and dry regions will continue to get drier.” This study analyzed and used measurements of salinity throughout the global and deep oceans recorded over the last 60 years to estimate how much global rainfall is changing. The researchers found that the regions which are relatively wet are getting wetter while dry places are getting drier, both by about 2 percent over the last 60 years. Sub-tropic areas will, in the future, become drier, having their evaporated water travel to the sub-polar and equatorial areas to create more precipitation.
As we have more wildfires, we are essentially contributing to the Callendar Effect and creating a positive cycle of effects. The CO2 emissions from the burning will warm up the Earth, thus melting the polar ice caps faster, which then raises the sea level. Since the ice is freshwater, it is easier for it to evaporate which will increase the water vapor in the air, consequently creating more rainfall, leading to flooding. Because of the higher temperatures in the oceans, we will have more and more frequent hurricanes and floods. Higher temperatures in the atmosphere make the sub-tropics dryer which makes them more prone to wildfires. Once you tip the snowball off the hill, it will only get bigger.
It is no coincidence that this year we have had record-breaking droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, and floods. It is not unprecedented for these horrific events to happen as many media sites have claimed. Neglecting these events will ultimately delay and worsen the path to a better future.