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Annual Number of Big Wildfires is on the Rise

Climate Central report shows that the burn season across the West is a whopping two-and-a-half months longer than it was 40 years ago. Not only that, the number of big fires has shot up over that same period – with the largest number of big fires occurring during the years with the highest temperatures.  (Click here for our interactive illustrating how warming temperatures and changing spring snowpack influences fires each year). 

Put it all together and you get a picture of what could be in store for the American West as climate change continues to push temperatures higher. The soil gets drier, and mountain snowpack is thinner (because more winter precipitation falls as rain). Then, what snow remains at the end of winter melts faster than it used to, so rivers run dry earlier in the summer. A recent NASA study showed that the total acreage burned in wildfires could double by 2050.

Although 2012 was one of the worst fire seasons on record, it’s not guaranteed that 2013 will be worse. Even in a world that’s warming overall, some years will be hotter than the average, while some will still be cooler — and temperature is just one factor that contributes to wildfires. But the trend is clear: the danger of wildfires is likely to increase in coming decades.

For a real-time look at the wildfires burning at any given time in the continental U.S, check out this interactive map.