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Mountain Snowmelt and Fire

Anthony Westerling and colleagues studied wildfire statistics and compared them with variations in snowmelt timing from 1970-2003. They divided the period into the 11 earliest melt years, the 11 latest, and 12 “normal” years. This graphic shows the region of analysis, and the ratio of the area burned in the 11 early-melt years, vs. the 11 late-melt years. It is not meant to depict actual fire size or location.

Snowmelt has been coming earlier and earlier on average to the American West in recent decades, in a trend that appears linked to warmer temperatures from climate change. The trends of warming and earlier snowmelt are projected to continue this century.

For more details on Westerling and colleagues' study, watch Washington: Warming and Wildfires