The effects of global warming on temperature, precipitation levels, and soil moisture are turning many of our forests into kindling during wildfire season. — The Union of Concerned Scientists
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency yesterday as a deepening drought and above average temperatures sparked a large wildfire outbreak.
(Florida is now under a state of emergency due to widespread wildfires.)
Over 100 wildfires across the state have now burned 20,000 acres, destroyed 19 homes, and blanketed dense population centers like Orlando with smoke. Moderate to severe drought conditions cover 42 percent of the state. And the result is the worst fire season since 2011 — a record outbreak for Florida which burned over 200,000 acres during the year.
So far for 2017, about 2.5 times the area of land that burns during a usual wildfire season by mid April has already been consumed. Fires are now burning from one end of Florida to the other:
“From St. George Island in the Panhandle to a wildfire just north of one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions in Orlando, we’re seeing that every area of our state is susceptible to wildfire,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said.
(Moderate to severe drought across 42 percent of Florida is increasing fire risk. The dry season for this region typically lasts until June when Atlantic moisture arrives — bringing with it more frequent thunderstorms. Image source: The U.S. Drought Monitor.)
Florida wildfire season typically runs year-round. However, January to June sees higher fire risk as drier conditions settle in. Summer rains tend to tamp down fires during the hotter months as oceanic and gulf moisture flows increase.
This year, record to near record warm sea surface conditions in the Gulf of Mexico have helped to lock in warmer to much warmer than average temperatures over Florida from January to April. These warmer than normal temperatures have helped to promote drought onset during the dry season.
(As global temperatures have increased, so too have the number of acres burned by wildfires. Image source: US EPA.)
Climate change also plays a role by increasing rates of drought onset, by pushing average temperatures higher, and by generally amplifying wildfire risk. Like many places, Florida has probably been rendered more vulnerable to wildfires by a warming primarily brought on by fossil fuel burning. And it is also a sad irony that the present Governor has outlawed the use of the words climate change in government communications due to a harmful political ideology which has decided to deny the basic science of human-caused warming (Trump has issued similar gag orders). A backward and reactionary policy that renders Florida less able to mitigate and respond to disasters related to human-caused climate change.
Presently, drought conditions are not as intense as those that contributed to the severe 2011 wildfire outbreak. However, forecasters are calling for little rain over the coming week and continued warm to warmer than normal weather. If this weather continues, the present Florida drought is likely to worsen — along with the fire risk.