The Golden State is Dull
Northern California’s wine country has experienced a series of deadly wildfires these last three weeks. The wildfires raged for nineteen days, consuming nearly 170,000 acres of land and 3,500 homes before they were fully contained. The communities of Northern California have truly been stunned by the human causalities of this disaster: 42 people have died, 300 are reported missing, and roughly 25,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes.
The region has been experiencing prime wildfire weather conditions for quite some time. Heavy bouts of rainfall during the winter months followed by scorching summer temperatures have cyclically dried the region, the endless brown grasslands practically begging to be engulfed. These wildfires have ignited people’s concerns of global warming, the “up and up” trend of temperatures only fueling the conversation. Just this September, San Francisco experienced a record-breaking high of 106 ⁰F, a shocking difference from the city’s typical foggy, mid-sixty summer days. In addition, the “Diablo winds,” as they’ve been locally termed, constantly race throughout inland Northern California; the night of the fire, they reached a speed of 79 mph, allowing the flames to spread at an unprecedented rate.
These extreme conditions of Northern California have an uncanny resemblance to the desiccated landscapes and hot temperatures of Southern California, an area universally known for its wildfires. Is NorCal then destined to adopt the climate of SoCal? Studies have estimated that by 2100, the average temperature of California’s northern half will rise by 6 ⁰F - 11⁰F, which is roughly the difference presently separating the two regions. However, Michael Wehner, a senior staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, argues that “It is likely an oversimplification to state that future NorCal landscapes becomes SoCal current landscapes.” Regardless, trends predict an increase in the dry, feverish climate of Northern California, accompanied by the expansion of its deserts and reduction in snow levels of the Sierra Nevadas.
Although there is no concrete evidence linking the cause of the wildfires to climate change, LeRoy Westerling, a management professor at the University of California, Merced’s School of Engineering, states, “We know that these events are affected by the weather and the climate and how dry it is. The climate system has been altered by people…all the weather we’re experiencing and what’s driving these wildfire events is climate change.” In the wake of this tragedy, Northern Californians are beginning to take more precautions, ensuring that they will be prepared to withstand the next hit.