West on fire, East under water as climate change fuels extremes
There were two intense areas of heavy rain in the Northeast on Monday afternoon and evening. Across Bucks and Burlington counties in southeast Pennsylvania, 6 to 12 inches of rain fell in a few hours, prompting high water rescues across the area. Farther north, radar reports estimated that 3 to 5 inches of rain had fell in western Passaic County and far western Bergen County in New Jersey.
As of Tuesday morning, it had rained 9 out of 13 days so far this month in New York City. And with 8.49 inches of rain so far, the Big Apple is now having its seventh wettest July on record.
The stats are even more extreme for Boston, where it has rained every day this month, leading to 8.9 inches of rain.
By Tuesday, all flood alerts had expired but more showers and thunderstorms were possible across the Northeast. There is also a slight risk of severe storms for a small area in the interior sections of the northeast from Buffalo, New York, to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The greatest risk will be damaging winds followed by hail and an isolated tornado. The best chance for heaviest rain will be in western New York, where 1 to 3 inches of rain is possible through Wednesday.
A warmer atmosphere is able to hold more water, which means heavy rain events like what happened Monday in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are becoming more prevalent with climate change. The Northeast, specifically, is the region that has seen the highest increase in heavy rainfall events, more than any other region, since the 1950s.
And it’s not just the East seeing extreme weather events fueled by climate change.
The West continues to bake under excessive and record-setting temperatures while the wildfire risk continues to grow.
About 10 million people remained under heat alerts across the West on Tuesday for temperatures 5-15 degrees above average. A couple of spotty records are possible for locations like Reno and Tahoe in Nevada, but the heat dome is forecast to shrink as temperatures cool to closer to the average by the end of the week.
But even as temperatures improve, the wildfire risk remains.
Even though temperatures won’t be as hot, low humidity and wind gusts up to 30 mph will continue to lead to an elevated to critical fire risk across portions of Washington, Oregon and northern California.
The Bootleg Fire in Oregon is currently over 150,000 acres and zero percent contained. It could become the first 200,000-acre wildfire of the year for the U.S.
This year is already off to a faster wildfire start compared to 2020. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, compared to this same time last year, there has been more than 700 wildfires and over 103,000 more acres burned.
This is alarming, considering 2020 set a record for most acres burned in California, at a staggering 4.3 million acres.
Extreme temperature is one of the weather events that can be most strongly attributed to climate change. The warmer atmosphere is leading to heat waves that are more intense, more frequent and last longer.
Climate change is also increasing the risk of larger, more intense wildfires, as warmer and drier conditions allow fire to spread faster and farther. Higher temperatures mean more evaporation, which worsens drought and dries out vegetation, increasing the flammability of the landscape and thus the ability to ignite and burn. Studies have found that climate change has resulted in a doubling of forest fire acres from 1984 to 2015. Other studies have linked global warming to a five-fold increase in the annual number of acres burned in California from 1972 to 2018.