John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The fire season up north is off to an early and aggressive start.
Look out, Texas: there’s a huge plume of acrid smoke heading for you all the way from uppermost Canada.
The gray cloud has stretched evermore south this week and now has reached the Texas borders, though it’s still thickest above the Midwest—so thick, in fact, it’s lowered temperatures in South Dakota by as much as four degrees. “The line of smoke is not only long, but quite dense,” writes NASA’s OMPS blog, which posted the above image from Monday. “Pretty remarkable.”
An early and aggressive start to Canada’s wildfire season is to blame, with roughly 440 blazes (some controlled, many not) turning swaths of forest into char. The legion of fire, much of it sparked by lightning, is receiving a power boost from dry tinder and forceful winds. In the past few days, thousands of people in Saskatchewan were given evacuation orders, with one emergency official predicting there “is no end in the immediate future” to the fiery outbreak.
As incredible as it sounds, some of the smoke over the contiguous U.S. might be coming from Alaska. Following a long-term trend, the fire season there also has experienced an explosive, early start. Writes NASA:
The fire situation in Alaska is very dynamic at this time. As of June 29, 2015, there are 314 active fires in the State. Many fires in remote areas are unstaffed….
This year has seen an unusually high number of wildfires burning simultaneously across the tundra and forests of Alaska, and an exceptionally large number of homes and buildings have been damaged or threatened by the flames so far this year. Wildfires are a common occurrence in the state, but this year’s fires started earlier than normal and have escalated quickly. A light winter snowpack and little rain in the spring left dry ground particularly vulnerable to fires that break out when lightning strikes.
To sum up how fire-ravaged Alaska is, take a look at this map from meteorologist Brian Brettschneider. It shows just how difficult it is to get out of sniffing range of an ongoing blaze: