Sunday, April 24, 2011

Scientists see pattern in Texas' bad wildfire year

Randy Lee Loftis in the Sacramento Bee via the Dallas Morning News: Texas horizons have been red lately, but not from great sunsets. Wildfires have burned roughly 1.4 million acres and destroyed nearly 200 homes this year during one of the state's worst droughts and through its driest March.

…Scientists say the immediate cause is a La Nina, a recurring, months-long pattern that blocks Texas' normal rains. But are the drought and fires also linked to climate change? Climate scientists say that question, though common whenever extreme weather arrives, is both unanswerable and misdirected. "By now, most people get that you can't attribute any single weather event on global warming," said John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist and a professor at Texas A&M University.

…Texas has boosted spending for wildfire control, largely in response to the catastrophic 2006 season. If climate change makes such events more common, the bill for protecting rural or even suburban property could climb. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, a research associate professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, said Texas trends are already emerging - especially a tendency toward more extreme rainfall events.

…Rainfall in a few heavy bursts rather than throughout a growing season might not help crops very much. Higher temperatures might boost irrigation demands, further depleting West Texas' already declining Ogallala Aquifer, Hayhoe said.

Although no one drought or flood can be blamed on climate change, she said, the chances for such events might increase, like rolling dice loaded with an extra six….

Satellite image of fires in Texas and Mexico, April 15, 2011. From NASA

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