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Wildfires and Intense Heat: New Climate Realities July 6, 2012
Colorado wildfires threaten homes
Unprecedented fires destroyed hundreds of homes in Colorado over the past two weeks.
The rash of devastating wildfires, searing heat waves and severe storms that the United States experienced in the past two weeks are clear indications of a new climate reality that we must all learn to cope with, according to a joint advisory by a team of leading atmospheric scientists.

“What we’re seeing really is a window into what global warming really looks like,” said Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer, one of the researchers. “It looks like heat. It looks like fires.”

Since Jan. 1, the U.S. has set more than 40,000 high temperature records, but fewer than 6,000 low temperature records.

This is in contrast to most of the 20th century, when record highs and lows pretty much balanced out over time.

“This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level,” said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. “The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about.”

The researchers gave their analysis and predictions at a briefing convened by the science organization Climate Communication.

The group’s report, Heat Waves and Climate Change, summarizes our current scientific understanding of the connection between climate change and the recent increase in extreme temperatures, as reported in peer-reviewed research articles published through May 2012.

Photo: Colorado State Forest Service