September 28, 2023

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Wildfire smoke worsens air quality in Chicago and the Midwest: Live updates

With so much toxic wildfire smoke moving across the Canadian border and upending lives across the eastern United States, it raises a troubling question: Will there be more of this in the coming years, and if so, what can be done about it?

First, let’s take a step back. Average global temperatures have been rising due to the uncontrolled burning of coal, oil and gas for 150 years. This created the conditions for more frequent and intense heat waves.

This extra heat in the atmosphere has created a greater potential for severe, sometimes catastrophic, weather around the world. While this does not mean the same extremes in the same places all the time, by virtue of geography, certain places are more prone to certain disasters. Australia could see more severe droughts. Low-lying islands are expected to experience higher storm surges as sea levels rise.

In places that get hot and dry, wildfires can become more widespread or intense.

The consolidated fact is that more heat is the new normal.

Scientists say the best way to reduce the risk of future warming is to reduce the burning of fossil fuels. There are also many ways to adapt to hot weather and its dangers.

What about fire and smoke in the northeast?

Wildfires near Lake Barrington in Nova Scotia last month.credit…Nova Scotia Connections, via Associated Press

Eastern Canada, which has been raging in unusual fires, is It is expected to be wetter on averageEspecially in the winter. The outlook is less clear for summer, when soil moisture is important for creating fire conditions, according to Park Williams, a climatologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Eastern North America is also expected to get much hotter, with several more days when the maximum temperature rises Above 35 degrees Celsius, or 95 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Therefore, in a dry year, excessive heat is likely to exacerbate fire hazards. This is what happened this year in parts of Quebec. The snow melted early. Spring was unusually dry. Trees turned into tinder.

The northeastern United States is also expected to be wetter in the coming years. But as Elaine L. McCray, director of Eastern Regional Climate Services at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said, “We’ve also experienced seasonal droughts more often, in part because of warmer temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and soil moisture loss.”

With regard to air pollution, she said, smoke from forest fires from the West, and even dust from across the desert, can travel across the world to the United States, bringing with it dangerous particles, according to the latest National Climate Assessmentpublished in 2018.

“From a human health perspective, we are concerned about the frequency and duration of these smoke events,” said Leslie Ann Daubigny-Gero, a University of Vermont climate scientist who led the Northeastern report.

Rittenhouse Park in Philadelphia on Thursday.credit…Michel Gustafson for The New York Times

The Northeast faces other, more persistent risks.

First, the heat. By 2035, according to the National Climate Assessment, average temperatures are expected to be more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the pre-industrial era. This is larger and older than the global average.

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Higher average temperatures increase the chances of more frequent and intense heat waves. This is especially risky for people who work outdoors or who cannot afford air conditioning.

Secondly, for coastal areas in the northeast, there is a risk of sea level rise. This means flood risks affecting millions of people. Cities have long been admonished to prepare by improving drainage, opening up floodplains, planting shade trees, and encouraging better building insulation.

Fire risks are high in other parts of the country.

The Dixie Fire of 2021 destroyed a home in Janesville, California.credit…Ethan Sopp/Associated Press

In the southeastern United States, climate models indicate “increased fire risk and a longer fire season.” Fires started by lightning (as opposed to by humans) are expected to increase by at least 30 percent by 2060, said the National Climate Assessment.

In western states, the wildfire season is already longer due to warmer temperatures, droughts, and earlier snowmelt. by the middle of the century, Evaluation completedThe burned area there could be at least doubled.

California could have a break this year due to its wet winter and spring. But not necessarily the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Williams, a climate scientist, said, “If a major heat wave occurs in that area this summer, I would expect the fuel to be too dry to withstand the major fires.”

What would limit the harm or help people cope?

A scheduled burn near Georgetown, California, ahead of last month’s fire season.credit…Lauren Elliott/Reuters

Most of the fires in Quebec appear to have been started by lightning. Elsewhere, such as in the western United States, human neglect and mismanagement of aging power lines have led to catastrophic fires. Both are fixable problems.

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Firefighting experts say that mechanical thinning of forests, as well as “burning” — the deliberate burning of bushes — can also reduce the spread of wildfires, but with risks.

Some things that protect people from the heat also help protect against wildfire smoke. Leaky and poorly insulated buildings are just as dangerous on hot days as smoke.

The most effective way to prevent a rise in temperatures is to reduce the burning of fossil fuels. They are the movers of heat and its dangers.