While the Gulf Coast and the Northeast of the United States struggle with flooding and power outages, it’s easy to forget that wildfires are still raging in the West.
It’s a taste of a future when simultaneous disasters grow more common, according to the latest global report on climate science. Hurricanes, wildfires and torrential rain that triggers flooding are all amplified by heat, and the planet is getting hotter. Emergency managers are preparing for that future right now. They’re hoping to speed up the pace of disaster response and also move people and critical infrastructure out of harm’s way.
Government statistics show that in the 1980s, there were fewer than four billion-dollar disasters driven by extreme weather annually, on average. The past five years have seen more than 12 such disasters each year. The damage totals are adjusted for inflation.
That has happened as the planet has warmed by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit compared with the late-1800s. Average temperatures could rise another 2 degrees by 2100, and even more if countries fail to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
Scientists generally avoid blaming climate change for a specific event like Hurricane Ida, since similar hurricanes have also occurred in the past. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change instead adopts the language of probability. It says, for instance, that rainfall so heavy that it used to happen just once every decade in the pre-industrial era is now likely to occur 30% more often, and 70% more often in a world that has warmed by 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The storms will also grow more intense.
The frequency of extreme heat waves could also jump more than fivefold, according to the report. Heat waves and drought can dry out the land, making it more vulnerable to wildfire.