Fleeing Disaster Is Hard. Climate Change is Making it Hard
It is harder

Fleeing Disaster Is Hard. Climate Change is Making it Hard It is harder

California wildfires and Hurricane Ida are both sides of one coin. It’s becoming harder for people to escape extreme weather events on a warmer planet.

On Sunday, Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana. It wreaked havoc on communities, causing 150-mile per hour winds and powerful storm surges. The Caldor Fire in California has ravaged 320 miles of land and destroyed more than 700 buildings. It is now moving towards South Lake Tahoe. In a scene eerily reminiscent of the chaotic 2018 evacuation of Paradise during the Camp Fire–when 86 people died, many in their cars on the road out of town–evacuees sat in gridlock, desperate to flee the approaching flames. The blaze now threatens to destroy more than 34,000 structures.

Wildfires and hurricanes are very distinct disasters that have been supercharged with a common force, climate change. While scientists aren’t certain that warming the climate causes such disasters, they have proven time after time that it intensifies them. Vasu Misra, an atmospheric and climate scientist at Florida State University says that both are opposites of a warming climate. You have extremes from both ends – extreme dryness and very wet events happening simultaneously on one continent. And it is getting more difficult for people to escape them when they strike.

Keith Porter from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Natural Hazards Center says that “more frequent, severe and fast-growing wildfires or hurricanes increases the severity and frequency of disasters as well as evacuations” and reduces the time it takes to warn people. It’s becoming harder to predict how they will behave. The increase in hurricane intensity is due to rising ocean temperatures. Wildfires can grow at unprecedented speeds and force when the climate is hotter and dryer. Porter says that it is more difficult to make accurate assessments in a changing climate because an analyst cannot rely on the past behaviour of nature. We have less evidence and historical guidance to support costly evacuation decisions.

The already complicated situation of climate change will get more complex. Nnenia Campbell is a sociologe at the Natural Hazards Center. She says that with rapidly changing hazards like wildfires we see that people need to take quick decisions under uncertain circumstances. It’s complicated further by events such as the Covid-19 pandemic which sometimes means people need to make additional decisions.

The main causes of wildfires are heat and dryness. Climate change has helped sap the West of moisture, producing mountains of ultra-dry tinder. Historically, smaller fires would periodically clear out brush, but today a history of fire suppression means that fuel keeps building up. Issac, the battalion chief of communications at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (also known as Calfire), says that fires are becoming larger and more frequent than ever before. So when August rolls around or late July rolls around we see dry conditions which are undoubtedly a result climate change.

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