An press release from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) gives us a perspective on just how dry this summer has been. NIFC was created in 1965 by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Weather Service to co-ordinate national fire planning and operations. Since then, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Fire Administration - FEMA have joined.
Here is a chart showing the 10 year fire statistics up to August 21st for each year since 2003:
Notice that, while the number of fires is the second lowest over the past decade, the number of acres burned is now at a 10 year high of 6,971,729. On average, over the 10 year period, to this point in the year, there are 54,236 fires involving 5,385,441 acres. At this point, 21 percent fewer individual fires have burned an area that is 29.5 percent larger than the 10 year average. Right now, 39 active large fires are under management covering 1,401,968 acres.
Here is a map showing fires that are currently burning that are larger than 100 acres in areal extent:
Here is a map showing the Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for the month of August:
Here is a map showing the Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for the months of September through to November 2012:
The Outlook report notes that Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures continue to rise, suggesting an increasing likelihood of El Nino conditions by the end of summer. Current climate projections by the Climate Prediction Center suggest that most of the U.S. will experience above normal temperatures over the period from September to November for the eastern two-thirds of the nation.
Here, in closing, are two interesting maps from the High Plains Regional Climate Centre at the University of Nebraska. The first shows the departures from normal temperature over the past month with the yellow to orange colors showing above normal temperature and the greens showing below normal temperature:
The second map shows the percent of normal precipitation over the past month with the yellow to red colours showing lower than normal precipitation and the green to purple colors showing higher than normal precipitation:
While the data in this posting is hardly sufficient to conclude that global climate change/global warming is on our doorstep, it is just another in a set of observations that cannot and should not be ignored. As a scientist, I know that there will be sufficient observations that eventually, will result in a scientifically sound conclusion. Unfortunately, by the time that climate science offers proof positive that human activities are leading to permanent changes, it will likely be too late to anything about it.