This week is just the beginning of what could be a long, smoke-filled summer in North America — and the start of a new seasonal pattern made possible by climate change.
The flames that have scorched Canada for weeks, driving thousands from their homes in regions along both coasts, have pumped plumes of caustic smoke south across some of the most densely populated areas of the U.S. Many of the 436 wildfires raging right now, according to the latest numbers from Canada’s Wildland Fire Information Systems, ignited either before or in the very earliest days of what’s normally a busy season for Canadian fires.
June is often the worst month, said Brendan Rogers, a scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts who studies boreal forest fires. Canada is seeing snow that melts out faster in the spring, he said, allowing for an earlier start to the burning season.
But an early start doesn’t mean a swifter end. Natural Resources Canada’s outlook that calls for “well above average” risk of outbreaks from British Columbia to the Ontario-Quebec border throughout this month, and an above-average risk in most of the Northwest Territories, the remainder of Quebec, a large part of Labrador and the Maritime Provinces. Most of the country remains at above-average risk through August. If the forecast bears out, Canada won’t begin to see much relief until September and even then large parts of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba will have a well above-average risk.
“Why is this happening? May was a record warm month across Canada,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles. “There are links between record warmth and climate change.”
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