Long-Term Climate Change Fears Sparked By California Wildfire

The biggest wildfire in the Golden State's history has already altered the weather; could more changes be coming soon?

Man stands on roof looking at California wildfire blazing
David McNew / Getty Images

The biggest wildfire in the Golden State's history has already altered the weather; could more changes be coming soon?

California firefighters are currently battling the biggest wildfire season in the state’s history. To make matters even worse, the intense heat from the flames has been causing a rare weather event for the past couple of weeks: pyrocumulus clouds. Per CNN, these heat-formed clouds resemble mushroom clouds. They can also produce wind gusts, shifting wind, and lightning, all of which make it harder to contain wildfires.

Pyrocumulus clouds require excessive heat to form, so they shouldn’t remain an issue after the flames die down. But could the overall climate of the affected area change long-term? Many believe the answer is yes, although climate change fears, in general, are pointed at as the most likely culprit.

As Reuters reported, scientists blame global warming for helping to spark a big increase in the quantity and severity of natural disasters, including wildfires. To that end, California Governor Jerry Brown has urged the state legislature to make changes that could save lives. Brown stated that it’s time to invest in “the best alert system we can get… given the rising threats on the changing of the weather, the climate.”

Regardless of long-term effects, California residents need to be prepared to evacuate between now and 11 p.m. local time on August 11. This is due to what’s been dubbed “Red Flag Weather” by the National Weather Service. Southern California faces dry, hot, and breezy weather. This will make the entire greater area smoky, and it also increases the risk that the wildfire will spread.

One of the recent wildfires, known as Holy Fire, was man-made. ABC News indicated that suspect Forrest Gordon Clark has been taken into custody and charged with multiple counts of arson. This incident can’t be linked directly to climate change fears, but the harsh weather conditions that are plaguing the area have intensified the 6,200-acre wildfire.

Phys.org took a closer look at what we can expect going forward and predicted that the long-term effects on California’s climate are going to be devastating. Each wildfire helps contribute to the environmental damage, so this cyclical pattern of destruction is poised to worsen each year.

Droughts are a major piece of the puzzle, and scientists say climate change is directly responsible for the reduction in precipitation. When rain doesn’t fall, grasses and trees become brittle and die, thereby making them the perfect fuel source for wildfires. Increasing global temperatures are also expanding the length of the annual fire season and increasing the prevalence of lightning. In other words, unless humans can find a way to reverse the effects of climate change, California and other wildfire-prone areas can expect to see a large uptick in these deadly events.