AUSTIN (KXAN) — 2020 shattered records with a series of devastating, destructive wildfires. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that wildfires are the No. 1 risk to North America in a warming climate.
Wildfires are causing more damage, displace and killing more people than ever before. Central Texas have seen the result of this change first hand.
The 2011 Bastrop county complex was one of the most destructive wildfire in Texas history. Destroying 1,673 homes and inflicting an estimated $325 million of property damage.
So what weather conditions are allowing these wildfires to flourish?
Creating wildfire fuel
You first need fuel for the fire, like dry vegetation as an example. Then you need an igniter like a campfire, cigarette or lightning strike. And lastly, you need low humidity and strong winds.
How winds play a role in wildfires
We typically see wildfires when cold fronts trigger gusty winds and a northerly shift ushers in a drier air mass. The faster the wind is blowing, the faster the fire spreads.
Strong winds can also blow around embers, which can ignite other areas, and can elevate the fire in the trees. The blowing embers are what causes fire to “jump” barriers like roads or creeks.
Wind can also change the direction of the fire, making fighting it more difficult for first responders.
How temperatures impact wildfires
Fires spread more easily during hot weather. As temperatures continue to climb as a result of climate change, heat waves will worsen droughts and further dry out vegetation, creating more fuel for the fires.
Unusual wildfire weather
But it’s not just regular weather patterns you have to pay attention to. In extreme cases, wildfires can create their own swirling whirlwinds of heat commonly referred to as a firenado. They can reach up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and can drastically enhance the speed at which the fire spreads.