Climate change intersections: wildfires and flooding

Wildfires in the western United States are becoming more intense and are burning larger areas. At the same time, heavy, extreme rainfall is becoming more frequent and intense. When these happen in the same area within a short period of time, they “can cause dramatically more damage to communities than one of the events alone.”

Research indicates that the combination of extreme wildfires and extreme rainfall in the U.S. west and Pacific northwest is already happening and is likely to become more and more frequent through at least 2100.

Featured article:

*Touma, D., Stevenson, S., Swain, D. L., Singh, D., Kalashnikov, D. A., & Huang, X. (2022). Climate change increases risk of extreme rainfall following wildfire in the western United States. Science Advances, 8(13). [PDF]

“Post-wildfire extreme rainfall events can have destructive impacts in the western United States. Using two climate model large ensembles, we assess the future risk of extreme fire weather events being followed by extreme rainfall in this region. By mid-21st century, in a high warming scenario (RCP8.5), we report large increases in the number of extreme fire weather events followed within 1 year by at least one extreme rainfall event. By 2100, the frequency of these compound events increases by 100% in California and 700% in the Pacific Northwest in the Community Earth System Model v1 Large Ensemble. We further project that more than 90% of extreme fire weather events in California, Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest will be followed by at least three spatially colocated extreme rainfall events within five years. Our results point to a future with substantially increased post-fire hydrologic risks across much of the western United States.”

For additional information about the connections between extreme weather events and climate change —

*see Extreme weather and climate change: the connections and impacts (Science Bibliographies Online)

*search Science Primary Literature (database)

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