The Whittier fire, which started on Saturday in the Santa Ynez Mountains in Southern California, has burned more than 10,000 acres, while the nearby Alamo fire has burned nearly 29,000 acres and forced several thousand people to evacuate.
The ridge of high pressure is moving eastward this week, bringing sweltering temperatures—and the threat of wildfires—to the northern and central Plains before shifting back to bake the West again at the end of the week.
At that point it could strengthen, meteorologist Guy Walton wrote on his blog, keeping the West good and toasty for the next week or two.
Extreme heat is one of the hallmarks of global warming; as the average temperature of the planet rises, record heat becomes much more likely than record cold. And cities in the Southwest — where most of the region’s population lives — are some of the fastest-warming in the country.
While no formal attribution study has been conducted to see how much more likely a heat wave like this has become with warming, a recent study found that heat records were made both more likely and more severe for about 80 percent of the area of the globe that had good enough observational data.
With temperatures continuing to rise—and no substantial effort yet to curtail the greenhouse gas emissions driving that rise—the world at large stands to see more such extreme heat in the future. Another recent study found that half of the world’s population could be exposed to heat that reaches deadly levels by the end of the century even with the most stringent reductions in greenhouse gases.