The latest U.S. winter outlook spells trouble for dry California. The Golden State is going into winter with three months of record-setting fire danger, record-setting rain, record-setting wind, and record-setting heat — and that’s only a start.
As the winter season gets into full swing, we’re going to focus specifically on the drought-impoverished central part of the state that’s hit by record-setting fires in recent years. For the past few weeks, the region has been inundated with precipitation, which has contributed to the largest snowfall total ever recorded south of the Rockies.
And, of course, with it all, the risk of another wildfire season that’s likely to be more devastating than any since the historic 2004 season.
This isn’t the first time the nation has been forced to deal with yet another fire season. (For reference, there were just 12 major fire outbreaks last year — there were 11 in 2001 and 10 in 1990. There were 13 in 1977, 11 in 1963, and 16 in 1955.) And it’s certainly not the last one either.
With just two years between record-setting fire seasons, we’re going to do something that’s unprecedented this time of year: Project what the next one could look like in the coming years by examining the historical pattern of U.S. fire seasons.
The first step, though, is to look at the last one the nation experienced in 2016. Let’s do that!
What’s the historical pattern?
In the last three decades, there have been roughly 30 such fire seasons.
The last time the U.S. had 24 consecutive years of below average fire seasons came between 1995 and 1997. In 2017, there will be 24 consecutive years in which the U.S. will experience below average fire seasons. That’s not an accident. What we’ve been doing for decades is putting people in harm’s way and burning massive quantities of fuel while doing so.
Here’s the chart, which combines fire seasons with all other major natural hazards and the year when the fire season hit its peak. We’ve