Currently — May 18th, 2022

The weather, currently

The early season wildfires across the Western US continue to burn with an alarming ferocity.

On Monday, the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire became the largest in New Mexico state history, burning 299,565 acres (468 sq mi / 1212 sq km) — about 20 times the size of Manhattan. The fire, which erupted in early April just east of Santa Fe, is still just 26 percent contained. Images from the fire showed monstrous towering and rotating pyrocumulus clouds sending smoke and ash as far away as the Great Lakes, more than 1700 mi (2700 km) away. This fire, formed from the merger of the Hermits Peak Fire and the Calf Canyon Fire, has already burned more area than all fires in the state in 2021.

These kinds of megafires were once a rarity across the western US, but now frequently occur several times per year — aided by a worsening megadrought and rising temperatures associated with climate change. Last week, the National Weather Service in Albuquerque made a startlingly dry measurement of a dewpoint of -22 degrees F (-30 degrees C), meaning that the air temperature (which at the time was 83 degrees F (26 degrees C)) would have to drop to -22 degrees F in order for any moisture to form. The NWS called the air in New Mexico “literally as dry as physically possible.”

Meanwhile, so far in 2022 the state of California has recorded the driest start to any year in history, with 95 percent of the state currently in severe drought — an ominous sign of yet another bad fire year. Gusty winds will bring an elevated risk of wildfire on Thursday and Friday in the Central Valley of Northern California.

— Eric Holthaus

What you need to know, currently.

As climate change and global warming grows, homes in the East Coast are facing an increasing risk of wildfires during the next 30 years.

Anyone renting or buying a house could, historically, look up its flood risk. However, for wildfire risks, homeowners were on their own. But now, thanks to a report and accompanying wildfire risk model produced by nonprofit First Street Foundation – which is the nation’s first and only property specific wildfire risk model – there is now information about wildfire risk across the lower 48 states.

The map also reveals wildfire intensity and how the risk will change as the environment continues to warm. The “Fire Factor” risk score will be included in residential real estate listing sites, like realtor.com, making the information more accessible to homeowners across the nation.

To create the report and map tools, the nonprofit ran computer models and simulated how wildfire spreads across different landscapes under different conditions.

The report finds about 80 million properties are at some level of wildfire risk during the next 30 years. 20.2 million properties face a “moderate” risk, or up to a 6 percent risk of a wildfire. 6 million properties face a “major” risk, or 6-14 percent risk of a wildfire, while about 1.5 million properties face “extreme risk,” or more than 26 percent risk. A total of 49.4 million properties face a “minor” risk, or a less than 1 percent chance of experiencing a wildfire over the next three decades.

According to the report, states like California, Texas, Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma are among the states most at risk of a wildfire. But, the Midwest and East Coast are also facing an increasing risk, as climate change spreads.

But, according to experts, there are steps that homeowners can take to make their homes safer against fire risks, like using fire-resistant building materials, removing vegetation or debris from the roof, windows and deck and making sure that all combustible materials are 30 feet away from the house, to name a few.

And now, you can know your wildfire risk too.

— Aarohi Sheth