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Climate data highlights East-West tendencies in Texas wildfires

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Adam Allington

Emergency crews in the Texas Panhandle are battling the worst wildfire in state history amid forecasts for several more days of dry, windy weather.

Flavio Lehner

Climate scientist and assistant professor of earth and atmospheric science

Cornell University climate scientist Flavio Lehner notes that the Smokehouse Creek fire, like the Eastland County fires of 2022, sits geographically near a dividing line between regions of the country that are forecast to experience either more or less precipitation in the future.

Lehner says:

“It’s perhaps less surprising to see a fire with such rapid growth occur in the Panhandle. The Smokehouse Creek region is notably further west than the Eastland Complex fire of 2022, so in a naturally drier region, more prone to fires. You can even see this East-West tendency in the 30 largest Texas wildfires data from Texas A&M.

“It’s been abnormally warm there recently, which helps to dry out vegetation. Increasing temperatures remain the most robust component of climate change attribution when it comes to wildfires. Thus, all else equal, we should expect the risk for fires like this one to increase in a warming world. Also, wind is a component that we don’t expect to change hugely with climate change and has been a factor in the rapid spread of this fire.”

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