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West Coast wildfires bring severe weather to Mountain West, study finds

Firefighter Christian Mendoza manages a backfire, flames lit by firefighters to burn off vegetation, while battling the Mosquito Fire in Placer County, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.
Noah Berger
/
FR34727 AP
Firefighter Christian Mendoza manages a backfire, flames lit by firefighters to burn off vegetation, while battling the Mosquito Fire in Placer County, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.

News brief

A new study shows that wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington can intensify severe weather in the Mountain West region.

The study explored the long-range impact of fires and their debris on severe storms. Researchers found that those wildfires increase the “occurrences of heavy precipitation rates by 38%” in our region, according to their work in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It surprises me, particularly in terms of the magnitude,” said Jiwen Fan, a study co-author from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “I was not expecting that there was such a strong impact.”

Heat from fires in West Coast states creates high air pressure. That, combined with strong western winds, can transport more moisture and smoke particles to our region. Although wildfires do not trigger the weather patterns, they do enhance the intensity of the weather, Fan said.

“It has like a butterfly effect,” Fan said. “And the impact is the meteorological conditions in the downwind states. What we see from the model is that the meteorological conditions in those places become more conducive to more severe convective storms.”

The study also found that hail sizes could increase significantly. Fan said simulations show hail could be as big as a baseball.

“That has a very significant impact,” Fan said. “So the 30 percent increase maybe means much more losses, economic losses, property losses.”

Fan stressed that these climatic changes cannot be ignored much longer.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Emma VandenEinde
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