The 2015 Wildfire Season Set an Ominous Record
The winners are in from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's "Weather in Focus" photo contest, picked from more than 2,000 entries taken between Jan. 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015. "From rainbows and sunsets to lightning and tornadoes, the winning photos aren’t just captivating to look at, but inspire us to look at the world in different ways," said Douglas Hilderbrand, NOAA's contest judge and Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador Lead. "It was difficult to pick winners from so many good entries." In first place, from the category "Science in Action," is "Green Bank Telescope in WV" by Mike Zorger, Falls Church, Va.Photos: It's the Crazy-Extreme Weather Season
All 16 winning images will be displayed in aGateway to NOAA
exhibit located on the NOAA campus in Silver Spring, Md., starting in July. Second place in "Science in Action" went to "Photographer captures the aurora" by Christopher Morse, Fairbanks, Alaska.
In third place: "Atmospheric Research Observatory" by Joseph Phillips, Boulder, Colo.Photo: NASA's Extreme Weather Photo Contest
And honorable mention also went to Joseph Phillips, Boulder, Colo. for "Atmospheric Research Observatory."
In the category "Weather, Water & Climate," first place went to "Snow Express" by Conrad Stenftenagel, Saint Anthony, Ind.Photos: Lake Effect Snow Buries Buffalo
"With a Bang" by Bob Larson, Prescott, Ariz., won third place in the "Weather, Water & Climate" category.Top 10 Worst Weather Disasters
Honorable mention went to Alana Peterson, Maple Lake, Minn. for "Raindrops on a Leaf."
A second honorable mention was won for "Fire in the Sky over Glacier National Park" by Sashikanth Chintla, North Brunswick, N.J.Sunsets and Other Sky Wonders
In the category "In the Moment," first place went to "Smoky Mountains" by Elijah Burris, Canton, N.C.
Second place went to "Spring Captured: Freezing rain attempts to halt spring" by Mike Shelby, Elkridge, Md.Unexplained Mysteries of 2014 and Into 2015
And third place went to "Rolling clouds in Lake Tahoe" by Christopher LeBoa, San Leandro, Calif.
Of course the professionals had their own category. First place was won by Brad Goddard, Orion, Ill., for "Stars behind the storm."Awesome Images Make You Feel Amazing
Brad Goddard pretty much cleaned up this category, winning second (and third) place with "A tornado churns up dust in sunset light near Traer, IA."
Third place went for "A tornado crosses the path, Reinbeck, IA" by Brad Goddard.Must-See Planet Pics: Earth Day 2015 Edition
“Fog rolls in from the ocean on a hot summer day, Belbar, N.J.” by Robert Raia, Toms River, N.J., won honorable mention in the pro category.To see all of the images on NOAA's website, go here.
The United States as a whole may finally be feeling winter’s chill, but the newly released 2015 wildfire numbers serve as a reminder of how hot and smoky the past year was.
The National Interagency Fire Center’s numbers vividly illustrate how 2015 was a record setter. U.S. wildfires scorched 10.12 million acres.
That bests the previous mark of 9.87 million acres set in 2006, and it’s the first time wildfire acreage burned has crossed the 10-million acre threshold. The impacts of climate change mean that the threshold will likely be crossed more often in the coming century as wildfire season lasts longer and sparks more large fires.
In 2015, the three largest fires were all in Alaska. Five of the top 10 were in the Pacific Northwest while the other two were in California. Combined, the 10 largest blazes accounted for nearly a quarter of all the acres burned in 2015.
Among the largest blazes, some will go down in state record books. The two California fires on the list — the Valley and Butte Fires — both rank among the top 10 most destructive fires in state history. The Okanogan Fire in Washington was the state’s largest on record.
There were two common factors behind all these fires: they occurred in places that had a dry winter and warm temperatures during wildfire season. Alaska had paltry snowpack that quickly disappeared, thanks to the second-warmest spring on record for the state.
Meanwhile, California has been mired in a well-documented four-year drought that extended into the Northwest last winter. The summer of 2015 — prime time for wildfire season — was the hottest on record for the Northwest and second-hottest for California followed by a very warm autumn.
With lots of dry fuel and warm temperatures, it’s no surprise that fires ran rampant.
The record acreage burned in 2015 underscores a pattern of an ever-lengthening wildfire season marked by more intense blazes both in Alaska and the West driven by rising temperature and snowpack melting earlier than it used to. In Alaska, wildfire season is 35 days longer than it was in the 1950s, according to a Climate Central analysis. The western U.S. has seen wildfire season stretch even longer with the season lasting 75 days longer than it did in the 1970s.
Beyond local impacts like bad air quality and ecological issues, wildfires also emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, rather than those trees sucking carbon out of the air. This year’s intense wildfire season turned California’s forests intocarbon polluters. In Alaska, scientists have raised concerns that wildfires could send vast reserves of carbon locked in the soil up in smoke. That could raise temperatures further and lead to even more fires and speed up the march of climate change in a dangerous feedback loop.
More From Climate Central:
These Tiny Satellites Could Keep an Eye on Wildfires
Alaska Entering New Era for Wildfires
California’s Forests Have Become Climate Polluters
This article originally appeared on Climate Central, all rights reserved.