'It’s a little bit more wild here': Alaska's historical dryness fuels earlier, longer wildfire season
A meteorologist tasked with forecasting the Alaskan weather for firefighters said fire seasons are starting earlier, becoming more severe and then lasting longer
FAIRBANKS, Alaska – The fire season in Alaska is starting earlier and lasting longer.
Summer in the state is different from down in the Lower 48. The northern location of the state means the sun barely goes down in the summer. Those long days combined with prolonged dry periods can turn the Alaskan wilderness into a tinderbox.
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The roar of aircraft can be heard in the skies of Alaska as aircraft race to stop the walls of flames scorching some forests in the state.
"It’s a little bit more wild here," said Heidi Strader, the fire weather program manager for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.
According to some meteorologists, conditions are starting to become a little more extreme in the 49th state.
"I’ve seen our fire seasons starting earlier, becoming more severe and then lasting longer," Strader said.
Alaska is also seeing more swings in weather variability from year to year.
"We’ve had some of our wettest summers followed by some of our driest summers," Strader said. "We’ve had lightning in places that normally doesn’t get lightning."
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This year, lightning has been a big factor in Alaska’s forest fires with the state seeing thousands of strikes some days.
"It’s not that it’s unprecedented, but it’s very uncommon," Strader said.
Some have said it all points toward a shift in the weather in Alaska.
"We talk about climate change, and up here we like to say that we’re kind of on the forefront of it all," Strader said. "And wherever warming might be happening closer to the equator, up here we’re seeing much more extreme warming and rapid changes."
No matter the changes, firefighters will continue to answer the call in a state where the battle of man against nature never ends.
Many areas affected by the fires are now experiencing a cooling trend with some rain. Firefighters on the ground said they’re hoping to make some progress, though it’ll take a lot more rain before the fire season is over.
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