How Changing Snowfall Patterns Complicate Wildfire Prevention in the Colorado Rockies

by Anna Dunn
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Changing snowfall patterns complicate wildfire prevention in the Colorado Rockies: here’s how.

According to AP News, the snow that is necessary for firefighters to perform controlled burns in the Rockies is melting faster. And the snowfall patterns are more erratic. When there’s snow, firefighters can perform controlled burns on the surrounding forest. But without snow, that burn wouldn’t be so controlled.

This change in snowfall is directly affecting the Biden Administration’s $50 billion plan to try and reduce the density of western forests. Massive fires have occurred throughout the region as climate change takes its toll.

Because snow is an important part of a lot of controlled burns, the same warming of the planet that’s worsening wildfires in the summer months is also making them harder to prevent in the winter months.

This is notable throughout the Rockies. But it’s very noticeable in Colorado’s Pike-San Isabel National Forest, where firefighters are struggling to carry out controlled burns. Right now, firefighters are working tirelessly to carry out the controlled burns before the snow melts.

The Increasingly Changing Snowfall Means Controlled Burns that Prevent Colorado Wildfites are Harder To Coordinate

States like Colorado, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and California have been particularly hit with devastating fires over the past few years. Climate change has worsened fire conditions, drying out forests that are already quite thick with vegetation.

David Needham, a U.S. Forest Service ranger that lead the Colorado Controlled burn effort in February talked to AP about the ongoing fight to keep fires at bay. He noted that it’s “been a little bit harder just because of shorter winters.”

In the interview, which took place on a cold day in February, Needleham explained that these were the days when his people worked tirelessly.

“On days like this, we capitalize on the temperature being in the negatives. Even small snow storms coming in definitely helps us with that,” he said. This group lucked out with some storms this year. But Climate Scientists are concerned about the future of controlled burns.

Rutgers University researcher and New Jersey State Climatologist David Robinson has looked at snowfall data from over the past 50 years. And he’s noticed a very concerning trend. Today, snow typically melts two weeks sooner.

“One thing we know about climate change is it is increasing the variability and the extremes we are experiencing,” Robinson explained “Out West, once the season shifts, you get very dry, very quickly and it stays dry for months. So you have a real tight window there.”

Hopefully, these extensive controlled burn efforts pay off in big ways. The upcoming fire season is one those in the west are all dreading. These efforts, though increasingly difficult, will hopefully keep the worst fires at bay.

Outsider.com