La Nina Arrives With Potential for More Western US Wildfires, Droughts

by Jon D. B.

Above: Fire retardant mixes with smoke in the burn zone of California’s Alisal Fire near on Wednesday, Oct. 13 as La Nina conditions begin.

It’s official, La Nina is returning. And the meteorological phenomenon is set to have considerable impact on American weather this winter.

According to Thursday’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report, there’s a staggering 87% chance that La Nina’s dryness will take hold through “at least” February of 2022. This means the continuation of historic Western wildfires.

“Dry” is the keyword here, too. La Nina occurs when cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures form in the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator. When they do, like they are now, La Nina resurges; bringing drier conditions to much of the Western U.S.

But not all areas of the Western Hemisphere see the same impact. The phenomenon will bring frigid conditions to the Midwest, while the Northern U.S. may face the same. The difference for Northerners, however, is a wetter fallout and snowy winter. The same goes for our Canadian neighbors.

As a result, wildfire risk in the West will be high. Extremely high. In a year that has seen the historic Dixie Fire as fires like the “rapidly-growing” Alisal Fire that still burns, La Nina could prove potentially catastrophic.

Thankfully, the Pacific Northwest may at least see a decrease in risk.

From Hurricanes to Wildfires, La Nina is Already Hammering 2021

Califronia’s Alisal Wildfire. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Even though NOAA’s Thursday report brings the first wide-breadth mention of La Nina, the phenomenon’s impact has already begun.

The organization cites 2021’s Atlantic hurricane season as among the four most active in historical record. Hurricane tracking began in 1851, and in the time since La Nina’s impact has been meticulously recorded. As such, meteorologists understand La Nina to pacify Pacific storms, but fuel them across the Atlantic – which 2021 shows in tragic detail. Seven weeks still remain in this year’s hurricane season, too.

Out West, America has seen another record-breaking year of wildfires. California, in particular, has seen horrific devastation. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2.5 million acres have been lost. This is due to the staggering 7,900 fires in 2021 alone.

NOAA’s official outlook for winter of 2021-20222 will release on October 21. Further details will come with this report, including why we’re seeing another La Nino instead of it’s inverse, El Nino.

The last time El Nino hit was in 2019. El Nino forms when warm sea surface temperatures form in the Pacific, as opposed to the cold of La Nina. The former brings heaps of rain and snow to the American South; something 2021 has brought regardless.

Hopefully, continuing fire-retarding strategies will quell the impact of La Nino for the West.