Climate change can bring out the worst weather conditions, including extreme cold, heat and rain, as well as fire. According to a new study, the warmer atmosphere makes it more likely that intense rains will follow a wildfire in Western America. This combination of events increases the likelihood of flash floods and landslides.
“Once you’ve had a wildfire burn through, you kill off all the vegetation, and you don’t have any root structures there holding the soil in place, so it’s a lot more vulnerable,” says University of California, Santa Barbara, climate scientist Samantha Stevenson, who was a co-author on the study.
While the fires don’t cause the storms; however, the rising temperatures that can lead to fires becoming more severe also allow the atmosphere to retain more moisture, which causes rain events to pour more water quickly. “We’re talking about superstrong rainstorms, the 99.9th percentile,” Stevenson says.
This article was first published in Scientific American 327 (1, 80) (July 2022).