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The before image shows the scene on May 1, just prior to the fire’s ignition.
The after image shows the identical scene on May 6.
“That fire occurred under comparable fire danger conditions, part of which you can trace to El Niño,” says Robert Field, a Columbia University scientist based at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, quoted in a NASA Earth Observatory post. It has occurred on top of the long-term trend of human-caused climate change.
Along with the Arctic, Earth’s boreal forests (where Fort Mc Murray is located) are warming twice as fast as other parts of the world — just as computer modeling of Earth’s climate predicted would happen as a consequence of rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The Virginia Hills fire of May,1998 blazed across central Alberta during the tail end of a similarly strong El Niño phase.
The second shows the same scene on Friday, May 6, after the fire had scorched more than 300 square miles. Animation: Tom Yulsman) Fueled by dry conditions and temperatures in the 80s, the rampaging Canadian wildfire nicknamed “the beast” is expected to grow to more than 700 square miles today — an area equivalent in size to New York City.
The blaze has forced the evacuation of Fort Mc Murray, Alberta’s oil boom-town city of more than 80,000 people located 400 miles north of Calgary.
Exactly what ignited the flames that caused Fort Mc Murray to go “from boom town to doom town,” as one author has bluntly put it, is not yet known.
But there is no question that a warm and dry winter had primed the region for a disaster like this. snowfall was light this winter across the region, and it disappeared quickly during record warmth in April.
Red areas were hotter than the long-term average; blue were below average.