Wildfires “Unlike Anything We’ve Ever Seen”

Scientific American is looking at what exactly the Tennessee wildfires might mean for our changing planet:

A prolonged drought that has engulfed much of the Southeast created conditions that were ripe for this fire as well as others that have dogged the region this fall. Areas in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park are dealing with year-to-date rainfall deficits of up to 20 inches. Through October, Tennessee is also having its third-warmest year on record. That’s ensured the entire state is mired in drought with the epicenter in the southeast part of the state that’s currently ablaze.

About a half inch of rain fell late Monday night, helping tamp down flames. Showers are expected to persist through Wednesday, which could further help firefighters get a handle on the fire.

The images and videos that came out of Gatlinburg on Monday night are eerily similar to wildfire evacuations in Fort McMurray, Alberta earlier this year and Lake, Sonoma and Napa counties in California last year.

It’s unclear if the Southeast will become wetter or drier due to climate change and that will have a big influence on future wildfire activity.

The region is likely to keep warming, though, and that means that any future dry spells will be more likely to lead to drought, creating more fuel for fires to burn.