Until this past week, we were just settling into a summer of weather that seemed almost perfectly “Goldilocks” — not too cold, not too hot. It reminded us of the summers of old, when there would be one or two days in early July that were considered hot — somewhere between 85 and 90 degrees. No one had air conditioning and very few had a swimming pool.
But last week the heat was intense and somewhat frightening, given global headlines on record-breaking heat, raging wildfires and devastating drought. Those of us who saw the allegorical film “Don’t Look Up” found ourselves, well, looking up. Since not well-versed in climate science, we considered looking up some facts and statistics but, afraid of finding anything too scary, put it off. Then, when a real scientist pointed out that we are now seeing effects of climate change not expected until around 2050, we had to do some looking up.
Something remarkable happened last week, Wednesday July 21, in Otsego County. It happened in other places, too — New York City, Philadelphia, Albany, Ontario, Boston — in fact in the entire northeastern part of the country.
Most people thought it was a heavy fog, typical of all the other heavy fogs that are apt to enshroud us in the mornings this time of year, only to disappear before noon when the sun burns through the atmosphere.
But it wasn’t that familiar heavy fog. It was smoke, and it came from the abundant, heavy, uncontrolled wildfires currently blazing far out west. And with it the National Weather Service sent out air quality warnings.
To date this year, more than 75 wildfires have scorched more than one million acres in 13 western states. The Bootleg fire in Oregon is the largest in the state’s history. It’s half the size of Rhode Island and so massive it has created its own weather. Of the fires in California, all but one exist by natural causes — extremely high temperatures — and they total more than 2,000 square miles of inconceivable heat, flame and threat.
And we are still in July, not August, when historically most wildfires spring up.