20 million at flood risk and 313 wildfires: Climate hazards in the US today

·3-min read

The climate crisis is going to create all kinds of disasters in the coming decades as greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels, heat up the planet and send the atmosphere into chaos. Those consequences are already plaguing millions of people in the US.

Alerts from the US federal government on daily climate hazards puts millions of people under flood alerts on Wednesday as hundreds of wildfires still rage across the country.

Meanwhile, hurricane season is still heating up with more danger possible from both Fiona, which devastated Puerto Rico this week, and newer storms.

Some 20 million Americans are under flood alerts as storms push through the western US. Most of Arizona, as well as parts of Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, have a flood watch with up to four inches (10 centimetres) of rain possible in the next few days.

A flood alert has also been issued for an area along the Illinois-Missouri border and near a few rivers in South Dakota, Texas and Florida.

After Hurricane Fiona brought widespread destruction to Puerto Rico, the island is still picking up the pieces. Most residents are still without power and many without running water. Some corners of the island saw 25 inches (64 centimetres) of rain during the storm, according to the National Weather Service.

Fiona then hit the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos, before strengthening to a Category 4 storm Wednesday morning on its way to Bermuda. The storm could bring major impacts to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in Canada by this weekend.

Some other tropical storm systems haven’t yet formed a cyclone but could threaten the US as they head westward across the Atlantic. One storm in particular, nicknamed “Invest 98L”, has a 90 per cent chance of forming at least a tropical depression in the next five days as it heads into the Caribbean, according to the National Hurricane Centre, and could later swing up toward Florida or Mexico.

On Wednesday, there were 313 active wildfires burning across the US, mainly in the West. That includes 97 large fires that have burned through more than 900,000 acres alone — larger than Yosemite National Park.

Four million Americans are also under heat alerts, as temperatures and humidity rise along the Mississippi-Arkansas-Tennesee border. Temperatures could reach around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). When combined with high humdity, temperatures could feel like up to 107F (42C).

Parts of Puerto Rico are also under a heat alert, with temperatures forecast to reach up to 108F (42C). With much of the power still out, residents may not be able to rely on air conditioning to stay cool.

Finally, drought continues to plague much of the country, especially in the West. More than 113 million Americans are currently living in drought conditions.

This includes parts of California, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Oregon under “exceptional drought,” the most extreme drought level, creating serious challenges for farmers and a very high risk of wildfires.

Parts of the northeast US are also facing dry weather, with some areas along the New England coast seeing “extreme drought”.

A UN climate science panel has warned that hazards like drought, heatwaves, floods, wildfires and intense storms are all likely to become more intense in the coming decades as the planet heats up.