‘Catastrophic’ Hurricane Fiona and 301 wildfires: Climate hazards in the US today

·2-min read

The chaotic consequences of the climate crisis - caused by greenhouse gases mainly from burning fossil fuels - are already plaguing millions of people in the US with wildfires, hurricanes, flash floods, droughts and heatwaves.

For the first time, the federal government is tracking the full extent of extreme weather across the country on a daily basis via a “Climate Mapping” website — emphasising just how exposed regions are to disaster.

This week, Hurricane Fiona brought widespread destruction to Puerto Rico with intense winds and massive amounts of rain. On Tuesday much of the island was without power or running water – and while officials are working to restore utilities, the rain is still coming and more flooding is possible.

Some places have seen up to 22 inches (55 centimetres) of rain, according to the National Weather Service, with more on the way.

The full extent of the damage isn’t yet clear, but as the storm moves on, the island is likely in for another lengthy rebuilding process, just five years after Hurricane Maria devastated the US territory.

On Monday, there were 301 active wildfires burning across the US, mainly in the West. That includes 95 large fires that have burned through more than 900,000 acres alone — larger than Yosemite National Park.

In Oregon, the Cedar Creek Fire has burned through 113,322 acres and remains just 11 per contained. The communities of Oakridge and Westfir are no longer required to evacuate but remain under caution as the blaze grows.

In northern California, the Mosquito Fire has reached 76,290 acres, with mandatory evacuation orders still in place for some communities. Firefighters have made progress on controlling the flame in recent days as wetter weather entered the area.

More than 13 million Americans are under flood alerts. In addition to flooding in Puerto Rico, flood alerts have been issued for parts of northern California, upstate New York and New Mexico as heavy storms sweep through.

In addition, some rivers may flood in parts of South Dakota, Texas and Florida as they reach high water levels.

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, Colorado 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”.

The United Nations leading 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.