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Weather Extra: Warming Climate Intensifying Hurricanes And Wildfires

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- The images have been stunning this week -- raging flames roaring down Highway 50 toward Tahoe, hurricane winds tearing through homes along the Louisiana coastline, flood waters cascading into New York subway stations.

While wildfire and hurricane seasons are created and driven by different factors, they do have two important factors in common.

They both peak at the same time of year, drawing our attention in multiple directions at once, something referred to as "simultaneous high impact disasters".

They are both being made more intense by climate change.

This past week Hurricane Ida became a startling example of something climatologists have been projecting we might see with greater regularity in a warming climate: a rapidly intensifying hurricane just before landfall, increasing wind speed by 65 mph in just 24 hours, going from a category 1 to near category 5 just before landfall.

Ida was the fifth-most powerful storm to strike the U.S. when it hit Louisiana on Sunday with maximum winds of 150 mph, likely causing tens of billions of dollars in flood, wind and other damage, including to the electrical grid.

The storm's remnants dropped devastating rainfall across parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey on Wednesday, causing significant disruption to major population centers.

That same day, the Caldor Fire was closing in on the crest of the Sierra, something once thought unlikely given the high elevation of the range.

Climate change has allowed fuels to reach much drier conditions at higher elevations than once thought possible, allowing both the Dixie and Caldor fires to move from one end of the Sierra clear across the range to crossover it's crest on the east side.

"We haven't had wildfires burn from one side of the Sierras to another," said Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter. "We did that with the Dixie [Fire], now we have with the Caldor. Two times in our history and they're both happening this month. So we really need to be cognizant that there is fire activity happening in California that we have never seen before."

Scientists say climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events — such as large tropical storms, and the droughts and heatwaves that create conditions for vast wildfires. U.S. weather officials recently reported that July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded in 142 years of record-keeping.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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