To see fire weather—hot, dry, windy conditions—in Hawaii this time of year is not unusual, Ian Morrison, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Honolulu forecast office, told me. The NWS had issued a red-flag warning for the area, which indicates to local residents and officials alike that wildfire potential is high. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the majority of Maui is also abnormally dry or in drought; the western side in particular was parched, and ripe for a fire.
You might think those conditions would have been alleviated by Dora: Hurricanes usually mean water, and wet things do not burn as easily. But even this dynamic is shifting. An investigation by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa found that 2018’s Hurricane Lane brought both fire and rain to Hawaii at the same time, complicating the emergency response—dry and windy conditions spread the fire on the edges of the storm, while elsewhere, rainfall led to landslides. In 2020, researchers pointed out that Lane was only one of three documented cases of a hurricane worsening wildfire risk. With Dora, we likely have a fourth.
Climate change is projected to make hurricanes and tropical storms worse in the coming years, creating the potential for cascading natural disasters—droughts, wildfires, storms—that bleed into one another. It has also been shown to worsen fires. The past five years have been littered with stories of unusual fire behavior: Canada burning at an unprecedented rate, Alaskan tundra going up in smoke like never before, Colorado’s giant December 2021 fire, California’s unthinkable 1-million-acre fire and its deadliest on record all happening within a few years of one another. [Continue reading…]