The scale of the fires burning in the Western US right now are unprecedented.

To scientists, the fingerprints of global warming on these wildfires — and so many other disasters, from the fires that scorched Australia to the hurricanes that have slammed the US — are clear.

And as devastating as they have been, far worse disasters could be on the horizon.

How bad it gets depends on what we as humans do to reduce heat-trapping gas emissions, said Michael Mann, the director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center.

“By some measure, it’s clear that ‘dangerous climate change’ has already arrived,” Mann said in response to emailed questions from CNN. “It’s a matter of how bad we’re willing to let it get.”

How climate change influences wildfires

Though the scale of destruction is hard to fathom, climate scientists say we should not be surprised.

“It’s shocking to see the impacts, but not scientifically surprising,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research told CNN on Tuesday. “This is in line with essentially every prediction for what could happen this year and the trends we’re seeing over years and decades.”

A burned residence smolders during the Bear fire, part of the North Lightning Complex fires, in unincorporated Butte County, California on September 9, 2020.
Scientists have warned for years that fire seasons like this could come to pass, and that the more we humans heat up the planet, the more we are increasing the odds in favor of the hot, dry conditions conducive to fires.

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