Inside this summer's global heatwave and wildfires

ABC News' Chief Meteorologist Ginger Zee takes a look at this summer's historic heat spells and wildfires.
17:21 | 08/10/18

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Transcript for Inside this summer's global heatwave and wildfires
Welcome to ABC news' live I'm meteorologist ginger Z and hear talk enough about wild fires climates. And heat. I'm basically here because we've had a lot of questions lately when you see images like this popping up on your screen every morning on Good Morning America. Every evening on world news tonight and we've got reporters out there and so many folks. From California through you top back in a Washington State. That are literally seeing their backyards on fire the question becomes. Is it related to climate change and is it related to the extreme heat we've been seeing limited a couple of facts out a way for you. Starting out with a large map that shows you information we just got in. No a puts this together Maine June and July and that stretch was the hottest for the lower 48 ever on record. So in the records they go back for the most part to about 1895. California that you see highlighted in red there California had their hottest July and their hottest month. Ever on record. Silly we have a tennis zoomed in this is actually an average of highs and lows. Nearly eighty degrees so that's a big deal for California and when you see images like the wild fires and you start to see. And here's some of the numbers. You start to ask that question could be be connected because we know there are sixty large uncontained wildfires burning right now you hear those numbers every morning he's say. We'll five point four million acres have burned so far this year in relationship to average. Usually it's more like. A ten year average that is four point two million so four point two verses five point four those numbers obviously much more this year. The Mendocino complex fire we've heard a lot about because it is now being largest. In recorded history California. To the state of California had not had a larger fire until the Mendocino complex we've seen the deadly car fire now the sixth most destructive in California's history. And the Ferguson fire which caused that extensive closure of Yosemite hasn't happened since 1987. So six of California's most destructive fires have occurred since October 2017. Cent just in the last year sell and that's why I wanted to go had to start. By diving into what's happening at this moment and I want to go to a place that's near and dear to my heart Orange County California. This is where I was born and we find our K eighty C reporter John Gregory right there covering the holy fire. John tell me what your seeing right now let's see a lot of smoke behind you and I know the smoke visibility and of course the air quality is one of the major issues. Yet certainly is ginger quality big problem for lot of folks here in Southern California because of this fire. Actually overnight we did okay this fire has expanded its about 9600 acres right now. But it did slow down to go of course cools off overnight that helps a lot tale. And firefighters have been able to put a pretty good defensive line around some of these communities here where Lake Elsinore California I'm just a battle a Gigabit idea of what's burning right now. It's burning in pretty open country and this is what firefighters would call. Eight terrain driven fire it's burning up hill is burning where the brushes. And again this is the kind of fire they can kind of get their hands around. The problem of course so is later today the temperatures gonna climb it's already getting warm out here. We could see some wind and that changes everything for firefighters that's what happened yesterday this fire really took off. And there is concern we could see that again later today with this fire expanding as the temperature goes up as the wind picks up. They've lost twelve structures in this fire so far by the way this is an arson fire authorities believe it was intentionally set which obviously raises a much about the concerns as well. So that's what we stand right now about nine 600 acres it's threatening the community of Lake Elsinore. But right now the winds are calm and that's always the biggest chief. And I know Leon have an excessive heat warning John in place for you but also my question is and we see this again we're on the East Coast here it's hard for people to even fat them. Because we've had a completely different and Pennsylvania for example had their wettest July on record so very different from the circumstances dollar and my question is at the do you all have wildfire fatigue do you find that people are saying well I am I feel like I can't even really conceive of what's happening because they pop up every day and there are still large and it feels like they can't wrap their heads around it. Yet we do see that I remember that Thomas fire last year which was the biggest fire corsets or even a clips Val by this fire. In northern California we did see a lot of fire fatigue you know people know watching these fires burn. They're forced to evacuate their homes for days at a time they get tired of that obviously and we're seeing that here Lake Elsinore we have mandatory evacuations of some of these communities and people are sticking around it on mandatory evacuation. Means basically. They're asking Italy they can't force shuttle leave your home you know what they can do though is once you believe they can keep you from coming back again. Soleil folks choose to stay in stick around and Ilyce sit there with a garden hose and trying to defend their homes in some cases. And I have to say some cases that does work but it creates an extra burden for firefighters they have to worry about your safety along with. It's protecting property protecting themselves so it really complicates the firefight but we are seeing some fatigue with that. People deciding to stay wait till the last minute they'll pack up their cars will keep their cars parked in the driveway and then they'll stick around as long as they can so yeah it's a problem. And I'm Sherry event and that it or at least close with a lot of firefighters working on that fire and many others in your career. And do you feel like at this point that they feel good thing I've heard from a couple of chiefs of fire battalions and such this year. They say this once the where snow this one's the worst they keep. Eclipsing each other as that's something that you've heard quite a bit of as well. From the folks on the ground. I'm I'm not sure Ike I copied that question completely on. In terms of the frequency of fires and we we covered so many of them might be actually lose track I was on a file fire and idle wild two weeks ago. And you know what now we're on a totally different one and we do really hop around from fire to fire. And it's not in the fire season yet technically we get of the fire season. Later this month September you know those Santa Anna's kick up and that's when things get really hairy out here right now this is pretty good weather for us except for the heat. We don't they wind and you know the Santa Ana winds change everything in Southern California that's when these fires really get scary. John thank you so much for your forties and now that's exactly where we're gonna go next is what is on tap a beyond just those. If fires that are happening in Southern California we were just at back only fire a want to bring you some of the graphics that will help you understand. What's at stake here not just today but going into the weekend because there excessive heat warnings that stretch all only from the coast to San Diego which is actually quite impressive to have numbers in the ninety's there. Up to the nineteenth at the Canadian border. And you're seeing some images now and this is it. From Canada where it's really not just us right it's not just in the content than the lower 48 all of those numbers won't we'll check out some of the numbers here's Seattle. We'll actually see it. 1090. Plus degree day. Of the season of the year which has only happened twice before in recorded history. By the weekend you're gonna cooled down those numbers good in the seventies but with it comes wind when he was saying they're not gonna have as that of winds down in Southern California that is not the case. In parts of the cascades and into the interior northwest for some of the heat we'll still be up an animal into the northern Rockies and there aren't just fires in California they're from Montana. All the way into Utah and certainly Nevada now I want to also bring you an idea of what's happening fire watch wise so it been these things get wasted and the enlisted days in advance of this is again I'd I don't want people to get fire fifteen by looking at this but it's important to know. Looks heat advisories go from. Really from Oregon and Washington State right hand through Idaho and the numbers gust why it's going to be up to 35 not our wind gusts relative humidity and some of these places are as low as four or even 6%. That is no moisture in the air so that does not help any of the firefighting. And then finally I I think this is the important part of the broadcast this is the part that you really want to settle in with me here because. We have all of these numbers coming at us and we have that big looming question. Could this or will this be related when we prove it later perhaps. Related to climate changed and so for that we want to go to Ben Strauss and he's the CEO and chief scientist. Climate central and then I want to welcome you and say thank you so much for coming in because. Listen I study the atmosphere I've studied how to forecast for five attending is out but when it comes to climate scientists we look to you and we look to you to answer some of these questions. And so I want to welcome you but also start with. The big question are these wildfires related to climate change. You know offers them often so much for having me. And that is the big question. This is the face of climate change it really is disturbed weather conditions were experiencing now really aren't natural. It's hard to say that but. The fought the increased fires are. Have a direct line from the higher temperatures were seeing Trier fuel. Our we've been seeing a trend for decades now in the west including California of more fires. And our. A leading scientific research indicates fat more than half of the area that's earned in the grass since the mid eighties. Cameo in she's too human caused climate change over. NN knowledge is something I was like to emphasizes. Wildfires start by lightning that is a natural process and and a lot of people say well that they happened nationally but many of them now like the holy fire started by arson so not only does that extra heat hurt but just humans in general starting wildfires right. Yes there are there are a lot of factors and wildfires some start naturally some downed. Some of them start because at some of them become more damaging because people are living in woodland starred in more proximity to you. I. Unit two to danger. But I'm in the background and contributing to the trend. It is on increased. Temperatures that are many can summer is hotter and drier were also seeing who asked precipitation flawless now when the winter and so there's less snowpack. Earlier melt in the spring and so we have longer seasons form vegetation dries out and got corresponds to this longer. Arm wildfire season where challenged or even if people started every fire. There would still be an issue because there's a longer period when the forests are ready to burn. When the forest practices wins people start talking about how we take care of our forests how we get out the dead trees are insect death and how that might be contributing. Two of the increase in fire numbers you're still saying that no matter what that temperature that graphic that we had of yours. Of the climate central graphic shows that increase in temperature going along from 1970 on. Can you explain that a little bit more to us. Sure I mean where he you know despite all of the great things California is doing to increase energy and efficiency and out renewables. Dead temperature of the whole planet and its regions is increasing as we add more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere it's trapping heat it's like. Adding blanket upon born get to the atmosphere. And the planet is warming up there's a chemical fingerprints and we know the extra carbon in the atmosphere comes from us. I dare the principle that it's going to trap feed him back track heat has been around and science for well over 100 years. It's a strong scientific consensus that. Our human activity is warming Maclaurin and that's having enough it's having a facts on. Things like our temperatures drought and our forest fires jump and piles of studies are adding up to corroborate. And wildfires moving from that point to that the European heat wave because that's another one that we had a question about so an and we just showed your bell curve but. I think that you'll probably say. In Europe there's been that high pressure system has been causing extended periods of heat for areas that don't always have it some of the numbers are pretty so astounding. And one of the hottest summer since records started in Switzerland an 1864. Zurich police started hot dog campaign to they've been. Educating people 'cause it just hasn't happened this way and a lot of places in Europe don't have air conditioning. So those kind of point to okay this hasn't happened and in the time that weekend on the planet. And tell us about that European heat related how that might be attributed to climate change. Yacht and factors are research group that climate central helped to start called world weather attribution. Not our data rapid analysis of the European heat waves and sound cut climate change doubled. The likelihood. That an event that severe would happen in Europe so that's a rapid analysis of preliminary analysis that we already have that sense of the fingerprint. And in general in a record pop day's record hot months and other research coming out of Stanford indicates that. Pretty much 80%. Of the time when you pounds one of those there's there's a client signal on. So we're at it it's it's very real climate change is our effecting people's weather around the world. So I get a lot of people tweeting me economic FaceBook messages and they they want me to do this type of thing they'd like for us as it ABC and rob myself and everybody to kind of cutter. The connection. But I have to say on a personal level when I start talking about this and I tell my husband lemon did this special on climate change he says I fell asleep before you started talking. How do we get people interested in caring about the kiss. Not. If it's hard as sometimes I think of you know. Every day temperatures bounced up and down by a lot that's of interest and America facts you know it could affect their decisions every day when. Meanwhile the average temperature of the globe. Creeps up really slowly I and and it is it's kind of like watching grass grow. It still is really important for People's Daily lives and I think the important thing to understand sometimes I use a metaphor on my head. Imagine. Think of a pot on a stove at a really love summer. That's natural welfare every once in a while you out of Bobble and spent that comes up to to surfaced. I think about like. Extreme weather right which which is very important to us and and our safety. So apt that blows simmer every once in awhile here and there rehab fat little bubble now turn up the heat. And it takes home and cook will now it takes only a slight. Adjustment before we get lots of bubbles. And and even rolling boil it there's a small difference between that simmer and a boil and that's climate change. With even a small change in heat. We get many more extreme weather fronts and were six perimeter offense. I bear bit the effect on extremes is out signs and it's if it's a challenge to find the climate fingerprints there. But when bow wow may be many people Seau climate change that sounds boring the fact is. All of the extreme weather coverage to refine certain interest and Clinton almost all of that today is closely tied to climate change that is the climate story. And if if people want to understand. You know it it why this is happening or is their something we can do about it than you need to bring in the climb inside the story. Ben thank you so much tree attend today imminent go home I'm gonna boil a pot of water and make my husband watch it. That's what I'm in addition he thanks I appreciate your time. And I always did say till we did a whole digital series called food forecast where we took agriculture and climate change and put them together. Affecting and see how climate change could be affecting the things that you love so perhaps that's the way that we cannot begin to talk about it. So we have to get one arm button on the assault. Climate change talk in actually. Going to be talking about hurricanes because that was on the it was in the headlines all last fall such a huge season and found knowledge has just put out. Their new list hurricane forecast so they've actually I don't like using the word but they've downgraded it. Numbers wise they gunned down for the number of named storms is now nine to thirteen the number of hurricanes themselves four to seven because of course named storms can be tropical storms. And then major hurricanes they took out this is where we are in the season and asked to would be next stem within watching daddy just go out to see if totally fish storm. And most have then we haven't had a lot of impact. But even as the numbers this is why don't like using the word downgrade even as the numbers go down in Nellis forecast for the hurricanes we've had seasons. That very few numbers of hurricanes. But very powerful hurricanes that make landfall so really you can have a season we have few numbers but you have one big one that makes landfall affects a lot of people. And that's something I was like to mention when we're seeing. A downgrade of numbers from the forecast and I appreciate you watching I hope that we can keep this conversation going if you'd like to reach us go ahead and tweet us find us on FaceBook. Let us know what you're thinking what you'd like to see more of but for now. I'll say adios and stay safe.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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