The burning question: Steamboat Weather Summit - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

The burning question: 24th annual Steamboat Weather Summit

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The 24th annual Steamboat Weather Summit is off to a great start with wonderful people and excellent guest speakers.

This morning's session began with Ed Delgado. Ed is the National Program Manager for Predictive Services, a decision support unit for the federal land management agencies' fire and aviation program.

The big topic of his discussion was how bad this past years wildfire season was and what was the main cause. The number of wildfires were staggering. 67,265 fires burned across the United States torching 9,221,639 acres.

Ed firmly believes that the drought and lack of snowfall last winter were the big keys. Another huge factor was the bark beetle's migration so far north, almost to the Canadian border.

The bark beetle used to live mainly in the southwest part of the United States, but because winters are not as cold as they used to be, the bark beetle has been able to migrate north through the Rockies. The bark beetle basically kills the pine trees by burrowing into the bark and blocks nutrients from getting through the trees. And when trees die, the dry out creating perfect fuel for wildfires and thus increasing the risk for more wildfires.

Even though this seasons snowpack is very healthy out west, it doesn't mean that wildfire season will be a quiet one. If the snowpack melt rate is too fast in the early Spring, then forests will dry out very quickly leading to an increased potential for wildfires.The snow melt must be a slow process to keep the risk low.

The burning question that we had to Ed was, "Is fire season getting longer"? The answer is yes. Fire season is starting earlier and ending later. Ed believes that climate change and global warming are just a couple of the many factors of a growing fire season. The same, he believes, is why more hurricanes and tropical storms are forming earlier than the normal start date of hurricane season and later in the season just like Sandy.

This upcoming fire season is expected to be near normal for most of the country, but if the snowpack melts too fast, then this season could be just as bad.

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