2017 fire near Georgia Route 94
2017 Okefenokee Swamp fire near Georgia Route 94. Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

In early April, lightning struck the Okefenokee Swamp on the Florida-Georgia border, igniting a fire. By late May, when heavy rain finally came, more than a hundred and fifty thousand acres had burned. That was just one of over 2,000 wildfires in Florida this spring.

David Zierden, climatologist at Florida State University, says that a lack of rain was largely to blame. The six-month period from October to March was one of the ten driest seasons on record. When it’s dry, fire can spread much faster and is harder to contain.

Zierden: “So it’s certainly been a lot worse than normal – a much more active wildfire season and the most active since two thousand eleven.”

He says the temperature in Florida is also warming, which can dry out plants and make fires worse.

Zierden: “If we look at monthly average temperatures statewide, 25 of the last 26 months have all been above average.”

Zierden: “Even if rainfall patterns are what they’ve traditionally been, warmer temperatures certainly could be contributing to the wildfire season.”

Relief came this year with the rains of late May, but as periodic droughts and persistent warming continue, Zierden says the state needs to prepare for more severe fire seasons like this in the future.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Bruce Lieberman, a long-time journalist, has covered climate change science, policy, and politics for nearly two decades. A newspaper reporter for 20 years, Bruce worked for The San Diego Union-Tribune...