Glacier National Park is on fire — and yes, warming is making things worse

This summer has felt like a global warming turning point. Now, another milestone: Saturday, August 11, 2018 was the hottest day in the history of Glacier National Park, and its first recorded time reaching 100 degrees F. On the same day, lightning started three fires in the Montana park, which has since been partly evacuated and closed. On Sunday, hot and dry winds helped the biggest fire expand rapidly.

Right now, every state west of the Mississippi is at least partly in drought, including Montana. Missoula, the closest major city to Glacier National Park, hasn’t had any measurable rain for 40 days, and none is in the short-term forecast either — a streak that will likely wind up being the driest stretch in local recorded history, beating a mark set just last year.

It’s clear that Montana is already becoming a vastly different place. In recent decades, warmer winters have helped mountain pine beetles thrive, turning mountains red with dead pines. In 1850, there were 150 glaciers in the area now known as Glacier National Park. Today there are 26. They’ve been there for 7,000 years — but in just a few decades, the glaciers of Glacier National Park will almost surely be gone. By then the park will need a new name. Glacier Memorial Park doesn’t have the same ring to it.

As bad as climate change already is in Montana and throughout the West, the prognosis for the future is much worse. Compared to 1950, Montana has had 11 more 90 degree-plus days each summer. Without rapid emissions reductions, by 2100, there could be an additional 58 more in Northern Montana. Eastern Montana could have as many as 70 more — about the same as present-day New Orleans.

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