NYT Admits It’s ‘Too Early’ To Blame California Wildfires On Global Warming

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The New York Times has a feature piece about how global warming will make weather patterns contributing to the devastating wildfires tearing through Southern California.

Seven paragraphs into the piece, however, readers are informed it’s “too early to know if climate change is directly responsible for all of these conditions in California over the past several years.”

NYT’s wildfire story starts off with the claim that “[s]evere wildfire seasons like the one that has devastated California this fall may occur more frequently because of climate change,” based on studies modeling what could happen in the coming decades.

Scientists expect California’s climate to become more variable over time, oscillating between drought and heavy rainfall, that can increase the risk of wildfires late in the year when the warm, fast-moving Santa Ana winds come in.

California’s recent drought ended this winter when the state got its wettest year in more than a century. California averaged 27.81 inches of rain and snow in late 2016 and early 2017, according to reports.

California’s heavy precipitation spurred plant growth during the first half of the year, causing more kindling than usual when plants dried out in the summer and fall.

NYT reported “[c]limate change makes that cycle worse,” and environmentalists are already linking the wildfires around the greater Los Angeles area as a product of man-made global warming.


Seven paragraphs into NYT’s wildfire story, the paper notes important caveats. NYT reports “[i]t is too early to know if climate change is directly responsible for all of these conditions in California over the past several years,” noting some studies blame global warming for the state’s recent drought.

Though the latest report of the federal National Climate Assessment found “low to medium confidence for a detectable human climate change contribution” to wildfires in the western U.S.

NYT also points out that global warming “may not be to blame” for the lack of rainfall this late in the year. Typically, rainfall would keep Southern California wet enough to mitigate fire risks.

NYT reports: “Meteorologists suggest a ridge of air over the Pacific Northwest, perhaps related to the cooling of Pacific waters under current La Niña conditions, is the likely culprit.”

Even so, California is known to have devastating fires late in the year. The Sacramento Bee noted 12 of the “20 most devastating fires in California history, as measured by the number of buildings destroyed, have started on Oct. 1 or later.”

“Many climate change forecasts suggest that there will be less rain in Southern California in the fall in the future, and more rain in December and January,” the paper added, thus “greatly extending the fire risk season.”

“The vast expansion of urban areas that has taken place in the state over decades” may also be making wildfires worse in recent decades, The NYT also points out.

The recent uptick in wildfires could also be driven by an increased urban heat island effect from development encroaching on wildfire prone areas, research suggests. Land use and management policies have also changed over time, contributing to fuel build up in those areas.

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