The East Coast Will Not Escape Fire

The lawns are dead. Trees that should be green have turned brittle and brown. And highway signs caution drivers not to flick cigarettes out the window. These conditions have

become the norm of summer and its high fire risk in the western United States. But this is not California, or Colorado, or Idaho. This is New Jersey. And during this summer’s

thirsty days, undergirded by climate change, the state has gotten far too little rain. “We’re in the midst of a very dry spell,” David Robinson, New Jersey’s state

climatologist, told me. “Borderline drought in central New Jersey, and dry conditions to the north and south of there.” In this, the Garden State is not alone. Data from the

U.S. Drought Monitor show that roughly two-thirds of the United States is facing unusually dry conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme drought. This includes regions

typically thought of as relatively wet—parts of New York, including New York City, and much of New England, including Boston. By the standards of more arid climes, the Northeast

is still fairly wet. But “drought is relative to the normal climate regime of an area,” Robinson said. “They’d be thrilled with 30 inches of rain down in the Colorado basin. Here,

30 inches of rain in a year would be one of the driest years on record.” With climate change, the destruction is in the details. The Northeast is now primed for more

frequent droughts that will harm agriculture, intermittently reduce drinking-water supplies, and increase wildfire risk. The East will not emerge unscathed from the infernos that

are quickly becoming a hallmark of western summers.