Apocalyptic Sky Hangs Over San Francisco Bay

By Donovan Levine

You’ve probably seen this image or many like it go viral within the last 48 hours. It is a raw, unedited photo of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge engulfed in an orange smog due to an onslaught of rampaging megafires.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, there are currently 22 wildfires and megafires being tracked in California alone. Some are large like the SCU Lightning Complex Wildfire, which has already burned as much as 396,000 acres of land, and others are like the Creek Fire, which is only 6% contained and rapidly burning through Sierra National Forest at an alarming rate.

Eli Harik wears a mask while gazing at the Bay Bridge and heavy orange skies due to nearby wildfires hanging over San Francisco on Wednesday, Sept 9, 2020, via the San Francisco Chronicle.

Ninety-six major fires have burned over 3.4 million acres in total across 13 western states, according to a count by the National Fire Information Center.

The west coast of the United States and Canada are no strangers to these types of fires, with 2018 being a prime example of how frequent these have been. Canada lost over 3 million acres that year, and the U.S. lost nearly 1 million acres.  However, this has been a historic year for the region, dating back to the 1980s when ecologists first started keeping fires on record according to CapRadio. 

Scientists are finding that the abundance of these fires, especially within the last decade, are perpetually caused by rising global temperatures and are deeply connected to the earth’s climate.

“This climate-change connection is straightforward: warmer temperatures dry out fuels. In areas with abundant and very dry fuels, all you need is a spark,” said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University.

NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of the burn scars from both the LNU Lightning Complex and SCU Lightning Complex wildfires in Northern California on Aug. 26, 2020, via the San Francisco Chronicle.

Massive burn scars are visible by NASA satellites 400-plus miles away in orbit. Images reveal entire forests that are completely charred black. 

It was reported by CapRadio that California was hit by over 12,000 lightning strikes in August. Droughts, earthquakes and incoming heat waves can all contribute to wildfires, but scientists continue to argue that rising global temperatures are the driving factor.

Climatologists worry these fires will continue or get worse, ultimately becoming part of a larger, growing crisis of climate change as a whole. 

San Francisco has seen nearly unprecedented levels of smoke and ash in their sky. As reported by SFGate, the smoke lingered high above in the atmosphere, so residents in the Bay Area couldn’t smell it. This was  the effect of smoke traveling past a marine inversion layer, or in other words, a large air mass over a large body of water. The smoke gets pushed up into the atmosphere instead of staying near the ground.

“I think it’s fair to say the fires could be just as devastating as COVID-19,” says Adam Rose, a climate expert from USC.

Images of men, women, and children walking around with masks in the midst of a red sky and smoky horizon doesn’t get much more dystopian and bleak. The importance of keeping the environment healthy becomes more paramount every year disasters like this crop up. San Francisco’s skyline is merely the latest cautionary example.

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