This map provided by NOAA shows six months of wildfires in North America as captured by NOAA's satellites.
A new map released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) paints a stunning portrait of North America's ongoing battle against wildfires. The map, based on six months of data collected from NOAA's GOES satellites, shows a continent glowing with autumnal hues, each dot representing a wildfire picked up by one of NOAA's satellites.
But don't be alarmed if North America seems unusually ablaze. Plots on the graphic represent the lump sum of fire signatures picked up by all of NOAA's satellites, not the actual total number of fires. In layman's terms: if two satellites pick up a thermal signature for the same fire they both record a separate plot on the map. All of that plotting ads up to 323,828 dots, well above the 34,064 fires observed by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) so far in 2013.
It's also important to note that the map plots individual fires, not acreage burned. That means the points on the map portray large wildfires, particularly endemic in 2013 to the West and Southwest, with equal weight to smaller, less damaging blazes. That caveat goes a long way toward explaining the Southeast United States, which despite enjoying a relatively mild wildfire season to date, Wired reports, looks as though it had a run in with a two-year-old and a pack of highlighters.
Regardless of its deficiencies the map illuminates an interesting trend in wildfire progression: as the seasons change, so too do the geographic locales of wildfires. In early spring, agricultural fires sprout up in the Southeast before making a general push West, where drought-related infernos, like the ongoing Rim Fire in California, take hold in the Western mountain ranges. According to the NIFC, all 28 ongoing wildfires are burning in the West, reinforcing this trend.
So where does this wildfire season stand historically? Even though fires continue to rage on in the West, the wildfire season thus far remains relatively timid. To date, there have been 9,868 fewer wildfires in 2013 than there were in 2012, and more tellingly, more than 3 million less acres scorched. Last year's season was the third worst in terms of acreage burned since the NIFC started recording data in 1960, continuing an upward trend in large wildfires over the past 30 years.