May 31, 2019

Alberta's forests are in flames, smoke spreading into the U.S.

Towering pyrocumulus clouds seen from satellite imagery on May 26, 2019. Image: Pierre Markuse/Flickr.

It's only the end of May, yet already about 1 million acres of forest have gone up in flames across Alberta, Canada.

Why it matters: The wildfires have caused a sharp deterioration in air quality across western Canada and large swaths of the U.S. The fires are occurring earlier in the season than is typical for this region, and they're a possible sign of a warming planet, in which conditions conducive for such fires are becoming more frequent.

The latest:

  • According to Alberta's wildfire firefighting agency, wildfire danger remains high across the province, which is also the case in parts of neighboring British Columbia.
  • More than 2,000 personnel are battling the blazes.
  • The smoke from these fires turned the skies an eerie orange from Edmonton to North Dakota on Thursday and Friday, with smoke seen via satellite imagery wafting all the way toward the Canadian Arctic, where it can enhance the melting of sea and land ice.

Thousands have been forced to evacuate to avoid the blazes, according to Canadian media reports.

The backdrop: High latitude forests have seen increased wildfires in recent decades, particularly in parts of Canada, Alaska and Russia, though forest management practices and human settlement patterns also play a role. In the case of boreal forest fires in Alaska, recent activity is unprecedented in the context of the past 10,000 years.

  • A robust finding of climate studies is that wildfires are likely to become larger and more intense in parts of the world, such as the American West, as the average temperature warms and snowmelt timing shifts to earlier in the year.

1 ironic thing: The fires forced Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to cancel a public event at a gas station to mark the repeal of Alberta's carbon tax, meant to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

Kenney, who was elected in mid-April, has made reversing climate change measures a priority of his administration. Alberta is the center of Canada's sizable oil and gas production.

“This is an opportunity to remove this huge dead-weight cost that punishes hard-working people for living ordinary lives in this province," Kenney said Thursday.

Go deeper

Tariff worries hit record high amid coronavirus outbreak

Data: CivicScience, margin of error ±1 percentage points; Chart: Axios Visuals

Concern about President Trump's tariffs on U.S imports grew to record high levels among Americans last month, particularly as more lost their jobs and concern about the novel coronavirus increased.

Driving the news: About seven in 10 people said they were at least somewhat concerned about tariffs in March, according to the latest survey from CivicScience provided first to Axios.

U.S. coronavirus updates: Largest 24-hour spike in fatalities

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New York's death toll from the novel coronavirus surged to its highest one-day total on Tuesday, as the U.S. saw its largest 24-hour spike in fatalities, per Johns Hopkins data. Recorded deaths across the U.S. surpassed 12,900 early Wednesday.

Why it matters: State officials have stressed that lockdowns must continue even if cities begin to see slight improvements from social distancing. Several hot spots, including New York, New Orleans, and Detroit, are expected to peak in the coming days.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 1,430,453 — Total deaths: 82,133 — Total recoveries: 301,385Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 399,081 — Total deaths: 12,907 — Total recoveries: 22,461Map.
  3. Federal government latest: Acting Navy secretary resigns over handling of virus-infected ship — Trump removes watchdog overseeing rollout of $2 trillion coronavirus bill — Trump said he "didn't see" memos from his trade adviser Peter Navarro warning that the crisis could kill more than half a million Americans.
  4. States latest: California Gov. Gavin Newsom is confident that more than 200 million masks will be delivered to the state "at a monthly basis starting in the next few weeks."
  5. Business latest: America's food heroes in times of the coronavirus crisis. Even when the economy comes back to life, huge questions for airlines will remain.
  6. World updates: China reopens Wuhan after 10-week coronavirus lockdown.
  7. 2020 latest: Polls for Wisconsin's primary elections closed at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, but results won't be released until April 13. Thousands of residents cast ballots in person.
  8. 1 Olympics thing: About 6,500 athletes who qualified for the Tokyo Games will keep their spots in 2021.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.