The biggest local impact from climate change in the Flathead Valley is likely to be a big increase in local wildfire and an even greater increase in regional smoke. Recent summer conditions indicate this is already happening, beginning in the 1990s. Climate scientists say this will get worse over the next few decades, especially if we earthlings don’t quickly begin reducing the level of carbon pollution we spew into the atmosphere.
The 2014 National Climate Assessment projects that the forest area burned could quadruple in the Northwest by 2080 compared to the 1916 – 2007 time period. Fire seasons will be longer, drier and hotter. Northwestern Montana may not see fire increases as severe as the Cascades, central Idaho or southwestern Montana. However, even if the Flathead Valley doesn’t experience as much local firestorms as other western locals, their smoke is likely to get into our eyes. A recent Yale University study indicates that the northern Rockies may be the worst place in the nation for wildfire smoke by 2050. Westerly winds will deposit smoke plumes in the Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park from fires raging in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia, and even Alaska. This map shows future projected increases in organic aerosal particulates due to wildfire smoke.