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What do ice storms, record rain, wildfires and extreme heat say about Oregon's climate?

Western Oregon weathered a heat wave and smoke pollution from wildfires during the first week of August 2017. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. - Western Oregon saw freezing rain topple trees and turn streets to sheets of ice last winter.

Snow blanketed the valley, closing schools for days.

Then summer arrived along with record heat and widespread wildfires that filled the air over Western Oregon with a thick blanket of unhealthy smoke.

And it's not just Oregon: From coast to coast, disaster after disaster, one crisis after another, the weather grabs headlines - and disrupts lives.

"We're supposed to donate to a Harvey effort and then an Irma effort then a Maria effort and a California effort and we see all these disasters where everyone needs our help," Deputy Director of Oregon Climate Service Kathie Dello said.


That includes intense wildfires, like the ones in northern California.

"Over the past three decades we can see that fires have gotten bigger and burned longer," Dello said.

And a general pattern of the hottest, dryest summers we've ever seen.

"2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017," Dello said, "were all in the Top 10."

Scientists attribute these trends in part to climate change.

"Climate change is us adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and changing the composition of the atmosphere," Dello said, "and these greenhouse gases are heat-trapping, so essentially we're warming up the planet."

That increases the chance of wildfires.

"There's a combination of weather that leads to fires but also warmer dryer weather because of climate change that accentuates how bad the fires are," said Philip Mote, Director of Oregon Climate Change Research Institute.

And the warmer weather contributes to hurricanes.

"There will not be as many hurricanes," KVAL meteorologist Travis Knudsen said, "but the few hurricanes that do form will be stronger, will be bigger because the environment for them is generally warmer and that kind of fuels hurricanes."

As for winter storms, that's a little bit harder to explain.

"There's not really one thing you can pin down as to this is why things are really extreme one way versus the other way," Knudsen said.

In fact, some scientists say this past Oregon winter was random in an overall warming trend.

Others say it could be part of the pattern.

"The extremes of either side will probably become bigger and broader as things move forward," Knudsen said, "considering that climate change is something that's taking place and has a broad impact on the globe and in Oregon specifically."

Years like this past one won't be so unusual.

"With things like climate change, stronger storms, more impactful weather events are something that will become more common," Knudsen said, "will be something that's a part of our lives."

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