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Colorado wildfires are 'what global warming really looks like' (+video)

The wildfires ravaging Colorado are a preview of the kinds of disasters that human-caused climate change could bring about, say scientists. 

By Deborah Zabarenko and Laura ZuckermanReuters / June 29, 2012

A firefighting helicopter makes a run over a plume of smoke rising from the Waldo Canyon wildfire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday.

Chris Carlson/AP

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Scorching heat, high winds and bone-dry conditions are fueling catastrophic wildfires in the U.S. West that offer a preview of the kind of disasters that human-caused climate change could bring, a trio of scientists said on Thursday.

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Calling it a test day, fire officials in Colorado say they'll soon learn if the progress they've made against a blaze near Colorado Springs will hold as the weather begins to turn against them. (June 30)

"What we're seeing is a window into what global warming really looks like," Princeton University's Michael Oppenheimer said during a telephone press briefing. "It looks like heat, it looks like fires, it looks like this kind of environmental disaster ... This provides vivid images of what we can expect to see more of in the future."

In Colorado, wildfires that have raged for weeks have killed four people, displaced thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes. Because winter snowpack was lighter than usual and melted sooner, fire season started earlier in the U.S. West, with wildfires out of control in ColoradoMontana and Utah.

The high temperatures that are helping drive these fires are consistent with projections by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said this kind of extreme heat, with little cooling overnight, is one kind of damaging impact of global warming.

Others include more severe storms, floods and droughts, Oppenheimer said.

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