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

Ice dangles from a metal grate during the December 2016 ice storm ... and smoke rises from the Bybee Creek wildfire during the summer of 2017. (Photos by Jonathan Long and Cheryl Chipman)

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

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.

"It's a slice of the entire pie," KMTR NBC16 Chief Meteorologist Kris Nation said. "We are starting to see things we've never seen before."

More intense hurricanes like Irma.

"No storm in the Atlantic has ever reached the strength that storm has," Nation said.

More intense wildfires like in Northern California.

"If you're driving in your car say your headed up to Portland and you're driving 40 mph now imagine looking out your car window and the fire is keeping pace with you," Nation said.

From coast to coast, disaster after disaster, one crisis after another.

"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.

And now we're seeing a general pattern of the hottest, driest summers we've ever seen.

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

Scientists attribute these trends in part to climate change.

"When you look at the current CO2 level at 400 ppm there's nothing like it in recorded history. We've never seen this much CO2 in our environment," Nation said.

CO2 is one example of a greenhouse gas.

"These greenhouse gases are heat trapping so essentially we're warming up the planet," Dello said.

While it can be a politically polarizing topic, the science behind it is now largely recognized.

"It's changing the summers because it's making it hotter and the hotter they are the dryer it gets the dryer the season the worse the fire season gets," Nation said.

That warmer weather also fuels hurricanes.

But as for winter storms, that's a little bit harder to explain. Some say it's connected to climate change.

"It's the earth trying to balance itself back to where it originally was," Nation said.

Others, like Phil Mote, the Director of Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, say it's random: "It's a very very unlikely event."

Given what we do know, years like this past one could become more common.

"That's probably the biggest thing concerning me as a meteorologist. It's not so much natural disasters. Those are always going to happen. It's that they're getting stronger and more prevalent as we move through. It's stacking the dominoes higher," Nation said.

It doesn't mean every storm will be severe or every summer will be record breaking.

"Things will still go up and down. we still have variability," Dello said.

It just means as the climate changes, all of us will take notice of the weather.

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