Climate change: Part 4. Wildfires in California
WHATS IN THIS BLOG:
• The devastating wildfires close to Los Angeles: story and pics.
• The fires are fanned by Santa Ana winds.
• Man saves wild rabbit from burning.
• Are the wildfires really caused by global warming?
• Postscript: Conversation with a skeptical professional.
This is part of a series on climate change. In this article we look at the terrible wildfires ravaging California right now.
IF YOU DON’T LOOK AT ANYTHING ELSE, look at the very short video below of the man saving a rabbit from the fire. Have your tissues handy !!!
My next blog will be about teenage girls and smartphones, especially the negative and dangerous side of this issue, including suicide.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND FIRES. 2017 was a very bad year for natural disasters. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were in my first two blogs (click HERE and HERE). Soon after, California was beset by the Napa Valley fires – the most destructive in the state’s history — and the numbers were 41 people dead, 220,000 acres burned, and 2,800 homes burned (click HERE).
NOW, 7 WEEKS LATER, WE HAVE NEW FIRES CLOSE TO LOS ANGELES. It is VERY unusual to have wildfires in December. Another link to global warming? Probably. As of last night: 401 structures demolished in the largest of the fires: the Thomas fire near Ventura (but note that 15,000 structures are threatened). It’s a nightmare.
The following includes excerpts from CNN.com on 8 December 2017 (click HERE).
Six large wildfires have scorched nearly 160,000 acres in the state this week. The fires stretch from Ventura (north of Los Angeles) to San Diego.
At least 5,700 firefighters are working to contain the towering walls of flames.
THE FIRES HAVE FORCED 190,000 PEOPLE OUT OF THEIR HOMES, some leaving with nothing but their pets and a few mementos.
THE FIRES ARE FANNED BY SANTA ANA WINDS, also called devil winds, which can exceed 50 mph as they rush from the mountains toward the sea. Usually occurring in the fall, they come from inland deserts and bring hotter and lower humidity air, which make them a huge danger for wildfires. They fanned the enormous October 2003 fire which burned 700,000 acres, and the October 2007 fire which burned 500,000 acres.
VIDEO OF MAN SAVING WILD RABBIT FROM WILDFIRE.
This is a dramatic scene from CNN.com. To see this 1- minute video, click HERE. When finished, stop the video and hit back-arrow to return to the blog.
ARE THE WILDFIRES REALLY CAUSED BY GLOBAL WARMING?
I tried to find a neat answer to this question….after all isn’t it obvious that warming of the earth would make forests and bush and grass more inflammable? But the answer is not simple, because there are local variations in climate that confuse the issue.
I have excerpted from one article in 2006 (click HERE) which showed that bigger fires are caused by higher temperatures in the area. By area I mean the northern Rocky Mountains, for example. This is obvious too: higher temperatures in spring and summer cause earlier snowmelt, longer summers, drier forests in summer, etc.
Whether the changes observed are the result of global warming or only a natural fluctuation, such as El Nino, was beyond the scope of the study.
But virtually all climate-model projections indicate that warmer springs and summers will occur over the western USA in coming decades. These climate warming trends will reinforce the early spring snowmelt and longer fire seasons, etc.
Scary point: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict that global surface temperature will rise by 1.5° — 5.8°C by the end of this century. This is considerably larger than the recent warming — of less than 0.9°C — that caused the wildfires in western USA observed in spring and summer during recent decades.
I RECOMMEND AN EXCELLENT BOOK (Click HERE) about evidence for climate change in the southwest of USA, as well as dire predictions for the future. The Southwest (where I live) will likely be hit the hardest by climate change in the USA.
William deBuys, A great Aridness (Oxford University Press, 2011)
One quote from deBuys book:
In general, wet places will become wetter; dry places, like the Southwest, dryer; and extraordinary events even more extraordinary – and more common.
POST-SCRIPT. THIS WEEK I WAS CHALLENGED ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING by an educated, successful professional.
“Ah, but there are natural cycles of global warming.”
“True, they occur about every 100,000 years over the past one million years. But isn’t it strange that this one coincides with the industrial revolution of the past 150 years, when human activities have emitted huge amounts of greenhouse gases such as CO2 (carbon dioxide). A plot of CO2 emission to the atmosphere since 2000 overlies closely measured global warming temperatures.”
“Well, the earth has survived global warmings before.”
“Yes it has, but the CO2 level in the atmosphere is now rising faster (a thousand times faster) than previous episodes of global warming in the past one million years…..and that’s what’s scary. Click HERE for a plot which shows this.
“But we don’t know for sure what the effects on humanity will be. The models are all over the place in their predictions.”
“That may be the case with the models, but predictions that were made years ago seem to be coming true.”
“For example: Ice-caps melting, glaciers melting, sea levels rising, not enough snow to ski. Also that heat waves and hurricanes will become more intense. That wildfires will be more devastating. 2017 was a bad year – all these things happened.”
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Also scary is that the U.S. announced in June 2017 that it will withdraw from the Paris climate accord (effective Nov. 5, 2020, however) as well as advocating the use of coal and more polluting crudes (e.g. Keystone pipeline).
Thanks for posting information on climate change Ian!
John, I heard from a lady yesterday that even if we aren’t sure about the details and possible effects, shouldn’t we stay committed to study the risk of climate change as insurance for the future?
Thanks Ian, this is very interesting,…..and scary. As you know, some island nations are already suffering the adverse affects of rising sea levels, not to mention the wild life in the Arctic and Antarctic. I read that a giant research station in the Antarctic had to be moved several miles because the ice shelf may break away where they were located. As for the wild fires in California, Governor Brown declared that this is the new “NORM.” Since you wrote this blog the fires are still burning and destroying home, live stock, and businesses. Other states are sending fire fighters to help fight the fires. Not normal. It does not take a climatologist to know that the summers are longer and hotter, and that wild fires are bigger and more devastating. Maybe we should elect more responsible people to govern our states and our nation.
Thanks Don. I heard this morning (Monday 11 December) that 800 homes have now been destroyed by the Thomas fire out of Ventura. 230,000 acres. Only 10% contained!! Its the fifth largest-ever wildfire in California. As you quoted, the governor said year-round wildfires is the new normal for wildfires fueled by global warming.
“It is hard as an earth scientist to watch how mindless America has become. We are now seeing the climate refugees (Puerto Ricans settling in central Florida), the stronger hurricanes, the heavier rainstorms (remember Houston?), the rising seas, the increased fires and intensified droughts that climate scientists warned of more than 10 (and arguably closer to 30) years ago. And that is just within the USA.”
The above is a quote from the Grumpy Geophysicist blog of 11 December 2017. He includes six major impacts of global warming that were predicted 10-30 years ago.