California is on fire

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Little waster
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Re: California is on fire

Post by Little waster » Wed Sep 16, 2020 11:40 am

discovolante wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 11:11 am
California is on fire
Image


Progress reports arriving.

The farms of Sacremento are burning.
The beaches of Laguna are burning.
The plains of Carrizo are burning.
The forests of Las Posadas are burning.
The pastures of Dinton are burning.
The harbors of Oakland are burning.
The cities of the Bay Area are burning.
The oceans of Tahoe are burning.
The courthouses of Los Angeles are burning.
The deserts of Mojave are burning.

The Dreams of Man lie trampled at our feet.
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Re: California is on fire

Post by monkey » Wed Sep 16, 2020 4:01 pm

bagpuss wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 8:29 am
dyqik wrote:
Tue Sep 15, 2020 6:54 pm
The sky here on Cape Cod is hazy white, reportedly from the fires 3000 miles west of here.
I was shocked during my team managers/supervisors call yesterday. I'm the only non-US person on the call so I was basically just listening to the first 10 minutes as the others discussed the effects they were seeing - from one guy on the West Coast (not sure where but he was reporting air quality of 220 which meant nothing to me at the time but I've since looked it up and doesn't sound like fun) to those in the North East who were describing what you're saying here and that they've never seen that before. Colleague in Florida says she's seeing nothing - obviously the winds haven't been blowing that way. But she and I were the only ones who weren't seeing some kind of effect, among a team scattered all over the US (+ me in the UK).

Very scary stuff.
I didn't see anything odd because of the Hurricane (edges of the storm) getting in the way.

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Re: California is on fire

Post by dyqik » Wed Sep 16, 2020 6:07 pm

The two top stories on the Washington Post are currently catastrophic fires and catastrophic flooding due to a hurricane.

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Re: California is on fire

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Sep 16, 2020 7:28 pm

The climes they are a-changin'.
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Re: California is on fire

Post by bmforre » Wed Sep 16, 2020 8:11 pm

dyqik wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 6:07 pm
The two top stories on the Washington Post are currently catastrophic fires and catastrophic flooding due to a hurricane.
Forest fires are not much covered by Holy Writ I believe.
But are evangelicals reading up reports on Noah yet?

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Re: California is on fire

Post by plodder » Wed Sep 16, 2020 8:28 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 7:28 pm
The climes they are a-changin'.
EOSTFU

seriously, show us the return periods and demonstrate the likelihood.

You’re probably right but important to rule out natural variation. It’s only a tiny fraction of a C warmer than last year.

As I say, you’re probably right.

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Re: California is on fire

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Sep 16, 2020 9:54 pm

plodder wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 8:28 pm
Bird on a Fire wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 7:28 pm
The climes they are a-changin'.
EOSTFU

seriously, show us the return periods and demonstrate the likelihood.

You’re probably right but important to rule out natural variation. It’s only a tiny fraction of a C warmer than last year.

As I say, you’re probably right.
Cumulative effects are more important than year-on-year variation. It's been unusually hot every year for a lot of years (see the graph in my avatar), without any compensatory cold years. Stuff is therefore very dry, and very dry stuff burns.

I'm not sure of the value of calculating "return periods" for events that have never or hardly ever occurred in recorded history. AFAIAA techniques to do that rest on making assumptions about the underlying system, typically that it's static, and we're changing it faster than we can measure and understand it.
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Re: California is on fire

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:50 pm

I don't know if anything about the current fires has made it through peer review (which normally takes months rather than weeks), but there's plenty of evidence for increased fieriness from climate change, e.g. this paper from last month:
Climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme autumn wildfire conditions across California
California has experienced devastating autumn wildfires in recent years. These autumn wildfires have coincided with extreme fire weather conditions during periods of strong offshore winds coincident with unusually dry vegetation enabled by anomalously warm conditions and late onset of autumn precipitation. In this study, we quantify observed changes in the occurrence and magnitude of meteorological factors that enable extreme autumn wildfires in California, and use climate model simulations to ascertain whether these changes are attributable to human-caused climate change. We show that state-wide increases in autumn temperature (~1 °C) and decreases in autumn precipitation (~30%) over the past four decades have contributed to increases in aggregate fire weather indices (+20%). As a result, the observed frequency of autumn days with extreme (95th percentile) fire weather—which we show are preferentially associated with extreme autumn wildfires—has more than doubled in California since the early 1980s. We further find an increase in the climate model-estimated probability of these extreme autumn conditions since ~1950, including a long-term trend toward increased same-season co-occurrence of extreme fire weather conditions in northern and southern California. Our climate model analyses suggest that continued climate change will further amplify the number of days with extreme fire weather by the end of this century, though a pathway consistent with the UN Paris commitments would substantially curb that increase. Given the acute societal impacts of extreme autumn wildfires in recent years, our findings have critical relevance for ongoing efforts to manage wildfire risks in California and other regions.
Or this one from last year: Observed Impacts of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Wildfire in California:
Recent fire seasons have fueled intense speculation regarding the effect of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire in western North America and especially in California. During 1972–2018, California experienced a fivefold increase in annual burned area, mainly due to more than an eightfold increase in summer forest‐fire extent. Increased summer forest‐fire area very likely occurred due to increased atmospheric aridity caused by warming. Since the early 1970s, warm‐season days warmed by approximately 1.4 °C as part of a centennial warming trend, significantly increasing the atmospheric vapor pressure deficit (VPD). These trends are consistent with anthropogenic trends simulated by climate models. The response of summer forest‐fire area to VPD is exponential, meaning that warming has grown increasingly impactful. Robust interannual relationships between VPD and summer forest‐fire area strongly suggest that nearly all of the increase in summer forest‐fire area during 1972–2018 was driven by increased VPD. Climate change effects on summer wildfire were less evident in nonforested lands. In fall, wind events and delayed onset of winter precipitation are the dominant promoters of wildfire. While these variables did not change much over the past century, background warming and consequent fuel drying is increasingly enhancing the potential for large fall wildfires. Among the many processes important to California's diverse fire regimes, warming‐driven fuel drying is the clearest link between anthropogenic climate change and increased California wildfire activity to date.

There are also plenty of people much better qualified than me all saying that these fires are climate-related, for example:
The racing flames show how climate change is affecting the nation's most populous state, experts said. Hotter temperatures, less dependable precipitation and snowpack that melts sooner lead to drier soil and parched vegetation. Climate change also affects how much moisture is in the air, [UCLA climate scientist Daniel] Swain said.

"It's actually drying out the air during these extreme heat events," which zaps plants of additional moisture, Swain said. That left much of the state a tinderbox when hundreds of lightning strikes scorched the countryside last week.
Swain with UCLA and other scientists earlier this year published a study that said climate change has doubled the number of extreme-risk days for California wildfires.

It said temperatures statewide rose 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1980, while precipitation dropped 30%. That doubled the number of autumn days that offer extreme conditions for the ignition of wildfires (Climatewire, April 3).

The heat is expected to get worse with time. Climate models estimate that average state temperatures will climb 3 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 unless the world makes sharp cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, said Michael Wehner, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Even with emissions cuts, average temperatures would rise 2 degrees by midcentury, he said.
From https://www.scientificamerican.com/arti ... te-change/

or
“What we’ve been seeing in California are some of the clearest events where we can say this is climate change — that climate change has clearly made this worse,” said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland-based think tank. “People who have lived in California for 30, 40 years are saying this is unprecedented, it has never been this hot, it has never been this smoky in all the years I’ve lived here.”
Global warming has increased the odds of unprecedented heat extremes across more than 80% of the planet and “has doubled or even, in some areas, tripled the odds of record-setting hot events” in California and the Western U.S., said Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh<.….>
Research by Diffenbaugh and colleagues that was published last month found that the number of days with extreme wildfire weather in California has more than doubled since the early 1980s, primarily due to warming temperatures drying out vegetation.
And it’s that atmospheric warming that has set the stage for the fires raging throughout the western U.S., said Park Williams, a hydroclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“If we think of the atmosphere as a giant sponge that’s always trying to extract water from the landscape, then temperature increases the sponginess,” he said.

As soils become drier, heat waves become more intense. That’s because the energy in the atmosphere is no longer being used in evaporation but is just building up heat. And as heat increases and soils — and, therefore, fuel for fires — dry out, the risk grows, laying the foundation for the type of wild and destructive fires we are now observing.

“That’s why, I think, you keep reading quotes from these firefighters who say they are seeing fire behavior unlike anything they’ve seen before,” he said. “As we go out in the future, in a world with this exponentially growing risk … we’re going to see fires far different than we’ve seen before.”
From https://www.latimes.com/california/stor ... west-coast


or
David Romps, director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, said in an email that we’re living in a fundamentally climate-altered world. He noted that average daily highs for this time of year are now about 3˚ or 4˚ F warmer in Berkeley, California, than at the beginning of the 20th century. He was also the lead author of a 2014 Science paper finding that every additional 1 ˚C (1.8 ˚F) of warming could increase lightning strikes over the US by about 12%.

“To cut to the chase: Were the heat wave and the lightning strikes and the dryness of the vegetation affected by global warming? Absolutely yes,” Romps said. “Were they made significantly hotter, more numerous, and drier because of global warming? Yes, likely yes, and yes.”
Friederike Otto, acting director of the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute and co-lead of World Weather Attribution, echoed that view in an email: “There is absolutely no doubt that the extremely high temperatures are higher than they would have been without human-induced climate change. A huge body of attribution literature demonstrates now that climate change is an absolute game-changer when it comes to heat waves, and California won’t be the exception.”
https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/0 ... heatwaves/


or
For these climate scientists, and, increasingly, for all of us, their discipline is anything but academic. The links between climate change and some extreme weather phenomena can be hard to distinguish from natural weather variability without extensive attribution analysis, but the links between wildfires and a warming planet, especially in California are “straightforward,” said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Warmer temperatures dry the fuels, and all you need from there is a spark.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/clim ... fires.html
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Re: California is on fire

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Sep 16, 2020 11:13 pm

For those interested in the birds angle I posted about yesterday, here's a more detailed writeup on widespread bird deaths: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/1009 ... ate-change

The fingerprints of climate change are often found near population declines, but it's often difficult to get such clear-cut cases. As climate change provides more acute stressors, as well as being inherently a chronic stressor, I expect we'll be seeing more of this sort of thing.

Given the extremely large scale of current fires and smoke, I expect that the impacts of it will be detectable in population numbers from the US's rather excellent citizen-scientist bird data.
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Re: California is on fire

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Sep 17, 2020 12:21 am

Just tweeted a friend at Cornell who (amongst many other fascinating things) uses radar to study - and predict!! - patterns of bird migration at continental scale.

They've written a short blog on the evidence re: effects of smoke:
A number of researchers have suggested that smoke from summer 2020 western wildfires may be a prime factor in these deaths. Several recent studies, including this one by Olivia Sanderfoot and Tracey Holloway, highlight the potential hazards for birds from smoke inhalation (note, avian respiratory system is quite unique). It remains to be seen whether resident and migratory species have been similarly affected, but migrating birds encountering high concentrations of toxic compounds from or particulate matter like smoke at altitudes well above ground level could be at serious risk. It is also unclear whether aerial insectivores are overrepresented among the dead species, but it may be that birds actively foraging for aerial food items like flying insects are at greater risk—either from direct smoke inhalation or lack of food if their prey are influenced adversely by smoke or its correlates.

In addition to the fires and widespread smoke, anomalously high temperatures have been the norm for August 2020 in the western US. Much of the western US from California east through Colorado and New Mexico has baked in the hottest August on record. The combination of record heat with intense fires and smoke conditions may be an additional lethal element of what has occurred in in the last weeks and continues to unfold. Stay tuned for additional information.
and also hinted that they're thinking about analysing the movement data to see if they can pick up changes in migration patterns resulting from the fire.

See https://birdcast.info/news/mass-mortali ... migration/

We do have, across the board, a lot of very cool people and tools for studying ecological impacts quickly and rigourously. The track record of translating understanding into political action is less rosy. I suspect we need to talk to social scientists more.
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Re: California is on fire

Post by plodder » Thu Sep 17, 2020 10:29 am

Thanks Boaf.

Are they attributing the 30% reduction in precipitation since 1970 to climate change? Against what baseline?

These are multi factor events and whilst I don’t doubt that changing patterns are a result of AGW I would be very surprised if there wasn’t also a “perfect storm” element of coincidental factors at play as well. Are the same factors also resulting in the huge fires in Siberia? Is precipitation down by this factor across the Northern Hemisphere?

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Re: California is on fire

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Sep 17, 2020 10:55 am

plodder wrote:
Thu Sep 17, 2020 10:29 am
Thanks Boaf.

Are they attributing the 30% reduction in precipitation since 1970 to climate change? Against what baseline?
The phrase they use is "consistent with climate projections", which usually means that the models don't predict the observed trends as well if you remove anthropogenic forcings. The paper they cite for the warming and drying stuff is here: https://www.pnas.org/content/113/42/11770 I haven't read it.
plodder wrote:
Thu Sep 17, 2020 10:29 am
These are multi factor events and whilst I don’t doubt that changing patterns are a result of AGW I would be very surprised if there wasn’t also a “perfect storm” element of coincidental factors at play as well. Are the same factors also resulting in the huge fires in Siberia? Is precipitation down by this factor across the Northern Hemisphere?
They certainly acknowledge that any specific fire will have multiple causative factors, most obviously an ignition source, but they also talk about human population density, management, above-ground biomass, etc.

A bit of stuff on climate attribution in Siberia here: https://www.carbonbrief.org/siberia-s-2 ... ate-change The emphasis seems to be more on heating than precipitation, but the baseline climates of California and Siberia are famously quite different so I wouldn't necessarily expect them to have the same trends.
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Re: California is on fire

Post by plodder » Fri Sep 18, 2020 7:04 am

I think what concerns me is the role of bias, where we instantly leap to AGW rather than things like land management, fire fighting budgets etc. What are the % importance and change in these other factors over the recorded period? Is anyone even looking?

From a purely practical perspective is reducing global CO2 emissions the best wildfire prevention policy? Presumably we should be doing other things as well?

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Re: California is on fire

Post by Little waster » Fri Sep 18, 2020 8:16 am

plodder wrote:
Fri Sep 18, 2020 7:04 am

From a purely practical perspective is reducing global CO2 emissions the best wildfire prevention policy? Presumably we should be doing other things as well?
I think the point is that it is not that we've focused on mitigating AGW at the expense of forestry management etc. but that the prevailing mindset in the Republican Party means we do none of it. There is no "as well".
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Re: California is on fire

Post by Bird on a Fire » Fri Sep 18, 2020 9:43 am

plodder wrote:
Fri Sep 18, 2020 7:04 am
I think what concerns me is the role of bias, where we instantly leap to AGW rather than things like land management, fire fighting budgets etc. What are the % importance and change in these other factors over the recorded period? Is anyone even looking?

From a purely practical perspective is reducing global CO2 emissions the best wildfire prevention policy? Presumably we should be doing other things as well?
As I said, they do talk about that in the paper. Read it and tell us which parts you disagree with.

Climate change is a global phenomenon. Increased fires have long been expected.

There has never been any forest management or fire fighting in a lot of the areas that have been going up in flames recently - Siberia, Amazonia, the Pantanal (which is a f.cking wetland). Fires a happening a very long way away from the kinds of human-managed forests you might be imagining from England.

Also seems unlikely that the USA, Russia, Brazil, Australia, Portugal, Bolivia etc. would have seen similar trends in political forest-management decisions over the last few decades.

And in any case, even if there weren't a huge literature on the subject, the extent and severity of climate impacts over recent years is such that we should probably start assuming climate change is the cause.

I think what concerns me is the role of bias, where we instantly leap to dismiss AGW as a causative agent of global phenomena despite decades of evidence (a) predicting that this would happen, (b) documenting it happening and (c) demonstrating the links between climate and wildfires.

It must be because we're not sweeping the forests enough like that clever Mr Trump said, rather than what those silly scientists with all their heavily scrutinised data and models.
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Re: California is on fire

Post by plodder » Fri Sep 18, 2020 3:37 pm

No-one is saying AGW is not an important factor. But saying "just one degree!!!" over and over again is too simplistic.

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Re: California is on fire

Post by Bird on a Fire » Fri Sep 18, 2020 5:30 pm

I thought the "on average, across the globe, ignoring local and seasonal variation" thing was common knowledge.

Climate change is already having devastating effects in many ways and in many places, and we're probably between a third and a quarter of the way through the heating to come unless we sort our sh.t out.
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Re: California is on fire

Post by bmforre » Sun Sep 20, 2020 10:53 pm

Climate change makes wildfires worse
writes Crystal Kolden, an assistant professor of management of complex systems at the University of California at Merced. A former wildland firefighter, she researches wildfires and strategies for mitigating fire disasters around the world.
There is widespread agreement among fire scientists that climate change amplifies the effects of land management decisions, in California and elsewhere. Yes, decades of policies designed to keep fires from burning or spreading at all probably contribute to the large fires in California’s Sierra Nevada. But many other parts of the state — and the world — without such a history have seen record-breaking fire activity this year. The blazes choking the Pacific Northwest and sending smoke across North America are a scalding-hot sign that climate change is here.
Examples:
Only nine months ago, Australia experienced its worst bush fire season in modern history, with more than 45 million acres burned, an event made 30 percent more likely by warming temperatures. Siberia saw a record heat wave this summer because of climate change, including a reading of over 100 degrees well north of the Arctic Circle, leading to extensive wildfires in boreal peatlands that emitted record levels of carbon. In the United States, the failure of the Southwest monsoon contributed to the warmest and driest August on record in western Colorado. These conditions fueled the Pine Gulch Fire, now the largest blaze in state history.

Two weeks ago in Oregon, the normally cool western slopes of the Cascade Mountains burst into flames, with multiple large fires, pushed by unusually hot and dry east winds, razing the small towns that line the river canyons. The Douglas fir forests there are filled with moss and ferns, moisture-loving plants that — like California’s coastal redwoods — aren’t exactly known as good tinder. They burn once every few hundred years, when drought conditions align with extreme meteorology. The last time much of this area was aflame was in the 1890s. Before that, it was the early 1600s. Climate change increases the frequency of such events.

Earlier this summer, Death Valley recorded a temperature of 130 degrees, the hottest on Earth in the modern era (the period with reliable record-keeping). Record heat in the past two weeks has fueled fires throughout California, including the Creek Fire near my home, which forced the National Guard to help evacuate more than 200 people from remote areas of the Sierra National Forest. On the same day the Creek Fire exploded, burning tens of thousands of acres in just hours, cities in Southern California only a few miles from the ocean breached 120 degrees. Meanwhile, the Bear Fire made rapid runs downhill toward the city of Oroville in Northern California, killing at least 15 people. Only three years ago, all of Oroville evacuated when overwhelming rainfall compromised the dam upstream, the tallest such structure in the United States. The two events would be ironic if they were not so tragic.

This specialist author argues:
These types of meteorological extremes are exactly what global climate models projected would happen, and we are seeing the effects on wildfires. If this was only a matter of forest management, fire seasons would not be getting longer in the remote boreal forests of Alaska — where management is minimal and fire suppression has always been limited primarily to protecting the few cities and towns that dot an otherwise untamed, vast landscape. In 2019, however, Alaska saw fire danger ratings that were literally off the charts as 2.5 million acres burned, and fire season lasted a month longer than normal. This in a place where the season is usually only two months long. Because these kinds of blazes are ignited by lightning and burn relatively unimpeded across the wilderness, such trends can be caused only by climate change.

Climate change models predict that we will see meteorological extremes that produce catastrophic fires in unexpected places and outside of normal fire seasons. For instance, an exceptional drought produced a fatal wildfire in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee in 2016, when blazes near Gatlinburg burned more than 10,000 acres and killed 14 people. In 2011, Texas received the lowest amount of rainfall since reliable records started in the late 19th century, a drought compounded by the hottest summer on record. When strong winds from an incoming tropical storm picked up in September, they fanned the Bastrop County Complex Fire, which killed two people and destroyed more than 1,600 homes, well outside Texas’s normal fire season. Neither of these blazes could be blamed on poor forest management.
Conclusion:
California is undoubtedly a fire-prone state, where wildfires burned regularly for millennia before Europeans arrived. And a century of fire suppression has altered forests by increasing the density of trees per acre and allowing undergrowth to build up — all of which becomes fuel when a wildfire ignites. But there’s a reason that climate change is frequently called a “threat multiplier.” The drought California experienced from 2012 to 2016 was made worse by climate change; many trees that died are now burning. Across the state, satellite data shows that fires are raging with much greater intensity and releasing more energy; this is a function of very dry vegetation combusting more easily.

Forest management, particularly prescribed burning, can do much to reduce the risk of extreme wildfires. But management alone is not enough. Any place that has vegetation can burn, and without action on climate change, we could see destructive fires in parts of the country that have not had them for decades: New York and New Jersey, Minnesota and Michigan, Wisconsin and Maine. All had catastrophic wildfires in the past, and all it takes is a dry, hot wind at the right place and time.

What we see in California and the Pacific Northwest now will be only the beginning.
Author also gives this link:
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