Cliff Mass Weather and Climate Blog
This blog discusses current weather, weather prediction, climate issues, and other topics
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Was Global Warming A Significant Factor in California’s Camp Fire? The Answer is Clearly No.
The Camp Fire that struck the northern California town of Paradise and vicinity is a profoundly disturbing environmental disaster of first magnitude. Nearly 100 people have lost their lives, approximately 10,000 homes have been lost, a major community has essentially been destroyed, and millions of people have been exposed to high concentrations of smoke. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and lives of millions substantially affected.
And beyond the heart-wrenching losses noted above, it is doubly tragic that this disaster was both foreseeable and avoidable, resulting from a series of errors, poor judgment, lack of use of available technology, and poor urban planning.
It is more than unfortunate that some politicians, environmental advocacy groups, and activist scientists are attempting to use this tragedy as a tool for their own agenda, make the claim that the Camp Fire was result of global warming.
As I will discuss below, this claim has little grounding in fact or science. Global warming is a profoundly serious threat to mankind, but it has little impact the Camp Fire and many of the coastal California fires of the past few years (e.g., the Wine Country Fires of October 2017). And blaming global warming takes attention away from the actions needed to prevent such tragedies from happening again.
Analyzing the Origins of the Camp Fire
A central causative factor was the strong, offshore-directed, winds that both initiated the fire and drove it rapidly towards the town of Paradise. These winds are known as Diablo winds, and are driven by the difference in pressure between the intermountain interior (e.g., Nevada) and the coast.
The easterly (from the east) winds that struck that day were not that unusual, something that is evident by looking at the wind climatology at the nearby Jarbo Gap USDA RAWS weather station. The sustained winds on the day of the fire initiation (November 8) accelerated to 32 mph (with gusts to 52 mph), with peak winds at 4 AM that day. Looking at the entire record at Jarbo (back to 2003), northeasterly winds of 30 mph or more have occurred 508 times in those 15 years–not an unusual event. And my inspection of the individual records does not suggest an increasing trend.
Furthermore, there is no reason to expect that Diablo winds will increase under global warming; in fact, the opposite is the case. Global warming preferentially warms the interior of the continent compared to the eastern Pacific. Thus, human-caused warming would tend to weaken the interior high pressure, thus lessening a key driving force of the Diablo winds. There are several studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature (e.g., this one) that show that global warming should weaken southern California’s Santa Ana winds, which are also driven by the pressure difference between the western interior and the coast.
Initiation of the fires
There is strong evidence that that Camp Fire was caused by failure of PG&E powerlines, not by any natural causes that could be linked to global warming. In fact, nearly all wildfires in California are caused by human error or arson. Increased population in California would clearly lead to more human fire initiation. Thus, global warming is not a factor in fire initiation.
Surface dry conditions
One of the most popular handwaving arguments about why global warming is enhancing wildfires is through temperature and precipitation changes. It is argued that warming temperatures are causing more evaporation and thus drying the “fuels” at the surface. And it is argued that global warming is causing increasing drought that dries fuels and encourages fires.
Now this sounds reasonable enough on the surface, but when you examine the facts more closely, it rapidly becomes clear that global warming has little role in producing the dry conditions that assisted the Camp Fire, the wine country fires, or the fires in coastal southern CA.
The truth is that California is quite dry during nearly half of the year and that fuels such as grasses, bushes and small vegetation dry out during any typical summer. Even more important, virtually all of the fires noted above (including the Camp Fire) were associated with offshore, downslope winds which rapidly dry out vegetation, even it is wet the day before!
A nearby landscape. Not all the grass and small vegetation
The fire weather community divides fuels by how quickly they dry. 1-h fuels are less than 1/4 of an inch in diameter and can dry in LESS THAN AN HOUR. This includes grass and small weeds/plants. 10-h fuels have diameters of 1/4 to 1 inch and dry in less than 10 hours, and include small bushes, branches, and the like.
In much of California, and particularly in the areas of the fires noted above, most of the fuels were grasses and small stuff–mainly 1 and 10-h fuels. Thus, they dry very quickly, such as when Diablo winds start to blow. This kind of small diameter fuels is known as chaparral in California, and there was a lot of such ground cover north and east of Paradise.
Now let me prove to you that global warming had nothing to do with the dry conditions near Paradise on the morning of November 8. Below is a plot of the ten-hour fuel moisture at the nearby Jarbo Gap observation side, a site that was in the path of the fire, for the five years ending November 20. You will note a repeatable pattern, with values reaching around 27% during the winter, but 3-8% every summer and early fall. The fuels are not getting progressively drier. I should note that I was told by local fire experts that values below approximately 10% are plenty dry enough to burn.
Looking at a blow-up image of the fuel moisture of the last 3/4 year you can see the summer drying clearly and something else very important….there are short dry periods even in the middle of winter when rain is falling occasionally. Why? Because there are diablo wind events that can dry out the vegetation even then.
The bottom line is that the vegetation is plenty dry enough to burn every summer right now…and has been like that forever. Even if global warming is increasing temperatures a few degrees (and it probably is), IT DOESN’T MATTER. The fuels are plenty dry enough to burn already. That is why the handwaving argument that global warming is contributing to the fires simply don’t make sense.
And then there is the argument that global warming is somehow decreasing autumn rains in the area. This has little basis in truth. Here is the plot of precipitation form the NOAA/NWS climate division data set for 1930-2018 for August to October precipitation for the area of the Camp Fire. There is no obvious trend. August to October precipitation is typically light (about 2 inches), with lots of variation year to year. Many years are as dry or drier than this year. And the global warming simulations for the end of the century that I have seen do not show a consistent change in fall precipitation.
As long as I taking on taking on claims of global warming-fire connections, some folks like to talk about tree deaths, bark beetles, and the like, with the claim that global warming is killing trees and thus leading to fires. The Camp Fire areas is NOT noted for tree death and besides, most of the fire was on chaparral vegetation. Below is a satellite photo showing the boundaries of Paradise (brown line), with the fire starting near Pulga (on the NE side of the image). The fire spread over a region that had been logged, previously burned, and was then mainly grass and small shrubs.
In summary, if one analyzes the situation, it is evident that global warming had little to do with the Camp Fire.
As I will discuss in a future blog, the Paradise area was a ticking time bomb. There was a huge influx of population into a wildland area, which had burned many times in the past. Previously logging and fires had left a conduit of highly flammable grass and bushes, through which fire could move rapidly. Flammable, non-native invasive grasses had spread through the region. Homes were not built to withstand fire and roadways were inadequate for evacuation. Powerlines started the fires and were not de-energized even though strong winds were skillfully forecast. Warnings to the population were inadequate. The list is long. And global warming should not be on the list if we are to focus on the real problems.
Cliff Mass at 7:56 AM
ryamkajrNovember 20, 2018 at 8:21 AM
What a well thought out and explained piece of analysis.
Will not stop the AGW-causes-everything crowd from either ignoring this or not understanding it.
PlaceholderNovember 20, 2018 at 9:43 AM
Kudos for this, Cliff.
Even though I disagree with you about the underlying AGW issue, I have great respect for your integrity and scholarship. In fact, you’re one of the very few AGW proponents who I will listen to. If you ever decide to write a book about the issue, I will read it because of your track record of careful, objective scholarship.
AnselNovember 20, 2018 at 9:56 AM
In addition to power shutoffs, California should institute new statewide guidelines requiring all new planned developments in wooded or wild areas to build fire-resistant homes- stucco walls, tile or metal roofs, metal studs, metal shutters for the windows, and landscape with the less flammable deciduous trees planted well away from the houses. It’s even worth considering concrete, rather than asphalt, roads (as I understand it, in some of these fires the road itself burns, which can only happen with asphalt). It might be worth building local underground “fire-shelters” either in the basement of homes or in community centers, much as Kansans have “tornado shelters”. Finally, installed outdoor sprinkler systems should be considered as well.
gnolanNovember 20, 2018 at 10:29 AM
I really respect your adherence to evidence based claims on important issues such as those around climate and the environment. Change needs to come from credible observations and assertions based on faulty premises are counter productive.
I am wondering though if you concede some fire activity is climate change related. These titles popped up today as references in my reading this am (and I did not seek them out in response to this blog): “Increasing water cycle extremes in California and in relation to ENSO cycle under global warming” (https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms9657) and “Impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forests” (http://www.pnas.org/content/113/42/11770).
As these are sources outside the media and are from decent science journals they raise the above question for me. This is not science I follow and am not informed on where consensus lies within specialists here. But in this time of media questioning I have held onto my general trust of peer reviewed literature in the physical sciences and thus am interested in reconciling what I read here with that sourced elsewhere.
UnknownNovember 20, 2018 at 10:31 AM
I concur that this area has burned “forever.” Realistically the real problem is building flammable homes in the region. However, are you actually claiming that the fuel moisture from the fine fuels for the last five years indicate that climate change isn’t a factor in these fires? First off, show us some data for the 20th century. The last five years are not an indication of long term “normal conditions.” Additionally, the larger fuel classes are what tend to bump up fire intensity, and they are very responsive to a few degree temperature difference, or a bit longer drought.
Here is nice visualization. Note the last five years:
— Robert Rohde (@RARohde) November 12, 2018
Bill ReiswigNovember 20, 2018 at 11:22 AM
I looked into the average climate data for Paradise, CA. Usually the town averages 6 days of rain and 4 inches of rain in October, and 10 days rain with 7 inches in November. 2018 has seen essentially no rain these months. The Western Regional Climate Center summarized it thusly: “During the first month of what is typically considered the wet season, precipitation was below 75% of normal across southern Oregon, western Nevada, and much of California. San Francisco, California, reported only 0.21 in (5 mm) of rainfall, 19% of normal. In San Francisco’s 170-year record, fourteen Octobers have no measurable rainfall. Further north, Sisters, in central Oregon, reported 0.14 in (4 mm), 13% of normal. Drought conditions persisted, but did not worsen in these areas in the US Drought Monitor.”
My question is whether when Diablo winds usually strike the region has had at least a bit of rain to raise the moisture content of the vegetation. If climate change is loading the dice towards more drought years, would not the coincidence of exceptionally dry autumns with a strong Diablo winds create a link between some causation of climate change with worsened wildfires?
I understand of course that human habitation in woodlands, human causation of the “sparks”, and forest management play a role in the risk here too. But I’ve read in many scientifically reputable sources that there is a link between climate change and fire in California. Such as this Yale Climate Connections article:
PlaceholderNovember 20, 2018 at 11:46 AM
@gnolan, I suggest some skepticism is in order regarding peer review. It’s a great idea in theory, but the practice leaves very much to be desired. The article at the link is long but highly informative on the issues surrounding peer review.
typingtalkerNovember 20, 2018 at 11:48 AM
Bill McKibben writes in the current New Yorker …
How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking the Planet
With wildfires, heat waves, and rising sea levels, large tracts of the earth are at risk of becoming uninhabitable. But the fossil-fuel industry continues its assault on the facts.
After a summer of unprecedented high temperatures and a fall “rainy season” with less than half the usual precipitation, the northern firestorm turned a city called Paradise into an inferno within an hour, razing more than ten thousand buildings and killing at least sixty-three people; more than six hundred others are missing.
The New Yorker’s legendary fact checkers must have been on vacation last week.
UnknownNovember 20, 2018 at 12:14 PM
Thank you for a we’ll thoughthought out and evidence based article. However, you have forgotten one important factor: dead and dying forests.
Most of the forest in the Paradise area is oak. California oak forests have been decimated by “sudden oak death”, a parasite which has been definitively linked to a warming climate. Pine forests in California (and more so in BC and Washington) are dying from bark beetles, which is also linked to climate change.
All of your points may be correct, but you have overlooked the (new) abundance of dry fuel in the form of dying and dead trees.
Forgive any typos – the was typed on a phone.
UnknownNovember 20, 2018 at 12:28 PM
My bad for not reading your post in it’s entirety. Chalk it up to the delivery method – my cell phone.
I still think it’s a reckless to definitively state the climate change had nothing to do with the Camp fire. Was climate change THE CAUSE? Certainly not, as you point out. Was it a contributing factor? Almost certainly. Will climate change contribute to future fires? I’m afraid so.
UnknownNovember 20, 2018 at 1:31 PM
Gov Brown is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He has to RESIST Trump and any anti-catastrophic climate change language, but more privately, he knows where the real problems exist and what needs to be done. Months before the Camp Fire he tried to begin to do something. This story is from August.
Eric BlairNovember 20, 2018 at 1:39 PM
“Was it a contributing factor? Almost certainly.”
There is no factual evidence for this claim, it’s merely a subjective argument.
Here is actual evidence to the contrary – (from noted Right Wing outlet…Mother Jones) – note that this was published last year –
This is an executive summary from the CA Department of Forestry, dating all the way back to 1995 –
Calling Cliff’s analysis “reckless” is exactly the kind of overwrought and dramatic statement that has no use in actual scientific analysis.
wavelengthNovember 20, 2018 at 3:49 PM
president tumip is correct “let’s america rake again.” he heard that from finland.
UnknownNovember 20, 2018 at 4:09 PM
Thank you Cliff
Will you include in your blogs when an occurrence/situation/etc that you determine is not climate change but resembles what it is expected to be like.
Also, a blog on where in the world you see climate change happening right now.
Sempervirens206November 20, 2018 at 5:24 PM
Thank you Cliff… get ready for the insults from people who can’t even name 6 native plants but think they’re experts on climate and wildfires lol.
Stephen MurdockNovember 20, 2018 at 5:53 PM
He said that global warming wasn’t a significant factor, not that it had nothing to do with the Camp Fire. Granted, significant maybe wasn’t the best word choice – especially for someone with Cliff’s level of familiarity with statistics.
Can you elucidate your conjecture regarding the contribution of global warming to the fire(s)? “Almost certainly” makes it seem like you must have the inside scoop on some pretty solid evidence regarding this specific event – evidence that, apparently, is inaccessible to Dr. Mass.
JeffBNovember 20, 2018 at 5:55 PM
The media has whipped the average progressive in to such a state of fear regarding climate change that they see climate bogeymen in any and all severe weather events. Even when as in the case of fire, weather alone is not enough to initiate the event. Your analysis is always appreciated Cliff.
Owen YoungbloodNovember 20, 2018 at 6:41 PM
Your data analysis & perspective are much appreciated! As a resident of Washington state, I look forward to your blog updates and have learned a lot from you. Please keep up the good work and I hope to meet you face-to-face someday!
Mary and JimNovember 20, 2018 at 8:07 PM
Has anyone mentioned that theses fires are almost all human caused? During the fall and the Diablo conditions, there are no lightning storms in California. So without the large influx of people to the hills and outlying areas, the chance of such fires is extremely low.
UnknownNovember 20, 2018 at 8:38 PM
Global warming cannot be the cause as “warming” stopped perhaps twenty years ago now. Mother Earth has actually been in bit of a cooling phase since 2015. And there is more cooling to come as the major source of climate change, the sun, is the quietest it has been in about a century. The challenge among those who are monitoring the cooling trend is how much cooling will happen. Forecasts range from another half-degree drop to as much as a five degree drop. We could be headed into a mini-ice-age much like that of the 1800’s.
godsflunky47November 20, 2018 at 8:50 PM
Dr. Mass, your data are compelling and rigorous. I have to wonder, however, how you account for the sheer length of the fire season in California. While any individual fire is not caused by climate chaos, the fact that the fire season is now practically year-round (as reported by the firefighters, who should probably know) must be accounted for somehow.
If nothing else, the expense and energy required to fight the fires is sucking up the budget and personnel required for proper forest management that could mitigate such fires. This is certainly true at the Federal level; it may also be true at the California state level, too.
JDBishop5November 21, 2018 at 9:27 AM
‘…how you account for the sheer length of the fire season in California.?’ This is the essential question, and what separates Weathermen from Climate Scientists such a Jim Hansen. One set thinks of weather, the other studies climate; very different enquiries. One group thinks globally. The other jabbers on TV.
K.R. BurgessNovember 21, 2018 at 4:25 AM
Maybe, we should go back and take a look at controlled burns,like the Native Americans,and practice how they manged the forest.
Keith PattersonNovember 21, 2018 at 6:26 AM
Your blog is well-reasoned and scientifically sound. Two questions remain. What actions could have prevented the fire, other than de-energizing the high tension transmission line? Could very early use of multiple KC130 tankers have snuffed out the fire before it became unstoppable?
Chris H.November 21, 2018 at 8:19 AM
What is the scientific consensus on this particular topic? Being a non-scientist, I tend to use probabilities to inform my opinion.
In modern times, If 97% of the scientists concur on a scientific theory, it seems like probability would favor the 97% being correct as opposed to the 3%.
I think it’s called deductive reasoning.
I saw the news today with people bustling about in their planes and trains of cars going nowhere.
I wonder what the total carbon footprint will be for this holiday travel season here in the US?
Heli-free North Cascades
Russell SeitzNovember 21, 2018 at 1:56 PM
wavelength said…November 20, 2018 at 3:49 PM
‘president tumip is correct “let’s america rake again.” he heard that from finland.’
Let us hope this rakes progress does not end in Bedlam too.
DMcLNovember 21, 2018 at 3:52 PM
Can you show us the data that shows that the frequency of November fires in Northern California hasn’t changed over the last 50 years?
MrPeteNovember 21, 2018 at 4:09 PM
It’s really not that complicated.
We’ve had fires for a very very long time. Fire ignition is not unusual at all.
Wildfire starts, both natural and human-started, have been common since at least the early 20th century.
What’s different: fuel reduction is WAY down. 80% reduction in the last 50 years.
California has refused to do fire mitigation.
California provides very little mitigation support to landowners, and generally makes the task difficult rather than easy.
Just a few examples:
– NO prescribed burns allowed in LA County for a very long time (Woolsey fire)
– Statewide, an *increase* to 50k acres a year of prescribed burns, vs many hundreds of thousands of acres annually in much smaller states.
– Landowners must own 20+ acres to have access to a professional forester who will visit and provide mitigation training.
– Senate environmental strategy team denied access to Cap & Trade funds for mitigation in April 2018, claiming that even though fire is by far the largest CO2 source, to do this would detract from the [political] message that climate change is due to human influence.
Meanwhile, here in Colorado:
– Anyone owning 2+ acres can receive a visit from a professional forester for help with mitigation planning
– We have extensive community slash-to-mulch programs that effectively empower locals to clean up the forest floor. (And we don’t laugh when Trump applauds the Finns for doing just that.)
– We are VERY vocal about the fact that fire mitigation is all about fuel. Not eliminating the sparks that start fires.
Scott SouchockNovember 21, 2018 at 5:12 PM
A classic case of human beings wanting to blame something other than their own irresponsibility. Thanks for the insights.
UnknownNovember 21, 2018 at 5:48 PM
We own 160 acres of forest that was partially burnt in 2002, in a fire that was caused by a government helicopter clipping some power lines, the helicopter had been searching for illegal marijuana farms in the area. That fire burnt 400,000 acres of forest, and we lost about 20 acres. What I noticed when I was trying to help fight the fire on our land, was that the prisoners they sent out to fight the fires were not making much difference. The airplanes they used would not fly at night, so any progress they made during the day, was lost overnight. They set a backfire which worked, but in the process, they burnt down 20 acres of our land. But that was after very many houses were lost, and 400,000 acres were destroyed. Last week in Fallbrook they caught an arsonist who started a fire while the Camp fire was still burning, and they quickly set him free. The government is woefully inadequate against the wildfire problem, and they probably will remain that way while most of the forest is lost. Drones and remote controlled bull dozers could be used to fight fires, but it would take a large commitment which probably won’t happen. Instead we have a high speed train to the desert partially complete, and we are building houses for the hobos. I wouldn’t say its mismanagement, I would say its criminal negligence done by a corrupt and ignorant government, failed leadership, and a lack of accountability. It doesn’t matter whether we have global warming, CA will destroy its environment long before Global Warming is a problem, due to its negligence.
Eric BlairNovember 21, 2018 at 8:03 PM
If this prediction is true, then it won’t matter whether or not the IPCC’s claims are borne out. AGW will be but a distant memory.
Kevin DNovember 21, 2018 at 10:39 PM
Blogger Ansel said…
“In addition to power shutoffs, California should institute new statewide guidelines requiring all new planned developments in wooded or wild areas to build fire-resistant homes- stucco walls, tile or metal roofs, metal studs, metal shutters for the windows, and landscape with the less flammable deciduous trees planted well away from the houses. It’s even worth considering concrete, rather than asphalt, roads (as I understand it, in some of these fires the road itself burns, which can only happen with asphalt). It might be worth building local underground “fire-shelters” either in the basement of homes or in community centers, much as Kansans have “tornado shelters”. Finally, installed outdoor sprinkler systems should be considered as well.”
I took a quick glance at the Paradise area on Google and it looks like Paradise is a suburban community set inside a ponderosa forest. Why is this important? I’ve seen many photographs of the fire’s aftermath and it looks like the ponderosas actually withstood the fire better than the structures in the immediate vicinity. This makes sense considering ponderosa pines have evolved in an ecosystem where fire is a common recurrence and have evolved to be somewhat more fire-resistant than the typical deciduous tree. It might be time to consider buffer zones of stripped vegetation around populous communities.
Chris H.November 22, 2018 at 9:01 AM
Here is how Oregon state law addressed the issue wildfire.
If the same laws existed in Washington state I would have a legal basis to compel our HOA Board to enforce our protective and restrictive covenants which require landowners to maintain their Lots for safety.
I addressed this issue with the HOA Board and was flat out told by the board president that she would never enforce that Covenant.
My goal of course is significant fuel load reductions in that development beyond the 2% which is currently the plan.
Some lot owners are not participating in the plan, and 2% is not a significant fuel reduction anyway. The excess fuel load offers privacy and the beauty of the forest right up to their doorsteps.
But they’re not here most of the time as the development is mostly vacation homes. They will still have a place to live if their vacation home burns down.
Unfortunately by not enforcing the Covenants, the HOA Board president is opening up the HOA members to liability issues as well as placing public health and Safety at increased risk of harm.
There are reasons why these developments situated in wildland-urban interface burn so completely.
Heli-free North Cascades
Bruce KayNovember 22, 2018 at 9:06 AM
3 decades from now, when even then the contribution of a warming planet will likely (hopefully) still be small compared to other factors, will you still be saying ” Oh look, there go the Liberals again, barking up the wrong tree”.
By your own words they are not barking up the wrong tree. You nearly always insert into your blogs a single unexpanded on sentence saying as much, such as in this blog – “Global warming is a profoundly serious threat to mankind.” You also repeatedly say that although the climate change contribution is minor, there never the less actually is a detectable warming contribution. OK then…
So what is that significance of that tiny contribution, in a context of your stated belief that “Global warming is a profoundly serious threat to mankind”?
You are in a position to elucidate this subtle but profoundly significant link but to my knowledge, this has never happened.
Yes their barking is perhaps riddled with errors but no – the actual tree they are barking up is the right tree. It is not enough to just tell the dogs “your barking is in error”. You are in a position of skill and influence to provide the tools and technique that the dogs currently lack. When are you going to start doing it?
Scott LangleyNovember 22, 2018 at 9:23 AM
I wonder if there are any “ticking time bombs” of a similar nature to Paradise that we need to be aware of in the Pacific Northwest?
DMcLNovember 22, 2018 at 12:15 PM
The signal for climate change in forest fire incidence in California is the increasing frequency of fires in what previously was the off season for that particular part of the state. The data that Cliff presented obscures the shoulder effect of more frequent red flag conditions in late October through December, when in previous decades fires were more rare in Northern California. So while Cliff is technically correct in saying that you can’t blame the paradise fire on climate change, just a few decades ago when conditions in November were wetter and cooler the fire would have been less likely to start and if started, not as likely to have moved so quickly through the brush to the towns.
Cliff MassNovember 22, 2018 at 2:04 PM
DMcl…that is not correct. If one does a NOV-DEC precipitation combination for that climate division, there is no trend. If you want to see this, you the following link:
Eric BlairNovember 22, 2018 at 3:52 PM
When others keep screaming at Cliff to start ignoring his own conclusions and instead start agreeing with their dogmatic outlooks is when true scientific inquiry dies. If you don’t care for his conclusions there are thousands of other sites mindlessly parroting their overlord’s memes of the day. If you have to continuously browbeat anyone disagreeing with your worldview you only expose your own insecurity and lack of faith in your beliefs.
Rooney and FolksNovember 23, 2018 at 7:39 AM
Mr. Mass, your graphic does indeed indicate a trend, in my opinion. Note the high ~1955 and draw a line to the most recent high. It sure appears to me the trend is down. There are one or two “spikes” but even those are down from that ’55 high. The graphic is limited, however, since a century of statistics is small in the whole scheme of climate discussion.
Michael LeggettNovember 23, 2018 at 7:59 AM
It is hard to fear something (global warming) that will have major impact on our lives someday. For some communities, the effects have already started. It doesn’t seem like there has been a big impact on the PNW yet (though our summers sure do feel warmer). So, every time something like this happens, I quickly jump on my own: is this it? Is it starting?
Is it fair to fear global warming will make large fires like this more common and/or larger in the future, even if not in the near future? If so, one could say while this fire was not caused by global warming, these are the kinds of events that will plauge us if we don’t act on global warming.
I’m also curious if there are any disasters that you see as partly caused by global warming? What does the data look like when global warming is partly to blame?
PlaceholderNovember 23, 2018 at 8:05 AM
Seattle “progressives” are smarter than everyone else; we know this because they constantly remind us of it. So, given their superiority, wouldn’t you think that the “progressives” who grace us with their intellects would compare forest fire frequency in public forests to private ones and think about using some of the management practices of private forests in public ones?
Nah, that would be way too smart. Oh well!
Missing@RandomNovember 23, 2018 at 2:15 PM
I’m not a “progressive” but I am an ecologist. My field is fisheries, but I have a degree and training in forestry. You are correct that there is a lower incidence of high intensity/severity wildfire on private timber land as compared to public forest land. But there are many dimensions on which we can compare private and public forest land. For example, biodiversity is lower on average on private timber land.
By both federal and state law, public lands must be managed for multiple uses, including protection of habitat for endangered species. Courts have found that those laws precludes the kind of intensive management typical on private lands. So unless Congress changes the laws for federal lands, or the relevant State legislatures change the laws for state lands, we cannot clear-cut our way to lower incidence of wildfire.
Please note that I am not making a values judgement here. I am merely stating the facts of the law and the science regarding forest management and biodiversity. I am not saying we “should” or “should not” manage our public lands as we manage private timberland. The science has shown that intensive management reduces critical habitat for certain species. Congress has decided through laws such as the Endangered Species Act that we should protect those habitats.
Eric BlairNovember 23, 2018 at 1:54 PM
Michael Leggett – if you read the past voluminous postings by Dr. Mass on your question, you’ll have your answer. Asking the same question over and over will not likely lead to a different result.
Steve AllwineNovember 23, 2018 at 4:14 PM
“Initiation of the fires
There is strong evidence that that Camp Fire was caused by failure of PG&E powerlines, not by any natural causes that could be linked to global warming. In fact, nearly all wildfires in California are caused by human error or arson. Increased population in California would clearly lead to more human fire initiation. Thus, global warming is not a factor in fire initiation.”
Cliff, while I greatly appreciate your viewpoints and scientific analysis, I highly suggest you consult the folks over at the UW’s Department of Urban Design and Planning. Specifically, you should look over their IPM 505: Climate Change & Infrastructure class and IPM 506: Energy Systems. Increased wildland fires, due to sagging powerlines in heat, overheating of transformers from higher average daily and nightly temperaures and related causes are well documented and predicted to occur more often.
Considering roughly 4/5ths of California’s wildland fires over the past few years are now cased by failing electrical infrastructure, this is a highly prescient issue, and one you should consult with your peers at the University.