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California's hellish fires: a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future

Posted on 11 December 2017 by dana1981

In Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol,’ the Ghost of Christmas Future appears to Ebenezer Scrooge to show what will happen if he doesn’t change his greedy, selfish life. California’s record wildfires are similarly giving us a glimpse of our future hellish climate if we continue with our current behavior.

California’s textbook example of weather whiplash

This year, California experienced its worst and most expensive wildfire season on record. This surprised many, because while the state recently had its worst drought in over 1,200 years, the 5-year drought ended in 2016. However, California was hit by the opposite extreme in 2017, with its wettest rainy season on record.

Though it seems counter-intuitive, the wet season contributed to the state’s wildfires. The resulting vegetation growth created fuel for the 2017 fire season, particularly after being dried out by high temperatures. 2017 was the hottest summer in record on California, breaking the previous record set just last year by a full degree Fahrenheit. As Stephen Pyne put it, “Whether it’s exceptionally wet or exceptionally dry, you’ve got the material for a fire in California.”

California’s wildfire season normally ends in October – big wildfires are relatively rare in November and December. But fires are raging in Southern California two weeks shy of Christmas, impossible to contain due to intense Santa Ana winds, creating hellish scenes.

This was predicted by climate scientists

A 2006 study published in Geophysical Research Letters found that global warming would push the Southern California fire season associated with Santa Ana winds into the winter months. As a 2015 study published in Environmental Research Letters found, Santa Ana fires are especially costly because of the speed at which they spread due to the winds and their proximity to urban areas. That study concluded that the area burned by Southern California wildfires will increase by about 70% by mid-century due to the drier, hotter, windier conditions caused by global warming.

A 2010 study published in Forest Ecology and Management found that global warming may extend the fire season year-round in California and the southwestern USA. These December fires will become more commonplace in a hotter world. We’re literally getting a glimpse at Christmas future, and though there are other factors at play, human-caused global warming is largely to blame.

A 2015 special report in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society found that “An increase in fire risk in California is attributable to human-induced climate change.” A 2016 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that human-caused global warming doubled the area burned by wildfires in the western USA over just the past 30 years.

Add to that a new study just published in Nature Communications finding a connection between Arctic sea ice and high pressure ridges of California’s coast that can block storms from passing over the state. These results suggest that as Arctic sea ice continues to disappear due to global warming, California may see less rainfall and thus even worse droughts, which along with higher temperatures would lead to worse wildfire seasons.

Scrooge changed - will Trump and Republicans?

Of course, climate-intensified extreme weather isn’t limited to California. In 2017, intense heat waves, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods impacted virtually every state in the country. America was absolutely pummeled by climate change this year.

When the Ghost of Christmas Future showed Ebenezer Scrooge how miserable his life would become, Scrooge changed his behavior to avoid that outcome.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 24:

  1. No, this will not change the minds of REPs. They sit in their air-con mansions safely away from fires. If pressed by public, they will point out at the snow storm during their NFL game in Buffalo following Jim Inhofe's snowball couple years back, and say gloabal warming is a chinky hoax. Any traces of intelligence in their heads were wiped out by special interest group monetary donations.

    The much higher probsbility of resolving that problem is to keep educating the voters who eventualy vote them out. They must vote them out sooner or later. GOP is doomed with their pathetic denial. The fact that public elected a silly clown as their REP president, in preference of any more reasonable (though still CS denying) candidate, indicates that these are the last moments of that party. They seem not to realise that and keep the clown going, rsather than impeaching him. An impeachment of the clown is the first must do step to come back from a fake world to the reality. Then comes a try to understand that world, and CS in particular, when you look at the biggest challenges facing our generation. But REPs are as far from it as ever.

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  2. Yes a sad state of affairs, and a serious warning on future climate.

    Donald Trump and the Republican Party won't be moved by California's fires. They are all in denial of agw climate change, and clearly lack scientific literacy, have plenty of vested interests, and strong political views, and this climate issue has become hugely political.This all compounds and has added up to a stubborn state of mind, and it will take earth shattering evidence like the whole country being on fire to change this mind set. It's the same psychological state as how humans deny symptoms of health issues or failing relationships, until its too late to do much.

    If the science said an asteroid was heading straight towards Republican Party head office, I bet they would suddenly take notice of science, and want something done, ( probably with tax payer money).

    But clearly the vast majority are not amused by Trump and Congress from various polls, and this is a good sign. Education can only help as CK says.

    New Zealand is getting and unusual record setting drought out of character with climate situation and expectations. I have noticed a lot of extreme weather in various places is described as odd or unusual. That's a warning sign that needs closer more rigorous analysis.

    Republicans are using Trump  until they get their ridiculous tax agenda passed, then they may turn on him. The guy has an ego bigger than Mount Everest, but lacks the ability and wisdom to go with it.

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  3. Addendum: Trump severely lacks the ability to go with the big ego.

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  4. Trump needs reelection!

    All he has to do is bring in mild regulation and he wins a second term!

    He plays a long game...

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  5. I do think Trump actually believes in agw: it’s whether he has to act on it or not because his priority is to win the next election!

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  6. Nigel@2

    Can you be more specific about the extremes in NZ? I want tot know how the weather there can be as absurd there as in US at the moment (unprecedented fires in CA together with a blizzard of a century in Buffalo). I know the NW winds can bring serious weather to N Island and snow can fall at anytime in S Alps and Otago even noe in summer so a single event like that won't surprise me.

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  7. Chriskoz @6

    Some cities in NZ are having a drought right now as in NZ Herald article below, mainly in Wellington and futher south, but Auckland is quite dry as well. Cantebury has broken a 64 year record. Nothing as horrendous as problems in California, but a bit unusual for this early in summer.

    www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11957210

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  8. Bozza, yeah Trump is thinking of reelection.

    He might accept agw underneath,  but I doubt it. I think  he sees it is eminently "negotiable" depending on his other goals. Trump only cares about his ego and image, popularity, and scoring points against perceived enemies.

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  9. Looking at relative humidities for Los Angeles, it appears that midday RH is going to be fairly low (perhaps lower than 20%). When air is so dry that it seems there is almost no chance of rain, you can effectively humidify the air and cause it to be less dense than the surrounding air. It will therefore rise and increase probability of rain. The drier the air, the more you can make it lighter by humidifying it. So spray pumps over the sea will be very effective when dryness and drought is the worst. Example. The air temperature is Tair=30 deg C, relative humidity (RH) is RH=20%. Then the density of the air is Dair=1160.9 g per cubic metre. If you humidify the air to RH=90% with Tair still 30 deg C, then Dair=1148 g per cubic metre. If you heated the RH=20% and Tair=30 deg C air to 33.41 deg C (its RH then drops to 16.48%), it would have the same density as the RH=90% and Tair=30 deg C air.

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  10. Wet weather creates lots of fuel and dry weather makes it super inflamable.  Climate change enhances the extreemes so that California can expect her rain to come in intense bursts followed by long 'drys'.  Glaciers and snow packs are diminishing so that there is no longer an even release of water during the summer.   So what is a state to do.  Two measures are possible to help mitigate the damage.  California must get fanatic about beavers in all their catchments.  http://mtkass.blogspot.co.nz/2011/05/erics-beavers.html

    and they must read and take to heart the book by David R Montomery, Growing a revolution. http://mtkass.blogspot.co.nz/2017/08/restoring-our-soils.html

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  11. What William is talking about here is regenerative farming / permaculture. Don't be dismissive, solid evidence of effectiveness is starting to accumulate, and it solves a whole range of problems.

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  12. It's way too easy to make either sweeping AND/OR anecdotal judgments. "All states were impacted"? How about "directly impacted"? Colorado has had wonderful weather this year and we chose to enjoy it. Our drought went through its' cycle a couple of years ago. It's anectodal, but the game you've chosen to play here.

    It's a bit strange that California is getting picked on with the fires. Anectodal. I would look at El Nino, permaculture, and regulatory policies. Unless you take these steps, you are chasing after the wrong problems, therefore not solving anything and likely making matters worse by missing the best courses of action; perhaps on a case-by-case basis even.

    There truly is significant and legitimate other-side science out there with undisturbed data and findings that CO2 is not the problem, extreme weather events are on the decline, polar bear population is now up, ice mass at one of the poles is up, the planet is 14% greener overall, etc. The claimed ocean levels rise was reported just today as having corrupt data. There are also at least 2 email chain discoveries over the past couple of years that point to corruption on a very large scale. As long as people continue to ignore these, you remain part of the problem.

    There has been an almost laughable number of reports come out about too much rain, not enough rain, less but more frequent rain, etc. in just the past few months.

    There are numerous reports and studies from CA ecologists that their land management advice is being ignored by state policy.

    Scientists have been coming out of the woodwork since Trump got in less afraid of getting fired for daring to uphold their own integrity in science. But widespread policies like the LA Times not accepting any more dissenting views (as if this were a vote situation) and you remain uninformed of all the over 400 new reports that have come out just this year refuting the AGW claim.

    Climate Change, yes. CO2/AGW, no.

    This is Amerca and I sincerely invite all to engage in civil, open conversation. That's the ground that has been laid out in this country once upon a time. Think of the pearl that gets more beautiful (and valuable) from the "rub". 

    There's a spiritual tenant that evoking change via force, shame, guilt, and tyranny rarely secures enduring change.  Also, to make generalizations over an entire group is the very definition of bigotry, btw. We keep repeating the same mistakes over and over with this kind of thinking.

    The most succint case for "the other side science" is below by a climate physicist with credentials up the wazoo:  http://edberry.com/blog/ed-berry/human-co2-not-change-climate/

    On this site you'll get a taste for the numerous other scientists, their credentials and findings.

    Here is a site where you can keep up with the latest updates from both sides: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/12/11/population-growth-and-the-food-supply/

    Onward and upward...

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB]  Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can and will be rescinded if the posting individual continues to treat adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

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    Off-topic snipped.

  13. Michellem @12 , talk is cheap, and you have said a lot of words — which amount to nothing.  You have supplied no evidence or even a possible mechanism that could show the mainstream science to be wrong.

    You reference DrEdBerry's website — but that website is a waste of time for readers (of any sort).   DrEd is talking horsefeathers.  The "tenants" of his site hold tenets that are little better than Flat-Earth.

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  14. michellem8082 @12

    You make a whole list of claims without any evidence, sources, links, or peer reviewed citations so its completely unconvincing.

    Wattsup is a highly biased climate denier website full of inane , senseless commentary by people with agendas and eccentric views, rehashing old myths, and very few actual climate research scientists.

    Your other link is to one Edwin Berry who claims he is an ‘expert’ in climate change, except the problem is he is not a climate scientist, and his detailed CV here does not detail any published climate research. His work mainly appears to be in meterology, aircraft design and wind power (oddly enough)

    He has submitted one paper to some journal claiming humans are not increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2. It appears they have not accepted it for publication. His claim is of no direct relevance to the many points you have claimed, and the first few paragarphs of his paper simply don’t make sense.

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  15. Sorry about repetition, but Eclectics comment was not on the page when I pressed submit. We seem to reach similar conclusion anyway.

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  16. No problems over that, Nigelj.

    Once I had read Dr Berry's "scientific" ideas on the negligible role of CO2 in climate effects, it was clear that he had (sadly) developed Flat-Earth type ideation.   So I didn't bother to look up his Curriculum Vitae — but thanks for that link, Nigelj, which I clicked on and which shows Berry's CV as listed at the met. website.  His CV sounds very much a cross between autobiography / hagiography / self-written obituary.

    I wish to take nothing away from his earlier achievements.  Yet his 1957 graduation date points to him now being over 80 years old . . . the O.B.E. Award, as the saying goes.  Not so surprising then, that he seems to be "going emeritus" as far as wacky scientific ideas.  Sad.  And sad that MichelleM has entered the whirlpool that has dragged her/him down into the murky waters of denierdom.

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  17. Nijelj, for sure he sees it as negotiable- That is the exact point. As far as winning a second term and the pure politics of securing his party’s pride he has that ace up his sleeve, though, because he is playing the long game on this!

    In chess you never play a good move too early: this is old school strategy!

    Another term of phrase is, “..stretching the game!”

    Its just angles and the media needs to confect, by definition, a whole bunch of mistakes just to sell copy!

    You think these people came down in the last shower perhaps?

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  18. Let's say you have a below sea level property...it was known to you to be below sea level and that it could Floyd easily if a hurricane comes through...can we just blame climate change to every disaster?  

    I ask this because every search I do on why their are so many fires in California brings me to understand with reasonable logic that these fires may have gotten out of control by the winter wind but the majority of these fires are started by man.  If started by man, yet blamed on climate it does not make sense.  It also makes people sceptical.  The winds made it worse but it is not what caused it....climate change believers would do well to not over exaggerate the situation...give true facts (that man started fires) and then add the facts of how climate change made it worse... I am not arguing against climate change but if you want to reach more in understanding then build the trust and claim the reason for the fires are the neglect of man.  The out of control winds cause the man made fire to become out of control...omissions will leave you with people whom won't listen again to your findings..whole facts and detailed information is how you gain trust... again JMO...

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You make sweeping statements about news articles but do not cite any specific examples to support your asertions. Please do so in the future.

  19. Kay @18, no scientist to my knowledge has ever claimed the california fires were started by climate change, or directly caused by it. If you have example please post it with an internet link. They are started by campfires, arson, downed powerlines and with dry conditions spread quickly. Media may make claims climate change is cause, because media twist things.

    Climate change is making them worse by hot, dry conditions and changes to weather systems. That is a real concern. Its the same with hurricanes: climate change is not starting them, it is making them more intense.

    Article on the california fired here.

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  20. kay@18,

    Burning fossil fuels undeniably: Creates new CO2 in the surface environment of this amazing planet -> which Increases CO2 in the atmosphere -> which results in Global Warming -> which causes climate changes -> which increases the likelihood and magnitude of forest fires.

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  21. I realize this is not a good place to read information and discern rather their is legitimate cause for concern or not...

    Obviously moderator's as well don't read their own article and want me to copy the statements they made...for example: in 2 of the mention studies above found on this page https://www.skepticalscience.com/california-hellish-fires-christmas-future.html#commenthead

    Says: As a 2015 study published in Environmental Research Letters found, Santa Ana fires are especially costly because of the speed at which they spread due to the winds and their proximity to urban areas. That study concluded that the area burned by Southern California wildfires will increase by about 70% by mid-century due to the drier, hotter, windier conditions caused by global warming.

    And:

    A 2010 study published in Forest Ecology and Management found that global warming may extend the fire season year-round in California and the southwestern USA. These December fires will become more commonplace in a hotter world. We’re literally getting a glimpse at Christmas future, and though there are other factors at play, human-caused global warming is largely to blame

    Notice the human-caused global warming is blamed and not the human-caused fires started that causes these fires...

     

    I would think I would not need to copy your own page to give the reference of whom is claiming what...

    If you want me to give information of the human caused fires then you claim to know whom caused them but I must spend my time posting the pages that prove majority of man caused the actual fire to start..thus culprit is man.  Which my comment was not to argue but to give advise that if you want to reach more people willing to listen to your cause, then make sure you divulge all facts in article... facts left out of article (which you failed to mention) are:

     

    Overwhelming Cause of California Wildfires: Humans. 

    2007 a fallen power line near San Diego set off a fire that scorched nearly 200,000 acres and killed two people.

     

    In 2009, sparks from a weed cutter are thought to have led to an 8,700 acre fire in Santa Barbara County that torched 80 homes.

     

    And earlier this month, an illegal campfire started in Rancho Cucamonga grew to 2,700 acres.

     

    Other area fires have been blamed on chains dragging behind cars and throwing off sparks, smoldering cigarette butts, welding tools, errant gunfire, and arsonists.

     

    "It's anything you could possibly think of," said Alexandra Syphard, a San Diego scientist at the non-profitConservation Biology Institute who has combed through thousands of California wildfire reports to understand what's causing the fires. "You see the wildest things. One of them was a satanic ritual."

     

    A more common culprit: outdoor equipment, from power saws to lawnmowers. Power tools accounted for more than 20 percent of fires in San Diego County between 2000 and 2010. That was followed by fires caused by campfires (nearly 10 percent), arson (roughly 5 percent), trash burning (around 4 percent), vehicles doing things like sending out sparks or igniting vegetation with overheated tailpipes, downed or malfunctioning power lines, kids playing with fire, and cigarettes

    This from site: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/05/140517-san-marcos-wildfires-california-weather/

    By Warren Cornwall, for National Geographic

    However more recent and maybe national geographic..is not enough...more recent maybe to prove that we are investigating 'whom' caused the fire's not what makes it worse...which is what is lacking in this article which wants to blame it all on climate change being ignored...

     

    http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-northern-california-fires-live-cause-of-raging-norcal-fires-remains-1507766476-htmlstory.html

    Goodbye all I will find a more unbiased place to uncover the truth and then actual solutions, than to just blame the government...

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  22. One could almost think that Kay is being deliberately obtuse. Every day when I get home I flip a switch to get some light (something I'm always grateful for). If one day there has been a gas leak and my flipping of the switch causes an explosion, Kay will argue that the switch was the cause of the explosion. Although she may feel that she is technically right in a narrow sense, she still would not be, since both the switch and the gas are needed for the explosion to happen. This is why I have flipped the switch countless times before without triggering an explosion.

    Where I live, there are approximately as many downed power lines, careless smokers, distracted campers as anywhere else, actually there are likely more because of the abundance of public lands and national parks. However, fire triggering micro events normally do not lead to massive wildfires between July and September, why is that? Could it be because the conditions are not right?

    What a concept. The articles that Kay seemingly has so much beef against describe fire prone conditions becoming more severe, more widespread and lasting throughout the year. Triggers that would normally have caused no fire or self limiting fires can then lead to widespread, fast-moving, catastrophic fires, at times when they normaly would not. That is what these articles talk about.

    If you want to make a valid argument Kay, try saying that people need to be educated about changing risk brought about by changing conditions. Nonetheless, the changing conditions remain the biggest problem.

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  23. Philippe,

    I like your post and agree with you.  The one thing I noticed was you said  "lead to massive wildfires between July and September". 

    As I am sure you know, the fire season used to be July to September but now global warming has expaned it to May-December.  The fire currently burning in Santa Barbara (about to be the largest in California in modern history) would not have occured without the drought partially caused by global warming.  Kay does not seem to realize that the weather causes the conditions for big fires to exist.

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  24. Michael, note that the paragraph starts with "where I live." That is close to 45 degrees lattitude, with a significant oceanic influence that brings a lot of precipitation between October and June. I know that things are different in the Eastern part of the state and in California. You are corect that all the region's fire season is extending in duration though.

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