‘Fire on the Mountain’

August 25, 2013

628x471Rain lightly-spattered windows this early Sunday on California’s north coast, but now a couple hours later, outside is just foggy and wet — an observation made from the confines of my back patio, of course.
According to local weather forecasts, we’ve still got about a 30 percent chance of more rain today, then back next week to the overcast and fog.

Not so inland, and just a bit south this morning — the now-named Rim Fire has already burned 129,620 acres, or about 203 square miles, marking it one of the biggest/worse in California history.
A furious diaster in the making, and not only for everything/everybody in its direct path, but well away from the actual fire, like San Francisco: The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which supplies the city’s drinking water, lies in the fire’s path. So do the transmission lines that carry power from hydroelectric generating stations feeding off the reservoir.

(Illustration found at sfgate.com).

Earlier this morning, CNN  reported the fire was 7 percent contained, though, some good news was the wind has subsided enough the rate of growth had slowed — on Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency for the San Francisco area because of possible fire-provoked problems getting precious water and electricity.
In reality, the former Governor Moonbeam should have made the state of emergency to include the whole planet.

Climate change is like a twisted, nefarious weaving, and one thread of that is dry, way-flammable underbrush, coupled with a lack of moisture. Thus presenting a problem on many levels.
In the Western US, where dry conditions have not only persisted, but are getting drier, and giant swaths of land are dry wood, wildfires have become a true menace.
From “Heat Waves and Climate Change” — June 2012:

Since 1950 the number of heat waves worldwide has increased, and heat waves have become longer.
The hottest days and nights have become hotter and more frequent.
In the past several years, the global area hit by extremely unusual hot summertime temperatures has increased 50-fold.
Over the contiguous United States, new record high temperatures over the past decade have consistently outnumbered new record lows by a ratio of 2:1.
In 2012, the ratio for the year through June 18 stands at more than 9:1.
Though this ratio is not expected to remain at that level for the rest of the year, it illustrates how unusual 2012 has been, and how these types of extremes are becoming more likely.
The significant increase in heat extremes we have witnessed associated with a small shift in the global average temperature is consistent with climate change.
The percentage change in the number of very hot days can be quite large.
Global warming boosts the probability of very extreme events, like the recent “Summer in March” episode in the U.S. in which thousands of new record highs were set, far more than it changes the likelihood of more moderate events.
Higher spring and summer temperatures, along with an earlier spring melt, are also the primary factors driving the increasing frequency of large wildfires and lengthening the fire season in the western U.S. over recent decades.
The record-breaking fires this year in the Southwest and Rocky Mountain Region are consistent with these trends.
The impact of these changes can be devastating.
The drought, heat wave and associated record wildfires that hit Texas and the Southern plains in the summer of 2011 cost $12 billion.

And even worse — soot from wildfires are a nasty feedback influence on making climate change even worse:

Though there are many factors in how large wildfires can get—with policy on how we have dealt with fires playing a significant part—climate change itself is predicted to increase them.
A 2011 report from the National Research Council showed that for every 1.8°C rise in temperature the total area burned by wildfires would increase 380 percent.
Older research, now dating back a decade but widely cited, shows that the seasonal severity rating for fires across most of North America is likely to increase 10 to 50 percent by 2050, also indicating the likelihood for increased forest fire activity.
As for how much fires are increasing, head of the US Forest Service Tom Tidwell told Congress in early June, “On average, wildfires burn twice as many acres each year as compared to 40 years ago.
“Last year, the fires were massive in size, coinciding with increased temperatures and early snow melt in the West.”
Again, not all of that increase can be attributed to climate change, but whatever the exact mix of causes behind past and future increase in wildfires, it only amplifies what the Los Alamos research shows—wildfires are bigger deal for predicting climate change than we currently assume.

Despite all the science, and the actual, physical wildfires, the US has trouble even funding its firefighting resources. And the media isn’t helping — downplaying, or just not mentioning global warming at all.
A for instance, the huge Beaver Falls, Idaho, wildfire earlier this month — plenty of action, but no understanding (via Think Progress):

While aware that drought is part of the problem, major media outlets seem to avoid making the explicit connection between climate change and the Idaho wildfires.
Over the weekend, CNN devoted a segment to the fire, without so much as an allusion to the well-understood role of climate change in fires.
In fact, climate change wasn’t mentioned a single time on CNN all weekend.
ABC has also had quite extensive coverage of the fires, without feeling the need to explain to viewers the reason for the destruction.

A lot of people really are not fully aware of the quickly-approaching catastrophe — leading edge of that fiasco/calamity is sweeping over us as I type these words.
Or as in song by the Grateful Dead:

Fire! Fire on the mountain
Long distance runner, what you holdin’ out for?
Caught in slow motion in a dash for the door.
The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor
You gave all you had. Why you wanna give more?
The more that you give, the more it will take
To the thin line beyond which you really can’t fake.
Fire! Fire on the mountain

A slow-motion dash alright, but there’s really no door.

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