Heat, Wind Ahead of Pacific Storm Spikes King Fire Hazard; Potential Blocking Pattern Shift Underway

King Fire Sep 23

(King Fire Complex fanned by strong, hot southwesterly flow on September 23, 2014 — a rising fire danger through Thursday in advance of an approaching Pacific storm system. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

A powerful storm system off the US and Canadian Northwest Coasts may deliver much-needed rains to central and northern California by Thursday — but not before pulling warm, dry winds up from the south in advance of the storm’s approach. The heat and winds, expected to reach 15-25 mph later today, will heighten danger for the over 7,400 firefighters already battling the 90,000 acre King Fire.

As of earlier today, the fire was 35% contained after the army of firefighters, aided by a spate of mountain drizzle, tirelessly worked through the weekend to staunch the blaze. But the new in-rush of hot, dry winds today and tomorrow will fan the still energetic wildfire, increasing the threat to more than 21,000 structures ringing the fire’s edge.

Already, ten people have suffered injuries and 32 structures were destroyed even as 2,700 people are currently evacuated from areas most vulnerable to the still-raging fire. Given the influx of more dangerous conditions, fire fighting personnel will be hard pressed to prevent further damage from an already costly and harmful blaze.

Strong Storm Approaches the Western US

(Strong storm approaches the Western US as the ridge and associated blocking high shift eastward. Change in year and half long blocking pattern? Image source: NOAA-GOES.)

Fire Amidst Record Drought

The King Fire erupted in Central and Eastern California during mid September as century scale drought conditions continued to scorch the state. As of today, more than 50% of the state remains under the most extreme drought level with 100 percent of California suffering from some degree of drought.

This past weekend’s light rains did little to help. However, a strengthening storm track in the Pacific is likely to deliver at least some moisture to Northern and Central California by Thursday. A blocking high pressure ridge that has persisted off the US West Coast for more than a year and a half has also shifted — moving inland toward the Central and Western US. This shift appears to be slowly opening the door to some moisture for California.

Blocking Pattern Shift

(University of Maine Jet Stream modeling shows an eastward shift in the year and a half long blocking pattern and associated ridge over Western North America and the Northeastern Pacific. In today’s graphic, the ridge has shifted into the Central US with associated Rossby-Wave type troughs over both the Eastern US and Eastern Pacific. Notably both troughs now host powerful storm systems in the range of 975 mb and lower. Image source: University of Maine.)

An atmospheric pattern more favorable for El Nino development may also be favoring increased precipitation for California. However, it is still too early to determine whether a pattern favoring drought reduction is firmly in place.

Conditions in Context

Under the current rapid and powerfully enhancing regime of human-caused heating of the Earth’s oceans, ice, and atmosphere, we can expect the US West and Southwest to continue to dry as the storm track shifts northward and as rising temperatures bake more and more of the moisture out of the soil. A significant increase in the occurrence of drought in the US Southwest since the 1970s is likely a part of this larger trend, one that will almost certainly worsen as human-caused climate change intensifies.

In addition, an increasing eccentricity in the Jet Stream associated with Northern Hemisphere polar heat amplification has resulted in far more persistent weather patterns. Dome scientific studies have found that these patterns, associated with powerful Rossby-type wave patterns in the Jet Stream, have appeared with increasing frequency since the mid 2000s. As a result, cooler stormier patterns tend to persist in one region while dry, hot conditions have tended to persist in other regions. This new climate regime appears to be enhancing an already amplified drought pattern for the US West even as it has pumped up storm patterns for regions east and north. It is also worth noting that a number of studies have also found a link between major sea ice losses in the Arctic since 2007 and the intensity of the current California drought.




University of Maine

King Fire Update: 2,000 Firefighters add Manpower to those Battling Massive Blaze

Leave a comment


  1. Apneaman

     /  September 24, 2014

    Can We Save Humans From the Greatest Threat Ever?

  2. wili

     /  September 24, 2014

    Thanks for another great post. I linked to it over in PeakOilForums Wildfires thread.
    Here’s a kind of related article that I thought you might find interesting (though you probably already came across it):

    “Pacific Northwest Warming May Have Natural Roots”

    • Thanks Wili. I’ve got a number of papers with anthropogenic links on this one. A couple at hand are below.

      Links to anthropogenic warming here:

      And here:

      Among others… In any case even this study attributes 20 percent to anthropogenic causes.

      • wili

         /  September 24, 2014

        Yeah, CC had run articles on the probably AGW fingerprint of the CA drought, iirc, so I was surprised to see a different attribution there fore the NWPacific trends. I suppose it is important to keep in mind effects of natural variation. It would be hard enough in a non-GWing world to adjust to such natural shifts, even if that were all we had to deal with wrt climate. But we are adding worlds of woe on top of that.

        • All true. We’re probably looking at warming on top of variability which makes it a tough nut to crack. The CC article/study is a good one to add to the mix for consideration. Thx for posting it here.

  3. Phil

     /  September 24, 2014

    I have seen some comments on the El Nino thread of Arctic Sea Ice Forum of the possibility of some WWB event occurring especially over the the next week or so that might reinforce the current EKW that is scheduled to shortly arrive at South America.

    There was apparently some evidence of mild WWB over the last day or so and a forecast of possibily stronger event during the next week.

    Will be interesting to see if this occurs, if atmospheric feedback develops more strongly and whether the El Nino develops or possibly evolves into a 2 year event as some have begun to speculate about.

    PDO also still seems to be in positive territory and SOI has had a sustained run of negative values for a while now.

    Not sure if this is related to the change in blocking pattern alluded to above.

    • The atmospheric conditions for El Niño have been rather strong over the past 50 days or so with the SOI index averaging well below -8 during that period.

      When last I looked, yesterday evening, the WWBs north of New Guinea were in the 10-20 mph range. A rather robust El Niño pattern is likely to bring more storms of this kind to the US west coast. And we have a rather strong trans-pacific jet storm track running at the upper levels for the moment.

      In the atmosphere it looks like a shift toward an El Niño pattern at the moment.

  4. Ken Barrows

     /  September 24, 2014

    Isn’t it about changing our behavior?

    • Well, Ken, I’d honestly expect clearer thinking out of any homo sapien. Sadly, this is disappointing but not altogether surprising.

      The origin for this nasty little smear is from Breitbart who, of course, couldn’t let such a historic event of this size go by without attaching the typical demonization slant such sources attribute to all things that might actually benefit global civilization. After Breitbart’s little rant, there’s small wonder that the corporate echo chamber picked it up and ran with it.

      In any case, in today’s society, any group of 400,000 people are going to generate a lot of trash. If you come to DC for the Cherry Blossom festival, for example, you’ll notice it takes days for the city to manage all the trash that’s generated. Notably, for the climate march, it only took one day for the trash to be cleared, which points toward less trash than from your typical large group.

      I suppose you expect climate marchers not to drink (water provided in plastic cups, paper cups, plastic bottles etc), to eat (food provided in various packaging), or to clean up using various paper products?

      And you miss the whole point entirely if you think this is about individual action. The march was not about a bunch of people all acting on their own as angelic examples of humanity. It’s about people who feel trapped railing against a failing and foundering system based on endless growth and consumption of non-renewable resources. It was about a large group demanding group-based change.

      We’ve been trying individual action and failing for decades. And it’s the same crappy onus on the individual trapped in a society that forces gluttonous use of resources that your right-wing sources here seek to reinforce.

      The climate march was about societal action. About broader policy action. About changing the systems so that we don’t generate so much waste and use so much carbon in everything we do. The marchers don’t want to use crappy carbon spewing buses and aircraft for transportation. They want other transport systems that use far less carbon or use no carbon at all. I suppose you expect the marchers to generate these forms of transport all on their own? The marchers don’t want crappy high carbon coal electricity. They want solar and wind-driven electricity. And they don’t want to live in a society that, by its very design, generates so much waste or that fails to deal with waste well.

      By themselves, the marchers can’t affect these changes. But all together they might shove their civilization in such a way as to make those all-too-necessary fixes.

      But most of all, they want the societies they’re living in not to ultimately become death traps due to systems that entangle everyone in gluttony and an ever greater consumption.

      The climate march was about changing how we do things as a society, not about blaming the individual for not being able to achieve an impossible goal in a society that blames them for not doing so even as it keeps shoving crap down their throats, producing crap they don’t need yet setting up systems that force them to use that crap, and providing no alternative for carbon based energy and transportation.

      That’s what the climate march was about.

      But the right wing, as ever, wants to turn this march into some critique of the individual and therefore dodge the societal ills their corporate backers continue to reinforce. They want to blame the victim.

      And so here we are, back to square one with the corporate zombies blaming the aware captive consumer who desperately wants a way out of their increasingly more vicious death trap.

      I usually don’t support right-wing based misinformation on this blog, Ken. But this nonsense deserves an answer. So this will be a final word on an OT post that wrongly demonizes marchers and reinforces a deadly status quo. .

      • Mark from New England

         /  September 24, 2014

        Great post Robert! Yes, indeed. We want and need systemic change that will permit and encourage effective community and personal change enabling sustainability.

        • Hedges expected a vicious response from the powers that be. What Hedges forgot or failed to mention was that such responses always start first with demonization. The violence doesn’t start until after demonization has done its nasty work. So the movement, as it grows into more of a threat, will face concerted demonization and then, under duress, a potentially heightening use of force. There are counters to this action by established powers. But the primary defense is public sympathy. Hence the early demonization.

      • Mark from New England

         /  September 24, 2014

        Demonization? I didn’t think I was a demon 😉

        Yes, something we have to look forward to. I hope we can shrug it off like FDR did when he said of the ‘economic royalists’ in his 2nd convention speech that … “They hate me for what I’ve done (the New Deal), and I welcome their hatred” – or something like that. I’m sure Ken Burns can provide the exact quote.

  5. Create

     /  September 24, 2014

    I’m sitting in the smoke from the King Fire. Our Sierra Foothill region is badly inundated. Out the window, the sun is red, the sky is white and I can’t see to the next ridge. Even trees and bushes in our yard look hazy from the cloud of smoke.
    I’m an artist and have decided to embark on a series of large-scale pieces to bear witness to the effects of climate chaos. I’ve begun the first piece. The first issue I’m engaging is wildfire.
    I think artists can play a powerful role in moving the climate conversation to a new place in our culture. People who wouldn’t follow a science blog may be affected by the emotional language of art. My plan is to include scientific writing in the border around the art as a bridge inviting people to go deeper into the learning process.
    Thanks for your blog.

    • Sounds like a fantastic project, Create. I wish you the best of luck with it.

      • Ditto, here, Create — create.

        Ps I do what I can with photo-essays.
        And if a picture is worth a thousand words — in this digital age, I have a thousand pictures that tend to say just one thing. But that’s what we talk about here at this valuable blog.

    • Thanks! I’m glad there are enough of them to show up on radar.
      I used to monitor, and do conservation work, for the west coast Monarch overwintering sites in and near Santa Barbara. These Monarchs stayed west of the Rockies, mostly in coastal drainages with tree lined micro-climates.
      My main focus was Ellwood Main just north of SB.

      • Just stunning.

        Thank you for your work!

      • Yeah, studying those micro-climates — the holistic interplay of their conditions, and the butterfly’s uses and adjustments of them. Being a part, observing and witnessing it — I felt like the richest human on earth…
        Ah, the revery. But now it is the big ‘macro-meta’ climate that engages us.
        Thanks, Robert, et al.

  6. Colorado Bob

     /  September 24, 2014

    The record daily rainfall on Wednesday for Daytona Beach was 4.22 inches, which was set in 1974. Between midnight and 7 a.m. Wednesday, however, nearly 8 inches of rain fell in Daytona Beach, Bridges said.

  7. Colorado Bob

     /  September 24, 2014

    California Wildfire Update

    By: Christopher C. Burt , 8:31 PM GMT on September 23, 2014

    • Good historical context.

      Worth noting that for North America — Canada included, this was a pretty amazingly bad fire season (not over yet).

  8. Santa Barbara Council Approves Moving Forward with Desalination Plant Reactivation

    The city will solicit bids then decide in April whether to award a contract to update and operate the facility, which would help meet demand for water


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