An Army of Firefighters Battles 14 Blazes in Triple Digit Temps Across California — More than 1,000 People Displaced

It’s becoming all too clear that we’re rolling with some seriously loaded climate dice.

California, suffering through its second year of a desiccating 1,000 year drought, is now facing down a new set of related tragedies. Over the past few days temperatures rocketed into record triple digit heat. The Golden State, turning more and more into the withered Brown State, faced hot Santa Anna winds and a new eruption of dangerous fires.

(A rash of California wildfires has now displaced more than 1,000 people — adding to the long tally of forced displacement due to extreme weather conditions related to human caused climate change. Video Source ABC News.)

According to news reports, 14 major fires are now absorbing the efforts of an army of 7,000 firefighters and California National Guard members. In total, more than 1,000 people have been displaced by the fires raging throughout Northern  and Central California. Ten structures, including homes, along with boats and vehicles, have been destroyed even as more than 300 are now threatened.

Of the most intense and dangerous fires, the largest fire covered 13 square miles in Lake County. That single blaze alone forced 650 residents to evacuate and destroyed two homes. As of late Thursday night, this dangerous fire was only 5 percent contained. Nearby, Brenna Island saw a brush fire tear through a mobile home park destroying six structures along with numerous boats and vehicles. In Nappa Valley, a 12 square mile inferno spread beyond containment lines to threaten 136 structures — forcing another 200 people to evacuate. Over on the shores of Bass Lake a fourth fire nearly doubled in side — surging from 3 square miles to five square miles in just one 24 hour period. As the Bass Lake fire encroached upon the Cascadel Woods community another 400 persons residing in approximately 200 homes were forced to flee. By early this morning, the rapidly expanding fire was only 30 percent contained.

California Wildfire Smoke

(A pallor of wildfire smoke lingers over Northern California as blazes erupt under sweltering heat and gusty winds. At right of frame also note that the mountain snow pack is basically nonexistent. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

By yesterday afternoon, smoke from these wildfires was beginning to show up in the NASA/MODIS satellite shot. A dark pallor and haze that is all-too-likely to expand over coming days as temperatures in the middle 90s to lower 100s (Fahrenheit — 35 to 41 Celsius in the metric conversion) are expected to remain in place through next week.

California Continues to Suffer Through a Climate-Change Linked Drought

Off-shore, a massive pool of hot water continues to worsen California’s misery. The hot pool, also called The Blob, has maintained sea surface temperatures in the range of 3-5 degrees Celsius above average for the better part of two years now. These record hot Northeastern Pacific Sea surface temperatures, in turn, aided in the development of a persistent high pressure ridge. To the north, a recession of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has aided the ridge — allowing the Jet Stream to surge northward over Alaska, Canada and, at times, into the High Arctic itself. The result is a kind of hyper-ridge feature. An obnoxiously long-lasting and vast spike of hot, dry air driving deep into the polar zone itself (hear more about the ridge and other climate change related extreme weather features in a recent radio chat I had with Hal Ginsberg). For over two years, this ridge has warded off rainfall-granting storms all while baking California and the U.S. West Coast under month-after-month of record heat.

California Drought

(US Drought Monitor shows exceptional drought maintaining its grip over nearly half of California. Meanwhile, 97.5 percent of the state suffers moderate to exceptional drought. To this point, California has experienced more than 90 percent of its land mass under drought for nearly two years now. Image source: The US Drought Monitor.)

The result is that fully 59 million people across the US West alone now suffer from drought. But the epicenter of this historic and unprecedented event is California. There, 97.5 percent of the state is still sweltering under drought conditions with a huge swath through the central portion continuing to experience the most extreme conditions we have a measure for.

Can a Powerful El Nino Beat Down the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge?

The California drought is now so intense that the state has lagged one year behind in rainfall. In other words, for the drought to end, nearly two feet of rain would need to fall over every inch of this parched and burning state. Earlier this month, an anomalous monsoonal pattern dumped an inch of rain over sections of San Diego. But this odd storm only effected the extreme south while the rest of California continued to dry out. And so the epic drought continues with no real hope for relief until Fall.

Then, an El Nino, which is likely to be one of the top 3 strongest ever seen, may begin to send a series of powerful storms marching toward the US West Coast. But for that to happen the warm water zone off the California coast must fade, its associated high pressure systems must fail, and the Jet Stream which has tended to dive north into the Arctic, must flatten. That’s what we pin our hopes on now for California rains — an El Nino strong enough to smash the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and to, for a short time, alleviate some of the more brutal impacts of human forced climate change. A respite that may not come at all. Or, perhaps just as bad, when it does come — dump that 2 feet of rain all at once.

Links:

California Wildfires Destroy Homes, Force Evacuations

California Wildfires Displace Hundreds

LANCE-MODIS

Climate Chat With Hal Ginsberg

The US Drought Monitor

Possible Strongest El Nino on Record

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22 Comments

  1. labmonkey2

     /  July 31, 2015

    Thanks again Robert, for another fine synopsis of the current fire news as I also live in CA, and in San Diego, too. Yes it’s been a long, hot few years and we are anticipating with great trepidation, this coming El Nino because of its potential intensity and duration if models pan out. And as you stated, 2′ of rain in high intensity, short duration bursts would decimate the landscape. Especially these burned out areas in the higher elevations.
    I was reviewing my Science Mag email and spotted this article regarding forest drought ‘lag’ effects on the carbon cycle as a whole. (Requires a registered account). Here’s a snip –

    Drought effects on carbon cycling
    Andrew M. Sugden

    Forest trees “remember” droughts for several years
    PHOTO: © ASHLEY COOPER PICS/ALAMY
    The response of forest ecosystems to drought is increasingly important in the context of a warming climate. Anderegg et al. studied a tree-ring database of 1338 forest sites from around the globe. They found that forests exhibit a drought “legacy effect” with 3 to 4 years’ reduced growth following drought. During this postdrought delay, forests will be less able to act as a sink for carbon. Incorporating forest legacy effects into Earth system models will provide more accurate predictions of the effects of drought on the global carbon cycle.

    More reasons to quit the ‘carbon fuel’ madness.

    Reply
    • Bob also posted a link to this study. It makes sense. The forests don’t just immediately bounce back after drought. There’s an implied recovery time. And if you’re getting hit with drought after drought after drought, there’s really no recovery.

      Reply
      • wili

         /  July 31, 2015

        California’s Drought Is So Bad That Thousands Are Living Without Running Water
        “This is an ever-expanding, invisible disaster.”
        http://m.motherjones.com/environment/2015/07/drought-5000-californians-dont-have-running-water

        Reply
        • The US Southwest is America’s Sao Paulo. The water there is all too vulnerable to human caused warming. We’re currently in better shape. Currently. But these cracks are starting to show up and people are starting to get hurt.

      • wili

         /  July 31, 2015

        Ironically, the deluges that may follow this drought may be even worse for recovery than continued drought. Extreme downpours wash the top soil off of areas that have few live strong trees, bushes and grass to hold the soils in place with their roots.

        So then, when and if something like normal conditions ever do return there is less, or in spots no, top soil left for new plants to grow in.

        There is evidence that this kind of cycle–extreme droughts followed by beyond-Biblical deluges followed by more drought…–helped drive previous climate induced mass extinction events.

        Reply
        • All that top soil washing off down streams and into the oceans feeds algae blooms, ocean anoxia and the later Canfield Ocean states. It’s exactly that process which had a hand to play in past mass extinctions.

  2. climatehawk1

     /  July 31, 2015

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  3. Robert in New Orleans

     /  July 31, 2015

    In the near future Russia in going to have to deal with a massive influx of climate refugees from the areas South of its borders.

    Iran city hits suffocating heat index of 165 degrees, near world record

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2015/07/30/iran-city-hits-suffocating-heat-index-of-154-degrees-near-world-record/

    Reply
    • 165!!

      Russia, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan. Antarctica, Greenland… The Tibetan Plateau. All are facing the tide of it.

      Reply
  4. – Intense wildfire situation, it is. They are truly the conflagrations of climate change.
    All with the blessings of the US Congress…

    – I’ve lived through ‘duck and cover’ nuclear blast drills, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) nuclear war speak, now we seem to be faced with Congressionally Mandated Destruction and Extinction.

    OUT

    Reply
  5. Here’s a wildfire related addendum to my previous comment on air pollution harming trees and forests:

    A primary effect of aerosol pollutants is crown thinning and canopy loss.
    This results in increased air flow and the sun drying out the understory and providing more fuel. Soil dries too. This is along with the obvious leaf litter fuel load resulting from the fallen foliage. Wind buffers are also degraded which alters the micro-climates within the forest interior. Drip lines change as well.

    All negatively impact forest health which make it prone to fire or insect infestation.

    OUT

    Reply
  6. -These FF induced climate crises are regional in impacts and remedies. More health threats for the population.
    California’s ‘food basket’ will get more ash and soot that will mix with the horrid amount of existing FF air pollution in the valley sumps. I suppose we will just use a depleted water supply to wash the crud off the edibles.

    ‘Wildfires Prompt Smoke Impact Warning’

    Two wildfires, Willow Fire in Madera County and Cabin Fire in Tulare County, have prompted local air officials to issue a health cautionary statement for smoke impacts throughout the eight-county air basin: San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and the Valley portion of Kern counties. Currently smoke impacts are concentrated in the mountainous and foothill areas of the air basin, but impacts on the Valley floor are possible until the fires are extinguished.

    http://www.oakdaleleader.com/section/44/article/14458/

    Reply
  7. – Fires are turning Alaska into an inferno but Governor Walker seems to have other priorities.

    Re: Greenpeace’s effort yesterday in PDX to stop Shell Oil’s Arctic effort;

    alaskajournal.com


    Gov. Bill Walker spoke with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s chief of staff Thursday morning, according to a release from Walker’s office.

    The governor urged Oregon’s leaders to stop the illegal protesting and allow Shell to conduct the activities it is permitted for.

    “Alaska and the United States have the chance to be leaders in responsible offshore drilling in the Arctic,” Walker said in the release. “As our state faces a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, and an oil pipeline that is three-quarters empty, we would be foolish to turn away such significant economic opportunity. I hope that leaders from outside Alaska can understand and respect that.

    ###

    Reply
    • – ‘Commerce-speak’, the only language spoken in the halls of Congress — and most, but not all, Governor’s offices.

      Map: Tracking Alaska’s wildfires
      Alaska Dispatch News
      July 30, 2015

      As July turns to August, Alaska’s wildfires continue to burn.

      Nearly 5 million acres of Alaska forest has been consumed in wildfires this summer, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, with some saying this year may be the state’s worst wildfire season on record.

      More than 700 fires have swept across the state. Around 300 of the fires have been deemed human-caused, and have burned about 22,000 acres of land; the rest were sparked by lightning, and have burned the vast majority of acreage.

      Among the fires staffed on July 30, the roughly 31,000 acre Aggie Creek fire Northwest of Fairbanks burning near the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System; the Long Lake fire, burning near Northway Village; and the Spicer Creek fire northeast of Tanana.

      http://www.adn.com/article/20150730/map-tracking-alaskas-wildfires

      Reply
      • “burning near the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System”:

        Gee, wait til one of those prairie grass fires overtakes an explosive Bakken oil tank train. If there is a leaky seal, or tank breach, on a tank of a stalled train, those those tanks will go off like a string of firecracker full HE.

        Reply
    • I think they missed their real calling phrase. It’s not drill, baby, drill. It’s burn, baby, burn.

      Reply
  8. activefiremaps.fs.fed.
    Canada 073115

    Reply
  9. I feel like El Nino is about to show a card from this satellite loop in the Pacific.

    http://www.goes.noaa.gov/dml/west/nhem/nepac/rb.html

    This link works well on mobile.

    Something seems different looking at this loop, I can’t put my finger on it. It looks like a bunch of converging low pressures systems above the blob to me. Maybe this is a perfectly normal weather pattern. I know nothing about predicting weather.

    I do look at this satellite loop quite often.

    Reply
  10. Check out this beauty coming off Africa

    Reply

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