Massive Wildfires Burn From California to the Arctic Ocean as Temperature Records Shatter

Record heavy precipitation and cooler conditions across Western North America earlier this year have again given way to record warmth as a strong high pressure ridge and associated extreme Pacific and Arctic Ocean surface temperatures have ushered in blazing heat and multiplying wildfires.

In California, massive wildfires have forced nearly 5,000 people to evacuate. In British Columbia, 14,000 have fled as more than 1,000 firefighters battle numerous large blazes. And along coastal Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territory, large wildfires are burning near the shores of an, until recently frozen, Arctic Ocean.

(Large wildfires spill plumes of smoke over major sections of North America on July 11, 2017. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

In the U.S., the Whittier fire, which forced mandatory evacuations in southern California, is now 48 percent contained after having burned 12,000 acres. In the north of the state, near Oroville, the Alamo fire is 65 percent contained at 28,000 acres and evacuation orders have been lifted.

As large fires continue to burn across the west, the U.S. Interagency Fire Center now has a stated national preparedness level of 4 out of 5 — or the second highest alert rating. So far 2017 has seen 3,593,000 acres burned in the U.S. — which is above the 10 year average. An average that has already been pushed higher due to human-forced warming and an overall lengthening of the fire season.

Further north, British Columbia is suffering a rash of severe fires as extreme heat and high winds are blasting away at vegetation that vigorously regrew when drought conditions retreated earlier this year. Now, 215 active fires are reported as the province mobilizes national military forces and considers making calls for international aid. Presently, 21 large fires are causing considerable havoc throughout BC. Fire officials remain on heightened alert as strong winds, heat, and lightning threaten to make a bad fire situation even worse over the coming days.

Still further north and extending all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, satellite photographs provided by NASA show large wildfires burning through typically frozen regions of Canada’s Northwest Territory and in northern Alaska. Many of these fires are quite vigorous — producing large smoke plumes that have blanked much of the region.

(Fires burning near the Arctic Ocean on July 10, 2017. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 280 miles. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Such widespread burning over such a large region of North America — extending from California to the Arctic Ocean — has been spurred primarily by record heat building beneath a massive high pressure ridge. In the far North, temperatures approached 90 degrees Fahrenheit just south of the Mackenzie Delta near the Arctic Ocean earlier this week. Over typically cool British Columbia, temperatures have consistently ranged in the 80s and 90s and are expected to continue to hit near the 90 degree mark this week. And in the U.S. Southwest, numerous temperature records were broken over recent days as readings rocketed into the 100s and 110s.

Both the heat and these massive fires have likely been made worse by human caused climate change. Overall, global temperatures have recently hit around 1.2 C above 1880s averages. As a result, over 80 percent of the globe, heatwaves are both more severe and more likely to occur. Meanwhile, due to climate change related factors, the western wildfire season in the U.S. is now 105 days longer than it was in 1970 — just 47 years ago. Arctic sea ice retreat in recent years has likely accompanied further warming of the far northern land masses which have also seen increasingly severe wildfires over permafrost zones.

Links:

Wildfires in Canada, California Force Thousands to Evacuate

BC Wildfire Status — All Eyes on the Weather

Canadian Interagency Fire Center

National Interagency Fire Center

NASA Worldview

Earth Nullschool

Climate Change is Tipping Scales Toward More Wildfires

Unprecedented Climate Extremes

Unprecedented Wildfires Over Canada and Siberia

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61 Comments

  1. X miller

     /  July 12, 2017

    Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s lunatic EPA administrator, wants to piss away more precious time by setting up “red/blue teams” of scientists to further discuss environmental and climate issues on Fox teevee. Scott Pruitt won’t say so, but you can bet that his idea of a climate scientist is certain to be some climate DeceptiCon like Anthony Watts or Marc Morano.
    MM

    Reply
  2. PlazaRed

     /  July 12, 2017

    Thank you Robert very much for the above article and including a comment of mine in it.
    I just called the people I was working with in BC last November and told them about the fire dangers first hand. Again the same response. ” Its nowhere near us; the ground is still too wet to burn; there is nothing to worry about here!” I said to make sure the brush near the houses and barns was cleared, same response, of, “we don’t get fires here!”
    Sort of statements that will lead to “Human Extinction!” Somebody coined the “Darwin Awards” for this attitude.
    I said that if I wet a newspaper in a bowl for a week and then dry it out, Its Burns!
    (The mud might have been 2 feet deep in November but its as hard as concrete now.)
    Sort of problem Elijah in the Bible had? You can lead a person to knowledge but you cant make them THINK!

    215 BC fires burning according to reports tonight, some very much out of control, no rain forecast and conditions from not good, to bad for fighting fires.

    When will people get it into their heads that things are not what they used to be like? “Things are now like they are going to be.”
    As the Spanish say, “que sera sera” What ever will be will be!

    Darn big problem all that wealth and infallibility, a bit more studying would probably save a lot of lives. Don’t build houses in forests with trees overhanging them.

    Temps here in Spain today at Granada airport were +2/C above the old record at +45.5/C today with about another week more of this to come. So expect a few wildfires at least in southern Europe as well.

    Reply
  3. PlazaRed

     /  July 12, 2017

    Ashcroft BC mentioned in the blog heading is having temps of around +30/C for the next 10 days at least according to the forecast below. Winds moderate, mainly westerlies or from the south.
    No signs of rain.
    This is a scenario for big fire problems, no respite and a lot of sun, heat and wind to come in the near future.
    Just thinking that with the fires more to the north, all that black ground is going to heat up very quickly in the sunshine and its going to probably create pockets of temps well above normal in the fire scared areas.

    https://www.wunderground.com/q/zmw:00000.1.71681

    Reply
  4. Suzanne

     /  July 12, 2017

    This made me sad….Michael Mann just posted an opinion piece at the WP…
    “Doomsday scenarios are as harmful as CC denial”…
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/doomsday-scenarios-are-as-harmful-as-climate-change-denial/2017/07/12/880ed002-6714-11e7-a1d7-9a32c91c6f40_story.html?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-e%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

    He puts the piece “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells in the same category as Guy McPherson. I respect Dr. Mann and his work…but I feel he is out of line..and writing this piece further diminishes the CC conversation.

    Reply
    • John McCormick

       /  July 12, 2017

      I heard an interview with Wallace-Wells. All I heard from him was his one hand clapping in salute of his sci-fi writing skills. Hello, there will be no civilization in 2140.

      Reply
      • Suzanne

         /  July 12, 2017

        I got a different take from an interview with him over at the Gothamist. I didn’t get the impression he is a “doomer” like McPherson. I think his piece actually has a place in CC discussion.
        Here it is in case you would like to check out the interview:
        http://gothamist.com/2017/07/10/climate_change_ny_mag.php

        Reply
        • Scheduling tweet on this, thanks. FWIW, I’m on the “alarmist” side of this discussion. To be very blunt, if the critics of the NY mag piece are such terrific communicators, why has the world been so derelict in coming to grips with this issue?

        • This bit is spot on:

          “But, you know, there’s great news from green energy, there’s great news from renewables, the cost of wind and solar power is falling, not just dramatically but much more dramatically than even the biggest boosters would have predicted five or 10 years ago. A lot of that has to do with subsidies from the Obama administration and other similar, like-minded countries around the world. But there is really good news there. And there’ve also been some limited progress on what’s called “carbon capture,” which are devices to take carbon out of the atmosphere, which will almost certainly have to be one big part of the equation. With electric cars, etc. there’s a lot of tech innovation that should give people a lot of hope.

          My hope is that readers will read the piece and feel motivated to think more about the choices they make, but also to this sort of consumption choices they make. And to agitate politically for policy options that will have a positive impact, and not think of climate change as a third or fourth order political priority, but as probably the most important issue we’re facing the world today, and one that should be at the top of our minds whenever we’re thinking about public policy at all.”

        • Just sent this reply

    • Spike

       /  July 13, 2017

      It’s very disappointing Suzanne – in fact I have been dismayed at the responses to an article that the author clearly framed within certain criteria ie the possible outcome under a BAU scenario. Unless the public realise the gravity of that they will not support any necessary sacrifices.

      Encouraging to see some respected commentators defend him though.

      Reply
      • DJ

         /  July 13, 2017

        Agree. There is very little sense of urgency or even awareness among the general public, and certainly the people I’m in contact with on a regular basis. And the actual scientific community (with exceptions, of course) – the people doing the research, refuse to communicate in a way that will help the average person understand the urgency of the situation.

        It’s like we’re on a river heading toward Niagara falls, and the scientists on the boat are quibbling about how fast the boat is going, while the deniers are arguing that the falls don’t exist. Which is worse?

        Reply
      • Suzanne

         /  July 13, 2017

        Agree Spike. I think Dr. Mann with his “bully pulpit” could have responded in a much more effective manner…that would have encouraged dialogue, instead of divisiveness..
        Another opportunity missed IMO.

        Reply
    • Spike

       /  July 13, 2017

      Some criticism of the responses here in a great thread by David Roberts

      Reply
    • Spike

       /  July 13, 2017

      And by the UK’s James Murray

      Reply
    • I’ve got to re-read some of this stuff to make sure I’ve got all ducks in a row. Then I think I’m going to try to give Michael Mann and Wallace Wells a call.

      Reply
    • Just to be clear, we are talking about the future here, which is quite uncertain. So let’s try to contain this to what we know, what’s possible, and what we do not know as opposed to degrading into a less healthy discourse.

      Where Wallace Wells was right and wrong:

      1. Methane release and carbon feedbacks are not likely to proceed in a worst case scenario fashion. However, some feedback will probably occur and be problematic. And a worst case scenario large methane burp, though unlikely, is possible (moreso with higher levels of warming 4-10 C).
      2. Satellite measurements have just confirmed surface temperature measurements. So Wallace-Well’s characterization of the new adjustment is a bit overblown.
      3. Oxygen starvation of the atmosphere beyond knocking off a few percentage points — this is one of those ‘very unlikely’ events. However, human forced warming at around 8-12 C and 1000 ppm CO2 + does produce a much nastier atmosphere that is more hostile to human beings. In addition, moving to a Canfield Ocean state at around 9-12 C + would probably add large hydrogen sulfide burps to the mix. This is a very severe and nasty situation that is absolutely possible under BAU fossil fuel burning. That said…
      4. BAU fossil fuel burning probably does get us to 4-7 C+ by end Century (and 10-14 C longer term). That’s a bit pre Wallace-Wells scenario. But it’s still pretty darn bad (stratified oceans, nastier atmosphere by 2100 with some very large dead zones containing Canfield Ocean like effects) and ultimately progresses to a worst case scenario hothouse mass extinction state (Canfield Oceans, possible Permian Extinction or worse type event).
      5. Uninhabitable due to heat… at 2-6 C a growing region near the Equator becomes far less habitable and we do get more instances of wet bulb 35 C readings as we progress through this range, per Hansen. This is a big problem as many highly populated regions become uninhabitable due to both direct heat stress and reduced agricultural productivity which spurs mass migration. Wallace-Wells Bahrain in NYC scenario is probably more in the 6-10 C + range which is less likely this Century given present responses and renewable energy development, but is certainly possible under BAU fossil fuel burning (or even under 700-800 ppm CO2e scenarios in which BAU does not evolve but responses lag, atmospheric carbon capture is not achieved, and carbon store feedbacks are 50-150 CO2e through warming over multiple Centuries) resulting from large-scale backsliding away from healthy responses.
      6. Finally, like most descriptions of the future, Wallace-Wells scenario is very murky. So there’s uncertainty and speculation on top of uncertainty and speculation. What this means is that a reader is likely to inform the narrative more with his own opinion and biases. This is due to Well’s ‘open frame’ writing which is a common conceit of fiction writers in order to engage readership. It’s possible that this open-frame is somehow offensive to scientific readers — who rely more on definites that can be proven and less on a more open exploration of possibilities.

      But the broader truth of the matter is that even if things under BAU don’t hit quite so bad as what Wallace-Wells hints at, he kinda does get the gist of what could happen right. In essence, a BAU world is a very nasty place. And I don’t agree with this notion that climate change is only a wealth and impoverishment issue. At some point, if you keep burning fossil fuels, it becomes a human survival issue.

      The larger problem with Wells-Wallace is the dearth of the other side of the story of what’s happening here. The truth is that renewable energy and efficiency are starting to enable a movement away from a doomsday BAU scenario — if we continue along that path. Already, Paris commitments are able to achieve 3 C warming this Century as opposed to 4 C+ warming. And escalating both the adoption of more efficient energy systems and renewables co-ordinate with other changes could bring us down to 2 to 2.5 C or even less if we somehow manage to capture carbon from the atmosphere. This future IS much more like to the scenario described in the Atlantic where inequality and displacement are the primary issues — not the kind of doomsday Wallace-Wells hints at..

      https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/07/is-the-earth-really-that-doomed/533112/

      But we should be clear that even this tougher but survivable future is something we will have to work for. If the fossil fuel companies get their way, then a very bad scenario that’s basically an allegory of the Wallace-Wells doomsday is certainly possible. And we should be scared to death of that future and avoid it like the abominable plague that it is.

      Reply
      • Suzanne

         /  July 13, 2017

        +1

        Reply
      • Spike

         /  July 14, 2017

        Re his misinterpretation of the satellite adjustments referred to at (2) he’s in good company. The UK’s Carbon Brief headline stated “Major correction to satellite data shows 140% faster warming since 1998”

        https://www.carbonbrief.org/major-correction-to-satellite-data-shows-140-faster-warming-since-1998

        So this misconception appears to have been perceived even by a highly respected specialist website.

        The other thing that occurred to me at point 5 about temperature and survivability is that human physiology doesn’t need a protracted spell of high wet bulbs to be harmful. 6 hours will do it. So somewhere may be habitable for 99% of the time but since you can only die once the other 1% becomes quite important in terms of habitability for individuals.

        And of course for the elderly,frail or health compromised tolerance is very low. Working will be impacted at lower temperatures – there was a report on Cypriot vineyards this week saying worker productivity was slumping due to extreme temperatures which of course grow exponentially even with slight mean temperature increases as the poisson curve shifts right.

        Reply
    • Mann has adopted a soft-sell strategy that may have outlived its validity.

      Reply
  5. British Columbia in the “80’s”? Not where I live. It’s been in the high 90’s for a couple of weeks. Thick smoke is travelling hundreds of miles, from the BC interior all the way to Edmonton Alberta and beyond. BC has declared a province-wide emergency. Major highways closed, with some communities left with little to no escape routes. We are already living (struggling) in the hot new world.

    Reply
  6. Abel Adamski

     /  July 13, 2017

    OT, but re Larsen C
    Interesting comments, the article itself is the same presentation as so many others, all normal, nothing to see here with that same link.
    https://theconversation.com/ive-studied-larsen-c-and-its-giant-iceberg-for-years-its-not-a-simple-story-of-climate-change-80529
    I’ve studied Larsen C and its giant iceberg for years – it’s not a simple story of climate change
    Adrian Luckman
    Professor of Glaciology and Remote Sensing, Swansea University

    ????

    Reply
  7. climatehawk1

     /  July 13, 2017

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  8. OT, but I think it will be interesting for a few here (this one actually passed a bit over my head, and I’m glady they published an mass-media article in portuguese to explain what their work meant): https://www.pubfacts.com/detail/28484227/Coupling-of-equatorial-Atlantic-surface-stratification-to-glacial-shifts-in-the-tropical-rainbelt

    A multinational team of scientists searched fossil planktonic foraminifera to discover how the stratification of the (Atlantic) ocean changed during hotter eras on Earth, data that the models today don’t reflect in as much detail as they’ve managed to find and that can be used to refine the computer models to better preview how changes in temperature can affect other things, specially where it rains (areas of drought/flood etc).

    I find it a plus that this article was featured in the first page of the fourth most popular newspaper of Brasil today (and that’s how I heard about it).

    Reply
  9. Suzanne

     /  July 13, 2017

    Reading along on the live twitter at NY Magazine as David Wallace-Wells answers questions..Worth checking out :

    He just got asked this from a participant:
    How can regular (busy!) people ever engage on #climate if experts argue so?

    His answer :
    This week, I’ve had a fast baptism into some of these arguments among scientists.
    But the most important thing to keep in mind, I think, is that on all of the big questions there is very little disagreement.
    We need to cut emissions, both from industry and energy and from land-use and agriculture.
    Probably — though this isn’t exactly universally believed — we have to find some carbon-capture technology to help remove CO2 from the air.
    The second big point I’d make on this is that, the public does not make change via science. It makes change via politics.
    There are choices you can make, to help: buy electric cars, fly less and eat less beef.
    But much more important is the collective pressure you can help put on policymakers both within the U.S. and internationally.
    It is a terrible shame for our politics, and our journalism, that no climate questions were asked at the presidential debates last fall.
    But it is largely not scientists who will determine whether climate is a first-order political priority, rather than a fourth- or fifth…
    It is the public. That is, you! And me.
    _____________________________

    Okay…I think that was a cogent reply, especially in a limiting format as Twitter.
    I, for one, absolutely know he is not a doomer. And am very happy that he wrote that article which as of today has over 600,000 shares.

    Reply
    • Suzanne

       /  July 13, 2017

      I am still following the live event. He just wrote this…
      “We will also be preparing an annotated text of the story, showing all our sourcing; look out for that.”
      That will be worth watching for..IMO.

      Reply
    • Is there a lawsuit involved? I’m less likely to support NYMag if that is the case.

      Reply
      • Suzanne

         /  July 13, 2017

        No..didn’t see that at all. I didn’t get the sense he is angry at all. If anything, how I read it, is he understands that scientists have a different role than his in reporting CC. I was reading it all pretty fast..while, you know, doing 4 other things….but I think he came off as balanced and passionate about CC…and definitely not a doomer. Dr. Mann was way off base in putting him in the same league as McPherson..IMO.

        Reply
  10. Suzanne

     /  July 13, 2017

    And again, from NY Magazine…today an interview with Dr. Michael Oppenheimer.
    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/michael-oppenheimer-10-percent-chance-we-meet-paris-targets.html

    I love that the magazine will be publishing a several of these interviews with CC scientists.

    Reply
  11. wili

     /  July 13, 2017

    “China’s coal futures … turns bullish …”

    Looks like China’s coal consumption is increasing due to increased temperatures in the north (air conditioning) and lower water levels in the south reducing hydro-electric output. More data points toward an increase in Chinese coal use on 2017.

    It may be a short-term blip, but also points to many of the short-term factors (higher than normal hydro output, warm winter in Northern Europe, coal to gas switching) that lead to the reductions in global coal use in the past 3 years. We may be on a “bumpy plateau” that lasts for quite a while.

    “Temperatures in northern China have been higher than usual since May, raising residential air conditioning use and spurring coal-fired power demand while hydropower generation in the south, the nation’s second-largest power supply, has fallen due to low reservoir levels”

    “A coal futures trader in Beijing said he had expected hydropower to help replace coal over the summer once the rainy season in the south replenished reservoir levels. But in recent weeks, we look at extremely low reservoir levels and think hydro output for summer won’t be good and enough to replace coal power,” he said.”

    https://www.reuters.com/article/china-coal-prices-idUSL1N1JD096

    (Thanks to rboyd at ASIF for link and text)

    Reply
    • Suzanne

       /  July 13, 2017

      Not good. Just hoping Trump’s pulling us out of the Paris Agreement…doesn’t have the effect of others to justify doing very unfriendly things…like burning more coal instead of sticking to the agreement.

      Reply
  12. wili

     /  July 13, 2017

    Nice discussion of the NYMag article over at ASIF: http://forum.arctic-sea-ice.net/index.php/topic,2101.msg120701.html#msg120701

    Reply
  13. utoutback

     /  July 13, 2017

    In assessing future climate probabilities:
    1. The path we are on is unsustainable and will lead to serious climatic events and, eventually, a tipping point from which we can not recover.
    2. There are hopeful signs that renewable and non-FF energy sources are on the rise.
    3. Adoption of alternatives to FFs is ramping up, but has a long way to go to stop the addition of fairly massive amounts of green-house gases into the environment.
    4. There is the technical know how to make changes IF people and governments make the commitment.
    BUT
    5. There are huge obstacles to shutting down the FF infrastructure; i.e. $, ignorance and denial.
    6. Human nature hates change and so the status quo has a great inertia.
    8. Faced with catastrophe humans tend to blame and fight, rather than pull together.
    I know that avoiding the catastrophe is possible. It’s humans I’m worried about.

    Reply
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