Smoke Blankets Western North America, 106 F Temps in Portland, Flash Northern Plains Drought Threatens U.S. Wheat Crop

The climate change related impacts from continued fossil fuel burning just keep on ramping up.

Last Thursday, the mercury struck 106 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland, Oregon. The reading, just one degree shy of the hottest temperature ever recorded for the city, came after the thermometer soared to the 103 F mark on Wednesday. The extreme heat prompted some locals to re-name the typically wet and cool city — ‘Hotlandia’ — even as a broader severe heatwave blanketed most of the U.S. West.

(Smoke covers large portions of the U.S. West following record heat in many locales. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

During the weekend, the heat shifted north and east — thrusting 90+ degree (F) temperatures into British Columbia where severe wildfires have been raging throughout the summer. As a result, fire intensity spiked once again and great plumes of smoke today blanketed hundreds of miles of western sky.

In total, more than 575,000 hectares have burned in British Columbia so far this year. This is about 6 six times the average rate of wildfire burning for a typically wet and cool region. An intensification of the fire regime that came on as temperatures warmed, climates changed, and indigenous plants found themselves thrust into conditions outside those they’re adapted to.

The extreme heat was brought on by the kind of combined Pacific Ocean warming and upper level high pressure ridge amplification that some researchers have linked to human-caused climate change. And the overall impacts of the system have been as outlandish as they are notable.

(Extreme heat blankets the U.S. on Thursday, August 3rd. Image source: The National Weather Service.)

Further east, the high plains have suffered from extraordinarily dry conditions throughout spring and summer. Since April, rainfall totals have been reduced by 50 percent or more. The drying began with the start of growing season and has continued on through early August. After a rapid intensification during recent weeks, 62 percent of North Dakota and 38 percent of Montana are now blanketed by severe drought conditions or worse.

The drought’s center mass is near the Missouri River Basin — a primary water shed for the northern plains states. Since April, these key regions have seen as little as one quarter the usual precipitation amount. This equals the driest growing season ever recorded for some locations. And overall conditions are about as bad as they have been at any time in the past 100 years.

The result has been the emergence of a very intense flash drought. One of a type that has become more common as atmospheric temperatures have increased and as evaporation from waters and soils has intensified. At Lodgepole Montana, the heat and drought were enough to ignite a 422 square mile wildfire. Covering an area 1/3 the size of Rhode Island, the fire is Montana’s largest blaze since 1910. The fire is now, thankfully, 98 percent contained. More worrisome, the massive blaze is now accompanied by 9 smaller sister fires throughout the state. And all before the peak of fire season.

(Flash drought — a new phenomenon brought on by human-forced climate change — emerges in Montana. Image source: The US Drought Monitor and Grist.)

But perhaps the worst of the drought-related damage has impacted the region’s wheat crops. And reports now indicate that fully half of the Northern Plains wheat crop is presently under threat. Overall current damage estimates for the Northern Plains drought alone are spiking above 1 billion dollars and states are now seeking emergency funding from a relief pool that the Trump Administration recently cut.

But regardless of Trump’s views on climate change or his related lack of preparedness, the damages and risks just continue mounting. Montana resident Sarah Swanson recently noted in Grist:

“The damage and the destruction is just unimaginable. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in decades.”

Sadly, with atmospheric carbon levels in the range of 407 ppm CO2 and 492 ppm CO2e, and with fossil fuel burning still continuing, these kinds of devastating droughts, heatwaves, and fires will just keep on getting worse.

Links:

NASA Worldview

The US Drought Monitor

The National Weather Service

The National Interagency Fire Center

Portland Heatwave

Flash Drought Could Devastate Half the U.S. Wheat Harvest

Drought Spreads Across U.S. Plains

Western Heatwave Breaks Records Across Oregon and Washington

Canada’s Interagency Fire Center

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46 Comments

  1. Greg

     /  August 8, 2017

    The New York Times has published a leaked draft of the United States Global Change Climate Science Special Report. Grab this 545 page document before it conveniently disappears. Key Finding 3 (page 494) “Successful implementation of the first round of NDC’s under the Paris Agreement is a large step towards the objective of limiting global warming to 2oC….”

    Reply
    • Suzanne

       /  August 8, 2017

      Just heard this morning on SiriusXM this article being discussed on Morning Joe. The panel spoke about how many more people are ‘awake’ to climate changes..and want their politicians to address the issue. First time…in I can’t remember how long…a mainstream political show giving CC some attention.

      Reply
    • Greg,

      That report has information indicating that American Scientists, on a couple of major issues, are moving forward and leaving other scientists in the dust (Government Climate Change Report – 10).

      Robert’s focus on US problems is helping to focus Americans in the direction of realizing that leaving the Paris Accord is not the same thing as leaving the planet to go to a safer place..

      Reply
    • Thanks for posting this here, Greg. Now that it’s out, it’s out. Regardless of what the Trump Admin does. It’s just another one of those ‘leaks’ he laments so much but that are so generally helpful.

      This latest assessment is a big step forward from the past one. It includes attribution study information as well as a more refined predicted range of warming given various emissions scenarios. It is also a more dire assessment — predicting locked in ranges of warming (1.5 C at a minimum) given present levels of atmospheric ghg forcing.

      Of course various climate change deniers will deride it. Just like various loony-toons deride evolution or other essential science. I’m a bit disappointed that the NYT has given this view air time without taking the time to also properly discredit it. There’s more than enough evidence to show that the sources of such denial are basic ‘merchants of doubt’ paid for by the fossil fuel industry or their allies to create false controversy over what’s a very settled issue.

      Humans are causing warming by burning fossil fuels. This warming is having a harmful impact on the Earth System now. It is becoming easier and easier to see the signal of warming in various extreme weather events. These issues are pretty settled in the science.

      Reply
    • Ed

       /  August 8, 2017

      It seems to me that climate change is getting more coverage in the mainstream media. Last night on Canada’s main broadcaster, CBC, 3 of the first 4 stories covered on the National news were about climate issues (BC fires, Europe heat, air turbulence) and in all 3 cases the story EMPHASIZED the link to global warming, without much dissembling or distraction. (The rest of the news included mentions of Louisiana rains and midwest drought as well). Recent coverage on CBC of the African famines have also been very explicit about climate change as the key underlying driver of drought and famine.

      I don’t believe I would have seen this type of coverage two years ago, or even last year. I recall being frustrated at the sparse and cautious references to climate change last summer when CBC covered the Ft. McMurray fires, and am pleased in what appears to be a shift in journalistic policy at CBC.

      Ubiquitous coverage makes it easier for the public to accept the policy solutions needed to address climate change.

      As for US television news, I must admit I’ve mostly tuned out — so I am curious if others detect any change in tone over the last year.

      Reply
      • Suzanne

         /  August 8, 2017

        I keep trying to find a “silver lining” to the Trump nightmare. Two positives I have observed…1. A huge number of citizens are now #Activists and #Resisters. 2. Climate Change is showing up more and more in the mainstream media, as a reaction to the Orange Menace pulling us out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

        As bad as it is, and it is awful/dangerous, having Trump in the W.H….I am “holding on” to these two “silver linings” …which is the only reason I am sleeping at night.

        Reply
      • Thanks for the observations, Ed. Good to see a shift in tone at the CBC. Hope it sticks.

        Reply
  2. climatehawk1

     /  August 8, 2017

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  3. Greg

     /  August 8, 2017

    Robert, you might add to the new phenomenon of flash drought, wildfires in Greenland, via Peter Sinclair:
    https://climatecrocks.com/2017/08/07/wildfire-in-greenland/

    Reply
  4. Greg

     /  August 8, 2017

    Meanwhile on the other side of that Ridge atypical Fall-like cooling and rain and instability. Tornado today in Maryland:

    Reply
  5. Sheri

     /  August 8, 2017

    mycousin in Helena , montana says that smoke and particulates in the air have been a bad problem this summer.

    Reply
  6. Spike

     /  August 8, 2017

    To my inexpert eye there looks like a huge amount of smoke around Lake Baikal area on Worldview just now.

    Reply
    • North of Lake Baikal and in the Yakutia region primarily now. The smoke plume is huge. Now about 1500 miles in total. Large high pressure ridge generating much warmer than normal conditions and sparking very large fires. It looks like Russian cloud seeding this summer has failed to suppress these big Arctic and near-Arctic blazes. Pretty much all in the permafrost region at this time.

      Reply
  7. Suzanne

     /  August 8, 2017

    Front page at the WP this morning…”Peru’s glaciers have made it a laboratory for adapting to Climate Change…It’s not going well.”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/world/2017/08/07/perus-glaciers-have-made-it-a-laboratory-for-adapting-to-climate-change-its-not-going-well/?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_peruglaciers-911pm-winner%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.32a17da45a6d

    Lake Palcacocha is an example of the immediate threats Peru and other developing countries are facing from climate change. The country is especially vulnerable since it is home to 70 percent of the world’s “tropical glaciers” — small, high-altitude ice caps found at the earth’s middle latitudes. Their disappearance has made Peru something of a laboratory for human adaptation to climate change.

    So far, it’s not going very well.

    Reply
    • Access to a steady, predictable supply of water is just so critical. Taking down those glaciers is a serious blow. And the warming doesn’t help at all for growing conditions. Some regions just basically start pushing to turn into a desert.

      Reply
  8. Stevan

     /  August 8, 2017

    All those pivots used on farms in that area will accelerate the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer.

    Reply
  9. wili

     /  August 8, 2017

    “Heat wave in China kills off fish, birds, mosquitoes”

    http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1060050.shtml

    Reply
  10. wili

     /  August 8, 2017

    Thanks for reminding us of this flash drought. People should also note that it is hitting NoDak hard, too. This is prime wheat country. Expect price rise or worse.

    http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/RegionalDroughtMonitor.aspx?high_plains

    Reply
    • wili

       /  August 8, 2017

      “Wheat futures rally amid worsening three-state drought in key grain growing region”

      https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/30/wheat-futures-rally-amid-worsening-drought-in-the-northern-plains.html

      Reply
      • wili

         /  August 8, 2017

        And thanks to a just-leaked document, we now know that such droughts and other extremes, especially in the West and North, can indeed be linked to GW:

        “Government Report Finds Drastic Impact of Climate Change on U.S.”

        WASHINGTON — “The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.

        The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain and that the ability to predict the effects is limited.

        One government scientist who worked on the report, and who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity, said he and others were concerned that it would be suppressed.

        The Environmental Protection Agency is one of 13 agencies that must approve the report by Sunday. The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.

        “’t’s a fraught situation,’ said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University who was not involved in the study. ‘This is the first case in which an analysis of climate change of this scope has come up in the Trump administration, and scientists will be watching very carefully to see how they handle it.'”

        thnx to pil at asif for this

        Reply
    • 50 percent of the U.S. wheat crop is under threat.

      FAO index is also inching up again. Not yet into high stress ranges for the globe. But we certainly have food insecurity in a number of key regions.

      Reply
  11. Andy_in_SD

     /  August 8, 2017

    The Trump administration’s solution to climate change: ban the term

    The US Department of Agriculture has forbidden the use of the words ‘climate change’. This say-no-evil policy is doomed to fail

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/08/trump-administration-climate-change-ban-usda

    Reply
    • The republicans keep on trying to sweep this crisis under the rug. But it’s not going away. Trump and Pence are among the worst of the worst on this issue. And it’s starting to become another big embarrassment. Due to all the ridiculous clowning, I think that some (emphasis on some and few) members of the party are starting to have second thoughts on what amounts to more than a generation of party-based climate change denial.

      Trump has generally been a wake-up call for decent people everywhere and of every party affiliation. It’s just sad that after the Bush years of soft denial, we’ve ended up with this doubling down on absolute and complete insanity. You’d have thought the party would have learned from past mistakes. But no. They still mostly appear bound and determined to wreck things out of almost pure and complete obstinance. Expect a continuing trickle of defections among the more rational and decent members.

      Reply
  12. wili

     /  August 8, 2017

    A reminder that not all technical innovations are always exactly what they seem…

    “Something doesn’t sit right: ‘Self-driving car’ actually controlled by man dressed up as a car seat

    Virginia residents and tech blogs alike fooled by university ‘research project’ featuring a driver pretending to be part of autonomous vehicle”

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/aug/08/self-driving-autonomous-vehicle-man-dressed-up-as-car-seat-arlington-virginia-tech-university

    ‘-)

    Reply
  13. Bob

     /  August 8, 2017

    In a perverse way I see Trump as perhaps the saviour of serious action on CC. He has caused the pendulum to swing far, far out and when it turns back it will be with a roar. Mid term elections may be the start. Other nations are already pushing back against his absurd ignorance.

    Reply
  14. Hallyx

     /  August 8, 2017

    Consensus builds slowly, but it builds comprehensively.

    http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/41529-millennials-are-killing-the-oil-industry

    “According to a recent report … 57 percent of teens now see the fossil fuel industry as bad for society, and 62 percent of those aged 16 to 19 say working for oil and gas companies is unappealing. ….with only 2 percent of college graduates in the United States listing the oil and gas industry as their first-choice job placement.”

    Reply
  1. To 14 August – nuclear and climate news « nuclear-news

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