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Firestorm: 1,500 Structures Destroyed as Massive Wildfires Blaze Through Northern California

Heat and drought and fire. A common litany these days for California — a state that has, year after year, been wracked by a series of unprecedented climate extremes.

After a brief respite this winter, northern parts of a state reeling from woes related to human-caused climate change again settled into drought this summer. Having received near record amounts of rain during winter — enough to wreck the spillway at the Lake Oroville Dam — vegetation sprang anew. This rain-spurred growth then subsequently dried — developing widespread fuels for fires.

(Northern California near Santa Rosa saw humidity drop to as low as 10-12 percent even as strong winds raged through the region. Such dry, windy condition are key ingredients for increasing fire hazard. Widely available fuels from the abnormally wet winter carried over into a drier than normal summer to increase fire risks. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

These are exactly the kinds of extreme conditions climate scientists warned about as a result of human-forced warming. And the impacts for Northern California over the past 24 hours have been terrible.

Yesterday evening, a frontal system brought with it gusts approaching hurricane force to the region. The winds — warm and dry — raked over the lands and forests. Red flag warnings were posted. For even the smallest spark could spur a very dangerous fire under such dry, windy, and warm conditions.

Multiple fires, source presently unknown, subsequently erupted. The fires rapidly grew — raging across the hills and valleys near Santa Rosa. Embers caught up in the gusts traveled for miles. Where-ever they landed, tinder-dry fuels ignited.

Thousands were forced to flee in the middle of the night late Sunday and early Monday morning as the rapidly growing fires encroached on neighborhoods, towns and cities. Many had no time to gather belongings as pristine lands exploded into hellish flares. So far, 1,500 homes and commercial buildings are counted among the lost even as a number of people have gone missing. Entire subdivisions and wineries went up in flames. Two hospitals were forced to evacuate. Cell phone coverage to the region was cut off.

Today, the fires still rage as weaker winds provide some hope that an army of scrambling firefighters can start to get a hold on the firestorm. What is known is that this particular event is one of the worst wildfire disasters in California state history.

In this context, we should be very clear that human carelessness often provides the ignition sources for fires in areas like Northern California. However, without the underlying severe climate conditions, such fires would not have become so large or spread so fast.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

California Firestorm Among Worst in State History

Earth Nullschool

Unprecedented Climate Extremes: One Year After Record Drought, Lake Oroville is Spilling Over

Extreme Weather and Climate Change

Hat tip to Genomik

 

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To Carry a Light into Darkness — California Governor Jerry Brown Promises to Fight Like Hell Against Trump’s War on Science

“If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.” — Jerry Brown

“Creating lists of employees smacks of McCarthyism and should cease immediately.”The Union of Concerned Scientists

“Fear is palpable among U.S. climate scientists over Trump moves” — The Japan Times

“Assaults on science are characteristic of non-democratic, authoritarian, fascist governments. We worry it is going to get worse.” Dr Peter Gleick

“We’ve got more sun than you’ve got oil.” — Jerry Brown

*****

Donald Trump hasn’t even taken office yet. But the war on climate science that he promised on the campaign trail has already begun. And in response, the good and necessary resistance is starting to form.

Last week, PEOTUS sent a chill through the scientific community when his transition team delivered a 74 question document to the Department of Energy asking for the names of all personnel who’ve worked on climate change or who attended U.N. climate talks within the last five years.

stand-up-for-science

(Demonstrators protest in support of scientists outside the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on December 14. Attacks against climate scientists have hit a fever pitch since the election of Donald Trump. Image source: Buzzfeed.)

Almost immediately after the letter’s delivery, The Union of Concerned Scientists made the following response:

 “The Union of Concerned Scientists strongly condemns the effort by the President-elect’s transition team to seek the names of federal employees who have conducted climate research and worked on issues such as the social cost of carbon. We cannot imagine any legitimate purpose to this inquiry…

“This action should not be viewed in isolation. The Trump transition team is teeming with individuals with a proven history of attacking climate scientists and undermining climate science. Several transition team members now overseeing federal agencies have harassed scientists based on their research and have long signaled a desire to dismantle federal climate science research. Over the past few years, Congress has increasingly singled out specific government employees when their work is politically inconvenient.

Creating lists of employees smacks of McCarthyism and should cease immediately. And Department of Energy employees should resist complying with any demands that would compromise the independence of the agency’s experts.”

The Department of Energy subsequently refused to provide the names requested. But the impact of the circulated questionnaire was profound — prompting protests and a swell of outrage from scientists, journalists and concerned citizens. Workers and officials at DOE expressed fears that Trump was developing an enemies list. And, considering the purges and attacks on scientists that occurred in numerous countries around the world following the election of climate change deniers during recent years, these fears were sadly quite valid.

Eliminating NASA Funding, Death Threats on Twitter

In a separate but related instance, Trump Administration officials reportedly stated that they intended to eliminate NASA’s climate research funding. Not only would this result in a purge of climate scientists from U.S. government offices. It would also precipitate the loss of climate monitoring satellites and the potential loss of decades of scientific data collected by some of the top researchers in the world. Concerned that scientists would be suddenly expelled and that critical data would be lost, as happened during similar purges that occurred in Canada and Australia under climate change deniers Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott, workers for various agencies began frantically copying data in order to ensure its preservation.

Meanwhile, instances of politically motivated threats against climate scientists mounted. Peter Gleick, a hydro-climatologist and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, reported to the Japan Times that he received death threats in the form of pictures of guns posted to him after he tweeted critically about threats of violence to scientists made by Brietbart on Twitter.

Jerry Brown, Governor of California Vows to Fight Against Trump’s Anti-Science Agenda

Concern for scientists as a class increasingly victimized by political extremists like Trump hit a fever pitch this week at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco. There, hundreds of pro-science protesters marched outside as the meeting halls swelled with over 20,000 worried scientists and their supporters.

Among the attendees was Governor Jerry Brown of California who delivered this impassioned speech:

(Jerry Brown has pushed for pro-renewable energy, pro-climate response policies in California for decades. He has vowed to defend both science and progressive values from an impending assault by Donald Trump. Video source: YouTube.)

Brown highlighted the tremendous danger that human civilizations now face. The oceans are rising and acidifying, the weather is worsening, habitats, food and water sources are being destroyed. He also noted that in order to prevent climate harms, people would have to face down both “big oil” and “big financial structures that are at odds with the survivability of our world.”

Brown called on scientists and their ‘truth teller and truth seeker’ supporters to fight back.  And, in doing so, he pledged the aid of California’s scientific and legal communities saying: “We’ve got the scientists and we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight back. We’re ready to defend.”

Brown cited past major environmental achievements by California including 28 percent renewable power generation, a goal to hit 50 percent in the coming years, and zero emissions vehicle and mileage standards that became the benchmark for the nation. Unlike Trump, Brown pledged to fully support international climate agreements and to work with over 200 states to help to reduce harms from climate change. Touting California’s 2.1 trillion dollar economy, Brown stated — “We will persevere. We will prevail.”

But Brown’s highest points involved his pledge to launch satellites if Trump shuts down NASA climate monitoring systems and to pit California’s economic might as a renewable energy power against the old fossil fuel interests. Brown stated:

“Well, I remember back in 1978, I proposed a Landsat satellite for California. They called me Governor Moonbeam because of that. I didn’t get that moniker for nothing. And if Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite. We’re going to collect that data. …

“We’ve proved in California that the economy grows… in part because of the rules and the climate policy that we’ve adopted… and California is growing a whole hell of a lot faster than Texas and we’ve got more sun than you’ve got oil.”

Carrying a Light in the Darkness

Brown, in his support of the U.S. scientific community and in his pledge to continue progress for renewable energy sets an example for us all. His leadership serves as a light in a dark place and during a dark time. But many, many of us will have to follow his lead if we are to have much hope of making it through this difficult time. We need to all be ready to fight. To speak out. And to commit substantial resources to the effort.

The times of comfort are over. And if we are to prevent a worst case scenario for our climate we will have to face down the very real human monsters than have now been revealed to us. But we should console ourselves at least, in this. There is good in the world. There are the greatest causes in all of the vast arc of history to champion here and now. There are the good and innocent living among us that we now have the honor and the privilege to protect and defend. And there can be no better, more just thing, for us to do now than to unite in what is a very real fight to defend not only clean energy, not only the great enlightenment that has been gifted to us by the sciences, but to, in doing so, protect both the future of humankind and of life on Earth itself.

Links:

Jerry Brown’s Speech at the AGU Convention

The Union of Concerned Scientists

Fear Palpable Among US Climate Scientists

Climate Scientists Split Over How to Survive Trump

Hat tip to Josh

 

Monitor Shows Carbon Monoxide Spikes to 40,000 Parts Per Billion over California on February 26 — What the Heck is Going On?

Hint: it’s a glitch.

*****

On February 26, The Global Forecast System model recorded an (unconfirmed) intense and wide-ranging carbon monoxide (CO) spike over the US West Coast. A region stretching from British Columbia, through Washington and Oregon, and on over most of California experienced CO readings ranging from about 5,000 parts per billion over the mountains of Southwestern Canada to as high as 40,000 parts per billion over Southern California. Very high peak readings appear to have occurred from Northern California near Eureka and along a line south and eastward over much of Central California to an extreme peak zone just north and west of Los Angeles near Palmdale.

40000 ppbv

(Very large [unconfirmed] CO spike over Western North America near major geological features on February 26, 2016. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

For reference, these (unconfirmed) readings in the Nullschool Monitor were between 25 and 200 times above typical background CO levels of about 200 parts per billion and up to twelve times higher than second highest peak readings over polluted regions of China during the same period.

Major Spike Appeared in Just 3 Hours Starting February 25th

Human-based carbon monoxide sources are not generally known to produce spike readings so high and so wide-ranging over such a short interval of time. It would typically take a considerable emission many days to build up under a stagnant air mass. And, to this point, we do have a couple of dome high pressure systems which have tended to form near the California region over recent days. That said, surface winds in the region at 5-15 mph over most areas could hardly be considered stagnant. In addition, the current spike appears over an interval of three hours in the Nullschool data — going from zero coverage to covering all of California and parts of Nevada, Oregon, Washington and BC over that single short interval. It’s a very brief period for such a large and wide-ranging peak reading to appear so soon. One that would require a rather extraordinary pulse of pollution to produce the readings indicated on February 25-26.

Wildfires could produce a longer-term emissions spike under stagnant air as well. However, the wildfires now reported for California are small and isolated. They have flared, off and on, under drought conditions, for weeks without resulting in any significant large fire outbreaks or related major pollution spikes. So it appears unlikely that they are the source of the current burst. Other events related to the ongoing California drought may have had an impact (apparently, burning of desiccated trees from California’s orchards is currently quite widespread due to ongoing drought conditions remaining in place since 2012). However, such instances would have to have been very sudden and wide-ranging to produce the spike we saw on the 25th and 26th.  Canadian wildfires — of which there have been very small and low intensity hotspot events recently (noteworthy due to their anomalous appearance out of season, if not for their intensity)  — were very far from peak readings in California and did not produce even a moderate level of emissions (undetectable from the visible MODIS sensor).

The Earthquake Precursor Hypothesis

A final suspect for this preliminary observation (which has gotten much hype in social media circles over recent days) is geological. As the apparent spike in the monitor occurs over large fault lines, volcanoes, and above other active geological features along the US and Canadian West, it appears that activity within these features might have produced a brief if intense burp of this gas. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) readings — another geological gas — were also elevated in the monitor, with peak readings again appearing in Southwestern California.

It’s worth noting that no major US or Canadian geological organization has yet made any report on this particularly large CO spike. However, a piece of scientific research in Nature Asia, by K. S. Jayaraman notes that major CO and SO2 spikes may be an indication that future earthquake activity is on the way. According to Nature this kind of intense CO spike occurred prior to a 7.6 magnitude earthquake that shook Gujara in 2001 killing 20,000 people:

Singh said that CO levels were taken by an instrument onboard NASA’s Terra satellite — launched in 2009 — circling the earth in a polar orbit at a height of 705 km. The instrument measures CO concentrations at different heights and also computes the total amount of the gas in a vertical column of air above the earth surface.

Analysis of the satellite data showed a large peak in CO concentrations during January 19 and 20 — a week before the main earthquake event. On January 19, the total CO in the vertical column was also higher than usual. After the 26 January earthquake the concentration of the gas dropped.

According to the scientists, CO gas is forced out of the earth due to the build up of stress prior to the earthquake “influencing the hydrological regime around the epicentre.”

But before we tilt too far into alarmism on this particular possibility, we should consider the fact that the above paper appears to have had no confirmation or further comment in the sciences at this time. So the predictive usefulness of large CO spikes prior to earthquakes remains quite uncertain. And, as noted above, no major geological information outlet has made any warning or comment on earthquake risk.

Furthermore, there’s been no observed spike in earthquake activity along any of the major fault lines over the past week according to USGS observations. Contrary to what some irresponsible analysts have been implying, earthquake activity in the California region over the past 7 days was well within the normal range. At 161 over the past week, this small number is not indicative of any abnormal activity near the various active fault lines. Each year, Southern California alone experiences 10,000 earthquakes, most of which are so small that people don’t even feel them.

The US geological survey also maintains that:

There is no scientifically plausible way of predicting the occurrence of a particular earthquake. The USGS can and does make statements about earthquake rates, describing the places most likely to produce earthquakes in the long term. It is important to note that prediction, as people expect it, requires predicting the magnitude, timing, and location of the future earthquake, which is not currently possible.

Thus the apparent, current very large West Coast CO spike near major fault lines (and over regions suffering from what is now a very severe five-year drought) in this particular monitor remains a bit of a mystery.

Or is it all Just a Glitch?

Considering that all the wildfire and human potential sources for the CO pulse are unlikely to produce the spike in the Nullschool data, that we have no warning of potential impending geological activity from the major agencies, and that we have had no other reports from related agencies to confirm the spike, we should also consider that there may well be something wrong with the monitor. Artifacts can appear in the satellite model data and it’s not unheard of to get a spike reading due to other signals impacting how physical models interpret sensor data.

Carbon Monoxide Hourly Observations San Bernandino

(Hourly carbon monoxide observations in Central San Bernardino do not match high surface CO measures recorded by the GEOS 5 model. Similar lower atmospheric readings come from station observations throughout Southern and Central California. Image source: California AMQD.)

To this point, lack of confirmation at ground reporting stations for high CO readings appearing in the GEOS 5 monitor increase the likelihood that these high peak readings were a glitch or an artifact in the physical data. A cursory view of local warnings shows no local CO air quality alerts for the areas indicated in the Nullschool data set (You can view a list of the local monitors here). Analysis of this data also shows much lower CO readings from these stations in the range of 400 to 1200 parts per billion — quite a bit lower than what the GEOS 5 monitor is showing.

So what we have is one model showing a very high CO spike, but none of the related ground monitors picking it up. Since there are hundreds of ground stations in this region, it seems quite a bit less likely that there is something wrong with each of the readings coming from these stations than from the GEOS 5 model itself.

This begs the question — was there some kind of false positive that confused GEOS 5? Was there some other signal that tripped the model to show such a high reading? But to these points, a general lack of overall confirmation from the hundreds of ground sensors scattered across the region seems to point to the likelihood that such elevated readings in the GEOS 5 monitor were a glitch, an artifact, or a false reading for this atmospheric level.

UPDATED: Final Confirmation — It’s A Model Algorithm Error

Dr. Gavin Schmidt, head of GISS NASA, has confirmed the glitch in his twitter feed which you can read here. He notes:

The Elevated Carbon Monoxide concentrations in the GEOS 5 products since February 25 of 2016 are incorrect. They are the consequence of unrealistic CO emissions computed by our biomass burning algorithm, which is based on satellite observation of fires… GMAO is working to correct this problem.

An excellent further explanation has been given by Bryan, a blogger over at Of Tech and Learning. His explanation is as follows:

“It’s pure coincidence that at MOPITT resumed data collection over western North America while its operating temperature was still stabilizing. Had the instrument’s temperature remained unstable for a few days, it would have looked like the whole globe was erupting gas. If MOPITT has started collecting data over the south pole, open ocean, or some other obscure location, I doubt anyone would have noticed and made a big fuss. MOPITT uses light collected in the infrared part of the spectrum. Based on Terra’s system status, the CO, CO2 and SO2 data collected by MOPITT on the 25th and 26th of February should be highly suspect. On the Earth map, the CO, CO2, and SO2 levels spike sometime between 1pm and 4pm Pacific time on Feb. 25th, which is between 2100 UTC on the 25th and 0000 UTC on the 26th. This is precisely during the time window when MOPITT’s operating temperature is still unstable.”

So a glitch does appear to be the cause of the current CO spike in the Nullschool data.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

AMQD Data

Dr Gavin Schmidt’s Twitter Feed

Active Fire Maps

Canadian Fire Maps

Cascadia Subduction Zone

The San Andreas Fault Line

Carbon Monoxide May Signal Earthquake

Paradise Burning

Copernicus Monitoring System

An Explanation of Carbon Monoxide Concentrations on US West Coast

Hat tip to Mike

Hat tip to MlParrish

Hat tip to WeHappyFew

Hat tip to Coopgeek

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Bryan

Hat tip to FishOutofWater

Hat tip to Jim Benison

Chevy Volt, EVs Provide Californians Opportunity to Take On High Gas Prices

As near back as two years ago, consumers had very limited options when it came to combatting high fuel prices. But, thanks to the EV charge led by the Chevy Volt, those options are no longer relegated to bike riding, car pooling, and staying at home.

And, for Californians suffering from the highest spike in gas prices in state history, this new option couldn’t come too soon. Over the past few weeks, a supply crisis has disrupted fuels shipped to California  and resulted in gasoline prices averaging over $4.60 a gallon statewide and over $5.50 a gallon in some locations.

“I haven’t seen a series of incidents like this, and it has led to the worst panic-driven rise in gasoline prices that I have seen in 35 years,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles Times continued to note that the high prices were likely caused by too few people controlling consumer access to gasoline:

“When you’ve got such a small handful of owners controlling 14 refineries, it is inevitable that prices will go through the roof where there is friction in the delivery system,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.

“There are too few oil companies controlling too few refineries and they want too much in profits.”

But a recent surge in electric vehicle sales, over 5600 sold last month, is providing fed-up California drivers with options they never enjoyed before. Of the 5600 electric vehicles sold, a high proportion were purchases by California motorists. State support for EVs is through the roof and eccentric inventor Elon Musk keeps pounding the electric vehicle drum-beat.

Musk, just today, heightened investor interest in electric vehicles by purchasing 35,000 shares of his California-based EV manufacturer Tesla Motors. This was, perhaps, a consolidation ahead of a potential buyout of the niche electrics manufacturer.

Meanwhile, prices keep falling for the Chevy Volt which is now offering leases for as low as $249 per month — a very attractive offer when fuel prices are above $5 per gallon. A Volt could save a driver as much as $2000 dollars per year in fuel costs at California gas prices, so it may be no wonder that the Volt has hit record high sales for two months in a row.

Links:

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/oct/06/business/la-fi-gas-prices-20121006

http://www.insidermonkey.com/blog/elon-musk-recharges-his-tesla-shares-22712/

Numerous Wildfires Still Raging Across American West, Greek Island Engulfed, Russian Blazes Smolder

In California, Idaho and Washington, large regions were still under threat of massive fires today.

Image

Across California, more than a dozen fires blazed forcing thousands to evacuate and threatening many homes. One northern California fire near the towns of Manton, Shingleton and Viola threatened more than 3,500 homes spread across a ridge near the blaze. In total more than 350,000 acres still burned across the state.

In Idaho, a fire on Trinity Ridge swelled to more than 15 square miles posing a major problem for the more than 1,000 firefighters currently battling the blaze. Hot temperatures and dry conditions were factors that added to the fire’s intensity. In Featherville, more than 350 homes were evacuated as smoke from a nearby blaze encroached on the community there.

Large fires continued to burn through central Washington as lightning strikes threatened firefighters’ efforts to contain blazes there. Fires in the Cascade range were mostly contained after having destroyed nearly 300 structures over the past week.

Image

Overseas, the Greek island of Chios suffered a major fire today. The blaze began early Saturday morning and has since swelled to a 16,000 acre inferno. Nearly 400 firefighters and 50 vehicles are currently involved in fighting the blaze. The Aegean island has lost the majority of its bee hives and a significant portion of its crops to the fire. Smoke from the blaze was visible 230 miles away in Crete.

In Siberia, the hottest temperatures in 170 years continued to contribute to sporadic blazes there.

Current estimates are that fires over Russia may rival the epic spree of fires that took place in 2010. However, since most fires have occurred in Siberia, these blazes appear to have resulted in less loss of life and property damage than that tragic year.

Furthermore, and somewhat off topic, it has been very difficult to find summer estimates for methane release in the Siberian tundra and East Siberian Arctic Shelf. We’re currently involved in researching the matter and hope to bring you more information shortly.

(Photo Credits: NASA)

 

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