Record Heat Predicted for Fort McMurray Wednesday as Fire Danger Spikes

Just a little more than one year after freakish global warming-spurred wildfires forced a near complete evacuation of the tar sands production town of Fort McMurray, Alberta, record heat and extreme fire hazard are again settling in over this subarctic region.

(Subarctic sections of Alberta are expected to experience temperatures in the upper 80s and lower 90s [F] tomorrow. Such heat is expected to spike fire dangers throughout the region. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The weather forecast for Wednesday, May 31, 2017 tells a story of predicted extreme heat for a typically cool region of Northwest Canada. High temperatures for the day are expected to range from 86 to 90 F (30 to 32 C). That’s a hot day anywhere. But it’s particularly impressive for a region that shares a common climate with places like historically cold Alaska and Hudson Bay.

Average high temperatures for Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada for this time of year typically top out at a rather cool 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 C) — closer to the expected Wednesday morning low of 62 F (17 C). Wednesday’s forecast high, meanwhile, is quite considerably outside the normal range and exceeds 30 year averages by fully 22 to 26 degrees F. If such heat does emerge, it will tie or break the 2007 all-time record for May 31 of 86 F (30 C).  Such record heat is now predicted to occur after today’s expected, well above average, high of 80 F (26 C).

(A spike in fire hazard early this week coincides with predicted record temperatures across Alberta. Image source: Alberta Fire.)

Unseasonable warmth — which deepened over the weekend and is expected to peak by Wednesday — is presently resulting in spiking fire dangers for the region. According to the government of Alberta, fire risk for Fort McMurray is now listed as very high through Wednesday due to above average to near record high temperatures and low humidity. Fire hazard for a large swath of Northern Alberta is now also rated very-high-to-extreme.

It is worth noting that the overall fire situation for Canada to-date is presently much-improved from 2016. Last year, outlandish warmth combined with high winds and dry conditions to fuel an unusually large fire outbreak over Central and Northwestern Canada during early May. This year, wetter than normal conditions have suppressed fire activity over much of Canada over the same seasonal period. And we have some regions in British Columbia that are now experiencing evacuations due flooding rivers.

(Wildfires are flaring over British Columbia even as rapidly rising temperatures are causing large snow packs to melt far more swiftly than normal. Such heat and rapid melt is producing a dual threat of flood and fire at the same time. Image source: BC Wildfire Service.)

Rising fire risks coinciding with hot and dry conditions are coming at the same time that this year’s moisture-engorged snow packs are melting at far faster than normal rates. Large fires are thus breaking out in British Columbia and along the Alberta border as heat and dryness spread northward even as creek and lake levels in places like Okanagan, BC are facing the highest flood stages ever recorded.

Overall, despite 2017’s rainy spring weather, the tale is still one of unusual warmth. May temperatures have ranged from 2 to 6 degrees Celsius above average over Northern and Central Canada during 2017. Such departures are in keeping with the ongoing trend of rapid warming in the upper Latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. A trend that has considerably worsened overall fire hazard by lengthening the fire season, by adding new fuels for fires, and by increasing the number of lightning strikes which help to provide ignition sources for wildfires. A warming that is directly caused by ongoing human fossil fuel burning and by related activities such as the tar sands extraction that continues unabated in Alberta.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Fort McMurray Weather

Weather Underground: Fort McMurray Climate

Alberta Fire

BC Wildfire Service

Thousands Forced to Evacuate Fort McMurray Due to Wildfires

Wildfires, Rising Water Levels Hamper Okanagan

Earth Observatory

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Trudeau, Canadian Media Mum as Threat From Climate Change Induced Wildfires Grows

To say that this spring has produced an insane, unprecedented early start to wildfire season in Canada would be a monster understatement. In fact, the area of land burned over Canada is now 22 times greater than for the same period last year.

Nearly 2000 Square Miles Have Burned in Canada So Far — And It’s Not Even Summer Yet

By this time (May 16) last year (2015), during the start of what was then one of the worst fire seasons in Canadian history, a total of about 23,000 hectares of land had burned. This year (2016), a total of about 500,000 hectares (1930 square miles) had burned by the same day. That’s about 22 times more land burned than during the same period last year when fire season started abnormally early and ultimately burned much, much more than average.

wildfires burn across northwester Canada

(Wildfires burn across Central and Northwestern Canada on May 15 in this LANCE MODIS satellite shot. Hotspots , indicated by the red dots, in the image are visible in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Massive smoke plumes swirl over the region, drifting either north toward the thawing Arctic or south toward the United States. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 700 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

And this year, for the first time in Canadian History, a monster wildfire has forced the emptying of a city of 90,000 people — destroying 2,400 structures, damaging another 500 more, and threatening the infrastructure of the tar sands mines. An unconventional fossil fuel facility that Dr. James Hansen has called ‘one of the largest carbon bombs on the planet.’ A hothouse carbon extraction zone the size of Florida that has greatly contributed to the force of the fires that are now threatening the lives and livelihoods of people across Canada.

The massive extent and city-engulfing nature of these fires is evidence-in-plain-sight that a human-forced warming of the planet is taking a ridiculous toll on the forests and infrastructure of Canada. And the threatening of the tar sands facilities themselves by the new, uncanny fires has been called a black irony by those of us who’ve fought so hard to prevent global climate disasters that are now flaring up with increasing frequency and force. For evidence of ‘the arsonists of Fort McMurray’ sprawls as a ruination of a once-beautiful forested region just north of the burned city itself. There, the very fossil fuel industry that lit the fires of climate change now raging across the North, has constructed a vast carbon extraction and burning effort. Stripping the Earth bare in a great wasteland that is clearly visible in even the low resolution shots captured by satellites passing far overhead.

Stripped and barren lands of Canada's Tar Sands

(The stripped and barren lands of Canada’s tar sands as seen from the LANCE MODIS satellite on May 15th with the Fort McMurray Fire continuing to encroach from the south. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 55 miles.)

The fact that Canada, under Steven Harper and related governments for the past two decades, has cast its lot with this destructive industry is plainly visible — not only in the wasted landscapes and dying and burning forests — but in that country’s stunned and inadequate responses to a disaster that it has largely contributed to. In light of this fact, one would be hard-pressed to find the words ‘climate change’ printed in the mainstream Canadian media. And any statements exploring what is now an obvious link between the tar sands industry and what is an ongoing and increasing fire emergency are also notably absent.

In contrast, much has been said about rebuilding. About getting the climate-destroying tar sands production back on line. And Justin Trudeau — who was elected on a public mandate to do something about the increasing harms caused by human forced warming — has basically betrayed the trust of this broad constituency by first attempting to shame those concerned about climate change into silence and then refusing to answer questions on the issue of climate change over the past few weeks.

Trudeau, and much of the Canadian media at large, seem to be treating this disaster in isolation. To be pretending that this disaster is a fluke. And to be blithely ignoring a trend of worsening fires due to warming that is as clear as the blazing hot skies over the Canadian Northwest. A behavior that runs directly in line with climate change denial. And a behavior that is putting a growing number of Canadian citizens directly into harm’s way.

Fort McMurray Fires Resurgent

While morally-compromised Canadian politicians rest on their laurels and fail to commit to an energy transition that is imperative to the safety of global civilization, the Fort McMurray Fire itself has once again grown to new intensity. Over the weekend, temperatures in Alberta again spiked to record warm ranges as dryness set in. These conditions, combined with moderate winds to stoke the fires which once more erupted — filling the skies of the tar sands production region with the smokes of Nature enraged.

Fort McMurray Fire May 15

(The Beast again grows larger in this May 15 LANCE MODIS satellite shot. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 65 miles.)

Fires again drifted northward — expanding around the southern flank of the tar sands production facilities. And an ominous cloud of a tell-tale steely gray hangs over the fossil fuel production zone itself. Meanwhile, to the south, a broad fire-front continued to run out and away from the Lake Gregoire region. Further to the east, fires are expanding toward the Alberta border with Saskatchewan as the closest hot spot has flared within 11 kilometers of the demarcation line. And once more, large pyrocumulus clouds appear to be billowing up into the baked Alberta air.

In total, this immense fire is now about 250,000 hectares in size (965 square miles). Having grown 90,000 hectares (350 square miles) since last weekend, the blaze, which many now call The Beast, has over the past seven days expanded by 60 percent. The fire now shows every sign of exploding once again despite an intense effort by more than 1,000 firefighters.

Over the coming week, high temperatures in Alberta are expected range from the upper 60s to middle 80s. Meanwhile, extreme heat is predicted to expand over most of Northwestern Canada with 70 degree readings reaching the Arctic Ocean’s shores.

North America weather forecast

(Heat builds as fire danger for Canada again spikes during the week of May 16 to May 22. Readings in the 70s and 80s are expected to cover a broad swath of Central, Western, and Northern Canada with 70 degree readings stretching all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

There has been practically zero coverage in the broader Canadian Media — over the past two days — about what in the satellite analysis and in the coming forecast appears to be a fire situation that is again worsening and growing more dangerous. The Canadian Fire Agency and the weather forecasters have duly reported the risks. But the media response has been ominously and irresponsibly silent. In contrast, most sources continue to report as if the crisis is over and winding down. As if there aren’t still four months of fire season ahead. And as if human-forced climate change isn’t turning the boreal forests and permafrost zones of our world into a very dangerous fire-trap. Meanwhile, 2016 fire dangers are on the rise, not only for Alberta and Fort McMurray, but for almost all of Central and Northwestern Canada.

UPDATE 10:30 PM, May 16: As of Monday evening, news reports from Bloomberg indicated that the Fort McMurray Fire had again grown — this time swelling to 1,100 square miles (285,000 hectares) or about the size of Rhode Island. Winds from the south up to 25 miles per hour and abnormally hot temperatures caused fires to swell as they moved northward. By afternoon, one blaze had approached to within a kilometer of an Enbridge transportation hub, forcing the evacuation of another 4,000 workers from that tar sands facility. Firefighters worked to widen fire breaks protecting the terminal as emergency personnel considered spraying down equipment to keep the wildfire from spreading into it.

Fort McMurray Fires Monday

(Fort McMurray Fire expanding as it spread northward toward tar sands facilities on Monday, May 16. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Updated reports also indicate that nearly 2,000 personnel are now involved in combating Alberta wildfires. Heavy smoke emitting from the flames contributed to terrible air quality conditions (nearly four times worse than levels considered harmful) leading to recommendations from officials that people avoid the Fort McMurray and the surrounding area.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

Canada Interagency Fire Center

Climate Reanalyzer

NASA’s Hansen Explains Decision to Join Keystone XL Protests

The Arsonists of Fort McMurray Have a Name

Fort McMurray and the Fires of Climate Change

Can Justin Trudeau See the Forest Fire for the Trees?

Besieged by the Fires of Denial

Fort McMurray Fire Nears Enbridge Terminal Near Tar Sands Facilities

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to DT Lange

Unprecedented Fire Season Has Burned 11 Million Acres So Far For Alaska and Canada

The land of ice is being transformed into the land of fire.

Greenhouse gas emissions are forcing the air to rapidly warm (half a degree Celsius each decade in some places). Frozen lands are thawing, liberating billions of tons of soil carbon as an ignition source for wildfires. And methane bubbling up from lakes, bogs, and wet zones in the soil itself provides yet more tinder for a rapidly developing Arctic fire trap.

Bog fire in Canada

(What the hell is wrong with this picture? Here we have a bog fire burning away in Saskatchewan, Canada on July 1st, 2015. The bright white color of the smoke is indicative of water vapor mixing in. Due to permafrost thaw, both bogs and related themokarst lakes have been emitting higher and higher volumes of methane over recent years. Methane that could well serve as a volatile fuel for fire ignition over wetlands like the one shown above. Image source: Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment.)

It’s a situation that gained explosive intensity this year as global temperatures hit new all-time record highs and as an obnoxiously persistent ridge in the Jet Stream delivered extreme heat to Alaska and Western Canada. As of today the 652 fires in Alaska alone had burned an unprecedented 3.5 million acres. That’s 3.4 million acres burned since June 18th and more than a million acres ahead of the previous record burn year of 2004. Across the border in Canada, an outrageous 4,672 wildfires had put another 6.6 million acres to the flame — double the five year average rate and nearly three times the 25 year average rate.

Wildfires in Canada now are so intense and widespread that the Canadian armed forces have deployed 1,400 personnel to support in a firefighting effort that has drawn resources from as far away as New Zealand. Earlier this week, the fires forced evacuation of more than 13,000 people in Saskatchewan Province alone. Smoke from the fires combined over the past week to form choking clouds that painted the skies milky-white from Alaska to Canada to the Northern and Central US. Smoke and poor air warnings were issued as far away as Denver Colorado, 1,000 miles to the south of Canada’s blazes. Further to the north and west, a massive smoke plume blotted out the sun over a broad region west of Seattle and Vancouver:

smoke plume Pacific Northwest

(Smoke cloud blots out the sun for massive region of the Pacific Northwest on July 5th. Image source: Rapid Response.)

Over the next few days, rains are expected to aid in what is now a massive fire suppression effort ongoing throughout Canada. However, rains have also brought with them an inordinate number of lightning strikes this year. And, contrary to some ill-informed statements in the mainstream press during the past couple of weeks hinting that people were the primary ignition source, lightning-initiated fires have been responsible for 99 percent of the acres burned in Alaska alone (information on acres burned by cause for Canada fires was not available in the CIFFC SITREP). In addition, fires have also shown an uncanny resiliency to rainfall — continuing to burn at a very rapid rate (250,000 acres in just the past day) despite widespread storms continuing to flood in from the Gulf of Alaska.

All these massive fires are burning through tree, scrub and bog. But, more importantly, they are penetrating the insulating layer of soil and contacting the thawing permafrost underneath. This soil-breaking fire mechanism is further exposing and accelerating the release of soil-locked carbon. It is also setting up situations where fires can burn in a thawed permafrost understory for additional days, weeks and months.

Methane spike to 2525

(Summer is not typically the time of year for substantial methane spikes. But we see them Tuesday in conjunction with increased rainfall, wildfires and thunderstorms throughout the Arctic. Image source: OSPO/METOP.)

We can see a hint of this ominous additional carbon release in the weekly methane readings which this Tuesday hit a peak value of 2525 parts per billion (596 mb) and an atmospheric mean of 1827 parts per billion (496 mb) in NOAA’s METOP measure. Meanwhile, CO2 spikes in the range of 410 to 420 ppm are also widespread throughout the Arctic. Indications that the intense fires are dumping a serious amount of carbon into the local and regional atmosphere .

With billions and billions of tons of carbon stored in the Arctic alone over the past 3-15 million years, we really don’t want to be rapidly warming the Arctic environment as we are. As we can see with this year’s record wildfires we’re actively tossing matches into what amounts to a carbon powder keg. So it’s just maniacally insane that Canada’s government is still planning an all-out production of Tar Sands that will make the already dangerous heat and fire conditions for Canada’s people worse and worse.

Links:

Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment

OPSO/METOP

Rapid Response

CIFFC SITREP

Alaska Interagency Coordination Center

Thousands Flee Homes in Saskatchewan

Massive Smoke Plume From Canada’s Wildfires

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Half a Million Acres Burned in Just One Day — Alaska Shatters Record For Worst June Wildfire Outbreak Ever

All throughout the mainstream media last week we heard the same myopic litany — ‘a massive wildfire outbreak ongoing in Alaska is not abnormal.’ Well, today, all pretense that there was anything normal about the 314 wildfires still raging throughout the state has gone up in a cloud of boreal forest, tundra, and thawed permafrost emitted smoke.

As of 6:28 AM Alaska time today, 1,912,000 acres had burned in Alaska since the start of the year. That’s roughly 1,800,000 more acres burned than just before the current wildfire outbreak started on June 18th and 497,000 more acres burned over just the last 24 hour period alone. By comparison, the previous worst ever June fire outbreak for Alaska during 2004 burned less than 1,200,000 acres of the Arctic state.

Wildfires now burning in Alaska

(Alaska Interagency Center map of currently active wildfires now burning in Alaska.)

With 42 hours left in June and with more than 300 fires still active, it’s pretty clear that the current fire season is a historic, unprecedented, record-shattering event. One that will almost certainly break the 2 million acre mark and may show double the over-all previous record burning during June of 2004. An excessive new record that is occurring in the ominous context of the hottest year in the global climate record and a vastly irresponsible dumping of 50 billion tons of heat-trapping, CO2 equivalent (of which 32 billion tons is CO2) gasses into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning and related industry each and every year.

As Alaska Experiences Worst Ever Burning for June, Northwest Territory Lights Up

As Alaska burned through half a million acres of forest in just one day, a massive heatwave was also setting off extreme wildfires throughout northwest Canada. It was the same heatwave that broke new temperature records all across Washington, and the mountain west. Temperatures in places like Walla, Walla Washington hit 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 Celsius) on Sunday — breaking the previous all time June temperature record for the day by 4 degrees (2.2 C). A pulse of heat rising off the back of a strengthening El Nino in the Pacific, running all the way up the Western Seaboard and Mountains of the US and driving deep into northwestern Canada.

wildfires burning near great slave lake

(Massive plumes of smoke emitting from wildfires burning near Great Slave Lake in Northwest Territory, Canada on Sunday. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 350 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The added heat riled wildfires burning throughout much of the permafrost zone in Canada, pushing blazes to explosive size and dumping massive plumes of smoke into an atmosphere already heavily laden with Alaska’s brown carbon pulse. In the above LANCE-MODIS image we can see about 30 of these fires burning away near Great Slave Lake. Note that some of the fire fronts in the above image are more than 15 miles long.

Given the satellite assessment from yesterday, it appears that the same excessive heat, dryness and permafrost thaw that has set off record fires for Alaska during June is now also in play for Canada. Initial reports from Canada’ Interagency Fire Center confirm this assessment with 138 new fires erupting in just the past 24 hours alone and more than 2,250,000 acres burned for the country since the start of 2015. As a result of the excessive Arctic heat (associated with both El Nino and overall human warming) and extreme rate of new fire starts, we are at risk of seeing unpecedented wildfire conditions continuing to spread throughout this warming, vulnerable Arctic region.

UPDATE: Preliminary numbers for acres burned in Alaska, according to Interagency Center reports have been downgraded somewhat to greater than 1.6 million total acres burned. These totals are still in record range with between 200,000 to 300,000 acres burned each day. It seems, given the unprecedented number and intensity of fires now burning (currently 300) in AK that there’s some difficulty getting an accurate assessment of conditions on the ground. The downgrade is somewhat good news in light of an overall difficult and record fire season for Alaska. Will keep updating as new information becomes available.

Links:

Alaska Interagency Coordination Center

Alaska Forestry Service Facebook Page

Canada Interagency Forest Fire Center

Over A Million Acres Burned in June

NASA LANCE-MODIS

113 in Walla, Walla? Historic Washington Heatwave Shatters Records

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Greg

Hat Tip to DT Lange

(Please help support public, government-funded climate change resiliency efforts like those aided by various interagency fire centers within the US and Canada in addition to the critically valuable satellite tracking provided by the amazing scientific and research teams at NASA.)

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