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This is the Climate Pattern Scientists Warned Us About — Wildfires Approach 8 Million Acres in U.S. During Summer of Extreme Western Heat, Severe Eastern Storms

“If the same weather persists for weeks on end in one region, then sunny days can turn into a serious heat wave and drought, and lasting rains can lead to flooding.” — Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf.

“The warming of the Arctic, the polar amplification of warming, plays a key role here. The surface and lower atmosphere are warming more in the Arctic than anywhere else on the globe. That pattern projects onto the very temperature gradient profile that we identify as supporting atmospheric waveguide conditions.”Dr. Michael Mann.

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To say that, for the U.S., it’s been hot out west and stormy in the east this summer is a bit of an understatement. For while the east has seen numerous storms producing local-to-national record rainfall amounts, the west has been baking under heatwaves that appear to have set off one of the worst years for wildfires nationally on record. This is an extreme summer weather pattern that recent scientific studies have linked to human-caused climate change.

(Severe western wildfires blanket northern U.S. under a massive plume of smoke. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Last week, extreme heat baked the U.S. west coast. On Friday, San Francisco hit a record high of 106 degrees (F), striking up to 102 (F) on Saturday. Regions further inland near Eureka hit a Death Valley-like 115 F.  36 million Californians fell under a heat advisory as excessive heat warnings ranged on up the west coast through Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

The heat wave — which was just the most recent of many for the region this year — baked hills and valleys covered with new vegetation springing up after unusually heavy winter rains. Setting off a spree of wildfires that has seen very severe burn rates throughout summer.

Los Angeles County in Burbank experienced its largest fire on record Saturday as a massive blaze swept through the hills — igniting 7,000 acres before being tamped down by the oddly northward tracking remnants of a tropical storm drifting through the region on Sunday.

The fire spurred the response of 1,000 firefighters, forced 700 people to evacuate, closed route 210 for a time and consumed three homes. Assisted by the rains and moisture flowing off the remnants of Lidia, firefighters have now managed to contain 30 percent of this particular blaze. But with many more fires continuing to burn throughout the west, the region is far from out of the proverbial woods.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 70 large fires continue to burn in the western states of Montana, California, Oregon, and Washington. The vast majority of these fires remain uncontained. And at least two exceed 100,000 acres in size. Smoke from these fires has been cycling into the upper level winds for some time now — with most of the northern U.S. falling under a high altitude smoke plume (see top image above).

In total, more than 7,800,000 acres have burned so far in the U.S. this year. This represents the second worst fire year on record so far compared to the last ten years and may ultimately beat out 2006 as the second worst fire year ever recorded. By end 2006, 9 million total acres had burned. During the worst fire year for the U.S. — 2015 — 11 million acres burned in total. By this time during 2015, nearly 9 million acres had been consumed compared to 2017’s present total near 8 million acres.

These fires are occurring primarily in the west where a persistent high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream has formed. This ridge keeps enabling heatwaves to bake the region and spike fire dangers. And it’s a weather feature that some scientists are saying is linked to human-caused climate change — which is causing the Arctic to warm, while pulling meridional south-to-north upper level winds into the polar zone and producing a wavier jet stream during extreme weather patterns.

(A study produced by a team of scientists including Dr. Michael Mann in March linked extreme summer weather patterns to polar warming and a wavier jet stream.)

The net effect is to create a kind of Halo of Storms and Heatwaves over the middle and upper latitude regions of the world. Earlier this year, The Scientific American noted:

What we think happens is that when there is a ridge forming in a location where Arctic warming can intensify it, that makes the ridge strong and builds it even farther northward. It creates an even bigger wave in the jet stream. You get a stronger ridge over western North America and a stronger southward dip that is farther toward eastern North America.

A subsequent scientific study lead by Dr. Michael Mann and presented in March of this year found that:

… analysis of both historical model simulations and observational surface temperature data, strongly suggests that anthropogenic warming is impacting the zonal mean temperature profile in a manner conducive to wave resonance and a consequent increase in persistent weather extremes in the boreal summer.

And this is exactly what we’ve seen over the U.S. this summer. A stronger than normal ridge in the west fueling record heatwaves and wildfires and a stronger than normal trough in the east fueling more extreme storms. This is a pattern of juxtapposed extremes. One that appears to be fueled by climate change related factors.

Links:

NASA Worldview

National Interagency Fire Center

Largest Wildfire in Los Angeles History Burns Amid Record-Setting Heat

The Arctic is Getting Crazy

Extreme Weather Events Linked to Climate Change’s Influence on the Jet Stream

A Halo of Storms and Heatwaves

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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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