Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Fires of August

               photo of northern CA fire published on Lost Coast Outpost

It's just hours into August and the annual California state of emergency has already been declared due to fires.

From the AP:

Blazes raging in forests and woodlands across California have taken the life of a firefighter and forced hundreds of people to flee their homes as an army of firefighters continue to battle them from the air and the ground.

Twenty-three large fires, many sparked by lightning strikes, were burning across Northern California on Saturday, said state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant. Some 8,000 firefighters were attempting to subdue them, something made incredibly difficult by several years of drought that have dried out California.

"The conditions and fire behavior we're seeing at 10 in the morning is typically what we'd see in late afternoon in late August and September," said Nick Schuler, a division chief with the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "But because of the dry conditions, because of the drought-stricken vegetation accompanied by the steep terrain and winds, we're seeing fire activity that's abnormal for this time of year."

USA Today reports:

Freakishly hot, dry weather in the Pacific Northwest is killing millions of fish in the overheated waters of the region's rivers and streams. 

Sockeye salmon losses in the Columbia River due to the heat are in the hundreds of thousands, said Jeff Fryer, senior fishery scientist with the river's Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. The fish were returning from the ocean to spawn when the "unprecedented" warm water killed them, he said.

Water temperatures in the Columbia River — part of which runs along the border of Oregon and Washington — reached the low 70s shortly after July 4, something that doesn't usually happen until August, if at all, Fryer said.

Locally as well, the salmon counts are down, the temps are up, and the fires are spreading.  There's a highway closed to our north, and power outages and fluctuations.  Some folks in Eureka and elsewhere in Humboldt County report ashes falling from the sky, as more lightning strike fires are reported.  Our clouded skies in Arcata Friday night had an eerie yellow tinge.

With all the anticipation of an El Nino winter, the current reality is the drought.  Some isolated localities and of course poor people in general are suffering more, but we are all, for example, paying much higher prices for produce, and conserving water.  The good news is that as a whole California is meeting and exceeding water conservation targets.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The New Normal?

Eureka broke its all-time temp record Tuesday, not only for the date, but for the month of July.  I'm sure Arcata did as well, because it was hotter here.  Wednesday will likely be and feel hotter, since we had a saving strong breeze Tuesday, expected to be gone Wednesday.  For us to be in the 80s for more than a fluke day or two is unheard of.  Just a few miles inland they're hitting high 90s and into the 100s.  San Francisco is expecting a high of 90 Wednesday. Doesn't look too cool elsewhere in the country either, with Chicago and New York set for heat waves as well, but unusual cyclonic activity brought a huge tornado that spun on the ground in Calgary for three hours, snow in Idaho, thunderstorms in Wyoming, heavy rain and flooding in Des Moines, Iowa. All on Tuesday. Well, I suppose this is going to stop being news.  But it's happening.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

More Whether

Whether El Nino is stronger than dirt or not, all of California may not see lots of rain after all.

It's that warm water off the coast, which anecdotally is warmer than last year.  It's not part of the warm spot in the Pacific that denotes El Nino, and apparently it could even be its enemy.

According to this WAPost piece, it's known as The Blob, and is responsible for blocking moisture coming ashore:

 That pool of incredibly warm ocean water was a major player in the weather over western North America this past winter. A strong ridge of high pressure was parked over the region, keeping things warm and dry from California to Alaska. It was a tangled feedback process between hot, dry soil, the strong ridge, and the blob — all working together to enhance the ridge itself, leading to more hot, dry weather. The wintertime pattern has been so domineering that West Coast meteorologists dubbed it the “ridiculously resilient ridge.”

This was particularly evident hereabouts, especially when there was rain all around us and none falling here.  Still, we had a wet December, which saved us after the almost totally dry previous winter.  The Blob was not present for the last super El Nino that did in fact bring a lot of rain here, in 1996-7.  It may not be enough to keep all the rain away this winter...fingers crossed.  But it illustrates the problems of the climate crisis--while some new factors may combine and others offset, there are new synergies with two and three new factors involved.  The chances of these combining for good outcomes becomes smaller and smaller.

Meanwhile, warm river waters in Oregon are killing half the sockeye salmon migrating on the Columbia.  I suspect this is just the first such story.  Warmer ocean water doesn't help either.  Climate changed hotter air plus the drought and the lack of cooling snowmelt in the rivers are preventing salmon from spawning.  Salmon fishers here on the North Coast were already pessimistic.