Friday, August 21, 2015

El Nino v. The Blob: The Latest

In this year's most important grudge match, El Nino v. the Blob, oddsmakers are swinging behind the big hot baby boy of the Pacific, big time.

The latest NOAA outlook forecasts the biggest El Nino since the first weigh-in way back when.  And for this neck of the woods, they say it means the Blob will fall, and we'll get that rain.  So will the high Sierras:

The northern reaches of bone-dry California will get some drought relief this winter, federal climate experts predicted Thursday — the first time forecasters have suggested that the much-hyped El Niño could send storms to the part of the state where they’re needed most.

Optimism for a drought-dampening winter have grown along with measurements of the strength of El Niño. Although there are no guarantees, in general, moderate El Niños boost the chances of wet winters in Southern California while more robust El Niños improve the odds of soaking storms in the north — where mountain runoff supplies the majority of California’s water supply.

 The Blob is already down, though not yet for the count:

The good news is that the weather conditions in the western Pacific tropics that are thought to have created the menacing mass of high pressure have already changed, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, to reporters last week. Halpert says he expects El Niño to assert itself, and the ridge of high pressure to fade away.

The eastern US can expect a milder and wetter winter, which might mean some big snows as well as ice-storms, sleet and rain.

But it's still August, and the fires are still burning, and Humboldt County has declared a health emergency because of the smoke.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Salmon and Trees: Drought Beyond the Cities

Another aspect of the California drought that is getting particular attention on the North Coast as well as further up the Northwest is the effect on salmon.  Combined with other factors, the low flow in rivers and the hot ocean near shore are endangering salmon runs.  Die-offs in Washington state have already happened, and a repeat of the massive die-off in the lower Klamath in 2002 is feared here.

Local tribes are agitating for the release of more water to cool down the rivers and streams where the salmon are now going to spawn.  Humboldt member of Congress Jared Huffman wrote to the Dept. of Interior urging such releases.

Coincidentally, on August 30 HSU is hosting a staged reading of a 2006 play created here that concerns the effects of that 2002 salmon die-off.  Salmon Is Everything is also the title of a book that includes the play's text and essays about the issues and the process of creating the play, particularly the relationship with tribal communities.   It will be the 2015-16 HSU Book of the Year. The play places particular emphasis on the cultural impact of salmon, a connection maintained by indigenous communities for thousands of years.

More broadly, the drought is creating crisis conditions for wildlife throughout California, and if the drought continues a new study warns that things could get really bad:

A new report by the Public Policy Institute of California non-profit think-tank paints that distressing picture of California for the next two years if the state’s driest four years on record stretches further into the future.

Written by water and watershed experts working at the policy center, at the University of California, Davis, and elsewhere, the report urges California to do more now to deal with what researchers project to be the biggest drought crises of 2016 and 2017 — crashing wildlife populations, raging wildfires and more and more poor rural communities running out of water entirely.

So far the emphasis has been on big cities and big agriculture, the report says.  But beyond these obvious economic and population centers, the drought threatens the basic ecological infrastructure, as well as people who live in small places within or closer to our forests and rivers.  And ocean, but that's another (sore) subject.

Forest fires continue, and another 3 firefighters lost their lives in Washington.  A National Geographic article describes how they are changing western forests. Another study finds our northern forests are particularly threatened by the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, the speculation over the super-El Nino continues, but nobody believes that even if it brings substantial rain to the state, that this will compensate for the drought, or even break its back.  Even as El Nino builds in strength, the countervailing "Blob" of warm coastal waters remains, and could offset greatly the expectation of even normal rains up here on the North Coast (and the Northwest generally.)  This could also mean the snows will not return to the high Sierras in sufficient quantity to add significantly to the urban water supplies south.

Quantifying the Obvious

July was the hottest month ever recorded worldwide, and 2015 is extremely likely to be the hottest year.  At least until next year.

A longitudinal study confirms that climate change is making the California drought worse.  Based on historical records, 8% to 27% worse, according to Reuters. The NY Times says 15%-20%.  Whatever.  Worse.  And the next one will be worse still.  And not necessarily because of less rainfall, but faster evaporation from higher temps.  What role if any that climate crisis plays in this period of less rain is apparently still a matter of conjecture.

The study itself gets good reviews, according to the Times:

The paper on the California drought echoes a growing body of research that has cited the effects of human emissions, but scientists not involved in the work described it as more thorough than any previous effort because it analyzed nearly every possible combination of data on temperature, rainfall, wind speed and other factors that could be influencing the severity of the drought. The research, said David B. Lobell, a Stanford University climate scientist, is “probably the best I’ve seen on this question.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

West in Fire (Updated)

Late Monday night, under a thin haze that permitted a few stars to be visible, the smell of burning wood was so pronounced that I took a walk in the silent neighborhood to make sure nothing very near was burning.

Tuesday, which was uniformly an eerie yellow-gray overcast, ash fragments had reappeared on cars in the street.  There was a small local fire, weeds and grasses in the Manilla dunes, but the smoke in our air more likely is from the forest fires to our northeast and south.  Another 1200 acres burned last night in the Mad River Complex of fires, and 900 more acres burned in the Gasquet Complex of fires, among the fires to the northeast.  About 5000 acres were involved in 7 fires in southern Humboldt that are now pretty much contained.

On Wednesday, NASA satellite imagery confirmed our smoky skies.  Other fires contributing are believed to be several complexes in Trinity National Forest and the Nickowitz Wildfire.

People are talking (or so I've heard) about the psychological effects of the fires even here, where the evidence is evident, but the actual fires are fairly far away. This is a place in love with trees, and put that together with the reminder of dangerous changes, there may very well be aimless anxiety, background depression, unspoken grief.

Western forests, as far north as Alaska, are burning this summer.  One in Idaho reveals something called a firenado. 

Enough of the forest gone and one of the pernicious feedback effects, one of the vicious cycles of the climate crisis engages.  Trees breathe and store carbon out of the pollution causing the greenhouse effect.  But the climate crisis that feeds on excessive carbon and promotes drought, makes the trees vulnerable to fire.  The fire destroys the trees, releasing carbon immediately, and their long-term absence means that less carbon is routinely taken out of the air, which means that more carbon stays in the atmosphere to intensify the climate crisis greenhouse effect. Which intensifies drought and lightning storms, which create more fires, which destroy more trees and releases and leaves more carbon. So when the smoke clears, the heat increases.  If the forests can't keep up, it keeps getting worse all by itself.

Other effects on forests of these megafires are described in a National Geographic article.

Even without fire, climate crisis-fueled drought is killing California forests, and even trees in settled areas, due to water restrictions.

It's not a lot of fun saying that out loud.  But silence feeds denial, and while some denial gets you through the day, it may not get you through the night.

...On the following night, Tuesday, the clouded sky glowed red.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Style Point

It's hardly the worst problem in America, but it's indicative: the generally dispiriting way people dress these days, with no sense of occasion or respect for anything (including themselves) and above all, no sense of style.

Well, a sense of style always was rare.  It's possible to have it, even now, and even in casual circumstances.  Our President sticks to the dark suit uniform in the White House, but he chooses--and wears-- his casual clothes with a spiriting sense of style, as now on his current Cape Cod vacation.