Australian news, and some related international items

Climate change and California’s Wildfires

Scientists See Climate Change in California’s Wildfires
Strong winds and months of record-high temperatures have fueled the destructive fires, 
Scientific American, By Debra KahnAnne C. MulkernE&E News on October 12, 2017 

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — As wildfires engulf nearly 170,000 acres of Northern California wine country, questions are swirling about the role of climate change in causing damage of historic proportions.

The fires, which started late Sunday night in the hills of Napa and Sonoma counties, quickly ballooned to 22 separate conflagrations in eight counties, killing at least 21 people by Tuesday evening. The Tubbs Fire, in Sonoma County, has been responsible for at least 11 deaths so far, making it the sixth-deadliest fire in state history. Nearly 300 people are still reported missing and 25,000 have been evacuated in Sonoma County alone, with more than 3,500 homes and businesses destroyed.

Strong winds were responsible for the fires’ quick incursion into urban areas, but months of record-high temperatures, preceded by heavy rainfall last winter, also fueled the destructive power of the fire that burned through the region, climate experts said.

Residents of inland Northern California are now experiencing the confluence of these trends. The fires are expected to persist for weeks, until the rainy season begins next month. Strong winds are predicted to return as soon as tomorrow, giving firefighters a narrow window to get the blazes under control…….

Temperatures soared in the San Francisco Bay Area in early September, hitting 106 degrees Fahrenheit in San Francisco, a new record, and 108 in San Rafael, north of the city. It was the warmest summer in more than 100 years of record keeping, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with UCLA: “It beat the previous record by a pretty wide margin.”

Those high temperatures dried out vegetation throughout the area, he said. While fires are a part of life in California, this one became more destructive because it had so much dry brush and grassland — fed by last winter’s rains — to burn.

Powerful winds pushed the flames farther, Swain said. Known locally as the Diablo wind, they’re similar to the Santa Ana wind in Southern California, and they reached an unusually high speed of 79 mph Sunday night. Coupled with relatively low humidity, the wind patterns quickly created havoc.

“This is very much a weather-driven fire, but there is definitely a climate component to the overall story, too,” Swain said.

The dead brush and trees were the result not just of this year’s hot temperatures, but also of the state’s historic drought, which officially ended with the rainfall last winter, said LeRoy Westerling, a management professor at the University of California, Merced’s School of Engineering.

Scientists typically hesitate to say any specific event happened because of climate change, Westerling said. Yet, he said, “we know that these events are affected by the weather and the climate and how dry it is. The climate system has been altered by people … all the weather we’re experiencing and what’s driving these wildfire events is climate change.”……


October 13, 2017 - Posted by | General News

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