from What’s Natural? column, published in Pacifica Tribune
Why Worse Wildfires? Part 2
Figure 1 Managing forest ground fuels
Why worse wildfires? The short answer is more humans cause more wildfire ignitions in altered landscapes. Since 1970, California’s population doubled, adding 20 million people. As more human habitat was developed, the increasingly disturbed landscape quickly became covered in easily ignitable invasive grasses (see part 1). To protect human habitat, fires were suppressed and ground fuels increased. Development also expanded a vulnerable electric grid. Furthermore, more people increased the probability of careless fires and more innocent accidents. And sadly, a larger population added more arsonists.
There are several theories trying to explain the recent uptick in wildfires throughout the western USA. Some scientists blame increased human ignitions. Others suggest accumulating surface fuels due to a century of fire suppression. Others argue landscape changes and invasive grasses have amplified the amount of easily ignited vegetation, while still others blame climate change. What’s the Sage Grouse connection? Like human communities, the Sage Grouse’s habitat is being threatened by fast spreading wildfires, and that increase in bigger wildfires in sagebrush country is due to invading annual grasses, like cheatgrass.
California Wildfires, Climate Change, and the Hot-Dry-Windy Fire Weather Index
Summer and early Fall are fire season in California. It has always been this way. Most summers experience virtually no precipitation over much of California, which means that the vegetation that grows during the cool, wet Winter becomes fuel for wildfires in Summer.
When you add the increasing population, risky forest management practices, and lack of maintenance of power lines, it should be little wonder that wildfire activity there has increased.
Few news reports of wildfires can avoid mentioning some nebulous connection of wildfires to human-caused climate change. This is a little odd from a meteorological perspective, however.
The L A Times is at it again making completely idiotic claims that California is “fighting climate change” and alleging that wildfires and blackouts will hurt this purely politically contrived, monumentally costly and globally meaningless state “fight”.
“The state’s electric grid was experiencing rapid and unprecedented changes even before Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison began shutting off power to millions of people in a desperate scramble to prevent their transmission lines from sparking wildfires.
Well, it’s that time of the year again, wildfire season, and like clockwork, people are losing their marbles about the wildfires in California. Articles, like the one from Politico below (Figure 1)¹, have been popping up left and right claiming that climate change is causing the wildfires.
Figure 1. Brown: California fires show ‘the horror’ world will face from climate change. – Politico
Endless amounts of disinformation is being spread around on Twitter and Facebook from well-known media outlets, public figures, government officials, and even a handful of well-known scientists.
Earlier this week we joked that with PG&E now scrambling to enforce intentional blackouts every time there are powerful winds for fears the bankrupt company’s aged infrastructure could cause a new fire, “every time the wind blows California will become Venezuela.”
… PG&E warned it will shut off power again on Saturday to as many as 2.5 million people as violent winds batter the state, in what according to Bloomberg will be “California’s largest intentional blackout ever.”
According to a Friday statement, approximately 850,000 homes and businesses in Northern California, including much of the San Francisco Bay Area, may be impacted beginning Saturday evening. And with data models indicating the weather event could be the most powerful in California in decades, with widespread dry Northeast winds between 45-60 miles per hour (mph) and peak gusts of 60-70 mph in the higher elevations through Monday, large swaths of the region could be without power for days.
“The upcoming wind event has the potential to be one of the strongest in the last several years. It’s also likely to be longer than recent wind events, which have lasted about 12 hours or less,” said Scott Strenfel, Principal Meteorologist with PG&E.
The potentially record outage will impact parts of Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose and Marin County. As usual, the city of San Francisco will not be affected, in order to make it easier for pedestrians to avoid stepping into the human faces covering the city’s sidewalks. The full list of affected counties can be found at the following page.
The hot and windy weather event is expected to begin impacting the service area Saturday between 6 and 10 p.m. and lasting until midday Monday, although as of late Friday, PG&E said it has not yet made a definite decision whether it will cut power.
As Bloomberg notes, this would be the third time this month alone that bankrupt PG&E – terrified of potentially sparking another multi-billion dollar blaze – has resorted to massive outages to prevent its power lines from sparking fires in high winds. The company’s aged equipment sparked blazes in 2017 and 2018, saddling the company with an estimated $30 billion in liabilities and forcing it into bankruptcy at the start of 2019. However, leaving millions in the dark has led to debate over how far California must go to prevent fires during windstorms. And despite the shutoffs, fires continue to burn.
Despite recent intentional outages, earlier on Friday California governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency as wildfires are now raging at both ends of California. Near Los Angeles, blazes have prompted authorities to order 40,000 evacuations. And north of San Francisco, a blaze is raging amid the vineyards of Sonoma County.
The Sonoma County fire is the one that sent PCG stock tumbling as it began minutes after a PG&E transmission line in the area malfunctioned late Wednesday. While the company had shut down distribution lines to homes and businesses in the area before the flames began, the company said its transmission line was still energized. And while firefighters have not determined the cause of the blaze, a Citi research report said a finding that PG&E was responsible for the fire could leave the equity worthless as another litigation round would cripple the already bankrupt company.
PG&E was not alone: late on Friday, another California utility, Edison International – this one not yet bankrupt – warned that it may cut power to 132,679 customers as strong winds arrive on Sunday. And as PG&E shares plunged over 30% to a record low of just $5, shares of Edison International also fell 8.5%, the most in 11 months, as fires burned in its service territory in Southern California.
Needless to say, the prospect of more liabilities from wildfires is potentially terminal for PG&E, as Bloomberg explains:
Since filing for Chapter 11 in January, the judge overseeing the case has warned that another big blaze would upend the utility’s bankruptcy and potentially wipe out shareholders. Any claims from new fires sparked by PG&E would have to be paid out first — and in full — before those from previous blazes get a dime.
Adding insult to injury, not only are gas prices soaring for any resident who wish to move out of the potentially affected areas, but the high winds arrive at a precarious moment for California, which this summer received almost no rain and a five-year drought earlier this decade killed millions of trees that can now easily ignite, while the recent strong winds have dried out grasses and shrubs even further.
Bottom line: whereas we joked previously that any time California forecasts strong winds it will now turn to the socialist paradise that is Venezuela, it is now the sad reality for the state’s tens of millions of liberal residents, who don’t even have to leave their home state to observe the fruits of a socialist regime first hand.
The Week That Was: October 26, 2019, Brought to You by www.SEPP.org
By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)
Quote of the Week – “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”— George Bernard Shaw [H/t William Readdy]
Number of the Week: $11.69 billion up 31%
Alarmists in Local Media – Using Surface Data: The huge propaganda push by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the need for “climate protection” has resulted in many strident claims in the local media, many becoming colorful slogans such as “climate crisis”, “climate chaos”, etc. Joseph D’Aleo, a Certified Consulting Meteorologist, and a fellow of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) has long addressed false ideas about climate change both in the AMS and in the public. D’Aleo was a founder of the Weather Channel and of WeatherBell Analytics, LLC. He is a pioneer in seasonal forecasts based on evidence and statistical modeling. As with many well-known skeptics who rebut the unsubstantiated claims that carbon dioxide is causing dangerous global warming, D’Aleo has been called a shill for oil companies and suffered many other politically motivated attacks.