Quantcast
Climate
NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik's view of the fires from the International Space Station. Randy Bresnik ‏/ Twitter

A Mix of Unusual Forces Is Fueling Southern California's Fires

California is reeling from an especially bad year of wildfires, from the wine country fires in the North during October to the out-of-control flames currently raging across the South.

In fact, the Golden State has been experiencing a higher frequency of intense wildfires in recent years, with 13 of the largest 20 wildfires in state history breaking out since 2000.


"Our, if you want to call it, seasons have been elongated by upwards of 40-50 days over the last 50 years and continues to do so," Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean told ABC7 News this week. "We had the five years of drought. A lot of trees died, over 102 million trees died."

So does the SoCal blaze have anything to do with climate change?

Experts say that a mix of conditions is stoking the flames, but a direct link to global warming is still unclear.

However, you can definitely blame the fast-moving blazes on unusually forceful Santa Ana winds, with gusts that have blown between 50 to 80 miles per hour. A color-coded system showing the strength of the winds was "purple" or "extreme" on Thursday—that's completely uncharted territory.

John Abatzoglou, an associate professor of geography and climate at the University of Idaho, told The Atlantic that the Santa Ana winds are becoming more prevalent or moving later in the year. The Santa Ana winds commonly occur in Southern California between October and March.

Climate change's effect on the Santa Ana winds is uncertain, but a 2006 study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters "suggested that warming could shift the winds' season leading to larger areas burned by fires," as TIME wrote.

Another unusual condition occurring in the region is the lack of rain. The state's wet season should have started by now but “much of the southern half of California is pitching a shutout in terms of rainfall to date," Abatzoglou further explained. That's a characteristic of a weak La Niña in the tropical Pacific, which is causing cooler global temperatures but preventing storms from making landfall in Southern California, he said.

Other scientists have tied California's fires to rising temperatures and years of epic drought that dried tree canopies, grasses and brush that spark wildfires.

"There's a clear climate signal in these fires because of the drought conditions connected to climate change," Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, told InsideClimate News.

The years 2014, 2015 and 2016 have been the third, second and first hottest years on record to date, and each of these years hosted its own record-breaking fire in the state.

"As long as there's fuel to burn, your chances of having large fires increases when you increase temperatures. It's that simple," added Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
The Revelator

Interactive Map: Air Pollution in 2100

By Dipika Kadaba

Having a little trouble breathing lately? That's no surprise. Air pollution is already bad in many parts of the country, and climate change is only going to make it worse. Even though many industries are reducing their emissions, a warming climate could actually offset these reductions by intensifying the rates of chemical reactions and accumulation of pollutants in the environment.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
ddukang / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Is Apple Cider Vinegar Good for You? A Doctor Weighs In

By Gabriel Neal

When my brother and I were kids back in the '80s, we loved going to Long John Silver's.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals

Dumpster Debacle Distracts From Serious Spike in Whale Deaths

This week, a video of a failed attempt to put a dead, 4,000-pound whale into a tiny dumpster made the rounds on the internet, garnering chuckles and comparisons to Peter Griffin forklifting and impaling a beached sperm whale on Family Guy.

The juvenile minke whale washed up on Jenness Beach in Rye, New Hampshire on Monday morning, NBC 10 Boston reported. It was found with entanglement wounds, so researchers with the Seacoast Science Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wanted to move the carcass from the beach to a lab for a necropsy to study its death.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Muir Woods, which costs $10 for entry, will have free entry on Sept. 22. m01229 / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Visit Any National Park for Free This Saturday to Celebrate 25th National Public Lands Day

If you're stuck for plans this weekend, we suggest escaping your city or town for the great outdoors.

This Saturday marks the 25th National Public Lands Day, organized by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
A glacier flows towards East Antarctica. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / CC BY 2.0

Temperatures Possible This Century Could Melt Parts of East Antarctic Ice Sheet, Raise Sea Levels 10+ Feet

A section of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet that contains three to four meters (approximately 10 to 13 feet) of potential sea level rise could melt if temperatures rise to just two degrees above pre-industrial levels, a study published in Nature Wednesday found.

Researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Queensland, and other institutions in New Zealand, Japan and Spain looked at marine sediments to assess the behavior of the Wilkes Subglacial Basin during warmer periods of the Pleistocene and found evidence of melting when temperatures in Antarctica were at least two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for periods of 2,500 years or more.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Oil well in North Dakota. Tim Evanson / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Pipeline Leaks 63,840 Gallons of Produced Water in North Dakota

A pipeline released 63,840 gallons (1,520 barrels) of produced water that contaminated rangeland in Dunn County, North Dakota, the Bismarck Tribune reported, citing officials with the North Dakota Department of Health.

Produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction, and can contain drilling chemicals if fracking was used.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights
Residents stand in a long queue to fill water containers on May 27 in Shimla, India. Deepak Sansta / Hindustan Times / Getty Images

World Peace Requires Access to Safe Water

International Peace Day is Sept. 21. Mekela Panditharatne, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, submitted the following op-ed to EcoWatch in commemoration.

In drought-ravaged East Africa, the cracks in the plains echo the fault lines splitting tribes.

Across the globe, the devastation of deadly brawls is being exacerbated by tensions over access to water. Water crises, often worsened by governance failures, can portend warning signs for instability and conflict. This year, the World Resources Institute cautioned that water stress is growing globally, "with 33 countries projected to face extremely high stress in 2040." The effects of such water stress span the gamut from civil unrest to open warfare.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

How Your Personality Type Could Influence Your Food Choices

By Melissa Kravitz

"You are what you eat" may be one of the oldest sayings ever to be repeated around the dinner table, but can you also eat what you are?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!