Here’s What To Expect From 2019 Fire Season

Here’s What To Expect From 2019 Fire Season

Abnormal is the new normal for Western wildfires, with increasingly bigger and more destructive blazes, experts say. But understanding the risks can help avert disaster.

Throughout Western North America, millions of people live in high-risk wildfire zones thanks to increasingly dry, hot summers and abundant organic fuel in nearby wildlands. Researchers say that’s a recipe for disaster.

This year, the National Interagency Fire Center predicts a heavy wildfire season for areas along the West Coast from California into Canada due to a heavy crop of grasses and other plants that developed in the wake of a wet winter.

In California, the largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, has already begun fire hazard-prevention power cut-offs that will likely affect hundreds of thousands of customers in the months ahead. Meanwhile, insurance claims for wildfires that devastated parts of California this past November recently topped $12 billion—a total that represents the state’s largest-ever economic loss from fire.

Here, experts Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment; Rebecca Miller, a PhD student in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources; and Michael Goss, a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, discuss what to expect from the wildfire season this year and into the future:

Q

What trends have we seen in recent fire seasons?

A

Miller: We’ve seen a trend in California toward larger and more destructive wildfires. During the past two years, California experienced four of the 20 largest and eight of the 20 most destructive wildfires in its recorded history. In 2017 and 2018, nearly 3 percent of the entire state was on fire at some point, an area equivalent to about 80 percent of Connecticut.

Q

Is there anything about the upcoming fire season that is likely to be out of the ordinary?

A

Field: We are in an era when every fire season is likely to be out of the ordinary. The combination of climate change, increasing development in the wildland-urban interface, and fuel accumulation from decades of fire suppression dramatically increases the risk of fires that are large and catastrophic.

Former California Governor Jerry Brown described the situation as a “new abnormal.” We need to recognize that, in California, we face the real risk that every fire season will be among the most destructive, or even the most destructive, on record. Unless we get ahead of the problem, fire risk in 2030 or 2040 could make the last few years look calm.

Q

What factors and conditions could drive wildfire risk in the months ahead?

A

Goss: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center forecasts above-normal temperatures through August. This may reduce snowpack in the high elevations, leading to less runoff and impacting the dryness of fuels that depend on runoff.

Additionally, drier conditions may further dry out vegetation. This could prime the region for an enhanced wildfire risk, although ignition and immediate weather conditions, such as strong offshore wind events, also play a critical role.

The extreme wildfire seasons we have seen recently in California have been, in part, triggered by a combination of hot, dry summers and falls, a later than normal onset to the rainy season and offshore winds that have occurred when fuels have been at their driest.

Field: Especially in California, the greatest risk of fire is in periods of hot dry winds like the Santa Ana or Diablo winds. These hot, dry winds can quickly desiccate fine fuels to the extent that they become almost explosive, susceptible to ignition with a small spark.

In fire-prone parts of California, there are many sources of ignition, ranging from lightning to discarded cigarettes and untended campfires to sparks from equipment or power lines.

Q

To what extent can an unusually wet winter, like the one California just experienced, influence the summer wildfire season?

A

Field: In general, a wet year like 2019 leads to increased fire risk in grasslands and low-elevation parts of the state where extra moisture increases the growth of grass and other fine fuels. But in the higher mountains, the unusually high snowpack will melt later than usual, decreasing the length of the time that forests are dry enough to burn.

But much of the risk that a forest fire becomes catastrophic is related to the accumulation of fuels over several years. These “ladder fuels” allow fire to move from the ground to the crown of the forest, where it can move quickly, jump barriers and kill every tree in its path.

Q

What can communities and individuals do to mitigate the risks of wildfire?

A

Miller: One of the most successful means to prepare individuals for a disaster is coordination at the local level: neighbors talking to neighbors, and neighbors helping neighbors. Wildfires do not follow jurisdictional boundaries, so local governments, communities and individual homeowners need to work together to mitigate their risks.

Programs like Firewise USA help local residents organize their neighborhoods to prepare for and protect from wildfires by clearing brush, retrofitting homes with wildfire-resistant building materials, and developing emergency plans that include evacuation routes.

On an individual level, homeowners can protect their properties by establishing defensible space—clearing the area around their home of vegetation—or replacing parts of their home, like roof tiles or vents, with more wildfire-resistant options.

Field: In the long run, tackling climate change will be essential. If the world continues to warm to the levels expected with high emissions through the 21st century, it is hard to imagine successfully managing wildfire risk in California.

In parallel with tackling climate change, communities can do a great deal to decrease the ladder fuels that increase the risk of catastrophic fires. Prescribed burns can be a safe and effective way to decrease fuels, especially when the accumulations are not too large. Where fuels are so dense that prescribed burns are not feasible, forest thinning is a necessary first step.

In some cases, the material removed by thinning may be suitable as fuel for power generation or other uses. Many forested areas that have seen a decrease in timber harvesting activity in recent decades may provide economic opportunities from investments in fuel reduction.

Source: Stanford University

Related Books

Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity

by James Hansen
1608195023Dr. James Hansen, the world's leading climatologist, shows that exactly contrary to the impression the public has received, the science of climate change has become even clearer and sharper since the hardcover was released. In Storms of My Grandchildren, Hansen speaks out for the first time with the full truth about global warming: The planet is hurtling even more rapidly than previously acknowledged to a climatic point of no return. In explaining the science of climate change, Hansen paints a devastating but all-too-realistic picture of what will happen in our children's and grandchildren's lifetimes if we follow the course we're on. But he is also an optimist, showing that there is still time to take the urgent, strong action that is needed- just barely.  Available On Amazon

Extreme Weather and Climate

by C. Donald Ahrens, Perry J. Samson
0495118575
Extreme Weather & Climate is a unique textbook solution for the fast-growing market of non-majors science courses focused on extreme weather. With strong foundational coverage of the science of meteorology, Extreme Weather & Climate introduces the causes and impacts of extreme weather events and conditions. Students learn the science of meteorology in context of important and often familiar weather events such as Hurricane Katrina and they'll explore how forecast changes in climate may influence frequency and/or intensity of future extreme weather events. An exciting array of photos and illustrations brings the intensity of weather and its sometimes devastating impact to every chapter. Written by a respected and unique author team, this book blends coverage found in Don Ahrens market-leading texts with insights and technology support contributed by co-author Perry Samson. Professor Samson has developed an Extreme Weather course at the University of Michigan that is the fastest-growing science course at the university. Available On Amazon

Floods in a Changing Climate: Extreme Precipitation

by Ramesh S. V. Teegavarapu

9781108446747Measurement, analysis and modeling of extreme precipitation events linked to floods is vital in understanding changing climate impacts and variability. This book provides methods for assessment of the trends in these events and their impacts. It also provides a basis to develop procedures and guidelines for climate-adaptive hydrologic engineering. Academic researchers in the fields of hydrology, climate change, meteorology, environmental policy and risk assessment, and professionals and policy-makers working in hazard mitigation, water resources engineering and climate adaptation will find this an invaluable resource. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

What if Greenland Melted?
by Atlas Pro
Isostatic rebound isn't expected to be too great over Greenland, and instead is greatest over parts of Canada,…
Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Allergens Are On The Rise In Canada's Urban Centres
by CBC News: The National
Canadians across the country say their allergies are getting worse.
Bill Nye And The Climate Crisis
by MSNBC
On a special show before a live studio audience, Bill Nye the science guy discusses the climate crisis with Chris Hayes.
How Greenland's Massive Ice Melt Will Totally Transform The World
by Channel 4 News
Remember that heatwave back in August? Well, the Arctic remembers it too. Record rates of ice melt have been recorded…
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
What Happens When The Permafrost Thaws?
by Official W5
Almost half of Canada sits on permanently frozen land called permafrost, but climate change is causing it to thaw and…
We Are Striking to Disrupt the System: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
by Democracy Now!
In her first extended broadcast interview in the United States, we spend the hour with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old…

LATEST ARTICLES

How People Can Best Make The Transition To Cool Future Cities
How People Can Best Make The Transition To Cool Future Cities
by Abby Mellick Lopes
It is difficult to remember when we are in the midst of winter, but keeping cool in summer is a big issue for some…
What if Greenland Melted?
by Atlas Pro
Isostatic rebound isn't expected to be too great over Greenland, and instead is greatest over parts of Canada,…
Clean, Green Machines: The Truth About Electric Vehicle Emissions
Clean, Green Machines: The Truth About Electric Vehicle Emissions
by Jake Whitehead
Despite the overwhelming evidence that electric vehicle technology can deliver significant economic, environmental and…
How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
by Adrian Pitts
The Persian Gulf is already one of the hottest parts of the world, but by the end of the century increasing heat…
Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
by Neville Ellis and Ashlee Cunsolo
We are living in a time of extraordinary ecological loss. Not only are human actions destabilising the very conditions…
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
by Karine Dupré, et al
What does it take to be a happy and healthy city? In any city, myriad factors go into the mix – and of course we are…
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
by Andrew Blakers, et al
In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that the key requirements…