Friday, April 25, 2014

Extended California fire season confirms severity of climate change

Haya El Nasser in Al-Jazeera America: The climate change debate currently pits the bulk of the scientific community against holdout deniers who don't believe rising temperatures are the result of human activity. But in California, a state suffering from a historic drought, why the phenomenon is happening is less important than the simple fact that it is.

Forecasters and fire agencies have now tossed aside their normal fire calendar – mid-May to mid-October – and prepare for what some call a “new normal” of a greatly extended fire season. They are hiring extra staff and issuing more warnings. Some local officials have warned that fire season in some parts of California is basically a year-round phenomenon now.

The National Weather Service has been issuing an unprecedented number of fire forecasts and alerts in the thick of the usually-wet season, months earlier than normal. Its forecast offices have kicked into fire-season mode well ahead of schedule.

The Sacramento office, which issues fire forecasts for interior Northern California, decided last week to up its daily seven-day forecasts to twice a day, and its National Fire Danger Rating System, which measures the seriousness of fire conditions, is going out earlier. “Climatology shows us we’ve been getting warmer and a little drier,” said Michelle Mead, warning coordination meteorologist in Sacramento. “The fire season is not what it used to be 10 years ago.”

Research papers linking climate change to a persistent drought – which has parched California three years in a row – have been making the rounds among fire forecasters, said Brett Lutz, meteorologist and climate program manager for the National Weather Service in Medford, Ore. “Climate change for the first time was actually a topic of conversation that was presented and discussed at length” in a recent meeting, he said....

A 2009 fire in California, shot by Rennett Stowe, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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