Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The End is in Sight

 We can finally see forward to the end of this terrible smoke event over western Washington and Oregon.

But first let me show you something that will impress.   Below is a composite MODIS weather satellite image for yesterday, a picture that shows West Coast smoke extended over the entire continent.  In New York or DC this morning, people will view a hazy sky and a weakened sun from the West Coast fires; in fact, the smoke extended well into the Atlantic.


Another sobering image is a graphic produced by Dr. Beth Friedman of the WA State Department of Ecology, which shows the percentage of time that air monitoring locations in the state are in various polluted conditions (e.g., unhealthy, hazardous) over the past summers for June through Sept. 14.  Other summers (2017 and 2018) are "ahead" of this year in total percentage of time with smoke, but this summer (mainly this week) is in a class by itself for hazardous conditions.   And this graph does not include the last few days.   Simply amazing.

We are going to get out of this situation during the next week, but first we need to get though a smoky few days. 

This morning the air quality situation at the surface remained poor for most, with the bright spots being the Oregon coast and some higher elevation locations.  Below is the EPA AirNow summary of small particle pollution.  Reds (unhealthy) and hazardous (purple) still dominate, with greens on the Oregon coast.  


Yesterday there were  some minor improvement in many locations (see Seattle below), but air quality is generally still poor.  You may have noted the sky was a bit brighter yesterday, and perhaps you even noted some blue skies overhead but hazy looking horizontally.  That makes sense because the smoke is relatively shallow so that the path through the smoke is far less when you look up.



But this morning a slug of smoke has pushed northward into western Washington, with substantial degradation of conditions at higher elevations (see 8AM visible satellite image below).  Only the very top of Mount Rainier is in the clear!



Today will not bring major improvement because of the weather pattern, with a low offshore bringing up smoky air from the south. 

The pressure, wind and temperature pattern around 3000 ft is shown below, which illustrates the situation.  The winds are not strong over the NW interior, so there is not a lot of mixing.   Furthermore, the southerly flow is bringing warm air northward, which helps strengthen low level inversion (warm light air over cold dense air), which keeps the smoke in.


But by Saturday, the pattern radically changes with low pressure over the Pacific replaced by higher pressure and southerly flow replaced by a cooler northwesterly winds (see map for 5 AM Saturday). This air will be far cleaner and considerably less stable.


The winds will still not be that strong, but this change should be enough to noticeably improve air quality.   A much stronger weather system comes in Tuesday/Wednesday, which should pull conditions back to near normal air quality and weather.

So the end is in sight.  We just have to slog through a few more days of it.  Once this situation is over, I will blog on the question of whether global warming has anything to do with it.  A number of politicians and activists are calling these wildfires  "climate fires."  But is it true?  I have put together a lot of material on this issue, which I will describe in future post.

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39 comments:

  1. Here in Kansas City it's been hazy the past couple days from smoke.

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  2. The climate change issue can be summed up as such:

    10%: The actual subtle nuances from Climate Change.
    90% Refusing to adapt to them because $$$.

    In the case of forests, outright neglect is a better description. Again, because $$$. When a town burns down, a timber crop is lost, productivity/health issues from smoke storms rear its head or ultimately lives are lost, the negligent stewards of the forest lands are NOT paying the true costs of those events. Insurance companies and tax payers are.

    Perhaps some future cost benefit analysis will reveal that controlled burns and thinning the trees in addition to not introducing grasses where they should not be MIGHT actually be a good business plan.

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    1. Thinning doesn't work very well in areas where this allows the wind to move through less impeded. More trees fall over, more ground vegetation grows. The soil dries out faster in a thinned forest.

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    2. Please provide proof of this claim, and not proof from NGO's.

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    3. It's not global warming; it's complete mismanagement of dead trees and environmentalists, trying to stop removing dead match stick fuel. an0moly pretty much reported it correctly.

      https://youtu.be/nrQmwkk3nsI

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    4. Old Growth forests are more resilient to fire. The thick bark prevents trees from all but the most intense fire. We should lreserve every last acre of these magnificent forests not only to reduce fire danger, but also to lessen climate breakdown thru absorption of CO2

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    5. We got dead match stick fuel because we harvested all the old growth forests that were resilient to fires and even thrived from them, then we replanted those forests with mostly monocrops of dense single age stands which have high mortality rates as they compete for light and water. Also, young trees, especially when competing with other young trees are extremely thirsty, and suck up far more water from the soil than old growth. The result is a bunch of dead tinder we created on a forest floor that is much drier. Now, we add in fire suppression, because we cant have those young trees in the tinder forest now have monetary value, so we dont allow any of them to burn... then we add climate change, that for ever 1C increase in temp results in a 10% decrease in fuel moisture and a longer fire season. Each of these things create our current wildfire hellscape. The environmentalists lost when we cut down all the old growth forest. Forestry as we know it is not a solution to fire either. Thinning helps but its not practical on the scale necessary. The only way to restore fire regimes is to allow fires to burn forests by stopping fire suppression (which also means stopping insuring homes in fire prone areas, a whole different housing crisis issue), dramatically increase forestry rotations to create natural forest ecology, and also reverse climate change.

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  3. Looking forward to your post on is this global warming or not when you get it ready to put out. In the meantime, while eating breakfast, saw a news feed on my phone from the BBC about the smoke from out this way, it was a good read, which I thought was interesting, mentioning that the smoke has reached both MYC and Washington DC and extending out to the Atlantic even.

    Will definitely look forward to when it begins to clear out and the rains return.

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    1. This is a question I had for Cliff-Details about the smoke carried East- Great article-"Scientists said the smoke on the East Coast was so high that it would not impact air quality.Satellite images showed the smoke being carried to the East Coast by the jet stream - a narrow zone of high-speed winds - across the Mid-Atlantic.The National Weather Service (NWS) in New York said smoke passing over the state was 25,000ft (7,620m) high on Tuesday."

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  4. Windsurfers will tell you the best wind is in the clearest spot. the sun is so beautiful in those spots similar to high altitude. The wildfires traditionally quell the wind. Are there any forecast models that take this into account?

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  5. Reading a recent journal it sounds like since humans have reduced fires (thereby increasing fire fuels) and that the increase in temperatures is contributing to a balance that cannot be maintained and will eventually lead to even more fires caused by increased fire fuels and human caused warming.

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    1. we can look forward to cliff addressing this specific factor in his analysis :

      https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/09/most-important-number-for-the-wests-wildfires-california/616359/

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  6. Cliff, when the wind changes, who can expect to bear the brunt of the redirected smoke?

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  7. In my understanding the climate change is playing a huge role in the frequency and scale of fires (temperatures, strong winds, low humidity make fires easy to start, fast to spread, hard to control) but also forest management could keep forests in a healthier state, especially since the climate conditions will only keep deteriorating going forward. Wondering which factor is most damaging.
    Interested to hear your point of view on this.

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    1. Your understanding is wrong. "Climate change" is a load of bollocks.
      Arrogant nonsense.
      "... especially since the climate conditions will only keep deteriorating going forward".
      Deteriorating? wow ... a "deteriorating" climate. Before there's any "going forward" you'd better stop guzzling the Koolaid.

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  8. "Only the very top of Mount Rainier is in the clear!"

    And Adams, and Baker, And Glacier Peak... (ok, those last two aren't super obvious, especially with the clouds up north)

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  9. AQI reading of 166 at noon, in Everett...that is considerably less than yesterday...however, I can barely make out the home directly across the street from me!..visibility down to maybe 100 yards at best...I have to slow down when approaching intersections on Hiway 99...the traffic lights are not easily seen!...this is progress, I guess!!

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    1. I noticed that too crossing 520 at 6pm today. Terrible visibility even though AQI is improving.

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  10. "... the question of whether global warming has anything to do with it .."

    I do hope you will make this a probabilistic assessment. I realize that in the eyes of some will be seen as sitting on the fence. But life and covid, forest fires as well, involve statistical assessments.

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  11. Always 'fun' to extrapolate from a twice-a-century weather/wind event, but hearing the data is a good thing.

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  12. at a certain point, the parsing gets quite pedantic. clearcuts. burning of fossil fuels. short term economic gain. all part of the same disease. we're killing the earth. the chickens are coming home to roost. but...let's continue having these lofty discussions...

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    1. The chickens have been coming home to roost for over 40 yrs.,,,, no sign of them yet. In addition I've noticed that there are also no rat-droppings from the atmosphere of "down-welling long-waved radiation."

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  13. Is a "slug" of smoke a technical term? If not, it should be! :-)

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  14. Of course the minute the sheer extent of the widespread damage and loss of live from the fires were apparent, the West coast governors all sprang immediately to their political self preservation with their collective chants of "global warming!" Which was followed on cue by the MSM with their Greek Chorus. No mention of mismanagement of forests, no mention of allowing critical infrastructure needs (i.e. degrading power lines) going unmet for lack of funds that instead went to political pet projects, no mentions of environmental NGO's constant lawsuits preventing effective forest management - pathetic.

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  15. Any insight into why the Washington Dept of Ecology's Air Quality Map (https://enviwa.ecology.wa.gov/home/map) seems to consistently have higher AQI readings than some other resources, such as what AQICN.org shows? Example, at 9am at 10th & Weller in Seattle today, Ecology shows it as 250 and AQICN shows it as 183.

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  16. And this paper suggests that what has burned in California this year is only a fraction of what was 'normal' burning during pre-European settlement. Truly amazing.

    https://www.sierraforestlegacy.org/Resources/Conservation/FireForestEcology/FireScienceResearch/FireHistory/FireHistory-Stephens07.pdf

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    1. Those prehistoric fires were also very different, less severe, and less intense. Natural fire regimes, created by a far more complex pre-forestry ecological structure (old growth) as well as by fire frequency were more ubiquitous but smaller.

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  17. Cliff - I'd be very interested to hear you reconcile what you've said about climate changes involvement in these fire compared to the 2018 Climate Change Summary which specifically predicts an increase in fires in our region. I understand and take your point about forest management and unusually strong east winds. What would a fire in our region influenced by climate change look like theoretically?

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    1. The fire would look like any other fire. Good luck if you can tell the difference between a fire and a "climate change" fire.

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  18. I imagine you will say there is no evidence to suggest that climate change caused these fires. While this might be correct, especially considering we are talking about stochastic events like a very unusual weather system that more or less caused the Oregon fires, that doesnt mean that warmer seasonal temperatures didnt make it more likely or worse. The language used in media is unfortunate, but the evidence is very strong that these types of events, although stochastic, will become increasingly common, and increasingly severe, especially if forest management doesnt change.

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    1. What "evidence is very strong "? that they will become "increasingly common".? Sounds like you're parroting some "climate change" mantra.
      There is not one shred of evidence, not one jot , one iota , one scintilla of evidence that directly links atmospheric CO2 , or any increase in CO2 , to warming of the atmosphere.

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  19. The situation with fires is more complicated than anthropogenic climate change alone. That's a factor to be sure but there are blindspot and limitations in the climate record, for one. Much of what we base climate data on is based on historical records, which only reach back so far based on the limitations of when humans started writing anomalous events down. While these records are helpful, they're not accurate as much of is based on editorial views of a moment in time and not scientifically gathered data.

    As a result, beyond a certain point we just don't know what the ebbs and flows of climate patterns are without then turning to gathering the data and marrying the two: SST readings, dendrochronology, ice core analysis, soil cores, atmospheric sciences. All of these streams of data allow us to reconstruct climate patterns going back several epochs.

    An example: We know from historical records that Europe experienced mass and cyclical famine events in the 14th century, because these were recorded. This led to widespread starvation, political upheaval, civil unrest, and disease cycles. It wasn't until North American climatological data that reflected huge revisions to available water sources and backed up by mass violence in archaeological records that we began to understand that the issue was much more widespread. Stein 1991 further clarified the cooling and warming cycles at the poles and the little Ice Age that followed in the 16th century all came together to represent that the earth on it's own goes through cyclical warming and cooling which is the lynch pin as to why climate also goes through cycles.

    As a result, it's difficult to fully tease out what is anthropogenic climate change and what is the earth just going through this pattern. This isn't too say that anthropogenic climate change isn't real because it is but there a lot of absolutes in how climate theory is reported that doesn't have a lot of patience with complications of the data and the gaps in the climate record at present. What we do understand more clearly is the human disruption factor on patterns that were operating outside of us, but for our influence. The situation is complex and evolving but people want pat takeaways and certainties that's just not how science can nor should operate.

    We do understand we have a crisis but we still don't fully understand the particulars where crisis meets the underlying record. And so, to fully say that these fires are an absolute evidentiary moment of undeniable climate change also risks excluding that these have never happened before in this way or this scale.

    An example of this is that historical data in Washington does actually represent severe wildfire patterns in periodic episodes pre-20th century. But our own state's measurement of wildfire events doesn't really begin until the 20th century. So we don't have a really good assessment of what happened prior to that, other than what early homesteaders and native oral traditions have to say about their experience of those fires. It's difficult to draw a conclusion about complexity when we lack insight into the past beyond the last two centuries in terms of more reliable data.

    Also, I think it needs to be stated here that much of our state and federal approaches to forest and grassland management especially in the last 50 years has contributed significantly to the conditions that produce these mass events. Those contributions are certainly anthropogenic but we're just now seeing how those policies are going to influence the next 100 years in wildfire events. We don't know enough yet other than to know we've contributed to the problem based on past policy.

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  20. Hi Cliff,
    Thanks for the explanations.
    Question: why do you use term "Global warming"? Isn't it current consensus is to use term "Climate change" to indicate that climate is a system that is very sensitive to initial conditions and CO2 emissions can cause unusual weather patterns that not necessarily cause just higher temperatures but can cause stronger Easterly flow that will in turn cause fires to be more intense.

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    1. Your explanation regarding the change in description from Global Warming to Climate Change is just a matter of PC semantics. The only reason the terminology changed was because the public wasn't buying the increasingly alarmist tone to what in the past was considered to be regular weather events. But no, that wasn't working anymore, so presto! Climate Change!

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    2. No, it was because "warming" doesnt capture the nuance of climate change, and "warming" also sounds rather benign, tbh. Its easier to nullify the message when idiots can pack a snowball in Las Vegas due to an unusual snow storm and say "snark snark, doesnt look like GLOBAL WARMING to me" and the idiot contingents come running and crying about alarmism.

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  21. Hi Cliff. Im seeing a map with much smoke to the East, Dakotas etc..midwest? What forces are blowing the smoke there? Jet Stream? Normal winds now blowing from the west?Others? What cities way out there are having a surprising amount of smoke for how far away it is?

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  22. A new term I had not heard of before noted in a Sept 15th article in the Atlantic. A statistic called the vapor-pressure deficit, or VPD is depicted in a chart going back 120 years to 1900. Be interested if this is a useful statistic in taking a longer look impact of climate change in the West rather than just looking at an individual event or particular year.

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  23. In 1950 a fire in northern B.C. & Alberta (Link: Chinchaga) caused a night-like appearance in western Pennsylvania, in the afternoon. As I recall, it was on Sept. 24th, 1950. The reason for the darkness was unknown, until the Pittsburgh media got information. Some locals were upset until then; end of the world stuff.
    Part 3 at the link is titled "The Great Smoke Pall"

    The smoke was high and there was no smell at ground level (1,480 feet for me).

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  24. Hi Cliff: You complained on KIRO that forestry management failures were a primary contributor to Oregon and Washington wildfires. Yet a recent 2018 study suggested that intensive forest management in the PNW may actually increase intensity of fires.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29698575/
    Could you comment on what you see are the problems with this study, as you obviously discount it?

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