September 12, 2021

The Malden Wildfire and Climate Change: Why are Major Media and Politicians Distorting the Truth?

If the nation and world are going to deal with climate change, it is essential that the public is given accurate information.

Unfortunately, a number of media outlets (e.g., the Seattle Times and NPR), politicians, and activist groups are consistently distorting the truth.   There are few better examples of this problematic behavior than claims that the wildfire that destroyed the eastern Washington town of Malden in September 2020 was the result of climate change.

This blog will provide you with facts based on data, peer-reviewed papers, and government reports.  You can decide whether some folks are misinforming you.


The Claims

During the past year, a number of media outlets, politicians, and climate activist groups have made unfounded claims that the Malden/Babb fire, which destroyed the town of Malden (roughly 30 miles south of Spokane) was the result of human-induced global warming.

For example, last week the Seattle Times did a long story on the Malden fire and concluded.


National Public Radio, including local NPR station KNKX, did a story with the suggestion that the fires were the result of "global warming hitting us hard."


And then there is our governor, who claimed the Malden conflagration was a "climate fire"


“ I think we need to start thinking about this as a climate fire because that’s what makes them so explosive.”

I could give you a dozen other examples of such claims about the Malden Fire and climate. 

 These claims are unfounded and this blog will provide you with the facts.  

The Malden/Babb Fire Event

The Malden fire ignited around noon on September 7, 2020, was long and narrow, and moved within hours from its ignition point southwestward across the towns of Malden and Pine City (see map).

Fact 1:  The Malden Fire was a grass and bush fire.  Trees did not supply significant fuel.

The route of the fire, in arid eastern Washington. was nearly entirely grass, wheat fields, and small bushes.   Isolated trees were not a significant fuel source of the fire and most of them remained green after the fires.  A satellite image of the path is shown below (GoogleEarth Pro).


An image from GoogleMaps from PineCity/Malden Road gives you a first-hand view of the kind of vegetation the fire traversed.

Grasses and small diameter fuels are easily ignited, dry quickly, and can produce flashy, fast-moving fires when there are strong winds:  ALL of these factors were elements of the Malden fire.

Fact 2:  The fire was started by a tree, blown by strong winds, hitting a transmission line, creating sparks that ignited grass below.  

This was the conclusion of the official WA State Department of Natural Resources report.  An image of the tree and the power line is shown below.   Note that the tree is STILL GREEN.  Stunningly, DNR found that that tree had hit the powerline before, with multiple scars on the tree branch that caused the fire.


Fact 3:  Unusually strong winds played a critical role in the fire

Not only did the winds start the fire, but winds rapidly drove the fire to the southwest.  The strong winds, which were very dry, further dryed the surface fuels and provided lots of oxygen for fire growth.

The winds that day around Malden were extraordinary in strength, with gusts from the north to northeast reaching 30-50 mph, something indicated by the winds at the nearby Escure RAWS station, about 25 miles downwind of Malden (see below).


Climatological data suggested that the low-level northeasterly winds that day were extremely unusual, if not unprecedented.  Support for this statement is found in a peer-reviewed paper I wrote with others that was accepted in the American Meteorological Society journal Weather and Forecasting.

Why Global Warming/Climate Change Had No Role in the Malden Fire

This is easy to demonstrate.  

The grasses and other light fuels around Malden are always dry enough to burn by mid-summer.  This has always been true and has nothing to do with climate change.  Eastern Washington has warm, dry summers and seasonal grasses dry out each warm season. 

Below are the 10-h dead fuel moisture (small diameter fuels than can dry within 10 hours) for summers of 2020 and ten years ago (2011).  The fuel moisture dries out over the summer to under 10%.



And my peer-reviewed paper  documents that the 10-h dead fuel moisture was NOT unusual right before the event (graphic from the paper below showing Columbia Basin fuel moisture conditions).  Very typical.


Fire danger from light fuels is greatly reduced when the 10-h dead fuel moisture is above 20%, but there is great danger below 10%, which was evident in September 2020 and is typical for late summer.  

Once you are dry enough to burn readily, you are dry enough to burn.  A bit warmer or drier conditions during the normally hot/dry eastern WA summers will have little impact.  A real weakness of the global warming arguments.

But there is more.   Light fuels, like grasses, dry very quickly under dry, windy conditions.  That is why grasses and small bushes are called 1-h and 10-h fuels.   The Malden fire was preceded by exceptionally strong dry winds.    


So even if the fuels had been wet before the event, they would have become sufficiently dry to burn due to the strong winds that day. The preceding weather and climate conditions were not relevant.

Even More Reasons Why Global Warming Had Nothing to Do with the Malden Fire

The extraordinary strong, dry northeasterly winds were key for initiating and spreading the Malden fire. And such winds will dry light fuels even if they were wet before

It turns out that global warming/climate change will probably WEAKEN such strong offshore-directed winds, because the strong winds during late summer/early fall are generally associated with COLD high pressure in the interior, and global warming preferentially warms the interior of the continent.  Such warming weakens the high pressure and thus lessening the strong northeasterly winds.  I have been working on this issue, with funding from the Amazon Catalyst project and NSF (see graphic below)

Climate models also suggest the potential for more convective showers in eastern Washington under global warming.

So global warming/climate change may lessen the chances for such fires, NOT increase them.  You won't read that in the Seattle Times.

Regional Climate Simulations Indicate Weakening Easterly Winds 
over the Region Under Global Warming


The Bottom Line

Major media like the Seattle Times and National Public Radio, as well as some local politicians, have claimed that the Malden Fire was caused by or made more likely by global warming/climate change.  

This is not true and they are doing substantial damage by blaming global warming and not calling for taking concrete steps to ensure that Malden disasters don't happen again.

The Malden Disaster Was Preventable

Instead of blaming global warming/climate change, there are concrete steps that could have prevented this tragedy.

First, trees near powerlines need to be trimmed so branches don't touch or fall on energized circuits.  Clearly, this was not done for this case.   Considering the limited trees of the region, it should not be hard to do so.  Furthermore, if the powerlines are not properly maintained, at least depower the lines during the very limited periods of strong winds.   The winds were well predicted ahead of time for this event.

Courtesy, First Energy Corp

Second, homeowners must create defensible spaces around their homes, without vegetation and debris.  Using google maps, one can view the conditions around the homes in Malden before the disaster.  Many, if not most, had no defensible space, with vegetation and grass immediately around the homes.  And homes can be built to better withstand fires, including non-flammable roofs, screens to prevent embers from entering roof spaces, and more.


Malden before the fire.

A Plea.  

Please no name-calling.  Every time I write blogs like this on climate change,  I get angry messages from activists, calling me a slew of names, with accusations that I am receiving funding from oil companies (I am not), and worse.  The Seattle Times did a hit piece on me in August in reaction to my blogs about the heatwave and my criticism of their continual transition to advocacy journalism.  And activist scientists like Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt make nasty tweets.

I am as concerned about global warming as any rational person, but we need to start with facts and not hype and exaggeration.

If you are unhappy with the blog, TELL ME WHAT I HAVE GOTTEN WRONG TECHNICALLY.


65 comments:

  1. But why do they do this? What's the agenda?

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    1. I think even valid criticisms of media’s reporting are being perceived as tacit support of Trump’s attacks on media.

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    2. The agenda is something known in political circles as the "stray voltage" theory, in which you start dramatizing local and overall nebulous events in order to distract the population from immediate and serious concerns. Our economy is lurching into stagflation, our pullout in Afghanistan is widely considered to be a disaster, so what to do? Presto, declare an immediate emergency on Climate Change.

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    3. I think you could argue the exact opposite. Little political upsets right now are distracting folks from the MUCH larger problem down the road, which will require extensive planning before the problems become insurmountable.

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    4. Oh I agree, Reese. Let's all scream our heads off about AGW while everyone else is screaming at anyone who isn't vaccinated to take their shots and keep their masks on, permanently. Which emergency is more valid than the others, do you think?

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    5. I don't think there is an agenda, just intellectual laziness by the media. Zeitgeist run amok.

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    6. follow the money---- climate change(ie: global cooling, global warming) is big business, it rivals the military industrial complex.

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  2. Well researched and explained.

    I think you’re more agitated by media than most which colors people’s reactions to you. Since Donald Trump’s attack on media, people are conflating other perceived attacks as allying with Trumps agenda. Your valid criticisms of unscientific climate change reporting are not being considered for their merits, due to the post Trump fallout.

    I still think you’re wrong about political activism in most cases, but your science here is solid and informative. Thank you.

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  3. Cliff, I really enjoy your work and th reliance upon independent verification of your factual statements. I don't like your use of the term "activist scientists" in reference to opponents. That attacks the person and not the work or opinions.

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    1. Scientists should be dedicated to determining and communicating the truth. Activist scientists are more concerned with pushing certain policies and narratives than telling the truth. It is not good.

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    2. Cliff, you are clearly pushing a narrative that climate change had nothing to do with the Malden fire. Individual weather events can't reliably be attributed to climate change, and as a corollary, individual events can't be said to definitively NOT be a result of climate change. At best, from an academically defensible point of view, you could say that there is no clear relationship between climate change and the Malden fire.

      You call out Gov. Inslee and "activist scientists" for making unfounded claims, yet you are doing the exact same thing in the opposite direction. I don't know why this is such a big blind spot for you.

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    3. Not a narrative....the facts are extremely clear. I am providing facts. They are not....I am following the process of science, they are not. Don't see how facts and science is a blind spot.

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    4. Thank you Cliff. Many if us really do remember science before people designed the question to get the answer they wanted to keep the grant=gravy train running and/or push a narrative.

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    5. Can you address whether individual weather events can or can't be definitively attributed to climate change?

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  4. What do you mean by calling other scientists, especially climate scientists "activists"? Do you mean that as a pejorative? Do you not also see yourself as an "activist"?

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    1. Scientists should be dedicated to determining and communicating the truth. Activist scientists are more concerned with pushing certain policies and narratives than telling the truth. It is not good.

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    2. The cognitive dissonance of this response is staggering.

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  5. Professor Mass, the media and activist-scientists do what they do because they have a measure of power they get drunk on every time they do it. If they were undeniably correct as they claim (they're not), they wouldn't have to resort to nastiness to debate their points or have those points challenged.

    It's power and arrogance, and they have a lot of both.

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  6. great blog. well redocumented and easy for the layperson to understand.

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  7. You're right about keeping the area around your house clear of combustibles. It's Eastern Washington living 101.
    When I first moved to Washington state (1968) a friend invited me to his parent's Tri-Cities home to help with their grape harvest. I commented about the "bald" landscaping around their home. His dad answered it's for fire protection and that grass and range fires could move so fast you needed your best defenses against them.
    And remember the the nature writer Aldo Leopold died trying to fight a simple grass fire on his neighbor's property - in Wisconsin.

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  8. 40 years of environmentalist lawsuits ending grazing on public lands has led to a disastrous overgrowth of grasses/shrubs on the former pasture lands, all of Eastern Wa was historically a giant pasture, enviros ended that, a couple of years ago a fire started on I-90 between Ellensburg and Vantage, high winds blew it clear down to the Tri Cities, if it had been grazed or a the part by I-90 had been grazed it wouldn't have burned that far. It's more convenient for the simple minded to blame it on "climate change", remove burnable material ie graze it or breathe it.

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  9. Keeping in mind the current metro area population of Seattle in 2021 is 3,461,000, I’m curious about comparing the numbers. How do your blog numbers stack up to the following: Today, The Seattle Times has more than 65,000 subscribers. KUOW weekly listeners: 413,600. Inslee: 2 listeners (he and his PR person).

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  10. Cliff,
    Thank you for this analysis. You state you are concerned about climate change. How about writing a scientific article that supports climate change and the effects?

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    1. I don't "support" climate change...I want to lessen it. I have written several blogs describing the probable effects in our region....slow warming, reduced snowpack, increasing precipitation.

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    2. Why would Cliff write an article that supports something that doesn't have support? Especially at the fanatic doomsday levels activist-scientists claim.

      Read Cliff's articles where he discusses the reality of a slowly changing climate for our region (which WILL absolutely have impacts, just not "end of world" impacts). He also explains the potential for solutions to mitigate those impacts.

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  11. The activist non-scientist media can be even worse. This past week on NBC's national news, a reporter stated that with global warming the air can hold more water which increases the humidity.

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  12. As usual, thanks for the science, and the reporting, Cliff. Much appreciated. I refer people to your blog regularly, to try to give them a resource to alleviate the fear that is generated by most of the reporting on the effects of climate change.

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  13. The record here for summertime jet stream winds was set a few years ago, in July, and you featured the event in your blog. It was so unusually strong that I wonder whether rising average temperatures are increasing the amplitude and frequency of record setting weather extremes. Anthropogenic global warming continues unabated

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  14. The question of "was a specific fire caused by climate change" is not the question we should be asking, nor is it important. The fire was human caused no matter what, which means it was preventable, just like climate change is. While many consider climate change to be a slow process (years) that doesn't mean we won't see drastic change soon and it doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything. The media is attempting to hype people up a bit, sure, but it's not overly exaggerated. There is still a major issue on our hands, and its our job to clean up our mess. We shouldn't be attributed individual things DIRECTLY to climate change, but that's never been how that worked. The complex factors that led to climate change causing fires makes it indirect, and connected to the vast majority of natural disasters we've seen, to an extent (in the case of that heatwave, a pretty major one, due to how things work). So, as a climate student, I feel inclined to be an activist to get the truth out there and get around people who share misinformation or folks who say that we're false. If we don't, we risk not just our own species, but millions of others as well. That's a damn good reason as any to be an activist for the community.

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    1. The point is that there is little evidence of such drastic change. Many of the activists are providing patently exaggerated and non-factual information. Scientists need to tell the truth and some activist scientists are not doing so. That is the problem.

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    2. The IPCC report is proof of the potential of such drastic change. Sharing that, along with other studies, is what the science community is doing. Drastic action is necessary to combat that potential for drastic change.

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    3. Anonymous....have you read the IPCC report? It does not talk about drastic change...nor drastic actions. In fact, the report is quite modest in its claims...cliff

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    4. The IPCC report paints a dire picture for humanity by the end of the century, and yes, I have read it. We will pass 1.5C very soon, and could reach 4C if not careful. 4C of warming could then lead to wild swings in the weather, causing extremification. If you thought the IPCC was "modest" then I think we have very different definitions of modest. Since average warming isn't the same as day-to-day swings, "mild" warming could lead to disaster, as it did with the heatwave this past June. Also the report obviously wouldn't mention drastic actions, considering it was a physical science report.

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    5. Anon...the report does not paint a dire picture. These artificial thresholds (e.g. 1.5C) are meaningless. We have warmed by 1.1C already. If we warm another .4C do you think something drastic will happen? You are speculating about disasters without any support by the IPCC report or any real science.

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  15. What do you think we should be doing to address climate change? You have plenty of climate-change deniers who listen to you and interpret your "weather is not climate" debunkings as proof that climate change is all made up. I wish you would talk directly to them.

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    1. The best way to convince someone about the seriousness of climate change is not to exaggerate and hype it....which people are very good at sensing. I strongly support a carbon tax (like the defeated 732), nuclear power, better transmission lines, the intelligent use of renewables, and climate adaptation. We can deal with climate change if we stick to the facts.

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    2. To maximize public engagement with the issue what we are aiming for is "worry" emotional responses, according to https://europepmc.org/backend/ptpmcrender.fcgi?accid=PMC4298023&blobtype=pdf. There's an interesting quote:

      > the more respondents worried about global warming, the more likely they were to support national climate and energy policies. Interestingly, however, fear was not associated with increased policy support in either the emotion block or the full model.

      It's a tight rope because we need to communicate that it's a real existential threat but we also need to communicate that it's something we can solve if we take action now. We don't want people to lose hope because they become apathetic to action. Fear is the mind-killer, as Frank Herbert wrote.

      However I question how effective your strategy is in generating an appropriate level of "worry". Most of the reader comments I see on your posts regarding climate change are at best apathetic to the issue, and I think that's because, despite your insistence that you believe it be real and a "serious" issue, you have not actually done much to show us how it is a serious issue, not lately anyways. I recall a post from a year or two ago in which you discussed climate change's effects on the PNW as if it's not much to be concerned about. Attacking the policymakers who are serious about climate change (even if the way they talk about is not scientifically rigorous) seems like an odd play if you want to lead the general public to think it's a serious issue; some people may very well see that as opposition to the notion that climate change is a serious issue requiring drastic solutions.

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    3. Don't you see that the hype makes even scientifically minded people turn away from the issue?

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  16. From the Bay Area NWS and CalFire-, regarding Calif-
    "All but 3 of the Top 20 Largest #Wildfires have occurred since 2000, with 3 of these large & damaging wildfires occurring just this year."

    Very good graphic display of Calif wildfire history here-
    https://twitter.com/CAL_FIRE/status/1436410274408386560/photo/1

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  17. Fought fire for years and these wind driven fires are something else. Carton Complex, to the Okanogan Complex, to the Cold Springs fire, we all said the same thing, "We've never seen anything like it." Yet we kinda had, we have seen fires move rapidly before, but just shorter durations and without the devastation of populated areas. You are correct on the 1h fuels they will carry the fire no matter what, but the winds with these fires were long lasting. Our diurnal winds here generally a hour or 2 at sundown, but now it seems the winds start at 5ish pm and last past midnight, several hours. This is my observation. Longer lasting strong winds. It is always drier than a popcorn fart, but the winds here carry fire fast and far and it has seemed the past few years that these fires see a prolonged wind event carrying it further and most of us are used to in one push.

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  18. Cliff, I truly appreciate your blog on the Malden Wildfire and climate change. The media tries to tilt our bias towards their favorite position and does not check the facts. Please continue to provide your experience and professional assessments.
    Thanks Alan

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  19. I've asked this question several times on this blog before, and will ask it here once again.

    Why aren't climate activists holding President Biden to account for not doing everything in his power as president to quickly reduce America's carbon emissions?

    In contrast with Donald Trump's America First foreign policy, a key element of Joe Biden's foreign policy is that the United States must present itself as the role model to be followed in pursuing environmental stewardship. As Biden's argument goes, China and India will not agree to reduce their carbon emissions unless America demonstrates its firm resolve to show the way.

    Foreign governments know full well that if Biden's climate action plan doesn't hold water; i.e., that if he can't credibly deliver a 50% reduction in American's carbon emissions by 2030, and also deliver Net Zero in the electric power sector by 2035, then they are off the hook for reducing their own emissions.

    Using the Clean Air Act to its fullest possible effectiveness in quickly reducing America’s GHG emissions has been a topic of discussion in the environmental law community for a long time. A comment I posted on WUWT on September 2nd, 2021, describes the history of past efforts to establish a strong legal foundation for using the CAA as a quick means of reducing America's GHG emissions:

    Using the Clean Air Act for Regulating Carbon Emissions - a short history

    If he were of a mind to, President Biden could go a step further and combine the authorities granted to him in the Clean Air Act with authorities granted under national security law. By formally declaring a Carbon Pollution Emergency under the CAA, and a corresponding Climate Emergency under national security law, the president could unilaterally dictate that America must reduce its GHG emissions 50% by 2030.

    The details of how this might be done are described in a comment I posted on WUWT describing the Supply Side Carbon Emission Control Plan (SSCECP).

    Details of the SSCECP

    Spend as much money as you want to on the Green New Deal. It is impossible to build enough wind, solar, and grid-scale energy storage to reach Biden's 50% by 2030 goal. That goal can only be achieved by imposing strictly enforced energy conservation measures on the American economy.

    The SSCECP is a highly effective but also a highly coercive means of reaching 50% by 2030. The plan imposes an artificial shortage of carbon fuels on the American people while roughly doubling the price of all forms of energy for all of America’s energy consumers, thus encouraging energy conservation as the primary means of achieving Biden’s 2030 GHG reduction target.

    So far, Joe Biden has shown no sign that he will use his full authority as our Chief Executive to reach his announced 2030 target. One can draw one’s own conclusions if President Biden never does use the full authority of his office in pushing GHG reductions as far and as fast as current law allows.

    Which brings us back to the climate activists who are criticizing Cliff Mass and his opinions concerning climate change. Are you yourselves willing to call Joe Biden to account for not doing everything in his power as president to quickly reduce America's carbon emissions?

    --------------------------------

    Full Disclosure: I post as Beta Blocker on Climate Etc and on Watts Up with That. I've spent thirty-five years in nuclear construction and operations. My lifetime occupational radiation exposure has come primarily from beta-gamma sources. Hence, I am 'Beta Blocker'.

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  20. Cliff, I appreciate your analysis of specific events and you are right. But there is something missing that needs some investigation. I own property in central Washington that burned last summer during that wind event. A small corner of it also burned about 5 years earlier in another fire. In addition, a huge fire burned from Highway 17 to Grand Coulee about three or four years ago also wind driven and burning 10,000 acres/hour. I know many of my cattle and wheat farming neighbors. Some have lived on their farms for 70 years. What they all tell me is that they have never seen fires like those of the last decade. Until last summer's fire, most of my property had not seen fire in a century. There were 100-year-old black willows and Lombardy poplars that burned in this fire. This is anecdotal and needs more research, but I don't think one fire tells the whole story of what is going on.

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  21. While I can understand your agitation with over unfounded claims linking global warming and the Babb Fire you have done the same.
    Your "Fact 1" and statement "Isolated trees were not a significant fuel source of the fire and most of them remained green after the fires." is not even close to accurate and leaves me with the impression that you have never been to Malden. The area around Malden and Pine City is a mix of grass land and Ponderosa and some Douglas fir forest - much of those forest stands along the aptly named Pine Creek valley and did burn during the fire including forest areas northeast of Malden and Pine City. A stand of forest northeast of Malden and northeast of Pine Creek just to the northeast of Malden completely burned and nearly all the pines between Railroad Avenue and Pine City-Malden Road burnt into the canopy. The vast majority of the trees in the fire path were killed and those tall pines were a significant fuel source to the fire. The bad news for Malden and Pine City is that the Pine Creek valley and the associated pine forests along the valley sides and bottom is aligned northeast to southwest.

    I found this sentence in you post "Climatological data suggested that the low-level northeasterly winds that day were extremely unusual, if not unprecedented." Did you attempt to do a statistical analysis of the frequency of such a weather event? You suggest that global warming will make these types of events even rarer because the high pressure from cold air masses will be less than under current climate due to heating of the continental areas. Seems this unprecedented weather event and what climate modeling you discuss could use some work.

    My take on the blowback you are getting is you might do better at communicating your version of the truth by dropping your own name calling and finger wagging. You very easily could have written this post as an informative discussion of the event without the name calling. And I would suggest being a bit more careful with your own over statements.

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    1. Dan....there was a continuous and extensive grass pathway from the ignition site to Malden. I spent hours looking at googleearth imagery before and after the fire...and one can clearly view the fire path. Yes, some trees burned, but they were a side show to the event. Look at the imagery of town after the fire....many of the trees are green. Look at pictures during the fire...you will see extensive burning grass without tree involvement. Regarding the wind issue with climate change...this is not speculation, but something that I have modeled. Furthermore, the observations at the Spokane radiosonde site document the unusual nature of the winds. Regarding "name calling"...not sure what you are talking about. I am criticizing the media for hyping the climate connection for such events. Don't you think that is warranted?

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    2. I am not trying to argue with your general overall take that this event linked to global warming requires a bit of a stretch. I generally understand that late summer/early fall cold air masses will drive high wind events and that these wind events are particularly dangerous fire weather events as the descending air mass warms rapidly, is very dry and has very high wind speeds.
      Pine Creek is located north and east of the town and is bordered by irrigated fields. To the north and east of the creek there was extensive forest cover that completely burned and the forest mixed with houses on the north side of the town also completely burned - there is not a tree left. With the high wind and a burning forest canopy there were lots of flying embers that aided in the fire easily jumping the creek and irrigated fields and into the town site and the forested north side of town.
      Your screen shot of Google Earth was a mosaic image that is post fire. I think what you are considering continuous grass lands includes areas that were forested - you might try looking at the pre 2020 imagery. You do loose some credibility when you inaccurately describe the setting.
      That said, these mosaic pine forest/grassland/brush lands are particularly vulnerable to intense wildfire. But then maybe just about anywhere is vulnerable during these particularly type of wind events.

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    3. an... I did look extensively at the pre-fire imagery...something possible with GoogleEarthPro. The winds were critical for this event. First, the winds were very unusual...that is easy to prove. And GW should weaken the winds. So that alone really undermines the GW hypothesis. Much of the fire route was grass...that is absolutely provable using the imagery before the fire. Without the grass there would not have been a fire in the first place and it would not have run quickly towards the town. Thus, fire and grass is central. Finally, there is no doubt that some tree burned....but that is besides the point. Picture taken while fires initially burned through Malden shows that it was mainly grass/shrubs and not the trees. Many trees did survive and stayed green. Please look at the Seattle Times and other pictures after the fire--you will see that. And there was a route entirely in grass into town from the west....cliff

      an... I did look extensively at the pre-fire imagery...something possible with GoogleEarthPro. The winds were critical for this event. First, the winds were very unusual...that is easy to prove. And GW should weaken the winds. So that alone really undermines the GW hypothesis. Much of the fire route was grass...that is absolutely provable using the imagery before the fire. Without the grass there would not have been a fire in the first place and it would not have run quickly towards the town. Thus, fire and grass is central. Finally, there is no doubt that some tree burned....but that is besides the point. Picture taken while fires initially burned through Malden shows that it was mainly grass/shrubs and not the trees. Many trees did survive and stayed green. Please look at the Seattle Times and other pictures after the fire--you will see that. And there was a route entirely in grass into town from the east....cliff

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  22. Lucas.... some thing have changed. Flammable, invasive cheatgrass has moved into the region...making large scale fires more frequent. There are more sources of ignition, like powerlines and "recreation" activities. Grazing is now prevented on large tracts of land...and grazing kept the flammable grasses down.

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    1. Not to get on you too much, but the burn area along Highway 17 includes has pretty minimal cheat grass. Grazing still takes place on nearly that entire area that Lucas mentioned - it is mostly private rangeland. I was there on Saturday and witnessed a cattle drive on the west branch of Foster Creek.

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    2. Dan...according to the USDA, this is a particularly bad area for invasive grasses like cheatgrass. If you want documentation of this, please check here:
      https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_MEDIA/stelprdb1253936.png
      and I had east and west switched.....fixed in my comment.

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    3. The map link is for non native species cover (not specific to cheat grass) and is very broad scale. For the Highway 17 area it indicates 25 percent or less (the lowest value on the map), but again the map is the whole of the western US. I can say that much of the Highway 17 area is native grasses. They do burn to but not at the frequency or heat that cheat grass does.
      All that said, I want to be clear that I am not debating GW role in these fires. The Babb Fire and Cold Spring/Pearl Hill Complex fire were driven by high wind combined with high temperature. You explained the weather event well, but emphasizing grass as a major factor (the first 'fact' you used) in this event detracts from your argument is not relevant to the weather event. The very same wind event was also responsible for the Makenzie Valley fire in Oregon and I am sure you would not blame grass on that burn. My point is these high temperature/high wind events late in the summer season are big threat to forest areas as well as both native and non native grasses and brush.
      I think we will just have to disagree on how to describe the forest that was in the Pine Creek valley northeast of Malden.

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    4. Dan.... you have this reversed...the temperatures on the fire day were BELOW NORMAL. Regarding cheatgrass...you can see it around Malden in the google map and other imagery. Now I don't think we really disagree about the lack of GW contribution to the event, but seem to have different views on the role of the grasses (including extensive wheat fields that also burned)....cliff

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  23. Solar and Wind are fluff. Electric cars are just cooking the carbon books. Honestly, the real climate change solutions are so anti-American that we might as well ask our most powerful political/economical rival to nuke us off the map. You can fill in the blank{s} on who that rival might be, since some might suggest those entities are home grown. Which sucks. Then again, half the country thinks Biden has Usurped the Throne.

    I can't blame the press for prodding their audience while making a buck. Be glad they still have that ability.

    It really boils down to taking it all with a grain of salt. Easy solutions to complex problems might not be outright lies, but should be viewed as being shrouded in doubt. It takes a populous slightly north of Stupid to figure that out. Are we at that level?

    Also, Biden is at the Casino right now. If he finds himself vastly up against the House, he needs to cash out and go home. Passing even a watered down version of the Infrastructure Bill alone is a bunker buster in today's political climate. A "Legacy" piece of legislation is probably anything that can survive the Supreme Court at this point. Never mind some massive paradigm shift or Social Revolution. Too much Social Justice and the House {Proprietor of the Casino, not the Legislative Branch of US government} will win.

    Trump might end up with a 47 hat on his combed over melon in 2024 and Texas is well on its way to being the most important state in the Union {unless Texit occurs}. So what do you think is really going to occur other than more retrograde policy and celebration of Rugged Individualism? You might as well dig up Ronald Reagan and Ayn Rand and ask them how to combat climate change. Who's John Galt...

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  24. It's funny that in so many photos of devastated towns recently, the trees between the burned-down houses are still green.

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  25. Thank you for continuing to provide unbiased science on this blog. Please don't pay any attention to the name-calling. We need more science, not less, in response to climate change.

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  26. Hi Cliff, I've followed your blog from the start and enjoyed your class in the late '90s when you would brag daily about avoiding the latest rain showers by using the then-new Doppler Radar. Now I follow you from northeastern Colorado where I teach at a rural junior college east of the Front Range. Your science still seems sound to me, yet I wonder about the messaging. Living as I do now in a very red deeply conservative place where mis-messaging and mis-information and anti-climate change politics are rampant, it's amazing how many deniers there are, and how hard they are pushing to maintain a fossil-fuel meat-driven economy. Your pushbacks against ST and NPR are easily used for these purposes. Certainly you are right to encourage proper building and property defense (Maldon story); this is a huge issue on CO's Front Range where expansionist development leads to greatly enhanced wildfire risk to human property and lives. Sometimes I think your messaging is very on-point, as when the AZ firefighters perished in wind-driven gusts that were actually forecast yet not communicated. I guess I'm writing because I don't want posts that are easily pillaged for misinformation, even though I do want good science as well as helpful strategies. Wishing you all my best, Ewan Magie.

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    1. Ewan...thanks os much for your comments. I believe the best way to deal with mis-information and mis-messaging and anti-climate policies is with the TRUTH and not hyping things. You gain credibility by being known as someone who sticks to the facts. I have learned this lesson personally.

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    2. Dr. Mass, you have to remember that freedom of the press and freedom of speech are a double edged sword. There is no requirement for factual dissemination of information. Ethics used to temper the hyperbole and the drama but those days are long over. Thanks to Social Media and other factors. It is still much more beneficial to ask the public to use their best judgement as well as to do their homework as opposed to having some central authority decide what is fit to print or say. How gets to decide who that authority is, anyway? Probably not the scientists, as they are still just pawns of the ruling body.

      It is also possible that the vast majority of citizenry in the US of A is either too stupid or too lazy...or a gross amalgamation of both.. to effectively participate in guiding the narrative. I give our democracy 1 chance in 3 of making it to 2050. Don't blame the press or the politicians on this. They just serve up what people want to hear. Blame THE CONSTIUENTANCY. So our nation needs a change of attitude, or we need to get on with setting up some kind of authoritarian regime. One where the everyday people have ZERO SAY. Theocracy, Corporate rule, Junta or just some populist crack pot like Trump or Bernie Sanders.

      Until the typical citizen remember show to use their brains, you are forever going to be frustrated, Cliff. How did so many people manage to graduate college with so many glaring flaws of character.....

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  27. Dr. Mass,

    I have been reading your blog for years and you are an incredibly talented communicator of science and meteorology. I always read your commentary on big weather events. I was a Hotshot and ski patroller in the Northwest for many years and your insight always helped to clarify the science behind each weather event. Now that I am a graduate student researching hydrology and finding my own way in the world of science and research, I have come to respect your opinion less and less because of pieces like this.

    While this assessment is technically correct -- I fully agree from a fire perspective that this was a wind-driven grass/brush fire that can happen in any given season, not a direct result of CC -- I am struck by your defensive and adversarsial tone. As other commenters have pointed out, you are just as "activist" of a scientist as those you disparage. I understand that inaccurate reporting is highly frustrating, and the mainstream media is notoriously bad at covering science as shown here. But the underlying message of these news stories is not wrong, even if they are factually incorrect in this specific fire event. No, this fire cannot be attributed to climate change, but attribution studies are gaining more skill every year and all seem to point to what we all have known for a while: climate change is unequivocally impacting extreme weather events, including fire in the West. No doubt that poor forestry practices, anomalous winds, more cheatgrass/less grazing, etc, etc have worsened fires, but so has the 1 C warming we have already experienced. You seem to be denying this last -- and very important -- factor. The media doesn't know the difference between drought-induced extreme fire behavior in timber and a status-quo grass fire, but they are pushing a correct narrative overall, unlike you.

    This kind of post is irresponsible. By attacking the media in pieces like this, you minimize the threat of the next Walden WA, Paradise CA, Phoenix OR, and Greenville CA, to name just a few. You have a small audience nationally, but an audience nonetheless. Some of them even live in the WUI and actually face the threat of increasingly worse fires.

    Please stop your activism.

    Eric

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    1. Eric...you comments are really disturbing and unsettling. You admit that what I am writing is technically and scientifically correct. You admit that the media is often getting information wrong. But you don't care. You state without any evidence that a 1C warming is doing terrible things. Is that what you claim I am denying? And although the media is hyping things and getting fact wrong, that is fine because they have the correct narrative "overall."

      What activism do you want me to stop? Researching into our local climate and weather? Telling the truth? Revealing the false stories?

      A democratic society can only function effectively...including dealing with issues like global warming... when citizens have factual information that is true. Sentiments such as yours undermine the viability of civil society. Think about it....cliff mass

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    2. Good rebuttal. Eric is analogous to the rightwing crazies. Don't put evidence in front of me that doesn't fit my preconceived notions. Keep on speaking from science.

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    3. Good rebuttal. Eric is analogous to the rightwing crazies. Don't put evidence in front of me that doesn't fit my preconceived notions. Keep on speaking from science.

      Delete
  28. Dr Tim Ball - Historical Climatologist
    www.generalistjournal.com
    Book: ‘The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science’
    Book: ‘Human Caused Global Warming, the Biggest Deception in History’
    https://www.technocracy.news/dr-tim-ball-on-climate-lies-wrapped-in-deception-smothered-with-delusion/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPzpPXuASY8

    ReplyDelete

Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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