June 13, 2023

New Podcast: The Origin of the New York Smoke and a Wet Period Ahead

After a below-average wildfire season, the region is going to get wet, particularly BC, Alberta, and northern Washington (see forecast precipitation below through Wednesday). 

 Temperatures won't get out of the 50s on Saturday and Sunday.

Predicted accumulated totals through Wednesday afternoon. Red is very, very wet.

Hopefully, this wet reality with sober up the climate change wildfire scaresters, such as at the Seattle Times.

After I talk about this soggy future for our region, I will turn to the New York smoke in the podcast.

As I explain, the smoke came from fires in Quebec that were started in the short window of opportunity during late spring after the snow has melted and before new growth "greens up.".    A strong high-pressure area resulted in rapid warming up to 20-25F,  drying the dead vegetation from the previous year.


Then an upper-level disturbance moved in, producing lightning, which ignited the dried vegetation, and wind associated with the disturbance stoked the fires.

THEN, the low deepened and got "stuck" off the east coast, drawing the smoke over the NY metro areas.

A lot of random things happened at exactly the right time and way.   Like getting all sixes with multiple dice.


None of the necessary elements were significantly altered by human-caused climate change.

I wrote a commentary piece in the Wall Street Journal about the smoke event.  Check it out, and listen to more details in my podcast (see how below).

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22 comments:

  1. Alright the podcast's back!

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  2. Thoughts on this paper in PNAS, Cliff?

    I realize this doesn't directly speak to the recent Canadian fires, but does make a compelling case for climate change being a driver of increased fire frequency and intensity.

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    1. What paper? You provided no reference.

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    2. Sorry - looks like I forgot to paste the link into my comment. Here you go: https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2213815120

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    3. While not being a scientist or that educated for that matter, I see it this way. Cliff has spoken again and again of no trends being set. Frequency or intensity may be trending upward, but which correlation do you use? The alarmist media and other profiters of climate change use a very basic correlation chart showing increase CO2 in atmosphere to the amount of fires and acres burned and people buy into it. However, as Cliff has correctly shown, the small amount climate that has changed has very little to do with what people call "severe" events. In fact, points to other severe events in the past that are similar before climate change. A better correlation would be the amount of people that go out into the woods and start fires or live in wildland urban spaces for frequency and the forest management practices for intensity. I bet I could even show a correlation chart that shows since pot has been legalized and increase use of pot, fires frequency and intensity has gone up. Just because there is a correlation doesn't mean it is the cause or main driver. Until climate alarmists and the media stop doing this, people like me will continue to tune them out.

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    4. That paper has an essential flaw in it--a flaw in a number of similar papers. Imagine you have a period in which wildfires are increasing (due to land use, increased emissions, changing management policy) but climate is NOT contributing. But temperatures are increasing due to global warming. You will then come up with a statistical relationship suggesting is leading to more fires, even when it is not. There are other problems with this work, but I will wait for a blog to go into them.

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    5. For clarity Dr. Mass: "Nonclimatic factors that have been implicated in changing wildfire characteristics include land management that has facilitated fuel buildup which favors increased burn severity as well as both increased susceptibility of California’s aging power grid to extreme weather and increased development in fire-prone areas that changes ignition patterns and fire management". Clearly not a flaw in this paper.

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    6. Cliff could you clear up your above staetment. You seem to have left out a word or two after "relationship suggesting.......is leading to more fires". What is leading to more fires? I assume it is warmer temperatures. Their graph of area burned versus maximum temperatures seems to show a pretty good relationship between these. That is also my experience in Eastern Washington fires, our warmer summers are on average our bigger fire years.

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    7. Heavyhemi.... I don't think you read their paper. Their "model" ONLY includes temperature and DOES NOT include those other elements (e.g., land use, etc). They are essentially saying the changes at surface, changes in ignition, and changes in wildfire fighting strategy had no impact, which I believe is a real problem...cliff mass

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    8. Do you all really think the authors of this paper don't understand that correlation =/= causation? Any undergrad that has survived my stats classes comprehends this fact. I suspect that the professional climatologists authoring papers in top-tier journals also appreciate this limitation.

      I did ask Cliff for thoughts (and by extension everyone else in the comment thread) because I am curious about the limitations of climate attribution studies. I appreciate that there is genuine difficulty in constructing adequate statistical models that account relevant variables accurately.

      I trust that Cliff has a more nuanced and sophisticated critique of this paper and I'm interested in the longer blog post he mentioned. I hope he'll have time to put that together.

      From my reading of the paper, the use of surface temperature as the key predictor variable reflected that it provided the best model fit and thus addition variables would have been extraneous (and potentially led to issues with non-independence of predictors in the regressions).

      I can see critiques about accounting for increased wild land use and human-caused fires, although the outcome was burned area and not merely the # of fires over time. While it certainly true that increased human recreation causes more fires than the historical norm, this doesn't rule out that increased warming makes these fires larger and more intense than would be the case without increased warming (which is what the paper is really arguing).

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    9. S Young..... I suspect they understand the issue, but nevertheless this problem is there in the paper and similar work. It is a profound problem for this research. Read the paper....it is obvious. They mention some of these factors but do nothing to control for them--you must see this...cliff

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  3. A new podcast? Great news...thanks for this! Also, I think SYoung is referring to this: 'Anthropogenic climate change impacts exacerbate summer forest fires in California' https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2213815120

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  4. They're already posting articles discussing the oncoming El Nino Armageddon, this time focusing on CA, even in the midst of raging rivers and record cold with additional rain going on currently. Oroville is already over 100% capacity, and the overfill will have to be activated for the second time already this year, due to the incredible snowmelt. Ski resorts are not scheduled to close until mid - July (!) But that doesn't stop the narrative, because nothing in the way of facts or substantive evidence to the contrary is ever allowed.

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    1. Very true Eric! Plus they don't mention how heavy smoke cools the earth over time by blocking the Sun, just like big volcanic events, Honga Tonga was a big one over a year ago.

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  5. I understand the current argument that random weather events do not equal proof of human caused global warming. But, is there no scenario where that changes? Is there any extreme weather that would change that narrative? (the North Atlantic sea surface temperature anomaly caught my eye).

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    1. You first need to see a long-term trend in extreme weather. Then you need a find a physical explanation of how human-caused warming was necessary to cause this trend. Neither is true for the Quebec smoke situation last week.

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    2. Here's the question that is always left unanswered - at what point does "weather" become "climate?" Two weeks? Two months? Ten years?

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    3. I see this as the major ongoing flaw in Cliff's reasoning. There is a long-term trend of human-caused warming. There is a statistical explanation of how gradual warming means the average day is a bit warmer, so average days are now slightly warmer than average, slightly warmer than average days are now warm days, hot days are now very hot days, etc. Sure, average days are not suddenly very hot days, but the effect is similar. So the question is whether there is a physical explanation as well as empirical correlation for how this warming leads to more fires. My understanding is that there is.

      And sure, you can never tie any specific weather event to climate change, but that's not going to be possible in such a complex system.

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    4. Bruce B....your comments does not make any sense to me. A slow warming is there. The correlation with temperature can easily be a false correlation if other trends are occurring at the same time that they are not controlling for. And there are many. This is not a flaw in my reasoning, but of that paper..cliff

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  6. It'll be interesting to watch the forecast evolve and, of course, to compare it with observations. As of the moment, the Weather Channel/Wunderground forecast is only calling for ~0.5" of rainfall by the end of the month in the BLI vicinity. The near-term CPC outlooks favor above normal precipitation but aren't especially emphatic (40-50% probability for the 6-10 day period).

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  7. Forecast now says 0 rain here for next week. I hope it happens anyway.
    Good to see the podcast back!

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  8. Hi Cliff, nice to see your podcast- was afraid you might be phasing them out... but I know that we all have a tight time budget... so does the boreal forest have a late summer fire season too, perhaps a bimodal fire risk function?

    In fact I would be interested to see a map of fire risk for the USA, not as number of starts, but as risk that a given location will burn in a set time period.

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