What They’re Saying: Climate Change Impacts, West Coast Wildfires, and Hurricane Sally
Washington, D.C. – The West coast continues to burn with wildfires raging across the region. Meanwhile, Hurricane Sally made landfall on Wednesday near Gulf Shores as a Category 2 hurricane, with sustained winds over 105 mph.
Still, with climate catastrophes taking over the country, President Trump continues to ignore the realities of climate change and is dismissing the science and experts that say climate change is making extreme weather events more frequent and devastating. This past week when discussing climate change and the wildfires, he claimed that “I don’t think science knows actually,” and used his Twitter to falsely link the wildfires to arson.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
- California Governor Gavin Newsom: “”The fundamental facts cannot be denied.” “The trendlines are not going in the right direction.” “I will continue to be stubborn as I imagine he will be as well, it’s not a belief system, it’s data.” “Science. You have to acknowledge facts.” [CNN, 9/16/2020]
- The American Farm Bureau Federation: “Backlogs in adequate management coupled with drier, hotter conditions, have resulted in unhealthy, overly dense forests.” “When fires inevitably occur, these conditions result in larger, more catastrophic fires that are difficult to control, destructive to both urban and rural communities and pose great threats to both private property and human life.” [CNN, 9/16/2020]
- Associate professor in geography and environment at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Camilo Mora: “Somebody asked me if there is a good ending to the horror movie,” Dr. Mora said. “The good ending was 20 years ago. Now, the choices for the ending are ‘bad’ and ‘terrible’.“The planet, it’s screaming to us,” he said. “When are we going to start listening?” [New York Times, 9/16/2020]
- Meteorologist, Brandon Miller: “Hurricanes and tropical storms that make landfall in the Gulf of Mexico are more likely to produce tornadoes compared to storms in the Atlantic.” “Note that this is less true for Texas landfalls in the Gulf — since the coastline angles more south to north like the Atlantic East Coast, rather than east to west like in the northern Gulf of Mexico coastline of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida Panhandle.” [CNN, 9/16/2020]
- Geoscientist at Mississippi State University, Kimberly Wood: “When a storm moves slower, it lingers longer over the same location.” “A rain rate of, say, an inch an hour — that’s not so bad if the rain only lasts 30 minutes. But if it lasts for half a day, that adds up quickly.” “There is increasing evidence that storms are slowing down.” [New York Times, 9/16/2020]
- Researcher at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Sarah Kapnick: “The risk of extreme precipitation events in this region has gone up.” “There’s a basic theoretical understanding underlying all of this,” With warming “you get more water vapor in the sky.” “So when you get these storms, be they hurricanes or summer storms, they have the potential to hold more water in them.” “And that water has to go somewhere.” [New York Times, 9/16/2020]
- Climate scientist at Penn State, Michael E. Mann: “Our own work suggests that climate change is favoring precisely such jet stream behavior.” [CNBC, 9/16/2020]
- Colorado State University atmospheric scientist, Philip Klotzbach: “When it comes to climate change, the more straightforward relationship is that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor. Just look at heavy rainfalls generally,” [National Geographic, 9/16/2020]
- Meteorologist with National Weather Service Birmingham, John De Block: The storm was drifting “at the speed of a child in a candy shop,” as if it were meandering through the aisles and waffling over its choices. [New York Times, 9/16/2020]
National Geographic: The science connecting wildfires to climate change
Climate change has inexorably stacked the deck in favor of bigger and more intense fires across the American West over the past few decades, science has incontrovertibly shown. Increasing heat, changing rain and snow patterns, shifts in plant communities, and other climate-related changes have vastly increased the likelihood that fires will start more often and burn more intensely and widely than they have in the past.
Wallstreet Journal: Climate Change or Forest Management: Biden and Trump Differ on Wildfire Causes
The vast majority of scientific experts say that warmer weather across the west caused by climate change has greatly worsened the threat of forest fires. Experts also say thinning dense forests is the most effective short-term tool to address the fires. As wildfires engulf western states, here’s what President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have said about the issue.
Firefighters are making tremendous progress combating the huge wildfire complexes afflicting California — but the real battle is against climate change, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. The average temperatures in the Golden State have increased by three degrees since 1980, illustrated most recently with the hottest August in recorded state history, according to Newsom.
It’s crucial that young people vote this time around—groups like NextGen America are mobilizing campuses like never before. But it’s probably even more crucial that young people persuade some percentage of their parents and grandparents to vote differently. Young people overwhelmingly favor Joe Biden, so they’re in the perfect position to create a permission structure that allows their elders to act in a way they otherwise might not. If you’re undecided, why not do what the kids want?
Two forces of nature are colliding in the western United States, and wildland firefighters are caught in the middle. Emerging research suggests that the smoke firefighters breathe on the front lines of wildfires is putting them at greater risk from the new coronavirus, with potentially lethal effects. At the same time, firefighting conditions make precautions such as social distancing and hand-washing difficult, increasing the chance that, once the virus enters a fire camp, it could quickly spread.
The link between fires and climate is basic physics: Human greenhouse gas emissions have warmed the planet. Higher temperatures trap more water in the atmosphere, drying out vegetation and making it more likely to ignite. In the American West — where temperatures are already as much as 4 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than in the preindustrial era — landscapes are burning in fundamentally different and more destructive ways.
As hurricanes go, Sally was not especially powerful. Rated a Category 2 storm when it struck the Gulf Coast on Wednesday, it was soon downgraded. But climate change likely made it more dangerous by slowing it down and feeding it more moisture, setting it up to pummel the region with wind and catastrophic rainfall.
The storm’s incredibly slow pace, which at times was just 3 miles per hour, and its stalling over the Gulf represents a climate change effect that’s triggered more destructive and frequent storms. Slower storms unleash more rain and long-lasting winds. As of Wednesday morning, Sally was heading northeast at about 5 mph.
National Geographic: Why Hurricane Sally is moving so slowly—and delivering epic rainfall
Twice in the past three days, Sally built wind speeds in just a few hours—the storm “rapidly intensified”; on Monday and then again late Tuesday into Wednesday morning. Laura also rapidly intensified—from a tropical storm to a Category 3 hurricane in 24 hours—but it moved quickly.
As Hurricane Sally moved inland from the Gulf Coast, “historic and catastrophic flooding” unfolded. Recent months have brought fires to the West, derechos to the Midwest and hurricanes to the U.S. coasts — a scale of disasters we aren’t equipped to manage well all at once. The deluges, tempests, and conflagrations are not simply acts of gods or nature. They are consequences of humanity’s actions, including climate change, whose harms fall most heavily on the most vulnerable. The exploitation of our environment has long been a source of human misery that has particularly affected marginalized groups. In the South, this has played out along rivers.
Rivers swollen by Hurricane Sally’s rains threatened more misery for parts of the Florida panhandle and southern Alabama on Thursday, even as the storm’s remnants were forecast to dump up to a foot of rain and spread the threat of devastating flooding to Georgia and the Carolinas.
CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS
Just one such extreme event can strain emergency resources — a situation West Coast firefighters find themselves in now. However, in two dramatic cases this summer, the nation was hit simultaneously with concurrent catastrophes, some of which had no precedent in modern history. It’s a concept scientists call compound events, and it is necessary to factor these confluences into future projections to properly estimate risk, response, and resources.
New York Times: A season of climate-fueled disasters
We know many of the things we need to do, as a society, to respond to wildfires in the decades ahead. But the nation is far behind in adopting policies widely known to protect lives and property, even though worsening fires have become a predictable consequence of climate change.
New York Times: It’s Not Just the West. These Places Are Also on Fire.
Wildfires are devastating the American West, but the United States isn’t the only place on Earth that’s burning. This year, other countries have also experienced their worst wildfires in decades, if not all of recorded history. In each case, the contributing factors are different, but an underlying theme runs through the story: Hotter, drier seasons, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, have made the world more prone to erupt in flames.
Hundreds and thousands of people in Texas, Louisiana, California, Oregon, and Michigan have been forced to flee their homes because of extreme weather this year alone. (The Midwest was also devastated by a powerful windstorm, also known as a derecho, but scientists are not sure if they can be linked to climate change.) Many of these disasters, like Hurricane Laura or the wildfires out West, have been unlike anything we’ve seen before. Scientists say it’ll only get worse in the coming years.