A Few Wildfire and Climate Syntheses

Here are links to a few wildfire and climate syntheses.

(1) This one is by Cliff Maas, a University of Washington meteorologist, and describes the southern California weather and climate models specifically and in detail. It’s interesting because there is no forest, forestry, nor forest industry getting in the way of dealing with fire. Here are his conclusions:

Those that are claiming the global warming is having an impact are doing so either out of ignorance or their wish to use coastal wildfires for their own purposes. For politicians, claiming that the big wildfires are the result of global warming provides a convenient excuse not to address the real problems:
*Irresponsible development of homes and buildings in natural areas that had a long history of wildfires.
*Many decades of fire suppression that have left some areas vulnerable to catastrophic fires.
*Lack of planning or maintenance of electrical infrastructure, making ignition of fires more probable when strong winds blow.
*Lack of attention to emergency management, or to providing sufficient fire fighting resources
*Poor building codes, improper building materials (wood shake roofs), and lack of protective space around homes/buildings.
And to be extremely cynical, some politicians on the left see the fires as a convenient partisan tool.

Wildfires are not a global warming issue, but a sustainable and resilience issue that our society, on both sides of the political spectrum, must deal with.

I would add that some politicians on the right in other parts of the country also use as a convenient partisan tool ;).

The below two pieces are not related to Southern Calfornia coastal fires specifically.

(2) This one is a round-up of literature by Larry Kummer, editor of a blog called Fabius Maximus. I think it’s interesting because he looks at a variety of literature that we have touched on, but not all at once, and his background is in finance and climate. It’s very long, but covers much the same ground as we do in our discussions but from a different, more climate-y angle.

In (3) this 2016 paper, “Global trends in wildfire and its impacts: perceptions versus realities in a changing world”, the authors take a world wide view of wildfire and why it is an issue. I think it’s interesting because there is no general increase in wildfires across the world- that still doesn’t mean that locally it can’t be a problem.

Please feel free to quote and give your ideas about any of these papers or posts in the comments. Bill Gabbert has a comprehensive round-up of all the possible other reasons for increased fire acreage here.

My question is “does anyone have ideas for how our “living with fire” responses would change if it were 60% climate (on the high side) or 20% climate (on the low side).” compared to all the other reasons that fire is a problem. Does proportion of the problem created by climate actually affect what options might be chosen to live with fire? In what way? My point being that maybe all the research funds on attribution (which we will never know for sure, despite all the computing power that exists) might be more profitably used to work on improving fire models. What if we could decide “we will never know this for sure” and moved on?

5 thoughts on “A Few Wildfire and Climate Syntheses”

  1. How about this – if more can attributed to climate, less could be attributed to fuels, which would support arguments against vegetation management in most areas as a solution.

    • And, how many decades has there been fire suppression and its associated fuels build-ups? That is an undeniable fact, in many parts of our public forests. Those 100,000,000 dead trees in California have no other path. They will all burn, eventually. Is this what anyone wants? (Yes, there are some)

    • Jon, I think we would need to think through the mechanics of the climate induced change and how that would work. For example, hot dry winds might make fires more dangerous, and a solution would be to expand fuel treatment acreage further back from communities to change fire behavior. Or if fuels get drier due to climate change, or there are more fuels due to increases in precipitation due to climate change.

      • An extremely complex question to ponder and SPECULATE on:

        … Or the problem could even go away because in some conditions, the micro environment needed for regeneration is created by the forest in which case there might be no fire at all or just a ground fire because the only thing left was eroding bare soil or brush and grass. But one size does not fit all and the ability to predict the outcome is pretty low because of all of the spatial, temporal and a myriad of other parameters.

        Here is a quote from a recent related article: “In the warmest, driest forests, researchers found evidence suggesting that trees have stopped regeneration after wildfires, which wasn’t the case in the past. The pattern was consistent across all sites reviewed in the study.”

  2. Lack of response to changing conditions.
    Think of climate as a long term average of weather.

    Trees don’t travel well. Maybe twenty to 200 miles horizontally and 500 to 1000 feet vertically.
    Weather extremes differ by 500 miles year to year.
    Consider weather extremes. Averages are misleading.

    Plan for the extremes. .

    Jet streams at boundary of Hadley cell to Ferrell cell at 500 hPa that run north-south rather than west to east.
    Hadley cells that expand beyond 40 degrees. North in the northern hemisphere and south in the southern hemisphere
    Areas at risk expand.
    Managers in the expanded climate areas do not recognize the need to respond to expanded areas at risk.
    Surface winds due to changing levels of inversion are not understood and are ignored.


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