California’s wildfire crisis set to worsen, says leading climate change scientist

The Californian wine industry should prepare for wildfires to become a regular feature in the vineyard cycle, Richard B. Alley, Evan Pugh Professor at Pennsylvania State University, has said.

His research suggests that devastating forest fires like the Kincade Fire, which began on October 23 and tore across Sonoma County, could become a yearly occurrence.

As of November 6, the fire is over 86 percent contained, but has devastated over 31,000 hectares of vegetation and caused massive property destruction, including the Geyserville home of Julia Jackson of Jackson Family Wines.

“The evidence has strengthened that human-caused warming is contributing to drying that favours destructive fires,” said Professor Richard B. Alley.

“This trend is mainly due to an eightfold increase in summertime forest‐fire area and was very likely driven by drying of fuels promoted by human‐induced warming.”

According to Professor B. Alley, since the early 1970s California’s annual wildfire occurrence increased fivefold. He emphasised that the growing trend was mainly due to an eightfold increase in summertime forest‐fire area and was very likely driven by drying of fuels promoted by human‐induced warming.

“Human‐caused warming has already significantly enhanced wildfire activity in California, particularly in the forests of the Sierra Nevada and North Coast, and will likely continue to do so in the coming decades.

“Large autumn fires are also likely to become increasingly frequent with continued warming and possibly gradual declines in autumn precipitation.”

Over 6,000 wildfires have been recorded in the state of California in 2019.

Yet despite the urgency of the climate change crisis, the Trump administration notified the United Nations on November 4 that the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement.

The withdrawal will be complete this time next year, after a one-year waiting period has elapsed.

The U.S is the only nation to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement. It was signed in 2015, with the goal of fixing national pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We will continue to work with our global partners to enhance resilience to the impacts of climate change and prepare for and respond to natural disasters,” said Mike Pompeo, U.S Secretary of State, in a statement released to the press on 4 November.

The news came as a global alliance of over 11,000 scientists publicly endorsed research that says the world is facing a climate emergency – according to their data, the month of October was the hottest on record.

Meanwhile, the global wine industry continues to grapple with the effects of drastic climate change.

South Africa is a part of the world all too familiar with global warming; severe drought is becoming a yearly occurrence in the Western Cape.

“It’s the nature of the beast that extreme weather events are becoming the norm. Or rather that the norm is no more and we have to open up our minds to the potential issues thus flattening the bell of our climate curve to include “new’ challenges,” said KWV’s chief viticulturalist Marco Ventrella.

“We have for some time now experienced a drying trend from the west Coast of the Western Cape with significant movement in our Winter: Summer rainfall split favouring more Summer rain yet also resulting in a net reduction versus long term average.

“In fact when one considers the last 6 years of rainfall we see the current drought is actually 6 years in the making. The last 2 years have offered frost damage unseen in many years. It’s all a little wild west to be sure.”

3 Responses to “California’s wildfire crisis set to worsen, says leading climate change scientist”

  1. A. Thomas says:

    Perhaps if we really believe that 11,000 scientists (primarily motivated and funded by grant money) are not skewing the computer model assumptions we should convince them (or just handful of the 11K!!!! “scientists”) to begin an analysis of the global impact of growing wine grapes and making wine has on the planet. I certainly enjoy wine but if we’re all doomed, perhaps we should say it’s time to give it up – it’s by no means an essential product. In your quiet thoughts, do the math. The fuel for the farming equipment, the electricity required for temperature control throughout the entire process, the staff burning fossil fuel to drive to and from work, the hospitality side – 1M+ visitors to NV alone each year and all fuel, food, power, etc. required for this. How about the traffic jam of contractors and delivery vehicles on CA29 alone 7 days a week. Let your mind wander on this for awhile.

    I’ve lived in the valley for 30 years. It’s always dry in October – yes, some years worse than others. We also don’t fight fires as fast and hard as we used to – the biggest reason they get out of control so fast. We stopped using borate sometime back because there was some worry it would slow down regrowth. We also have much better instrumentation to fly night missions today but when is the last time you saw nighttime fire bombing. So there are lots of factors at play. Blaming everything on controversial climate data is as dangerous as ignoring some of it.

    It is tragic so many people lost their homes and property again – Julia Jackson included. But if the good Professor Richard B. Alley were honest, he would profess all of the reasons why fires are worse and spread faster today – not just his baby “climate change”

  2. David DeSante says:

    I’ ve been a resident of the Napa Valley for over 25 years. Most of this time I’ve spent working in the wine business. There is no doubt that fall fires are worse, spread faster, involve more acreage, and threaten more lives. There is also no doubt that the wine industry has been a great generator of jobs for the entire north coast of California. More than 3.5 million visitors come to the Napa Valley alone to visit the vineyards and wineries. The outstanding hospitality and beautiful land are great reasons to visit and unwind. Perhaps there is a way to continue farming grapes and hosting people that is more environmentally safe? The Napa Valley Vintners is exploring these options and working towards a more sustainable wine country every year. While wild fires have become much worse, the quality of the environment with regards to minimizing erosion, protecting wild life populations (fish and raptors), and insuring better living conditions for all residents have all improved. Perhaps this is worth recognizing too. We are getting much better at the local level, yet we all need to do more at this same level to slow the advance of climate change. That would be a good start.

  3. Richard E Woolley says:

    “Good grief” as Charlie Brown would say. As usual the bias or naivety of the author shines brightly as they try to use the sensational images of the Kincade fire and pervert the results of real scientific research with statements from a self proclaimed expert to support their conclusion. Ok news media I will do your work for you so that the people are actually informed with the truth. The article should have been titled “Annual Wildfire occurrence is increasing since the 1970 due to summertime fire activity in the Sierra Nevada and North Coast Mountains” this entire story with regard to the disaster in Sonoma County is not applicable!

    Lets just focus on the facts:
    1. Annual wildfire occurrence is increasing and it is almost entirely due to an increase in SUMMERTIME fire particularly in the Sierra Nevada and North Coast mountains. The kincade and Tubbs fires were in the Autumn.
    2. Electric utility infrastructure is aging dramatically and is poorly maintained. Power line rights of way are choked with trees and brush and have not been cleared in decades.
    3. High winds were caused by an unusually strong, very cold high pressure weather system in the Great Basin.
    4. The density of available fine fuels per acre to carry a fire has dramatically increased due to INCREASED rainfall from the prior near record setting winter and from 2016/17 record setting water year.
    5. It is 100% normal for fine fuels to become tinder dry every single year.
    6. It is normal to not have any significant rainfall from late May through late October.
    7. Dr Alley has a BS, MS and PHd degrees in Geology.
    8. Dr. Alley is not a meteorologist nor climatologist.
    9. Dr. Alley is not a wildfire or fuels expert.
    10. Dr. Alley did not participate in the research of or write the actual paper that is referenced (or actually it was not referenced – Bias by omission)

    The real leap of faith that exposes the author’s bias or naivety is from the use of the following statement from Dr. Alley: “Large autumn fires are also likely to become increasingly frequent with continued warming and possibly gradual declines in autumn precipitation.” Where are the facts to back up that statement? It is pure conjecture, Dr Alley subconsciously implies that by the use of the word “Likely”.

    Lets again focus on facts:
    1. The actual research, peer reviewed journal article is titled “Observed Impacts of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Wildfire in California”
    2. Specifically states in section 3.2.2 “correlation between fall total burned area and climate is weak”.
    3. Specifically states in section 3.3.2 “The connection between fall wildfire and Anthropogenic climate change is less clear than in summer….Therefore, a change in the onset of the winter precipitation season or a change in the frequency or intensity of dry wind events in fall would likely affect fall wildfire activity.”
    4. The actual measured data “show no all‐region trend in onset of winter precipitation or October–November wet‐day frequency during 1915–2018” See fig 6.
    5. Section 3.3.2 goes further and states “There is no evidence thus far of changes in the frequency or intensity of dry wind events in fall.”

    “Large autumn fires are also likely to become increasingly frequent”….good grief what a bunch of junk science and deception!

    What makes me qualified to speak? I was the Fire Weather Program Manager for the western Great Basin interagency fire center. I have been a professional meteorologist for 30+ years with a BS degree in Meteorology and a MS in Environmental Engineering.

    “Large autumn fires are also likely to become increasingly frequent with continued warming and possibly gradual declines in autumn precipitation.”

    Did you see the bias? The researcher specifically emphasized that the growing trend was MAINLY DUE to an eightfold increase in SUMMERTIME forest fire area.

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