Fire and Flood  

 

   


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Sunday January 14, 2018 Fire and Flood One of the warnings given by the scientists that study climate change is that the number and severity of severe weather events is likely to increase as global temperatures increase.  2017 was a year where we saw some pretty bad disasters and 2018 is already beginning to show the signs that it too will be a bad year for weather related disasters. 

 

Changing climate patterns impacting the West Coast over the past few years have set up perfect conditions for disaster.  It started out when a huge high pressure area stalled of the California coast back 2012 leading to four years of drought.  This came on top of the period from 2006 - 2010 which were also drought years.  Droughts of this duration have occurred in the past, but this one seems to be continuing with just short pauses.

 

These climate patterns set up the perfect conditions for a major natural disaster which is unfolding right now.  The long dry spell was punctuated with a wet winter for 2015 - 2016 in Southern California as the El Nino condition in the Southern Pacific began to fade allowing the polar jet to move south brining rains.  This wet weather was enough to promote a large amount of growth of vegetation in areas that had been dried out over the previous 4 years.  The weather pattern didn't persist though and was followed by a hotter than normal summer then one of the driest Falls ever recorded.  Over the last 6 months of 2017 less than an inch of rain fell in the LA basin. 
 
All the vegetation that had grown and flourished in the winter of 2017 now became tinder dry.  By the end of the year we saw the start of the Thomas fire which would become the larges wildfire ever recorded for California.  The cause of the fire has not yet been determined but power equipment owned by Southern California Edison is a primary suspect.  Before it was fully contained the Thomas fire burned for more than a month consuming 281,893 acres which is a little over 440 square miles.  That's an area larger than the city of San Diego.

 
Mother nature wasn't done just yet.  After the long dry start to the season on January 9th Southern California received its first significant rainfall.  A Pacific storm slid down the coast dumping as much as 1 - 2 inches per hour over the Thomas fire burn area.  With the vegetation burned exposing topsoil the powerful rain soon turned into a river of mud and debris that descended on the town of Montecito destroying Million dollar homes and taking lives.

 

So far 20 people are confirmed dead and 5 people are still unaccounted for,  Hundreds of properties have been damaged or destroyed.  Some of these include the historic Montecito Inn and the San Ysidro Ranch, a famous getaway for Hollywood celebrities. 

 

The economic impact is being further exacerbated by the continued closure of the 101 freeway, the main route between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.  Tourist destinations in that area are suffering because the alternate route to these areas involves a 10 hour drive which  few are willing to attempt for a weekend getaway.  So far there has been no indication of when the 101 freeway is going to re-open but since this is a holiday weekend the loss of business is going to be hard on hotels, shops an restaurants north of Montecito who are loosing a lot of business.

 

While we can't clearly say that the events unfolding here in Southern California are caused by Global Warming we can be pretty sure that the effects have been amplified by the warming temperatures we are seeing around the world.  2017 is probably going to be the hottest year on record not linked to an El Nino event and so things that are happening here in Southern California, and even the record cold weather happening on the East Coast need to be raising a flag that we have to do more to reduce our carbon footprint and slow, then reverse, the warming trend.

 

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