California water supply dream

sunshine hours

I’m dreaming of a wet California …

“With full reservoirs and a dense snowpack, this year is practically a California water supply dream,” California DWR Director Karla Nemeth said April 2, 2019, after latest Sierra snowpack measurement.

California state officials made their monthly snowpack measurement at Phillips Station in the Sierra and confirmed there will be no lack of water this year.

Snowpack at the station was at 200% of average while statewide snowpack is 162% of average.

“This is great news for this year’s water supply, but water conservation remains a way of life in California, rain or shine,” California Department of Water Resources said.

The state has experienced more than 30 atmospheric rivers since the start of the water year, six in February alone, and statewide snow water equivalent has nearly tripled since February 1, officials said.

Phillips Station now stands at 106.5 inches (270.5 cm) of snow…

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Natural climate processes overshadow recent human-induced Walker circulation trends

Reblogged from Watts Up With That:

Institute for Basic Science

Normal conditions (top), strengthening due to natural variability (middle) and weakening due to greenhouse warming (bottom). Black arrows represent horizontal and vertical winds with the shading on the background map illustrating ocean temperatures. Over the past few decades, natural variability has strengthened the Pacific Walker circulation leading to enhanced cooling in the equatorial central-to-eastern Pacific (middle). Climate models forced by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations simulate weakening of the Walker circulation (bottom). (Right) Temporal evolution of model-simulated Walker circulation trends, with the dark blue line and orange shading denoting anthropogenically-induced changes and the impact of natural processes, respectively. Credit IBS

Normal conditions (top), strengthening due to natural variability (middle) and weakening due to greenhouse warming (bottom). Black arrows represent horizontal and vertical winds with the shading on the background map illustrating ocean temperatures. Over the past few decades, natural variability has strengthened the Pacific Walker circulation leading to enhanced cooling in the equatorial central-to-eastern Pacific (middle). Climate models forced by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations simulate weakening of the Walker circulation (bottom). (Right) Temporal evolution of model-simulated Walker circulation trends, with the dark blue line and orange shading denoting anthropogenically-induced changes and the impact of natural processes, respectively. Credit IBS

A new study, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that the recent intensification of the equatorial Pacific wind system, known as Walker Circulation, is unrelated to human influences and can be explained by natural processes. This result ends a long-standing debate on the drivers of an unprecedented atmospheric trend, which contributed to a three-fold acceleration of sea-level rise in the western tropical Pacific, as well as to the global warming hiatus.

Driven by the east-west sea surface temperature difference across the equatorial Pacific, the Walker circulation is one of the key features of the global atmospheric circulation. It is characterized by ascending motion over the Western Pacific and descending motion in the eastern equatorial Pacific. At the surface trade winds blow from east to west, causing upwelling of cold water along the equator. From the early 1990s to about 2013, this circulation has intensified dramatically, cooling the eastern equatorial Pacific and triggering shifts in global winds and rainfall (see Figure 1). These conditions further contributed to drying in California, exacerbating mega-drought conditions and impacting agriculture, water resources and wild fires. Given these widespread impacts on ecosystems and society, the recent Walker circulation trends have become subject of intense research.

In contrast to the observed strengthening, the majority of climate computer models simulates a gradual weakening of the Walker Circulation when forced by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations (see Figure 1). “The discrepancy between climate model projections and observed trends has led to speculations about the fidelity of the current generation of climate models and their representation of tropical climate processes”, said Eui-Seok Chung, researcher from the Center for Climate Physics, Institute for Basic Science, South Korea, and lead-author of the study.

To determine whether the observed changes in the tropical atmospheric circulation are due to natural climate processes or caused by human-induced climate change, scientists from South Korea, the United States and Germany came together to conduct one of the most comprehensive big-data analyses of recent atmospheric trends to date. “Using satellite data, improved surface observations and a large ensemble of climate model simulations, our results demonstrate that natural variability, rather than anthropogenic effects, were responsible for the recent strengthening of the Walker circulation”, said Prof. Axel Timmermann, Director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University and co-author of this study.

In their integrated analysis, the researchers found that the satellite-inferred strengthening of the Walker circulation is substantially weaker than implied by other surface observations used in previous studies. “Putting surface observations in context with latest satellite products was a key element of our study”, said co-author Dr. Lei Shi from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in the United States.

Analyzing 61 different computer model simulations forced with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, the authors showed that, although the average response is a Walker circulation weakening, there are substantial discrepancies amongst the individual model experiments, in particular when considering shorter-term trends. “We found that some models are even consistent with the observed changes in the tropical Pacific, in stark contrast to other computer experiments that exhibit more persistent weakening of the Walker circulation during the observational period”, said co-author Dr. Viju John from EUMETSAT in Germany. The authors were then able to tease apart what caused the spread in the computer model simulations.

Co-author Prof. Kyung-Ja Ha from the IBS Center for Climate Physics and Pusan National University explains “Natural climate variability, associated for instance with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation or the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation can account for a large part of diversity in simulated tropical climate trends”.

“The observed trends are not that unusual. In climate model simulations we can always find shorter-term periods of several decades that show similar trends to those inferred from the satellite data. However, in most cases, and when considering the century-scale response to global warming, these trends reverse their sign eventually”, said co-author Prof. Brian Soden from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, at the University of Miami, United States.

The study concludes that the observed strengthening of the Walker circulation from about 1990-2013 and its impact on western Pacific sea level, eastern Pacific cooling, drought in the Southwestern United States, was a naturally occurring phenomenon, which does not stand in contrast to the notion of projected anthropogenic climate change. Given the high levels of natural decadal variability in the tropical Pacific, it would take at least two more decades to detect unequivocally the human imprint on the Pacific Walker Circulation (see Figure 1, right panel).

California acknowledges government policy failures in wildfires – not nebulous “climate change” excuses

Reblogged from Watts Up With That:

Guest essay by Larry Hamlin

Articles in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Orange County Register address Governor Newsom’s declaration of a state of emergency to allow the state to waive environmental extremist laws and regulations that are needed so that Cal Fire can proceed with actions to clear dead trees, remove excessive undergrowth, thin out excessive tree growth and crowding, use prescribed fire, etc. to improve forest health and decrease Ca. wildfire risks.



California Governor Brown erroneously claimed that scientifically unsupported and nebulous “climate change” was driving the states wildfires while ignoring decades of pleas from forest and fire fighting professionals to address failed government and regulatory policies which were allowing the build up of excessive fuel which was leading to more intense and dangerous wildfires as addressed in a WUWT article as follows:

“In October 18, 2015 L. A. Times article wildfire experts unsupportive of Brown’s position noted that:

“Today’s forest fires are indeed larger than those of the past, said National Park Service climate change scientist Patrick Gonzalez.

At a symposium sponsored by Brown’s administration, Gonzalez presented research attributing that trend to policies of fighting the fires, which create thick under layers of growth, rather than allowing them to burn.

“We are living right now with a legacy of unnatural fire suppression of approximately a century,” Gonzalez told attendees.”

This century long policy of fire suppression and its impact of Ca. wildfires is further reflected in a 2015 University of California Berkeley study which noted:

“National parks and other protected areas clearly provide an important function in removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it,” said Battles. “But we also know from previous research that a century of fire suppression has contributed to a potentially unsustainable buildup of vegetation. This buildup provides abundant fuel for fires that contribute to carbon emissions.”

Before this state of emergency action by Governor Newsom the state ignored the comprehensive Little Hoover Commission report of February 2017 that laid out in detail the failure of states forest management and environmental polices which were found to be driving the increased wildfire intensity and damage.


Governor Newsom’s state of emergency declaration action is in accordance with recommendations contained in the most recent wildfire study by Cal Fire.


Governor Browns flawed and politically contrived claim of “climate change” driven wildfires was never supported by scientific data which shows that California has a long history going back centuries of extensive and severe droughts and that recent droughts are in fact less severe than the state has experienced in the past.


The Los Angeles Times article noted that some “experts” were in disagreement with the need for Governor Newsom to take these actions but the Governor rebutted these challenges as follows:.

“At the news conference, Newsom acknowledged the criticism, and rebutted it.

“Some people, you know, want to maintain our processes and they want to maintain our rules and protocols,” the governor said. “But I’m going to push back on that. Some of these projects quite literally, not figuratively, could take two years to get done, or we could get them done in the next two months. That’s our choice.”

Finally California has begun to address reality in dealing with the state wildfire debacle by acknowledging its role in building this huge problem instead of continuing to make phony “climate change” excuses for these wildfires.

This action should never have taken so long to occur but instead should have been initiated many years ago.

Planet-Sized Experiments – we’ve already done the 2°C test

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

People often say that we’re heading into the unknown with regards to CO2 and the planet. They say we can’t know, for example, what a 2°C warming will do because we can’t do the experiment. This is seen as important because for unknown reasons, people have battened on to “2°C” as being the scary temperature rise that we’re told we have to avoid at all costs.

But actually, as it turns out, we have already done the experiment. Below I show the Berkeley Earth average surface temperature record for Europe. Europe is a good location to analyze, because some of the longest continuous temperature records are from Europe. In addition, there are a lot of stations in Europe that have been taking record for a long time. This gives us lots of good data.

So without further ado, here’s the record of the average European temperature.

Figure 1. Berkeley Earth average European temperature, 1743 – 2013. Red/yellow line is an 8-year Gaussian average. Horizontal red and blue lines are 2°C apart.

Temperatures were fairly steady until about the year 1890, when they began to rise. Note that this was BEFORE the large modern rise in CO2 … but I digress.

And from 1890 or so to 2013, temperatures in Europe rose by about 2°C. Which of course brings up the very important question …

We’ve done the 2°C experiment … so where are the climate catastrophes?

Seriously, folks, we’re supposed to be seeing all kinds of bad stuff. But none of it has happened. No cities gone underwater. No increase in heat waves or cold waves. No islands sinking into the ocean. No increase in hurricanes. No millions of climate refugees. The tragedies being pushed by the failed serial doomcasters for the last 30 years simply haven’t come to pass.

I mean, go figure … I went to Thermageddon and all I got was this lousy t-shirt …

In fact, here’s the truth about the effects of the warming …

Figure 2. Average annual climate-related (blue line) and non-climate-related (red line) deaths in natural disasters. Data from OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database

In just under a century, climate-related deaths, which are deaths from floods, droughts, storms, wildfires, and extreme temperatures, have dropped from just under half a million down to about twenty thousand … and during this same time, temperatures all over the globe have been warming.

So no, folks, there is no climate emergency. Despite children happily skipping class to march in lockstep to the alarmist drumbeat, climate is not the world’s biggest problem, or even in the top ten. Despite the pathetic importunings of “Beta” O’Rourke, this is not World War II redux. Despite Hollywood stars lecturing us as they board their private jets, there are much bigger issues for us to face.

The good news is, the people of the world know that the climate scare is not important. The UN polled almost ten million people as to what issues matter the most to them. The UN did their best to push the climate scare by putting that as the first choice on their ballot … but even with that, climate came in dead last, and by a long margin. Here is what the people of the world actually find important:

Figure 3. Results of the UN “My World” poll. Further analytic data here.

As you can see, there were sixteen categories. People put education, healthcare, and jobs at the top … and way down at the very bottom, “Action taken on climate change” came in at number sixteen.

In summary:

We’ve done the two degree Celsius experiment.

The lack of any climate-related catastrophes indicates that warming is generally either neutral or good for animal and plant life alike.

Climate related deaths are only about a twentieth of what they were a hundred years ago.

The people of the planet generally don’t see climate as an important issue. Fact Check: They are right.


Here, my gorgeous ex-fiancee and I are wandering on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We went and looked at Death Valley. It’s a couple hundred feet below sea level, and very, very dry. In the Valley, I saw that there was a temperature station at Stovepipe Wells. So I immediately looked for that essential accessory to any well-maintained temperature station … the air conditioner exhaust. Here you go, you can just see the air conditioner on the right side of this south-looking photo:

But what good is an air conditioner without some good old black heat-absorbing asphalt pavement to balance it out? So of course, they’ve provided that as well … here’s the view looking west. I’m not sure if this station is still in use, but any readings here would certainly be suspect.

Heck, if we’d parked our pickup truck facing outwards in the next stall to the left and revved the engine, we probably could have set a new high temperature record for this date …

Death Valley itself is stunningly stark, with the bones of the earth poking up through the skin …

Ah, dear friends, the world is full of wonders, far too many for any man to see all of them … keep your foot pressed firmly on the accelerator, time is the one thing that none of us have enough of. As Mad Tom o’ Bedlam sang,

With a host of furious fancies, whereof I am commander
With a sword of fire and a steed of air through the universe I wander
By a ghost of rags and shadows, I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wild world’s end … methinks it is no journey.

Today we’re at Boulder Creek, just east of the Sierras by Owens Lake … or Owens Ex-Lake, because all the water that used to fill the lake now waters gardens in LA.

However, the drought is broken in California, and some of the Sierra ski resorts have gotten forty or fifty feet of snow over the winter, so the east slope of the Sierras look like this where we are:

I am put in mind of what the poet said …

Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

My very best to each one of you, sail on, sail beyond …


HiFast Note:

Willis’ photos of the Stevenson screen were taken at the Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station (36.608169, -117.144553)

Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station

The USCRN site ISWC1 is about 700m south (36.601914, -117.145068).

California Drought History

Sierra Foothill Commentary

During the last drought, I made about 85 posts on the issue, pointing out the drought history of the region was chaotic, with dry periods and wet periods, with some very long dry periods. In those posts, I supported the need for more dams to catch and store the feeble about of moisture collected during the dry periods, including the Centennial Dam Project.

This drought timeline tells the story of drought in the region;


California is relatively drought-free right now, but if history is an indicator of the future we will have more drought.


H/T to Watts Up With That for links to the Graphics.  

If you are interested in learning more about drought and flooding in the region, I recommend The West Without Water and books by Anthropologist David L. Stuart on the struggle of the Pueblo Peoples to survive in the South West. Our relatively wet period could…

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Warmer California winters will reduce Sierra Nevada snowpack

Jerry Brown’s myopic view of climate from 2016:

California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.:  “California droughts are expected to be more frequent and persistent, as warmer winter temperatures driven by climate change reduce water held in the Sierra Nevada snowpack and result in drier soil conditions. Recognizing these new conditions, the executive order directs permanent changes to use water more wisely and efficiently, and prepare for more frequent, persistent periods of limited supply.”  9 May 2016.

Source via Wayback Machine:

[edit, photo added below from KOLO 8 Reno, 7 Mar 2019]:

No photo description available.


California’s Reservoirs Are Doing Well

sunshine hours

Most of the reservoir’s in California are well above the historical average percent.

But, if the Pineapple Express dumps a lot of rain it could be flood time.

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Disentangling California Drought

Reblogged from Watts Up With That:

Here is Jim Steele’s newest column article for the Tribune and 5 other Marin papers,~ctm

Pacifica Tribune column, January 16, 2019

What’s Natural?

Disentangling California Drought


Devastating droughts are a great concern. Droughts disrupt ecosystems, agriculture, and drinking water supplies. Contrary to headlines suggesting we have only 12 years before descending into climate hell with more severe droughts, historically, Californians are not experiencing more severe droughts. Despite low stream flows and withering plants, there’s no agreement on how to best define drought. Different methods suggest different severities for the same drought. Thus, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent assessment, downgraded their ability to detect the causes of drought to “low confidence”.

Ocean circulation determines how much rain reaches the land. Each summer, California naturally experiences months of drought because storms carrying ocean moisture are blocked. Every few years, a rainy El Niño year alternates with drought producing La Niñas. But 20 years of more frequent La Niñas can cause 20 years of drought. To address natural precipitation shifts, California constructed ~1400 dams, storing water during wet years that can be released during drought years. Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy reservoir supplies about 25% of San Francisco’s drinking water and 17% of its electricity. Misguided attempts to remove its dam would be disastrous for humans with scant environmental benefits.

NOAA scientists analyzed California’s 2011-2014 drought concluding it was dominated by a La Niña and natural variability. In contrast, their models suggested any greenhouse contribution was “very small”. Similarly, drought-sensitive tree rings suggested the extremely low precipitation was not unprecedented nor “outside the range of natural variability”. For 1200 years, extremely low rainfall happens a few times every century.

However, because higher temperatures can theoretically increase evaporation and dry the land, some researchers define drought by calculating the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). Despite using the same tree rings, the PDSI transformed a natural California drought into the worst in 1200 years, evoking global warming fears.

What to trust?

Most scientists agree the PDSI is biased towards worse droughts, because it assumes higher temperatures always dry the land. However, the opposite is also true! Without moisture to absorb heat, drier conditions produce higher temperatures. Studies using more accurate measurements than the PDSI find no increase in global droughts.

Before significant CO2 warming was possible, Dust Bowl years from 1928-1939 and the 1950s drought were the most severe 20th century American droughts. La Niña-like ocean temperatures blocked rain storms and triggered the Dust Bowl while plowing up native grasses made it worse. More concerning is 2 century-long megadroughts between 900 AD and 1400 AD. Trying to survive increasing dryness Native Americans created dams and irrigation canals. But those droughts finally led to the demise of once thriving Pueblo Cultures such as Mesa Verde.

Will our modern water infrastructure protect us if drought history repeats?

Reducing our carbon foot print or whacky plans to shade the earth from the sun to lower global temperatures will have no effect. Lower temperatures may in fact increase major droughts. Droughts during the 1750s, 1820s, and 1850s-1860s were similar to the 1950s. During the cool 1500s, the southwestern United States and Mexico suffered decades long droughts of “epic proportions”.

Coincident with the Pueblo Culture’s demise, drought is detected in sediments of San Francisco Bay. Droughts reduce stream flows that normally flush the bay, allowing salty ocean water to encroach deeper into the Bay’s delta. Past droughts caused the Bay’s Suisun Marsh to become 40% saltier. Suisun Marsh is now considered the only sustainable habitat for a critically endangered fish, the Delta Smelt. The current theory for the Delta Smelt’s demise is agricultural diversions of freshwater raised salinity to intolerable levels. That perceived competition for freshwater has pitted farmers against efforts to save the smelt. Learning how the smelt survived a thousand years of much higher salinity might provide a win-win solution.

Agricultural and urban needs also compete with salmon survival. One promising win-win solution is having juvenile salmon develop in irrigated rice fields after hatching. Experiments show young salmon grow much bigger in rice fields. Additionally, low stream flows hamper salmon migration. But when enough water is naturally stored as groundwater, seasonal groundwater release can maintain adequate summer stream flows. Unfortunately, landscape changes have caused stream channels to cut downwards, draining local groundwater and drying the land. Restoring streams and groundwater would provide great benefits.

During my research in the Sierra Nevada, a meadow we were monitoring began to dry; willows died, and bird populations crashed. Many suggested it was just what global warming models predict. However, we determined a railroad track built over 100 years ago had caused the meadow’s stream channel to cut downwards, draining its groundwater. I initiated a watershed restoration. Vegetation quickly recovered, and wildlife increased. Despite California’s years of extreme drought, the restored meadow remained wetter than it had before restoration and before the drought.

So, I warn: knee-jerk reactions simply blaming climate change for devastating dryness, blind us to real causes and real environmental solutions.

Jim Steele authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism.


California’s Wildfire History – in one map

Reblogged from Watts Up With That:

Here is an interesting interactive graphic that depicts perimeters of more than 100 years of California wildfires recorded by Cal Fire and the U.S. Geological Survey. The map below shows all the cumulative fires from 1878 to 2018. It seems as if there is very little of California that has not been touched by wildfire. Large areas of desert in the southeast are mostly untouched due to lack of vegetation.

From the About page:

This map shows the perimeters of wildfires that have burned in California from 1878 to 2018 using data from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the U.S. Geological Survey. The wildfires are categorized by the year in which they started. Perimeter information from fires that started between 1878 and 2017 comes from Cal Fire, while information on the Thomas Fire and fires that started in 2018 comes from the USGS.

Cal Fire says that their dataset — which runs from 1878 to 2017 as of January 2019 — is the most complete dataset of California wildfire perimeters before 1950. However, the pre-1950 information shown here is incomplete and should not be used for further analysis.

Cal Fire’s data on this map shows timber fires that burned more than 10 acres, brush fires that burned more than 50 acres and grass fires that burned more than 300 acres. The USGS data comes from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, which have lower acreage requirements for recording fire perimeters. Because of that, Cal Fire’s data is less comprehensive than the data of their federal partners, which was used for the 2018 fires shown on this map.

This map shows the perimeters of Cal Fire and the U.S. Geological Survey’s recorded wildfires, but it should be noted that not everything within a wildfire perimeter has burned. This means that the areas shown here do not necessarily represent burned areas.

CapRadio changed the names of two fires from the names reported by Cal Fire. Cal Fire’s names for the fires included a racial slur, so we have edited the word in accordance with Associated Press guidelines and our own standards.

Here is the interactive link:

What’s Natural? A Look at Wildfires

Reblogged from Watts Up With That:

Jim Steele writes: I am excited to announce my local weekly paper the Pacifica Tribune has added me as a columnist. Every 2 weeks I will post my column “What’s Natural”. The publisher has 5 other papers in the SF paper which might also carry the column. To publish a more skeptical and scientific opinion, while deep in the heart of this blue state is a bold move and reveals a commitment to objectivity and I am eager to see what kind of reaction it gets. Pacifica is just south of San Francisco. Next column will be a look at drought.

What’s Natural?

A Look at Wildfires

In early December I surveyed the horrific Camp Fire disaster in Paradise. Having been director for 25 years of a university field station located in the heart of the Tahoe National Forest, I’ve been a “student” of fire ecology for 30 years and wanted a closer look at why row after row of homes completely incinerated while surrounding trees were merely scorched, with leaves and needles browned but not burnt?


Large fires have recently ravaged about 1.8 million California acres a year, prompting media and politicians to proclaim a “new normal” that’s “evidence of global warming”. But UC Berkeley fire ecologists have calculated that before 1800, fires burned 4 million California acres each year (despite cooler temperatures). So what natural fire dynamics promote such extensive burning?

Wildfires have indeed increased since 1970, but that’s relative to previous decades of intensive fire prevention. As fire was recognized as a natural and necessary phenomenon for healthy ecosystems a new era began. In the 70s the US Forest Service moved away from extinguishing all fires by 10 AM the day after detection, switching to a “let it burn policy” if human structures were not endangered.

Paradise, unfortunately, sprung up amidst a forest dominated by Ponderosa pines. Largely due to frequent lightning strikes and dry summers, Ponderosa habitat endures fires about every 11 years. Fortunately for California’s coastal residents, lightning is rare. However, both regions are vulnerable to human ignitions, which start 85-95% of all fires. Recognizing this growing problem, a bipartisan bill was presented to Governor Brown two years ago to secure our power grid. Shockingly he vetoed it. That was a bad choice given the Camp Fire, Wine Country Fires and many more were sparked by an ageing electrical infrastructure. Recent studies show larger fires result from a confluence of human ignitions and high winds. But it is not just random coincidence. The high winds that spread these massive fires also blow down power lines that ignite those fires.

In 2008 the world’s foremost expert on fire history, Stephen Pyne lamented, “global warming has furnished political cover to encourage certain fire management decisions while allowing climate to take the blame.” How true. Both PGE and Governor Brown have blamed wildfires on climate change.

When you build a camp fire, you intuitively understand fire ecology basics. You do not hold a match to a log no matter how dry. You start a camp fire with kindling. Fire ecologists call forest kindling, like dead grass, leaves and small shrubs, “fine fuels”. In dry weather “fine fuels” become highly combustible in a matter of hours, or at most days, even during the winter. Furthermore, California’s summer climate is naturally dry for 3-4 months, creating highly combustible habitat each and every summer.

Additionally, camp fires only smolder without enough air, so we huff and puff to get a burst of flames. Likewise, high winds turn a spark into a major conflagration. It was strong winds that rapidly spread the Camp Fire. The fast-moving flames, feeding on “fine fuels” littering the forest floor, generated enough heat to ignite flammable homes that then burned from the inside out; but only enough heat to char the bark of most surrounding trees.

Miraculously spared buildings dotting a devastated landscape made the case for creating “defensible spaces” by managing the “fine fuels”. Surveying one unscathed church, the fire clearly came within 100 feet, scorching the base of every encircling tree. But due to a parking lot and a well-manicured lawn, the lack of “fine fuels” stopped the fire in its tracks. Trees on the lawn were not even charred. The public would benefit greatly if wildfire news stories emphasized the need to create adequate defensible spaces.

With high deserts to the east and the ocean to the west, California’s winds shift with the seasons. Land temperatures always change faster than the ocean’s. In the summer, warmer land surfaces draw in moist sea breezes. The resulting fog moistens coastal landscapes and reduces fire danger there. Thus, any warming, whether natural or CO2 driven, should increase the fog.

In the autumn, the land cools faster than the ocean causing the winds to reverse direction. The colder it gets, the stronger the winds blow from the high deserts towards the coast, peaking in December. These winds are called Santa Annas in southern California. The Wine Country fires were spread by the Diablo winds. But regardless of the name, the science is the same. Accordingly, it was November winds that fanned a spark into an inferno aimed directly at the heart of Paradise.

It has long been known that due to these autumn and winter winds, much of California endures a dangerous fire season year-round. On the optimistic side, any warming of the land during the cool seasons, whether natural or CO2 driven, should reduce these winds. Indeed, the natural drivers of wildfire are very complex, and maintaining a defensible space is our safest bet.

Jim Steele is author of “Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism”. Contact him at