Reviews of weather events and climate news are normally written some days after the fact to give time for accurate information to become available, and as I have the time to research and write it. If you're looking for weather news as it breaks, I've listed reliable, organised sources on AWN's Weather and Climate Media Reports page.
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Climate & climate change briefs
The United Nations Climate Conference in Bonn, Germany, opened on Monday 6 November. Its full title, The Bonn Conference of the State Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is shortened to COP23 for mere mortals and it runs through to 17 November. More about it and news from each day's sessions is here. That seems like a good reason to review some of the climate news from the past few days.
- Climate activists, who have a quasi-official presence just outside the Conference, kicked off proceedings by awarding Australia the very first "Fossil of the Day" award. These are being presented daily to countries judged to be doing the best in blocking effective progress in combatting climate change. The event received little coverage down under, but was picked up in this Radio New Zealand interview with a representative of Pacific Island activists, and by Australia's Green Left Weekly.
- Despite announcing that it will pull out of the Paris Climate deal, making it the only UN country outside the pact now that Nicaragua and Syria have joined, the USA is represented at COP23 by an official delegation who say they will "promote fossil fuels and nuclear power as solutions to climate change." The BBC reports on the incredulity this has provoked at the conference and quotes
participant Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists as saying "It's not a credible solution, but that doesn't seem to bother them. They might even welcome some of the reaction to show to their base that they are fighting for America's interest and not this globalist malarkey."
- For those that believe it is all "globalist malarkey", that the climate has changed before and this is just another one of those natural changes, archaeologist Peter Campbell has this rebuttal in The Guardian. He shows how archaeology reveals that temperature changes in the past of just a few degrees have caused extreme global events, and how current changes are unlike anything in the past.
- One of the emerging issues at COP23 is that developed nations seem to be focussing on their 2030 goals without having or ticking off milestones on the way. China, India, Brazil and others are questioning whether, if wealthier nations have not made significant progress by 2020, they will be able to meet their self-declared 2030 goals reports Thomson Reuters Foundation.
- Also at COP23, nations hit by climate change intensified storms, flooding, drought and sea level rise - often the poorest - are asking who will pay the rising cost of disasters given that they have reaped little benefit from industrialisation and the global warming it has caused. Developed nations have been reluctant to discuss the question of who pays for loss and damage because of the fear of compensation demands. However, with damages estimated to run into hundreds of billions of dollars by 2030, this murky area is being pushed at the conference. [Thomson Reuters Foundation]
|Wednesday 8 November 2017
Worst week of wildfires on record devastates California
At the same time as the devastating wildfires in Portugal and Spain described on 25 October [AWN], California experienced the worst wildfires in the history of the state both for loss of life and property. In the week from 8 October, hundreds of wildfires coalesced into 21 major conflagrations that brought firestorms on a front over 150km wide to the Napa/Sonoma area famous for its wines north of San Francisco. The fires were only slowly brought under control, with five still active at the end of October.
The Calfire Statewide Fire Summary* reported that the fires "burned over 245,000 acres, 11,000 firefighters battled the destructive fires that at one time forced 100,000 to evacuate, destroyed an estimated 8,900 structures (as damage assessment continues, this is the latest count), and sadly, took the lives of 43 people."
Common factors were at work in the Iberian and Californian fires: hot, dry, strong winds following a long period without rainfall during which forest and grassland dried to provide ready fuel for wildfire. Both areas experience Mediterranean climates, with long, dry hot summers so that October, early autumn, has the greatest incidence of major fires based on past records. But there were significant differences between the two catastrophes.
Portugal and NW Spain were unlucky to be affected by the strong outer winds of Hurricane Ophelia, the easternmost Atlantic Hurricane in the records since 1851 [NOAA], just at the time it was transitioning into a major Hurricane. This very rare meteorological event brought hot, dry air from the African Sahara along with gale force winds, the worst possible combination for forest fires. Large areas of central and northern Portugal and NW Spain are forest country with relatively sparse population, and with around 600 fires burning at the height of the event, firefighting systems were overwhelmed. In addition, questions have been raised about both countries' preparedness in forest management practices, evacuation procedures, fire defense infrastructure and fire education.
Central California, on the other hand, regularly experiences hot, dry Diablo and Santa Ana winds in October, which can reach well above gale force as they fan out from the interior over the coastal mountains and through canyons onto the plains. Raging wildfires have been part of the seasonal routine for at least the 5,000 years of human habitation. This year, a very wet winter provided ample fuel to be dried by a record hot Californian summer. The most damaging fires were concentrated into large blazes and affected outer urban areas with relatively high population densities, accounting for the large loss of homes and other structures [New York Times]. That there not more deaths is partly due to preparedness.
The population explosion into an area that is naturally highly wildfire-prone is the major problem, as it has become in Australia. Calfire's preliminary estimate of 5,643 structures lost in the main Tubbs fire in this event is twice that of the previous highest loss of 2,900 in the Tunnel fire in Oakland Hills of October 1991 with another three blazes in October 2017 having the dubious distinction of a listing in their Top 20 Most Destructive California Wildfires. In a good article headed California’s wildfires aren’t “natural” — humans made them worse at every step, Vox shows one study that projects that by 2050, 645,000 houses will exist in very high wildfire severity zones, the state's highest level. Much of the article will sound familiar to Australian capital city dwellers.
Additional useful references are this Wikipedia entry that is being progressively updated with new information, and Weather Underground blogs by Bob Henson and Sean Breslin, both written at the height of the fires examining the meteorology behind them and the experiences of those who lived through them.
Australian weather briefs
- A severe thunderstorm struck Bundaberg QLD late on Tuesday afternoon, 7 November. Described in an ABC News story as "the worst non-cyclonic storm to hit the region in a decade", the supercell thunderstorm hit the Airport just before 17.00 with a gust of 98km/h, the strongest there in over 20 years. Wild wind tore roofs off homes, lifted a shed off its footings and hurled it across a road and downed about 200 powerlines and many trees, including a century-old fig tree. The Airport recorded 22.8mm in the 10 minutes to 17.00 and photographs around Bundaberg show the ground covered in hail. Ergon Energy said that 26,000 premises in Bundaberg lost power, with at least 10,000 spending the night without electricity. The ABC News story yesterday has two videos that give a good feel for what was a spectacular event.
- Elsewhere in QLD on Tuesday afternoon, strong winds and hail lashed the Sunshine and Gold Coasts and Brisbane area. Hail to 4cm was reported from Kandanga, S of Gympie, and Beaudesert inland from the Gold Coast, while Double Island Point, 50km ENE of Gympie, reported wind gusts to 107km/h. Flights at Brisbane Airport were delayed by up to an hour during the storm there.
- In NSW, damaging storms hit the lower Hunter Valley and Central Coast around mid-afternoon on Monday 6 November. The worst damage occurred in Kurri Kurri, 10km SW of Maitland, where SES told ABC News that the strong wind caused a community centre roof to collapse, unroofed some houses and brought trees down on others. Ausgrid said 7,000 premises lost power, while Kurri Kurri Public School was closed by storm damage. On the Central Coast at Toukley, the wind was strong enough to lift a catamaran onto the roof of a house, and local blackouts occurred around Wyong.
|Wednesday 25 October 2017
Ex-Hurricane Ophelia unleashes windstorm in British Isles, fires and hellish skies in Western Europe
Dry winds whipped up from the Sahara by ex-Hurricane Ophelia brought massive wildfires to Portugal and Spain from 14 October into the following week, killing 48 people in the two countries and recalling the fires in central Portugal in June this year. Those fires, in the Pedrógão Grande area about 150km N of Lisbon, were the worst in the country's history taking the lives of at least 64 people.
| This apocalyptic view of Vieira de Leiria, on the coast 125km N of Lisbon, is made the more ominous by the combination of angry flames and crimson, dust-filled sky breaking through gaps in the solid wall of wildfire smoke. For other dramatic photos and videos of the fires in Portugal and Spain, many of which came right into large population centres, go to this special Severe Weather Europe report. João Mourinho.
The new round of fires were fanned by southerly winds gusting to 90km/h racing up the eastern side of the hurricane as it transitioned to ex-hurricane status on its way to Ireland. When Ophelia was west of Africa at Category 4 strength, unknown in the record books so far east in the Atlantic, the winds collected warm, dry air filled with red desert dust, straight from the African Sahara. The New York Times [partial paywall] quoted national authorities as saying that by Monday 16 October about 500 fires were burning in heavy forest country in central and northern Portugal and a further 90 in NW Spain. This follow-up by Reuters gives further details.
The official death toll as of yesterday was just over 40, but as with all natural disasters this will continue to rise as missing people are found to have perished. 180,000ha or 1,800sq km was burnt on Sunday 15 October, the worst day, alone. The Prime Minister of Spain said arson was suspected in many cases, and government at all levels, especially in Portugal, recognise that forest management practices are a major problem (as the Chilean report into the disastrous fires there in January 2017 found).
The plume from the fire smoke mixed with the Saharan dust travelled in an arc across W France, Benelux, N Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Poland and the Baltic States into Russia, even reaching Moscow. The disc of the sun in many of these countries, when it was visible at all, was blood red. This dramatic photo taken closer to the fires, at Grado in Asturias, NW Spain, shows the entire sky blotted out with smoke and dust.
Ophelia, still packing hurricane-force winds as it moved up the west coast of Ireland, then gradually lost strength as it curved across Northern Ireland, the Irish Sea, and northern England into the North Sea. Storm and in places hurricane-force winds were experienced in Wales and the west and north of England, with a band of the strongest winds moving along the southern then eastern coasts of Ireland, into the Irish Sea and up the English Channel, then across central and northern England. The whole of Ireland was under amber weather alert with authorities and the government asking people to remain indoors for the day, yet three people died, two when cars they were driving were struck by falling trees and the third while chain-sawing a fallen tree who was hit by another one falling.
A detailed account of the day's events is given in this article in The Guardian while Al Jazeera filed this video report. Floodlist issued a report containing information on the meteorological, flooding and storm surge aspects of the event and some impressive information from Met Eireann and the UK Met Office. Severe Weather Europe compiled 15 videos it received into a broad coverage of events on land and at sea, while Joe Macri prepared this powerful video of storm-force winds and phenomenal seas striking the Cornish coast in SW England.