Monday, August 22, 2016

CLIMATE CHANGE - Today's Extreme Weather

"Scientists analyze recent extreme weather events in relation to climate change" PBS NewsHour 8/17/2016


SUMMARY:  The second large-scale fire in California this week is raging through the southern part of the state, and the fatal flooding in Louisiana is worsening.  Combined with the fact that this past July was the planet's single hottest month recorded, are these events indicative of climate change?  William Brangham discusses with Columbia University's Adam Sobel and Louisiana State climatologist Barry Keim.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Two major disasters in two different parts of the country have sent tens of thousands of people fleeing from their homes, and caused millions of dollars in damage.  Are these just freak events, or are they in some way related to climate change?

William Brangham brings us the latest.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  It's called the Blue Cut Fire, and it's wreaking havoc in Southern California.  The massive blaze closed major roadways like part of Interstate-15 that connects Los Angeles and Las Vegas.  And last night, officials issued evacuation orders for more than 34,000 homes.  That's some 82,000 people.

WOMAN:  I think this is the worst that I have ever seen, you know?  And it's kind of getting used to the idea of being homeless.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  The fire erupted yesterday in the Cajon Pass, a critical corridor just north of San Bernardino, only 60 miles from Los Angeles.

It quickly expanded to more than 45 square miles.  Ten air tankers, 15 helicopters and some 1,300 firefighters were deployed within 24 hours.  They faced hot and windy conditions.

MICHAEL WAKOSKI, Southern California Incident Management Team:  The fuels are extremely dry and very explosive this time of year.  And in my 40 years of fighting fire, I have never seen fire behavior so extreme as it was yesterday.

MARK HARTWIG, Chief, San Bernardino County Fire and Rescue:  I was able to get up this morning and get some eyes on it from the air.  In a word, it was devastating, a lot of homes lost yesterday.  There'll be a lot of families that come home to nothing.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the Blue Cut area, as he did earlier this week for a major blaze north of San Francisco.  That fire has since started to fade.  The man suspected of sparking it, as well as 16 smaller fires over the last year, has now been charged with arson.

Seventeen hundred miles across the country, a different kind of disaster is unfolding in Louisiana, where some of the worst floods in history have hit the state.  As the water begins to recede in some parts, the numbers are stark.  At least 11 people have died, 30,000 people have been rescued, and 40,000 homes damaged.

MAN:  We lost everything, God, just about.  We got out safely and all of our friends are safe, so that's the main thing.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  So far, about 68,000 people have signed up for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  The American Red Cross says this flooding has triggered its largest disaster operation since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

The catastrophes in California and Louisiana have again raised the question:  Are these events caused in part by global climate change?  Both events follow a July that was the planet's single hottest month since records began in the 19th century, and many computer models have indicated that, as temperatures rise, droughts and extreme weather are likely to follow.

To help us sort out what's driving these extreme events, we turn to two scientists well-versed in these matters.  Barry Keim is a climatologist for the state of Louisiana and a professor at Louisiana State University, and Adam Sobel is a professor of environmental science at Columbia University.  He also directs its 'Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate.'

No comments: