Extreme Weather Watch: May 2014 – Fires Explode in San Diego, Floods Inundate Balkans

by on June 4, 2014 · 0 comments

in California, Environment, History, San Diego, World News

Extreme Weather WatchBy John Lawrence / San Diego Free Press

More than eight major fires and several smaller brush fires were burning from May 14 to May 17 in San Diego County during an unseasonal heat wave fueled by high Santa Ana winds.

Temperature records were set – highs of 97 in San Diego and 104 in both Escondido and El Cajon on May 15. More than a dozen southern California cities broke or tied high temperatures Wednesday, May 14.

The high temperature reached 99 in downtown Los Angeles, breaking the old record of 96 set 124 years ago. Airports in Long Beach and Camarillo topped 100 degrees – the warmest since 1981. Wind gusts in hilly areas of San Diego County reached over 100 miles per hour.

On May 17, the Santa Ana winds ceased and temperatures lowered from 98°F into the mid-90s, giving hope to firefighters. On May 18, weather conditions had returned to seasonal normal, with temperatures in the lower 80s and higher humidity. Most of the fires were fully contained at that point, including the Poinsettia Fire, Highway Fire, River Fire, Freeway Fire, Bernardo Fire, and the Tomahawk Fire. The Cocos Fire was extinguished on May 22, leaving only two Camp Pendleton wildfires (the San Mateo and Pulgas fires) still active.

By May 18, the fires had burned more than 27,000 acres (42 sq mi) of land. The three wildfires at Camp Pendleton are estimated to have burned 21,900 acres, which is nearly 18% of the base. More than 55 properties and buildings were damaged or destroyed including 11 houses, an 18-unit apartment complex and two businesses.

A badly burned body was found in a transient camp, and one firefighter suffered heat exhaustion. Estimates are that the fire cost close to $60 million, including $29.8 million in destruction or damage to private property, and $27.9 million in the costs of firefighting, support, and environmental damage.

big fireAs soon as the Santa Ana winds diminished, the fires were hastily put out. However, there was a sense of dread that drought-sapped vegetation, high temperatures and low humidity portend a long fire season ahead. Santa Anas and wildfire season don’t generally start until the fall. Now fire season seems to be all year long. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has responded to more than 1,500 fires so far this year, compared with about 800 during an average year.

“Normally, I don’t even put wildfire gear in my vehicle until the end of April. This year I never took it out,” Kirk Kushen, battalion chief of the Kern County Fire Department, said at a base camp in Escondido. “We never really completed the 2013 fire season. It’s been a continuation.”

The first blaze was caused by a spark from construction equipment, according to state officials, but it could take months to get to the bottom of what started the most damaging fires. Alberto Serrato, 57, pleaded not guilty to an arson charge in connection with one of the smaller fires, but authorities say they don’t believe he started it, just added brush to it.

“The last three years have been the driest in California’s recorded history,” Gov. Jerry Brown said, citing climate change as “a factor” in the spate of blazes. 100% of California is experiencing exceptional, extreme or severe drought conditions.

The Santa Ana winds, which are typical for October and November, do not usually occur this time of year, but Cal Fire Assistant Region Chief Thom Porter notes, “we’ve had this kind of wind … every month this year.” “As a native San Diegan, I have never seen the Santa Ana winds … in the month of May,” San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.

Fire season in Southern California typically starts late in the summer and extends into fall. But nowadays, as Jacob points out, “We have year-round fire risk.”

Flooding in the Balkans

bosnia floodAt exactly the same time span of the San Diego fires, there was massive flooding in the Balkans.

On May 17 BBCNews reported:

“More than two dozen people are feared dead in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Serbia after the worst floods in more than a century. Tens of thousands have fled their homes as several months of rain fell in a few days and rivers burst their banks. Landslides have buried houses. In one Bosnian town alone, Doboj, the mayor said more than 20 bodies had been taken to the mortuary.

“Observed from the air, almost a third of Bosnia, mostly its north-east corner, resembled a huge muddy lake, with houses, roads and rail lines submerged. According to a spokesman for Bosnia’s Security Ministry, about a million people – more than a quarter of the country’s population – live in the affected area.”

The area got four months worth of rain in a single day. Power and roads were cut off. There were over 2000 landslides in Bosnia alone. Eastern Croatia and southern Romania also experienced flooding, while Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Slovakia were also affected by the storm.

3.1 million people were affected with 81,879 evacuations. Rain was the heaviest in 120 years of recorded weather measurements. By 20 May, at least 62 people had died as a result of the flooding.

Preliminary assessments of the damage range up to several billions of dollars. Officials in Bosnia stated that the damage could exceed that of the Bosnian War. The events initiated a large international aid campaign, with numerous countries, organizations and individuals donating humanitarian, material and monetary support for the affected areas.

The IPCC notes that extreme rainfall events are expected to become more frequent. As Earth’s atmosphere warms with increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, the amount of water vapor within it increases, weighting the dice toward more substantial downpours even in areas that are expected to become drier in the long term. Every region of the U.S. has seen an increase in heavy downpours with the most recent occurrence coming last month in Florida, when a storm system dumped 10 to 15 inches of rain in the Pensacola area in just 24 hours.

Massive Mudslide in Colorado

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

On Sunday May 25 there was a mudslide on the Grand Mesa which caused an earthquake that registered 2.8 on the Richter scale, the U.S. Geological Survey office in Golden reported.

The slide happened near the town of Collbran and is about 3 miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide. It covers more than 700 acres. It was preceeded by torrential rain. Three men are missing.

“It’s an understatement to say that it is massive,” Sheriff Stan Hilkey told CNN. “The power behind it was remarkable.”

A mudslide, also called a debris flow, is a type of fast-moving landslide that follows a channel, such as a river. Mudslides occur after water rapidly saturates the ground on a slope, such as during a heavy rainfall.

Every year mudslides kill more people than typhoons, hurricanes and cyclones combined.

Right Wingers Take Note

The insurance industry is becoming a true believer in climate change as opposed to the right wing climate change deniers.

Insurance companies are becoming increasingly concerned, and more vocal, about the rising costs of climate change. With large fossil fuel companies reluctant to take greenhouse gas mitigation efforts in the face of potential profit losses, the behemoth insurance industry could provide a counterbalance to the energy industry when it comes to incentivizing near-term emissions cuts, or at least adaptation to the effects of climate change.

“Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry, have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming,” reported the New York Times.


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