Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fall Equinox 2012: Above the Clouds in the Smokey Climate

For three weekends a climb to the summit of Mt. Adams has eluded me.A wildfire sparked by a wave of lightening storms that swept across Eastern Washington on the weekend of September the 8th caused the closure of the South Spur trail to the Mt. Adams summit. I waited checking the inciweb, pining on every update wishing for a quick burn out that would allow for the climb. The fire only grew. A combination of abundant fuel from beattle infested dead wood and very dry conditions kept the fire growing. In fact the fire is still burning and has grown to over 20,000 acres. Unable to make the Mt. Adams summit I shifted my plans and climbed up Mt. Sahale in the North Cascade Natioanal park. Based on the weather forecast I expected to encounter low lying clouds that would be hovering below the staging area at the toe of Sahale glacier. What I did not expect was the thick smokey air that smelled sooty like an early morning campfire still smoldering from the night before. Just over the eastern ridge of the Cascade Pass area where I was climbing was yet another fire that had been sparked on the same weekend as the Mt. Adams fire. The Wenatchee fire complex was too far away to be a threat, but the smoke was enveloping the upper regions of the North and Central Cascade Mountains.
Smokey skies above rolling clouds below my Fall Equinox campsite.

2012 has been a record year for Wildfires in the US. The total area burned, some of which is still burning, is three times the next largest scorched area within the last ten years. The above-normal fire weather potential of the West occurred as a result of the hot, dry conditions that have persisted. Combined with lightening storms and dried out higher-elevation fuels, wildfires have been sparking up en mass. The increase in the number of wildfires and scorched area is not just an isolated event of 2012. Since 1972 the frequency of wildfires has increased at least four-fold, and the total size of burn areas has increased at least six-fold in the western United States.

Washington wildfires from space.
When we consider climate change as the root of the increase in wildfires it is important to separate localized and seasonal variations in weather and long term climactic trends. However some seasonal weather events are so extreme the link of these extremes to climate change cannot be ignored. Such is the case with the Spring and Summer of 2012. Nevada experienced its warmest August on record this year (1895-2012) while Colorado and Wyoming experienced their warmest summers since 1895.  From June-August 2012, nearly 10,000 daily high temperature records were broken. July 2012 was the hottest month in U.S. history. The unusually hot summer helped January-August be the warmest such period in U.S. history. 2012 will set a record for the warmest year in U.S. history (since record-keeping began in 1895). 

As extreme as the heat wave of Summer 2012 was, it pales in comparison to the record breaking temperatures experienced this Spring. The duration, areal size, and intensity of the high temperature events in  March, 2012 are epic, and the event ranks as one of North America's most extraordinary weather events in recorded history. Of these extraordinary weather event the mos extreme were low temperatures beating previous high temperature records for the same date. Never before was there a case where the low temperature for the date beat the previous record high. This happened on several occasions during  March, 2012. Marquette's low of 52 beat the previous high of 49. Mt. Washington NH's low of 44 eclipsed the previous high of 43. The low tied the high in several cities in MN and IL. Many of these hot March days also broke the record high temperature for the corresponding date in April. Another unimaginable temperature phenomena of March 2012 was the range at which some of the temperatures were broken. In at least three locations in the country the previous high was broken by over 30 degrees.

Now as fall cools things down we all forget about the hot 2012 and move on with our daily routine. The extreme heat of the Spring and Summer has fallen out of the news cycle and politicians are not considering taking actions that may help slow down or prohibit future extreme climactic anomolies. The Farmers Almanac used to tell us what to expect and how to plan for the weather of the upcoming season. How do we plan for more weather like Spring and Summer of 2012?

No comments:

Post a Comment