Republicans Seek to Use Tax Bill to Suppress Climate and Clean Air Saving Electrical Vehicles

Republicans in Congress seem more concerned with cutting taxes for the rich than dealing with present and worsening problems like Russian interference in U.S. democracy or the ever-escalating damages coming from human-caused climate change related to fossil fuel burning. In fact, the Republican Party today signaled its intent to use the presently proposed tax bill in a manner that would make one of these problems dramatically worse.

According to news reports, Republicans intend to use their tax cut plan to remove incentives for electrical vehicle ownership by the end of 2017. Presently, buyers of all-electric vehicles enjoy a $7,500 tax credit. An incentive that helps the U.S. clean up its air and reduce the kinds of greenhouse gas emissions that fuel sea level rise, more powerful storms, and worsening droughts, deluges, and wildfires.

(In the U.S., more than 200,000 people die every year as a result of outdoor air pollution to which vehicle transportation is now the primary contributor resulting in 53,000 such deaths per year. That’s more deaths than from vehicle accidents. Moreover, air pollution impacts like asthma, stroke, heart attacks, and reduced lung function are far more widespread. Image source: EPA.)

Though such a policy might not be much of a surprise coming from the party of a Rick Perry, who today falsely claimed that fossil fuel burning prevented sexual assault against women, climate change denier Inhoffe, and tilting at windmills Donald Trump, it would have wide-ranging negative impacts for every American. Impacts like bad air quality which is a health risk for everyone, worsening climate change which is now causing many Americans to lose their homes or be forcibly displaced, and loss of economic advantage coming from new jobs and new industry.

Presently, U.S. automakers hold a global edge in high quality electrical vehicle adoption due to this and other related policy supports. Top EV automakers like Tesla, GM and Ford who produce renowned vehicles like the Model S, Model 3, and the Chevy Bolt. But, apparently, it looks like Republicans are now using tax policy as a means to legislate an attack on this innovation, which result in reduced fossil fuel demand, more energy independence for the U.S., and far less in the way of harmful particulate and greenhouse gas emissions.

(Tesla stock reacts negatively to news that Republicans are adding a provision to remove electrical vehicle incentives to their tax bill. Image source: Google Finance.)

Tesla bears, who have been rabidly consuming and perpetuating bad news (a good portion of it exaggerated or invented) about the leading U.S. electrical vehicle manufacturer, went nuts over the Republican announcement today. Tesla share prices dropped from around $320 to $296 following the move. More than a bit of this investor flight appears to be irrational. Ironically, Tesla is less exposed to risk from removal of this tax cut than automakers like GM due to the fact that it is already approaching the 200,000 EV limit under the tax credit. After this point, tax incentives for EVs from individual automakers drop off. And Tesla has already sold 250,000 vehicles globally with more than 150,000 of those sales coming from the U.S.

Republicans have once again proven that they are the anti-renewable energy, pro harmful impacts from climate change party. They have also once again proven that their capacity to use tax policy to greatly increase a variety of bad effects — ranging from worsening inequality in the U.S., to undercutting innovation and American technological leadership, to fighting directly against the very solutions and mitigations for a rapidly worsening climate situation.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

Republican Tax Plan Kills Electrical Vehicle Credit

EPA

Air Pollution Causes 200,000 Early Deaths in the U.S. Each Year

Rich Perry Says Fossil Fuels Will Prevent Sexual Assault in Africa (Hint: FALSE)

Hat tip to Suzanne

This post is dedicated to DT Lange

Fire Danger Again Rises Across California; Number of Structures Lost in Northern Blazes Increases to 8,400

A California still reeling from the devastating impact of wildfires worsened by human-caused climate change just can’t get a break.

An army of 5,000 firefighters presently remain engaged in attempting to contain the large wildfires that are now unarguably the most destructive in California history. As with the recently very extreme hurricanes, we are still tallying the damage estimates.  And the results are pretty stark. 100,000 of our fellow Americans have been displaced. The loss of souls has risen to 42. In total, 8,400 structures including thousands of homes, have been burned to the ground.

Already, this disaster is yet another in the billion-dollar-class of climate incidents. Now numbering 4 in just the past three months with total estimated losses from the fires ranging from 1 to 3 billion dollars. Unfortunately, this devastating toll is likely to climb as further tallies come in.

(Hottest World Series on record amid severe fire risk.)

Presently, the remaining fires still burning are between 79 and 97 percent contained — according to the most recent report from the National Interagency Fire Center. However, temperatures rising into the upper 90s and lower to middle 100s across the state coupled with strong Santa Ana winds are again increasing fire risk. An elevated fire hazard that expected to persist through Wednesday.

In Los Angeles, red flag parking restrictions have been put in place to enable emergency vehicles to rapidly navigate narrow streets in the event of a new fire start requiring rapid attention. And in the south, numerous small brush fires have already been reported. Thankfully, these have not risen to the rapidly expanding extent or intensity of the northern fires over the past couple of weeks. But concerns, given recent events, remain very high.

(Very hot fall temperatures, Santa Ana winds are again predicted across southern and western sections of California today. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Warming global temperatures in the range of 1 to 1.2 C above 1880s averages are now starting to have a profound impact on the hydrological cycle, storms, and related rates of precipitation and evaporation. In California, increasingly extreme weather in the form of more intense and rapidly forming heatwaves and droughts, and precipitation coming more as heavy rainfall events increases fire risk. This, together with the general impact of warming which moves climate zones faster than trees can follow or adapt and that increases the prevalence of invasive species harmful to trees, has increased the incidence of large fires throughout the U.S. West.

We are now in a situation where fires can threaten entire cities (the devastating fire that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray in Canada was finally declared extinguished during September of 2017 after burning for a year and three months) and where the total number of structures lost can rival the size of a town. This is a terrible impact and hazard for those living in the western and northwestern region. One that did not exist at the level or frequency we see today. And though other factors also contribute — such as increasing encroachment of settlements on wooded areas — the primary factor increasing fire intensity, size, and expanding the length of fire season is human-caused climate change.

The only way we can get a handle on this rising risk is to mitigate and remove the causes of climate change. And that involves working together as a nation to switch the kinds of energy we use to non carbon emitting sources like solar and wind and reducing other harmful practices that emit carbon into our atmosphere.

Links:

Red Flag Parking Restrictions in Effect in LA

Fire Loss Surges to 8,400 Structures in Northern California

California Wildfire Damage Estimates Top $3 Billion

National Interagency Fire Center

Red Flag Warning: Southland Brush Fires

GISS Temperature Data

Devastating Fort McMurray Wildfire Declared out 15 Months Later

Earth Nullschool

Rapid Bombification — Super Typhoon Nepartak Barrels Toward Taiwan, Takes Aim at Already Flooded China

This year’s Asian monsoon has been a real beast for China. Inflated by the aftermath of a strong El Nino combining with record global temperatures, the system has sent powerful thunderstorms roaring over eastern sections of the Yangtze River Valley for the better part of two weeks.

These storms have spurred record tornadoes, rocked the Chinese landscape with lightning strikes, and dumped more than 16 inches of rain over a region near Wuhan and just west of Shanghai. The powerful downpours and related winds have now resulted in more than 54,000 building collapses and an estimated 7.7 billion dollars in damages. 32 million people have already been impacted. 1.4 million people have been displaced. And 231 people are now dead or missing (see China Flooding).

China 2 week Rain July 6

(Very intense rainfall over the past two weeks over the Yangtze River Valley region of China has resulted in severe flooding that has destroyed 54,000 buildings and displaced 1.4 million people. Image source: China’s Meteorological Agency.)

And all this before the predicted arrival of a Super Typhoon which is expected to dump as much as 24 inches of additional rain near the hardest hit regions between Shanghai and Wuhan this weekend after it roars over Taiwan on Thursday.

175 mph Super Typhoon Nepartak in the Pipe

As China was reeling from the impacts of heavy rainfall, sea surface temperatures over the Northwestern Pacific were screaming hot. Surface waters over a region south and east of Taiwan on July 4 and 5 approached 31 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit) or 1-2 C above average. In addition, these hot waters extended to great depth beneath southeastern Pacific surface boundaries. As a result, the amount of ocean heat content available to fuel an intensifying Typhoon was at about the top range one would ever tend to see (near 150 KJ per square centimeter, according to Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground).

Running through these deep, hot waters on July 4 was a 70 mph max wind intensity tropical storm Nepartak. But as wind shear lessened and Nepartak drew in a deep draught of that high energy Pacific Ocean heat and moisture, the storm exploded. In just one 24 hour period, the system added fully 80 mph of maximum wind speed intensity to leap from a mere tropical storm to a very strong category 4 Typhoon by Tuesday night.

NOAA Typhoon Floater

(Nepartak barrels toward Taiwan and China on Wednesday in this NOAA enhanced satellite image.)

By Wednesday, the storm had achieved category 5 Super Typhoon intensity with top sustained winds estimated at 175 mph and a lowest central pressure of 900 mb (Japanese Meteorological Agency and Joint Typhoon Warning Center).

The Typhoon is now expected to make landfall in Taiwan on Thursday as a Category 4 storm. Heavy storm surges, very powerful winds, and 5-15 inches of predicted rainfall over most of Taiwan with up to 43 inches in the higher elevations is expected to generate flooding, landslides, structural damage, and to disrupt crops.

The storm is then predicted to leap the Taiwan Strait and track north and west over mainland China. As the storm weakens, it is expected to be drawn northward into a trough that will ultimately funnel its moisture over the already flooded region between Shanghai and Wuhan. In this zone, between 4 and 24 inches of additional rainfall is possible as the storm winds down and unburdens its massive water load.

Nepartak Rainfall Swath

(NCEP’s predicted rainfall swath for Nepartak results in additional extreme rainfall expected for already flooded regions near the Yangtze River. Image source: NCEP and Weather Underground.)

In total, weather associated with Nepartak is expected to produce a 5 day long extreme wind, storm surge and rainfall event for Taiwan and China. Heaviest impacts will likely occur in Central Taiwan near the predicted point of landfall and in the region west of Shanghai where Nepartak’s predicted rains could result in even more severe flooding for the already hard hit Yangtze River region.

Conditions in Context — Ocean Heat Intensifying, Expanding in All Dimensions

A weak La Nina is starting to form in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific. And, already, deep, hot water formation has re-intensified in the Western Pacific. Ocean surfaces and temperatures at depth there are now very hot (1-2 C above normal at the surface, with such unusually warm waters extending well below the water-air boundary). Such hot, deep waters promote the formation of very intense tropical cyclones. During 2013, similar sea surface and deep water ocean heat states aided in the formation of the monster 190 mph Super Typhoon Haiyan which then devastated the Philippines.

These very hot water conditions occur in the context of a record warm world. And, in fact, scientific observation has found that not only are peak surface temperatures continuing to rise for broad ocean regions as heat expands into the depths, but that the size of biggest body of hot water on Earth in the Indian and Pacific Ocean is also getting bigger. This new world of hotter ocean surfaces, more extensive hot waters, and deeper extending warm waters all provide more storm intensifying fuel for powerful typhoons and hurricanes.

Indo-Pacific Warm Pool is getting bigger

(The hottest pool of water on Earth lies in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. And, according to new scientific research, that hot pool is expanding in size due to human-forced climate change. Image source: Human-Caused Indo-Pacific Warm Pool Expansion.)

In addition, extreme rains over China have been fueled by a record atmospheric moisture loading. As global temperatures increase, the rate of evaporation also increases. This results in more water held aloft in the Earth atmosphere. Overall, atmospheric water vapor content increases by about 7 percent for each 1 degree Celsius of warming. And the result is an increased likelihood for extreme droughts in some regions (due to added heat and related increasing evaporation rates) and extreme rainfall in others (due to the extra atmospheric moisture producing more intense storms with heavier downpours).

So while the La Nina to El Nino cycle is helping to drive the location of extreme rainfall over China and the location of tropical cyclone formation in the Pacific, human-forced warming is providing more atmospheric fuel to increase the top potential strength of these events.

Links/Attribution/Statements

Category 5 Nepartak Headed For Taiwan

China Floods Leave More than 120 Dead, Scores Missing

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Japanese Meteorological Agency

China Flooding: Wuhan on Alert For Further Rain

NOAA ENSO Forecast

China’s Meteorological Agency

The National Hurricane Center

NCEP

Human-Caused Indo-Pacific Warm Pool Expansion

The Biggest Body of Hot Water on Earth is Getting Bigger

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories

Scientific hat tip to Dr Jeff Masters

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to 65Karin

Monster Fort McMurray Fire Slowed Sunday by Light Rain — Despite Progress, Officials Expect Blaze to Burn for Months

“I’ve never seen anything like this. No-one has ever seen anything like this fire, the way it started, the way it spread, the way it traveled. We will be rewriting the book on fighting these fires, this fire will force us to rewrite the book” — Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen in a News Conference this afternoon.

*******

On Saturday, the Fort McMurray fire rapidly expanded — threatening the greenhouse gas emitting tar sands facilities north of town and making a race toward the Saskatchewan border. But by Sunday, cooler temperatures and very light rain in some areas (with accumulations of less than 1 mm), helped to stymie what, until that time, was an entirely uncontrollable blaze.

Fire’s Northward Expansion Halted Before Tar Sands Facilities Were Significantly Damaged

Fires ran directly to the boundaries of the Nexen tar sands facility. But heroic efforts by firefighters stopped the blaze there and prevented all but minor damage to structures and to large vessels containing volatile compounds. In total, the massive firefighting effort — now undertaken by more than 500 personnel — was able to check the northward advance of the flames on Saturday. By Sunday and Monday, a shift in the winds toward the west and northwest again drove the fires eastward.

Fort McMurray Fire Map

(The Fort McMurray fire has grown to more than 16 times its original size. Northwest winds continue to push its expansion toward the Saskatchewan border. Cooler weather and very light rains helped slow the fire Sunday. But with no rain in the forecast until May 23rd and with more warm weather on the way, fire conditions may again worsen this week and on into the next. Image source: CBC News Live Updates.)

Current active large fires near Fort McMurray are about 16 miles to the south and west of town between the Athabasca River and Route 63, near the shores of lake Gregorie, and across the Clearwater River just to the north of the Fort McMurray airport. Though still somewhat threatening, overall fire activity in the area is the lowest since Tuesday of last week. Further to the east, large fires continue to burn toward Saskatchewan and, with winds expected to blow off and on out of the northwest over the coming 5 days, it’s likely that this massive blaze will expand outside the borders of Alberta. To this point, the fire edge is now less than 18 miles away from Saskatchewan and winds are still blowing at moderate strength out of the northwest.

The Damage Assessment Begins — No Word on When 90,000 Climate Change Refugees Can Go Home

Overall, officials are reporting that 161,000 hectares have burned so far (or about 620 square miles). Since Tuesday, the area consumed by the flames had grown explosively to roughly 16 times the fire’s original size. Cooler conditions this week should help to keep explosive growth in check. However, by Thursday and Friday, temperatures are again expected to warm — generating an increasing fire hazard for later this week. In addition, weather forecasts call for little to no chance of rain until May 23. So the region is expected to continue to experience extraordinarily dry conditions — conditions that helped contribute to the extreme fire hazard in the first place.

Smoke plume from Fort McMurray Fire Reaches US East Coast

(The vast Fort McMurray Fire has produced an immense smoke plume that has traversed Canada, crossed the Northern and Central US and is now entering the airs over the Atlantic Ocean off the US East Coast. Image source: NOAA.)

Sunday and Monday’s lull in the blaze has allowed officials to begin to take stock of the extreme and extensive damage around Fort McMurray. In addition to the 1,600 structures destroyed by the blaze, many, many buildings were reported damaged. Fort McMurray’s electrical system is completely knocked out — with emergency facilities running on generator power. The city’s water supply — though continuing to flow from the city’s still intact water treatment plant — remains unsafe to drink. Officials will begin releasing photos of the destruction over the next two days and have warned of ‘dramatic images.’ As for the nearly 90,000 people made into climate change refugees by this blaze, there is still no word on when they will be able to return home. And considering such extensive damage and a still active and dangerous fire ranging the region — that answer could be weeks to months (find out how to help the fire victims here).

Impacts to Fort McMurray’s and Canada’s tar sands industry has been notably substantial. In total, more than 1 million barrels per day of oil production is now off line and is expected to remain so for about a month — even if the blaze does not re-emerge to threaten tar sands facilities. In addition, firefighting officials expect it to take months to get this massive fire completely under control. Even with the cooler conditions and very light rains Sunday and Monday, intense hotspots and very strong fire fronts are still expanding outward from the burn scar zone.

Widespread Large Fires in the Upper Latitude Regions of the Northern Hemisphere are Conditions Consistent with Human-Caused Climate Change

Conditions consistent with human-forced climate change remain in effect for Fort McMurray and for most of Northwestern Canada. In total, nearly 150 fires now rage throughout this Arctic country and in Alberta alone an army of more than 1,500 firefighters are now battling 32 wildfires including the Fort McMurry blaze. In British Columbia, 79 strongly active wildfires have completely absorbed that region’s firefighting resources. And on the Ontario-Manitoba border near Winnipeg, a fire exploding to 40,000 hectares has forced more than 125 people to flee and sparked a massive firefighting effort as that blaze grew four times in size since Friday.

Winnipeg Fire with Hotspots

(Another very large fire — now 40,000 hectares in size — threatens the region near Winnipeg. As of Monday, more than 125 people were forced to evacuate due to the rapidly expanding blaze. Above we see this fire along with hotspots as seen by the NASA-MODIS satellite sensor. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Around the world, wildfires are now erupting in northern regions and permafrost zones along the Mongolia-Russia border and in the area of Lake Baikal — which has suffered from a decadal drought and very severe warming. As May progresses into June, we can expect this fire zone to creep northward — eventually involving much of the permafrost zone itself. And, to this point, a powerful Arctic heatwave will bring with it increasing risks of fire to Alaska and the Northwest Territory as temperatures are expected to rise up to 30 degrees F above average (into the upper 60s and lower 70s F) there later this week.

Overall, human-forced climate change caused by fossil fuel burning greatly increases the frequency and intensity of wildfires by spreading heat and drought into regions where vegetation is unused to such conditions. In Arctic countries like Canada, new fuels come from thawing permafrost which forms a combustible peat-like layer and creates conditions where the ground itself can burn. Such heat and thaw has contributed to much larger wildfires which have become ten times more prevalent in the Arctic since 1950 and as the world has warmed by more than 1 C above 1880s averages. Continuing to burn fossil fuels will further intensify these already extreme conditions. One need not point out that this is the first time an entire Canadian city has been forced to evacuate due to wildfires. But with climate change starting to come into full force, such instances are far more likely to happen again and again — not just in Canada, but around the world.

Links:

CBC Live Fire Updates

Fort McMurray’s Fires and the Dramatic Images to Come

Oil Prices Tumble as Traders Reassess Fort McMurray Fire Impact

Fort McMurray Weather Forecast

Earth Nullschool

NOAA

Warm North Pacific Winds to Usher in Brutal Arctic Heatwave this Week

Canadian Interagency Fire Center

Water Bombers Bring Relief to Expanding Fire Along Ontario-Manitoba Border

The Age of Alaskan Wildfires

LANCE-MODIS

How to Help Fort McMurray Fire Victims

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Cate

Besieged by the Fires of Denial — Fort McMurray Blaze Grows to Overwhelm Anzac, Shuts off 640,000 Barrels per Day of Tar Sands Production

The simple fact of the matter, a fact that many invested in a destructive oil industry do not want to now face, is that a fire whose early-season extreme intensity was fueled by human-caused climate change is now doing what Canada would not. It is shutting down oil production in the tar sands — one of the highest carbon fuels on planet Earth.

Increases in fire frequency due to climate change

(Increases in fire frequency due to climate change as predicted by model runs are illustrated in the map above. According to a report at WeatherUnderground — “A large increase in fires over much of the globe is expected as we move through this century. Using fire models driven by output from sixteen climate models used in the 2007 IPCC report, researchers found that 38% of the planet should see increases in fire activity [due to climate change] over the next 30 years. This figure increases to 62% by the end of the century.” Image source: Climate Change and Disruptions to Global Fire Activity.)

There are other facts that need to be faced as well. One is the fact that Fort McMurray’s residents have had their lives put at risk by a new kind of fire that is now much more likely to occur. A kind of event that will tend to emerge with a rising frequency and intensity. One that is increasing the risk of harm to those living throughout Canada, throughout the Arctic and throughout much of the world.

It’s a tough truth to face. One that many Canadian politicians confronting the impossible task of balancing the demands of oil-based economic interests with the very clear need to mitigate climate change are having difficulty coming to grips with. But one that must be seriously looked at and not ignored by anyone concerned for the safety of those living in Fort McMurray or anywhere else. For unless the greenhouse gasses from the burning of fossil fuels like the tar sands stop hitting our atmosphere, then these kinds of events will just keep getting worse.

We are already starting to see terrible wildfire events of the kind we have never before experienced emerging in the Arctic and in sections of Northern North America. And with the world now 1 C warmer that 1880s averages, large Arctic wildfires are now ten times more likely to occur. In Alaska — a region that shares climate trends with Canada — the length of the fire season has grown by 40 percent since the 1950s.

Across the globe, the story is much the same. Heating of our atmosphere by burning fossil fuels is increasing fire frequency and intensity. A point that even conservative IPCC projections have been attempting to impress upon policy-makers since the early 1990s (see graphic above). And, in significant part, this rising danger has been contributed to by the tar sands fuels Fort McMurray’s energy industry was designed to extract.

Large Arctic Wildfires are No Longer Rare

(A study by Climate Central last year found that warming in Alaska had resulted in a lengthening of the fire season by 40 percent and that the pace of large fire generation had increased by tenfold [x10]. It’s worth noting that climate and foliage in Alberta, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories are very similar to those in Alaska. And increasing fire intensity and frequency due to warming in Alaska is also impacting the Canadian fire regime as well. Image source: The Age of Alaskan Wildfires.)

Despite the risky and harmful policy choices driven by the fossil fuel industry in Canada, we should not be callous to the loss and dislocation many within the tar sands production zone are now enduring. It’s a tragedy. Plain and simple. Thousands of people have lost their homes and livelihoods. But we should not allow ourselves to be blinded to the reality of the situation simply due to the fact that it is an oil community, this time, suffering from the ravages of extreme climate conditions. For thousands of Canadians are now joining a growing pool of climate change refugees. Victims of and, some of them, contributors to a catastrophe born out of an oil-industry spread hubris and blindness. An event that shines a light on the continued and increasing risks posed by tar sands extraction and on the vulnerability of that harmful fuel’s economic underpinnings to the very climate forces it is now starting to set loose.

Rapidly Expanding Fire Forces Airport and the Anzac Community 31 Miles Away From Fort McMurray to Evacuate

Fort McMurray Fire approaches Airport

(Pyrocumulus — a storm cloud forming from the heat updraft of an intense fire. A word that will start to enter common usage as human-forced climate change makes powerful fires more and more common. Here we see a massive pyrocumulus approaching Anzac and the Fort McMurray Airport on Wednesday. Image source: Sean Amato’s Twitter Feed.)

Wednesday, as firefighters scrambled to protect the Fort McMurray city center and northern outliers, a massive fire besieging the city boiled and grew. Held back from its north-bound progress into neighborhoods along the Athabasca River, toward the barren tar sands extraction area, and into the water treatment plant by firefighting efforts, the fire swelled as it retreated. Turning to the south and east, it began to encroach upon the city’s airport even as one of its offshoots exploded toward the well-populated suburb of Anzac 30 miles to the south.

There, an emergency operations center had just set up after being forced to move from its downtown location when a rain of embers cast out from the pyrocumulus cloud looming over the city set its roof to smoldering. The new operations center was well away from the projected northbound path of the blaze. And officials had some reason to believe the recently-moved center would be safe. A southern evacuation center — housing hundreds of people now rendered homeless by the fire — was also set up in the area.

Anzac fire beneath towering pyrocumulus

(Fort McMurray Fire invades Anzac beneath a towering pyrocumulus Wednesday evening. Image source: Emily Metrz’s Twitter Feed.)

By Wednesday afternoon, the airport, the Anzac community, the newly moved emergency operations center, and the evacuation center all fell under the shadow of a swelling pyrocumulus. A great storm of smoke, ash and burning embers thrown up from the heat of the blaze beneath. All in this area were forced to evacuate (a good number for the second time in as many days) as the huge cloud grew and the fires advanced.

As night fell, smoke shrouded the airport — blocking it from view. And many firefighters already knew the community of Anzac would be lost.  Sean Amato tweeted this message Wednesday evening as the fire advanced — “Firefighter [says], ‘Anzac is f**cked. We can’t fight that. We have no bombers. Get out now.'”

Fort McMurray fire map May 5

(Thermal fire map provided by NASA on Thursday reveals the extraordinary extent of the fires and burn scars as of May 4 — covering around 10,000 hectares. By May 5, this zone had vastly expanded to 85,000 hectares. Image source: NASA’s Earth Observatory.)

By Thursday, a massive area stretching from the airport to Anzac had been abandoned to the fire. Greatly adding to the 10,000 hectares the huge blaze was estimated to have burned as of noon Wednesday by expanding the fire more than 8-fold to 85,000 hectares — an area six times the size of San Fransisco or more than 300 square miles.

Tar Sands Production Shut-in

At this point, fires had displaced so many workers and crippled so much infrastructure that tar sands production in the region came to a grinding halt. As of early Thursday morning more than 640,000 barrels per day of the climatologically volatile synthetic crude had halted. Representing more than 16 percent of Canada’s crude production, the fire-forced cuts were significant enough to drive oil prices in the global markets as high as 46 dollars a barrel in trading early Thursday. More production shut ins were likely with other major tar sands extractors scrambling to slash oil flows as the Fort McMurray blaze became ever-less predictable. Near Anzac, the southern extent of the fires threatened a 30,000 barrel per day Conoco Philips tar sands production facility in the Surmont region — forcing a production halt and the evacuation of all tar sands workers.

Fort McMurray Fire approaches Tar Sands May 5

(LANCE-MODIS satellite shot of Fort McMurray Fire on Thursday, May 5 shows the fire expanding toward tar sands extraction facilities. For reference, tar sands operations are pit mines plainly visible as brown, bald areas in the image above. Most of Fort McMurray is covered by the smoke plume. Bottom edge of frame is 60 miles. Image Source: LANCE-MODIS.)

By late Thursday afternoon, the passing MODIS satellite revealed a very large fire whose northern extent appears to have reached within 3-5 kilometers of the southern-most tar sands facilities. The western edge of the Fort McMurray fire expanding to feature a 10-15 kilometer front creeping along to the north and west. The southern and eastern edges of the blaze remaining obscured by what is now a very large smoke plume. One that is likely now visible in the skies over northern and central states of the US.

A Long Battle Ahead as Temperatures are Predicted to Remain Much Hotter Than Normal

A wind shift to the north along with the influx of cooler temperatures on Thursday may help firefighters gain some progress. Conditions over Fort McMurray today were cloudy with 10-15 mph winds out of the northwest and temperatures around 64 (F). However, little to no rain fell over the area as a front swept through this morning. Meanwhile, thermometer readings are expected to climb into the middle 80s again on Saturday with very dry conditions taking hold.

To this point, it is only May — not July when such extreme fire weather would typically be possible. Average temperatures for Fort McMurray tend toward the upper 50s or lower 60s this time of year. So even today’s readings of 64 F are warmer than usual with temperatures predicted to rocket to 20-25 F above average again by Saturday. Given this trend, and given the fact that it will grow still hotter and drier in the months ahead, it looks like Fort McMurray — a city in the grips of the hard climate consequences it helped to create — is in for a long, rough fight.

Links:

Climate Change and Disruptions to Global Fire Activity

The Age of Alaskan Wildfires

Here’s the Climate Context for the Fort McMurray Wildfire

The Impact of Climate Change on Wildfires

Raging Wildfire in Canada Fuels Oil Prices

Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center

Sean Amato’s Twitter Feed

New Evacuations in Fire-Stricken Fort McMurray

LANCE-MODIS

NASA’s Earth Observatory

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Climate Change Refugees — Thousands Likely Left Homeless By Sandy

(Flood damage to Staten Island homes. Image credit here.)

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said today that it’s too soon to know how many were left homeless by Hurricane Sandy.

“I wouldn’t even begin to guess,” Fugate said. “I’d also caution that the number of people at shelters probably wouldn’t be a good indicator of how many people’s homes have been impacted by flooding. We know a lot of people stay with friends and family.”

But judging from the massive number of homes destroyed and flooded over broad swaths of coastal New Jersey, New York and other states, the number is likely to be staggering. The scope is so large that FEMA is struggling to reach all those in need of aid. Some Staten Island residents are still in need of FEMA contact and assistance. For those who have yet to contact FEMA, you can do so by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or by going to www.disasterassistance.gov/.

The American Red Cross is also conducting a major effort to reach out to and assist those in need. If you wish to help, you can make a donation to the Red Cross Disaster Relief page here. Blood banks are also short of supplies. So any in-person blood donations to the Red Cross would also help.

Unfortunately the scale of this disaster is so large that both FEMA and the Red Cross are still struggling to reach all those in need. Both climate scientists and global threat analysts have been concerned that disasters, like Sandy, caused by climate change would result in large numbers of people made homeless. As weather impacts worsen and some regions become flooded or rendered uninhabitable by drought, the concern is that growing numbers of people will be dislocated.

The ongoing efforts of FEMA and philanthropic organizations are likely to blunt the damage caused by Sandy and allow residents to begin to re-build. However, the risk remains that new storms and sea level rise brewed up by climate change will result in another wave of displacement.

There has been much talk of building infrastructure to help alleviate the impact of future storms and sea level rise. However, without first dealing with climate change’s root cause — continued and growing fossil fuel emissions, such efforts will be like stacking twigs in front of a tsunami. Current levels of CO2 — 400 ppm — were enough to raise sea levels as much as 75 feet in past ages (at rates of rise as fast as 6-10 feet per century). But current emissions are on a path to put world CO2 levels above 600 ppm by mid century and this is enough to result in a sea level rise of 250 feet (likely far faster than 6-10 feet per century).

Current predictions for east coast sea level rise are 2 feet by 2050. However, given the amplified heating caused by human CO2 emissions, this estimate is potentially low by as much as 2 or 3 feet. On top of the sea level rise, you have the likelihood for much more violent storms. More violent even than Sandy. So the notion that infrastructure alone can deal with the problem is a false path. We must also draw down CO2 emissions to have any hope for a stable coastline and to avoid the worst of these home-wrecking storms.

The tragedy in New York and New Jersey is a terrible, terrible loss. And we must do all we can to help those in need. However, we are also morally obligated to do all we can to prevent and lessen the impact of the future storms and sea level rise that is sure to come. And to do that, we must set ourselves on a path toward zero CO2 emission as well as begin the necessary process of building a stronger coastal infrastructure while moving homes back from the rising seas.

UPDATE:

News reports confirm that Sandy has resulted in the destruction of thousands of homes, rendering more than 40,000 souls without shelter. Please help these American climate change refugees in every way you can.

Links:

http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/fema-director-too-soon-to-know-how-many

https://www.redcross.org/donate/index.jsp?donateStep=2&itemId=prod10002

http://www.disasterassistance.gov/

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