The relationship between fire and drought in California 1987-2012

These graphs were posted without data points highlighted here last week in part because the governor of California called for additional fire staffing due to the state’s severe drought and I was curious if a correlation existed between low than average precipitation and fire:

The Governor’s drought State of Emergency directed CAL FIRE to “hire additional seasonal firefighters to suppress wildfires and take other needed actions to protect public safety during this time of elevated fire risk.”

But does a drought, or a wet year, mean “increased fires in both urban and rural areas”? The graphs below show the number of fires (1987-2012), the total acreages (1987-2012), and statewide in precipitation in California (1895-2012). If there is a correlation between increased fires and precipitation, it does not jump right out.

As noted on those graphs, a relationship between below average precipitation and either the number or acreage of fires, does not “jump right out.”

I first highlighted the well below average precipitation years (while none of the years from 1987 to 2012 are of the magnitude of 1976/1977 or this year’s drought, these data are what there is to work with). Then I highlighted those years on the fire acreage and number of fires charts. There does not seem to be a correlation either to the contemporaneous year or the one to two years following the low precipitation year. Additionally, my memory of the years 1976 and 1977 is that they were not particularly big fire years.

Still, 2014’s drought looks to be unprecedented in California’s recorded history.[1] Additional staffing for Cal Fire and increased vigilance are prudent.

Acreage burned in CA 1987-2012 annotated

Acreage burned in CA 1987-2012

 

California Rainfall annotated

California Rainfall

 

No of Fires in California 1987-2012 annotated

Number of Fires in California 1987-2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Though, Two mega-droughts occurred in what is now California long before we started to put massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One mega-drought started in 850 A.D. and ended in 1090. After a 50-year break, another mega-drought came in that lasted until 1320. That is 240 years and 180 years, respectively.

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Post to Twitter

Looking for a relationship…between Precipitation and Fire in California

English: CATALINA ISLAND, Calif. (May, 11, 200...

Firefighters assigned to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) survey the remains of a business on Catalina Island that was ravaged by a wildfire. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Daniel A. Barker (May 11, 2007) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With limited rainfall and moisture levels already resembling the state’s peak fire season, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has hired 125 supplemental firefighters in Northern California and extended seasonal firefighting forces in Southern California due to dry winter conditions.

The Governor’s drought State of Emergency directed CAL FIRE to “hire additional seasonal firefighters to suppress wildfires and take other needed actions to protect public safety during this time of elevated fire risk.”

“We can’t make it rain,” said Governor Brown, “but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas.”

But does a drought, or a wet year, mean “increased fires in both urban and rural areas”? The graphs below show the number of fires (1987-2012), the total acreages (1987-2012), and statewide in precipitation in California (1895-2012). If there is a correlation between increased fires and precipitation, it does not jump right out.

Acreage burned in CA 1987-2012 (Source: http://calfire.ca.gov/communications/downloads/fact_sheets/AllAgenciesAcres&Fires.pdf)

 

 

Number of Fires in California 1987-2012 (Source: http://calfire.ca.gov/communications/downloads/fact_sheets/AllAgenciesAcres&Fires.pdf)

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Post to Twitter

A Drop in the Bucket: California’s Drought

Folsom Lake, gripped by drought, is less than ...

Folsom Lake, gripped by drought, is less than 25% full © Justin Smith / Wikimedia Commons, CC-By-SA-3.0

We Californians have had a pleasant climate these past few months. During the clear spell here in Lake County where I live, temperatures had even been in the seventies—tee-shirt and shorts weather. So far, the winter weather has been, by any standard, stunningly spectacular. One of the most stunning things about this winter is its lack of precipitation (last weekend’s storm was the exception to the rule).  November through March is not supposed to be warm with gentle sunshine; January should have been wet and cold. January 2014 should go into the record books as the driest and warmest January in California since we started putting those figures on paper.

One dry year might not be bad, but California has had two dry years in a row before this one. Greg Giusti, County Director for UC Cooperative Extension, points out that droughts are part of “the reality of living in this climate zone.”[1] California has a Mediterranean climate of hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.  Giusti said that even if this drought was no worse than the one in the 1970s, its effect could be greater. Besides California now having twice the population when compared with the 1970s,[2] there are now legal requirements to consider the needs of wildlife.

“This is our hurricane Sandy,” Giusti said. California’s precipitation is currently trending lower than the 1923-24 record, which at 10.5 inches was the lowest precipitation ever measured in California; 1977 was 11.6 inches.[3] And this season, with two-thirds of this rainy season done, that record may fall. Last weekend’s storm did not end our drought. It was the equivalent of putting eight ounces of water into a five-gallon bucket.

This third dry year in a row has caught the attention of Sacramento. On January 17th, Governor Brown declared a state of emergency, calling for a voluntary 20 percent reduction in water use.[4] The State Water Project, which provides water to 25 million Californians and roughly 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland, is run by the Department of Water Resources. On January  31st, the Department of Water Resources announced for the first time ever in the SWP’s  54-year history—a zero allocation to all 29 public water agencies that buy from it.[5] While last weekend’s storm helped, “…it would need to rain and snow heavily every other day from now until May to get us back to average annual rain and snowfall,” state officials said in their press release.

Droughts stress all living systems: people, animals, and plants all need water for their survival. For most of us, a drought will be an expensive inconvenience. We may have to drill new wells or even have water trucked in. We certainly will pay higher prices for food. For those in agriculture, drought can be devastating.

Crops and livestock need ample water to grow, so drought hits agriculture especially hard. Steve Tylicki, general manager and viticulturist at Steele Wines, says in his forty years of experience in agriculture, this is the worst he has ever seen it, and it is even worse than the drought of 1976/1977.[6] Their vines will be pruned to withstand the drier soil conditions. After this pruning, he expects the vines will produce around 20-25 percent less than average. In his vineyards that do not have water for irrigation or frost protection (most water in established vineyards is for frost protection) he expects a 40 percent crop reduction this year.

My neighbor asked me if this drought was the result of Global Warming. It is certainly due to the ever-changing nature of the earth’s climate; how much of that change can be attributed to humans is an open question. Drought has visited California before. Two mega-droughts occurred in what is now California long before we started to put massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One mega-drought started in 850 A.D. and ended in 1090. After a 50-year break, another mega-drought came in that lasted until 1320.[7] That is 240 years and 180 years, respectively. If this drought ends after this year, we will count ourselves lucky. Three years, in the cosmic scheme of things, is a mere drop in the bucket.

 

Footnotes:
[1] Personal conversation,  31 Jan 2014
[2] U.S. Population by state, 1790-2102
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004986.html (accessed 1 Feb 2014)
[3] One Hundred Years of Rainfall Trends in California | WATERSHED.ORG
http://www.watershed.org/?q=node/86 (accessed 7 Feb 2014)
[4] California’s Governor Declares Drought State Of Emergency : The Two-Way : NPR
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/01/17/263529525/california-s-governor-declares-drought-state-of-emergency (accessed 25 Jan 2014)
[5] Press Release:
DWR Drops State Water Project Allocation to Zero, Seeks to Preserve Remaining Supplies: Severe Drought Leads to Worst-Ever Water Supply Outlook  http://www.water.ca.gov/news/newsreleases/2014/013114.pdf (accessed 31 Jan 2014)
[6] Personal conversation,  31 Jan 2014
[7] California drought: Past dry periods have lasted more than 200 years, scientists say – San Jose Mercury News  http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_24993601/california-drought-past-dry-periods-have-lasted-more (accessed 29 Jan 2104)

 

 


 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Post to Twitter