A ‘Record-Breaking and Dangerous’ Heat Wave Is About to Hit the West Coast


The record-obliterating heat wave will hit California, Oregon, and Washington amid a megadrought.

Brian KahnToday 1:20PM92AlertsLooks bad.Gif: Earth Wind Map

The West hasn’t totally cooled off, but the region has gotten a slight reprieve from the heat that has dried up reservoirscurtailed hydropower, and otherwise wrought havoc on the megadrought-afflicted region. Unfortunately, all good(ish) things must come to an end.

The National Weather Service is warning of a “Record-Breaking and Dangerous Heatwave” hitting this weekend and early next week. Weather models are also coalescing around blistering heat. If the forecasts come to fruition, we’re not just talking about a few daily records falling here and there. We’re talking about a heat wave for the ages that could absolutely destroy all-time records from Washington to California as well as parts of Canada.

In what’s becoming an all-too-familiar pattern for those in the western half of the U.S., high pressure is expected to move in and park itself over the region in the coming days. That will usher in sunny skies and allow heat to start to build. By Sunday, a region from the Yukon to Southern California could see temperatures well above normal. The bullseye of heat will center on the Pacific Northwest where temperatures could be an eye-watering 40 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) above normal.

The Euro and GFS weather models, essentially the two gold standards for forecasters, are in agreement that the magnitude of this event will be extreme. While there are some slight differences of a few degrees up or down, the overall alignment is generally a sign something very rare and serious is about to go down. Among the more disturbing numbers coming out of the models are Portland cracking 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), a threshold the city has never breached.


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But models are only one tool in weather forecasters’ toolbox. Knowledge of local weather patterns and other influences not captured in models can help fine-tune the forecast. Even with those tweaks, though, the National Weather Service is still forecasting a slew of records to fall, including Portland’s all-time record of 107 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius). The Portland office is calling for “oppressive heat.” Meanwhile, the Seattle office is already tweeting graphics of the current heat records that are likely to fall in the coming days, which you can use as some kind of depressing extreme heat bingo card. Because weather doesn’t just stop at the border, the record run of heat will continue in British Columbia. There, forecasters are already anticipating that the warmest-ever June temperature for the entire province of British Columbia will likely fall.Top ArticlesDOJ Seizes Middle East News Sites for Allegedly Spreading DisinformationREAD MOREBig Tech CEOs Apparently Not Loving New Bills Seeking to Trust Bust Big TechMicrosoft Just Became the Second Company to Reach a $2 Trillion Market ValueDisney's Live-Action Snow White Has Found Its LeadThe OnePlus Merger With Oppo Might Be the End of Android Enthusiast PhonesGoogle Is Exploring Post-Pandemic Remote Work Options For EmployeesDOJ Seizes Middle East News Sites for AllegedlySpreading Disinformationhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.468.0_en.html#goog_1722747862https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.468.0_en.html#goog_264329111https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.468.0_en.html#goog_2021050533DOJ Seizes Middle East News Sites for Allegedly Spreading Disinformation

Overnight temperatures will also remain elevated throughout the region, and all-time hot low temperatures could also be toppled as well. That’s particularly worrisome since nighttime usually offers a reprieve. In a region where air conditioning isn’t as widespread as, say, Southern California, the relentlessness of the heat coupled with a lack of cooling options could unleash a wave of heat-related illnesses.

In an ironic twist, one factor that could lead to records not being broken is smoke from wildfires sparked due to hot conditions currently racking the West dimming the sun. Fires are already burning across the region and a large portion of the West is under a red flag warning as thunderstorms buzz through along with winds of up to 60 mph (97 kph). I’m not sure I’d call that a meteorological win since smoke can be just as dangerous to public (and planetary) health as heat.

The heat wave is a symptom of the climate crisis, which is making extremes like this more common and more intense. It also shows how the climate crisis creates compounding problems. The West is in the midst of a disastrous megadrought that relentless heat has played a role in driving. Among other things, the drought has caused Lake Mead to drop to a record low, led farmers to tear out water-intensive crops, and curtailed development in at least one town.

“We have human-caused climate change, making a moderate drought turn into a super megadrought,” Stewart Cohen, a retired climatologist after 35 years with Environment and Climate Change Canada, told the CBC. “We have a warmer climate because of greenhouse gases. It’s making droughts worse, dryer, and it’s making heat waves also worse.”

This is only the beginning, though. Climate change is expected to keep increasing the odds of heat and megadrought this century. The records that could fall this weekend and early next week will surely not be the last. But if what we’re seeing out West is any indication, we have a lot of work to do to ensure water systems, cities, and forests are ready for what comes next.


It’s so hot in the West this week, it is reaching 100 degrees by 8 a.m.

By Allison Chinchar, Hannah Gard and 


CNN)The West is in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave this week, as all-time records were shattered and daily records broken in over a dozen states.Even by desert standards, the heat wave in the Southwest is atypical. On Thursday, the National Weather Service in Tucson tweeted that the city recorded a temperature of 100 degrees at 8:14 a.m., the second earliest time in the day recorded since 1948.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1405552999255052288&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnn.com%2F2021%2F06%2F18%2Fweather%2Fheat-wave-records-west-forecast%2Findex.html&sessionId=c2d6f3047bf1d9dbf58ce567bf688ec86392901e&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550pxThat’s only slightly later than the earliest time recorded for reaching 100 degrees, which was in 2017 on June 20, when Tucson hit 100 degrees at 8:02 a.m. The high that day was 116 degrees. The all-time high temperature recorded in Phoenix of 122 degrees occurred on June 26, 1990.

High heat so early in the day have reinforced the need for the excessive heat warnings that have been in place throughout Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California all week.

Nighttime temperatures can be dangerous

On Friday morning, Phoenix recorded a low temperature — yes, a LOW temperature — of 92. This is a problem because it doesn’t allow the body to successfully cool down at night.The temperature needs to drop to at least 80 degrees for recovery to begin. In fact, a person can lose up to 2 liters of fluid overnight through sweating if the temperature never drops below 85 degrees.

https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-1&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1405900296492965891&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnn.com%2F2021%2F06%2F18%2Fweather%2Fheat-wave-records-west-forecast%2Findex.html&sessionId=c2d6f3047bf1d9dbf58ce567bf688ec86392901e&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550pxHalf a dozen Western states will have morning low temperatures between 10-20 degrees above normal through Sunday.Find out how hot it will get where you are>>The weather service issues heat advisories and warnings, with safety as their top priority.Heat is the number one cause of weather-related deaths in the US, and providing guidance about the likelihood of heat-related ailments — including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, stroke and possibly death — helps protect the public in extreme heat events.

Numerous heat records are being smashed

Record-breaking temperatures spread from California to Montana this week. On thursday, the all-time high temperature was tied in Palm Springs, California at 123 degrees, breaking the previous June record of 122 degrees.Salt Lake City tied its all-time record high of 107 degrees. The old record was notably set in July — when temperatures are usually at their highest for the year in that region. This comes after daily record highs were broken Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in Salt Lake, each with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.Records are kept for all-time highs (and lows), and also record high or low temperatures for specific months.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-2&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1404949205588742146&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnn.com%2F2021%2F06%2F18%2Fweather%2Fheat-wave-records-west-forecast%2Findex.html&sessionId=c2d6f3047bf1d9dbf58ce567bf688ec86392901e&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550pxDeath Valley, California, shattered its record high daily temperature for Thursday at 128 degrees — the previous record was 122 degrees set in 1917 — and was just 1 degree shy of tying the record for the month of June. The hottest recorded temperature in Death Valley was 134 degrees in July 1913.Las Vegas set two daily records this week after falling just 1 degree short of its record of 117 degrees on Wednesday.Record temperatures were set Thursday as well in the Colorado cities of Alamosa, Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Thursday was the earliest day on record in Colorado Springs to hit 100 degrees.Denver hit 100 degrees Thursday, marking only the sixth time in historical record keeping that it has reached 100 degrees on three or more consecutive days.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-3&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1405655728656842761&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnn.com%2F2021%2F06%2F18%2Fweather%2Fheat-wave-records-west-forecast%2Findex.html&sessionId=c2d6f3047bf1d9dbf58ce567bf688ec86392901e&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

Weekend stays hot for the West

From Sunday to Tuesday alone, 159 maximum daily high temperature records were broken, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. More than 50 additional records could be broken through Sunday in many of the same states that had them earlier in the week.Temperatures will remain 10 to 20 degrees above average through the weekend for much of the West.

The good news is that the heat begins to wane by the start of next week across the Southwest. By Wednesday, the heat breaks a bit in the Pacific Northwest as well.However, since we are only just two weeks into meteorological summer, long-term cooler temperatures aren’t expected for quite some time.

The Record Temperatures Enveloping The West Are Not Your Average Heat Wave


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June 19, 20216:01 AM ET


Visitors feel the heat in California’s Death Valley earlier this week. This record-setting heat wave’s remarkable power, reach and unusually early appearance is giving meteorologists yet more cause for concern about extreme weather in an era of climate change.Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

It might be tempting to shrug at the scorching weather across large swaths of the West. This just in: It gets hot in the summer.

But this record-setting heat wave’s remarkable power, size and unusually early appearance is giving meteorologists and climate experts yet more cause for concern about the routinization of extreme weather in an era of climate change.

These sprawling, persistent high-pressure zones popularly called “heat domes” are relatively common in later summer months. This current system is different.


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“It’s not only unusual for June, but it is pretty extreme even in absolute terms,” says Daniel Swain, climate scientist at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “It would be a pretty extreme event for August,” Swain says, when these typically occur.

From the Great Plains to the coast, cities are setting record temps

This heat dome’s reach is remarkable, too: It has set record highs stretching from the Great Plains to coastal California. And these aren’t just records for that specific date or month, but in a few spots, they are records for the singularly hottest day in the entire period of record, sometimes stretching back 100 to 150 years. “That’s a pretty big deal,” Swain says.Article continues after sponsor message

“It’s unusual in that it’s more intense in terms of the maximum temperature,” says Alison Bridger, a professor in the Meteorology and Climate Science department at San Jose State University. “And how widespread the impact is.”

For example, Palm Springs, Calif., recently hit 123 degrees, equaling its highest recorded temperature.


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Las Vegas set a daily record of 114 degrees. Phoenix reached a record 118 degrees, the earliest the city has hit that high a mark. It broke the previous record of 114 set in 2015.

Sacramento, Calif., set a new daily record of 109 degrees. The National Weather Service just extended its excessive heat warning through Sunday night in the Central Valley and parts of northern California.

Denver this week hit 100 for three straight days, the earliest date of such a streak on record, tweeted meteorologist Bob Henson. He noted that all of the 100-degree streaks in Denver’s 150 years of climate record keeping have occurred in the last three decades.

And in the Plains, several cities including Omaha, Neb., set records, including a daily record high of 105 degrees. That breaks an Omaha daily record set in 1918.

Just last year, several cities in the West also hit record highs.

This current heat dome “fits with climate change ideas, global warming, meaning that it’s just a little bit warmer than it would have been last year,” Bridger says. “And if we have this next year, it’ll be just a little bit warmer again.”

The “heat dome” is making droughts even worse

It’s also coinciding with and worsening record drought across big parts of the West. These two things, Daniel Swain says, are now making each other worse.

“The drought is leading to extremely low soil moisture, which is making it easier for these high pressure systems to generate extreme heat waves because more of the sun’s energy is going into heating the atmosphere rather than evaporating nonexistent water in the soil.”

And that is only making things hotter and drier.

“That’s sort of the vicious cycle of drought and extreme heat in a warming climate,” he says.

It’s more evidence of human-caused climate change

The excessive heat and widening drought continues to elevate wildfire risk across much of the West. New federal data show that the number of new wildfires in the U.S. so far this year is at a 10-year high, signaling a long, potentially dangerous summer and fall for wildfires.

Experts say this current heat dome is yet more evidence of the impact of human-caused climate change.

Bridger at San Jose State says while that is most likely the case, “it takes a lot of work to figure that out. A lot of hard scientific work in order to be statistically sure that it’s associated with climate change,” she says.

Others are more certain.

“It’s just so clear at this point,” says climate scientist Swain, “when it comes to record-breaking heat events, the study has been run for event after event after event in region after region after region in year after year.”


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And the answer is almost always the same, he says: “There’s a crystal clear human fingerprint on extreme heat and extreme heat events … climate change is making these sorts of things worse.”

And what was historically rare is now becoming almost commonplace: Forecasters say there’s a chance of yet another heat wave of similar magnitude in the West about 10 days from now.

“That sounds crazy, except that last summer we saw like three to five of these, you know, ‘unprecedented events’ in different regions of the West,” Swain points out.

Our climate is beyond hot



Our climate is beyond hot

© APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images

June 21 is the first full day of astronomical summer — and meteorologists all over the world have declared it #ShowYourStripesDay. On this day, expect to see your TV meteorologist sporting blue, white and red striped ties or pins or even custom dresses.

The stripes are a clever visualization of the changing temperature of the planet created by Ed Hawkins at the University of Reading. The blue color on one side shows that conditions in the early part of the 20th century were colder than the long-term average. The white that pops up in the middle represents temperatures close to average, and the red at the tip of the tie or the edge of the pin means warm. When viewed in this way, the trend in global warming is striking — the red that starts to pop at the end (roughly 1980) as global warming really kicks in.


It’s natural to want to talk about warming in the summer. This is when we are fighting to get small children to wear sunscreen and debating whether to turn up the air conditioning. We are all hyper-attuned to extremely hot conditions. Hot summer days, or more generally, record high temperatures are a solid way to track our warming planet.

But climate change is more than just hot days. Warming trends are apparent in all seasons, though they vary in strength from season to season and place to place. Each place has its own warming stripes pattern.

Climate change is also more than just temperature. Water is an integral part of the climate cycle of the planet. When the planet warms up, more ice melts into liquid water and more liquid water evaporates into vapor. The increase in evaporation means that dry areas like the Southwest get drier. But at the same time, the extra water vapor in the atmosphere also increases the chance of intense rain that triggers destructive flooding — or in the winter, big snowfalls that bring regions to a standstill for days.

Climate change is more than just physics. The physical changes impact ecosystems, causing flowers to bloom earlier (with more pollen in the air and more allergies) and causing plants, insects, birds and fish to move north.

Climate change is also about us. Intense heat has a direct impact on human health, and we are seeing more days when it is dangerous to work outside. Higher temperatures also intensify air pollution. Hot weather and bad air are especially dangerous for people with preexisting risk factors like heart disease, asthma, or diabetes. Climate change is causing more ER visits and rising healthcare costs.https://ff20fcdd9c304f26c2d6f69e2948f03b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Efforts like #ShowYourStripes have helped people see the trends that are banging around our planet, to the point where 72 percent of Americans now acknowledge that the climate is changing. Now, we need to help people see that climate change is increasingly connected to their lives in complex and surprising ways.

We also need to help people see that there are solutions— both to blunting some of the impacts of climate change and for reducing carbon pollution that is causing it. Problems on this scale are rarely easy to tackle, but this one is different.

First, we know how to start fixing this one, with well-established science and technology.

Second, thanks in part to creative approaches like warming stripes, people know and care about fixing it.

Third, lots of the solutions are win-wins that also clean the air, create jobs, and grow our economy. 

The question facing all of us is whether these solutions will be implemented fast enough to avoid a future with even darker red stripes that will break the color scale. 

Heat wave in West enters Day 6 as entire state of Arizona soars to record highs


Wildfire concerns are increasing as the combination of high heat and low humidity produces flammable conditions ripe for rapid fire ignition and spread.TAP TO UNMUTE

June 17, 2021, 8:35 AM PDT / Updated June 17, 2021, 6:39 PM PDTBy Kathryn Prociv and Jeremy Lewan

Historical records continue to be rewritten as extreme heat in the West threatens 40 million Americans on Thursday.

An unseasonably hot air mass has spurred highs to rise into the 90s and triple digits across much of the West this entire week, already smashing records in Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and Southern California.

Death Valley, already the holder of the hottest record on Earth with a reading of 134 degrees in 1913, established a new daily record of 125 Wednesday.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Denver had rare back-to-back 100 degree days, which has only happened 14 times on record. And this week was the earliest in the year it has done that. It could even have a rarer trifecta of triple digits, with Thursday’s forecast high flirting right around 100 degrees. The last time it had three 100-degree days in a row was 2012.

Death Valley’s soaring temperatures create hot spot for tourists

JUNE 17, 202100:54

The National Weather Service in Flagstaff noted it was likely that nearly every square inch of Arizona set a record high Wednesday.

Las Vegas soared to 116 degrees Wednesday breaking a record of 114 degrees for the date, and was only 1 degree shy of the record high of 117 degrees.

Finally, it hasn’t just been a day or two of record-setting heat but a relentless streak. When Tucson soared above 110 degrees Wednesday that made it the fifth day in a row the city endured that blistering heat. The record of consecutive days of 110 degrees or hotter is six set in June 1994. A forecast for three more days of 110 degrees or more will beat that.

And Tucson is not alone in having to endure the high heat for several more days. The entire Western region will continue to bake under temperatures 10 to 30 degrees above average through the weekend.

The scorching highs are also infiltrating eastward, breaking records in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and more. Records will likely topple again in Las Vegas and Phoenix, where highs are expected to surge above 110 in the coming days. Denver and Grand Junction, Colorado, will likely break their previous records for Thursday of 98 and 100, respectively, by several degrees. The heat will also threaten record highs in Kansas City, St. Louis, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Omaha, Nebraska.


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And research reveals the fingerprints of climate change are all over these increasingly hot temperatures and longer heat waves. Compared to 1970, Phoenix now experiences eight more days a year of 110 degrees or higher and Denver 14 more days a year of 95 degrees or higher.

With the brutal heat continuing through the weekend, California power grid operators have issued a flex alert, or a plea for voluntary energy conservation, in an effort to reduce the risk for outages.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed an emergency proclamation aimed at freeing up additional energy capacity, his office said. It suspends some permitting requirements and allows the use of back-up power generation. The proclamation says that “conditions of extreme peril” exist.

Multiple brush fires have sparked in the San Joaquin Hills near San Jose, California, and over 100 firefighters have been dispatched to contain them. Extremely low humidity and gusty winds will enable flames to rapidly spread across parched vegetation.

About 4 million people were under red flag warnings Thursday.

Climate experts are also concerned that these flammable conditions appearing so early in the fire season are a sign that 2021 will be another record-setting wildfire season in California, possibly spawning fires that could incinerate millions of acres by year’s end.

But for the short term, there’s relief in sight. The high heat finally breaks early next week as temperatures return to near average or even below average for some spots.

50 million Americans under warnings as heat wave smashes records in the West, fuels dangerous wildfires



Elinor AspegrenUSA TODAY0:571:54https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.465.1_en.html#goog_558388547

  • Over 50 million Americans in eight different states were under heat warnings and watches on Tuesday.
  • The National Weather Service urged people to remain hydrated and to stay indoors.
  • Temperatures in many states are forecast to remain above the 90s over the weekend.

A 100-year record broken in Montana. The hottest temperature in a Utah city in 147 years. Dozens of daily records smashed throughout many states.

And the heat wave in the West isn’t letting up. 

More than 50 million Americans in eight states were under heat warnings and watches Tuesday as the National Weather Service urged people to remain hydrated and stay indoors. 

Dozens of daily records were smashed Monday and Tuesday stretching from California’s central and inland valleys to as far north as Montana and Wyoming.

Salt Lake City also set another heat record for the second day in a row, experiencing its hottest day of the year and the hottest temperature for June in 147 years after hitting 106 degrees, according to the weather service. Palm Springs, California, hit 117 degrees, appearing to break the record high temperature for June 15 set in 1961.

“High temperatures in portions of Riverside County are nothing new, but those being predicted during the week can be very unsafe, particularly for those who are very young, very old and those with underlying health conditions,” said Dr. Geoffrey Leung, the county’s public health officer. “You do not want to ignore the potential for harm.”

Children cool off at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver as the temperature hit 96 degrees amid a heat wave sweeping across the West.

A daily record of 104 degrees was set in Billings, Montana, Tuesday, after the clip was broken Monday; a daily temperature record in 1919 was shattered by 12 degrees in Miles City, Montana.

And in Denver Tuesday, temperatures soared to 101 degrees, breaking the old record for June 15, which was 97 degrees in 1952 and in 1993. 

“There are still several more hours for it to get even warmer,” the weather service said on Twitter.SPONSORED BY DR. SCHOLL’SNEW Dr. Scholl’s Arthritis Pain RelieverA powerful prescription strength gel to provide relief from arthritis joint pain and inflammation

“Given the heat, dry conditions, and gusty winds, fire danger is also a concern throughout much of the West, with Critical Risks of fire weather in place this evening across portions of the central Great Basin and Northern Rockies,” the weather service also said in an advisory. 

Rising temperatures were worsening the risk for wildfires in Montana and northern Wyoming, officials said. Strong winds with gusts up to 35 mph were expected, threatening to stir up wildfires already burning and make it hard to stamp out new blazes.SPONSORED BY DR. SCHOLL’SNEW Dr. Scholl’s Arthritis Pain RelieverA powerful prescription strength gel to provide relief from arthritis joint pain and inflammation

A wildfire that broke out Monday near Yellowstone National Park in Montana grew quickly overnight and had burned more than 3 square miles by Tuesday morning, news station KULR-TV reported. Homeowners in the area were told they could be asked to evacuate if conditions worsened.

Meanwhile, California and Texas power grid companies warned that plants are offline more than usual because of the heat and asked residents to conserve energy to avoid rolling blackouts. 

National Weather Service graphic shows predicted highs for the area as heat wave takes over

And there’ll be little relief going into the weekend for southwestern states. Temperatures in many states are forecast to remain above the 90s, forecasters said. 

In Las Vegas, meteorologist Stan Czyzyk told the Las Vegas Review Journal that the high Tuesday may exceed the 1940 record of 116 for the day, but that records were more likely to fall later in the week.Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

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The National Weather Service said that since records began in 1937, the high has been at or above 113 in Las Vegas five days in a row only five times.

And Tuesday’s temperature in Phoenix tied a record set in 1974 for 115 degrees. The Arizona city is set to hit that high for the rest of the week, fueling wildfires in the state. 

“It is kind of early to see temperatures this high, that’s for sure,” said Marvin Percha, senior forecaster at the weather service’s Phoenix office.

Contributing: Amanda Ulrich, Palm Springs Desert Sun; The Associated Press

“Insanely Warm” Arctic Ocean Waters Are Delaying Freeze-Up and Pouring Heat Into the Atmosphere

In late October, sea ice off Siberia has only now begun to start freezing — an unprecedented situation for that part of the Arctic

ImaGeoBy Tom YulsmanOctober 30, 2020 5:00 PM


Arctic temperature forecast

Temperatures in large parts of the Arctic are expected to remain warmer than normal, as seen in this graphic showing a model prediction for Nov. 13. (See below for an animation of the day-by-day forecast between now and then.) Temperatures are expected to remain high for awhile because wide swaths of open water are releasing huge amounts of heat into the atmosphere. (Credit: WXCHARTS.COM)


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In September, Arctic sea ice reached its second lowest extent on record.

Now, in one significant way, the situation has only gotten worse.

With the onset of winter, large swaths of Arctic waters that should be frozen over by now remain ice free. As a result, the extent of the ice is currently running at record lows for this time of year.about:blankabout:blank

As of Oct. 29th, sea ice extent was 1.3 million square miles less than the median extent for the years 1981 through 2010. That area of ‘missing’ ice is about a third again as large as all of the U.S. states east of the Mississippi River.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent Comparison

During the latter part of October, the extent of Arctic sea ice has been at record lows. (Credit: NSIDC, with annotation added)

“The main factor is ocean heat,” says Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. (By way of full disclosure, the NSIDC is based at the University of Colorado, where I direct the Center for Environmental Journalism.)

In September, sea surface temperatures in the Laptev Sea off Siberia climbed higher than 5 degrees C, or 41 F. “That’s insanely warm for the Arctic Ocean, especially in that region, far away from any warmer inflow from the Atlantic or Pacific.”

Meier notes that winds and waves have mixed some of that heat down into the water column. For ice to form on the surface, heat needs to be lost to the atmosphere. “So that’s where we are now,” he says. “The ocean still has heat, so ice is not yet forming. And that heat is going into the atmosphere.”

Northern Hemisphere temperature Outlook

The outlook for temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere through Nov. 13, as calculated by a model. The dark colors over the Arctic show where temperatures are forecast to be more than 10 degrees C warmer than normal. (Credit: WXCHARTS.com)

You can get a feel for this effect in the animation above, which shows a model forecast for how air temperatures near the surface in the Northern Hemisphere will vary from normal from late October through Nov. 13. Note the grayish colors in the Arctic just off Siberia.about:blankabout:blank

Here, temperatures are forecast to be 10 degrees C, and even more, above normal. This, according to Meier, is a result of all the heat escaping from open Arctic waters into the atmosphere.

“Normally at this time of year in that location, there’d be ice present and air temperatures can quickly drop as the ice insulates the air from the ocean,” he says.

Why is the ocean so warm? It’s tied to very early melting of the sea ice following winter last year. That occurred because of “extreme conditions,” Meier says. Southerly winds along the Siberian coast “brought warm air temperatures and also served to push the ice away from the coast, initiating the opening.”

Temperatures were so warm in Siberia, in fact, that wildfires began igniting there in May — which was very early in the season. (Scientists thought that in some cases these were “zombie fires,” which had started the previous year and continued to smolder under the snows of winter, re-emerging as soon as the snow melted.)

Thanks to the warm temperatures, large amounts of sea ice disappeared earlier in the season than usual, exposing the ocean surface to the warming rays of the Sun. Whereas ice has a very high albedo, meaning it reflects most of the sunlight that hits it, the relatively dark, low-albedo sea surface absorbs much of that energy, and so the waters warm.about:blankabout:blank

“The ice was already opening up by June 21,” Meier says. “So you had open water when the sun was at its maximum in the Northern Hemisphere — 24 hours of daylight in the Arctic bringing in energy to the low albedo ocean water. That served to melt more ice and heat up the ocean.”

Continued southerly winds may have also churned up some heat from the sub-surface ocean.

Now, with the Sun barely above the horizon along the Siberian coast, the waters are exposed to almost no solar radiation. And it now looks like enough heat has escaped from the ocean to allow ice to begin forming.

Arctic Sea Ice Concentration on Oct. 29, 2020

The concentration of Arctic sea ice as of Oct. 29, 2020. Ice has finally begun to form along the Siberian coast. But most of the region should already be iced over. (Credit: NSIDC)

You can see it in the bluish areas along the Siberian coast in the map above. About a week ago, there was little to no ice there.

Interestingly, once the ocean gives off sufficient heat to allow sea surface temperatures to fall low enough, ice can form rapidly, Meier says. So we should not be surprised to see the extent of the ice cover in the Arctic catching up in coming weeks.about:blankabout:blank

Moving forward, what should we expect? A delay in freeze-up makes the spring ice cover somewhat thinner, according to Meier. But the weather conditions during next year’s warm season will be much more important

Sea Ice Thickness

Trends in sea ice thickness and overall volume are an important indicator of Arctic climate change. This visualization of September sea ice thickness and volume from 1979 to 2020 is based on an ocean and sea ice model called PIOMAS. (Credit: Zachary Labe)

Over the long run, the impact of human-caused warming in the Arctic couldn’t be clearer. It can be seen in many ways. For example, every calendar month of the year has seen a long-term decline sea ice extent.

As the animation above shows, it can also be seen in a dramatic decline in the estimated volume and thickness of Arctic sea ice. As of the end of September, ice volume was just one quarter of what it was in 1979.

In A Heating-Up West, Must Business-As-Usual Conservation Be Interrupted?


A firefighter strolls through the aftermath of a burn. Photo courtesy US Dept. of Defense
A firefighter strolls through the aftermath of a burn. Photo courtesy US Dept. of Defense

EDITOR’S NOTE: In this column, Lance Olsen reviews reasons to accept that we can’t restore ecosystems to what they were, can’t keep them as they are, and that heresy may be our best path to hope.

                                                           By Lance Olsen
Throughout many decades, many in the forest and wildlife conservation communities have organized around concerns about the adverse effects of business-as-usual in the logging industry.
For many, grappling with these concerns has also become business-as-usual in the conservation community. Alas, business-as-usual conservation is increasingly unlikely to meet its goals.
I’ve long sympathized with conservationists’ business-as-usual concerns about logging, and still do. After all, they’ve been all-too-frequently justified, and all-too-frequently still are. There’s still good and necessary work to be done in this context. I stand by the men and women doing that work.
That said, along with these continuing concerns, I’ve increasingly come around to a view that forests and wildlife are now far less threatened by logging than by the consequences of our fossil-fuel economy. This may nowhere be more true than the dry interior western United States.

In this part of the world, there’s been increasing evidence that rising levels of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, will yield heat and drought enough to transform this semi-arid region’s forests. The options include transformation to a less dense, savanna-like forest of the same species, or to a “novel” forest composed of species unlike the familiar forest of today, or even to a landscape without trees.

The stakes are high, will only be getting higher as temperatures climb higher, and the risks extend well beyond rare and already-threatened plants and animals. Given the deep evidence I’ll consider here, we are all being forced to reconsider the future of even common, widespread species such as lodgepole pine and the mule deer.
As the West goes dry
A new book, Climate Change and Rocky Mountain Ecosystems, 2018, J.E. Halofsky, D.L. Peterson (eds.), brings some useful perspective for evaluating the new situation. More specifically for the region from Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks, Chapter Five of the new book, Effects of Climate Change on Forest Vegetation in the Northern Rockies needs special mention.
The very first sentence of Chapter Five’s abstract lays out the critical changes in clear terms. “Increasing air temperature, through its influence on soil moisture, is expected to cause gradual changes in the abundance and distribution of tree, shrub, and grass species throughout the Northern Rockies, with drought tolerant species becoming more competitive.”
This one sentence says a mouthful. Its described path from heat to drought takes us straight into the realm where drought tolerance will be critical to hope for the survival of grasses, shrubs, trees — and animal life associated with them.
Haunting, an evergreen forest in Yellowstone's Lower Geyser Basin has been turned to dead snags by geothermal heat. Might this become a widespread aesthetic in Greater Yellowstone as drought and higher temperatures eliminates forests evolved for the cold and what does it mean for the species specially adapted to them? Photo courtesy NPS
Haunting, an evergreen forest in Yellowstone’s Lower Geyser Basin has been turned to dead snags by geothermal heat. Might this become a widespread aesthetic in Greater Yellowstone as drought and higher temperatures eliminates forests evolved for the cold and what does it mean for the species specially adapted to them? Photo courtesy NPS
The Nevada Department of Wildlife, for example, has found that, “Droughts are especially difficult on mule deer and their associated habitats,” and that “ the impacts of drought on Nevada’s mule deer have been significant.
Obviously enough, drought does no favors for any wild species, in any part of the world. Elephants, leopards, tigers are known to take hits from drought.

Periodic drought has long been bad news to life on earth. The worse news is that we can expect more of it, including its expansion across a wider expanse of the land base.

Periodic drought has long been bad news to life on earth. The worse news is that we can expect more of it, including its expansion across a wider expanse of the land base. For example, in 2006, the Journal of Hydrometeorology published findings that “ … the proportion of the land surface in extreme drought is predicted to increase from 1 percent for the present day to 30 percent by the end of the 21st century.”
This modeled expectation of expanding droughty areas has been variously confirmed by observed real-world trends since then. For example, a 2018 study found that the drylands of the interior western US have expanded eastward, and by140 miles.
This is gritty stuff, and not without implications. In fact, drought predicts the health and death of animals, first through its direct effect on the productivity and quality of animal habitat, with a subsequent indirect bottom-up effect on animals’ physical health and risk of mortality. In drought, food can be very scarce, which forces animals to sprawl out more widely in search for a bite to eat, only to get in trouble when their sprawl collides head-on with a sprawling human condition. In this collision, animals including bears can die as the ecosystem wilts.

For the conservation community, the take-home message is that conservation strategy that doesn’t account for drought is conservation with its head in the sand. The recently released Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem seems a prime example.

For the conservation community, the take-home message is that conservation strategy that doesn’t account for drought is conservation with its head in the sand. The recently released Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem seems a prime example. I ran a search of the 300-plus page document for drought, and got no results. Zero. Evidently, the d-word is too explosive for this government to mention even in some passing reference.
As the West heats up
Just as wildlife and forest conservationists can’t duck drought, we can’t avoid the reality that we’ve already passed through some important thresholds of heat, and that ecosystems will be taking hits from more and more of it.
Heat has consequences for species and ecosystems. By 2002, an article in Nature reported that, “Although we are only at an early stage in the projected trends of global warming, ecological responses to recent climate change are already clearly visible”
By 2004, Global Environmental Change could publish findings that, ”Between 1C and 2C increases in global mean temperatures most species, ecosystems and landscapes will be impacted and adaptive capacity will become limited.”
By 2006, it was already too late to halt the heat at .06C above the pre-fossil fuel era. In that year, biologist Camille Parmesan’s review of over 800 reports focused exclusively on wild species and ecosystems found that a third of species had already felt the effects of “recent, relatively mild climate change (global average warming of 0.6 C).”
Within a few years, it was already too late to halt the heat at 0.7C, and then too late to halt it at 0.85C. As of 2018, it’s already too late to halt the heat at a little over 1C, and it’s not going to stop climbing. Instead, species and ecosystems are likely to take hits from increasing heat for at least the next 30 years.
The Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy, a document forged by the federal government and the states, is supposed to guide grizzly bear management forward into the future. And yet the document, at best, pays lip service to the largest landscape-level force already affecting the ecosystem—climate change. Olsen notes that transformation of habitat is certain to send bears ranging more widely and coming into conflict with people which could cause higher mortality. By not acknowledging this, he says, the agencies are being remiss. Photo courtesy NPS/Eric Johnston
The Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy, a document forged by the federal government and the states, is supposed to guide grizzly bear management forward into the future. And yet the document, at best, pays lip service to the largest landscape-level force already affecting the ecosystem—climate change. Olsen notes that transformation of habitat is certain to send bears ranging more widely and coming into conflict with people which could cause higher mortality. By not acknowledging this, he says, the agencies are being remiss. Photo courtesy NPS/Eric Johnston
By 2016, an article in Earth’s Future reported that “… the historically hottest summers would become the norm for more than half of the world’s population within 20 years.”
In 2017, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Association published findings that the record-breaking heat of  2015  “will be the new normal by 2040.”
Since then, the assorted sciences gathered under the banner of climate science have reported that it will be extremely difficult to halt the heat at 2C, let alone 1.5. And in May, 2018, an article in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences cited evidence that, if the world economy continues on it’s business-as-usual dependency on burning fossil fuels, we’re on course to the 4C scenario.
That study was no outlier, no weird departure from the rest of reports on a future of increasing heat. In 2017, scientists describing their work were saying, ”Our study indicates that if emissions follow a commonly used business-as-usual scenario, there is a 93 percent chance that global warming will exceed 4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.”
If we let it our carbon dumping force heat to 4C, very much is very, very screwed.
In September of 2017, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed Clive Hamilton, an experienced observer of climate science. According to Hamilton, ”No one wanted to pay attention to the implications of a world four degrees warmer… Then a few scientists said let’s have a conference and actually talk about it. …. It was then that I would buttonhole a couple of scientists and say: ‘Well, you know we’re speculating about this. But what do you really think is the situation?’ And one of them just looked at me and said: ‘We’re f–ked.'”
As more and more people begin to get their heads around the urgency of our climate crisis, the odds of avoiding 4C will likely improve. The bottom line here is that saving forests and wildlife requires — yes, requires — actual effort aimed at saving the atmosphere.
This new responsibility for conservation would keep wild habitats and species out of the fire but, sad to say, it won’t keep them out the frying pan. Even if the world does halt the heat short of 4C, a lot will remain at risk at 3, or even 2.
As with drought, conservation strategy that doesn’t account for heat is conservation with its head in the sand. Alas, again, the recently released Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy is a prime example. Again, in running a search of its 300-plus pages, I found only three pages that make reference to temperature, and those few references left a lot unsaid about the risk grizzlies will be facing in an increasingly hotter world.
Some conservationist are beginning to shift gears
Noting that “Climate Change may undermine the effectiveness of current efforts to conserve wildlife and ecosystems,” a 2018 Wildlife Conservation Society report cites “examples of how conservationists are strategically altering their approaches to keep pace with climate change.”
WCS biologists say “our hope is that this report will help conservationists learn how to move beyond business-as-usual conservation approaches and make their work climate informed.”
They spell out a basic necessity for moving beyond business-as-usual conservation. “The first step is to consult the latest science on observed and projected climate impacts.”
The need for conservationists to get ready for change was identified three years earlier, in 2015. Writing for Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Paul R. Arnsworth  et al asked “Are conservation organizations configured for effective adaptation to global change? They opened their discussion by saying, “Conservation organizations must adapt to respond to the ecological impacts of global change.”

“They opened their discussion by saying, ‘Conservation organizations must adapt to respond to the ecological impacts of global change.'”

Amen to that. Global warming’s effect on climate is and for a long time will be forcing increasingly extensive change not just on trees but also on soils, grasses, shrubs, and the lives of wild animals.
These changes are and will be adding up to impact far in excess of anything logging could do in its wildest dreams of deregulation and subsidy. There is plausibly no better illustration of this sobering reality than in Figure 5 and Table 1 of Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk (see below).
Where’s the hope? 
There’s serious potential of heartbreak, despair and even a sinking feeling of hopelessness for conservationists who’ve devoted a career to saving familiar forests and wildlife from the excesses of logging, only to come face-to-face with losing them to the excesses of a fossil fuels economy. In a conversation with a wildlife biologist about this, he said if we level with people about the dangers of the climate situation, they’ll see it as a hopeless cause, throw their arms up in despair and walk away.
That’s a real risk. But there it is, and the bitterest pill takes form in the scenario of losses it’s already too late to stop, because of future heat that’s coming down the pipeline in the next few decades. When hotter and drier conditions are already forcing change on Rocky Mountain forests at only 1 Celsius above the fossil fuels era, there’s increasingly little reason to expect that upping the heat to 2 or 3C won’t endanger a lot of what we love.
Have a look at the graphic that speaks to forest cover outlook again, above. Among other things, that graphic illustrates the importance of latitude. For example, Glacier National Park is a higher latitude than Yellowstone, which raises hope that it will take less damaging hits to fir, pine, spruce — and the animal life associated with them.
Looked at another way, Yellowstone is at a higher latitude than points south, where the loss of familiar conifers is set to be even greater than for Yellowstone. IPCC’s 2007 report made that point pretty well. ”For widespread species such as lodgepole pine, a 3C temperature increase would increase growth in the northern part of its range, decrease growth in the middle, and decimate southern forests.”
One take-home message is relatively simple. As with real estate, hope for the the survival of species and systems is increasingly going to be partly a matter of location, location, location.
But there’s another, equally simple message that needs to be taken into account. Hope will also rest partly on traits of the species involved, and species differ in their tolerance for drought. This difference in species’ traits will be playing an increasingly decisive role in deciding the winners and losers that our fossil fuel economy and its creation of climate change will force on the Northern Rockies ecosystem
Many mountain forests could be transformed into savanna as they die or burn and conditions become too warm for "normal natural succession" to continue. It has consequences for many species. Photo courtesy BLM/Bob Wick
Many mountain forests could be transformed into savanna as they die or burn and conditions become too warm for “normal natural succession” to continue. It has consequences for many species. Photo courtesy BLM/Bob Wick
It’s worth repeating that key sentence that I referenced at the beginning: “Increasing air temperature, through its influence on soil moisture, is expected to cause gradual changes in the abundance and distribution of tree, shrub, and grass species throughout the Northern Rockies, with drought tolerant species becoming more competitive.”
This scenario carries a third simple message. Drought tolerant species might make it, but others will face higher risk of defeat — even with conservationists’ very best business-as-usual attempts to save them from logging.
This potentially discouraging scenario can be enough to thrust a conservation-minded individual — or group — into denial. Why? Psychoanalyst Rene Lertzman offers an answer. “Might we unconsciously deny what is staring us in the face because what is at stake is too painful to consider?” I think she’s onto something important with that question.

Psychoanalyst Rene Lertzman offers an answer. ‘Might we unconsciously deny what is staring us in the face because what is at stake is too painful to consider?'”

Alternatively, where denial yields to acceptance, the result doesn’t have to be enlightenment. Acceptance of painful new realities can, as my biologist friend worried, usher us into a feeling of hopelessness.
Barbara Betz wrote in the May 1968 issue of International Journal of Psychiatry, “Hopelessness is often derived from unfulfillable, rather than from merely unfulfilled, desires and wishes focused on impossible aims.” Anna Freud, the savvy psychologist daughter of famed father Sigmund Freud, put it succintly; In our dreams we can have our eggs cooked exactly how we want them, but we can’t eat them.
But our responses don’t need to end at hopelessness. In her 1968 article, Betz pointed out that the feeling of hopeless “diminishes with the development of capability to change aim.” She added the counterpart to hopelessness “is not just ‘hope’ but enthusiasm and zest.”
The time is now to change business-as-usual thinking
In his popular tune, The Gambler, Kenny Rogers says “Ya gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”
The question of when shows up four times in that chorus, and it’s critical to the hopes we can hold in a world that favors the persistence of drought tolerant ecosystems — at the expense of ecosystems close to our hearts’ desires. Is it time to walk away from forests and wildlife we hold dear, and devote our time and efforts to species that have a chance in a hotter, drier Northern Rockies region?
In 2007, Nature published “What to let go,” by Emma Marris. “Triage,” Marris wrote, “is a dirty word in some conservation circles, but,” she reminds us, “conservationists have long had to make decisions about what to save.” Amen.
“As more and more admit it,” she adds, “open discussion about how the decisions are best made — by concentrating on particular species, or particular places, or absolute costs, or any other criterion — becomes possible.”
Given what we know about the importance of drought tolerance and latitude, Marris’ references to “particular species” and “particular places” seem particularly apropos.
“Whichever criteria come into play,” Marris reminds us, “one thing remains constant. The decisions have to be made quickly.”  I’d only add that these decisions should have been made years ago, but that normal human resistance to change has kept the brakes applied.
 Aiming for a forest of drought tolerant trees
Picking my way through the Montana State Nursery’s catalog, I found four trees specifically described as drought tolerant, one of them “very drought tolerant.” Juniper was one of them, and it’s a familiar tree on many dry sites.
Big toothed maple and prairie poplar, according to the state nursery, usually establish themselves along waterways but, once established, tolerate drought pretty well. These two trees may thus have some potential for persistence of riparian systems important to many plant and animal species.
The fourth tree was bur oak, and what the state nursery said about that tree got my attention more than any of the others. While the others are capable of providing shade that will be increasingly valuable to many species as heat firms its grip, and shade cast on streams could grant added value to the prairie poplar and big toothed maple, the bur oak was for me a standout.
The nursery describes bur oak as “very drought tolerant.” Equally striking, it describes characteristics recognized for the whitebark pine. Just as the  pine periodically casts off cones with nuts providing food for bird, squirrel, and bear, the oak periodically casts off acorns. Birds and small mammals pounce on his periodic plenty, and bears have been known to pull down bur oak branches to eat acorns directly from the tree when they and other beneficiaries have already gobbled up the goodies fallen on the ground.
Business-as-usual conservation in the Northern Rockies has long been organized around the familiar fir, spruce, and pine ecosystems. These are the systems we know and love and, for many, perpetuating these forest is the desired future. A forest of juniper, prairie poplar, big toothed maple and bur oak would clearly be a novel forest and, for some conservationists, a heresy.
And yet, for at least some others, including me, a novel forest would just as clearly be preferable to no forest at all. Getting from here to there will plainly require departure from business as usual.
Given the latitude of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the national forests around the Park seem a reasonable enough place to start, so I’ve been pestering the Custer-Gallatin Forest to at least start thinking and talking out loud about it.
This will require a shift from the Forest Service business-as-usual approach of managing for ecosystems’ desired future conditions. The need for this shift was strongly underscored in no less a journal than Forest Ecology and Management. An article there by S.W. Golladay et al makes a forceful case for shifting our aims away desired future conditions, and aiming instead for achievable future conditions.
“We contend that traditional approaches to forest conservation and management will be inadequate given the predicted scale of social-economic and biophysical changes in the 21st century. New approaches … are urgently needed …,” they wrote. “These approaches acknowledge that change is inevitable and sometimes irreversible, and that maintenance of ecosystem services depends in part on novel ecosystems, i.e., species combinations with no analog in the past.”

Wildfires and weather extremes: It’s not coincidence, it’s climate change

Right on the heels of arguably the West Coast’s most intense heat wave in modern history comes the most ferocious flare-up of catastrophic wildfires in recent memory. Meanwhile, just a few hundred miles east, a 60-degree temperature drop over just 18 hours in Wyoming and Colorado was accompanied by an extremely rare late-summer dumping of up to 2 feet of snow.

These kinds of dystopian weather events, happening often at the same time, are exactly what scientists have been warning about for decades. While extreme weather is a part of the natural cycle, the recent uptick in the ferocity and frequency of these extremes, scientists say, is evidence of an acceleration of climate impacts, some of which were underestimated by climate computer models.

“This is yet another example of where uncertainty is not our friend,” says Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State. “As we learn more, we are finding that many climate change impacts, including these sorts of extreme weather events, are playing out faster and with greater magnitude than our models predicted.”

On Wednesday NOAA released its latest State of the Climate Report, which finds that just during the month of August the U.S. was hit by four different billion-dollar disasters: two hurricanes, huge wildfires and an extraordinary Midwest derecho.

Just one such extreme event can strain emergency resources — a situation West Coast firefighters find themselves in now. However, in two dramatic cases this summer, the nation was hit simultaneously with concurrent catastrophes, some of which had no precedent in modern history. It’s a concept scientists call compound events, and it is necessary to factor these confluences into future projections to properly estimate risk, response and resources.

In mid-August the West suffered through an extended heat wave which saw Death Valley surge to 130 degrees, the hottest temperature ever reliably measured on Earth. The tinderbox conditions caused by the heat, along with a rare lightning outbreak, sparked the first round of major wildfires in California this season, escalating into three of the four largest fires in state history. At about the same time a powerful derecho caused billions of dollars in damage in Iowa and Illinois, and Hurricane Laura plowed into the Gulf Coast of Louisiana as a Category 4 with 150 mph winds and 16 feet of storm surge.

Just three weeks later, and here we are again. This past weekend California experienced an even more intense heat wave, with the southern part of the state hitting 121 degrees west of the mountains for the first time in record-keeping history. Predictably, fires flared back up due to the severe heating and drying, and then went into overdrive as a wicked early-season cold front — which is also bringing heavy snow to the Rockies — brought a wind event through the mountains and valleys of the intermountain west.

In Washington state, an estimated 330,000 acres burned across the state on Monday, more than the total in each of the last 12 fire seasons. California has seen a record 2.3 million acres burn so far this year — more than 3 times the normal for an entire season (typically July through November), and 7 times the normal year to date.

NASA image shows locations of wildfires in red and plumes of smoke across the Western U.S. NASA

If it were just this fire season, one could chalk the extremity up to mere coincidence. But scientists say this is part of an ongoing upward trend, made clear by the data and well understood by science.

“There is little doubt that we’re witnessing an acceleration of fire activity in the West – be it in terms of burned area, number of large fires, fire growth, and of course direct and indirect impacts to people,” explains Dr. John Abatzoglou, climate professor at the University of California Merced.

Increase in California areas burned by wildfires, 1975 to 2015.WILLIAMS, ABATZOGLOU ET AL., EARTH’S FUTURE

Abatzoglou makes clear that there are many factors — not just climate change — that contribute to the escalation of fire activity. These include the increased settlement of people in fire-prone lands and a legacy of fire suppression in many lower-elevation forests, which led to years of heavy growth of trees and brush.

“We can focus on the bad fortune of the lightning siege around the San Francisco Bay Area, or the multitude of stupid human tricks that materialized in large wildfires, but the confluence of long-term and short-term environmental factors set the table for the 2020 fire season,” he said.

In other words, though climate change does not cause the heat waves or fires, it sets the stage so that when conditions are ripe, like the summer and fall of 2020, heat waves are more intense and fires burn more fiercely.


This summer has been extremely hot and dry in the West. According to NOAA, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah each had their warmest August on record. Research has found that heat waves are now larger, getting more intense and lasting longer than decades ago.  Specifically in California, extreme heat waves — like the ones of recent weeks — are now 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer due to climate change. By 2080, that same study finds such heat waves will intensify by another 3 to 5 degrees.

This week’s NOAA report also finds that the same general area in the West also experienced one of its driest Augusts on record. This short-term dry and hot pattern is mainly due to natural cycles in weather, and from season to season has the biggest impact on the amount of area burned because it determines how dry the forests and brush are.

“Across the Western U.S. forests, we find that climatic measures of fuel dryness explain about ¾ of the year-to-year variability in the burned area — highlighting that climate very strongly enables big fire seasons in warm-dry summers and inhibits widespread fire activity in cool-wet summers,” explains Abatzoglou.

But over the long term, human-caused climate change has been gradually drying out the atmosphere and the fuel. “The observed changes in fuel dryness [plus the] number of days of high fire danger have been particularly stark in the American West over the past half-century,” says Abatzoglou.

Since the 1970s the warm season in the West has heated up by 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. This extra heat has increased the evaporation of moisture from the surface. While atmospheric moisture has also increased some, it has not increased nearly as fast as the temperature. That has caused a long-term “moisture deficit” and has accelerated the rate of foliage drying. This is part of the reason why, according to research, the West has entered into one of the worst megadroughts in the past 1,200 years.

recent study, co-authored by Abatzoglou, found a direct link with nearly all of the increase in summer forest-fire area during the period from 1972–2018 driven by the increased moisture deficit. To illustrate just how impactful the moisture deficit is, right now, as unprecedented wildfires burn out of control, the deficit is at record low levels in the majority of the Western U.S.

Another recent study from this spring found that the frequency of autumn days with extreme fire weather conditions has more than doubled since the 1980s, fueled by a combination of less rainfall and warmer temperatures.

But many scientists believe that there is more at play contributing to this extreme weather than simply the direct effects of warming and drying. One of those mechanisms is the indirect impacts of global warming on the most influential weather-maker on day-to-day conditions: the jet stream.

The speed and orientation of the jet stream — a river of fast-moving air currents in the atmosphere — determines the track, intensity and forward speed of most storm systems and also how cold or hot the weather is. The attributes of the jet stream at any given moment are determined largely by the placement of hot and cold air masses and the strength of the gradient between them. Because the Arctic has been warming at three times the rate of the rest of the globe, climate scientists know human-caused climate change is throwing the jet stream off-kilter. But how and to what extent is not totally understood.

A number of climate scientists believe that a warmer Arctic is slowing down the jet stream during certain times of year, resulting in a more wavy jet stream. As shown below, a wavy jet stream can catapult warm air northward into the Arctic and drive cold air far southward. This is exactly what happened during the catastrophic Midwest floods in 2019 and is also the kind of pattern we have right now, which is causing record low temperatures and extremely early season snow in the Rockies and Plains. A wavy jet stream is a normal part of nature, but climate change may be making it more amplified, resulting in more extremes.


“I think it’s a triple whammy — heat and drought, which are favored by climate change, and the extra added ingredient is the slower, wavier jet stream,” explains Mann. But he says the wavier jet stream isn’t well resolved by current models, thus they underestimate the extremity of weather events enhanced by climate change.

As for future fire seasons, Abatzoglou says we should expect extreme fires seasons like 2020’s to become the rule rather than the exception.

“While the extent of the ongoing fire siege is beyond what most have seen in the West, the alignment of ingredients for such fire seasons is becoming more favorable as a result of climate change and land-use practices,” he said. “We should expect, adapt, and prepare for similar years moving forward.”

Warming oceans are trapping shellfish in hotspots they can’t escape

A new study has found marine creatures like mussels could be vulnerable to a phenomenon known as "elevator to extinction," in which increasing temperatures are driving them towards new, less secure habitats
A new study has found marine creatures like mussels could be vulnerable to a phenomenon known as “elevator to extinction,” in which increasing temperatures are driving them towards new, less secure habitats

Many species are expected to be displaced as the world continues to warm and natural habitats are transformed, and this is true both on land and at sea. Scientists studying more than half a century of data on bottom-dwelling shellfish have uncovered evidence of a destructive feedback loop, in which generations of these marine creatures are becoming trapped in warmer areas that threaten their survival.

The research was carried out at Rutgers University and throws up some counter-intuitive revelations concerning the migration of marine species. Many creatures will respond to warming waters by traveling to cooler areas for refuge, but the scientists found a number of species that do just the opposite, a phenomenon they call “wrong-way migration.”

These include sea scallops, blue mussels, clams and quahogs, which the team notes are valuable resources for the shellfish industry, with the team drawing its conclusions from more than six decades of data on more than 50 species off the north-east coast of the US. Around 80 percent of the species studied could no longer be found in their traditional habitats, turning up in shallower, warmer waters instead.

“These deeper, colder waters of the outer shelf should provide a refuge from warming so it is puzzling that species distributions are contracting into shallower water,” says lead author of the study Heidi Fuchs.

Once there, they are already less likely to survive, but the ones that do and go on to reach adulthood become part of a destructive feedback loop, with these warmer regions again causing the earlier spawning of their larvae, and the cycle then repeats.

While this study only looks at bottom-dwelling invertebrates from one general location, the findings are consistent with trends observed in other animals whose habitat is being affected by climate change. This is sometimes called the “elevator to extinction” phenomenon, where animals like birds and butterflies are driven to higher and higher altitudes to escape increasing temperatures until they can no longer be found in areas they originally inhabited.