California: Drought, record heat, fires and now maybe floods

LOS ANGELES: Californians sweated as a record heatwave entered its 10th day that has helped fuel deadly wildfires and pushed energy supplies to the brink of power outs daily.
The relief operation is being viewed as a remnant of a storm approach that will bring temperatures down over the weekend but could bring another set of challenges: heavy rains will be welcomed amid extreme drought but can cause flash floods.
Climate change is making the planet warmer and weather-related disasters more extreme, scientists say. The heat that weather maps colored dark red for over a week in California is just a preview of upcoming attractions.
“We’re going to see these heatwaves keep getting hotter and hotter, last longer and longer, more wildfires,” Jonathan OverpeckDean of the University of Michigan’s Department of Environment and Sustainability.
California is just the latest casualty in a year of deadly heatwaves that began in Pakistan and India this spring and swept across parts of the Northern Hemisphere, including China, Europe and other parts of the world. other regions of the US.
Climate change is also exacerbating droughts, drying up rivers, making wildfires more intense and – conversely – leading to massive global flooding as moisture evaporates from soil and water is trapped. in the atmosphere and then accreted by intense rainfall.
Scientists don’t want to attribute any particular weather event to global warming, but say heatwaves are exactly the type of change that will become more common.
Paul Ullrich, a professor of regional climate modeling at the University of California, said the so-called California cooking heat dome has been trapped in place by a distinctive high-pressure region over Greenland, essentially creating meteorological traffic congestion. Davis. That stopped the high-pressure system that was forcing hot air over California to move along.
Temperatures hit an all-time high in Sacramento of 116 degrees (46.7 C) on Tuesday. Many more locations hit record highs in September, and even more have set daily highs.
In the 1970s, Sacramento, the state capital, had five “extremely hot” days a year, Ullrich said, today it has about 10 and that number will double by mid-century.
“That will be the story for much of the Central Valley and much of Southern California,” Ullrich said. “The pattern of exponential growth in extreme heat days. If you tie all of that together, then you’re going to suffer heat waves like we’ve had.”
For the nine days to Thursday, the vast energy grid including power plants, solar farms and a network of power transmission lines was strained by record demand driven by air conditioners. .
“If we were to erect a statue for anyone in the West, it would be an aircraft carrier Willis” said Bill Patzert, retired climatologist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, about the inventor of the air conditioner. “Really large areas of Southern California would be essentially unlivable without air conditioning.”
Air conditioning puts the biggest strain on power sources during a heatwave, and grid operators have called for conservation and warned of the risk of power outages as usage hits all-time highs on Wednesday. Three, surpassing the record set in 2006.
The state could have prevented a repeat of the outages two summers ago by sending out the first written warning to over 27 million phones urging Californians to “take action” and turn off the power. electricity is not required. Turn on enough thermostats, turn off lights or unplug appliances to avoid power cuts, even though thousands of customers have lost power at various times for other reasons.
The West is facing a 23-year super-drought that has drained reservoirs and put water supplies in jeopardy. That has led to a sharp drop in the hydroelectricity California relies on when electricity demand peaks.
“The parts of the country that have been hardest hit are the Southwest and Western United States,” Overpeck said. “It is a global poster child for the climate crisis. And this year, this summer, the Northern Hemisphere is really just an unusually hot and wildfire hemisphere. ”
The extreme heat has helped ignite deadly wildfires at both ends of the state, Overpeck said, as the fire eats grass, brooms and wood that were “preconditioned to burn” due to drought and then burned out. pushed over the edge by the heatwave, Overpeck said.
Firefighters have struggled to control massive wildfires in Southern California and the Sierra Nevada that have exploded in growth, forcing thousands of people to evacuate and creating smoke that can jam solar energy. and hinder the power supply further.
Two people were killed in a fire that broke out last Friday in the Weed community in Northern California at the foot of Mount Shasta. Two others died trying to flee in their cars from a Riverside County fire that was threatening 18,000 homes.
What’s left of Hurricane Kay, now downgraded to a tropical storm, is expected to bring heavy rain and even flash flooding to Southern California Friday night through Saturday. At first, strong winds can make it difficult and dangerous for firefighters trying to find the blaze, Patzert said.
Downpours can also trigger landslides on burned slopes caused by recent fires. Although a few inches of rain may fall, most of the rainfall will drain the arid landscape and have no effect on the drought.
“It comes to you like a tornado and you’re trying to refill your glass of champagne,” says Patzert, “Everybody’s so excited, but on Saturday night a lot of people will say, Yeah, we can. would have done without that. ‘”

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