Obama Incorrectly Blames Climate Change for Massive Wildfire in Washington State

While in Washington State speaking at a fundraiser, “President Barack Obama says a wildfire that has burned nearly 400 square miles in the north-central part of Washington state, along with blazes in other Western areas, can be attributed to climate change.”  According to Obama, “a lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns and a lot of that has to do with climate change.”

Obama was speaking of the Carlton Complex of fires in Washington.  Perhaps Obama would be interested to know that there is not a single significant trend towards increasing drought conditions in any of Washington State's 10 climate divisions – including and especially those in and around the wildfire – since records began in 1895.  So if drought is the cause of the fires, and anthropogenic climate change is the cause of the drought and the fires, why aren't there any trends towards more severe and frequent droughts in this state over the past 120 years?

Not a single one of Washington's climate divisions has a significant decreasing trend in annual precipitation since 1895.  Similarly, none of the state's climate divisions has a declining trend in precipitation during the first six months of the year.  In the two climate divisions around the fire, neither the spring nor summertime precipitation amounts are declining since records began.

Neither summertime average nor maximum temperatures around the fire have an increasing trend since 1970 – the period over which the National Climate Assessment tells us climate change impacts should be most clear.  So what is the mechanism that allows Obama to unequivocally link anthropogenic climate change in north-central Washington to the current wildfire?  Rather than his audience having to guess and investigate on his behalf, if he is so sure that climate change is the cause, then he shouldn't have to disseminate such broad vagaries.  Instead, he should be able to state clearly the link – ideally using quantitative datasets that scientists can verify.

But we see none of this.  We receive just hand-waving nonsense about drought and changing precipitation patterns – neither of which appears to be changing in this region of Washington in a manner that would seem to favor more wildfires.  If the proverbial smoking gun is out there, Obama should send us a link to it and let independent scientists test his supposedly proven theories.

The climate is changing for only a small percentage of the United States.  If we look at annual temperature patterns over the past 30 years throughout the nation, only 32 percent of the more than 230 climate sub-regions in NOAA's National Weather Service database have significant increasing trends. In the Northwest climate region where the fire is located, only one (around Boise, Idaho) of 15 sub-regions has an increasing trend in annual temperatures during the last three decades – and most of the correlations are negative, not positive.  In the neighboring Northern Rockies and Plains climate region, only one of 26 sub-regions has a significant increasing trend.  As I showed recently, it appears that California has been cooling since 1984, not warming as the NOAA-NCDC database suggests.

Lots of certainty exists on the left side of the political spectrum with regard to linking anthropogenic climate change and this year's wildfires in the western United States, but no evidence to support the claims is provided.