'No one's safe': Climate hysteria in Flagstaff

Back in October 2012, Grist published an article entitled “Flagstaff sustainability chief Nicole Woodman keeps a cool head as temperatures rise.”  Not sure what is meant by the present-tense use of “as temperatures rise” when we talk about Flagstaff, Arizona.  The average annual temperature in this area has no significant trend for three decades and counting.

But this is the claim that caught my attention in Grist's question-and-answer format with the sustainability chief:

Q. How will climate change affect Flagstaff?

A. Flagstaff in the last few years has been a case study for it. [In 2010], we had catastrophic wildfires. As a result, we had flooding and a loss of life. [Ed's note: The floods were caused by record-setting monsoon rains following the fires, which washed sediment from the scorched slopes and caused flash floods, one of which killed a 12-year-old girl.] And then we had extreme heat.

Government agencies are the first responders in those trying times. We need to prepare ourselves as government organizations to be able to better respond. It’s not something we can just check off a list. It will be years in the making. But we are having the dialogue.

The hyperlink in the quote above is the same hyperlink that Grist provided, and it links to a feature article at the Arizona Geological Survey (AGS) website by some researchers from the AGS and the Rocky Mountain Research Station within the USDA.  Note the claim inserted by the Grist editor: “the floods were caused by record-setting monsoon rains following the fires.”

Record-setting?  According to the AGS article, the 2010 monsoon rains in the Flagstaff area were most certainly not “record-setting.”  As the AGS and USDA researchers clearly state, “the summer of 2010 brought wildfires and near record monsoon rains to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona. ... Following the fire, heavy rains from the 4th wettest monsoon on record in Flagstaff resulted in numerous debris flows, significant erosion, and substantial flooding of the residential areas below.”  Big difference between record-setting and only the “4th wettest monsoon on record.”

We repeatedly see this rhetoric employed in climate alarmism: record-setting events that turn out not to be record-setting events once the fact-checking is completed.  But by then, the damage is done, and the public has already been indoctrinated into hysterical conclusions.

It is not even clear where claims of the “4th wettest monsoon on record in Flagstaff” come from.  Apparently, the “monsoon season begins on June 15 and ends on September 30, but the storms peak between mid-July and mid-August.”  The AGS/USDA research article states that “by the time the fire was 100% contained on June 30th, the assessment of damages and preparation for monsoon rains was well underway.”  Thus, the monsoon season dates of relevance for the 2010 fire seem to be from July 1 to September 30.

Using NOAA National Weather Service data for Flagstaff, the July through September precipitation in 2010 for the region was 10.29 inches, which places it as only 12th highest on record up to 2010 – not fourth.  As an additional point, it is important to note that there is absolutely no significant trend in July to September monsoonal season rainfall for the Flagstaff area since records began in 1899, nor over the last 30 years.  Almost perfect non-correlations exist.  The maximum one-day precipitation amounts during the 2010 monsoon season were also nowhere near all-time records.  Actually, they were just a little bit above the all-time average.

Consequently, it is not clear how climate change played a key role in this 2010 event.

What about the claim that “and then we had extreme heat”?  Between the fire of 2010 and the time this article was published (October 2012), the maximum temperature in Flagstaff was 90º F, which is below – not above – the long-term average maximum high temperature.  None of the summer months during 2010, 2011, or 2012 came remotely close to setting a record high temperature.  Instead, they were all about average or below average.  No extreme heat evident in the average summer maximum temperatures over this period, either.

I am not even sure what “extreme heat” means in the Flagstaff area anyway.  The number of days above 95º F between 2010 and 2012?  Zero.  There have only been a grand total of five days above 95º F in recorded history for Flagstaff dating back to the late 1800s.  And the region has never had a day above 100º F.  Nor was there a day above even 90º F between 2010 and 2012, and this is below the historical average of two days per year.  “Then we had extreme heat”?  Really?  When?

But this is not merely an exercise in esoteric climate navel-gazing.  The financial implications of unwarranted climate alarmism are massive for these types of communities.  From the Grist article itself:

Q. Is your department safe under the new city leadership?

A. In theory, no one's safe. We're in public works. It would take a significant amount of effort for our funding source to be removed. You might call me in six months and they're going after it, I don't know, but we just brought in a $2.5 million grant and we're going after a $5 million grant next year. I would like to believe it wouldn't be a smart political choice [to shutter the department] but if someone wants to hang their hat on that, we're up for [the fight]. We have a lot of friends in the community.

The city has a total population of only about 66,000, meaning that grants of $2.5 to $5 million are not trivial amounts of spending.  To quote Senator Everett Dirksen: “A million here, a million there, pretty soon, you're talking real money.”

While we often spend much of our time focused on unwarranted “sustainability” spending at federal and state/provincial levels, the real driver for much of this waste is the demand from municipalities.  It is long past time to shut off the tap and get back to fiscal responsibility and, where necessary, more productive avenues of government spending.