The true story behind yet another 'extreme weather event'
As the capital of Canada's oil sands, Fort McMurray, burns to the ground in a massive forest fire, out come the commentators talking about climate change.
At the National Post, Jen Gerson writes the following:
All that said, it sure doesn't seem at all implausible that the Fort McMurray fire was caused or, at least, exacerbated by climate change. I mean, come on. It's 30C in early May. We had no winter. There's little snow on the mountains. The Bow River never froze. For goodness' sake, there were rafters on it as if it were high summer over the weekend.
As for the Bow River apparently never freezing, and the rafters on it last weekend, we can ignore that comment, since the Bow River passes through Calgary in the southern end of the province, literally 440 miles south of Fort McMurray. Calgary's average temperatures in January are a full 10°C warmer than those in Fort Mac, as they call it.
Gerson argues that she will "unpack the thing that has been made unmentionable by those who wish to remain sensitive to Fort Mac's plight: climate change. Here will be the required caveats; one cannot link any single extreme weather event to climate change."
Single extreme weather event? Since when is a forest fire an "extreme weather event"? What exactly is that single extreme weather event that took place recently in Fort McMurray?
Is it that "[i]t's 30C in early May"? Indeed, it did get above 30 C on Tuesday in Fort Mac.
I mean, come on – like that has never happened before. Such as on May 3, 1937 (31.7 C), or May 4, 1944 (33.3 C), or May 2, 1980 (30.6 C), or May 7, 1987 (30.8 C)...or what about April 29, 1980 (30.2 C)?
There was "no winter" in Fort McMurray this year?
The average temperature this past December was -10.4 C, which isn't close to a record warm for this month. January came in at -13.9 C. Again, nowhere near a record. February was -9.8 C. Yet again, not in the remote neighborhood of a record. Neither March nor April was especially hot, either. Likely warmer than average, but nowhere near record warm.
Even the winter of 2015-16 average temperature looks to be about 3 C off a record warm. In other words, Fort Mac had a winter this year.
But it was a dry winter – on that point we can all agree. If it wasn't a record dry October-April period around the home of the oil sands, it was very close.
And I'll take the contrarian view on climate change this time, since Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is wrong about almost everything – and after his crowd of merry morons bashed the Conservatives for a decade over their "climate denial," turnaround is fair play.
There are very clear long-term trends toward Fort McMurray getting much drier in the period from late autumn through spring. That is undeniable. Thus, forest fires like this should – all other things being equal – be becoming more frequent and fierce. Add in the massive cumulative increase in fuel loading within the forests due to misguided fire suppression efforts over a century, and the scale of the risk becomes clear.
Climate change as a contributing cause to the Fort Mac inferno? Yep. Most certainly is. The climate up there is certainly changing during recent decades in a way that would make forest fires more of a problem.
Is it anthropogenic climate change? That is the point to argue over. But the time is long overdue to stop denying that the climate is changing when it actually is. That is as intellectually bankrupt as the hysterifiers who claim it is changing when it isn't.
Climates do cycle naturally, leading to alternating periods of more and less frequent and intense forest fires. Keep that in mind.
Fort Mac's blaze isn't some "extreme weather event"; it is the result of a (potentially natural) decades-long drying trend (aka changing climate) coupled to poor fire management practices in our forests. Both are causes.