Thursday morning, the Santa Ana winds were bad. They pushed my son's 20 year old little car around the roads like a toy needing repair. Fire follows the Santa Anas just as surely as night follows day. Now my sleepy county just outside of Los Angeles has made national news. You may know it as the Springs fire, which began in Camarillo and so far has burned 28,000 acres. To me it has another name: climate change comes home.
A NASA study predicts that climate change may bring drought to temperate areas:
Wet areas will get wetter and dry areas will get drier.I've been driving the Golden State the last couple of weeks. The Tehachapis usually come alive in April: green hills covered with the soft haze of blue lupines and punctuated by neon-orange California poppies. This year the hills are already in their closed-off summer mode awaiting the next big rains. They'll be waiting a long time.
In the Northern Hemisphere, drought-prone areas include the Southwestern United States, Mexico, North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan and northwestern China.
(photo credit: LA Times)
The study arrives as a large wildfire has burned thousands of acres in Ventura County. Although many factors have shaped the spread and severity of the fire, the land may have been primed by low rainfall in California.Friends watch 75 foot high walls of flame race across nearby parkland. They're given 30 minutes to evacuate, to choose the belongings that matter most should they return to a charred skeleton of a home.
Climate change does not cause forest fires but does contribute to their likelihood, Gleick said, adding: "It's not about causality but influence."
Smoky hot air triggers asthma attacks. My elderly mother closes every window; without air conditioning, the house becomes an oven.
Sunsets alternate between sullen and spectacular as the smoke shifts. (photo credit: Karoli)
Shelters are set up, briefings are issued. The mini-tent-city that will be firefighters' home for a few days is where we hold our annual Democratic barbecue, next door to the animal shelter where I adopted my dog a few weeks ago.
The places being closed are places I know well, my back lanes of scenic Sunday driving and cycling tours, my hiking trails of ceanothus and yucca and monkeyflowers.
White ash floats throughout a county that never sees snowflakes.
The cost of the Springs wildfire exceeds $6 million. Consider it a gasoline surtax.
The Camarillo fire isn't the only one burning in California in early May. As I travel through Monterey County on the 101, I drive past ten different brushfires sprouting like weeds alongside a twelve mile stretch of the freeway, all possibly triggered by a sparking RV. While the Santa Anas blow, fires sprout in Calabasas, Glendale, Redlands, Banning. Each name on a map represents hundreds if not thousands of lives disrupted.
May 2 was a typical October day in California, where a long hot dry summer has left brush like tinder awaiting the Santa Ana winds.
What some have dubbed California's new normal is summarized in the dry austere language of academia:
Climate models – not absolute proof, but the best tools available for forecasting the future – show that annual average temperatures in the Southwest are projected to rise 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2041-2070 even if global emissions of greenhouse gases are substantially reduced. The Climate Assessment Report warns that the Southwest should prepare for decreased snowpack and stream flows, meaning reduced water for cities, agriculture and fisheries. It predicts serious impacts on high-value crops, stronger flood events and more extreme high tides. And it warns that, with 90 percent of the Southwest's population living in urban areas, heat waves will claim an ever-higher toll, partly because of the way hard-scaped cities amplify heat, known as the "heat-island effect."These words outline tragedies yet to unfold. And I wonder; why aren't we, the climate victims of California, screaming at our fossil fueled politicians? Climate change has come home.