Author: Tom Dickinson | Published on: September 22, 2016
With a catastrophic season of wildfires, megafloods and major hurricanes, the climate-change siege is fully upon us.
Southern California was ready to burn. El Niño rains that topped off reservoirs in the north of the state barely drizzled down south, leaving the region in a worst-in-centuries drought. By June, tree die-off in state forests, accelerated by bark beetles feasting on dry pines, had more than doubled from 2015, topping 66 million. Record heat – 122 degrees in Palm Springs – pushed the extreme fire conditions typical of September and October into midsummer. So when sparks hit the ground in August, fires across the state literally exploded. “It’s almost like the mountains are just doused in gasoline,” said one fire captain.
In the mountains above San Bernardino, the Blue Cut Fire consumed 30,000 acres in a single day, jumping an eight-lane interstate, spawning fire tornadoes and erecting a wall of flame nearly 90 feet tall. “It moved with an intensity and a ferocity that veteran firefighters haven’t seen before,” said San Bernardino County fire chief Mark Hartwig. The inferno forced the evacuation of 82,000 residents in less than 12 hours, many riding out on fire engines. Before a merciful break in the winds allowed firefighters to gain the upper hand, the Blue Cut destroyed more than 300 homes and buildings. Up the coast, firefighters battled the 46,000-acre Chimney Fire, narrowly saving the Hearst Castle – the extravagant mansion that inspired Xanadu in Citizen Kane.
As California was gripped by fire, the hottest August in recorded history unleashed extreme weather events in every corner of the United States. Hawaii braced for an unprecedented “double hurricane,” back-to-back systems that barreled down on the Big Island before passing just offshore. Then Hermine, the first hurricane to hit the Florida capital of Tallahassee since 1985, sent tropical-storm warnings north into New England.