Fire, Weather, and Climate

The recent firestorm that hit Colorado on December 30 was a wakeup call.  The Marshall Fire shows a new reality of a warm dry Colorado.  Right after the fire, we had our first significant snowfall.  It was about 2-3 months late.  The last 6 months have been very dry and very warm.  In fact they were one of the driest and by far warmest 6 months (July through December) on record for the Front Range.  The very strong winds with the 100+ mph gusts on rare occasions do happen in the Boulder area, but combined with the very dry conditions it created the ideal conditions for the firestorm that destroyed 1084 homes and damaged another 149 homes.

Drought is not uncommon to Colorado, however in the last 20+ years, we have been in drought most of the time.  It seems to be becoming a new normal. And the summers have become increasingly warmer, or should I say just plain hot.  When Gail married me and moved to Colorado, I told her that we did not need air conditioning, because the nights cool off and there are not all that many hot days.  That was 22 years ago and a few years later we had air conditioning. I have been in Colorado for 35 years and it is getting hotter, especially in the last two decades.

A warmer climate means there is more energy in the system, and more energy available for these extreme events.  The warming climate has raised the energy level so the heat dome over the Pacific Northwest this summer, and the very dry conditions with the wind storm were made worse by the warming climate.   Some experts say “climate change is a threat multiplier”.  I am not certain it is as simple as that, but weather events can be made more severe due to the warming climate.  In Colorado, we used to talk about the fire season.  It would start in the spring and end in the fall.  But for many years now the talk has changed. People now say it is always fire season in Colorado.

The Marshall Fire we had here in Colorado was similar to the Camp Fire in California that burned Paradise, CA to the ground.  Both were fueled by strong winds and very dry vegetation.  Both grew to a large size, engulfing towns in a matter of hours.  Amazingly, only two people will have lost their lives due to the Marshall Fire. That is truly amazing considering how fast the fire moved.

To give you a flavor of how fast the fire moved, a friend of a friend of mine, who lost his house in the fire, sent out an email describing his experience.  The fire started at about 11:00am about 2.85 miles away from his house. At his house he noticed the wind and the increasing smoke.  He started packing (around 11:45?) and left his house at 12:10 with his family.  By that time the smoke was so thick that he could barely see past the front of his car.  The evacuation order came to his phone at 12:15. And it was not easy driving in the very strong wind.  At 12:38 his home weather station stopped reporting to the website meaning that his house was on fire and likely had been for awhile.  They got out just in time.  In the rush they forgot many things, including a packed bag, but they made it out and were safe.

It makes me wonder about how safe my house is.  I live about a few blocks from farm land to the north and about half a mile to a mile from the western edge of Loveland and the foothills.  (Strong winds usually come from the west.)  I believe I am at or near that wildland urban interface.   There is a Wildfire Risk Assessment Public Viewer, and just west of my place the fire risk is low (but not the lowest rating) for under high to extreme fire danger conditions.  So that is good, though about three miles to the NNW of my place the risk rises to moderate. That brings up a bunch of questions.  What steps should I take to better protect my place?  Should I have a list of things to pack if needed?  Would I be ready to evacuate on a moment’s notice?  What preparations would be prudent?  These questions I have never considered until now.

Events like this make me pause and realize how short and fragile life is.  While writing this post I read this from the prophet Joel, concerning a disaster of a plague of locusts:

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”  Return to the Lord your God,  for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  (Joel 2:12-13)

It is always a good time to stop, evaluate our lives, and return to the Lord God, but disasters can be a clarion call for us to repent and return to God.  I am ready.  I am not perfect.  I need to return and receive God’s love and forgiveness.

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