DENVER — A burst of wild September weather brought a “climate crisis” warning Tuesday from Al Gore as Californians struggled with heat and wildfires, Atlantic storm trackers raced through the alphabet and Coloradans traded their flip-flops for snow boots.
California firefighters fought to contain 23 active fires that charred a record 2.3 million acres as the state headed into the peak of its fire season fueled by a heat wave. On Sunday, the Los Angeles County town of Woodland Hills set a record at 121 degrees.
“It reached a record high of 121 degrees F in LA county over the weekend,” Mr. Gore tweeted Tuesday. “Extreme heat is fueling a longer, more intense, and more destructive wildfire season in CA. This is what an unabated climate crisis looks like.”
Not so fast, said James Taylor, president of the free market Heartland Institute. He pointed to National Interagency Fire Center data showing that the U.S. acreage burned by wildfires was four times higher in the early 1930s.
“There’s a reason why this is called wildfire season, just as there’s a reason why this is called hurricane season, because these are events that have always occurred,” Mr. Taylor said. “Before there were coal-fired plants and SUVs, we had wildfires.”
More than 14,000 firefighters were battling 23 active blazes Tuesday, including three of the four largest fires in state history. All were in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area: the SCU Lightning Complex, the LNU Lightning Complex and the August Complex, each of which had charred more than 350,000 acres.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said about 118,000 acres had been burned by this time last year compared with 2.3 million acres this year. “CLIMATE. CHANGE. IS. REAL,” he proclaimed on Twitter.
As for skeptics, Mr. Newsom said at a press conference that “I quite literally have no patience for climate change deniers.” He said that perspective was “completely inconsistent, that point of view, with the reality on the ground.”
IntelliWeather meteorologist Anthony Watts said the heat was a result of “compression heating of downslope winds called Foehn winds,” also known as the Santa Ana winds.
John Lindsey, chief meteorologist for Pacific Gas & Electric, also pointed to compression heating. “I didn’t think it was possible in San Luis Obispo,” he said.
“While this weather event has created a crisis for heat and fire hazard, it has absolutely nothing to do with climate, and Al Gore is simply scaremongering for the benefit of his climate crusade,” said Mr. Watts, who runs the skeptical Watts Up With That website.
Climate Depot’s Marc Morano accused Mr. Gore of “unabated climate ambulance chasing.”
“Wildfires, even in California, are not historically high, and cherry-picking one city’s record high temperature is not scientific,” said Mr. Morano, whose “Climate Hustle 2” film is scheduled for release Sept. 24.
The 2019 California wildfire season consumed 4.2 million acres. So far this year, fires have burned 4.7 million acres according to National Interagency Fire Center figures. Critics attribute the state’s devastating recent wildfires on poor forest management, driven by hands-off environmental policies and lawsuits.
Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, said two weeks ago at the Lake Tahoe Summit that the “megafires that have consumed millions of acres in the Sierra over the last decade are shouting a warning at us here in Tahoe today.”
“A generation ago, we actively managed our forests to make sure tree density matched the ability of land to support it. Every year, U.S. Forest Service foresters marked off excess timber and then sold it to the timber companies, who removed it,” Mr. McClintock said in an Aug. 25 video. “Today, well-intentioned environmental laws passed in the 1970s make that process endlessly time-consuming and ultimately cost-prohibitive.”
Meanwhile, climate activists, after months of having global warming take a back seat to the coronavirus crisis, were quick to connect the wildfires to rising greenhouse gas emissions.
“California has already set a new record for wildfire this year, and September and October are usually the worst months,” said 350.org founder Bill McKibben. “This is what a climate crisis looks like.”
Many of the California wildfires were sparked by lightning strikes, which former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg blamed on climate change.
“Heatwaves. Fires. Lightning storms. Hurricanes,” Mr. Bloomberg tweeted Tuesday. “Climate change isn’t knocking on our door. It’s knocking the door down.”
Hurricane ups and downs
Autumn has increasingly become climate change season for the global warming movement, thanks to the confluence of wildfires in the West and the Atlantic storms on the Eastern and Southeast coasts.
Meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association predicted last month an “extremely active” season in the Atlantic Basin. So far, the forecast has been on the mark.
The formation Monday of Tropical Storm Rene means 17 of the 21 named storms have been taken, leaving only Sally, Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred. If all of the names are taken before the season ends, then the storms will be given the names of Greek letters starting with Alpha, which happened in 2005.
After that, an unexpected thing happened: a hurricane drought. No hurricanes of Category 3 or larger made U.S. landfall for 12 years, 142 days. The record was broken in August 2017 when Hurricane Harvey hit Corpus Christi, Texas.
Despite that, Democrats blamed climate change when Hurricane Laura made landfall Aug. 27 near Cameron, Louisiana, as a Category 4, tying the 1856 Last Island hurricane as the strongest to hit the state.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat and vice presidential nominee, tweeted on Aug. 29: “Raging wildfires. Stronger hurricanes. Extreme storms. Historic heatwaves. Climate change is here — and we must act. Our future depends on it.”
Even with Hurricane Laura, “we find that there has been no long-term increase in either the number of hurricanes or their intensity since 1851” in Louisiana, said Roy Spencer, a climate scientist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.
Why the increase in the number? Mr. Taylor cited random variability and advances in satellite technology, which allow meteorologists to detect and name storms that briefly hit 39 mph maximum sustained surface winds before petering out in the Atlantic Ocean.
“The fact that we have advanced satellite instruments that can detect when a storm in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean barely becomes a tropical storm and can be named and then dissipates is no cause of alarm,” Mr. Taylor said. “We can expect to have more named storms than there were 30 to 40 years ago because we can detect them better.”
Denver had a dramatic weather change from nearly 100 degrees Monday to snowfall Tuesday, with a plunge of 55 to 60 degrees. The record of a 66-degree one-day decline was set in January 1872.
In a warming climate, temperatures become more stable, not less, because the differences between the poles and the equator become smaller, Mr. Taylor said.
“Assuming for the sake of argument that a large temperature swing is a crisis, like climate alarmists assert, global warming will make such temperature swings less likely and severe,” he said. “So this is happening despite our recent modest warming, not because of it.”