By John Lawrence
On the last day of July in California, Exceptional Drought – the highest category of drought – which covered 36% of the state the previous week, covered 58% of the state as August began.
With water reserves being at all time lows, a water main broke in LA spewing 20 million gallons of water into the UCLA campus, submerging 400 cars in an underground parking structure and flooding Pauley Pavillion so bad that a new floor has to be put in.
How ironic such a massive waste of water happened right in the middle of a colossal drought. But it goes to show how America’s infrastructure problems are related to climate change. If the hundred year old pipes had been replaced on a timely basis, this waste of water would not have happened much less the financial losses due to the flooding of cars and campus.
Negligence of infrastructure repair combined with exceptional lack of water led to a scenario where precious water resources were not only wasted, but did millions of dollars of damages in the process of being wasted. But do you suppose any lesson has been learned from this? Are they going to start replacing hundred year old water mains? I doubt it.
They’re begging the question of even more water wasting as the situation gets even more dire. And Homeowner’s Associations are fining people who are not keeping their grass green enough, another major waste of water. California’s major reservoirs are now below 50% capacity. People are continuing to waste water in California. In fact water usage is up 1% despite Governor Jerry Brown’s call for water conservation.
The last week of July saw a huge wildfire in Yosemite Park, one of over 200 fires in California alone. On July 27 the Sand fire destroyed 13 homes and 51 other structures and forced hundreds of evacuations in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Fire fighting is now a year round event. It costs a ton of money probably more than $1 billion this year. A DC-10 dropping one load of retardant costs $60,000. This year California’s drought will cost the state $2.2 billion from lost sales of agricultural products among other things.
Dry snowpack is not the state’s only worry. California has suffered from a lack of rain, with many areas ending 2013 with the lowest rainfall amounts on record. According to the Department of Water Resources, Gasquet Ranger Station in Del Norte County—which is normally one of California’s wettest spots with an average annual rainfall of nearly 100 inches—only received 43.46 inches last year. Sacramento ended the year with 5.74 inches of rain, vastly lower than the normal 18 inches the region usually receives. Downtown Los Angeles set an all-time low with just 3.4 inches of rainfall. The city’s average is 14.74 and the previous record low was 4.08 set in 1953.
Nationwide this year there have been more than 32,000 wildfires. 1.6 million acres have burned mainly in the west. Fire fighters call this the front lines of climate change. As water resources dwindle, more water is needed to fight fires because the state is a virtual tinderbox.
As of July 20 a complex of fires in north-central Washington had burned about 467 square miles — more than four times the size of Seattle — making it the largest wildfire in the state since record-keeping started. The fire was started by lightning. The Carlton Complex fires destroyed about 300 homes.
Officials were concerned that lightning could spark new fires in the parched region, and that the precipitation could lead to flash floods because so much ground vegetation has been lost. Evacuees were told they would be without water and power for at least a month. The community of Alta Lake lost 52 homes while the town of Pateros lost 30 homes.
Two other major fires burned in north-central Washington. The Chiwaukum Complex near Leavenworth burned 12,225 acres and had 1,000 firefighters on the scene. The Mills Canyon fire burned 22,571 acres. Altogether there were over ten additional wildfires.
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Washington state because of the fires. The declaration authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief and help state and local agencies with equipment and resources.
“These additional resources will significantly help our efforts to restore power to thousands of people affected by these fires,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said. “I appreciate his prompt response and partnership in helping our state.” Inslee declared a state of emergency on July 15 in the 20 counties of eastern Washington as a result of wildfires.
The governor also requested additional federal resources, including assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help with assessment, planning and installation of emergency power generators to restore power to facilities critical to the well-being of fire-damaged communities. These include water and wastewater treatment systems and other municipal facilities.
In Oregon lightning was the suspected cause of the fires that popped up after a thunderstorm with abundant lightning passed through Central Oregon near the end of July. Lightning sparked dozens of major wildfires across Central Oregon. As many as 3000 lightning strikes started several dozen fires. Thousands of firefighters struggle against 11 major wildfires in the state.
On July 19 a powerful typhoon left 60 people dead in the Phillipines and millions without power. Typhoon Rammasun caused more than 530,000 people to take refuge in evacuation centres. Many of those who died were killed while outdoors by falling trees and flying debris.
Two were killed by lightning in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and two dozen injured. Nationwide in an hour’s time on July 13th there were 22,000 lightning strikes. Since 2006 there have been 270 deaths from lightning strikes.
In the northeast damaging winds, hail, thunderstorms and torrential downpours averaging one inch an hour in some places affected some 37 million people around the middle of the month. It took three hours to get over the George Washington Bridge into New York City.
Late in the month 100 million people were in the track of a storm from Illinois to Massachusetts involving huge hail, thunderstorms, lightning strikes and damaging winds. Multiple states were under tornado watches. A tornado touched down in central Connecticut. Trees and power lines were down. There was flash flooding in Worcester, Massachusetts. People in 18 states were bracing for the threat of dangerous storms.
An EF-1 tornado with 100 mph winds tore through the Cherrystone campground in Virginia. It was one of the deadliest tornadoes in Virgina history killing two people. 35 others were injured, some critically, including children. The first tornado ever recorded in Revere, Massachusettts near Boston touched down on July 28. An EF-3 tornado destroyed 10 homes in Tennesee with winds reaching 140 mph.
Elsewhere, a person was killed by a lightning strike on Venice Beach, CA which rarely if ever has happened. It was southern California’s first lightning fatality in 5 years. In the US 16 people have died from lightning strikes so far this year. The weather is getting freakier and freakier.