The Exceptional U.S. Wildfire Season of 2012

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 5:11 PM GMT on December 31, 2012

The 2012 U.S. fire season was the 3rd worst in U.S. history, with 9.2 million acres burned--an area larger than the state of Maryland. Since the National Interagency Fire Center began keeping records in 1960, only two years have seen more area burned--2006, when 9.9 million acres burned, and 2007, when 9.3 million acres burned. Although the 2012 fire season was close to a record for most acreage burned, the total number of fires--55,505--was the lowest on record, going back to 1960, said scientists at a December 2012 press briefing at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. The average U.S. fire size in 2012 was the highest on record. A September 18, 2012 report, The Age of Western Wildfires, published by the non-profit research group Climate Central, found that the number of large and very large fires on Forest Service land is increasingly dramatically. Compared to the average year in the 1970s, during the past decade there were seven times as many fires larger than 10,000 acres each year, and nearly five times as many fires larger than 25,000 acres. On average, wildfires burn twice as much land area each year as they did 40 years ago, and the burn season is two and a half months longer than 40 years ago. The increase in large fires is correlated with rising temperatures and earlier snow melt due to climate change, but fire suppression policies which leave more timber to burn may also be a factor.

The Top 5 U.S. Wildfires of 2012
Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, New Mexico: Largest fire in New Mexico history
The Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire started as two fires that merged, both caused by lightning. The Whitewater fire was first detected on May 16th, and the smaller Baldy fire was detected a few days earlier on May 9th. These fires then merged on May 24th and together burned a total of 297,845 acres until it was 100% contained on July 23th. Mid-July rain showers helped fire crew contain this fire. This fire was difficult to contain due to rugged terrain with gusty winds, and relative humidity less than 3%. The fire consumed timber, mixed conifer, poderosa pine, pinon/juniper, and grasses. The suppression costs of the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire surpassed $23 million, according to the GACC. This is the largest fire in New Mexico history, which surpassed the previous record of 150,000 acres consumed by the Las Conchas Fire in 2011.


Figure 1. Wunderphoto of Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire submitted by AZMountaineer21.


Figure 2. Satellite image showing the complex nature of the Whitewater-Baldy fire with multiple hot spots in red outlines with multiple smoke plumes. Image courtesy of NASA's MODIS Aqua on June 7th, 2012.

Rush Fire, California: 2nd largest in California history
The Rush Fire started from lightning on Aug. 12th and burned through Aug. 30th, consuming 315,577 acres of northeastern California portions of western Nevada. The rapid and uncontrollable fire spread was due to extremely difficult terrain, gusty winds, and extremely dry grass, sagebrush, and junipers. Fire crews reported, "Live sage brush was as dry as dead sage brush." This fire was rated a major threat to federally protected wild horses, burros, and grouse by the BLM Eagle Lake Field Office. Once this fire reached into Nevada, where it burned over 43,000 acres, it threatened a major natural gas line as well as power transmission lines. This fire cost the U.S. approximately a total of $15 million. The portion of the fire in California reached 271,911 acres, and now constitutes the second largest California fire in modern history. The largest California fire remains the Cedar Fire in 2003, which consumed 273,246 acres.


Figure 3. Progression of the Rush Fire, August 12 - 20, 2012. Image courtesy of Inciweb.org, Rush Fire maps.

Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado: most expensive in Colorado history
The Waldo Canyon Fire was the most expensive wildfire in Colorado history, costing $353 million, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but investigators have determined that it was started within 3 miles of the Waldo Canyon trail head, off of U.S. 24, and was human-caused. The burn started on June 23rd and burned through July 10th, burning a total of 18,247 acres of brush, mountain shrub, oak, grass, pinion juniper, ponderosa pine, douglas fir, spruce, and limber pine. This fire was a major threat to neighborhoods and homes, as it started only four miles from Colorado Springs. Approximately 347 homes were burned and 2 people were killed by the Waldo Canyon Fire. Due to the proximity of this fire to nearby neighborhoods, over 32,000 residents were evacuated.


Figure 4. Image showing how close the Waldo Canyon fire was to homes in Colorado Springs. AP photo.


Figure 5. Flames from the Waldo Canyon Fire rolling down a hillside approaching a Colorado Springs neighborhood. AP photo.

High Park Fire, Colorado: 2nd largest in Colorado history
The High Park Fire was caused by lightning and first detected on June 9th in the mountains west of Fort Collins. The fire burned 87,284 acres of timber, grass, and brush until it was 100% contained on July 1st, making this the second largest fire in Colorado history. The largest Colorado fire remains the Hayman Fire, which burned 137,760 acres in 2002. The High Park Fire killed one person, and was briefly the most destructive fire in Colorado history, after destroying 259 homes. However, this record was quickly surpassed by the Waldo Canyon Fire just a few days later.


Figure 6. Plane throwing fire retardant onto the High Park Fire. AP photo.


Figure 7. The huge plume of the High Park Fire seen from a neighborhood. Wunderphoto submitted by turbguy.

Chips Fire, California: $55 million in suppression costs
California's Chips Fire began on July 29th and burned a total of 75,431 acres in northern California, including 48,297 acres of the Plumas National Forest, 18,374 acres of Lassen National Forest, and 8,762 acres of privately owned land. The cause of the fire is unknown. The fire forced hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail to bypass this section by hiking Hwy 70/89 or by taking a bus and skipping this section all together. The fire was contained Aug. 31st, with a total of $55 million in suppression costs. Mainly timber was consumed in this fire.


Figure 8. Satellite image of fires in northern California on August 11 2012, including the Chips fire. Image courtesy of NASA's MODIS Aqua on August 11, 2012.


Figure 9. Burn scar from the Chips Fire. Burned vegetation appears in red, unburned areas are in green. Image courtesy of NASA's Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite on September 1, 2012.

Western U.S. wildfires expected to increase due to climate change
Expect a large increase in fires over much of the globe late this century due to climate change, says research published this June in the Journal Ecosphere. Using fire models driven by output from sixteen climate models used in the 2007 IPCC report, the researchers, led by Max Moritz of UC Berkeley, found that 38% of the planet should see increases in fire activity over the next 30 years. This figure increases to 62% by the end of the century. However, in many regions where precipitation is expected to increase--particularly in the tropics--there should be decreased fire activity. The scientists predicted that 8% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability over the next 30 years, and 20% will see decreases by the end of the century. The models do not agree on how fire danger will change for a large portion of the planet--54% for the period 2010 - 2039, and 18% for the period 2070 - 2099. Six key factors were found to control fire probabilities in the models. Most important was how much vegetation there was (NPP, Net Primary Productivity). Three other factors, about half as important, were precipitation of driest month, mean temperature of warmest month, and the difference between summer and winter temperature. Two other minor factors were mean temperature of wettest month, and annual precipitation. The authors found that future fire occurrence appears to primarily be a function of available moisture in many areas, and that the expected global increase in temperature of 3.5°C used in the models will not become the single dominant control on global wildfire. In the U.S., the regions most at risk of increased fires are the tundra regions of northern Alaska, and the West, with Arizona and Colorado at particularly high risk.

Related: Wildfires in the U.S. will be at least twice as destructive by 2050, burning around 20 million acres nationwide each year, according to a federal report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012.


Figure 10. Predicted fractional change in fire probability for the period 2010 - 2039 (top) and 2070 - 2099 (bottom) for the average of sixteen climate models used for the 2007 IPCC report. For the 2010 - 2039 period, the models agree that 8% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability, 38% will see increases, and the models are too uncertain to tell for the other 54%. For the 2070 - 2099 period, the models agree that 20% of Earth will see decreases in fire probability, 62% will see increases, and the models are too uncertain to tell for the other 18%. Image credit: Climate change and disruptions to global fire activity, Moritz et al., 2012, from the journal Ecosphere.


Coolest fire video of 2012: A fire tornado in Curtin Springs, Australia, from mid-September, 2012. NOAA comments: "While rare, fire tornadoes (also known as fire whirls) generally form when superheated air near the surface of a large fire zone rises rapidly in an airmass where sufficient horizontal or vertical vorticity (spin in the atmosphere) is also present. Much like a dust devil or whirlwind, the rapidly rising air above a wildfire can accelerate and turn the local vorticity into a tight vertical vortex, now composed of fire instead of dust."

Kari Kiefer and Jeff Masters


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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Anyone have New Year resolutions?
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Happy New Year!

2013 is known as the Year of the Snake.

Not sure if I can trust this year or not...

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

They're posted on this page right after the event.

Link

I don't know the SPC directory as well as I do the NHC's, so I'm not sure if there is an archive somewhere for all of them or not.


Is this helpful? Just used the Google machine.

Link
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Quoting GeorgiaStormz:


where can you find them?

They're posted on this page right after the event.

Link

I don't know the SPC directory as well as I do the NHC's, so I'm not sure if there is an archive somewhere for all of them or not.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


Does Chinese food count?


Maybe if it`s got bok choy and soybean sprouts. HAHA LOL
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Why are there so many right past the GA/AL border and none in AL?
Why are there so many in GA anwyay?

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Most times.


where can you find them?
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Quoting GeorgiaStormz:


I've never seen this map from the SPC before...do they always make these?

Most times.
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Quoting Newswatcher:
Thanks Dr.Masters
Happy New Year Everybody! Remember to eat collards, black-eye peas, and cornbread for a good year (says tradition). LOL


Does Chinese food count?
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I dont think its playing fair having people on an ignore list. After all they might just come up with something interesting one day!
Interesting detail from BBC world weather its the same temp in both London and Cairo, 9/C at the moment.
Oh Happy new year time to everybody who has endured it so far as its just about to become 2013 in the UK and most of us in the rest of Europe are 50 minutes into it.
Second year in a row in my town and several I can see from my rooftop,that there have been no fireworks. Major cutbacks and urban poverty strikes even new year. Less CO2 of course.
Wishing all of the people on the other side of the Atlantic a Happy New Year when your Chime comes from us lot.
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..were off to the French Quarter to Celebrate'

From all of us in New Orleans,to all in wunderland,

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


I've never seen this map from the SPC before...do they always make these?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Thanks Dr.Masters
Happy New Year Everybody! Remember to eat collards, black-eye peas, and cornbread for a good year (says tradition). LOL
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
The ignore feature is practically useless. People are going to quote the ones you're ignoring anyways so you see all their posts.


maybe, but it depends on if its really a bad post.
but some people overuse the ignore feature too.
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The ignore feature is practically useless. People are going to quote the ones you're ignoring anyways so you see all their posts.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
As I do every New Year’s Eve since I joined WU….I am going to release from WU prison all that I have on my ignore list. Fly free jailbirds!



I think I will likewise remove all on my list as well. There aren't many.

59.4° That is today's High
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Quoting SFLWeatherman:
69 out got to love S FL!!:)
72 here in Nassau right now... a nice chill is in the air... lol
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
As I do every New Year’s Eve since I joined WU….I am going to release from WU prison all that I have on my ignore list. Fly free jailbirds!


Mines gonna take awhile,..itsa LONG list'

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Quoting TomTaylor:
Not in the slightest!

Check for yourself here.

Here's December/January/February Temp anomalies with MJO Phase


Yeah. Was using the same site, wrong months though.
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BONUS post fer Ken

10 Dumbest Things Fox Said About Climate Change In 2012
Blog 8 hours and 7 minutes ago SHAUNA THEEL



3. Fox "Expert": Carbon Dioxide "Literally Cannot Cause Global Warming." Joe Bastardi is a meteorologist that is often presented as a climate change expert on Fox News, even though he has no climate science training. Bill O'Reilly has cited Bastardi as the reason that he is "skeptical" about global warming, but scientists have called Bastardi's statements "completely wrong," "simply ignorant," and "utter nonsense." In March, Bastardi attempted to "throw out 150 years of physics" by dismissing the greenhouse effect -- the reason there is life on Earth -- as impossible. Bastardi stated on Fox Business that carbon dioxide (CO2) "literally" -- yes, literally -- "cannot cause global warming" because it doesn't "mix well in the atmosphere." But physicist Richard Muller told Media Matters that CO2 is actually "completely mixed."
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Quoting Levi32:


I don't think so. 4,5,6 are all pretty warm.

From ESRL PSD:


Hmm...that one looks different than the one I was looking at.

At any rate, I think the negative NAO, positive AO, and stratospheric warming should all counteract the MJO and above average SSTs across the West Pacific.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Actually, of the phases you listed, only phase 4 favors warmth across the East United States. And even then, it's only very slightly above normal. Phases 5 and 6 favor below-average temperatures across the East.
Not in the slightest!

Check for yourself here.

Here's December/January/February Temp anomalies with MJO Phase

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As I do every New Year’s Eve since I joined WU….I am going to release from WU prison all that I have on my ignore list. Fly free jailbirds!
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Quoting Patrap:
JB will be seriously dissapointed.

; )
Yeah, I'm not impressed with this talk about stratospheric warming yet.




ECMWF Ensembles at 10 days do show some blocking over the top indicative of a negative AO and possible strat warming event. Sure enough, the cold polar vortex is sent into the Canadian maritimes. But guess what, there's a nice fat blocking ridge in the central Pacific and a trough just to it's east along the West coast, courtesy of a -PDO signal. The end result is a ridge over the east half of the US and blowtorch warmth. This kind of set up could send periodic waves of cold into the upper NE as shortwaves dig in down the backside of the ridge, but other than that, this kind of set up would keep the east pretty darn warm, despite it being a negative AO.

ECMWF Ensembles 850mb Temperature Anomalies



images courtesy of Weatherbell lol
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Actually, of the phases you listed, only phase 4 favors warmth across the East United States. And even then, it's only very slightly above normal. Phases 5 and 6 favor below-average temperatures across the East.


I don't think so. 4,5,6 are all pretty warm.

From ESRL PSD:

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Quoting TomTaylor:
Anomalous warmth in the SST profile in the tropical Indian ocean and west Pacific, combined with the forecasted amplification of the MJO into phases 4, 5, and 6 as well as the strong -PDO signal all favor warmth in the eastern half of the United States.

Actually, of the phases you listed, only phase 4 favors warmth across the East United States. And even then, it's only very slightly above normal. Phases 5 and 6 favor below-average temperatures across the East.
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Quoting JupiterKen:


Grats! You can even be insulting when proven wrong.



U betcha'

LoL

The daily Mail?





..."U and me baby aint nuthin but mammal's"...


Happy "New's Year" too.

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Quoting JupiterKen:


Grats! You can even be insulting when proven wrong.
He's just trying to rile people up. Notice how he brought up JB. HE is bored and trying to start something. Sometimes it is best to let fools be fools.
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Wishing everyone a very Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year!

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Quoting Patrap:
a-h

I knew someone would manage to self correct that un.


Now, try the same on climte change sport.


LoL

How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth?

"How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth?" is one of PRB's most popular articles. First published in 1995 and updated in 2002, this latest 2011 article includes data through mid-2011 and a short video explaining the estimate.


Grats! You can even be insulting when proven wrong.
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Quoting Patrap:
For perspective,,

There are now more People living at this moment,than have ever lived and died in the Earth's entire Human history.


Not according to this:

And with an estimated seven billion people on earth, the living are nowhere near close to surpassing all of the dead – the Population Reference Bureau estimates that approximately 107 billion people have ever lived.

Link
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JB will be seriously dissapointed.

; )
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Repost of the CPC January temperature outlook



Personally I think this map may verify quite well for January. I'm thinking we'll see more of around average to slightly above average temperatures for January in the east half of the country. Anomalous warmth in the SST profile in the tropical Indian ocean and west Pacific, combined with the forecasted amplification of the MJO into phases 4, 5, and 6 as well as the strong -PDO signal all favor warmth in the eastern half of the United States. ENSO's signal is pretty insignificant at this point with neutral conditions present (neutral with a slight La Nina bias).

SST Anomalies




Multimodel MJO Forecast




ECMWF Monthly Ensemble MJO





For the East coast...

First week of January should be cold, then turning to above average for the second week. This mostly being based on the longwave pattern evolution displayed in the GFS and ECMWF ensembles. How the next two weeks evolve beyond that is hard to say exactly as we don't have models good enough to predict the exact longwave pattern evolution, nor the AO and NAO progression. Overall, however, I'd expect January as a whole to be around average if not slightly above average for at least the southeastern US. The plain states, as well as the Great Lakes region will probably be closer to below average for January than above average.
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Freda is approaching to New Caledonia:

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Quoting Patrap:
"Pat-rap" as there is only 1 "T".


..but you can call me AL.


Just don't call him Johnson!
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Back again... labp... lol

Is it supposed to take the better part of the day [9:30 a.m. to 3:50 p.m.] to fly from Fort Lauderdale to Nassau?

Sheesh....

At least the wx at home is fantastic today... just saw a great sunset and getting ready to go out for New Year's activities later tonight...
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NEW YEAR UPDATE
__________________

In about 30 minutes... it'll be 2013 for the most European cities...
Happy 2013 for ROME, PARIS, OSLO, PALERMO, BARCELONA, VIENNA, BERLIN, BRUSSELS, AND WARSAW



click both pictures for larger view...

BY 7 PM... HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR LONDON, LISBON AND THE UTC TIME (00:00)

THE AMERICAS START AT 8 PM EST...

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That answers my question, straight from the horses mouth!
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Or pronounced, Pa-trap.
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"Pat-rap" as there is only 1 "T".


..but you can call me AL.
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Is Patrap pronounce Pat-rap or Like it's spelled?.Pat-trap?????.
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Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:


sure...its 4:17 PM there...Also in Costa Rica, may family is from there.
I can't wait to leave 2012
Yeah btw form where do you take the pictures or you make them?
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Quoting allancalderini:
Love that you kept us update.thank you very much.In Honduras they are still 8 more hours for new year.


sure...its 4:17 PM there...Also in Costa Rica, may family is from there.
I can't wait to leave 2012
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Quoting Patrap:
For perspective,,

There are now more People living at this moment,than have ever lived and died in the Earth's entire Human history.


See my blog.
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Talk about a stark contrast between this date last year.Last year we were in the upper 60's.This year we barely got out of the 30's.That chart from CPC looks very discouraging for january.I hope the end of the month is at least cold and February stays cold.That is the prime time for snow here.
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Elsewhere ...

The Tulsa Hurricanes lead the Iowa State Cyclones headed for halftime in the Liberty Bowl ;>)
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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