Erwin Knoll said, “Everything you read in the newspapers is absolutely true, except for that rare story of which you happen to have first hand knowledge.” Most media coverage of the disastrous fires in Australia missed important information and directly or indirectly quoted environmentalists who incorrectly attributed them to global warming.
It was another shameless attempt to divert attention away from the cooling trend that undermines the hypothesis that humans are causing warming. The story was also another example of how environmentalism pushed without understanding is potentially devastating. Fire tragedy highlights scale of global warming emergency and need for real action” is a typical headline over a story that leaves out most of the relevant information that would put the entire event in perspective.
There was a period of warmer temperatures in the Victoria region but most of the rest of Australia was at or below normal temperatures and extremely wet.
High-pressure to the east of the State of Victoria and a low to the west caused very strong northerly winds that combined with high temperatures to raise fire potential levels. This pattern is not unusual in the long record, but is in the recent record. The long-term pattern of these lows and highs are dictated by the location of something called the Circumpolar Vortex, which is determined by cold air not warm. Melbourne is in the State of Victoria in southeast Australia and is the first region of that continent affected by influx of Antarctic air.
Eucalyptus is the major tree in the area and burn with great ferocity because of their oil content. There is increasing evidence arson caused the fires and recently two men were taken into custody. There is also a report that a power pole snapped and sparks from the broken line triggered grass fires that became forest fires.
Regardless of the cause it was a tragedy because of the lives lost. The fire itself was not a tragedy. Neither was it the worst. A fire in February 1851 is estimated to have burned half the State (87,884 sq. miles). Whether the cause was arsonists, an accident, or a natural event once the fire got started other factors came into play. Grass and forest fires are natural events essential to revitalizing the ecology. The mistake was policies that prevented the management of forests to clear underbrush eliminate dead trees and thus remove the fuel that changes the nature of natural fires. Fires are normally what are called crown fires that sweep through quickly and do limited damage. However, if fire is prevented then detritus and dead material builds up and a base fire takes hold so that even roots and high organic material soils burn. These are the fires that can appear to be out then flare up once the firefighters leave.
Environmentalists who don’t know what they are talking about have forced the practice of preventing fires. There are examples in many places worldwide including policies in Federal parks in Canada and the US. Yellowstone fires a few years ago were a good example. A policy of no back-burning or hazard reduction created fuel ready to burn. In Victoria policies are so draconian that severe fines exist for clearing their property of trees. One family was fined $50,000 for building a firebreak.
At a meeting in an Australian community near Melbourne one man said in true Australian style, “We’ve lost two people in my family because you dickheads won’t cut trees down.”
David Packham, a bushfire scientist for 50 years provides a good summary of the Australian situation and ends by urging, “In the face of this inferno, the perpetrators of this obscenity should have the decency to stand up and say they were wrong.”
Packham’s comment applies to a multitude of false policies on environment and climate.
It was very warm in Victoria, Australia and this seems contradictory to reports of cold from around the world. It provided an opportunity to divert attention from colder conditions reported almost everywhere else throughout the winter. For example, frequent cold polar waves have passed through Argentina, where temperatures have been 3 to 5°C colder than normal. But how has this happened? How has warm appeared among overall cold?
A simple understanding of global weather patterns provides explanation. The atmosphere is basically divided into warm tropical air and cold polar air.
The diagram shows the dome of cold polar air in the Northern Hemisphere, and there is a similar one over the South Pole. The boundary where the warm and cold airs meet is called the Polar Front. It moves as the dome expands and contracts with the seasons so that on average it is around 38° in winter and 65° in summer. As the globe warms and cools these latitudes change. In the warm period from 1980 to 2000, the dome was smaller and the Front stayed further toward the Poles, which resulted in warmer winters in middle latitudes. Since 2000, the world has cooled and the winter position of the Front has moved toward the Equator creating the recent colder winters, although there are still intervening warm spells. Low-pressure systems track along the Front bringing winter snowstorms. This explains the record snowfalls across the middle latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere this winter.
Above the surface there is a river of air blowing from west to east along the Polar Front. It is generally known as the Jet Stream. More correctly it is called the Circumpolar Vortex: the Jet stream is simply the fastest flowing portion. Waves first identified by Carl Gustav Rossby in the 1930s and thus known as Rossby Waves develop in the Vortex.
The Waves move from west to east along the Front like a wave in a rope when you crack the whip. On average they take between 4 and 6 weeks to pass through a region. For example, if you are located at the “W” in Warm you can anticipate cold air moving in and a cooler weather pattern. These Waves are very large and generally mean that in North America for example, the west and east parts of the continent are usually in opposite temperature conditions. The same Wave pattern exists in the Southern Hemisphere. Victoria, Australia, was in the warm sector with high pressure to the east and low pressure to the west that brought the combination of hot dry days followed by strong winds to fan the flames.
Cause of the fires is debatable, but regardless they are a standard part of the Australian ecosystem. Interference in decision making by environmentalists blinded by a quasi-religious political view that ignores science and natural realities combined to make the situation deadly. It also allowed them to claim it was due to global warming, an incomplete and totally false story too many in the media wanted to print. As James Gordon Bennett said about reporting, “Remember, son, many a good story has been ruined by over-verification.”