California Update – SEPP

California Climate: There have been significant fires in two distinctly different areas of California. Each has housing in areas that are fire prone. The fires in southern California are near Los Angles, and the climate is hot-summer Mediterranean with moderate rainfall and mild winters. The vegetation is generally chaparral (shrubland) and grasses, which dry in the summer, with oak woodlands in the mountainous areas. Fires are a constant problem in the summer and fall, particularly after a wet winter-spring.

The worst fire has been in the area of Paradise, California, which is in the Sierra Nevada foothills north and east of the Sacramento Valley about 85 miles (137 km) north of Sacramento. The climate is classified as hot-summer Mediterranean and the community is spread out on a wide ridge between deep canyons formed by a branch of the Feather River and Butte Creek. Much of the recent housing is in area have young woodlands at elevations above 1,700 feet (525 m). The rainy season of 2016–2017 was considered Northern California’s wettest winter in over 100 years. The heavy snow and rain caused significant pressure on nearby Oroville Dam, and the spillway failed.

Much of what has been written about the tragic fires has ignored the distinction between the areas of Northern and Southern California and that heavy rains fell in Northern California of 2016-2017. This commentary will focus on the worst fire, near Paradise. It is here that news photographs show strings of burnt vehicles abandoned by those trying to flee the fires.

Unfortunately, the governor of California, Jerry Brown, has tried to pass blame for the tragedy on “climate change” – the perfect excuse for politicians. Not only was the prior year very wet in Northern California, a chart by NOAA, reproduced by Icecap, shows California has had no downtrend in annual precipitation since 1895. In fact, no trend at all for 120 years, except for wild changes over short periods of time. The chart shows that precipitation in California has drastically changed frequently, and this change is totally unrelated to changing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Meteorologist Cliff Mass, who is not a “climate denier,” gives his analysis of what apparently caused the fire – power lines downed by high winds. Mass states the conditions were predictable, and that under such circumstances power should be shut-off in vulnerable lines during periods of high winds. This is not an ideal solution, but it is better than what occurred.

The clear issue is that those living in fire-prone areas need to be protected by fire prevention and fire suppression measures, including measures the California government and the Federal government have been reluctant to take. Public safety has been subordinated to other political interests. See links under Changing Weather – California and Article # 1.

Road Diet: Anthony Watts, of Watts Up With That (WUWT), lived in Paradise and reports that a previous fire made him realize that living in the area was dangerous. The only paved escape route for those living at the higher elevations north and east of the town was a four-lane road going through town to the main highway to the south. Considering the earlier fire, Anthony moved. The escape route changed when a narrow road to the north was paved. Then in 2014, the town voted to narrow the four-lane escape route to a two-lane road in “the interests of safety.” It is on that road, prior to town, that strings of burnt-out vehicles sit, as the photos show. How many people died “in the interests of public safety?”

It turns out that narrowing roads has become fashionable programs in California and under the Federal government. According to the Office of Safety Programs of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA):

“Four-lane undivided highways experience relatively high crash frequencies — especially as traffic volumes and turning movements increase over time — resulting in conflicts between high-speed through traffic, left-turning vehicles and other road users. FHWA has deemed Road Diets a proven safety countermeasure and promotes them as a safety-focused design alternative to a traditional four-lane, undivided roadway. Road Diet-related crash modification factors are also available for use in safety countermeasure benefit-cost analysis.”

How will the experience in Paradise be calculated into FHWA’s future benefit-cost analysis? See links under Changing Weather – California and California Dreaming.

 

While California Put on ‘Road Diet,’ Drivers Still Stuck in Traffic Gridlock
By Kerry Jackson, Pacific Research Institute, Dec 14, 2017
https://www.pacificresearch.org/whi…
Link to federal program: Road Diets (Roadway Reconfiguration)
By Staff Writers, Federal Highway Administration, Office of Safety Programs, July 29, 2016
https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/road_di…
“Safe Roads for a Safer Future”

 

Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)