Anatomy of Disaster

As I write this, it is still unknown whether our office and equipment storage is still standing.  We managed to transport lots of crucial equipment to Athabasca during the evacuation.  Luckily everyone got out safely which is pretty amazing under the circumstances.  Since I spend so much time in this area, I thought I would show just how this disaster was produced.

The fire hazard rating is determined by accounting for the dryness of the forest coupled with the weather conditions.  

Here is the current “dryness” of the forest.  “Duff” is the litter that sits on the ground.  I’ve drawn the Slave Lake area on the map by hand.  As you can see, it’s in the low end of the scale.  This winter there was plenty of snow.  So much in fact that I had difficulty starting fires as part of a controlled burn project.

The spring weather was within normal ranges but below average with slightly less precipitation than the average.

Above is the April temperatures for Slave Lake from weatherunderground.

In contrast to these data is the fire hazard rating during the time of the fire.The big reason for the high rating is the wind.  A strong, warm wind dries out the forest and accelerates and fuels the fire.  The Fire Weather Index rating is a product of the forest fuel index and the wind speed.  So even after a moist winter, a high wind (in this case  gusts of 100km/hr!) can create extreme fire hazard almost instantly.

To demonstrate this further, I took a NASA satellite photo of the fires and synchronized it to the Nov-May precipitation map.  Putting these together was pretty easy as the lake outlines in the NASA pic were a good guide to resize and position the overlay.

You can see that the fires around Slave Lake started in an area of normal and near normal precipitation.    I’m not sure exactly how this map was compiled  as computerized gauges around this area show winter precipitation amounts at minimum 200% of average.  

Westlock is just south of Slave Lake and their data is 400% normal.  Even Whitecourt shows twice as much as the graphical map.  In any case, the point is the same, even after normal or heavy seasonal precipitation, fire conditions in the forest can deteriorate with great speed. It was bad luck that the town of Slave Lake was on the exact bearing downwind of a fire.  As you can see from the satellite photo, the town destroying fire is quite small relative to others in the area.  It barely shows up (the town is below the “e” in “slave.”


In spite of heavy snows and a late spring, extreme local winds quickly created dangerous fire conditions.  By terrible luck of the draw, Slave Lake was on the exact, narrow, windblown path of a forest fire.


It’s common practice to know something about what you are talking about.  Unless you are a reporter bent on using a disaster to leverage your political beliefs.  I had the misfortune to encounter this bit in the Edmonton Journal:

As Duncan MacDonnell with Alberta Sustainable Resources told reporters covering the Slave Lake fire: “The weather conditions there are freakish -the perfect conditions for a firestorm.”

Freakish weather seems to be an apt description for what we’re seeing across North America.That raises another question: Is this freakish weather the result of climate change?Nobody can really say.No scientist can guarantee that any of these events are caused by human-induced climate change. Climate change is all about trends.However, the trends are consistent: the atmosphere is warming, the climate is changing and we are largely responsible through our burning of fossil fuels.

What scientists can tell us is that as the climate warms we’ll experience more extreme weather events leading to floods, droughts, forest fires and crop failures. In other words, it’s what we’re seeing now.

(my bold) full article here.

Graham Thompson who wrote the article doesn’t seem to be aware that in fact satellites show temperatures have been decreasing for the last ten years.  This last winter was well below average as anyone who wasn’t in a coma can clearly tell you.  Get Graham Thompson to explain how deep cold and 200% normal precipitation causes more forest fires.  This kind of lazy activist reporting that defies observable facts makes me angry at the best of times.  When I was online this morning trying to find out if my friends houses have burned down and whether my business has been devastated, I find it beyond offensive to read such drek.  Graham Thompson demonstrates a level of ignorance that can hardly be believed.  He should be ashamed of his words.

In case Graham is reading this, I include as a post script the last decade of declining global temps and this winter’s deep freeze as measured by satellites.  Mr Thompson can look for his human caused global warming somewhere in here.above: Satellites show declining global temperatures.  This contradicts Graham’s “consistant warming trend” which is just made up.above: Graham Thompson’s “obvious global warming causing forest fires” versus actual data.  AQUA satellite shows this winter and spring are well below orange line average.

This winter  I was waist deep in Slave Lake snow in -40 trying to do real work.  I think Graham could improve himself by doing some real work himself.  Perhaps next time Mr Thompson you will keep your ignorant mouth shout when a topic arises that you know nothing about.  Rather than ignoring fact and using a disaster to further a political agenda, I will be going up to Slave Lake to work and help rebuild.  Perhaps that will help alleviate my anger.

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3 Responses to Anatomy of Disaster

  1. Kevin says:

    Impressive, ironclad and irrefutable analysis.

  2. geof says:

    Unfortunately, it’ll only get worse. That bolded para in the quote is the new climate boilerplate, and variations of it will get tacked on to almost every “extreme” weather event. Blech.

  3. dave says:

    As much as we disagree about select aspects of climate science, I can only assume that this kind of thing is perhaps more infuriating to you Geof as it undermines with such a broad brush the subtlties of your arguments. Although the MSM rarely talks about those subtlties in the first place!

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