Wednesday, December 8, 2021

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Climate change is affecting RVing: Fires, floods and our future

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Every year it seems like our choices are increasingly limited as to where to find monthly stays. Scores of climate refugees are jumping into their RVs (if they are lucky to have one) and driving to safety. Others are fleeing to escape the dangerous heavy smoke, flooding, and other extreme weather conditions.

Personally, we have been impacted more by wildfires here in the Western U.S. Let’s explore the impact a changing climate is having on RV travelers due to wildfires, flooding, and access to national parks.

Wildfires

If you look at statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center back in the ’80s, you will see acreages burned between 1.1 million (1984) and 5 million (1989). Jump ahead to the 2010s, and those numbers are between 3.4 million (2010) and 10.1 million (2020). In 2021, California alone has had more than 3 million acres burned.

We have been evacuated because of wildfires in the U.S. and Canada on many occasions and have driven through thick smoke for thousands of miles since our RV journey began in 2000.

While parked in a remote area along the Yukon River in the Yukon province of Canada, we had a knock on the door at 11 p.m. As a traveler, you know you dread that unexpected sound. It was the Canadian Mounties telling us to get moving: “You can go north, or you can go south. Just get going now.” It was still light out so we could see the billowing cloud to our north. We were headed home to Alaska so we decided to go north.

We drove through smoke all the way to Anchorage. I felt sorry for travelers that were doing the Al-Can for the first time and were unable to see all the beauty that surrounded them. It was smoky that entire summer.

But I felt a greater sorrow for those being evacuated, holding their children in their arms in the front seat of an overpacked pickup truck – knowing their life as they knew it was to change by morning.

Jump to the past five years. We have spent several summers on the southern Oregon coast because we love the cool weather. But in 2017 we got a similar message. We were in Brookings and a large fire was burning up the Chetco River Valley. It was the year of the solar eclipse and we had to drive north about 30 miles to “almost” see the event.

Chetco Fire Brookings evacuation
Pulling out of the RV Park in Brookings, Oregon – wildfire evacuation. Photo by Sandi Sturm

While we were watching the eclipse, the emergency warming came on our phone to evacuate. We hustled back south and found burning leaves falling to our awning. The skies were scarlet. Just as we pulled out of the RV park the firetrucks pulled in.

Last year we were in Salem, Oregon, and those scarlet skies showed up again for a couple of weeks. While we did not evacuate, we were forced to stay indoors with filters over our air conditioner vents just so we could breathe while also wearing masks – in the RV. Hotels, campsites, and parking lots quickly filled with refugees.

This year we were planning to spend the winter in Oregon to see how wet it actually was. But as we checked for monthly spots, they were all filled and had waiting lists of 100+. A bit out of the ordinary for winter in the Willamette Valley in the rainy Northwest. The large fires in California were forcing people to go north for refuge. So, we had to have a plan B.

We knew California was out so we checked the air quality maps and saw that Tucson had the cleanest air (as far as wildfire smoke) and would work for the winter. Picking the route was tricky and we still ended up in the middle of the Dixie Fire, which burned more than 1,500 square miles (almost one million acres).

We had pulled out into a winter parking area one night without knowing how close we were to the fire. The forest roads were closed, and the occasional service truck would show up, but nothing too hectic, so we thought all was good. That is, until the morning… We ended up in the middle of an evacuation. Brigade after brigade from all over the country passed us and followed us at a frantic pace.

Once again tears started to fall down my face as people were loading up what belongings they could fit into their trucks and herding their livestock into horse trailers. That area fell to the flames the next day.

Drought has plagued that area for many years so there was little hope to stop that massive wildfire. The only thing that stopped it was another climate-related event – one of the strongest storms ever to hit the West Coast. More on that below.

Flooding

There was a video in my feed this morning that spoke of sunny day flooding in Portland, Maine. It went on to report how the city has experienced this phenomenon during King Tides in the spring and fall. The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest-warming waters in the country, and sea levels are expected to rise between 10 and 17 inches by 2030, compared to 2000 levels. Florida has the same predictions. That’s a big deal when the highest point in the Everglades is only 20.01 feet.

This is being repeated all along the coasts, where many of us like to park and play.

We were driving a rural road east of Phoenix last week and saw new signage that read “Caution, recently burned area.” There had been a large wildfire there, yes, but what were the signs about? Then I saw evidence of large piles of debris that had been washed down arroyos during the monsoon season that had no doubt shut down the road.

Rainstorms after wildfires can be very dangerous with threats of mudslides. Especially here in the Desert Southwest, which is dangerous every time it rains.

Our oceans absorb about 93 percent of the excess heat from global warming. As you know, warmer water and air results in more evaporation, which creates huge atmospheric rivers.

During the storm in October, these atmospheric rivers hit land and dumped “rain bombs” of more than a foot in some areas of California, causing massive landslides and flooding – especially in areas with fresh wildfire scars (3 million acres).

Off the coast of Seattle and San Francisco, the bomb cyclone created by the atmospheric river proved the most intense on record. The air pressure measurement was reminiscent of Superstorm Sandy that hit the East Coast in 2012.

Conditions are right to have more effects on atmospheric rivers in the coming weeks.

Earlier this week, an RV park near the Oregon coast had to be evacuated via a Coast Guard helicopter due to excessive rains and flooding. RVs were halfway underwater, and many cars were gone. (Read more about that here.)

Atmospheric rivers also bring record snowstorms, so the threat continues year-round.

Mt. Mckinley
Photo by Sandi Sturm – Mt. McKinley

Effects of climate change on national parks

There are many changes occurring in national Parks, but I wanted to end with one that I hold dear to my heart – Denali.

If you have ever visited the park, you know that you can drive your car into mile 15 of the Denali Park Road, but then you must ride a park bus the remainder of the 92-mile road. About halfway in is Polychrome Pass. This is the spot I usually jump off the bus and walk down through the colorful mountains, and view the braided river below, often sighting bears and caribou.

However, this year there was a landslide due to permafrost melt, so the road is closed from that point on. Park scientists have measured the slumping of the hillside at 14 inches per day. A long-term fix is being explored including building a bridge over the slump. But for the 2022 season, the road will only be open to mile 43.

Denali National Park
Braided river inside Denali National Park. Photo by Sandi Sturm

 “…slides have affected the area since at least the 1960s but used to require maintenance every two to three years. Climate change, however, “has taken what was previously a problem solved by maintenance staff performing road repairs and made a challenge too difficult to overcome with short-term solutions,” the park has said.

As we plan our year ahead, it is wise to take extreme weather events into consideration.  Personally, I am feeling a bit limited about where we can, or want to, go. Our favorite spots are becoming dangerous, or impossible to reserve.

Have you ever been detoured by an extreme weather event? Tell us about it in the comments below.

##RVT1027

Comments

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Jim Prideaux
18 days ago

Mark Twain said it over a hundred years ago “Everyone talks about climate change but nobody does anything about it.” Or something like that.

The Lazy Q
18 days ago

Come on Greta!!!

wanderer
18 days ago

Thanks for a thoughtful piece, as travelers we are going to have to be more aware of the rising count and severity of natural disasters, regardless of the root causes and regardless of political opinions. This stuff is no longer baleful predictions from climatologists, it’s “getting real” and is already hitting some of us squarely in the face.

Pris M
18 days ago

I thought this was a nice, well written article describing some of the issues RVers now have to consider. Fires, floods and landslides are a fact of life now. We were evacuated from a Sonoma County park in Winters, CA last summer due to fire. The area we are from in Washington just experienced horrendous life-changing floods. Things are changing, whether you believe it to be due to climate change or mismanagement of resources, and we full timers need to spend a little more time planning our routes and our stays because of it. I know we have, when considering where to spend next summer in the Pacific Northwest; there have been forest fires the last several years and my husband has asthma plus I don’t want to be enveloped in smoke most of the time. Maybe if the author had left off the reference to climate change, you all would have accepted her article for what it was – a description of how RV life is changing.

Dennis E Prichard
18 days ago

20 years ago a scientific seminar I attended said that, in the future there would be (1) more fires, (2) they would be bigger in acres, (3) they would be more holocaustic meaning burning into the forest crowns and totally destroying the habitat. That has all happened, and faster than predicted. But the one fact that scared me the worst was that these forests would not grow back due to a few degrees rise in temperatures. Seeds couldn’t germinate. In 200 years the forest will revert to shrubland. The deciduous forests will become grasslands, grasslands will revert to deserts. Organisms that live at high elevations (such as marmots, pika and the vegetation they survive on) would disappear since they can’t travel 500 miles to the next higher mountain. I worried then about the impacts on my great-great grandkids, but it’s happening TODAY, and I now worry about my grandson. Whether you think this has always happened over the millennia or not doesn’t ease that concern.

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
17 days ago

Hi, Dennis! How ya’ been? Happy Thanksgiving, and stay healthy. 🙂 –Diane

SteveM
18 days ago

Keep the Propaganda out of here. Next thing you know, a virus will be used to Control RVers. Pathetic !

Tom
18 days ago

Why in the world would I want to start my Saturday with such a strongly politicized topic? Regardless of my beliefs, which are very strong and opinionated, this newsletter is no place for this topic. Please remove it and do not post this type of BS again.

Andy
18 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Tom: you don’t have to read anything you find objectionable. Just turn the page. Incidentally, your statement that “this newsletter is no place for this topic” is your belief, so your use of “regardless” is meaningless.

Jim Prideaux
18 days ago
Reply to  Andy

Well said. Some prefer to play the ostrich and ignore.

mark d generales
18 days ago

Wow! What a sad commentary filled with clichés and falsehoods leaving the material facts out.
In every single case is a result of horrid, enviro enforced damaging GOVERNMENT policies that have created all the issues you present. Want an example?
Growing up in So Cal, decades ago the state always enforced “controlled burns” of forests. Commercial logging took dead trees. Underbrush was cleared.
NO MORE.
Over 30 years ago environmentalists succeeded in ending the practice – there is NO forest management anymore. Growth is unabated and when a fire starts – the decades of growth provide massive amounts of fuel. Add zoning changes allowing construction in previously off limits areas and so much more.
No, climate change – weather – is natural and any rise will occur man or not. But ALL the issues raised her are the result of man-caused GOVERNMENT POLICIES.

Bob p
18 days ago

Amen and thank you! You took the words straight out of my mouth. Change the politicians and go back to common sense and most of it will go away. A very qualified climatologist about 60 years ago when “Chicken Little” was claiming we were entering a new ice age explained the earth goes through natural cooling and heating cycles over a 100 year period(he had facts and figures to prove it). It will heat up for about 50 years and cool off for 50 years. If my math a memory can hold together a few more moments, at that time we were in the middle of a cooling trend, I know my A/C bill was very low at the time. Then about the mid 90’s things started warming, we’ve probably got a few more very warm summers then cooling will start again, the we can all talk about the coming ice age. There are far to many “Chicken Littles” in our government that keep people stirred up over natural occurrences. Also since history is a thing of the past in our schools we get all our information off the internet.

Jim Prideaux
18 days ago

Environmentalists are in favor of controlled burns.

John
18 days ago

A significant cause of forest fires has been the restrictions placed on preventative measures, not “climate change”. The climate has been cyclically changing throughout the millennia.

Andy
18 days ago
Reply to  John

I suppose the rise in sea level, the increased flooding in many parts of the world and the growing number and intensity of hurricanes are also due to “the restrictions placed on preventative measures.” Sometimes, no matter how many times a mule gets hit upside the head he’ll just continue to ignore what’s right in front of him.

John
18 days ago
Reply to  Andy

Try reading my response once more. Apparently you’re confusing the term “forest fires” with “increased flooding”. Improving reading comprehension is a key component in advancing life skills.

SteveM
18 days ago
Reply to  John

Stop the logic ! It only makes them more irrational.

Andy
18 days ago
Reply to  John

Oh, John. You took an article that listed many different examples of extreme weather, zeroed in on one particular (forest fires), dismissed that as an example of extreme weather consequences–and let that stand as an overall refutation of climate change as anything other than a cyclical phenomenon that we can’t do anything about. The problem isn’t reading comprehension; it’s faulty logic and cherry picking “facts.”

Ed D.
18 days ago
Reply to  Andy

Andy, the climate has changed since the beginning of recorded history and before then I am sure. Mother Nature is going to do what she is going to do and there is absolutely nothing that we can do about it. At one point there was an Ice Age and many species went extinct. But yet here we are today, the most evolved species on the planet. The part about the climate change “extremists” that makes me laugh, is that you have hypocrites like “Al Gore” running around the globe crying climate change, all the while flying in their huge Jets that are spewing toxins in the air. When they quit being extremists and are seriously practicing what they preach, maybe people will listen to what they have to say. Until then, they need to be quiet!

Lee A
18 days ago
Reply to  Andy

Try this experiment…take a glass, add 6 ice cubes, fill it with water to the very brim of the glass and wait for the ice cubes to melt. What will happen? Will the water overflow and run out of the glass or will the level remain the same??

Andy
18 days ago
Reply to  Lee A

Two things, Lee. No. 1, water expands as it gets warmer, and that includes all existing ocean water. No. 2, the problematic ice is not floating in the ocean, it’s sitting on top of the Greenland and Antarctica land masses.

Ed D.
18 days ago

Blaming wildfires on climate change is a bit much. How about the fact that the population has grown exponentially and human carelessness is to blame for a lot of the wildfires. Not to mention arsonists! We have a place near the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee that we visit quite frequently. Several years back there was a large wildfire that burned much of the area and cost lives. It was learned that the blaze was caused by two teens. Many of the wildfires will never have their causes learned. The climate has changed since the beginning of time. We live in Florida and and the weather here has been the same as it has been since as far back as I can remember.

Dan
18 days ago
Reply to  Ed D.

By coincidence I read an article explaining much of what our news media describes as climate change crisis on a 172 year cycle. That cycle was substantiated by ‘scientific data’ and essentially says it’ gonna happen no matter what and you can’t change mother nature. It sounded good, but who was actually keeping track of it 172 years ago, 344 years ago, 516 years ago, etc. But like all crisis reported by our lame-*** news media all we get is the problem, no real solutions. It’s all about selling the advertising.

Ed D.
18 days ago
Reply to  Dan

I agree with what you just said.

Dave
18 days ago
Reply to  Ed D.

Ed – I think you hit a key point on population growth. It’s getting to the root of the problem rather than a problem caused by population growth & what it takes the earth to sustain increasing amounts of people that continue to evolve.

While I do believe climate change is a huge issue, we’re only talking about slowing it vs. reversing it. As long as populations continue to grow, humans will need to find another planet. Slowing population growth requires new financial models as many large countries will be going through a phase that will test our economic resolve in supporting older generations.

Ed D.
18 days ago
Reply to  Dave

Dave, Hurricanes in Florida are a common occurrence but yet, I see no difference in the frequency, or intensity, of Hurricanes in Florida. In fact, this year was a relatively mild Hurricane Season here. If something is drastically changing in the Climate, it would not take a year off and return maybe next year. It would continue to be a threat and continue to grow. While we are in agreement that the increasing population is a factor, it seems we are not in agreement as to why the increasing population is a factor. I see the increase as a way for careless behavior to increase and entire Forests to be destroyed by either Human carelessness, or arsonists. But either way, it can not be a good thing for the atmosphere. Mother Nature can not be controlled and nothing we do will ever change that fact!