Under An Orange Sky

Climate chaos is here. The time for action was yesterday.

Just when we thought things couldn’t get weirder over here in the California Bay Area, we woke this morning to an apocalyptic, foggy, orange-grey sky for the second day in a row. The orange hue was certainly thicker today and as the morning progressed, dawn seemed to turn to dusk, with the sky dimming further.

orange sky
The view outside my window this morning. Despite the apocalyptic look, the Bay Area’s marine fog is actually protecting us from the worst of the impacts of the wildfires raging across the US West Coast. Photo by Ian Umeda.

As I write this at 10:30 a.m., I have lights on in nearly every room in my house and ash continues to drift down gently, noiselessly. “I keep thinking about the ashes being people’s photos, and poison oak, and pets, and refrigerators…,” a colleague texted me just now.

The view outside is unnerving. And the silence, barely any birdcall, even more so. But the truth is, it could be worse. The air quality right now is actually not terrible — the Air Quality Index is hovering at 98 AQI (PM2.5) according to AirNow. The Bay Area’s marine fog is protecting us from the worst of the impacts of the wildfires raging across California and Oregon — the smoke from the fires is drifting higher than the fog layer.

However, there is more smoke coming this way today. Hence the darkness. And, of course, the pandemic. That’s always there in the background these days (Or foreground, depending on your circumstance.)

“Winds are pushing smoke from the north, where multiple wildfires are raging, to the south and into the Bay Area,” Jan Null, a meteorologist who runs a private forecasting service called Golden Gate Weather Services, told the San Francisco Chronicle this morning.” North winds are bringing lots of smoke from Oregon.”

There are nearly 100 wildfires raging across the US West Coast right now. Across California, the worst-hit of the West Coast states, a record 2.2 million acres of land have been destroyed by the flames, as the state simultaneously suffers through record high temperatures that peaked at over 121 degrees in some parts over the weekend.

The Diablo winds in Northern and Central have made the fires in these regions worse and pretty much impossible to control. The Creek Fire in the Sierra National Forest, which started on Friday, has so far destroyed more than 350 structures. Some 30,000 people in Fresno and Madera counties have been forced to evacuate and helicopters have been used to rescue hundreds of people, including campers and hikers, stranded in the Sierra National Forest, according to a USA Today report. Power shutoffs have affected at least 200,000 people in Napa and Sonoma counties beginning Monday, as PG&E prepared for intense winds “that could damage its equipment and potentially spark new wildfires.”

Blazes are also sweeping through parts of Oregon, where there are some 35 active fires right now, and some 100,000 homes and businesses are without power.

Both California and Oregon are now under a state of wildfire emergency. Meanwhile Washington State, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, and Montana are dealing with wildfires as well. Smoke from these fires is already being detected as far east as New Mexico. So far, at least 7 people have reportedly died in these fires.

Note that this is just the start of the fire season in the West. The normal peak fire season here starts later this month and runs through October.

This, dear readers, is what climate chaos looks like. Every year, every month, every day, our climatic conditions get incrementally worse. Sometimes in small ways, and sometimes, like right now, in big ways that make us feel like the end of times is nigh.

“I have no patience for climate change deniers,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press conference yesterday. “That view is completely inconsistent with the reality on the ground, and the facts of our experiences. You may not believe it intellectually, but our own experiences tell a different story, particularly out here in the West Coast of the US.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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