This summer I explored a new book about Ojai’s greatest artistic hero — or arguably, hero of any sort — and heard many wonderful stories from many people in Ojai who knew the spectacular artist and character in her salad years. Here’s the story in the Ojai Quarterly and here’s the opening page:
by Kit Stolz [published in the Ventura County Reporter April 14, 2022]
Ventura County is warming faster than any other county in the continental United States, according to data compiled by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (1). The county has warmed 4.75 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, which is about a half a degree warmer than either Los Angeles or Santa Barbara counties, and one degree hotter than the global average of warming that will be catastrophic around the world, according to climate scientists.
To meet the challenge of the increasingly hot climate, and to keep residents up to date about the risks from Santa Ana winds, heat waves, wildfires, storms and debris flows, meteorologists at the National Weather Service station in Oxnard have taken advantage of advances in forecasting technology as well as increased use of social media to better alert and inform the public.
Meteorologists believe that high-resolution modeling of storms has enabled them to continue to forecast the weather accurately, but they worry about their ability to effectively “message” the risk of climate extremes to a public weary of catastrophic firestorms, heat waves and downpours.
GOING TO EXTREMES
Mark Jackson, the meteorologist in charge of the Oxnard station, points out that the increase in warming in the county, from an annual average of about 72 degrees in the 19th century to over 76 degrees in the 21st century, doesn’t really tell the story.
“The reason that number is alarming is not the difference between an average of 72 degrees and of 76 degrees,” Jackson said. “The shift in that mean value means that you have increased the probability of extreme temperatures that cause the greatest impact.”
Jackson added that extremes as a general rule are a greater challenge for forecasters. Climate change by its nature pushes weather towards the extremes.
“Climate change is kind of like a silent killer,” said Jackson. “The beauty of a storm is that we see it, we witness it, and it’s right there. We can’t see climate change as directly. Fortunately our forecasting technology has kept pace with climate change and we’re better prepared. From a statistical standpoint our seven-day forecasts are as accurate now as our five-day forecasts were a few years ago. This allows us to give our overall message to the public and our public safety partner agencies earlier, but we still are limited in our ability to forecast the extremes.”
The Montecito mudslide of Jan. 9, 2018, killed 21 people and continues to be the largest known post-fire debris flow in California history. Three days before, on Jan. 6, Jackson and his colleagues could see on their screens a narrow band of extreme rain heading toward the ridge overlooking Montecito and nearby coastal cities.
“With debris flows it’s all about high-intensity, short-duration rainfall, and as we were marching closer to the time of the event, we were seeing more and more intense rainfall. Our high-resolution physical models go out 36 or 48 hours or so, and as the event gets closer, we’re jumping up and down and screaming louder,” said Jackson, whose Oxnard station serves four Southern California counties, from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles.
“This was a perfect storm in terms of making a debris flow possible,” added Jackson. “This was falling on a burn area that had never been rained on before, from the Thomas Fire that was still not contained. When we were about 45 minutes away from the event early that Tuesday morning, we knew there was going to be a debris flow but we just didn’t know exactly where.”
Eric Boldt, a forecaster who has worked closely with Jackson at the Oxnard station, pointed out in a joint interview that the National Weather Service and a team of public safety officials from Santa Barbara County gave an outdoor press conference in the area on the Friday before the event, warning of the possibility of extreme rain and and then again on Monday, warning of the likelihood of an extreme rain and debris flows, and asking residents to prepare to evacuate.
“On Monday we announced that this would be an extreme event, with rates of 2-4 inches of rain an hour. These are really bad rates,” Boldt said. “For us as meteorologists, we’re thinking, ‘holy cow, that’s crazy.’”
Although the meteorologists accurately forecast the time and duration of the rainfall event, and warned of its seriousness and prepared residents to evacuate, they could not foresee exactly how hard the rain would fall, or exactly where. And the intensity of the rainfall exceeded their most extreme estimates.
“We still have limitations on our ability to predict that kind of extreme event,” Jackson said. “We may have reached a ceiling — I doubt we will ever be able to accurately forecast an event that produces five or more inches of rain an hour. In Montecito we had a half inch of rain in five minutes at one point.”
Jackson and his team of meteorologists were well aware of the danger, but could not convince most of the public at risk to evacuate despite their warnings.
“It was very frustrating because what else could we have done?” Jackson said. “We had prepared and we had prepared our agency partners. Santa Barbara County had issued their very first non-fire evacuation order ever, but it wasn’t enough. Why wasn’t every person in that Santa Barbara front country away from their house? We try to make sure people understand that they can’t wait for the debris flow to happen before they respond, because it’ll be too late, debris flows are too fast.”
A post-disaster report from the California Geological Survey(2) found that the debris flows in Montecito in January of 2018 moved about 1.5 million cubic meters of earth at a rate of 10-15 miles an hour. The debris flows were as much as 25-30 feet deep, and carried boulders as large as a truck. In one night they destroyed 100 houses and damaged 300 more, killed 21 people, and buried a section of Highway 101 in debris. Two people are still missing in the aftermath.
“Could we have even imagined half the mountain coming down on Montecito?” asked Jackson. “No, because we’ve never seen anything like that happen before.”
INCREASED FREQUENCY OF “ONE-TWO PUNCH”
But many more such climate-fueled events are coming to western states,
according to a new study co-led by Samantha Stevenson(3), a climatologist at the Bren School at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which found “compound events” such as those seen in Montecito — a firestorm followed in short order by a torrential downpour — will become increasingly frequent this century in California and the west. The modeling study showed that the frequency of such “compound events” will increase by 100 percent this century in California, and by up to 700 percent in the Pacific Northwest.
“Yes, unfortunately, this type of one-two punch — as we’ve been calling compound events — will become more frequent this century,” Stevenson said. “I can’t predict how often this will happen, because that will depend on our future climate choices, and also on how many ignitions happen during those conditions, but they will become more frequent.”
Stevenson herself had not been at UCSB for long before the Montecito catastrophe, and was shocked by what she saw. It motivated her to look at the risks of “compound events.”
“I’m a relatively recent transplant,” she said. “I arrived in the fall of 2017, just two months before the Thomas Fire. I thought I knew something about wildfire from living in Colorado, but after that happened — oh my God. California wildfires are a whole different animal.”
A co-author on Stevenson’s paper, climatologist Daniel Swain of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability as well as the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has been warning for years that climate change will mean increasingly extreme weather and “climate whiplash” in California, in which hot, parched lands will be abruptly hit with torrential downpours, just as happened in Montecito after the Thomas Fire.
Part of that increased risk comes from a greater likelihood of drought. Another recent study from Stevenson’s team (4) shows that the drying out of the soil has outpaced the variability of rainfall in many places in the West, including Ventura County. This means that the county and Southern California have been drying out since the 1990s, despite occasional years of above-average rainfall, and have little chance of returning to a “normal” pattern of average rainfall from the past.
Stevenson said that megadrought — a drought that lasts 20 years or more — must now be considered “normal” for Southern California.
“If we reach a stable concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, then at some point we’ll stabilize, but the models are saying that we’re not there yet,” Stevenson said. “In a world where we are continuously increasing our greenhouse gas concentrations, that drying trend in the West will persist throughout the 21st century.”
“WE’RE CHANGING THE NORMALS”
When it comes to measuring what is “normal” in our climate, Boldt noted that every 10 years the “normals” are updated by NOAA, and that since the most recent update (which covers the period of 1991-2020, versus the old “normals” of 1981-2010) California as a whole has warmed one degree at night and one to two degrees during the day.
“These are rapid changes — in only 30 years, we’re changing the normals, to be warmer and drier,” Boldt said. “What we’re seeing in this new century is that time after time, we’re breaking records. We’re routinely breaking records that have stood for 80-100 years, and sometimes the new records we’re setting are for all-time highs.”
Another occurred in the first week in April, in which a heat wave set all-time records in county locations. Another drought record occurred in January and February this year, when California set an all-time low for rainfall for those winter months. State climatologist Michael Anderson in Sacramento said that he expected precipitation to drop off after a very wet December, but he couldn’t estimate the change.
“I had a feeling it would become drier, but not to this degree,” he said. “That’s the challenge. Will it be drier? Will it be extremely dry? Or will it be record-setting dry? I’m trying to get that sorted out.”
The forecasters in Oxnard face a similar challenge. They suspect a ridge of high pressure in the North Pacific, known among forecasters as the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,” is making it difficult for storms from the Gulf of Alaska to slide down the coast to California as in the past, while also encouraging Santa Ana wind conditions. But at the same time, they didn’t think that the rain would vanish in what typically has been the two wettest months of the year.
“In December in some areas we had three times the normal precipitation,” Jackson said. “We joked about it and said — now watch the spigot get turned off. Maybe we shouldn’t have joked about it.”
- “2°C: Beyond the Limit: Extreme climate change has arrived in America,” Steven Mufson, Chris Mooney , Juliet Eilperin and John Muyskens, Washington Post, Aug. 13, 2019.
- “Post-Fire Debris Flow Facts,” California Geological Survey, Department of Conservation.
- “Climate change increases risk of extreme rainfall following wildfire in the western United States,” Danielle Touma, Samantha Stevenson, Daniel L. Swait et al, Science Advances, Vol. 8, No. 13, April 1, 2022.
- “Twenty-first century hydroclimate: A continually changing baseline, with more frequent extremes,” Samantha Stevenson, Sloan Coats, Danielle Touma et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, March 14, 2022.
Broadcasting from the Mojave wilderness, last week The Desert Oracle — also known as Ken Layne — in his wised-up late night radio voice delivered “a sermon,” as he described it, in podcast form. called Antidote to Despair (about climate). It spoke to me, so let me bring it to your attention in an easy-to-access and readable form.
The episode on the Desert Oracle site opens with this inspirational picture, of the great painter and wanderer, Georgia O’Keefe.
Why O’Keefe? Because she was one of those rare souls, many of them artists or savants of various sorts, possessed by the beauty of the desert. John Muir. Mary Austin. Edward Abbey.
Layne speaks of the desert in a raspy voice of experience, surrounded by an encompassing soundscape all around him, from a fellow denizen of the dark known as [RedBlueBlackSilver ]. Layne sounds as old as the hills. His melds a laconic enjoyment of the harsh desert with a deep appreciation for the writers and adventurers of the desert and the West. In this episode he reveals more. He may live in Joshua Tree with the AirBnBs and the tourists, but he still cares about the desert. Deeply. And he points out that almost as as soon as we humans stop burning fossil fuels and pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, the atmosphere will stop warming.
[Here’s a “Talk of the Town” profile of the involving Oracle from The New Yorker, complete with a perfectly charming drawing]
He says, from last week:
“It’s the best time of year to walk, in North America anyway, these days, so I hope you’re doing that…this is our time…the only time we are alive…every age has challenges — disasters plagues war cruelty — every age has what seems to be cataclysmic ends-of-the-world likelihoods and possibilities….but we have to live in our time and make the most of it…looking back most of our greatest revolutionaries and thinkers, especially in the field of ecology and environmentalism, have been cheerful and energetic souls…think of John Muir, who witnessed the deforestation of much of America yet found in this horror a cause to give his life to a joyful direction in the face of adversity…despair eats away at our souls…the most Orwellian thing we can do is wake up in the morning and say to ourselves: I wonder how the war is going today? And then submerge our one and only soul in the depths of Internet content that is designed to make us feel bad. What is the antidote to such despair?
[And then — to my surprise and delight — the cynicism falls away, and Mr. Layne reveals himself as a man who cares!]:
A lot of its local….local in terms of inside your head, what you’re doing, where you live…there are community gardens that could can use your hands and your attention, local land trusts and volunteer groups who help with trail maintenance and wildfire restoration, people who go to the beach every weekend and collect trash…when you do rewarding things with other people it works against not just the global despair but the personal loneliness of feeling like others don’t care. If the people around you right now don’t care find another group of people who do.
Well, following that path, here in Ojai I will attend a gathering organized by my caring friend Jeff Otterbein and allies from Meiners Oaks, called “Occupy the Y!” A climate action for next weekend the 25th and 26th of March. This means taking residence of a tiny patch of grass near a major intersection, at a crossroads of two small state highways, to inspire action, with speeches, music, poetry, and camping.
This month the Ojai Quarterly published my “Off the Shelf” feature on Lanny Kaufer’s spectacular and informative new field guide to medicinal herbs in California: Here’s the opening:
And below the fold [page 2, below] the full story in a more readable font for the web. Much respect to Lanny, who not only has been leading herb walks in this area for decades — I’ve been on many — but despite his respect for the first peoples, as a scientist looks for a “consilience of evidence” before advocating for any treatment.
Here’s a story from me in the Ojai Quarterly about the leading agriculture export from the Ojai Valley, the Pixie tangerine, it’s past, present and (gulp) future.
For ease of internet access, let me run an easy-to-read-online version of the story that ran in the print magazine, with appropriate linkage, below the fold. As an Ojai historian said to me recently, the future of Ojai will be found in the future of the orchards of the East End. Will they remain orchards, or will they become estates?
Here’s my Ojai Valley News story published last Friday on a proposal to relaunch the Santa Clara Waste Water plant in Santa Paula that blew up seven years ago. The short version: Santa Paula doesn’t like the idea, and thinks that only because it’s a low-income Latino town is such a waste-handling plant being pushed on it.
By Kit Stolz, Special to the Ojai Valley News
On Nov. 18, 2014, a truck at Santa Clara Waste Water on the outskirts of Santa Paula blew up in the middle of the night, igniting a chemical fire that released a three-mile long toxic cloud, spurring evacuations and shelter-in-place orders.
As a result, then Sheriff Geoff Dean, as director of Disaster Services, proclaimed a local state of emergency, which the Ventura County Board of Supervisors ratified.
Dozens of people were sent to the hospital, two Santa Paula firefighters were left permanently disabled, and nine company employees were in time arrested, indicted, and charged with 71 crimes. They all pled guilty or no contest to a number of charges.
Seven years later, on Nov. 8, a new management group, led by Tom Koziol, CEO of Fontana-based Ri-Nu Services LLC, brought a proposal to expand and reopen the industrial wastewater facility to about 75 people at a community meeting in Santa Paula, hosted by the county of Ventura Planning Division.
The operation of the proposed facility would differ from the previous one in that the waste materials would be hauled off in trucks, up to 500 a week — for a total of 1,000 truck trips — instead of being piped to an Oxnard water-recycling facility. Before the 2014 explosion, the city of Oxnard suspended the company’s use of the pipeline due to what it described as higher-than-allowed levels of radiation from the materials being processed at the facility. The city of Oxnard has also refused to allow waste to be piped to Oxnard’s facility since the explosion.
Koziol, introducing the proposal at the meeting, said the plant had been “completely redesigned” in consultation with risk-management experts, with the details in the plan reviewed by the Planning Division. “We’re here to say that if we operate the facility, we will operate it in the right way,” Koziol said. He said the facility will only handle “nonhazardous waste” and that the hazardous chemicals required for processing the waste will be stored and locked in a separate new building. He showed plans that detailed how the industrial waste stream from oilfi elds (estimated in the proposal to total about 166,000 gallons a day, primarily “oil and gas sludges”) would be separated from septic waste (estimated to total about 41,000 gallons a day).
Koziol added that the expansion of the plant, from 15 employees to 45, would inject $140,000 a month into the local economy.
Koziol also referenced a newspaper article from six years ago about the city of Santa Paula locking its manholes to prevent illegal dumping, following the explosion and shutdown of Santa Clara Waste Water.
“I’ve been in the (wastewater) business for a long time, and if there’s no place for it to go, it’ll always fi nd a home,” he said.
The remark was noted by Dr. Gabino Aguirre, a former Santa Paula mayor, who responded directly to Koziol: “ ‘Waste always finds a home,’ ” he said, quoting Koziol. “That’s such an ugly way to put it. Well, you know what? Not in our house. You say that it’s safe, that it will be operated and handled safely. You say that it’ll bring $140,000 in benefi ts to the community. Take that $140,000 back to your community.”
Aguirre said the Planning Division had not required a full Environmental Impact Report on reopening the shuttered plant, despite its disastrous history, and said that this is another example of the “inadequate oversight” by the Ventura County government.
“We have been targeted. That’s why we have a county jail, that no other community has here,” he said. “That’s why we have a dump out by the end of Santa Clara Valley that no other community in Ventura County has.”
Other speakers echoed the point. Ginger Gherardi, also a former Santa Paula mayor and retired director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission, said that “because we are a low-income, mostly Latino community, we are once again subject to environmental racism, essentially because the county can get away with it. It is a disgrace and should not be allowed to happen.”
Gherardi said that for many years, the city of Oxnard had accepted for treatment the wastewater from the facility via pipeline, but a month before the explosion Oxnard engineers detected “gross beta” radioactivity in the wastewater from the facility. Oxnard issued a “cease and desist” order to the Santa Clara Waste Water facility in October 2014, but the explosion and closure of the facility made moot the question of the toxicity of its waste.
“Should the facility be allowed to reopen, it is unlikely there will be a change in the composition of the waste, but the increased delivery and disposal of waste will be completely reliant on loading in and out of trucks, activities which put the residents and the surrounding area at much greater risk for another toxic accident,” she said.
John Brooks of Oak View said county government staff members had already made up their minds to approve the application and are trying to “sell it” to the community. He read aloud from press releases in 2009 that described the previous business relationship between Ri-Nu Services LLC CEO Koziol and the former Santa Clara Waste Water chairman. “No one in this valley wants this pollution project in their community,” he said, adding, “Is the environmental justice, or injustice, ‘significant,’ ‘less than ‘significant’ or ‘not significant’? You didn’t even analyze it, you don’t care. … Did you vet the applicant at all when he made the application?”
County Planning Director Dave Ward responded near the end of the meeting that the county Planning Division does not vet applicants. Comments on the proposal to reopen the facility will be taken by the Planning Division until 5 p.m. Nov. 30.
…must be endured,” said Robert Burton about melancholy, back in 1620. It’s considerate and a bit ironic that he should offer such a pithy description for the plight of melancholics and depressives, given that he literally wrote the book on the subject of enduring it, and in a new edition that book is a mere 1382 pages long.
It’s the sort of book that Borges might imagine but never assemble, with a million examples of every sort of melancholia and every sort of cure, many from antiquity. Learned beyond measure. Although difficult to read in long stretches, reliably diverting and provocative in chapters. One could spend a lifetime reading it I suppose, like Shakespeare or Proust, and never come to a final conclusion.
Here’s a lovely 400th birthday reconsideration by Ed Simon in The Millions, called Drizzly November in My Soul. A quote that stuck with me:
“One thing that Burton is clear on was that melancholy wasn’t simply feeling down. To be melancholy isn’t to be “dull, sad, sour, lumpish, ill disposed, solitary, any way moved or displeased,” Burton writes, and that clarification is still helpful. For those blessed with a brain chemistry that doesn’t incline them towards darkness, depression might seem an issue of will power, something that can be fixed with a multivitamin and a treadmill. Reading Burton is a way to remind oneself—even as he maintained erroneous physiological explanations—that depression isn’t a personal failing. And it’s certainly not a sin. McMahon explains that by “reengaging with the classical tradition to treat excessive sadness and melancholia as an aberration or disease—not just the natural effect of original sin—Renaissance medicine opened the way toward thinking about means to cure it.'”
California stands at “ground zero” in the world of climate change, as the MacArthur grantee/genius Peter Gleick likes to say. This is not good news for forty million or so of us who live here, but for far-sighted scientists, it’s an opportunity. Gleick himself became known when as a graduate student decades ago he wrote a thesis arguing that climate change would threaten the Sierra snowpack, on which California depends for a steady supply of water in the summer.
But Gleick isn’t the only scientific prophet in California today: another is the Russian-born scientist Alexander “Sasha” Gershunov, a researcher at Scripps in La Jolla. In a couple of papers published about a decade ago, Gershunov argued that California was seeing a new kind of heat wave, a “Type II” heat wave. As he wrote in 2012 for the Geophysical Research Letters journal:
“California heat wave activity falls into two distinct types: (1) typically dry daytime heat waves and (2) humid nighttime-accentuated events (Type I and Type II, respectively). The four GCMs [Note: general circulation models of the atmosphere] considered project Type II heat waves to intensify more with climate change than the historically characteristic Type I events, although both types are projected to increase. This trend is already clearly observed and simulated to various degrees over all sub-regions of California.”
To translate a little: in the past, heat in California tended to be dry, even along the coast, and at night, temperatures typically waned, allowing residents to cool down safely. Today we see a new kind of heat wave, the so-called “Type II” heat wave, which more closely resembles the humid heat waves of the East, which don’t cool off quickly at night.
The charts are a little hard to read, but note that the Relative Humidity Index in the future will decline in the deserts, but rise quite sharply along both the southern and northern coasts of California, which historically have cooled off at night.
Now take a look at this LA Times story from a couple of weeks ago, on the new sort of heat wave hitting California.
“When a major heat wave hits Southern California, it begins with a jab — a ridge of high pressure builds over Nevada or Mexico and sweeps into the region, bringing scorching temperatures along with it.
Then comes the right hook: A mass of humid air created by unusually warm ocean water just off the northern coast of Baja California moves in from the southeast. Combined, they deliver a deadly blow, wreaking havoc on heavily populated regions such as Los Angeles County.
“We understand pretty well how and why they form,” said Glynn Hulley, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who has documented a shift toward hotter, more humid heat waves in urban areas of Southern California since 2000. “It’s almost like the heat waves have changed their personality, shifting to warmer and more humid nighttime events.'”
Here is a drawing of the Type II heating phenomenon:
on Quinault land on the Olympic Peninsula
on Quinault land on the Olympic PeninsulaTweet
Bret Bradigan, the publisher of Ojai Quarterly and other magazines, talked to yours truly for a Talk of the Town podcast on my completion of the Pacific Crest Trail. I thought this was an illuminating and even entertaining conversation (although I must stop laughing like a crazy person). About an hour long. [use link for podcast]
Mostly we talked about the PCT. Bret expressed some doubts about hiking in the desert, which I understand completely, having grown up around redwood forests. Yes, the harshness of the desert is intimidating. But one of the lessons taught by the PCT is that it is also beautiful, in its own stark way. Spend some time with it and you begin to see how vibrant the desert is with life, even if it’s not the life you know.
This is a tree from a special place on the trail in the Mojave desert, up on a ridge, a half-hidden campsite I stumbled into a few years ago in a place I call Pinyon Point. I Just wanted to give the desert the last word in this visual conversation.