Operation Sierra Storm addresses extreme weather

School of the Environment, Washington State University Vancouver Assistant Professor Deepti Singh.

School of the Environment, Washington State University Vancouver Assistant Professor Deepti Singh.


The 25th annual Operation Sierra Storm Meteorologist Conference touched on a topic near and dear to Lake Tahoe residents’ hearts – extreme weather.

The nation’s leading weather conference was held in South Lake Tahoe on Jan 9 -12.

On Jan. 11, the public was invited to Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to hear about how extreme weather is being linked to human caused climate change and its local impact.

The day started with a presentation by Deepti Singh, Assistant Professor, School of the Environment, Washington State University Vancouver about extreme weather.

Singh said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines extreme weather as a variable above or below a threshold value near the upper or lower ends of the range of observed values. Singh added that an IPCC report recently stated that in 2021, there were 20 extreme weather events that caused at least $1 billion in damage.

Singh, and other climate scientists, have been working to prove the link between human activity and extreme weather. They can confidently say high temperature events can be linked to human caused climate change.

The IPCC states the earth has warmed by more than one degree celsius. Just that alone has led to a significant increase in heatwaves.

According to Singh, every day of the warm season saw concurrent heatwaves, or heatwaves in multiple places in the northern hemisphere.

One concern is the combination of heat and humidity because the humidity prevents the body from cooling itself down. Singh said, “the global exposure to humid heat has increased more than dry-heat over densely populated areas.”

While this rise in heat is dangerous for humans, especially outdoor laborers, it is also increasing wildfire risk. This is no surprise to Lake Tahoe residents, who spent most of the summer avoiding wildfire smoke and evacuating because of the Caldor Fire.

While Singh’s presentation was alarming, she ended on a high-note.

“The world is not doomed,” Singh said, adding that reduction in global carbon emissions can prevent temperatures from rising further.

“We have a choice,” Singh said.

Singh’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion on west coast wildfire.

The panel included Ryan Walbrun, Assistant Chief, CAL FIRE, Stephen Volmer, Fire Captain, CAL FIRE and John Rice, General Manager, Sierra-at-Tahoe and was moderated by Rob Mayeda, Meteorologist KNTV – NBC San Jose/Bay Area.

Volmer started the panel talking about the conditions leading up to Caldor Fire.

There was a significant increase in drought conditions between Aug. 11, 2020 and Aug. 11, 2021. In addition, there were no recent fire events recorded in the Caldor Fire area, leaving lots of fuels dried out and ready to burn.

“It burned where people never thought it would burn,” Volmer said.

Rice knows that from personal experience. Sierra-at-Tahoe took a huge hit when Caldor burned through the resort.

Rice said they had put together a comprehensive prevention plan and felt confident going into the fire season but, “the fire didn’t follow our plan.”

Six out of Sierra’s nine chairlifts burned, as did 80% of their 1,600 acres of vegetation.

While the buildings and equipment were insured, the trees were not. Rice estimates it will take $11 million of remediation to get the resort back to where it was.

However, during Walbrun’s part of the discussion, there was a ray of hope that fire spotting and communication is increasing.

NASA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-16) is being used to map lightning which can help catch lightning caused fires before they grow out of control. GOES-T, the third in the GOES series, will likely launch in May and will help map fire risk and behavior even more accurately by December.


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