Bizarro Earth

The extraordinary climate events of 2022-24

Hunga Volcano
© judithcurry.comFigure 1. The Hunga Tonga eruption from space.
The unlikely volcano, the warmest year, and the collapse of the polar vortex.

The climate events of 2022-24 have been were truly extraordinary. From an unlikely undersea volcanic eruption to the warmest year on record to the collapse of the polar vortex after three sudden stratospheric warming events. This rare convergence presents a unique learning opportunity for climatologists and climate aficionados alike, offering insights into a climate event that may not be repeated for hundreds or even thousands of years.

1. January 2022, the unlikely volcano

Never before have we witnessed an undersea volcanic eruption with a plume capable of reaching the stratosphere and depositing a large amount of vaporized water. This extraordinary event occurred in January 2022 when the Hunga Tonga volcano erupted. The conditions for such an event are rare: the volcano must be deep enough to propel enough water with the plume, but not too deep to prevent it from reaching the stratosphere. Most undersea volcanoes do not produce plumes at all, which makes Hunga Tonga's eruption all the more remarkable.

The Hunga Tonga volcano occupied a unique "sweet spot" at a depth of 150 meters the day before the eruption. In addition, the eruption itself must be exceptionally powerful for water vapor to rise into the stratosphere. The January 2022 eruption of Hunga Tonga was the most powerful in 30 years, since the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.

Active undersea volcanoes at the appropriate depth are rare, and the likelihood of one erupting with such intensity is relatively low. We may be looking at an event that occurs once every few centuries, or maybe even once every millennium. Undoubtedly, it was an exceptionally rare event.

While the most powerful eruptions, such as Tambora in 1815, can indeed strongly influence hemispheric weather for a few years, our observations of eruptions such as Agung (1963), El Chichón (1982), and Pinatubo (1991) suggest that their effects dissipate within 3-4 years.


Wildfire rages in southwest China as strong winds and poor visibility disrupt firefighting efforts

The forest fire in Yajiang county, Sichua
© XinhuaThe forest fire in Yajiang county, Sichuan province has spread quickly over several mountain ridges because of strong winds.
More than 1,000 firefighters and seven helicopters have been deployed to battle a forest fire raging in China's southwestern province of Sichuan.

The fire started around 5pm on Friday near Baizi village in Yajiang county in Sichuan's Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Garze, according to the Ministry of Emergency Management.

Strong winds on Saturday afternoon fanned the blaze, which quickly spread over multiple mountain ridges, it added.

The ministry declared a level-4 emergency response, the lowest alert for fire control in forests and grasslands, and dispatched 1,260 firefighters from national and local fire rescue squads.

According to state broadcaster CCTV, a total of 3,396 villagers from a dozen villages were evacuated.

It said the firefighters resumed their operations on Sunday morning after they were forced to leave the scene on Saturday night due to strong winds and poor visibility.


Firenado or fire tornado in Primorsky Krai, Russia

Natural fires have been raging in the Primorsky Territory for several days. According to the regional emergency rescue department, firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading to residential buildings in the Khasan district. The operational headquarters of Primorye decided to triple the forces and means to fight the fire, in connection with which additional tankers were allocated and guards were also deployed in five more fire departments.

Meanwhile, RIA Novosti reported that two natural fires covering an area of 363 hectares are being extinguished near the villages of Khasan and Gvozdevo. Fortunately, there is no threat to populated areas. A video circulating on the international web shows a fiery tornado that miraculously did not spread to populated areas.


Texas wildfires cause chaos as largest blaze in state history scorches 1.2 million acres - 2 killed

Dozens of wildfires are causing chaos across the Texas Panhandle as the Smokehouse Creek fire - now the largest blaze in state history - grew to more than 1mn acres on Thursday, even as a dusting of snow brought a measure of relief.

At least two people have died, according to officials. The second victim, confirmed by the Texas department of public safety Thursday afternoon, has been identified as Cindy Owens, a 40-year-old woman who was reportedly overtaken by the fire when she got out of her truck in the town of Canadian. The first, 83-year-old grandmother Joyce Blankenship, was killed in her neighborhood of Stinnett, north-east of Amarillo.

Fueled by parched grasses, strong winds and abnormally warm temperatures, the fires have scorched more than 1.2 million acres since last Sunday, according to the Texas A&M forest service, leaving a desolate landscape of charred prairie, dead cattle and burned-out homes in their wake.


Evacuations ordered as wind-fueled wildfires tear across Texas Panhandle

Firefighters are battling several wind-fueled wildfires in the Texas Panhandle, the largest of which has forced evacuations in the cities in Hemphill County, about a hundred miles northeast of Amarillo. The Smokehouse Creek grassland fire has scorched at least 300,000 acres with 0% containment, according to Texas A&M Forest Service.

Hemphill County Emergency Management issued evacuation orders Tuesday afternoon, with Sheriff Brent Clapp "strongly" suggesting people evacuate Canadian. Later in the evening, according to ABC 7 News, as the wildfire forced road closures, Clapp recommended Canadian residents shelter in place.

Canadian Independent School District canceled all classes on Wednesday due to the fire. ABC 7 also reported that structures in Canadian have burned. "Photojournalist Steve Douglass saw two homes in Canadian burn. There are likely many more."


Thousands urged to evacuate as out-of-control blaze bears down in Victoria, Australia

An emergency warning was issued for residents near Ararat. (ABC News)
© ABC NewsAn emergency warning was issued for residents near Ararat.
Thousands of people in 28 communities are being urged to evacuate a large fire zone as an out-of-control blaze bears down on them in Victoria.

An emergency warning has been issued for the communities west of Ballarat with concerns about a wind change is expected to sweep the area between 6pm and 7.30pm.

Residents in another nine townships nearby have also been advised to leave.

Conditions are not expected to ease until about midnight, Victorian Country Fire Authority chief officer, Jason Heffernan, told reporters on Thursday afternoon.


'Zombie Fires' burning at an alarming rate in Canada

Smoke from a zombie fire pictured here in Fort Nelson, BC
© Sonja LeverkusSmoke from a zombie fire pictured here in Fort Nelson, BC
Even in the dead of Canada's winter, the embers of last year's record-setting wildfire season remain. So-called zombie fires are burning under thick layers of snow at an unprecedented rate, raising fears about what the coming summer may bring.

People driving on the highway through the town of Fort Nelson, British Columbia (BC) in the winter can easily see - and smell - the clouds of white smoke flowing from the soil around them.

Sonja Leverkus, a firefighter and scientist who is local to the small north-eastern BC town, recalled driving during a snowstorm in November, but the snowfall didn't look white.

Rather, she said, it was blueish-grey because of the smoke in the air.


Chile declares state of emergency over deadly forest fires - at least 112 killed (UPDATE)

A state of emergency has been declared over raging forest fires in Chile.
© Javier Torres, AFPA state of emergency has been declared over raging forest fires in Chile.
About a dozen fires have been raging since Friday.

The blazes are concentrated in the Vina del Mar and Valparaiso tourist regions, where they have ravaged thousands of hectares of forest, cloaked coastal cities in a dense fog of gray smoke and forced people to flee their homes.

"We have preliminary information that several people have died, around 10," said Sofia Gonzales Cortes, state representative for the central region of Valparaiso.

In the towns of Estrella and Navidad, southwest of the capital, the fires have burned nearly 30 homes, and forced evacuations near the surfing resort of Pichilemu.

Comment: Update February 4

The Guardian reports:
Firefighters are wrestling with huge forest fires that broke out in central Chile on Friday. Officials have extended curfews in cities most heavily affected by the blazes and said the death toll has increased to 112 killed.

The fires have been burning with the highest intensity around the city of Viña del Mar, where a botanical garden founded in 1931 was destroyed by the flames. At least 1,600 people have been left without homes.

A person holds a flag that reads 'against' as voters take part in a referendum on a new Chilean constitution, in Santiago, Chile

Flames and smoke on the eastern edge of the city have trapped some people in their homes. Officials said 200 people have been reported missing in Viña del Mar and the surrounding area. The city of 300,000 people is a popular beach resort.

Late on Sunday, Chile's forensic medicine service updated the confirmed death toll to 112 people.

Drone footage filmed by Reuters in Vina del Mar area showed entire neighbourhoods scorched, with residents rummaging through husks of burnt-out houses where corrugated iron roofs have collapsed. On the streets, singed cars littered the roads.

Rodrigo Mundaca, the governor of the Valparaíso region, said on Sunday he believed that some of the fires could have been intentionally caused, replicating a theory that had also been mentioned on Saturday by the president, Gabriel Boric.

"These fires began in four points that lit up simultaneously," Mundaca said. "As authorities, we will have to work rigorously to find who is responsible."

The fires around Viña del Mar began in mountainous forested areas that are hard to reach. But they have moved into densely populated neighbourhoods on the city's periphery despite efforts by Chilean authorities to slow down the flames.

On Saturday, Boric said unusually high temperatures, low humidity and high wind speeds were making it difficult to control the wildfires in central Chile, which have already burned through 8,000 hectares of forest and urban areas.


South Africa evacuates small coastal communities near Cape Town as wildfires burn out of control

Residents were evacuated from small coastal towns near Cape Town in South Africa as wildfires swept down from surrounding mountains and burned out of control for a second day on Tuesday.

Authorities ordered a full evacuation of Pringle Bay, a coastal village popular with holidaymakers about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Cape Town. People evacuated parts of the nearby town of Betty's Bay on Monday.

Wildfires are relatively common in the mountain ranges around Cape Town and further down the coast in the South African summer, but it's unusual for towns to be completely evacuated.


Colombia to declare a natural disaster over wildfires

Firefighters were battling a blaze in a wooded, mountainous area east of Bogota.
© EPAFirefighters were battling a blaze in a wooded, mountainous area east of Bogota.
Colombia's President Gustavo Petro said on Wednesday he will declare that wildfires burning in the country are a natural disaster, freeing up funds to fight the blazes amid soaring temperatures and the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Colombia has put out some 204 fires this month - around eight per day - and 25 fires continued to burn, according to a report from the environment ministry and the disaster agency.

Almost half of the 2 trillion peso budget ($508 million) for addressing issues caused by El Nino, like fighting fires, has already been spent, the report said.

Declaring a natural disaster "means some budget items can be moved to other areas to address problems that arise, such as transferring resources so that helicopters can be put into action to put out the fires," Petro told journalists in Colombia's Cauca province.