The last couple weeks have brought rain to the majority of California, but unfortunately, most of the state remains in a rainfall deficit. With the exception of the San Diego area, which is above normal, the rest of the state gets progressively drier as you move north.
Reservoirs are Full but Northern California is Still in a Deficit
The state’s largest reservoirs are located across Northern California and the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. These reservoirs are currently at or above historical averages for this time of the year, but the snow pack that feeds these stockpiles are measuring just over half of their normal levels for the season. Across the rest of the state the story is similar. San Francisco, for example, has only received about 50% of the normal rainfall for the year. April precipitation is not expected to alleviate this deficit, with most forecasts predicting a dryer than normal month. This does not bode well for some of the dryer portions of the state trying to catch up. Many areas need triple digit increases in the average rain totals to make up for the shortfall. San Jose tops this list, requiring an almost 500% increase in rainfall before the end of June, just to breakeven.
What Does This Mean for Wildfire Season?
The recent rains may help to stave off an early start to the 2020 wildfire season but may actually fuel wildfires moving forward. In areas that have experienced prolonged drought conditions, rains often lead to an explosive growth of new vegetation. Much of this vegetation growth is in the form of native and non-native grasses. Moist fuels are an ideal fire retardant, but these grasses are very susceptible to drying out after just a short period of low humidity and high temperatures.
The March storms failed to break California’s drought so the fuel moisture of this vegetation is going to be a concern as temperatures begin to rise across the state. Once dried, these “fine fuels” are easy to ignite. Something as small as an errant cigarette butt is a sufficient catalyst to spark a wildfire. When active, these wildfires can move rapidly and are prone to “spotting”. Spotting occurs when embers are blown to nearby fuels and cause multiple ignitions, making the wildfire difficult to contain.
During World War II, Japanese submarines off of the Santa Barbara Coast fired shells making an oil field explode near the Los Padres National Forest. This created a fear in Americans. People were concerned that wildfire could be used as a war tactic in the forests off of the Pacific Coast. The Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) program was created to bring light to wildfire prevention by reducing the number of human caused fires. Eventually, this program led to the creation of Smokey Bear as an influential wildfire prevention icon. Smokey is now recognized by 96% of adults – a recognition rate that is comparable to that of the President and Mickey Mouse!
Smokey Bear’s Involvement With Wildfire Prevention
In 1944, the CFFP program decided to use Bambi characters as symbols for fire prevention on a poster. Using the Disney animals as symbols for wildfire prevention was successful, so the U.S. Forest Service authorized CFFP to create its own animal symbol – Smokey Bear. Smokey’s first appearance was on a wildfire prevention poster in 1944. Initially, his catch phrase was “Smokey says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires.” Then, his slogan changed to “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires” in 1947. By 1952, Smokey Bear was attracting commercial interest, so an Act of Congress removed him from public domain and placed him under the Secretary of Agriculture. The fees and royalties collected for the use of Smokey Bear are used for wildfire prevention education. Currently, Smokey’s catch phrase is, “Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires.”
The Smokey Bear Mascot
In 1950, a young bear cub sought refuge in a tree during a fire in the Capitan Mountains in New Mexico. He was burned badly, so firefighters saved him. The bear cub’s touching story earned him the name ‘Smokey.’ The bear cub’s moving story gained a permanent home at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. He became the living symbol of Smokey Bear. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1976. Smokey was buried in State Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico. Now, the park is named Smokey Bear Historical Park after his legacy.
Smokey Bear Fun Facts
• His name is Smokey Bear, not Smokey the Bear. This naming confusion came from a song written as an ode to Smokey, and the songwriters added ‘the’ to improve the rhythm.
• Smokey receives so many letters that he even has his own zip code – the President is the only other individual with his own zip code. Anyone can send a letter to Smokey Bear at “Smokey Bear, Washington, DC 20252.”
• He is a Disney Star! Smokey made an appearance in a Walt Disney movie In the Bag.
• Smokey Bear has a Twitter @smokey_bear
In the United States, effective systems are in place to help us plan for, respond to, evacuate from, and cope with dangerous and difficult emergency events. Traditionally in the late twentieth century, mass media (television and radio) were relied upon to inform the general public of impending or ongoing dangerous situations. Previously, older technology like sirens were utilized for warning of impending situations, especially severe weather. While all are still prevalent today, much of the public were left uniformed if not within nearby proximity to one of these alert platforms. Today we have many more options at our disposal.
Modern Warning Systems
In June 2006, following criticism over the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13407, ordering the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a new program to integrate and modernize the nation’s existing population warning systems. Installment began on a nationwide system now known as the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS. IPAWS is an alert and warning infrastructure that allows Federal, State, and local authorities to alert and warn the public about serious emergencies using the Emergency Alert System (EAS), Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), and other public alerting systems from a single interface.
EAS is used to send emergency messages through cable, broadcast, and satellite television, as well as landline phone recordings. WEA refers to messages, similar to text messages, which appear as a notification to your mobile phone. They are sent by an authorized government authority through your mobile provider. Registration is not required for the national alerts through IPAWS, but a compatible phone and provider are required. The message contains information such as the type of alert, the time of the alert, the issuing agency, and any steps the recipient should take. The types of alerts include AMBER alerts for child abductions, extreme weather alerts, Presidential alerts during a national emergency, or other threatening emergencies in your area. Who receives the alerts is based on connectivity to the affected area’s cellular towers, so the alert is determined by the current location of the cellular device and not the address of the wireless phone owner. Of course, the benefit of this is if you are away from home and an emergency occurs in the area you are visiting, you will still receive the alert through the local cellular tower.
Other Alert Systems
Many local government agencies have additional alert services that offer greater detail to local emergencies through recorded messages, text alerts, or emails. In order to take full advantage, make sure to check local emergency services options (such as Reverse 911). Often, a registration process is required before you will receive the alerts. Similarly, other modern alert systems allow for notifications of other local emergency situations that also could prompt action. A few examples:
- PulsePoint is a mobile application which connects the local dispatch system with CPR-trained bystanders (and the location of the closest AED) regarding a nearby cardiac emergency event… effectively enabling “citizen superheroes.”
- Google’s ‘Waze’ mobile app is a social-mapping-based means of reporting real-time accidents and traffic alerts.
- The Incident Paging Network has also proven to be a useful tool for being alerted regionally within the network for a wide range of event types.
- Here at RedZone we especially appreciate the advent of public alert and advance warning regarding an impending or ongoing disaster. Our RZAlerts are built on the success of this premise.
Shortly after midnight on Tuesday March 3rd, residents of Nashville were alerted of a tornado on the ground, moving east towards downtown. Within minutes, the first reports of damages started filtering in to emergency services. The tornado caught many unaware as it tore through Nashville, following a path eerily similar to two historic tornadoes that struck the city in 1933 and 1998. The devastating EF-3 winds demolished at least 48 buildings, knocked out power to more than 50,000 homes, caused 150 injuries, and 2 people were killed by flying debris.
Putnam County was the Hardest Hit.
The Nashville tornado was one of several that spawned from the severe storms that swept across central Tennessee. The most devastating tornado of the outbreak, touched down between the cities of Cookeville and Baxter in Putnam County. Out of the 24 people that perished due to Tuesday’s tornadoes, 18 of those lived in Putnam county. Early in the recovery period, 77 additional people were reported as missing, but thankfully first responders have been able to reduce this the number to 38. Rescue efforts and damage assessments are ongoing so it will be a few days before the true impact of these storms are confirmed.
An Early Start to Tornado Related Weather
The 2020 tornado related weather started early. 90 tornadoes were reported in January, killing 7 people. In February 51 tornadoes were reported with one 3 day outbreak spawning at least 37 tornadoes across the southeastern U.S. The website ustornadoes.com released their spring outlook, which predicts above average tornado activity for the first time in recent years.
Accuweather is forecasting March to be especially active with more than double the average 75 tornadoes for the month. Tornadoes were responsible for 41 fatalities in 2019. Already this year, 32 have perished.
This week, RedZone Software is in attendance at the Cat Risk Management Conference in Orlando, FL. The conference is hosted every year by the Reinsurance Association of America (RAA). The event brings leading global experts together to meet and discuss catastrophe risk management. Representatives from all across the industry were present, including: reinsurers, modeling companies, researchers, regulators, and academics. As the conference subtitle for 2020 indicates, attendees are experiencing “Forward Looking Catastrophe Risk Management”! This is RedZone’s 3rd year in attendance featuring the RZRisk and RZExposure solutions we offer.
Although the 2019 wildfire season was less destructive than previous years, the 2019 fires and fires from previous years have had a large impact on real estate and insurance industries. Some homeowners in high-risk areas have seen loss of coverage, while others are experiencing extremely high insurance premiums. Potential homebuyers for homes in high-risk areas are being denied coverage or are backing out of purchases due to the high premiums. As wildfire frequency and intensity escalates in California, concern for the real estate market grows.
Despite 2020 starting with several large earthquakes in Puerto Rico and Jamaica, we wanted to revisit the major global earthquakes of 2019 in a sort of “year in review”. The year compared similarly to the 20 year average, with some standout large and destructive earthquakes. Read more