Hawaiian Wildfires – 2023

In the past week we have been horrified by the pathetic destruction resulting from Hawaiian wildfires. Some citizens are quick to credit climate change as the cause for specific weather disasters on our planet. Our people are focused on discovering causes and effects for natural phenomena such as weather and climate as well as causes and effects for topics along a broad range of total human experience.

The Hawaiian fire is likely the greatest natural disaster ever to strike our 50th state. The governor  stated global warming was likely to blame. Global warming has been supplanted by climate change in our meteorological lexicon. Climate change is blamed for many inconvenient, harmful, or disastrous weather events on Planet Earth. Several commentators have dubbed the Maui fires a “compound disaster”—a textbook case of many different agents acting together. Sudden and intense flash drought, high winds generated by a hurricane hundreds of miles away, low humidity, higher than normal temperatures, and replacement of native Hawaiian plants with highly combustible invasive lawn grass species spreading across large areas, all contributed to a weather disaster of apocalyptic proportions.

The well-known El Nino climate phenomenon may have been indirectly responsible for this weather disaster in Hawaii. El Nino is a planetary condition causing periodic changes in surface trade winds’ speed and direction. It randomly occurs every few years. Their frequency is from two to seven years. El Nino events have great significance with respect to weather events around the world. This results in warmer ocean water in some places and upwelling cooler water at other locations. Ocean life is altered considerably. Likewise, anomalous droughts, temperatures, and other atmospheric conditions are generated in distant places around the planet. So far in 2023, many weather disasters have occurred related to El Nino.

How was El Nino indirectly responsible for making the Hawaiian wildfires worse? In El Nino years hurricanes in the Pacific are stronger, while those generated in the Atlantic are weaker. Even though Hurricane Dora was hundreds of miles south of Hawaii, the atmospheric pressure gradient resulted in intensely strong winds—gusts up to 120 mph. Strong winds blew burning embers on Maui at “a mile per minute.” This factor was likely the most important in producing the “compound disaster” of the Hawaiian wildfires. Add a little low humidity, high temperatures, and drought to the dry invasive lawn grasses, and the Hawaiian wildfire disaster results.

A memorable personal event comes to mind from 1982. My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in that year. My cousin bestowed an anniversary gift to his aunt and uncle. The cousin resided in Alaska, but his 50th anniversary gift to his aunt and uncle was a trip to Alaska combined with a vacation in Hawaii. 1982 was the beginning of a very strong El Nino event. At the conclusion of their Hawaiian vacation they were preparing to fly home, but the flight was delayed on the Hawaiian runway by high winds. My parents waited on the airliner, buffeted by strong winds of Hurricane Iwa, the strongest hurricane ever to strike Hawaii. A Wikipedia article details the harrowing outcomes of Hawaiian hurricane Iwa. By God’s grace, they were soon able to fly home to New Jersey.

Planet Earth’s weather systems are the product of Our Creator’s intelligent design. Earth’s complex climate system, including the El Nino phenomenon, sustains the well-being of over eight billion planetary residents. We have taken the position in past blogs that Earth is a place to thrive rather than a place of brokenness and despair. We encourage our readers to view weather disasters in the context of Planet Earth’s “population explosion” from one billion in 1800 to eight billion in 2023. 

How do our world’s agriculturalists manage to provide food for today’s teeming billions? Is it surprising that there is an increasing number of weather and climate events generating disastrous events affecting many more billions of people? We grieve at all weather disasters taking human lives, but are aware of precautions humanity must take to avoid them.

“Activists constantly talk about the existential threat climate change poses and the deaths natural disasters inflict—but they never quite manage to total up these deaths. One reason is that it’s easier to bend the data about disaster frequency than to bend death statistics. Death tolls tell a very clear story: People are safer from climate-related disasters than ever before.”  (WSJ opinion article, 2021)

We link a past post which elaborates on planetary fires. The article deals with topics discussed in our current post in greater detail:

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