Two storm systems bring heavy rain to the U.S. and Haiti, as a third passes near Bermuda.


Extreme Weather and Climate Updates

Aug. 18, 2021, 12:07 a.m. ET

Aug. 18, 2021, 12:07 a.m. ET

Credit…NOAA

Meteorologists and residents of the Southeast were closely tracking the paths of three storms on Tuesday, a day after Fred — now a tropical depression — caused flooding and tornadoes, Tropical Storm Grace lashed Haiti with rain, and Tropical Storm Henri formed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Fred came ashore in the Florida Panhandle on Monday afternoon as a tropical storm and brought flooding along parts of the coastline. Video circulating on social media showed heavy flooding near Southport, Fla., about 10 miles north of Panama City. Some cars appeared to be stuck on roads, and a nearby gas station was flooded.

By Tuesday, Fred had moved further inland, bringing gusty winds and heavy rain to Georgia and the Carolinas. Northern Georgia and the southern Appalachian Mountains could get four to eight inches of rain — totals that could rise to 10 inches in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.

Several tornadoes were reported across the region on Tuesday, including in Edgefield, S.C., and in Iredell County, North Carolina, about 50 miles north of Charlotte. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The severe weather knocked out power in some areas and caused flight delays across the South, where tornado warnings were issued in several states.

Grace is expected to become a hurricane on Wednesday as it bears down on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, two days after making landfall in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, The deluge could complicate search-and-rescue efforts after a powerful earthquake of 7.2 magnitude on Saturday collapsed thousands of homes and made some roads and bridges impassable.

“That heavy rainfall can really lead to life-threatening flooding and mudslides and potentially urban flooding,” Michael Brennan, the branch chief of the center’s hurricane specialist unit, said.

Grace was expected to move toward the Cayman Islands later on Tuesday and then possibly reach hurricane strength as it nears Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula on Wednesday.

Far removed from the East Coast, Henri posed little immediate threat to the United States but was the cause of a tropical storm watch in Bermuda. The hurricane center warned that it could still produce hazardous rip currents.

While it is not uncommon for there to be several active weather systems at once during hurricane season, forecasters said, it is somewhat unusual to have three simultaneously producing tropical storm watches or warnings for land areas.

“It’s a busy period here,” Mr. Brennan said.

The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to experience stronger hurricanes over time and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms could drop because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.

Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested that storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surges — the most destructive elements of tropical cyclones.

A major United Nations climate report released last week warned that nations had delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they could no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, leading to more frequent life-threatening heat waves and severe droughts. Tropical cyclones have most likely become more intense over the past 40 years, the report said, a shift that cannot be explained by natural variability alone.

Derrick Bryson Taylor and Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.

A car driving through flood waters near Atlanta on Tuesday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred made their way through the region.
Credit…Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

The remnants of Tropical Depression Fred touched off a chain reaction of tornadoes and tornado warnings across the Southeast on Tuesday, especially in the Carolinas, one day after the storm system made landfall along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Throughout the night, the Weather Service issued at least 10 tornado warnings in North and South Carolina, meaning that a tornado had been spotted or picked up on a radar.

Parts of those two states and Virginia were under a tornado watch through 2 a.m. Wednesday. A few tornadoes were likely, along with hail, and wind gusts of up to 60 m.ph., the Weather Service said.

Tornadoes were reported in Edgefield, S.C., and in Iredell County, N.C., about 50 miles north of Charlotte. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

In Greenville County, S.C., public school students and teachers were instructed to shelter in place on Tuesday afternoon after a tornado warning was issued for the area, local media outlets reported. The warning was later canceled.

Fred was expected to move across northern Georgia and the southern Appalachian Mountains later on Tuesday, bringing four to eight inches of rain — totals that could rise to 10 inches in a few areas, according to the National Weather Service.

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Authorities issued evacuation orders as the Dixie Fire, the second-largest in California’s recorded history, burned toward the city of Susanville in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.CreditCredit…Christian Monterrosa for The New York Times

The Dixie fire, the second-largest in California’s recorded history, was wheeling on Tuesday toward one of the biggest urban targets in its path: the city of Susanville, population 15,000.

It was one of several places in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada where the authorities issued evacuation orders or warnings on Monday. Officials in Northern California expect the fire danger to remain exceptionally high over the next few days amid high winds, low humidity and triple-digit temperatures.

One of the places being evacuated on Monday evening was the area in and around Janesville, about 12 miles southeast of Susanville. Journalists posted pictures and videos showing flames in the night sky a few miles from Janesville.

Wind gusts of up to 30 miles per hour pushed the fire within a few miles of Susanville, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday. The city’s Police Department asked residents to be ready to evacuate.

“Fire behavior is unpredictable and we simply don’t know how it will progress,” the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post.

The Dixie fire is one of at least six large blazes in Northern California. It began more than a month ago and has burned an area about three-quarters the size of Rhode Island. As of Tuesday it had spread to about 627,000 acres across four counties, according to a New York Times wildfire tracker.

But the fire was only 31 percent contained — the same as it had been 24 hours earlier.

“There was a lot of fire activity today, unfortunately, for our resources and the people that live out here,” Jake Cagle, an official with the California Interagency Incident Management Team, said in a briefing on Monday evening, referring to an area west of Susanville.

A smaller blaze east of Sacramento, the Caldor fire, also grew significantly overnight, causing the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office to issue evacuation orders. The fire, which began on Saturday, has quickly burned through 23,000 acres and is zero percent contained, according to the wildfire tracker.

Two people have been seriously injured in the blaze, which damaged or destroyed structures in the Grizzly Flats, Somerset and Omo Ranch communities, according to Cal Fire. An elementary school and a post office were among the demolished buildings, The Sacramento Bee reported.

To the west of the Dixie fire, the McFarland fire had burned 98,000 acres as of Tuesday night and was 51 percent contained. The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office issued a mandatory evacuation order for Platina Township, a community of about 200 people north of Mendocino National Forest.

And the Monument fire, farther northwest, “challenged firefighters with significant fire activity” on Monday, forestry officials at the Shasta-Trinity National Forest said in a statement. That fire has now burned 119,000 acres and is 10 percent contained.

Pacific Gas & Electric, the California utility, began shutting off power for about 51,000 customers in 18 of the state’s counties on Tuesday evening, including in the Sierra Nevada foothills, to prevent power lines from starting wildfires. The utility said power should be restored on Wednesday after weather conditions improve.

The cause of the Dixie fire remains under investigation. In July, PG&E said blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked it.

The Dixie fire is one of about 100 wildfires across the West that have forced the U.S. Forest Service to deploy about 21,000 federal firefighters in states parched by drought and scorching temperatures this summer, more than double the number deployed at this time a year ago.

The growth of fires has continued this week even as the Bootleg fire, which had ravaged more than 400,000 acres of southern Oregon since early July, was fully contained over the weekend.

Although wildfires occur throughout the West every year, scientists see the influence of climate change in the extreme heat waves that have contributed to the intensity of fires this summer. Prolonged periods of abnormally high temperatures are a signal of a shifting climate, they say.

Gary Mooney prepared to evacuate his home on Monday as the Dixie fire burned toward Susanville, Calif.
Credit…Noah Berger/Associated Press

As the Dixie fire has burned through Northern California over the past month, the city of Susanville in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada has become a refuge.

Panicked residents of evacuated communities, including the devastated town of Greenville about an hour and a half away, have sought shelter at a local community college. Firefighters have set up a base camp at the city’s fairgrounds, where large animals are being kept to protect them from the fire.

Now, with winds picking up on Tuesday, there are growing concerns that Susanville itself is under threat from the blaze, the second-largest on record in California, which grew by about 40,000 acres overnight.

With a population of 15,000, Susanville — an old saw mill town that long ago became a prison town, with two state prisons and a federal facility in the region — is the largest community yet to fall in the fire’s path.

“It’s concerning,” said Mayor Mendy Schuster, who was packing up clothing, collecting family pictures and gathering important documents on Tuesday morning as she prepared for possible mandatory evacuation orders.

“Lots of prayers,” she added.

Other residents were following her lead, loading up important items and backing their cars into their driveways to allow for a quicker exit if evacuation orders arrived. At the same time, the community was being warned that gas stations were running low because fuel trucks could not get in.

Officials battling the Dixie fire, which has consumed more than 600,000 acres and at least 1,100 buildings, including 630 homes, were grappling with the possibility of evacuating not only residents of Susanville but the thousands of others who have sought safety there.

That includes many residents from nearby Janesville, with a population of about 1,400, where the fire on Monday forced evacuation orders.

“There has been some pretty intense fire activity,” said Dan McKeague, a public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service, which is in charge of much of the land where the Dixie fire has been burning. “Today we’ll likely see 200-foot flame lengths again.”

That means firefighters are not able to directly attack the fire from up close — they are generally only able to when the flames are under four feet high — and instead are focused on digging containment lines with bulldozers.

Fire officials said those lines, as well as a burn scar from a fire last year, should help protect Susanville. But a greater concern, with the unpredictability of the winds, is that embers could fly ahead and start spot fires.

“We’re literally at the whim of the wind right now,” said Lisa Bernard, a spokeswoman for the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office. “There is definitely a threat.”

The economic base of Susanville, the county seat, largely relies on the nearby prisons. The state recently announced plans to close one of the facilities there; inmate populations have declined because of criminal justice reforms including sentencing.

The plan has been met with pushback from Susanville, which has filed a lawsuit against the state in an effort to stop the closure and maintain the jobs and revenue there.

There were no plans to evacuate the state prisons on Tuesday, said Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. She said that the fire was about 13 miles away, and that officials had taken steps to limit the impact of unhealthy air by limiting the movement of people inside and distributing N95 masks.

Even as Susanville prepared on Tuesday for the fire, a court hearing for the city’s lawsuit to keep the prison open was supposed to go on as scheduled in the afternoon.

Dan Newton, Susanville’s interim city administrator, lives on the outskirts of town and was ordered to evacuate on Monday. He spent the night in his R.V., parked on a city street.

When reached by phone on Tuesday morning, he said he was heading into a planning meeting about the possible evacuation of the city, before attending the afternoon court hearing.

“The concern is high,” he said. “The winds are increasing in speed.”

When officials say a fire is 100 percent contained, that doesn’t mean it has been extinguished. It means only that firefighters have it fully surrounded by a perimeter.
Credit…Christian Monterrosa for The New York Times

Many areas of the United States, especially the West, are in the cross hairs of devastating wildfires again this year. Amid a summer of searing temperatures and dry winds, firefighters have for weeks tried to contain one escalating fire after another.

In news conferences and alerts to residents, firefighters might rattle off figures on how many thousands of acres have burned and speak of how “red flag conditions” are fueling “extreme fire behavior” that is hampering their efforts to increase the percentage of a “complex fire” that is “contained.”

Here is a guide to help you understand some of the terms officials use when discussing wildfires:

When fire officials report that a fire is, say, 30 percent contained, that means that 30 percent of the blaze’s boundary is hemmed in by barriers like rivers, streams, interstate highways or areas that are already scorched, leaving no more vegetation to ignite. Other times, these containment lines are 10- to 12-foot-wide trenches that crews have dug along the fire’s edge — sometimes with bulldozers — to stop the fire from spreading.

When officials say a fire is 100 percent contained, that does not mean it has been extinguished. It means only that firefighters have it fully surrounded by a perimeter; it could still burn for weeks or months. Once a fire is declared “controlled,” then it’s over.

A red flag warning is the highest alert issued by the National Weather Service for conditions that may result in extreme fire behavior within 24 hours. Forecasters announce such a warning when warm temperatures (more than 75 degrees), very low humidity (less than 25 percent), and stronger winds (at least 15 m.p.h.) join forces to produce a heightened risk of fire danger.

If you live in an area under a red flag warning, you should make sure that you:

  • Clear dead weeds and vegetation around your home.

  • Empty your roof and gutters of dry leaves and other debris.

  • Remove flammable household items outside, like brooms and cushions on lawn furniture.

  • Don’t use lawn mowers on dry land.

Generally, extreme fire behavior includes some or all of the following:

  • A high rate of spread

  • Flames growing through the branches and leaves on trees as well as shrubbery, unaided by the blaze on the ground

  • The existence of fire whirls, which are vortexes of hot air and gases rising from a ground fire and carrying debris, flames and smoke into the air. They range from less than one foot to more than 500 feet in diameter. The largest resemble the intensity of a small tornado.

  • The presence of a convection column, which sends gases, smoke, fly ash, particulates and other debris produced by a fire straight into the air, spreading vertically, instead of horizontally

When there are two or more wildfires burning close together in the same area, they are often called a “complex” and attacked by firefighters under a unified command.

In the summer of 2020, a siege of dry lightning strikes sparked about 40 fires in three national forests in northwestern California. They all merged to become the August Complex fire. It burned more than one million acres in total, leading to a new term: “gigafire.”

When you hear of a 100,000-acre fire, that is a description of the total area that has been burned, not what is actively on fire at the time.

But, as Ernesto Alvarado, a professor of wildland fire sciences at the University of Washington, explained, “There’s no way you can map 100,000 acres with people on the ground.”

The authorities instead turn to airplanes, which use infrared cameras, and weather satellites that can snap an image of a fire zone every five minutes or so. Firefighters are able to create real-time maps from these data troves, which can then be supplemented by ground information to map any major fire.

The Tamarack Fire, which was named after a California town near where the blaze broke out in July.
Credit…Noah Berger/Associated Press

Dixie. August Complex. Not Creative.

The top three finishers in the Belmont Stakes? No, those are the names of wildfires that have burned across the American West in recent years.

Unlike hurricanes, which are given human names from a list chosen in advance by the World Meteorological Organization, wildfires get their names in a much more intuitive way: Whatever makes it the easiest for firefighters to find a blaze and for nearby residents to consistently track the fire’s path.

Some of those burning right now include the South Yaak Fire in Montana (after the Yaak Valley), the Tamarack Fire in California (after a town) and the nation’s largest blaze this year, the Dixie Fire (after a nearby road).

Usually, fires get their names based on where they originate, fire officials have said. They’re named for winding rural roads, nearby landmarks or mountain peaks.

Although the Dixie Fire started some distance from where Dixie Road appears on maps, Rick Carhart, a Butte County spokesman for Cal Fire, California’s state fire agency, said it demonstrates how “remote and inaccessible” the blaze was for firefighters.

“Even though it didn’t start on the side of Dixie Road, it was the closest thing,” he said. Mr. Carhart noted that Dixie Road appears close to Camp Creek Road, after which 2018’s deadly Camp Fire was named.

Lynnette Round, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire, said that also means multiple blazes can end up with the same name.

There has been more than one River Fire, for instance. And in 2017, during a busy year, the blaze that came to be known as the Lilac Fire in San Diego County was actually the fifth one to be given that name.

Ms. Round said the first fire officials on the scene often name a blaze, and the moniker is almost never changed.

“If it changes, you’ll confuse people,” she said. Residents who have fled their homes might not know which fire they should be paying attention to if names shift. And fire officials might get confused about where to send resources.

Sometimes, fires burn together and effectively merge. If that happens, as it did with the Dixie Fire and the Fly Fire, officials will typically start using the larger fire’s name for both.

Last year, unusual lightning storms sparked many fires across California. “When they all run together, they become a complex fire,” Ms. Round said.

Such was the case with the August Complex, the largest fire on record in California, which burned more than a million acres last year. It ignited in August, heralding the early start of a record-breaking fire season.

Occasionally, there won’t be a significant landmark close to a fire’s ignition point. So officials will get creative. (Or not.)

That’s how, during the summer of 2015, officials named a blaze in southeast Idaho “Not Creative,” according to reports. A spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Lands told NPR the name was selected after a long day of firefighting.

The Olympic Games in Tokyo started during Earth’s hottest month on record. 
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Last month was Earth’s hottest month since record-keeping began 142 years ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Friday.

Land and ocean-surface temperatures in July combined were 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit greater than the 20th-century average of 60.4 degrees, according to data released by NOAA. July just beat out the previous record, set in July 2016 and later tied in 2019 and 2020, by 0.02 of a degree Fahrenheit.

In a statement, Rick Spinrad, NOAA’s administrator, said July is normally the warmest month of the year, “but July 2021 outdid itself.”

“This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe,” he said.

The new July data was released days after a United Nations scientific report warned that a hotter future was a certainty but that there was still a small window for preventing an even more dangerous future.

Following the U.N. report, Mr. Spinrad said in a statement that it was “clear that inaction to mitigate climate change is making it worse.”

While July was the hottest month on record overall, according to the NOAA data, not every continent set records last month. Asia recorded its hottest July, while Europe had its second-hottest, and North America, South America, Africa and Oceania all had top-10 warmest Julys.

North America experienced its hottest June this summer, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, an agency supported by the European Union. Temperatures that month beat out the previous record, set in June 2012, by about one-quarter of a degree Fahrenheit, the agency said last month.

The two agencies’ methods differ somewhat — NOAA uses more observational data, while Copernicus uses more modeling — but the findings are usually in close agreement. Copernicus released results this month showing that July 2021 had tied the previous July as the third warmest and that Julys in 2019 and 2016 were the hottest ever.

NOAA said on Friday that the record-breaking monthly temperatures most likely meant that 2021 was on track to rank among the world’s 10 warmest years on record.





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