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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Weather Channel reports smoke as current weather in Corvallis

smoke shown as current Corvallis weather by Weather Channel Aug. 23, 2015 9:28AM

PHOTO: incredibly, instead of reporting the typical current weather condition of "sunny" or "rain," on Aug. 23, 2015 the current weather in Corvallis, Oregon was reported to be "smoke" by the Comcast cable TV "The Weather Channel Local on the Eights" service. The sky was filled with smoke due to nearby forest fires, which caused the air to be irritating to breathe and unhealthy according to the U.S. Government EPA. (See local newspaper coverage by Kyle Odegard, "Smoky haze will stay in valley," posted Aug. 22, 2015 and "Police: Smoke from Willamina fire chokes Corvallis," posted Aug. 22, 2015)

The smoke in Corvallis was blown in from nearby forest fires that have been greater in number and intensity than normal due to the unusually dry conditions resulting from below average precipitation this year. The smoke was irritating to my sinus tissues and it caused many people excessive tears and respiratory problems. Fortunately, in the last week the wind shifted direction, there has been a little rain so that much of the smoke has cleared out.

In my opinion, the reason for the increased prevalence of forest fires, other than the dry weather conditions this year, is due to changes in forest management practices. Decades ago, before objections from environmental activists and others, it was common to clear-cut forest land and leave large open areas, which created natural firebreaks that wildfires couldn't easily cross to start a fire in another part of the forest. Over the last few decades, for a number of reasons, Oregon forests have been allowed to fill in and are being only selectively thinned out by modern logging practices.

Also, it used to be common to hear radio and TV advertising for forest fire prevention campaigns, such as the famous "Smokey the Bear" slogan, "Only you can prevent forest fires." For some unknown reason, these fire prevention campaigns have disappeared, perhaps due to tax budget cuts or because it is no longer fashionable to blame forest fires on careless campers who do not put out their campfire properly, or the hot muffler of a four-wheel drive vehicle driving off-road over dry grass and igniting a fire. Today it is more common for officials to blame forest fires on lightning strikes hitting drought stricken and dead trees, which sets on fire both the trees and adjacent grass land. Evidence of this can be seen in recent weather satellite images that show lightning strikes have occurred in remote areas where forest fires had started, but there was no human activity that could be the cause.

Needless to say, the management of forest land to prevent forest fires is a complicated issue that has conflicting agendas between a for-profit timber industry, which doesn't want to lose valuable timber, and the environmentalists who are derisively called "tree huggers" for their agenda of preserving the forests by not cutting down any trees. Playing on both sides of this debate are scholars who research and develop better forest management policies at Forestry colleges, such as the one at Oregon State University, and whose research is sometimes funded by timber industry dollars.