MetOffice, IPCC Climate Scientist Prof. Richard Betts Misunderstood Science Behind Drying Forests

Just recently Anthony Watts posted an article on wildfires penned by Paul Homewood. Lately alarmists have been blaming the active forest fire season on global warming. They warn that warmer temperatures will lead to more wildfires.

Is it so?

First it’s important to note that warmer temperatures don’t necessarily lead to more drought and wild fires. For example in 2018 I reported here how the Sahara desert has shrunk by a whopping 700,000 sq km over the recent decades, even though this is a region with very warm temperatures.

Also we know that the earth’s surface has often been drier during cooler times.

Moreover, aspiring meteorologist Chris Martz here explains that long-term forest fires have not been getting worse in the USA, and “are nowhere near as bad as they used to be”.

U.S. wildland fire counts by year since 1926 (Figure 5a – left) and U.S. wildland fire burn acreage over that same time period (Figure 5b – right).

Climate scientist doesn’t understand why forests dry

On the WUWT article I commented at Twitter that when it comes to wildfires, temperature is not a factor behind them, to which University of Exeter, Met Office, IPCC. UK Climate Prof. commented:

Most laypersons of course believe that higher temperatures “dry out” surfaces and fuel faster, as climate expert Prof. Richard Betts obviously did. After all, we use a hair dryer to dry our hair more quickly, or throw our wet laundry in the dryer. So most people think that it’s the high temperature that is doing the drying. But that’s not quite how it works.

Astonishing misunderstanding of fundamental science

We can forgive a layperson for misunderstanding this fundamental science, but it is spectacularly astonishing that a supposedly distinguished climate professor such as Prof. Betts would misunderstand it. How on earth could someone with such a fundamental misunderstanding be expected to explain climate to us, let alone model it?

Or perhaps, in his desire to be dramatic, he got sloppy and miscommunicated it.

It’s the relative humidity, stupid!

There’s only one factor behind drying forest, grassland, ground surface: the relative humidity of the air next to the surface (difference temperature and dew point) and precipitation.

If the air has a very high relative humidity, then drying will take a long time, no matter what the temperature is. If temperature was the main factor behind drying, then places like the Amazon, Congo  or Southeast Asian rainforests would have dried up and burned long ago. But they haven’t.

In fact the planet’s biggest deserts are the Arctic and Antarctic. Last I checked they are still cooler than the Amazon.

It’s not the temperature!

To help drive the point home to the MetOffice climatologist, veteran meteorologist Jörg Kachelmann at Twitter joined in, asking Prof. Betts:

Kachelmann added:

Remember, these are the scientists who provide the input into the climate models.

Correct would be to say: Warming may lead to lower air humidity and less precipitation, which in turn increases the risk of wildfires. But then again, they also like to tell us that warming leads to more rainfall.

A lot of confused (or misleading) scientists out there.

23 responses to “MetOffice, IPCC Climate Scientist Prof. Richard Betts Misunderstood Science Behind Drying Forests”

  1. Douglas Proctor

    What happened in 1980 to fire count? Method of counting? Looks like same problem in covid19 case comparison, different ways of reporting.

  2. Brian James

    October 1, 2019 There is no climate emergency, say 500 experts in letter to the United Nations, Carpe Diem

    MP: What about that “consensus” and “settled science” about climate change we always hear about? How can there be a consensus when there’s a global network of more than 500 knowledgeable and experienced scientists and professionals in climate and related fields who challenge the “settled science”?

    The lefts climate change experts

  3. Mack

    Nicely done Pierre!

  4. Spuyten Duyvil

    Douglas, the US NIFC has changed how and what they count as fires, as reported by the states and member federal agencies, over the years. An example is in 2018 the NIFC started breaking down wildfire reports as either human-caused or lightning-caused. The NIFC also recently changed how they report the massive amount of prescriptive (or Rx) fire, eliminating state sub-totals. (One can ponder whether that is a political decision; some states in the west were previously doing much more than others. Readers are free to guess the politics of those in charge of the low Rx states.) Even the various states do not report uniformly, as some will submit statistics from local fire districts, and some do not. The minimum size of a reportable fire is very low: 1/10 of an acre; 1/100 hectare in Canada. An example of that is 2019 statistics reported by the National Park Service in my home state, Washington. They reported ten human-caused fires burning a total of one (1) acre, and nine lightning-caused fires burning a total of three acres. Grand total of 19 fires at four acres. Obviously, many states – including mine – have large devastating fires every year that can be very destructive and deadly. The COVID reference is apt; a lot of inconsequential fires being added to the totals

    1. John F Hultquist

      I too live in the Great Left Coast State of Washington.
      100 miles east of Seattle.
      Average annual precipitation at home is about 9 inches, and a bit more to the southeast (near Moxee) it is just over 5 inches.
      I live in the transition zone of Ponderosa Pine forest and Sagebrush/Steppe.

      A large area north of us burned: The Pearl Hill Fire

      Fuels were brush (2 feet high) and grass (2.5 feet).
      Quote: “The fire spread quickly due to strong winds and low relative humidity.”
      And it started at 3:39 AM – not exactly the hottest time of day.

      Paul, 1.
      Richard (not the guitar player), 0.

  5. Jim Policelli

    Douglas: From the 1930s the US overkilled firefighting not allowing areas to burn. That plus a vibrant timber industry drove burned acreage unnaturally low. We continuously accumulated forest litter worsening the burden of firefighting. Then… the spotted owl activists got loggers, etc. kicked out of the woods. Predictably (and predicted by forestry specialists) we nurtured conditions for more intense fires and burned acreage began increasing. This will take a lot of work and a long time of proper forest management to turn around.
    The tallying of acreage burned has been consistent over the years.

  6. oeman50

    Last time I checked, Richard (Dickey) Betts was a guitar player. What does he know about drying forest?

  7. Robert Folkerts

    Regarding relative humidity and evaporation.
    I am interested to know if there would be a different evaporation rate in a situation where relative humidity was, say 10% with a temperature of 35°c compared to 10% at 5°c.

  8. John F Hultquist

    My traveling CD in a Subaru I call Jessica is Dickey Betts and Great Southern; and yes, Ramblin’ Man is on that too.

  9. John F Hultquist

    I think I called Pierre Paul in a comment.

  10. Petit_Barde

    Great catch !

    For the climate “science” to be “settled”, there must be a great bunch of climate clowns like this one.

  11. Green Sand

    Ah, dear old Tricky Prof Betts, if he gets in touch again ask him how his modelled prediction of +4C by 2030 is playing out

  12. A C Osborn

    I made the same comment to Mr Betts on the WUWT post.

  13. drumphish

    If warmer temps dry things out, then cooler temps should make them wet.

    A lake in the summertime will be drier, a lake during wintertime will end up wetter. The lake will burn during the summer months. lol

    If you hang wet clothes out on a clothesline when temps are freezing outside, zero degrees Fahrenheit, then the clothes should become laden with water, if the logic would apply.

    Not so, hang wet clothes out on the clothesline during cold weather, winter, they are still going to dry, not become wetter. Even in the cold, wet clothes will dry, the sun is there, so there’s that.

    Just remembering the good old days of clotheslines and no clothes dryer inside the house.

    Last year in September, there was six inches of rain and a resulting mud mess.

    This year, there has been a trace of rain and good warm weather.

    Instead of 45 degrees F on this day, it was 68 degrees F.

    Today will be at 57 degrees with an overnight frost.

  14. bonbon

    Kachelmann got it right.

    Send the “scientists” to a sauna!

  15. Yonason

    A warmer world would be a WETTER world.

    Will Happer gives some evidence, time range on video = (26:45 – 27:30), beginning here.

    He tells us that ice core data reveal that in a colder world there is more dust, implying that a colder world is a dryer world, and the opposite for a warmer world.

  16. dennisambler

    I wonder if Professor Betts ahs yet sorted out the carbon cycle?

    Stabilising climate to avoid dangerous climate change — a summary of relevant research at the Hadley Centre January 2005

    Prepared by Geoff Jenkins, Richard Betts, Mat Collins, Dave Griggs,Jason Lowe,Richard Wood

    “What constitutes ‘dangerous’ climate change, in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, remains open to debate.

    Once we decide what degree of (for example) temperature rise the world can tolerate, we then have to estimate what greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere should be limited to, and how quickly they should be allowed to change.

    These are very uncertain because we do not know exactly how the climate system responds to greenhouse gases.

    The next stage is to calculate what emissions of greenhouse gases would be allowable, in order to keep below the limit of greenhouse gas concentrations.

    This is even more uncertain, thanks to our imperfect understanding of the carbon cycle (and chemical cycles) and how this feeds back into the climate system”

    He is responsible for the introduction of “global heating” into the propaganda machine:

    The Met Office is now controlled by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whose Minister is responsible for delivering COP 26. Last year they were taking advice from Extinction Rebellion, WWF and Environmental Defense on how to speed up “The Move to Net Zero”.

  17. mwhite
  18. mwhite
  19. Richard Betts Misunderstands Basic ScienceClimate- | Climate-

    […] Full story here. […]

  20. tom0mason

    Betts and the Hadley Centre are waste tax-payer money for counterfeit ““settled science” of very little worth.

    The employees of UK Hadley Centre are an utter disgrace, wastrels of £millions by pompous fools who believe that everyone should bow to their superior theory of how climate operates.
    Their pretentious theory is balderdash, has NO relationship to reality, a surreal theory of how the climate does NOT operate.

    They all should, IMHO, be sacked and the Hadley Centre more usefully be repurposed to house the homeless instead of being a chasm of deliberate misunderstanding and miseducation.

  21. Richard Betts Misunderstands Basic Science | NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT

    […] Full story here. […]

  22. Andrew Collinson

    The UK Met Office and the alleged scientists are not to be trusted, all Sun hrs, precipitation and temps data was manipulated this year. All with AGW bias, pre 1990 temps all cooled & 90 to now warmed ref 90yr ave.
    All 81-2010 temps cooled (eg August by 0.8c) thus all on going temps are guaranteed to be relatively warmer.
    The UK Met office is a disgrace to science.
    Since 1988 UK has has 29 years over average sun hours, hence its warmer, nothing to do with CO2.

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