Lumber prices spike as wildfires cause producers to cut output, citing ‘significant’ supply chain challenges

Bootleg Fire burns through vegetation in Oregon, tree on fire
The Bootleg Fire burns through vegetation near Paisley, Oregon, U.S., July 20, 2021

  • Lumber futures have jumped in recent days on concerns over the impact of wildfires on supply.
  • One of North America’s largest lumber producers said it would cut output at sawmills due to the fires.
  • One lumber expert told Insider the production cut was the catalyst that confirmed to traders prices had hit a bottom.
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Lumber futures have jumped in recent days as concerns mount that wildfires in Canada and the Western US will snarl production and supply chain routes.

On Tuesday, Canfor Corporation, one of North America’s largest lumber producers, said it was curtailing approximately 115 million board feet of production capacity at its Canadian sawmills. The company cited “significant supply chain challenges” amid a “transportation backlog in Western Canada as a result of the extreme wildfire conditions.”

Lumber futures jumped 10.8% Thursday, and are trading nearly 15% higher than Tuesday’s prices. Lumber is still more than 62% below the record-high reached in May. Prices skyrocketed earlier in the year as the pandemic-fueled housing boom pushed up demand, though recently supply and demand levels have begun to even out.

“The market overcorrected, it was waiting for a catalyst,” said Michael Goodman, director of speciality products at Sherwood Lumber, referring to recent moves higher after weeks of lumber prices falling.

He added that curtailment of operations at sawmills was not the sole reason for lumber’s recent price movement, but instead the catalyst that showed people prices had hit a bottom.

Goodman now sees prices moving higher as customers start buying again, though he also expects the market to be highly volatile for some time.

While prices are rising and production cuts are creating new supply constraints, Goodman said lumber will be volatile for the next year.

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Wildfire smoke could turn this weekend’s full Buck Moon an ominous blood red

blood moon auckland
A total lunar eclipse turns the moon red in Auckland, New Zealand on May 26.

A full Buck Moon is rising this weekend, and it may appear orange or blood red in skies across North America.

Normally, the moon turns orange or red during an eclipse, when Earth blocks sunlight and our atmosphere reflects red light onto the lunar surface instead. But this time is unusual. Instead of being eclipsed by Earth’s shadow, the moon may be eclipsed in many places by layers of smoke.

Wildfires have exploded across the Pacific Northwest over the last month, fueled by dry vegetation and a series of heat waves made possible by the warming climate. The largest, Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, has grown to nearly twice the size of New York City and started generating its own weather.

The blazes are sending smoke roiling across the continent, prompting air-quality alerts from Minnesota to North Carolina and tinting skies orange as far east as New York and Washington, DC.

north america map shows black carbon soots across northwest northeast central US
A map shows the concentration of black carbon particulates (aka soot) over North America on July 21, 2021.

That’s because the particles in wildfire smoke block shorter wavelengths of sunlight – the blues and greens – and allow the longer, redder wavelengths to pass through. The moon will be no exception to this paintbrush of sweeping smoke.

“When you do have wildfire smoke, especially high up in the atmosphere, you typically do see your moon kind of turn reddish or orange,” Jesse Berman, an assistant professor in environmental health at the University of Minnesota, where he studies extreme weather and air pollution, told Insider.

If the smoke is low and thick enough, it could block out the moon entirely. But, Berman said, “it’s very likely that any area experiencing a wildfire-smoke exposure can see this red or orange moon.”

orange moon next to empire state building spire
The moon, appearing orange due to smoke haze from forest fires, passes the spire of the Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York City, July 20, 2021.

The moon will appear full Thursday night through Sunday morning, peaking on Friday night, according to NASA.

In the month of July, the full moon is often called the Buck Moon. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this name comes from the Algonquin peoples, who share a family of languages and originate from the area that today ranges from New England as far west as Lake Superior. The name refers to buck deer’s antlers emerging in summer.

Widespread wildfire smoke could become common

oregon bootleg fire burns trees hazy skies
The Bootleg Fire burns through vegetation near Paisley, Oregon, July 20, 2021.

Wildfires that produce continent-sweeping smoke clouds could become annual events, if not occurring “multiple times every single year,” Berman said.

“We do expect these events to become not only more frequent, but possibly more severe in the future as our climate tends to shift towards drier conditions, to hotter conditions, to areas where you have less frequent rainfall,” he added. “Every one of these wildfire events is an opportunity for that smoke to travel long distances and affect not only the people nearby, but also those very far away.”

bootleg fire oregon pyrocumulonimbus clouds
A drone photographed this pyrocumulus cloud, also known as a fire cloud, over the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon on July 14, 2021.

If smoke stays high in the atmosphere, it probably won’t affect air quality for people on the ground. However, it sometimes falls back down and fills the air we breathe with hazardous particles – hundreds or even thousands of miles from the fire that created it.

The microscopic particles in wildfire smoke can penetrate deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream. Research has connected wildfire-particle pollution to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and premature death.

In healthy people short-term, it can irritate the eyes and lungs and cause wheezing, coughs, or difficulty breathing. Young children, the elderly, and people with preexisting conditions like asthma or COPD are particularly vulnerable to more serious effects.

As smoke wafts over his Minnesota home, Berman has had his two young children play inside instead of going to the park. The US Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping doors and windows closed when wildfire smoke is impacting air quality, and designating a “clean room” with a portable air cleaner and no cooking, smoking, or candle-burning.

“Right now, nothing has shown that the conditions are going to become markedly better in the future,” Berman said. “Instead, we’re really predicting that conditions are going to continue to get worse.”

“It doesn’t matter where you’re living,” he continued. “You can be affected by these events the same as anyone else.”

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1 in 4 Americans has no emergency savings as the US grapples with wildfires, flooding, and droughts

california wildfires
Krystin Harvey looks at her home burned in the Camp Fire, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Paradise, California.

Emergencies can happen when you least expect them. Financial advisors recommend people save six to nine months’ worth of expenses in case of an emergency – but 25% of Americans say they have no emergency savings at all, according to a new study from Bankrate.

The survey results come as extreme weather sweeps across the world, with devastating floods and wildfires hitting 3 continents at once. Experts say the worsening extreme weather is a consequence of the climate crisis.

The smoke from western wildfires traveled all the way to the East Coast on Wednesday, causing air quality issues and hazy skies. In June, Washington grocery stores threw out food, covered aisles in plastic sheets, and ran sprinklers on store roofs as they battled a record-breaking heatwave. Tropical storm Elsa caused flooding from Florida to New York, with viral videos showing the areas of the New York City subway system underwater.

Businesses and individuals impacted by the pandemic and climate emergencies may not have sufficient funds saved. Bankrate said financial instability is lingering as a result of the pandemic – last year, nearly 40% of the country’s poorest households suffered from unemployment as millions of low-wage positions were eliminated.

One-third of survey respondents said they have less emergency savings than they did before the pandemic, and almost half of Americans said they are not comfortable with their level of emergency savings.

“It takes time to accumulate a sufficient emergency savings cushion equivalent to at least 6 months of expenses,” said Bankrate.com chief financial analyst, Greg McBride. “This is why the habit of saving – via direct deposit or automatic bank transfer – is so vitally important, as it represents the pathway to accumulating a comfortable savings cushion over time.”

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Bootleg Fire in Oregon is generating dangerous fire clouds and pyrocumulonimbus thunderstorms

bootleg fire oregon pyrocumulonimbus clouds
In this photo taken with a drone provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, a pyrocumulus cloud, also known as a fire cloud, is seen over the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon on July 14, 2021.

Rising temperatures and a growing wildfire are creating dangerous fire clouds and firestorms that can generate their own lightning in the skies above southern Oregon.

The Bootleg Fire, the largest blaze currently burning in the US, has torched more than 241,000 acres (377 square-miles) since it started July 6 in Klamath County. It’s only 7% contained as of Friday.

As heat and smoke from large fires rise skyward, they can create storms comprised of what are known as pyrocumulonimbus clouds. These thunderheads produce their own weather, including tornadoes in rare cases, which can then spark new fires. It’s a vicious cycle.

bootleg fire oregon clouds
Smoke from the Bootleg Fire rises behind the town of Bonanza, Oregon, July 15, 2021.

The Oregonian blaze is also creating pyrocumulus, or flammagenitus, clouds – the second word is Latin for “created from flame.”

These fire clouds consist of up to 6-mile-high columns of smoke and ash that are visible from more than 100 miles away. The Bootleg Fire has generated multiple pyrocumulus clouds of this size for the last four days in a row, the Associated Press reported Friday.

Authorities said the clouds form between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. local time everyday, as heat from the baking ground below rises skyward.

‘Fire-breathing dragon of clouds’

Pyrocumulonimbus satellite image
Satellite image of a pyrocumulonimbus cloud above Argentina, January 28, 2019.

“Pyrocumulus clouds above active fires, especially large fires, are relatively common,” Nick Nauslar from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho told the Los Angeles Times.

But if you spot a bank of thicker, taller thunderheads looming over an intense wildfire, those are almost always pyrocumulonimbus clouds, Nauslar said.

NASA describes pyrocumulonimbus storms as the “fire-breathing dragon of clouds.” They can also generate hundreds of lightning strokes, which in turn can spark more blazes.

In general, thunderstorms form when lots of warm, moist air from the ground rise into the sky. As it enters the lowest part of the atmosphere, that air cools, and then sinks closer to Earth – where it warms up again, and subsequently rises. That cycle of rising and falling air is known as convection, and births cumulonimbus, or thunder, clouds.

But when that heat and moisture rise from a smoky wildfire rather than the ground, the convection creates pyrocumulonimbus clouds.

fire

These anvil-shaped clouds can generate rain like other thunderstorms. Often, though, they unleash powerful, blasts of air known as “downbursts,” rather than water droplets. In pushing dry air back down toward the ground, these downbursts can scatter a blaze’s embers and smoke across large distances. That fuels the flames that generated the storm in the first place.

In September 2020, the Creek Fire in California created one of the largest types of these clouds ever seen in the US – It measured 175,893 acres, or 275 square miles, in size (an area more than three times the size of Seattle).

pyrocumulonimbus.2
Another image of the pyrocumulonimbus cloud over the Creek Fire.

Rising temperatures and drier air are associated with more frequent and more intense wildfires. And as wildfires increase in size and severity, fire-generated storms, too, are becoming more common.

In 2002, Canada, the US, and Mexico saw about 17 such storms in total. About two decades later, the average number of annual pyrocumulonimbus events had jumped to 25 in western North America alone, Yale360 reported.

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Images from space show California’s forests and lakes drying out in a record mega-drought

california artificial lake green lawns trees oasis in dry desert
An artificial lake, Shadow Lake Estates, next to desert landscape in Indio, California on June 29, 2021.

The climate crisis is bearing down hard on the western US.

Historic drought and heat are converging on western states to create the perfect storm for depleted reservoirs, strained power grids, and rampant wildfires later this summer. The effects are so stark, you can see them from space.

Satellite images show that the hills outside Los Angeles are significantly more parched, brown, and dry than they were this time last year. Drag the slider back and forth on the below image to see the difference.

“I’m worried about this summer,” Kathleen Johnson, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California, Irvine, told The Guardian. “This current drought is potentially on track to become the worst that we’ve seen in at least 1,200 years. And the reason is linked directly to human-caused climate change.”

In the US Drought Monitor’s 20-year history of tracking drought, the West and Southwest are drier than they’ve ever been. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has now declared drought emergencies in 41 of the state’s 58 counties, encompassing 30% of California’s population.

Shasta Lake is the largest reservoir in California and, like many western lakes, it has receded significantly over the past few months. NASA satellite images below show a bathtub ring – white layers of calcium carbonate and other minerals exposed when the water level drops – along the lake’s shorelines.

The reservoir is at just 38% of its full capacity – 48% of the historical average, according to California’s Department of Water Resources.

California’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Oroville, has fallen to historically low levels, too. Normally, the lake’s water pumps through the Edward Hyatt Power Plant to generate electricity for 800,000 homes. But officials told CNN that they expect the low water levels will force the plant to close in late summer.

lake oroville full june 2019 and dry receding june 2021
Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, on June 4, 2019 (left) and June 9, 2021 (right).

“A lot of the slack in our system has already been used up,” Roger Pulwarty, a senior scientist in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told The Guardian.

A climate emergency is raising temperatures, straining power grids, and sparking fires

An ever-growing body of research shows that drought events are becoming more common and more severe as human activity fills the atmosphere with heat-trapping pollutants like carbon dioxide and methane.

Rising global temperatures are changing the western US profoundly: Warmer air causes more moisture to evaporate, drying out soil. That raises the risk of drought and leaves forests full of tinder-dry foliage, primed for wildfires.

wildfire smoke plumes over dry hills and a highway road
Smoke plumes rise from a wildfire in Arizona on June 7, 2021.

Heat waves only make the situation worse. They’re occuring three times more often and lasting about a day longer than they did in the 1960s, according to records of such waves across 50 US cities. They also start earlier and continue later into the year – the heat-wave season is 47 days longer than it was in the 1960s.

Two record-shattering heat waves struck western states in June. The first one washed over the Southwest and strained California’s power grid. Temperatures reached 116 degrees Fahrenheit in Las Vegas, Nevada; 115 degrees in Phoenix, Arizona; and topped 110 degrees for eight days straight in Tucson, Arizona.

heat map shows heat wave across US southwest
Air temperatures across the continental US during the afternoon of June 15, 2021.

The most recent heat wave rolled over the Pacific Northwest last weekend and sat there for several days.

Many of the cities that were hit hardest, including Seattle and Portland, have never experienced such temperatures – in some cases breaking their previous records by double digits. Temperatures in Lytton, a town in British Columbia, hit 116 degrees Fahrenheit – the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada. The town broke that record the following day, when temperatures climbed to 118 degrees.

It’s not yet clear how many people died from heat-related illness during the Pacific Northwest heat wave, but the Associated Press reported that the death toll is likely in the hundreds.

Fire department helps man in Oregon amidst heat wave
Emergency personnel help treat a man experiencing heat exposure at a cooling center during a heat wave in Salem, Oregon on June 26, 2021.

“Much of the western United States will continue the trend of hot and dry weather, much like the summer of 2020,” Brandon Buckingham, a meteorologist at AccuWeather, told Insider last month. “Each and every western heat wave throughout the summer will only heighten wildfire risks.”

Heat waves also prompt people to crank up air conditioners, causing energy demand to spike. This can strain the power grid and lead to rolling blackouts.

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Biden seizes on extreme weather to tout infrastructure: ‘We gotta make lemonades out of lemons here’

President Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden.

  • Extreme heat is hitting the west coast as experts see increased wildfire potential for the region.
  • Biden met with western governors to tout his infrastructure plan as a remedy to the climate crisis.
  • “We gotta make lemonades out of lemons here,” he told lawmakers about climate change.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Extreme heat is hitting the west coast just as wildfire season is approaching, and experts predict above-normal fire potential for much of the region, which could have devastating impacts.

The record heat wave has melted power cables in Portland and hospitals in the west are seeing an influx of patients due to heat, prompting President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to meet with western governors to discuss best methods for wildfire preparation and prevention.

Biden said his bipartisan infrastructure deal could be part of the solution.

“We gotta make lemonades out of lemons here,” Biden said during a Wednesday roundtable with Western governors. “We have a chance to do something that not only deals with the problem today, but allows us to be in a position to move forward – and create real good jobs, by the way, generate economic growth.”

Last week, Biden reached an agreement with a bipartisan group of senators on a near $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, including $579 billion in new spending largely focused on rebuilding physical infrastructure. But as Biden noted during the roundtable, the plan also includes $50 billion to build resilience to extreme weather events, like wildfires, along with increasing firefighter pay to $15 an hour to ensure they are “fairly paid for the grueling work they are willing to take on,” according to a White House fact sheet.

Although Biden is promoting the bipartisan deal as a climate remedy, Democratic lawmakers have criticized the plan for cutting many climate-related elements out of the president’s initial proposal. For example, as Insider previously reported, $213 billion for affordable, green housing was cut from the plan, along with $35 billion in climate research.

That’s why many Democrats are calling for the bipartisan deal to be passed alongside a reconciliation bill that would include the care-economy measures cut, like affordable housing and free community college, along with substantial climate-related measures.

“I’ve said all along: no climate, no deal,” Democratic Sen. Ed Markey wrote on Twitter last week. “The bipartisan framework doesn’t get us there. So I agree with our leadership that this must be resolved in reconciliation. Until then, I’m still no climate, no deal – let’s get this done.”

The White House’s domestic climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, said during a forum held by Punchbowl News on Wednesday that the reconciliation bill should include robust climate investments, saying that they “do have some bottom lines in this.”

A memo written by McCarthy and White House senior adviser Anita Dunn said that Biden remains committed to “using all the tools at his disposal” to fight the climate crisis.

They wrote: “As we work to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, we will also continue to advance the full suite of proposals in the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan through additional congressional action, including budget reconciliation, to ensure we build back our economy and country better.”

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Drought maps show the western US at its driest in 20 years – a ticking time bomb for even more fires and power failures

low water levels at lake oroville reveal bare shorelines
Low water levels at California’s Lake Oroville, June 16, 2021.

The western US was already withering in severe drought when a heat wave struck last week. Temperatures reached 116 degrees Fahrenheit in Las Vegas, 115 in Phoenix, and over 110 for eight days straight in Tucson.

Daily highs shattered hundreds of records across the West, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency, saying the heat wave put “significant demand and strain on California’s energy grid.”

The hottest months lie ahead, so this early extreme weather could foreshadow another devastating fire season. Last year’s fires burned a record 4 million acres in California, 1.07 million in Oregon, and at least 713,000 in Washington.

Current drought conditions across the West and Southwest are more widespread and severe than they’ve ever been in the 20 years the US Drought Monitor has been mapping them.

Map of droughts in US from June 2021
A recent drought map of the US shows “exceptional” drought levels in the West.

Compare that to June of last year, mapped below.

Drought map of the US from 2020
A drought map of the US from June 2020 shows moderate drought in the western region of the country.

“I’m worried about this summer,” Kathleen Johnson, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California, Irvine, told The Guardian. “This current drought is potentially on track to become the worst that we’ve seen in at least 1,200 years. And the reason is linked directly to human-caused climate change.”

Scientists can’t attribute an individual drought or heat wave directly to climate change. But rising global temperatures are changing the western US profoundly: Warmer air causes more moisture to evaporate, which leads soil to dry out. That raises the risk of drought and leaves forests full of tinder-dry foliage, primed for wildfires.

Heat waves occur three times more often and last about a day longer than they did in the 1960s, according to records of such waves across 50 US cities. They also start earlier and continue later into the year – the heat-wave season is 47 days longer than it was in the 1960s.

The drought turned the San Gabriel reservoir lake bed to dust
The drought turned the San Gabriel reservoir lake bed to dust

“Much of the western United States will continue the trend of hot and dry weather, much like the summer of 2020,” Brandon Buckingham, a meteorologist at AccuWeather, told Insider. “Each and every western heat wave throughout the summer will only heighten wildfire risks.”

Meteorologists expect yet another heat wave, mostly over Northern California, next week.

Summer may bring blackouts, water shortages, and wildfires

california wildfire lnu complex fire.JPG
A burning home seen along Cherry Glen Road during the LNU Lighting Complex Fire on the outskirts of Vacaville, California, on August 19, 2020.

Hundreds of thousands of Californians already face water-use restrictions in the Bay Area, since reservoirs are dwindling and there’s almost no snowpack to replenish them. Gov. Newsom has declared drought emergencies in 41 of the state’s 58 counties, encompassing 30% of California’s population.

Lake Mead – the largest reservoir in the US, which provides water to 25 million people across Arizona, Nevada, California, and Mexico – is at its lowest level since it was filled in the 1930s.

California’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Oroville, has fallen to “alarming levels,” a California Energy Commission spokesperson told CNN on Thursday. Normally, the lake’s water pumps through the Edward Hyatt Power Plant to generate electricity for 800,000 homes. But the reservoir is currently at just 35% capacity – less than half the historical average.

heat map of US heat wave shows record temperatures above 110 degrees across southwest
Temperatures across the West and Southwest reached record highs during the June heat wave.

When heat waves roll in, even more water evaporates. At the same time, people crank up air conditioners, causing energy demand to spike. This can strain the power grid and lead to rolling blackouts. It happened last year: When a heat wave hit in August, hundreds of thousands of residents lost power in increments of up to 2.5 hours. Those were California’s first rolling blackouts in 19 years.

That’s different from PG&E’s safety shutoffs, though, which are meant to prevent aging power lines from starting wildfires and can last for days. PG&E has warned that such shutoffs could be more frequent this year than in 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal.

lake mead's low waters expose pale cliffs behind the hoover dam
Low water levels expose the edges of the Hoover Dam reservoir of Lake Mead near Las Vegas, Nevada, June 9, 2021.

With no end to the drought in sight, officials expect they’ll be forced to close Edward Hyatt Power Plant plant in two or three months, CNN reported.

That’s the time of year when wildfires typically peak. But already this year, blazes have forced evacuations in California’s Monterey and Shasta counties. Smoke from fires in Arizona and Utah has billowed over Colorado.

wildfire smoke plumes over dry hills and a highway road
Smoke plumes rise from a wildfire in Arizona, June 7, 2021.

An active monsoon season in July and August may chip away at the drought in the Southwest, Buckingham said, but West Coast states will probably see no such relief.

“The fires we saw in the last couple of years were really awful, and this year it seems like we’re on that same trajectory,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told The Guardian. “It kind of feels like deja vu.”

Grace Kay contributed reporting.

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