August 17

Water Shortages Grow Across Southwestern USA – Top States for Wildfires – Natural Disasters Are…Political?

Precipitation Rank Since April 1 (1=driest on record)
Minnesota DNR

It’s Probably Best To Make No Assumptions

The best assumption is to make no assumptions. This summer is proving to be an inflection point, a teachable moment on how climate flavors the weather.With water restrictions on the Colorado River many can’t assume water will come out when we turn the spigot. With conga lines of wildfires marching across the west throwing off massive smoke plumes we can’t assume skies will be blue and air will always be healthy to breathe.


People take pictures of Lake Mead near Hoover Dam on Aug. 13. The “bathtub ring” of light minerals shows the high water mark of the reservoir, which has fallen to record lows.
John Locher/AP

First-Ever Water Shortage Declared on Colorado River, Triggering Water Cuts for Some States in the West. The Washington Post (paywall) has details: “Low water in the Colorado River’s largest reservoir triggered the first-ever federal declaration of a shortage on Monday, a bleak marker of the effects of climate change in the drought-stricken American West and the imperiled future of a critical water source for 40 million people in seven states. Water in Lake Mead, the mammoth reservoir created by the Hoover Dam that supplies the lower Colorado basin, is projected to be 1,065.85 feet above sea level on Jan. 1, nearly 10 feet below a threshold that requires Arizona, Nevada and Mexico to reduce their consumption in 2022. On Monday, it was just under 1,068 feet, or about 35 percent full, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the water that states and Mexico have rights to use...”



An Average Minnesota State Fair? I still don’t see a run of 90s for the fair, which is quite remarkable. Long range guidance hints at 80s with a slight northwesterly flow taking the edge off any heat in late August and the first week of September.


Feds Announce Unprecedented Colorado River Usage Cuts: Climate Nexus has headlines and links: “Federal officials, for the first time ever, declared a water shortage from the Colorado River on Monday — yet another bleak indicator of the magnitude of the drought across the West made worse by climate change. “It’s a historic moment where drought and climate change are at our door,” Chuck Cullom of the Central Arizona Project told the AP. The “Tier 1” cuts were triggered by projections that Lake Mead — the largest reservoir on the Colorado River, created by the Hoover Dam — will be nearly 10 feet below the Tier 1 cutoff point on January 1, 2022. It was just three feet above that level, about 35% of its total capacity, on Monday. “It’s as if a switch got flipped in 2000, and we now have a completely different river than we had in the 20th century,” Brad Udall, a senior water and research scientist at Colorado State University, told the Washington Post. Under the complex system established 99 years ago, Tier 1 cuts, which take effect next year, will hit Arizona hardest, losing about 8% of its total water use. Nevada and the country of Mexico will also see cuts, but California, because of its water rights seniority, will not see immediate cuts.” (Washington Post $, AP, explainer, Colorado Public Radio, Salt Lake Tribune, New York Times $, Politico, Wall Street Journal $, Axios, CNN, NBC, Bloomberg $, E&E News, ABC; Climate Signals background: Drought)


Bureau of Land Management Fire
Bureau of Land Management Fire

Grist / HarperCollins / Sara Montano

Disasters Aren’t Natural – They’re Political, a New Book Argues. Well this caught my eye; here’s an excerpt from Grist: “…And, as she tells you in her new book, Disasterology: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis, most people don’t really know what emergency management is — or, for that matter, what a disaster is. Here’s what Montano wants you to know: Most so-called disasters are, in fact, entirely predictable. Instead of focusing on prevention, lawmakers and the U.S. emergency response system focuses on reaction, and even then, our emergency management system is flawed because it doesn’t respond equally to all communities — especially lower-income neighborhoods of color. “Disasters, and catastrophes, are a choice,” she writes. “They are a political decision…”


Why Snow, Hail and Wildfire Are Expensive for the Insurance Industry. A post at Bloomberg Green caught my eye: “If you’re having trouble wrapping your mind around the spree of natural catastrophes currently plaguing the world—from deadly July floods in Germany and China to the wildfires still burning in Greece, California and Siberia —you may be interested to know the professional risk calculators are too. Climate change is exacerbating extreme and freak weather events so rapidly that even the insurance industry is struggling to keep up. Late last week, reinsurance giant Swiss Re AG released its mid-year insurance losses and the figures were the second-highest on record. Insurers had to cover $40 billion in losses caused by natural catastrophes. The previous ten-year average for the first half of the year is $33 billion…”


NASA ISS

Researchers Use Artificial Intelligence to Unlock Extreme Weather Mysteries. An 8% increase in water vapor (due to roughly 2F of warming) means more fuel available for storms that, increasingly, are prone to stalling for extended periods of time. ScienceDaily explains: “…The trained machine learning algorithm revealed that multiple factors are responsible for the recent increase in Midwest extreme precipitation. During the 21st century, the atmospheric pressure patterns that lead to extreme Midwest precipitation have become more frequent, increasing at a rate of about one additional day per year, although the researchers note that the changes are much weaker going back further in time to the 1980s. However, the researchers found that when these atmospheric pressure patterns do occur, the amount of precipitation that results has clearly increased. As a result, days with these conditions are more likely to have extreme precipitation now than they did in the past. Davenport and Diffenbaugh also found that increases in the precipitation intensity on these days were associated with higher atmospheric moisture flows from the Gulf of Mexico into the Midwest, bringing the water necessary for heavy rainfall in the region…”


Air Quality Index, Smoke Plumes across western USA
https://fire.airnow.gov/#

Exposure to Wildfire Smoke may Increase Risk of Dying from Covid-19. Gizmodo has details: “Amid a record-breaking fire season in the U.S. West, new research shows that air pollution from last year’s wildfires California, Washington, and Oregon was associated with an increased risk of contracting and dying from covid-19. For the new study, published in Science Advances on Friday, researchers examined publicly available data on the covid-19 cases and deaths from 92 counties across the three states—covering the areas where most of the year’s wildfires occurred—over the course of 277 days in 2020. They then compared the numbers with regional public data on levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air from the same time span...”


NOAA

It’s Official: July was Earth’s Hottest Month on Record. NOAA has details: “July 2021 has earned the unenviable distinction as the world’s hottest month ever recorded, according to new global data released today by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “In this case, first place is the worst place to be,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “July is typically the world’s warmest month of the year, but July 2021 outdid itself as the hottest July and month ever recorded. This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.”

  • Around the globe: the combined land and ocean-surface temperature was 1.67 degrees F (0.93 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average of 60.4 degrees F (15.8 degrees C), making it the hottest July since records began 142 years ago. It was 0.02 of a degree F (0.01 of a degree C) higher than the previous record set in July 2016, which was then tied in 2019 and 2020...”

NOAA

July Was Earth’s Hottest Month On Record: Climate Nexus has headlines and links: “July 2021 was officially Earth’s hottest month in nearly 150 years of record-keeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed on Friday. Combined land and ocean average temperatures were 1.67°F above the 20th century average, beating out by 0.02°F a previous record set in July 2016 and tied in 2019 and 2020. The past seven Julys, from 2015 to 2021, have been hotter than any previous July (often the hottest month of the year) going back through 1860. In particular, the Northern Hemisphere suffered from extreme heat, including at least five heat domes, leading to a land-surface temperature of 2.77°F (1.54°C) above the average – the largest anomaly on record, NOAA found. “In this case, first place is the worst place to be,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement. “July 2021 outdid itself as the hottest July and month ever recorded. This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.” (NOAA, Washington Post $, AP, NPR, Gizmodo, Axios, Yale Climate Connections).



Climate Stories…

A massive plume of smoke generated by the record-breaking wildfires in Siberia can be seen stretching across the Arctic Ocean towards the North Pole in an image captured by the European Sentinel 3 satellite on August 4, 2021.
Copernicus

Devastating Wildfires of 2021 are Breaking Records and Satellites are Tracking It All. Here’s a clip from an explainer at Space.com: “…The Russian fires in Siberia may be occupying fewer news pages and less air-time, but they actually worry scientists the most. Since late spring, satellites have been supplying images of vast areas of taiga near the polar circle being devoured by flames. Russian authorities, in many places, have given up the fight. “In the Sakha Republic and the whole Far Eastern Federal District of Russia, we are already seeing the total estimated fire emissions from the region exceeding last year’s levels,” Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), told Space.com. “Our data set goes back to 2003. And this year, in terms of the total estimated emissions, it’s already much higher than the previous record annual total, which was 2020...”


AdamKR / CC BY-SA 2.0

Student Athletes Especially At Risk This Year From Heat-Related Illnesses. Yale Climate Connections explains why: “After a year at home during the pandemic, many student-athletes are excited to return to fall sports. But as they begin preseason training, they need to pay attention to the heat. “We know that climate change is increasing temperatures and causing more extremely hot days. And we know that young athletes are vulnerable to heat-related illness,” says Rebecca Philipsborn, a pediatrician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Emory University School of Medicine. She says the risks are higher this year because so many young people were sedentary during the pandemic. And when athletes are out of condition, they’re more likely to suffer heat-related illness…”


Is the Western U.S. Experiencing a “Megadrought”? And if so, how much of the current drought, wildfire spike and water shortage is amplified by a hotter, drier climate? Yale Climate Connections has a post and video: “The Western U.S. is shattering drought records this summer. For the first time since the drought monitor was created, over 95% of the region is in drought. Near Las Vegas, Lake Mead – the largest reservoir in the U.S. – is at its lowest level since it was built. “This is a bigger event than the 1950s drought in the Southwest or the Dust Bowl drought in the Central Plains,” says Benjamin Cook, a climate researcher at NASA, in this new video by independent videographer Peter Sinclair. “We have to go back at least 500 years before we find any event that’s even similar in magnitude.” Scientists have found from clues in tree rings have that intense, prolonged droughts called “megadroughts” occurred regularly during the Middle Ages. Now the West may be in another megadrought period, this one made even worse by climate change…”


NASA

Thin Air. How much should we be investing in carbon capture, using machines to remove excess CO2 and methane from the atmosphere? Check out an interesting post from The Frontline at atmos.earth: “…Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re diving into direct air capture, a particular form of carbon removal. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate editor of Atmos. We often think of nature as our only available carbon sink, but research suggests forests will struggle to store carbon efficiently under extreme heat conditions. While some scientists believe the ocean and trees can draw down enough carbon dioxide if emissions end immediately and governments invest in research and development around natural solutions, others aren’t counting on it. Instead, many scientists are looking to machine-based carbon sequestration. And this is where the tensions arise: Is there such a future where the direct air capture industry can operate just and equitably without perpetuating the harms of its predecessors…”


NOAA

Heat Waves, Wildfires and Drought: How This Summer is a Preview of Earth’s Coming Climate Crisis. Note to self – it’s not “coming”; it’s here. NBC News has an overview; here’s a clip that caught my attention: “…Extreme weather events, including heat waves, are driven by a complex mix of atmospheric processes and can vary from year to year, but climate change helps amplify the threats, said Philip Mote, a climate scientist at Oregon State University. Global warming can also create feedback loops that then make other extreme events more likely to occur. Droughts, for instance, can intensify heat waves because the sun can more easily heat the ground when there is less moisture in the soil to evaporate. “Right now, we have drought conditions over half the country, so that’s also playing into why we’re seeing so much heat this summer,” Bumbaco said…”


Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma brought a snowball to the Senate floor in 2015 to support his erroneous claim that the planet is not getting hotter.
CSPAN.org

Amid Extreme Weather, a Shift Among Republicans on Climate Change. The New York Times explains; here’s an excerpt: “After a decade of disputing the existence of climate change, many leading Republicans are shifting their posture amid deadly heat waves, devastating drought and ferocious wildfires that have bludgeoned their districts and unnerved their constituents back home. Members of Congress who long insisted that the climate is changing due to natural cycles have notably adjusted that view, with many now acknowledging the solid science that emissions from burning oil, gas and coal have raised Earth’s temperature. But their growing acceptance of the reality of climate change has not translated into support for the one strategy that scientists said in a major United Nations report this week is imperative to avert an even more harrowing future: stop burning fossil fuels…”


NASA File

5 Takeaways from the Major New U.N. Climate Report. The New York Times (paywall) has perspective; here’s a clip: “…This report is the sixth assessment of climate science by the U.N. group, and unlike previous reports, this one dispenses with any doubt about who or what is responsible for global warming. “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” the report says in its very first finding. Observed increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1750 can be directly tied to human activity, largely the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels as the world became industrialized. Those emissions have increased greatly over time and continue today, as the world grows even warmer. And the impacts are being felt in every region of the world...”


Five Key Excerpts from the United Nations’ Climate Change Report. Here’s an excerpt of a good explainer at The Washington Post (paywall): “…Another major advance from earlier assessments is scientists’ ability to link climate change to weather and climatic systems. “The IPCC has connected the dots on climate change and the increase in dangerous extreme weather events … far more directly than in past reports” said Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University. It has also shown that these impacts are going to be felt in nearly every corner of the globe, and will get worse as temperatures increase across higher and higher thresholds. At 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, for instance, parts of North America will already see an uptick in the number of days during which temperatures climb above 95 degrees Fahrenheit…”

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