August 20

Drought Deepens and Expands – Will Henri Strike New England for First Time in 30 Years?

US Drought Monitor

Bringing Back Dusty Memories of 1988 Drought

My 91 year old father (Volker) just flew in to meet his new great grandson (Jordan). He was immediately struck by the stress that trees, lawns and crops are experiencing from drought increasingly reminiscent of 1988. My father lives near Philadelphia, where they have been dodging floods and Kansas-size tornadoes. “With rainfall now it’s all or nothing” he observed.

That is not far off the mark.

The latest US Drought Monitor* shows severe to extreme drought in the metro, with a swath of exceptional drought over the Red River Valley. 47 percent of the continental US is in drought right now.


  • This week’s Extreme Drought coverage – 49.77% of Minnesota the state – is the most on record. Previous was 42.23% back in late September and early October 2006.
  • This week’s Severe Drought coverage – 88.29% of Minnesota – is also the most on record. Previous was 83.59% from January and early February 2013.


A woman and children explored a dried-up channel of the Mississippi River in Mississippi Gateway Regional Park in Brooklyn Park on Tuesday, amid the ongoing drought.
David Joles – Star Tribune

Minnesota’s Drought Reaches Levels Not Seen Since 1988, the Dust Bowl. Star Tribune reports: “Entire channels of the Mississippi River are caked dry. Rocks, riverbeds and islands of the St. Croix and Minnesota rivers are visible for the first time in decades. Dozens of streams are at their lowest recorded levels since at least 1988, or even the Dust Bowl. On Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) put much of the state in a “restricted phase” as the drought continues to get worse. That means water utilities and suppliers will need to cut down the total amount of water used to no more than 25% above what they used in January...”



Warming Up Again in September? Another heat-pump high pressure ridge building over the eastern two thirds of America may push 80s and a few 90s back into Minnesota by the second week of September. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the 90s in 2021.


Tropical Storm Henri on Thursday afternoon
NOAA and AerisWeather

Tropical Storm Henri Could Impact New England as a Hurricane Late Weekend or Early Next Week. The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang has perspective on this new atmospheric wildcard: “New England hasn’t seen a direct strike from a hurricane since Category 2 Bob visited in 1991, but there’s a growing chance that lucky streak ends this weekend. Odds are climbing that Tropical Storm Henri, which spun offshore of Bermuda earlier this week, may ride parallel to the East Coast, sweeping northward and directly affecting the Northeast. Computer models have become increasingly bullish on the potential of a close shave or direct hit to New England late Sunday into Monday. Mild waters off the coast could maintain Henri as a strong tropical storm or marginal hurricane, which could make it the first hurricane to make landfall in New England in more than three decades…”


Below the St. Cloud Dam, photo by WJON.com’s Jim Maurice .

The Not-So-Mighty Mississippi River in St. Cloud. WJON.com has the story: “The city of St. Cloud announced Monday that it was shutting down the second unit of the hydroelectric dam after water flows dropped to just 700 cubic feet per second. The city says this is the first time it has had to completely shut down the dam since the drought year of 1988. According to data from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the flow was down to just 587 cubic feet per second, as of 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday. The graph below shows the decline of the water level from June 1st to now. It was at about 4,500 cfs to start the summer…”

Minnesota DNR


Note: Elevation locations are approximate.
Photo: Bureau of Reclamation (1935)Source: Bureau of Reclamation.

Severe Drought Could Threaten Power Supply in West for Years to Come. The Wall Street Journal (paywall) connects the dots; here’s an excerpt: “…For dams to produce power, they rely on the immense pressure created by the body of water they are blocking. As water levels go down, less pressure is exerted and the dams in turn produce less hydroelectric energy, which means the dam can produce less power. Every foot of water lost equates to about six megawatts less power generated, according to Patti Aaron, public affairs officer at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates and maintains the power plant. Six megawatts roughly translates to the power consumed by 800 homes. If the water level drops 118 ft. from July’s level, to 950 ft., it would fall below the turbines and the dam must shut down, Ms. Aaron said...”


US Forest Service

Wildfires Used to be Helpful. How Did They Get So Hellish? WIRED.com explains the factors behind some of the super-blazes being tracked across the western US: “…With the trees now clustered so densely, fires can more easily spread among them and march across a landscape. Even worse, he says, with 200 times the number of trees per hectare now, “it’s not likely going to be a surface fire,” he continues, or one that mostly affects the underbrush. “It’s going to be a high-intensity crown fire, and it’ll kill everything.” In a crown fire, the flames spread between the treetops. Thanks to this combination of dense fuels and a lack of natural firebreaks, the landscape has lost that “herd immunity.” Now, wildfires can spread quickly because they have so many new areas they can “infect.” And both plants and animals are less prepared against this kind of massive fire. “The fire burns hotter, and the species living there probably aren’t adapted to that level of heat,” Gray says. “And if the fires are occurring over a large area, it becomes quite difficult for them to re-invade a site...”


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…”


Climate Stories…

A ConocoPhillips test well in 2005 in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Court Blocks a Vast Alaskan Drilling Project, Citing Climate Dangers. The New York Times (paywall) reports: “A federal judge in Alaska on Wednesday blocked construction permits for an expansive oil drilling project on the state’s North Slope that was designed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. The multibillion-dollar plan, known as Willow, by the oil giant ConocoPhillips had been approved by the Trump administration and legally backed by the Biden administration. Environmental groups sued, arguing that the federal government had failed to take into account the effects that drilling would have on wildlife and that the burning of the oil would have on global warming. A federal judge has agreed…”


As Disasters Mount, Central Banks Gird Against Threat of Climate Change. A post at Yale E360 caught my eye: “Climate change is rattling the world’s central bankers. With unprecedented heat and wildfires in the American West and southern Europe, and record floods racing through German towns and Chinese megacities in recent weeks, fears are growing among regulators of a coming cascade of climate-induced economic blows potentially more far-reaching and intractable than the financial crash just over a decade ago. In the past two months, the central banks of the world’s five largest economies — the United States, China, the European Union, Japan, and the United Kingdom — have all raised the stakes in their demands for the commercial banks they regulate to make public the looming risks they face as wild weather takes hold…”


File image: NOAA

FEMA Overhauls National Flood Insurance Program for Climate Change. CNBC.com has details: “Climate change and its devastating impact are accelerating faster than ever, according to a new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Hurricanes are becoming stronger, rainfall heavier and flood risk higher. Yet, America’s National Flood Insurance Program hasn’t changed at all since its inception. But it is about to. Under the current program, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides $1.3 trillion in coverage for more than 5 million policy holders in 23,500 communities nationwide. Homeowners in FEMA-designated flood zones are required to purchase flood insurance, but others do so voluntarily. Nearly one-third of NFIP policyholders are not mandated to carry it…”


Michigan agreed to limit logging at the 110,000-acre Pigeon River Country State Forest and sell carbon offsets to a local utility.

Carbon Offset Deal Helps Michigan Cash In on Its Trees – By Not Cutting Them Down. The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports: “The Pigeon River Country State Forest generates cash from timber sales, oil-and-gas leases, hunting licenses and camping fees. Now the foresters who look after its towering red pine, bleach-barked aspen and elk will manage the roughly 110,000 acres for a new moneymaker: carbon offsets. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources has agreed to limit logging in the Lower Peninsula forest known as the “Big Wild” over the next four decades to create carbon offsets, a climate-change currency that companies use to compensate for emissions. DTE Energy Co,Michigan’s largest energy company, has agreed to buy the offsets and is marketing smaller carbon footprints to customers of its natural-gas business who are willing to pay a monthly fee to go green…”


Climate-Fueled Fires Rage Across NorCal: Climate Nexus has headlines and links: “Northern California is under a siege of wildfires and smoke, fueled by drought and heat made worse by human-caused climate change, and the list of cities and towns under evacuation orders is long. The Caldor Fire continued its rapid expansion Wednesday, growing at double the pace of firefighters’ models from roughly 30,000 acres on Tuesday to 62,586 acres Wednesday night. The even larger “megafires,” Dixie, McFarland, and Monument, have also continued growing. The Dixie Fire has incinerated an additional 66,000 acres since Monday, becoming the first known fire in state history to burn all the way from the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas, across the mountains, and into the eastern valley floor. As the fires roar through tinder-dry fuel, they are wiping out forests central to California’s plans to reduce the state’s carbon emissions, and filling the air with hazardous pollution. The fact that 30 fire engines and their firefighters were moved from the Dixie Fire to fight the Caldor Fire illustrates just how thin firefighting resources are stretched, due in part to the widespread conflagrations burning across the continent. (“Canada is burning as well,” Cal Fire director Thom Porter told the Sacramento Bee.) Though still much smaller, the exceptionally fast-burning Cache Fire destroyed dozens of homes and threatened an elementary school, forcing children to hurriedly flee as flames burned just across the street. Reaction to the fire near Clearlake was initially limited, officials said, because some local crews were already deployed to assist in fighting the Caldor Fire. The extended drought and recent heat, both made worse by climate change, have created conditions ripe for the exceptionally destructive fires. “It’s important for all Californians to understand the severity of how our climate-driven conditions are altering the environment and are making these fires move faster and making them more complex and, ultimately, more dangerous than anything we’ve faced in the past,” Mark Ghilarducci, director of the emergency services office, told reporters.” (Fires: Washington Post $, AP, New York Times $, Axios, NBC; Caldor Fire growth: Washington Post $, SFGATE, Sacramento Bee $, San Francisco Chronicle $, ABC, CBS, Washington Post $; Dixie Fire: San Francisco Chronicle $; Carbon emissions: AP; Air quality: New York Times $, Sacramento Bee $; Limited resources: Sacramento Bee $; Cache Fire: San Francisco Chronicle $, ABC-7; Climate Signals background: 2021 Western wildfire season, Drought)


Photo: John Locher (AP)

The Water-Shortage Era Has Officially Begun. Back to my prediction that “water management” will be one of the most in-demand gigs in the years to come. Too much water, not nearly enough water – how do we balance out an increasingly erratic and extreme Mother Nature? Gizmodo has the post; here’s an excerpt: “…The West is in its worst drought in at least 1,200 years. The last one of this magnitude likely led to the collapse of Indigenous civilization in the region. While that drought was fueled by natural shifts in the climate, the current one is being driven at least in part by climate change. The rise in temperatures have turned some winter precipitation from snow into rain, sped up spring runoff, and baked the ground with searing heat waves. A study published last year even found that snow loss is leading to higher evaporation rates, essentially baking in drought and even sucking waters from reservoirs up into the sky. All that has contributed to less water to go around…”


The average global temperature change at different ocean depths, in zetajoules, from 1958 to 2020. The top chart shows the upper 2,000 meters (6,561 feet) compared with the 1981-2010 average. The bottom shows the increase at different depths. Reds are warmer than average, blues are cooler.
Cheng et al, 2021, CC BY-ND

Climate Change is Relentless: Seemingly Small Shifts Have Big Consequences. Dr. Kevin Trenberth from NCAR has a timely post at The Conversation; here’s an excerpt: “…Over oceans, the extra heat provides a tremendous resource of moisture for the atmosphere. That becomes latent heat in storms that supersizes hurricanes and rainstorms, leading to flooding, as people in many parts of the world have experienced in recent months. Air can contain about 4% more moisture for every 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.55 Celsius) increase in temperature, and air above the oceans is some 5% to 15% moister than it was prior to 1970. Hence, about a 10% increase in heavy rain results as storms gather the excess moisture. Again, this may not sound like much, but that increase enlivens the updrafts and the storms, and then the storm lasts longer, so suddenly there is a 30% increase in the rainfall, as has been documented in several cases of major flooding...”


LinkedIn

Climate-Driven Weather Extremes Will Worsen Without Deep Emissions Cuts, UN Warns. Here’s an excerpt from The Washington Examiner: “…But Hausfather said he is more optimistic that the less-stringent 2 degrees target can be met, which the U.N. report shows would require getting emissions to zero in the 2070s. While a half-degree may not sound like much, the report details that even that much warming could have a big impact on the natural world, leading to a loss of all coral reefs and risking the extinction of species that cannot adapt to warmer temperatures. Every additional half-degree of warming causes “clearly discernible” increases in the intensity and frequency of heat waves, heavy precipitation, and droughts, the report said. The report is noteworthy for using stronger language to declare that human activity is causing climate change and attributing extreme weather events to global warming…”


Fossil Fuel Companies Are Quietly Scoring Big Money for Their Preferred Climae Solution: Carbon Capture and Storage. Inside Climate News reports: “Over the last year, energy companies, electrical utilities and other industrial sectors have been quietly pushing through a suite of policies to support a technology that stands to yield tens of billions of dollars for corporate polluters, but may do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These policies have fast-tracked environmental reviews and allocated billions in federal funding for research and development of carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technologies that pull carbon dioxide out of smokestacks or directly from the air before storing it underground. Just a single bill—the bipartisan infrastructure legislation that passed the Senate last week and is now headed to the House of Representatives—includes more than $12 billion in direct support for carbon capture, and could unlock billions more through other programs, according to the recent drafts…”

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