August 20

Drought Intensifies – Water Shortages – “Grace” Threatens Cancun and “Henri” May Brush New England

ECMWF Predicted Rainfall by Saturday Evening
weatherbell.com

A Little Rain and Trickles of Canadian Air

I’d rather track rainbows and unicorns on my Doppler, but there is something to be said for acknowledging reality. Whether it’s a virus or a rapidly changing climate, ignoring data and trends is often a precursor to pain. I’m a charter member of the common-sense, keep-your- eyes-wide-open party. Because you can’t fix what you can’t measure – or acknowledge.

Since April 1 parts of Minnesota are the driest on record, according to the Minnesota State Climatology Office. It took us 5 months to get to this point. It’s naive to believe one storm, or even a handful of storms, will make up for one of the worst rainfall deficits I’ve seen since 1988.


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



Don’t Write More 90s Off Just Yet. Long range GFS guidance shows the ridge building again as we push into September, suggesting a few more 90s next month. Don’t pack away the short shorts just yet.


Tropical Storm Henri
AerisWeather



Hurricane Grace
AerisWeather


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...”


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...”


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…”


Climate Stories…

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 Climate 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…”


Economic Impacts of Tipping Points in the Climate System. A little wonky, but a worthy read – we don’t know what we don’t know, and long-tail climate tipping points keep many scientists up at night. Here’s an abstract and link to new research at PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “…We provide unified estimates of the economic impacts of all eight climate tipping points covered in the economic literature so far using a meta-analytic integrated assessment model (IAM) with a modular structure. The model includes national-level climate damages from rising temperatures and sea levels for 180 countries, calibrated on detailed econometric evidence and simulation modeling. Collectively, climate tipping points increase the social cost of carbon (SCC) by ∼25% in our main specification. The distribution is positively skewed, however. We estimate an ∼10% chance of climate tipping points more than doubling the SCC. Accordingly, climate tipping points increase global economic risk. A spatial analysis shows that they increase economic losses almost everywhere. The tipping points with the largest effects are dissociation of ocean methane hydrates and thawing permafrost. Most of our numbers are probable underestimates…”


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…”

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