September 30

Dangerous Air: Wildfire Smoke and Dangerous PM2.5 Increasing Plains to West Coast Since 2016

A magnificent meteorological mirage…
Paul Douglas

Exposure To Wildfire Smoke Is A Health Risk

What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, and the recent swirl of western wildfire smoke didn’t stay in California. New research shows an average of 8-10 weeks of smoke every year in Minnesota between 2016 and 2020.

This past summer was Exhibit A, both eye-opening and eye- watering. A few nearby towns experienced air quality worse than Beijing or New Delhi. Which has me thinking about masks and air filtration systems at home and in our vehicles. PM2.5 pollution is especially dangerous, responsible for over 4 million premature deaths every year worldwide, and an estimated 50,000 early fatalities in the US, Many are people with asthma, COPD and preexisting conditions.

File image from September 9, 2020
NASA Earth Observatory

Air Pollution: The Silent Killer Called PM2.5. Here is an excerpt of a press release from McGill University in Montreal: “Millions of people die prematurely every year from diseases and cancer caused by air pollution. The first line of defense against this carnage is ambient air quality standards. Yet, according to researchers from McGill University, over half of the world’s population lives without the protection of adequate air quality standards. Air pollution varies greatly in different parts of the world. But what about the primary weapons against it? To find answers, researchers from McGill University set out to investigate global air quality standards in a study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization. The researchers focused on air pollution called PM2.5 – responsible for an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths every year globally. This includes over a million deaths in China, over half a million in India, almost 200,000 in Europe, and over 50,000 in the United States…”

Trending Cooler by Mid-October. Now there’s a shock: temperatures will most assuredly cool over time as the main core of the jet stream begins to sag southward with longer nights brewing up colder air to our north. Temperatures trend above average into the second week of October, but a “correction” is probably inevitable the latter half of next month.

Hurricane Sam

We Are Almost Out of Hurricane Names – Again. Here is What Happens Next. Details via “It’s that time in hurricane season when meteorologists like myself like to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But the reality is that it’s not close enough yet — in fact, this year it’s not close at all. “We still have two months to go in what has been a very active season,” says National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen. “While we don’t expect to have as many named storms as we had in 2020, we’re at 19 right now with the possibility of one or two more by the end of the week.” If that’s the case, we finish up all the names in the current list and move to the subsequent list before the month begins…”

File image
NASA illustration

Artificial Intelligence Brings Better Hurricane Predictions. EurekAlert! has the story; here’s an excerpt: “Thankfully, forecasting models help us predict when, where, and how strongly hurricanes may strike. But such rapid intensification—Ida’s the most recent example—can elude the predictions of even the best models. Accurately predicting the brief windows in which these violent storms surge and strengthen is a lingering blind spot within the hurricane forecasting community. Now, thanks to a new model developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, better predicting hurricane intensity in both the near future and under future climate scenarios is within reach. Using artificial intelligence techniques, the team created a model that can, on average, more accurately predict hurricane intensity relative to models used at the national level. And it can run on a commercial laptop...”

Ida: “1 in 1000 Year Flood”

NYC to Hire Private Weather Forecaster, Beef Up Warnings After Ida Flooding. Associated Press has details: “New York City is planning to hire a private weather forecaster, install more drainage features and issue earlier and more aggressive warnings to residents under a new plan to respond to heavy rainfall like the deadly deluge Hurricane Ida dropped on the city earlier this month. At least 50 people from Virginia to Connecticut, including 13 in New York City, died this month when the remnants of Hurricane Ida inundated the Northeast. Rainwater trapped hundreds of cars on submerged waterways, deluged subway stations, and stalled trains and flooded basement apartments, turning them into deadly traps…”

A visualization of the polar jet stream.
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Storm-Steering Jet Stream Could Shift Poleward in 40 Years. You can make a credible case that this long-anticipated northward shift has already begun. Here’s an excerpt from Scientific American: “The North Atlantic jet stream, a fast-moving air current circling the Northern Hemisphere, may migrate northward in the coming decades if strong global warming continues. The consequences could be dramatic: shifts in rainfall patterns across the mid-latitudes and an increase in droughts, heat waves, floods and other extreme weather events in Europe and the eastern U.S. A new study finds that the jet stream could shift outside the bounds of its historic range within just a few decades — by the year 2060 or so — under a strong warming scenario. The findings were published last week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As California Burns, America Breathes Toxic Smoke. I was amazed that the air quality over the Plains and Upper Midwest has been so bad in recent years. Here’s a clip from KCRW Features: “Western wildfires pose a much broader threat to human health than to just those forced to evacuate the path of the blazes. Smoke from these fires, which have burned millions of acres in California alone, is choking vast swaths of the country, an analysis of federal satellite imagery by NPR’s California Newsroom and Stanford University’s Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab found. The months-long analysis, based on more than 10 years of data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and analyzed down to the ZIP code level, reveals a startling increase in the number of days residents are breathing smoke across California and the Pacific Northwest, to Denver and Salt Lake City in the Rocky Mountains and rural Kentucky and West Virginia in Appalachia..”.

Summer of 2021 on Pelican Lake
Paul Douglas

Wildfire Smoke Rising Nationwide, Causing Major Health Problems: Climate Nexus has more perspective, headlines and links: “Across the country, people are breathing in more harmful smoke than before due to climate change-driven wildfires, threatening their health, an InsideClimateNews investigation based on an analysis of federal satellite imagery found. Looking at more than ten years of data analyzed down to the zip code level by NPR’s California Newsroom and Stanford University’s Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab, the analysis found that the number of days people are exposed to wildfire smoke has increased significantly, particularly since 2016. In parts of California, people are exposed to wildfire smoke for an average of three months a year, and the state has seen a major increase in health problems related to that smoke. Looking at 2018, a particularly bad year for fires, records show there were an additional 30,000 hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiac conditions and a major spike in prescriptions for the asthma medication albuterol. But the impacts are not limited to California; the analysis found a significant increase in Denver, Salt Lake City, rural Kentucky, West Virginia, Philadelphia and Washington. Climate change is driving this trend by increasing the size, frequency, and intensity of fires. This smoke is threatening gains made to reduce air pollution in the western region, particularly in regard to the dangerous pollutant PM2.5, which is small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs. From 2000 – 2010, PM2.5 level in California, Nevada, and the Pacific Northwest had dropped significantly, but by 2020, those levels were the same or worse than they were in 2000. As with most environmental impacts, the effects are not felt equally. Older adults and especially those from low-income communities of color are disproportionately impacted due to other underlying health issues and housing that does little to protect residents from the smoke. “Literally no amount of exposure is safe,” said Stanford University professor Marshall Burke. “The lesson is that any amount is bad. And the more you get the worse it is.” (Story: InsideClimateNews; Data: InsideClimateNews; Midwest: KCUR; Climate Signals background: Wildfires)

Climate Stories….

Greta Thunberg Roasts World Leaders on Climate in “Blah, Blah, Blah” Speech. has the post: “Swedish activist Greta Thunberg mocked world leaders — including US President Joe Biden and the UK’s Boris Johnson — at a youth climate summit in Milan on Tuesday, saying the last 30 years of climate action had amounted to “blah, blah, blah.” Thunberg imitated the leaders by repeating their commonly used expressions on the climate crisis, shooting them down as empty words and unfulfilled promises. “When I say climate change, what do you think of? I think jobs. Green jobs. Green jobs,” she said, referencing Biden’s speeches on the climate crisis...”


Insurance Companies Worried About Climate Change: Climate Nexus has headlines and links: “Climate change has surpassed insurance companies’ concerns over diseases and pandemics, according to a new report released yesterday by French insurance company AXA. The report, which surveyed 3,500 insurance professionals, showed that global warming ranked number one among insurers’ biggest concerns. “Climate change is back at the top of the agenda,” AXA Chief Executive Officer Thomas Buberl said in a statement. “This is good news since last year we feared that the explosion of health risks may overshadow the climate emergency.” Climate risks have been on insurance companies’ radars for some time: climate worry also was at the top of the survey in 2018 and 2019, but the recent IPCC report illustrated how widespread and destructive climate-related disasters already are and will continue to be if the world does not rapidly reduce fossil fuel combustion while scaling up global resilience and adaptation efforts. The survey also found that more than four-fifths of the professionals surveyed lack faith in governments to combat the crisis.” (Bloomberg $)


The US Infrastructure Bill Doesn’t Go Far Enough to Climate-Proof the Electric Grid. Quartz examines the grid’s vulnerability to extreme weather events: “The future of the US electric grid will be on the line on Sept. 30, when the House of Representatives votes on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that is at the heart of president Joe Biden’s agenda. The bill includes about $27 billion for the grid, including loans to utility companies to invest in climate change protections, cybersecurity and software upgrades, and funding for transmission projects. But the bill’s most important provision for the grid isn’t about money. It’s a tweak to an obscure law that should make it easier for developers to build long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines, a necessary ingredient for a grid with lots of renewable energy that has been stymied by jealous utilities. But it doesn’t go far enough, some experts say, to truly clear the path to one of Biden’s goals: a carbon-free grid by 2035...”

Climate Central

Climate Change and Wine. No, not the wine, please. Climate Central explains the trends: “Fine wine production is likely to shift due to climate change. Among agricultural products, wine grapes are one of the most sensitive crops to variations in temperature and precipitation. In the United States, the average growing season temperature (April-October) has risen 2.0°F since 1970. Premium wine grapes can only be grown in places that support a delicate balance of heat and precipitation. Globally, wine grapes are grown in areas where the average growing season temperature (spring through fall) occurs within a narrow range of 18°F. For some grapes, such as pinot noir, the average temperature range is a much narrower 3.6°F. Other climate change threats to wine production include exposure to wildfire smoke, extreme heat waves, heavy precipitation, unexpected spring frosts, and drought. And with shorter and milder winters, insects and other grapevine pests are having longer life spans...”

Climate Central

NASA Earth Observatory

Dying Crops, Spiking Energy Bills, Showers Once a Week. In South America, the Climate Future has Arrived. The Washington Post (paywall) has the story; here’s an excerpt: “…From the frigid peaks of Patagonia to the tropical wetlands of Brazil, worsening droughts this year are slamming farmers, shutting down ski slopes, upending transit and spiking prices for everything from coffee to electricity. So low are levels of the Paraná running through Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina that some ranchers are herding cattle across dried-up riverbeds typically lined with cargo-toting barges. Raging wildfires in Paraguay have brought acrid smoke to the limits of the capital. Earlier this year, the rushing cascades of Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian-Argentine frontier reduced to a relative drip. The droughts this year are extensions of multiyear water shortages, with causes that vary from country to country. Yet for much of the region, the droughts are moving up the calendar on climate change — offering a taste of the challenges ahead in securing an increasingly precious commodity: water…”

Mitigating the Effects of Extreme Rainfall Events in a Changing Climate. has a summary of new research; here’s a clip: “…Record breaking rainfall extremes in general and short duration rainfall events in particular are increasing in frequency in a warming climate as the rate of evaporation and the atmosphere’s capacity to hold water both increase. Physically, these relationships are well understood and an increase in regional rainfall extremes can be found in observations globally and at a local scale leading to an increase in flood damages within the historic datasets and under future high emission projections. To express the Germany flooding event from a climate change perspective, the rapid attribution study from the World Weather Attribution Project found that the event was made 1.9 to nine times more likely by climate change. In addition to thermodynamic factors that increase the likelihood of record-breaking rainfall extremes, atmospheric dynamics often contribute in making an extreme weather event more severe…”

Accounting for all the energy that enters and leaves the Earth system helps scientists understand why the planet is warming. This accounting of energy is known as Earth’s energy budget.

In Hot Water: Ocean Heat and Our Warming World. We often fixate on air temperatures when heat content in the world’s oceans may be responsible for many of the changes we’re witnessing in day to day weather. NOAA NCEI explains: “The global ocean is heating up, with far-reaching consequences. As the planet has warmed, the ocean has provided a critical buffer, slowing the effects of climate change by absorbing more than 90 percent of the excess heat in the Earth’s system. Because the ocean plays such a critical role in our climate system, it is an important research topic for climate scientists. Subsurface ocean temperatures are a consistent way to track the effects of greenhouse gas emissions because they are only faintly influenced by short-term weather patterns...”

Aletsch Glacier and others in the Swiss Alps are feeling the heat.
Tobias Alt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

12 Disappearing Glaciers Around the World. Mental Floss runs down the list: “Earth’s glaciers—mountainous masses of moving ice—cover an estimated 10 percent of the planet and store nearly 70 percent of the world’s fresh water. But these frozen giants, which exist on every continent except Australia, are facing extinction. Thanks in part to global warming, roughly 28 trillion tons of ice has vanished since the mid-1990s, and 1.2 trillion tons now disappear each year. Here are a few “rivers of ice” from around the world retreating at a rapid rate...”

Apollo 11 “Earthrise” file

Climate Change Making Earth’s Crust Shift in Weird, New Ways. People ask me if climate change may be sparking more quakes, and I hadn’t seen any possible connection with tremors until reading a Gizmodo post: “Both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets—the world’s two largest bodies of ice—are melting at an alarming rate, causing major problems for local ecosystems and coastal communities alike. Now, in yet more evidence that the climate crisis is changing everything in bizarre and profound ways, new research suggests that the meltdown is warping the Earth’s crust. The new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters last month, analyzes satellite data of ice melt from 2003 to 2018. The authors paired this data with a model showing how changes in ice mass affect the crust. The model showed that much of the northern hemisphere moved horizontally because of melting ice in Greenland and the Arctic...”

Bill Ingalls – NASA

Landsat Launches Powerful Landsat 9 Satellite to Monitor Climate Change, Forest Cover and More. reports on a new tool to monitor the rapid changes we see all around us: “NASA’s newest Earth-observing satellite has made it to space. The spacecraft, called Landsat 9, will help extend the 50-year continuous record of global imagery collected by the Landsat family of satellites since 1972. Perched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, Landsat 9 blasted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California right on time at 2:12 p.m. EDT (11:12 local time and 1812 GMT) today (Sept. 27), marking the installation’s 2,000th launch since 1958. The spacecraft separated from its rocket ride as planned, about 80 minutes after liftoff...”

Entrance to the campus of the University of Minnesota.
Star Tribune

Under Student Pressure, University of Minnesota to Phase Out Fossil Fuel Investments. The Star Tribune reports: “The University of Minnesota plans to withdraw all of its investments in fossil fuel-related companies over the next five to seven years amid pressure from students who want the school to do more to fight climate change. The U shared details about its intention to move away from fossil fuel investments this week after student government leaders at the Twin Cities campus renewed demands for the state’s flagship university to divest from coal, oil and natural gas. “Students and community members have been pushing for this for so many years at this point,” said senior Maddie Miller, environmental accountability committee director for the Minnesota Student Association, the U’s undergraduate student government. “This is just one really small step in the grand scheme of things...”

Inside Climate News

Today’s Kids Will Live Through Three Times as Many Climate Disasters as Their Grandparents, Study Says. The Washington Post (paywall) has details: “Adriana Bottino-Poage is 6 years old, with cherub cheeks and curls that bounce when she laughs. She likes soccer, art and visiting the library. She dreams of being a scientist and inventing a robot that can pull pollution out of the air. She wants to become the kind of grown-up who can help the world. Yet human actions have made the world a far more dangerous place for Adriana to grow up, according to a first-of-its-kind study of the impacts of climate change across generations. If the planet continues to warm on its current trajectory, the average 6-year-old will live through roughly three times as many climate disasters as their grandparents, the study finds. They will see twice as many wildfires, 1.7 times as many tropical cyclones, 3.4 times more river floods, 2.5 times more crop failures and 2.3 times as many droughts as someone born in 1960...”

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