By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
Although heat waves rarely get the attention that hurricanes do, they kill far more people per year in the U.S. — about three times as many, according to NOAA. In 1995 a scorching heat wave in Chicago left 739 people dead.
Heat waves are even more impactful overseas, partly because people there are less likely to have air conditioning. The European heat wave of 2003 is estimated to have caused an astounding 70,000 deaths. In 2010, 56,000 people died in a heat wave in Russia.
Perhaps if heat waves received as much public attention as hurricanes, lives could be saved? That's the idea behind a new initiative launched Wednesday that aims to tackle the notoriety issue by naming and ranking heat waves. The hope is that by raising awareness of the dangers, people will be more adequately prepared when heat waves strike.
The initiative is being led by the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. They, along with 30 global partners — including the cities of Miami, Mexico City, and Athens, Greece — announced the formation of the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance.
"This extreme heat crisis can no longer be the 'silent killer' it is," said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. "This growing risk — and related solutions — must be blasted from a megaphone to decision makers and to people everywhere."
A study released by Oxford University in July backs up the need to raise awareness about heat waves. The research shows that despite the fact that extreme heat events in sub-Saharan Africa are rapidly worsening because of climate change, there's been a lack of official record-keeping to document the impact in a region that is a "literal hotspot" for heat wave activity.
The analysis concludes that this failure is "putting the population at further risk," since "action plans and early warning systems are invaluable in mitigating the impacts of extreme temperatures."
While the United States has an elaborate system of warnings, from the National Weather Service to national and local media, including TV meteorologists, much of the developing world does not have that luxury. Research suggests that naming may help.
"The naming and ranking heat waves all over the world by the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance will, for the first time, convey the true nature of the threat heat poses, essential to protecting vulnerable people who are increasingly more susceptible to its harmful effects," said Rockefeller Foundation president Dr. Rajiv Shah in a press release.
The practice of naming major storms began years ago in order to help with quick identification, because names are presumed to be far easier to remember than numbers or technical terms. The World Meteorological Organization explains, "Appending names to storms makes it easier for the media to report on tropical cyclones, heightens interest in warnings and increases community preparedness."
One memorable recent heat wave — with an extremely memorable nickname — roasted Europe in 2017. That heat wave became widely known as Lucifer, and scientists say such extreme events have been made 10 times more likely due to climate change.
Dr. Ed Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, agrees that naming heat waves would help with preparedness.
"A heat wave is an abstraction. Abstract ideas are hard to understand and remember, while concrete ideas are easier to understand and remember. Naming something is a good way to make it more concrete," he said.
"Concrete ideas are also more actionable in that people can more easily figure what to do, or what not to do. Concrete ideas are also more likely to be shared from person to person, which is helpful from a communication and public safety perspective," adds Maibach.
This push to name and rank heat waves comes at a time when climate change is dramatically increasing the chances for extreme heat. A study published in July in Nature Communications shows that since 1950, heat waves globally are getting significantly more frequent, lasting longer and producing more cumulative heat — making populations more vulnerable to heat stress.
In 2016, famed climate scientist James Hansen from Columbia University published research showing that hotter summers could make parts of the Middle East and tropics "practically uninhabitable" by the end of the century. This May, a follow up study from Columbia concluded that potentially fatal combinations of humidity and heat are already beginning to emerge across the globe.
As the intensity of extreme heat accelerates, the number of deaths will rise dramatically. That's the conclusion of a major report just released by Climate Impact Lab on Monday. Their research shows that by the year 2100, the global annual mortality rate due to excess heat is expected to climb to 73 per 100,000 people — a mortality rate similar to what New York state suffered from COVID-19. With an expected global population of around 11 billion, that translates into 8 million heat-related deaths per year.
The report also concludes the poor will be disproportionately impacted by extreme heat and die at much higher rates, bolstering the argument for naming heat waves especially in developing nations.
But here in the U.S., many meteorologists are skeptical about naming heat waves. That's because defining heat waves is not easy — it entails factoring in many variables like intensity, longevity and the size of the area covered. Therefore, people may interpret the meaning differently. And as importantly, "heat wave" means different things to different people, depending on where they live.
In many parts of the U.S. the definition of a heat wave is three days or more in a row of 90+-degree heat. However, 100 degrees in Phoenix — which is an everyday summer occurrence — does not have nearly as big a physical impact as 100 degrees in Chicago, where people are not used to extreme heat. In addition, humidity, wind and sun exposure all play a big role in the impact, but those are not factored into the current definition of a heat wave.
The Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance plans to tackle this issue of differing definitions by ranking the severity of heat waves. But the concern among some meteorologists is that naming may lead to broad-brush assumptions when in reality there is so much local nuance. They feel there needs an updated, agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a heat wave.
Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob— Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)1596623660.0
In its press release, the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance said it is in active conversations with NOAA, the World Meteorological Organization and other institutions to build "the international cooperation needed to make naming and ranking of heat waves standard practice."
Though the debate continues, not all weather professionals are skeptical about the initiative. Lonnie Quinn, the chief weathercaster at WCBS-TV in New York City, thinks it's a good idea. "I 100% believe that naming heat waves will give them more credibility. The public will jump on board and it will result in them being taken more seriously," he said.
One thing virtually everyone in the climate and weather community agrees on: climate change is making extreme heat a more serious threat to human health. Therefore, anything that can raise awareness is much needed.
"Heat waves are dangerous," said Maibach. "Making them more concrete is a useful way to help people understand the dangers, act on the dangers, and share information with other people about the dangers."
This story originally appeared in CBS News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Kenny Stancil
As the climate crisis fuels devastating wildfires across the western United States and melts Arctic sea ice at an alarming rate, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday that Earth just experienced the hottest September on record and that 2020 is on pace to be one of the three hottest years on the books.
According to NOAA, "the 10 warmest Septembers have all occurred since 2005, with the seven warmest Septembers occurring in the last seven years."
"We've broken the climate system," tweeted meteorologist Eric Holthaus. "We are in a climate emergency."
NOAA and NASA data have just confirmed that September 2020 was the warmest September ever measured globally. 2020… https://t.co/vib5KoQw3j— Eric Holthaus (@Eric Holthaus)1602687403.0
NOAA found that 2020 has a 65% chance of beating out 2016 as the warmest year on record, a 35% chance of being the second-warmest ever, and will almost certainly rank in the top three.
Climate scientists emphasized that this year's record-setting temperatures have been accompanied by an unprecedented wave of extreme weather events. A report published Tuesday by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction examined the "staggering" increase in climate-related disasters, which doubled from 3,656 between 1980 and 1999 to 6,681 between 2000 and 2019, as Common Dreams reported.
Researchers at Yale found that eight weather-related disasters causing $1 billion or more in damage occurred across the world in September alone, bringing the annual total thus far to 35. There were 40 such events in both 2018 and 2019.
With 16 extreme weather events so far in 2020, the U.S. has already tied its record for most billion-dollar weather disasters in a single year.
NOAA's findings echo a European Union study published one week ago. As Common Dreams reported, one of the EU climate scientists who contributed to the analysis noted that the planet "will carry on warming if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the rate they are at the moment."
"It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction," the U.N. report stated, "despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
The record-breaking heat in the Arctic saw temperatures soar above 100 degrees for the first time in recorded history. Now, a new analysis has put to rest any notion that the heat was caused by natural temperature fluctuations.
The study found that the record-breaking heat wave was made 600 times more likely by the man-made climate crisis, as The Guardian reported. In other words, the heat wave is nearly impossible without the climate crisis.
The heat in Siberia has produced conditions both strange and awful, with massive wildfires, ravening mosquitoes and shaky permafrost that has caused infrastructure damage, including a burst fuel tank that released about 23,000 tons of diesel fuel into a pristine lake. The wildfires have spread farther north than ever before and have put more greenhouse gases into the earth's atmosphere than in any other month in 18 years of data collection, according to one report.
To figure out if human actions played a role in the unprecedented heat wave in Siberia, the researchers looked at two recent examples of exceptional heating in the region. The first was a look at the trend line from January through June of this year, when the average temperatures in the region were 9 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the average temperatures from 1951 to 1980. The second was the remarkable heat on June 20 that saw temperatures at the Russian town of Verkhoyansk at a reported 100.4 degrees, which the Russian Meteorological Service said is a record for temperatures anywhere north of the Arctic Circle, as The New York Times reported.
The research was conducted by a group of 14 scientists from six countries who collaborated to figure how something this out-of-bounds could occur. Their comprehensive climate attribution study declared, "This large-scale prolonged event would have been essentially impossible without climate change," as CBS News reported.
For context, the researchers said that if, hypothetically, you lived in this region before around 1900, when human-caused climate impacts started to emerge, a heat event as widespread, prolonged and intense as this would only occur once every 80,000 years — or about once every 1,000 lifetimes, according to CBS News.
For all practical purposes, said Friederike Otto, acting director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford and an author of the paper, "you would not have gotten an event like this without climate change," as The New York Times reported.
In a statement, Andrew Ciavarella, the lead author of the research and senior detection and attribution scientist at the Met Office, the national meteorological service for Britain, called the result "truly staggering," according to The New York Times.
Climate scientists use advanced computer simulations to compare the climate as it is today with the climate as it would have been without human influence to see how likely different weather events would have been if our species had never altered the atmosphere, according to the BBC. In this study, the researchers looked at the temperature abnormalities by observational surface temperature records and they recreated the climate using dozens of climate computer models. They delved into rich troves of data to determine how much of a weather phenomenon may have been caused by human activities that have generated planet-warming greenhouse gases, as The New York Times reported.
The researchers say that the current Siberian heat "has contributed to raising the world's average temperature to the second hottest on record for the period January to May," as the BBC reported.
"This study shows again just how much of a game-changer climate change is with respect to heat waves," said Otto, as The Guardian reported. "As emissions continue to rise, we need to think about building resilience to extreme heat all over the world, even in Arctic communities – which would have seemed nonsensical not very long ago."
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A new report from the United Nations found that political leaders and industry leaders are failing to do the necessary work to stop the world from becoming an "uninhabitable hell" for millions of people as the climate crisis continues and natural disasters become more frequent, as Al-Jazeera reported.
The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019 was released Monday to mark the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, which falls on Oct. 13, according to a statement from the office behind the report.
The bulk of the disasters were climate-related, as there were sharp increases in the number of floods, storms, heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires in the last two decades, according to CNN.
The report found that the world is on a worrying trend line as natural disasters become more frequent and more expensive. In the last 20 years, there were more than 7,300 natural disasters worldwide, accounting for nearly $3 trillion in damages. That's almost double the prior two decades when there were just over 4,200 natural disasters that totaled $1.6 trillion in economic losses, according to the statement.
"It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction," said UNDRR chief Mami Mizutori and Debarati Guha-Sapir of Belgium's Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, in a joint foreword to the report, as CNN reported.
"It really is all about governance if we want to deliver this planet from the scourge of poverty, further loss of species and biodiversity, the explosion of urban risk and the worst consequences of global warming."
The report said that the future would be full of more climate-related disasters as the planet warms up and heat-trapping gases are continuously emitted into the atmosphere. The researchers said the greatest threats in the coming decades would come from heat waves and droughts, as Reuters reported.
Asia saw the bulk of the natural disasters over the last 20 years. China had the largest number of disasters with 57, followed by India, the Philippines and Indonesia. The only country outside of Asia to crack the top 5 was the U.S, which ranked second with 467 natural disasters from 2000 to 2019, according to the paper, as Reuters reported.
"If this level of growth in extreme weather events continues over the next twenty years, the future of mankind looks very bleak indeed," said Guha-Sapir, according to Reuters. "Heatwaves are going to be our biggest challenge in the next 10 years, especially in the poor countries."
In a virtual briefing to announce the release of the report, Mizutori said the world must act swiftly and decisively to invest in disaster reduction, climate crisis adaptation, and prevention. She asked that political leaders around the world reaffirm their commitment to the 2015 Paris agreement and turn their attention to zero-emissions infrastructure, as Al-Jazeera reported.
The report said that the world's current trajectory that has us heading towards a 3.2-degree Celsius increase in temperature will trigger such extreme climate disasters that the improvements to disaster response will be rendered "obsolete in many countries," as CNN reported.
"We have seen little progress on reducing climate disruption and environmental degradation," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in an International Disaster Day message, as CNN reported. "To eradicate poverty and reduce the impacts of climate change, we must place the public good above all other considerations."
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By Gloria Oladipo
In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.
"Air conditioners look like they're bringing in air from the outside because they go through the window, but it is 100 percent recirculated air," said Forrest Meggers, an assistant professor of architecture at Princeton University. "If you had a system that could cool without being focused solely on cooling air, then you could actually open your windows."
Meggers and an international team of researchers have developed a safer way for people to beat the heat — a highly efficient cooling system that doesn't move air around.
Scientists lined door-sized panels with tiny tubes that circulate cold water. Stand next to a panel, and you can feel it drawing heat away from your body. Unlike air conditioners, these panels can be used with the window open — or even outdoors — making it possible to cool off while also getting some fresh air. This reduces the risk of spreading airborne viruses, like the coronavirus.
"If you look at what the health authorities and governments are saying, the safest place to be during this pandemic is outside," said Adam Rysanek, an assistant professor of environmental systems at the University of British Columbia, who was part of the research effort. "We're trying to find a way to keep you cool in a heat wave with the windows wide open, because the air is fresh. It's just that it's hot."
Cooling panels have been around for a while, but in limited use, because scientists haven't found a good way to deal with condensation. Like a cold can of Coke on a hot summer day, cooling panels collect drops of water, so they have to be paired with dehumidifiers indoors to stay dry. Otherwise, overhead panels might drip water on people standing underneath.
Meggers and his colleagues got around this problem by developing a thin, transparent membrane that repels condensation. This is the key breakthrough behind their cooling technology. Because it stays dry, it can be used in humid conditions, even outdoors.
In air conditioners, a dehumidifier dries out the air to prevent condensation. This component uses an enormous amount of energy, around half of the total power consumed by the air conditioner, researchers said. The new membrane they developed eliminates condensation with no energy cost, making the cooling panels significantly more efficient than a typical AC unit.
The research team involved scientists from the University of British Columbia, Princeton, UC Berkeley and the Singapore-ETH Centre. They published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"This study demonstrates that we can maintain comfortable conditions for people without cooling all the air around them," said Zoltan Nagy, an assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas, who was not affiliated with the study. "Probably the most significant demonstration of this study is that humans can be provided with comfort in a very challenging thermal environment using a very efficient method."
Researchers developed their technology for use in the persistently hot, muggy climate of Singapore, where avoiding condensation would be particularly difficult.
To test their design, they assembled a set of cooling panels into a small tunnel, roughly the size of a school bus. The tunnel, dubbed the "Cold Tube," sat in a plaza in the United World College of South East Asia in Singapore. Scientists surveyed dozens of people about how they felt after walking through the tunnel. Even as the temperature neared 90 degrees F outside, most participants reported feeling comfortable in the Cold Tube.Scientists said they want to make their technology available to consumers as quickly as possible, for use in homes and offices, or outdoors. Climate change is producing more severe heat, which is driving demand for air conditioners. Researchers hope their cooling panel will offer a more energy-efficient alternative to AC units. If consumers can use less power, that will help cut down on the pollution that is driving climate change.
Before they can sell the panels, researchers said they need to make them hardy enough to survive outdoors. The anti-condensation membrane is currently so thin that you could tear it with a pencil, so it must be made stronger. Scientists also need to demonstrate that the panels work efficiently indoors. Hospitals and schools in Singapore have already shown interest in the cooling system.
"We know the physics works. Now we need to do one more test so we have a bit more of a commercially viable product," Rysanek said. "It's really about trying to get this into people's hands as quickly as possible."
Reposted with permission from Nexus Media.
By Kristie Pladson
Russian scientists are excavating the well-preserved skeleton of a woolly mammoth found in a lake in northern Siberia, The Associated Press reported Friday.
Fragments of the skeleton, which still has some ligaments attached, were discovered by local reindeer herders near the shore of Pechevalavato Lake in Russia's Yamal-Nenets region earlier this week.
The herders found part of the mammoth's skull, several ribs and a fragment of its foot with ligament still attached.
"The lake bottom mud may hold the rest of the mammoth skeleton," Dmitry Frolov, the head of the Research Center for Arctic Studies, told Russian news agency TASS.
"It is necessary to record the exact location of the remains for further studies," he added.
Full Excavation Will Take Time
On Friday, Russian television stations showed footage of scientists looking for more mammoth bones in the lakeside silt.
Several larger fragments have already been found following the original discovery this week. However, excavating the rest of the skeleton will require significant time and special equipment, assuming it all survived in position together, the scientists said.
Finding a complete mammoth skeleton is relatively rare, said Yevgeniya Khozyainova of the Shemanovsky Institute in Salekhard in televised remarks.
Heat Wave Melting Siberia's Permafrost
Experts believe woolly mammoths died out around 10,000 years ago. Reaching 5.5 meters (18 feet) in height and weighing up to 12 tons, they were around twice the size and weight of today's elephant.
The carcasses of several well-preserved mammoths have been uncovered in the permafrost of northern Siberia in recent years, as the region faces a rapid change of climate.
Siberia is currently experiencing a heat wave, in another warning sign to climate experts who believe rising temperatures could melt the permafrost and release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere . On Friday, the UN weather agency warned that last month's average temperatures there were 10 degrees Celsius (18 Fahrenheit) above normal.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
On a Labor Day weekend when the temperature hit 121 degrees in Los Angeles County, fire crews around California struggled to contain ongoing and growing blazes that have so far consumed more than 2 million acres this summer. That's equal to the entire state of Delaware going up in flames, according to the BBC.
The record heat coupled with dry and windy conditions is making the 22 fires in the state difficult for crews to contain. In a preventive measure, the state's power authority shut off electricity to 172,000 homes and businesses in 22 counties in Northern California. The power will not be fully restored until Wednesday evening, according to CNN.
The small mountain town of Big Creek in the Sierra Nevada mountain range saw trapped campers airlifted to safety while the fire burned through the town, destroying roughly two dozen homes, according to NBC News.
While a hydroelectric plant owned by Southern California Edison was destroyed, three propane tanks with 11,000 gallons of the flammable gas exploded and an elementary school caught fire.
The school's superintendent, Toby Wait, evacuated with his family, but his home was destroyed after they fled.
"Words cannot even begin to describe the devastation of this community," he said to The Fresno Bee, as NBC News reported.
The fire started on Friday and grew to burn nearly 80,000 acres Monday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It is zero percent contained.
"This one's in a class by itself," said U.S. Forest Service Supervisor Dean Gould during a Monday night press briefing, as CNN reported.
Farther south, Los Angeles and Ventura county are under a red flag warning as the cooling temperatures after the weekend's record heat are expected to usher in high winds, which may fan the flames of ongoing fires.
The state's fire authorities are currently battling 24 fires across the state, according to the BBC.
While the red flag warning in Los Angeles and Ventura counties is expected to last through Wednesday, the state will also see wind gusts of up to 50 mph in Northern California. Those high winds are particularly dangerous as they pose the threat of spreading flames over the dry vegetation that is parched after the weekend's heat, according to PG&E senior meteorologist Scott Strenfel, as CNN reported.
"Unfortunately, this wind event is occurring on the heels of the current heat wave and will produce critical fire potential conditions," Strenfel said, as CNN reported.
"Windy conditions, like those being forecast, increase the potential for damage and hazards to the electric infrastructure, which could cause sparks if lines are energized. These conditions also increase the potential for rapid fire spread," PG&E said in a news release on Monday.
All campgrounds across the state have been canceled in a season that has seen a record number of campers. The U.S. Forest Service said the following in a press release: "Most of California remains under the threat of unprecedented and dangerous fire conditions with a combination of extreme heat, significant wind events, dry conditions, and firefighting resources that are stretched to the limit."
According to the BBC, the Valley Fire in San Diego County has burned more than 10,000 acres near the small town of Alpine. In Angeles National Forest, the Bobcat fire has burned through nearly 5,000 acres and prompted the evacuation of the Mount Wilson Observatory.
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Now, a new study published in Science Advances Friday shows that the conditions scientists thought were decades away are already here, and increasing.
"I was astonished by our findings," study coauthor Radley Horton of Columbia University told CNN. "My previously published study projected that these conditions would not take hold until later in the century. We may be at a closer tipping point than we think."
At stake is the human body's ability to withstand a certain combination of heat and humidity. When temperatures rise past 35 degrees Celsius, humans have to sweat to maintain their ideal body temperature, the study explained. But when it gets too humid, this is no longer possible. The combination of heat and humidity is calculated by something called the wet-bulb temperature, measured by wrapping a wet cloth around a thermometer and seeing how much it is cooled by evaporation, as EcoWatch explained previously. When humidity reaches 100 percent, the cloth has no effect. Wet-bulb temperatures of 35 or higher are too much for even healthy humans to survive outside for more than six hours, but wet-bulb temperatures much lower than that can still cause problems for human health. The deadly European and Russian heat waves of 2003 and 2010 respectively saw wet-bulb temperatures of only 28 degrees Celsius.
"It's hard to exaggerate the effects of anything that gets into the 30s," study coauthor Colin Raymond, a former Columbia Ph.D. student now at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a Columbia University Earth Institute press release.
Previous observations had indicated that the 35 degree threshold had never been breached and that there had only been a few recordings of wet-bulb temperatures above 33 degrees, the study explained. But climate models had indicated that, without emissions reductions, such temperatures would be common later this century in parts of South Asia and the Middle East.
However, the latest research discovered that two weather stations had already recorded wet-bulb temperatures above 35 and several had seen temperatures higher than 31 and 33 degrees. In fact, since 1979, the number of wet-bulb temperatures above 30 degrees have doubled worldwide, CNN reported.
We find many values near, & a few briefly right at, the survivability limit for prolonged exposure. Just about the… https://t.co/pDchmO7W8d— Colin Raymond (@Colin Raymond)1588965832.0
The study turned up such different results because it used a different method, as Scientific American explained. Previous studies had considered wider areas over several hours, but this study looked at data from more than 7,000 weather stations since 1979.
"[W]e decided to zoom in a little bit closer," Raymond told Scientific American.
The highest readings were recorded 14 times along the Persian Gulf, including in Doha, Qatar, where the 2022 FIFA World Cup is scheduled to take place, CNN reported. High wet-bulb temperatures were also recorded multiple times in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, northwest Australia, the Red Sea coast and the Gulf of California in Mexico, according to the Earth Institute.
In the U.S., high temperatures were recorded dozens of times along the Gulf Coast. The worst-hit locations were New Orleans and Biloxi, Mississippi.
Extreme temperatures only occurred for an hour or two, Scientific American pointed out, meaning they are not yet at the level that automatically threatens human survival. However, heat waves are already the deadliest type of extreme weather event in the U.S., where it is relatively easier to shelter from high heat.
"This is not a problem for the end of the century, but in the present, especially in the developing world without widespread air conditioning," research meteorologist Ryan Maue, who was not involved with the study, told CNN.
And if temperatures rise to 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, wet-bulb temperatures above 35 degrees would become common in parts of the world, the study found, according to Scientific American."[T]he inevitability of further increases is a sobering reminder of the importance of both mitigation of the temperature rise, and adaptation to what's already in store," Raymond wrote in a blog post
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By Jeff Berardelli
This story was originally published on CBS News on September 9, 2020. All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication.
Right on the heels of arguably the West Coast's most intense heat wave in modern history comes the most ferocious flare-up of catastrophic wildfires in recent memory. Meanwhile, just a few hundred miles east, a 60-degree temperature drop over just 18 hours in Wyoming and Colorado was accompanied by an extremely rare late-summer dumping of up to 2 feet of snow.
It's not coincidence, it's climate change.
These kinds of dystopian weather events, happening often at the same time, are exactly what scientists have been warning about for decades. While extreme weather is a part of the natural cycle, the recent uptick in the ferocity and frequency of these extremes, scientists say, is evidence of an acceleration of climate impacts, some of which were underestimated by climate computer models.
"This is yet another example of where uncertainty is not our friend," says Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State. "As we learn more, we are finding that many climate change impacts, including these sorts of extreme weather events, are playing out faster and with greater magnitude than our models predicted."
On Wednesday NOAA released its latest State of the Climate Report, which finds that just during the month of August the U.S. was hit by four different billion-dollar disasters: two hurricanes, huge wildfires and an extraordinary Midwest derecho.
Just one such extreme event can strain emergency resources — a situation West Coast firefighters find themselves in now. However, in two dramatic cases this summer, the nation was hit simultaneously with concurrent catastrophes, some of which had no precedent in modern history. It's a concept scientists call compound events, and it is necessary to factor these confluences into future projections to properly estimate risk, response and resources.
In mid-August the West suffered through an extended heat wave which saw Death Valley surge to 130 degrees, the hottest temperature ever reliably measured on Earth. The tinderbox conditions caused by the heat, along with a rare lightning outbreak, sparked the first round of major wildfires in California this season, escalating into three of the four largest fires in state history. At about the same time a powerful derecho caused billions of dollars in damage in Iowa and Illinois, and Hurricane Laura plowed into the Gulf Coast of Louisiana as a Category 4 with 150 mph winds and 16 feet of storm surge.
Just three weeks later, and here we are again. This past weekend California experienced an even more intense heat wave, with the southern part of the state hitting 121 degrees west of the mountains for the first time in record-keeping history. Predictably, fires flared back up due to the severe heating and drying, and then went into overdrive as a wicked early-season cold front — which is also bringing heavy snow to the Rockies — brought a wind event through the mountains and valleys of the intermountain west.
In Washington state, an estimated 330,000 acres burned across the state on Monday, more than the total in each of the last 12 fire seasons. California has seen a record 2.3 million acres burn so far this year — more than 3 times the normal for an entire season (typically July through November), and 7 times the normal year to date.
If it were just this fire season, one could chalk the extremity up to mere coincidence. But scientists say this is part of an ongoing upward trend, made clear by the data and well understood by science.
"There is little doubt that we're witnessing an acceleration of fire activity in the West - be it in terms of burned area, number of large fires, fire growth, and of course direct and indirect impacts to people," explains Dr. John Abatzoglou, climate professor at the University of California Merced.
The acceleration has been dramatic. Fire season is now two to three months longer than it was just a few decades ago across much of the West. Since the 1970s, California has experienced a five-fold increase in annual burned area and an eight-fold increase in summer forest fire extent. At least 17 of California's top 20 largest wildfires have burned since 2000.
Increase in California areas burned by wildfires, 1975 to 2015. WILLIAMS, ABATZOGLOU ET AL., EARTH'S FUTURE
Abatzoglou makes clear that there are many factors — not just climate change — that contribute to the escalation of fire activity. These include the increased settlement of people in fire-prone lands and a legacy of fire suppression in many lower-elevation forests, which led to years of heavy growth of trees and brush.
"We can focus on the bad fortune of the lightning siege around the San Francisco Bay Area, or the multitude of stupid human tricks that materialized in large wildfires, but the confluence of long-term and short-term environmental factors set the table for the 2020 fire season," he said.
In other words, though climate change does not cause the heat waves or fires, it sets the stage so that when conditions are ripe, like the summer and fall of 2020, heat waves are more intense and fires burn more fiercely.
This summer has been extremely hot and dry in the West. According to NOAA, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah each had their warmest August on record. Research has found that heat waves are now larger, getting more intense and lasting longer than decades ago. Specifically in California, extreme heat waves — like the ones of recent weeks — are now 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer due to climate change. By 2080, that same study finds such heat waves will intensify by another 3 to 5 degrees.
This week's NOAA report also finds that the same general area in the West also experienced one of its driest Augusts on record. This short-term dry and hot pattern is mainly due to natural cycles in weather, and from season to season has the biggest impact on the amount of area burned because it determines how dry the forests and brush are.
"Across the Western U.S. forests, we find that climatic measures of fuel dryness explain about ¾ of the year-to-year variability in the burned area — highlighting that climate very strongly enables big fire seasons in warm-dry summers and inhibits widespread fire activity in cool-wet summers," explains Abatzoglou.
But over the long term, human-caused climate change has been gradually drying out the atmosphere and the fuel. "The observed changes in fuel dryness [plus the] number of days of high fire danger have been particularly stark in the American West over the past half-century," says Abatzoglou.
Since the 1970s the warm season in the West has heated up by 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. This extra heat has increased the evaporation of moisture from the surface. While atmospheric moisture has also increased some, it has not increased nearly as fast as the temperature. That has caused a long-term "moisture deficit" and has accelerated the rate of foliage drying. This is part of the reason why, according to research, the West has entered into one of the worst megadroughts in the past 1,200 years.
A recent study, co-authored by Abatzoglou, found a direct link with nearly all of the increase in summer forest-fire area during the period from 1972–2018 driven by the increased moisture deficit. To illustrate just how impactful the moisture deficit is, right now, as unprecedented wildfires burn out of control, the deficit is at record low levels in the majority of the Western U.S.
Absurd atmospheric aridity (+ other factors) is enabling the ongoing fire outbreak – synchronized downslope winds… https://t.co/ohibdi2X5x— John Abatzoglou (@John Abatzoglou)1599605014.0
Another recent study from this spring found that the frequency of autumn days with extreme fire weather conditions has more than doubled since the 1980s, fueled by a combination of less rainfall and warmer temperatures.
But many scientists believe that there is more at play contributing to this extreme weather than simply the direct effects of warming and drying. One of those mechanisms is the indirect impacts of global warming on the most influential weather-maker on day-to-day conditions: the jet stream.
The speed and orientation of the jet stream — a river of fast-moving air currents in the atmosphere — determines the track, intensity and forward speed of most storm systems and also how cold or hot the weather is. The attributes of the jet stream at any given moment are determined largely by the placement of hot and cold air masses and the strength of the gradient between them. Because the Arctic has been warming at three times the rate of the rest of the globe, climate scientists know human-caused climate change is throwing the jet stream off-kilter. But how and to what extent is not totally understood.
A number of climate scientists believe that a warmer Arctic is slowing down the jet stream during certain times of year, resulting in a more wavy jet stream. As shown below, a wavy jet stream can catapult warm air northward into the Arctic and drive cold air far southward. This is exactly what happened during the catastrophic Midwest floods in 2019 and is also the kind of pattern we have right now, which is causing record low temperatures and extremely early season snow in the Rockies and Plains. A wavy jet stream is a normal part of nature, but climate change may be making it more amplified, resulting in more extremes.
"I think it's a triple whammy — heat and drought, which are favored by climate change, and the extra added ingredient is the slower, wavier jet stream," explains Mann. But he says the wavier jet stream isn't well resolved by current models, thus they underestimate the extremity of weather events enhanced by climate change.
As a result, when scientists dig into the causes of an extreme event, Mann says the studies underestimate the influence of human-caused climate change. "So if anything, climate attribution studies are likely to under-attribute the role that climate change is playing with these persistent extreme weather events," he said.
As for future fire seasons, Abatzoglou says we should expect extreme fires seasons like 2020's to become the rule rather than the exception.
"While the extent of the ongoing fire siege is beyond what most have seen in the West, the alignment of ingredients for such fire seasons is becoming more favorable as a result of climate change and land-use practices," he said. "We should expect, adapt, and prepare for similar years moving forward."
This story originally appeared in CBS News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Jeff Masters
Death Valley, California hit an astonishing 129.9 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4°C) at 3:41 p.m. PDT Sunday, August 16, 2020, which was rounded to 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the final report from NOAA.
According to weather records experts Christopher Burt, who wrote the comprehensive weather records book "Extreme Weather," and Maximiliano Herrera, who tweets under the Twitter handle Extreme Temperatures Around the World, the observation may be the hottest reliably recorded temperature in world history, breaking the 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit readings at Death Valley in 2013 and in Kuwait in 2016.
Cautions About the Record
Herrera and Burt are cautious about accepting the new record set at the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center in Death Valley. The measurement came in mid-August. But extreme high temperature records are much easier to set in July, which is the hottest month of summer. Also concerning was the fact that Sunday's temperatures at Furnace Creek showed some odd jumps during the day. (See the raw high-resolution data here by choosing a time up to six days in the past from the drop-down menu, then choosing "Decoded Data.")
However, there were some relevant wind direction changes at Furnace Creek that occurred during these temperature jumps, bolstering the idea that the temperature changes were real. The National Weather Service noted that transient high cirrus clouds may have played a role in the temperature changes. Further support for the 130 degrees Fahrenheit reading at Furnace Creek came from the nearby Stovepipe Wells site in Death Valley, which peaked at 125 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday. That site, which lies in a cooler part of the valley and is 200 feet higher in elevation, is typically three to five degrees cooler than the Furnace Creek site.
The Greenland Ranch USWB weather shelter in Death Valley, California, site of the official world record extreme temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913. Photo is the oldest known photograph of the weather station (circa late 1910s to as late as 1921) and is looking west. NWS Las Vegas archives via Chris Burt
The Official World Record Will Remain 134°F
"If Sunday's observation passes an investigation (instrument calibration, etc.) then, yes, this a new reliably measured global extreme heat record," Burt wrote by email.
But the observation will not count as an official world record. In 2013, the World Meteorological Organization officially decertified the official all-time hottest temperature in world history, a 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit reading from Al Azizia, Libya, in 1923. (Burt was a member of the WMO team that made the determination.) After the abandonment of the Libya record, the official world record was given to a 134 degrees Fahrenheit measurement taken at Death Valley on July 10, 1913.
However, this record has been strongly disputed by Burt and Herrera.
"The old Death Valley record from July 1913 is 100% bogus (not just 99.9% such), as are all other temperature readings of 130 degrees Fahrenheit or higher from Africa in the past," Burt said.
Burt wrote a detailed 2016 blog post at Weather Underground challenging the 1913 record at Death Valley, explaining that official readings of 134, 130, and 131 degrees Fahrenheit taken on July 10, 12, and 13, 1913 were likely the result of an inexperienced observer. In order for the 1913 Death Valley record to be decertified, though, an official World Meteorological Organization investigation committee would have to be assembled to look into the matter, a years-long process for which there is currently no motivation.
The only other temperature of at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit officially recognized by the World Meteorological Organization is a 131-degree reading at Kebili, Tunisia, set July 7, 1931, which is considered to be Africa's hottest temperature.
Burt disputed this record: "I mentioned to the WMO about the Kebili temperature of 131 degrees Fahrenheit back in 2012, when asked what I thought the next hottest temperature in Africa (after Al Azzia) might be, since that was the only temperature over 130 degrees Fahrenheit that had an actual date attached to it. However, the Kebili 'record' is even more bogus than even the Al Azzia record, and I said so. Kebili is a relatively cool spot in Tunisia (an oasis) and never since the 1930s ever again recorded a maximum temperature above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. The WMO wanted something for their 'Africa' section at that time, and somehow the 131 degrees Fahrenheit made it into the database with no consideration of its validity whatsoever. Nowhere in Africa has any reliably observed temperature been measured above 126 degrees Fahrenheit."
A Weird Weather Day in California
Another argument supporting Sunday's 130 degrees Fahrenheit measurement at Death Valley was the unusual weather setup over California.
"I'm coming around to thinking that this 129.9° reading just might be for real," Burt said. "For one thing, the weather today in California has been unique. All kinds of strange local weather occurred. In fact, the folks at most of the state's National Weather Service offices are saying there has never been a day like today in recorded history in the state: all kinds of weird dynamics at work and the models just can't handle the details."
Yale Climate Connections contributor Bob Henson had these observations on Sunday's weird weather in California: "Among the strange developments over the weekend in California were a highly unusual round of pre-dawn thunderstorms in the Bay Area on Sunday, with only scant rain but profuse lightning that started multiple new wildfires. More than 4,800 lightning strikes were recorded in California on Saturday alone. Also on Saturday, a fire-based thunderstorm (pyrocumulonimbus) in Lassen County spawned what appear to be multiple fire whirls and 'fire tornados,' as indicated by radar and documented in photos and videos. The storm prompted what is apparently the first-ever NWS tornado warning related to pyrocumulonimbus. It will take further study to establish how many vortexes developed and how many might have been fire whirls (smaller-scale, shorter-lived spin-ups akin to dust devils) versus more unusual fire tornadoes, which extend up into a pyrocumulonimbus and which can generate surface winds of more than 100 mph.
"These events are related to an infusion of moisture from the tropical northeast Pacific, some of it from ex-Hurricane Elida, coupled with one of the strongest, hottest upper-level domes of high pressure ever recorded across the western United States in August. When such air is forced to descend, it warms up even more, which can lead to record-setting temperatures at the surface."
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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While California has several microclimates that make the temperatures and weather patterns in various parts of the state wildly different from each other, few areas were left unaffected by the extreme heat that has blanketed the state.
In Southern California, triple-digit temperatures have taxed the power grid so much that utilities had to impose rolling blackouts for the first time since 2011. In Death Valley, the temperature reached 130 degrees, and in Northern California a freak lightening storm ignited small fires and stoked ongoing ones. In the northeastern part of the state, the winds and high-temperatures caused strange fire behavior, leading to "rotating columns and fire whirls," colloquially known as a "firenado."
The bizarre and rare firenado was spotted on Saturday near the Loyalton Fire in the northeastern part of the state by the Nevada border. The fire, which started in the Tahoe National Forest, had burned more than 2,000 acres by Saturday evening. Video of the firenado was posted to Twitter with the line, "Fire Tornado today outside Chilcoot and Hallelujah Junction California. This was intense and scary!!!!"
Fire Tornado today outside Chilcoot and Hallelujah Junction California. This was intense and scary!!!! @TheTXWXchaser @spahn711 @JimCantore @ReedTimmerAccu @jeffpiotrowski #CAwx #LoyaltonFire #firenado #FireSeason2020 pic.twitter.com/vfwrTKK02n— Tasha Joy (@That1GirlTasha) August 16, 2020
Firenados are very similar to regular tornados. They are formed when the rising hot air meets changing wind patterns higher in the atmosphere. Those winds shift the direction of the blazes. Unlike a regular tornado, the winds in a firenado shift smoke plumes around, making them extremely dangerous to anyone nearby, as NBC News reported.
"The big concern is that it's extremely erratic fire behavior," said John Mittelstadt, a Reno-based meteorologist with the National Weather Service, as NBC News reported. "For any of the firefighters who are working on one flank of the fire, all of a sudden, there is no way to predict what the winds are going to do or how strong they are going to be," he added.
Meanwhile, the Bay Area faced triple-digit heat for the first time ever in August. It also witnessed a rare lightning storm. While beautiful, it raised the fire threat significantly for the parched area.
On Sunday, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a red flag fire warning for "critical fire weather conditions" until Monday morning, as The Guardian reported.
"Any lightning strikes will likely lead to new fire starts given the current heat wave," the NWS forecasters said, according to The Guardian. "A secondary pulse of moisture and instability arrives later Sunday into early Monday."
Through Northern and Southern California, the power grid was so compromised by the need for energy during the weekend's extreme heat that the California Independent System Operator issued rolling blackouts for the first time since 2011. It also declared a Stage 3 emergency for the state's power grid for the first time since 2001, as CNBC reported.
While the power was restored fully over the weekend, threats still loom, as temperatures above 100 degrees are expected everyday through the end of this week in the Los Angeles area, according to The New York Times.
Meanwhile, California is seeing its number of novel coronavirus cases surge, making the heat more dangerous since people may be avoiding malls and cooling centers. Furthermore, if people stay home and blast their air conditioners, then the power grid is overworked, creating the scenario where more rolling blackouts may be needed, according to The New York Times.
The extreme heat may have set a new record in Death Valley, where the temperatures soared to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the first place on Earth to reach such a high mark in August, according to The Washington Post.
The National Weather Service reported that yesterday afternoon the temperature did hit 130 degrees. If it is verified, it would break Death Valley's previous August record by three degrees, the Weather Service tweeted. It also may be the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth, as The Washington Post reported.
"Everything I've seen so far indicates that is a legitimate observation," Randy Cerveny, who leads the World Meteorological Organization's weather and climate extremes team, wrote in an email, as The Washington Post reported. "I am recommending that the World Meteorological Organization preliminarily accept the observation. In the upcoming weeks, we will, of course, be examining it in detail, along with the U.S. National Climate Extremes Committee, using one of our international evaluation teams."
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By Jeff Berardelli
From the historic heat wave and wildfires in the West, to the massive derecho that tore through the middle of the nation, to the record-breaking pace of this year's hurricane season, the unprecedented and concurrent extreme conditions resemble the chaotic climate future scientists have been warning us about for decades — only it's happening right now.
While climate catastrophes are typically spaced out in time and geographic location, right now the U.S. is dealing with multiple disasters. The Midwest is cleaning up from a devastating derecho that caused nearly $4 billion in damage to homes and crops, as nearly a quarter-million people in the West are under evacuation orders or warnings from fires that have burned over 1 million acres, and at the same time residents along the Gulf Coast are bracing for back-to-back landfalls of a tropical storm and hurricane.
"This current stretch of natural catastrophe events in the United States are essentially a snapshot of what scientists and emergency managers have long feared," says meteorologist Steven Bowen, the head of Catastrophe Insight at AON, an international risk mitigation firm.
Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University, happened to be in Australia on sabbatical last year and witnessed the devastating wildfires there — a similar scene to what is playing out in California right now. For years Mann has sounded the alarms about the acceleration of human-caused climate change, but even he is somewhat surprised at the pace.
"In many respects, the impacts are playing out faster and with greater severity than we predicted," he said.
Multiple extremes resemble the chaotic climate future scientists have been warning us about for decades — only it's… https://t.co/CjhLfao5rc— CBS News (@CBS News)1598299214.0
To be sure, these events are not all related to each other, but the one thing they do have in common is that climate change makes each one more likely. The simple explanation is that there's more energy in the system and that energy is expended in the form of more extreme heat, fire, wind and rain.
It may be tempting to look at these extremes as a "new normal," but Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says while it may be new, it won't be normal.
"For some time we have talked about a 'new normal' but the issue is that it keeps changing. It does not stop at a new state. That change is what is so disruptive," he said.
The fires unfolding in California right now have no parallel in modern times. With more than 1 million acres burned in just one week, the season is already historic with more acres burned in this past week than is typical of an entire year. Two of the state's top three largest fires on record are burning at the same time — the LNU and SCU complex fires — with the likelihood that one of these will take over the top spot soon.
As of Monday morning, CalFire reports over 7,000 fires have burned more than 1.4 million acres this season, overwhelming resources to the point where many of the smaller fires are being allowed to burn. CalFire stated that to fight these fires to the maximum of their ability, the agency would need nearly 10 times more firefighting resources than are available.
As is the case in any natural disaster, the cause can be traced to multiple coinciding events. In this case, the spark for most of these fires was a siege of lightning strikes as a result of moisture drawn into California from two decaying tropical systems in the eastern Pacific, which ignited dry brush.
Daniel Swain is a well-known climate scientist who specializes in studying the link between climate change and weather in the West at the University of California, Los Angeles. In a blog post he described how even someone like him, well-versed in climate disaster, is shocked by the current situation: "I'm essentially at a loss for words to describe the scope of the lightning-sparked fire outbreak that has rapidly evolved in northern California – even in the context of the extraordinary fires of recent years. It's truly astonishing."
While it's not rare for tropical moisture to invade California, it is infrequent, and extremely unfortunate that it happened during one of the worst western U.S. heat waves in recent history, not to mention an ongoing short- and long-term drought. Researchers believe that in the year 2000 the western U.S. entered a megadrought, one of the worst in the past 1,200 years.
This is why climate scientists often say that climate change "loads the dice" for extreme weather. The cause of the fires is not climate change, but many of the factors which set the stage and made conditions ripe for fire ignition and spread are a direct result of a warming climate.
On August 16, Death Valley reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest temperature ever reliably measured on Earth. It was just a small part of a monster heat wave which broke hundreds of heat records over a two-week span. The link between heat waves and climate change is straightforward, and multiple studies have shown that a warmer climate is making heat waves more likely and more intense.
"Basically there is more heat available: Earth's energy balance is out of whack," says Trenberth. That extra heat energy, trapped in the atmosphere by excess greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels, must be used up in some way.
Trenberth explains, if the land was wet the heat would be used first to evaporate water, keeping air temperatures moderate. But when the air and ground are bone dry, as is typical of the dry season in California — especially in summers like this — the excess heat energy is expended by drying out the brush and warming and drying the air.
This long-term drying out of the air has created a "vapor pressure deficit" — or in simpler terms, a moisture deficit. According to a 2019 study, this is a leading reason for the intensified summer fire seasons in California, presently at record levels.
"Vapor pressure deficit" (gap between how much moisture *could* be in the air vs. how much is *actually* there) is… https://t.co/LXKN0hUQLi— Daniel Swain (@Daniel Swain)1597973351.0
According to the paper, "Nearly all of the increase in summer forest-fire area during 1972–2018 was driven by increased vapor pressure deficit."
A derecho is a particularly fierce and long-lasting line of thunderstorms, often causing winds over 75 mph. While these weather events are common during summer, the event that took place August 10 in Iowa and Illinois seemed otherworldly.
The squall line plowed a path 800 miles long and 40 miles wide through communities and corn fields, damaging 43% of Iowa's corn and soybean crop and causing nearly $4 billion in damage. Winds are estimated to have reached up to 140 mph, with hurricane-force winds lasting 40 to 50 minutes.
At first glance it would seem that this is just a freak natural event, with no real connection to climate change, but that may not be the case. While there is not much research on the connection between climate change and derechos, one recent paper found some alarming results.
The research team used a climate model to simulate mesoscale convective systems (MCSs), a technical term for masses of thunderstorms, in a warming world. These MCSs are the parent structures which sometimes spawn derechos. Using a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario, the paper concluded: "At the end of the century, the number of intense MCSs are projected to more than triple in North America during summer due to more favorable environmental conditions."
The research also found that MCSs' maximum hourly precipitation rates will increase by 15% to 40% in the future, due to a warmer atmosphere loaded with more moisture. "The moisture source for MCSs in the central U.S. is predominantly the Gulf of Mexico and climate change will increase the low-level jet stream moisture transport from the Gulf northward," explains lead author Dr. Andreas Prein, from the National Center For Atmospheric Research.
"How this all relates to changes in derecho frequency and intensity is poorly understood," Prein admits, but now that climate models are capable of modeling this, he plans to make it a priority in future studies.
While Mann did not comment specifically on derechos, he does feel extreme events are not properly captured in current climate models. "I have argued that the climate models are likely underpredicting the impact on the frequency and severity of various types of extreme summer weather events due to deficiencies in their ability to capture some of the relevant jet stream dynamics."
Having two tropical systems like Marco and Laura in late August, the beginning of the peak of hurricane season, is not abnormal, even if the storms are very close to one another. But what is abnormal is the record-setting pace of the current hurricane season. So far the Atlantic season has tallied 14 named storms, 10 days ahead of record pace. That's two more than the average number for an entire season, which runs through the end of November. Seasonal forecasters are predicting up to 25 named systems this year, which would place second behind 2005.
While there are many factors that contribute to how active a hurricane season will be, the most obvious is the warm water which fuels storm development. This year, nearly the entire tropical Atlantic Basin is above normal. This is part of a long-term trend of warming in which Atlantic sea surface temperatures have increased by around 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, and the measure of Ocean Heat Content hits record highs each and every year.
Warmer ocean temperatures do not guarantee more storms, but they do tip the balance, giving storms that extra boost to develop. After years of research, climate science is still not sure how a warming climate will impact the number of systems in the future, but there is consensus that, in general, hurricanes will get stronger and the strongest, most destructive hurricanes will get more frequent. Since major hurricanes — Category 3 and greater — are responsible for 85% of the damage, a warmer climate is likely to have devastating economic and human consequences.
Within research circles and among emergency planners, the concept of compound threats has become a very popular subject. For years now scientists have warned that increasing population, exposure and vulnerability combined with extreme events spiked by climate change, would overwhelm resources and compromise emergency response. Experts argue we are now seeing that unfold in real time.
"These equally profound events occurring in different parts of the country at the same time — what we call compounded or connected extremes — run the risk of putting significant strain on resources, budgets, and the supply chain," said Bowen.
This is a topic often missed in general discussions of climate change. It may seem easy to dismiss a few degree rise in global temperatures as inconsequential. However, when a cascade of extreme events, each made worse by human-caused climate change, pile on top of one another, it exposes the fragility of interconnected human systems.
"Add in the continued complications posed by COVID-19, and you're faced with even greater challenges in trying to get communities back on their feet," Bowen said.
Bowen recently authored a paper with other prominent scientists attempting to tackle this complicated issue. He says because of socioeconomic factors, population spreading into more high-risk regions, and an acceleration of climate change, more intense events "will only exacerbate the impacts of these compound scenarios in the future."
Experts warn that what we are witnessing in the present moment is a window into everyday life in the not-too-distant future if humans do not reverse course and curb emissions. This is how climate change becomes a truly destabilizing force. That's why Bowen and colleagues argue that much more urgency is needed to identify these unexpected combinations and the risks they pose to society.
This story originally appeared in CBS News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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