By Jake Johnson
Footage of New Yorkers struggling to wade through filthy, waist-deep water at a Manhattan subway station as heavy rainfall engulfed the city's aging and long-neglected infrastructure on Thursday added fuel to progressive demands for a robust federal spending package that confronts the climate crisis — which is making such extreme weather more frequent and destructive.
"It's been raining for two hours and our infrastructure is flooding and overwhelmed," tweeted Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). "Our infrastructure package must address the climate change crisis with the urgency it deserves — with massive investments in decarbonization and clean energy."
"The impacts of climate change are already here," Bowman added. "It is urgent that our infrastructure package makes significant investments to prepare for and mitigate future emergency weather events."
One New Yorker who witnessed the scene at Manhattan's 157th Street Station told Gothamist that "people were pacing back and forth deliberating whether they were going to brave the waters or not." The person described the water as "real disgusting."
Some subway system ya got there. This is the 157th St. 1 line right now. @NYCMayor @BilldeBlasio https://t.co/xyfTAUPPNu— Paullee 🤠 #TaxTheRich (@Paullee 🤠 #TaxTheRich)1625776315.0
Rain flooding the platform at spring street on the @mta 6 line... #mta #nyc #Elsa https://t.co/9jzqQcMaz0— ISSA KHARI (@ISSA KHARI)1625779398.0
Other videos posted to social media on Thursday showed cars nearly halfway submerged in water as commuters attempted to navigate through the storm. One person was seen driving a jet ski on a badly flooded street.
"A 'bipartisan' infrastructure bill isn't big enough to stop climate change," said Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), referring to a $579 billion White House-endorsed package that includes hardly any climate funding — an omission progressives are attempting to remedy with a separate multitrillion-dollar bill that will move through the budget reconciliation process.
When there’s a flood in NYC, you know the Bronx was prepared to bring the jet skis out 😂😂😂 https://t.co/X8kgvh1G4b— Truthfully ‘THE EXCEPTIONAL’ Ruthless (@Truthfully ‘THE EXCEPTIONAL’ Ruthless)1625783731.0
The fierce rainfall and heavy winds came as Tropical Storm Elsa made its way up the East Coast of the U.S., sparking tornadoes in Georgia and North Carolina and prompting warnings of additional flooding in the Northeast on Friday.
"Flash flood watches were in effect for parts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut until noon on Friday, as Elsa was expected to deliver heavy rain across the area," the New York Times reported. "Transit officials, already girding for Elsa's arrival, said they had crews out across the city addressing the flooding problems as quickly as possible and warned against entering stations that might still be inundated."
The tropical storm hammered the Eastern U.S. as the Pacific Northwest grapples with a heatwave that experts have characterized as "the most extreme in world weather records." The historic temperatures, which reached as high as 121°F in British Columbia, killed hundreds of people — and more than a billion intertidal animals — in the U.S. and Canada.
On Wednesday, officials in Multnomah County, Oregon deemed the devastating heatwave a "mass casualty event" as the death toll in the state rose to 107.
A rapid-response analysis published earlier this week by a group of more than two dozen scientists found that the heatwave "would have been virtually impossible" in the absence of the human-caused climate crisis, and warned that such extreme events will become increasingly common without a major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
"Firenados in northern California. Ocean fires in the Gulf of Mexico. Subway waterfalls in New York City. A heat dome in the Northwest melting power cables, killing hundreds, and frying marine animals," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, tweeted Friday. "I have been told that combating climate change is expensive. Compared to what?"
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
The massive heat wave forecast to oppress the Pacific Northwest this weekend will be extreme and historic, among other superlatives, a growing consensus among meteorologists warns.
Climate change, caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, makes heatwaves worse and more frequent, and the heatwave expected to roast the Northwest will be extreme in both intensity and duration. Temperatures of 15-30°F above average could stifle the region for as much as a week, held in place by a high pressure "heat dome." Extreme heat and heatwaves kill as many as 5,600 people living in the U.S. every year, and are often worst in historically redlined neighborhoods.
As reported by The Washington Post:
Seattle, Portland, Spokane and Medford, along with other population centers in the Pacific Northwest, plan to open extra cooling centers as significant numbers of people lack air conditioning and may need to find relief from the sweltering temperatures.
Washington, Oregon and Idaho could all experience their hottest June weather on record, according to the National Weather Service, seeing temperatures of at least 113 or 114 degrees. As heat surges north of the border, British Columbia and Alberta are also predicted to experience record-setting heat and Canada's highest temperature observed of 113 degrees may fall.
"Even though we've had heat waves in June, they haven't been nearly as strong as this one is forecast to be," said Larry O'Neill, Oregon's State Climatologist and a professor at Oregon State University. "Other past exceptional heat waves that we've had in the Pacific Northwest — they've all occurred after mid-July."
For a deeper dive:
- How Can We Minimize Harm From Marine Heat Waves? - EcoWatch ›
- Potentially Deadly Heat and Humidity Levels Are Already Here and ... ›
- 'Life-Threatening' Heat Wave Shatters Records in Pacific Northwest ›
Whether you're installing a DIY solar panel system or having a top solar company handle the details, you'll want to choose the best solar panels for your home. But with so many options, it can be hard to know which panels you need.
In this article, we'll narrow down the 10 best residential solar panels based on materials, price, efficiency and more. All homes are different, so there's no one best solar panel for every system. It's important for homeowners to assess their specific needs and to select the right solar panels to accommodate their household energy requirements.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Our Top Solar Panels for 2021
For those who wish to take advantage of solar power, the first step is assembling a solar system for home use. This system will generally include a battery, an inverter and of course an array of solar panels. Based on factors such as efficiency, durability, warranty, price point and temperature coefficient, these are the 10 best solar panels for home use:
- LG: Best Overall
- SunPower: Most Efficient
- Panasonic: Best by Temperature Coefficient
- Silfab: Best Warranty
- Canadian Solar: Most Affordable
- Trina Solar: Best Value
- Q Cells: Consumer Favorite
- Mission Solar: Best Small Manufacturer
- Loom Solar: Most Reliable
- WindyNation: Best for Backup Power
As you can see, each of these solar panels excels in a certain area, and each one comes with its own pros and cons. Again, as you seek the best residential solar panels, it's crucial to consider the specific needs of your home and your solar power system.
How We Ranked the Best Solar Panels
In choosing our rankings, we carefully researched many types of solar panels from the industry's top manufacturers, evaluating them according to several criteria. Some of the factors we used to arrive at our rankings include:
The efficiency rating of a solar panel refers to the amount of captured sunlight that it can actually convert into useful energy. Keep in mind that solar panel efficiency tops out just over 20%, and generally speaking, the most efficient solar panels will yield the greatest energy savings for your home.
Solar panels represent a significant investment, and naturally, homeowners want to select products that are going to hold up over time. This means you'll want to buy solar panels that are made to be durable, and to withstand even intense weather.
A good, strong performance warranty can give peace of mind after you purchase residential solar panels. In this industry, a decent warranty may be anywhere from 10 years to 25.
Naturally, you will want to consider your budget before investing in solar panels. The cost of solar panels can fluctuate based on many factors. As you think about a panel's price tag, however, also factor in things like durability and warranty, which provide you a fuller sense of overall value.
Another important ranking factor is temperature coefficient. With solar panels, temperature coefficient refers to how much (or how little) the panel's productivity is diminished when the external temperature rises. How solar panels work in extreme heat plays a key role in year-round power output.
10 Best Solar Panels for Home
Based on the criteria outlined above, these are our picks for the top 10 best solar panels available in 2021.
1) Best Overall: LG
For our top selection, and our vote for all-around best residential solar panel, we're going with LG. LG is a top-tier electronics company, and its solar panels are known for their quality and durability. Truly, these are premium products that work well with almost any home solar configuration.
A quick look at LG's technical stats confirms this. In terms of efficiency, LG solar panels are almost unbeatable. (They are rated as 22% efficient; the only brand we've found that can surpass that is SunPower, and by less than a full percentage point.) A competitive price point and robust 25-year warranty just sweeten the deal and make LG the most recommendable of home solar panels.
2) Most Efficient: SunPower
If you're buying residential solar panels based solely on their efficiency, SunPower is the name to beat. (Remember, efficiency refers to the amount of sunlight that the panels can absorb and turn into useful energy for your home.) SunPower has the highest efficiency we've seen from any solar panel: 22.8%. And on top of that, we'll note that SunPower is reasonably priced and comes with a decent product warranty.
The bottom line: If you're mainly looking for a powerhouse, SunPower is definitely a solar panel manufacturer for you to consider.
3) Best by Temperature Coefficient: Panasonic
Panasonic is our choice for the solar panel with the best temperature coefficient. Basically, that means it will continue to perform at a peak output even when the external temperature rises. For those who live in extremely warm climates, this is an important consideration. (As for technical specs, note that the temperature coefficient rating for the Panasonic solar panel is -0.26.)
Beyond that, this is another example of a well-made product by a top-tier electronics company, and we think homeowners will love it for its durability and its overall quality.
4) Best Warranty: Silfab
When it comes to solar panels, the typical warranty may be anywhere from 10 years to 25 years. There are actually a number of products that hit that 25-year mark, including some that we've mentioned already, but we'll give the honor to Silfab. Not only does this solar panel come supported by a robust warranty, but it routinely wins accolades for longevity and for overall customer satisfaction.
Silfab is a less prominent name in the solar energy space, but it really deserves your attention. It's a great product that offers tremendous value and is one of our top picks for best solar panels for home use.
5) Most Affordable: Canadian Solar
If you're looking to secure some decent solar panels for a lower price point, Canadian solar may be your best option. This company makes high-quality panels that are not too far off from the industry leaders with regard to efficiency, temperature coefficient and other technical considerations. However, Canadian Solar makes its panels available at a much cheaper price.
One caveat: The warranty for Canadian Solar panels is 12 years, which is reasonable, but certainly a far cry from the industry-leading 25 years. With that one quibble, though, we believe Canadian Solar represents one of the best overall values for home solar panels.
6) Best Value: Trina Solar
Speaking of value, we also want to mention the residential solar panels from Trina Solar.
Trina Solar is a Chinese company, and like Canadian Solar, it does an admirable job of producing premium-quality cell technology at competitive price points. Their panels are almost as cheap as the ones from Canadian Solar, and come with a comparable 12-year warranty. They may actually be just a tad more durable, which is why we rank them as a slightly better value overall. Keep this brand in mind as you seek the best use of your solar dollar.
7) Consumer Favorite: Q Cells
As we considered the best solar panels on the market today, we took into account consumer reviews. Basically, we wanted to get a sense of how actual homeowners rank the leading products. The results were somewhat surprising: Based on reviews from a number of different websites, we found that a smaller company called Q Cells consistently rose to the top.
In terms of sheer customer satisfaction, this may be the company to beat… and of course, Q Cells also offers excellent efficiency, value, durability, and more.
8) Best Small Manufacturer: Mission Solar
The residential solar space is dominated by big tech and electronics companies like LG, Panasonic and even Tesla. For some homeowners, though, there's something appealing about going with a smaller, more niche brand. And if that's the boat you're in, then we're happy to recommend Mission Solar.
These panels are made in the San Antonio, Texas, area, which makes them some of the best U.S.-made products in the solar field. The technical specs are all on point, and the company pulls some robust customer satisfaction numbers, too. Keep Mission Solar on your radar as you seek the best solar panels for home use.
9) Most Reliable: Loom Solar
Buying solar panels is going to require a significant investment, even if you opt for some of the cheaper options. Naturally, you'll want to select robust technology that will withstand the test of time, and also hold up well in extreme elements.
Loom Solar panels are well-regarded for their ruggedness and durability. They are carefully designed to perform well even in intense storms. What's more, they are calibrated to run well even in low light or under cloud coverage.
As you seek solar panels that have a long lifespan and will work well no matter the weather, Loom Solar is a company to keep in mind.
10) Best for Backup Power: Windy Nation
Windy Nation makes panels that are a bit smaller and less robust, so you may not wish to use them as your primary energy source. However, they work extremely well for backup power options, and are also great for powering your RV or your cabin with renewable energy.
We'll also note that, for their size, Windy Nation panels are quite efficient. And, they come backed by a 25-year warranty, which should instill some confidence as you buy.
Free Quote: See How Much You Can Save on the Best Solar Panels
How to Choose the Best Home Solar Panels for You
When looking for the best residential solar panels, here are a few tips to ensure you're picking the right products.
The efficiency of your solar panels is going to be one of the key drivers of how much you cave on monthly utility bills and how quickly you recoup your investment. Each solar panel is rated for a particular efficiency level; the industry standard is between 16 to 18%, so anything in that range is going to be pretty decent. We'll note that SunPower's panels, with 22.8% efficiency, represent the highest rating we've come across.
Check Warranty Information
We also recommend comparing a panel's warranty against the industry standard. Hopefully, any solar panels you buy will come with a warranty of 10 years at a minimum. If you find something with a warranty of 25 years, that's ideal.
Compare Price and Efficiency
Something else to keep in mind is that the most efficient solar panels are not always the most affordable. In some cases, opting for a slightly less efficient product will actually provide superior value. You'll also want to think about the cost of solar panel installation and additional parts such as inverters and battery banks when setting your solar budget.
Think About Your Home Energy Needs
In assessing your solar needs, think about things like your roof's exposure to the sun, the surface area available on your roof and the amount of energy your household consumes on a monthly basis. These factors are all important in determining the number of solar panels you need, as well as the type of solar panels.
What Are the Different Types of Solar Panels?
When shopping for residential solar panels, it's also helpful to know the basic types that are available. The three basic categories are monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. Each type of solar panel comes with its own list of pros and cons.
Monocrystalline: Monocrystalline panels are made from a single, pure crystal of silicon. This allows them to have higher efficiency levels, but they also tend to be more expensive due to a more costly manufacturing process. Note: If you have less space on your roof and can only fit a small number of panels, monocrystalline solar panels may be the only viable option.
Polycrystalline: Polycrystalline solar panels are also made of silicon, but in this case, they are assembled from smaller fragments. This means they are often a little less efficient than monocrystalline panels, but they are also a more affordable option.
Thin-Film: Finally, thin-film solar panels can be made from a variety of ultra-thin materials. Thin-film panels are recommended when you need something that's lightweight, flexible and portable; they may work better for RVs and campsites than for homes. Thin-film panels can be relatively low in efficiency when compared to the other two options.
Do Solar Panels Require Maintenance?
When weighing solar energy pros and cons before making an investment, one of the most common questions that homeowners have is whether their solar panels will require maintenance.
For the most part, all the hard work comes on the front end. Installing a home solar system requires in-depth knowledge of electronics as well as solar power, and in most cases, a solar installation will take a few days. We recommend outsourcing this to trained solar professionals.
Once your system is in place, however, the level of upkeep required is extremely minimal. You will likely have little or no issue with your solar panels for 20 to 30 years. And if you do run into an issue, your warranty will hopefully cover it.
What Impacts Solar Panel Performance?
Solar panels can vary quite a bit in their overall performance and productivity. There are a number of specific factors that can impact how your residential solar system performs, including:
- Orientation: When your solar system is designed, your installer will be careful to position each panel in a way that maximizes its exposure to sunlight. If the orientation is even a little bit off, it can compromise the efficiency of your entire system.
- Weather and sun exposure: If you live in a part of the country that doesn't get consistent sunlight, or if your solar panels are often under cloud coverage, you're not going to produce as much clean energy for your home. (There is a reason why solar panels are especially popular in the Sun Belt.)
- Cleanliness: While solar panels are fairly low maintenance, you may occasionally need to wipe them down, especially in the aftermath of an intense storm. If panels become covered with grime or debris, they may not be able to absorb as much sunlight.
- Shade: Keep in mind that any shade cast over your roof is going to impact the efficiency of your solar panels. If your house is surrounded by tall trees, for example, that could impede solar production.
Bottom Line: Are Solar Panels Worth it for Your Home?
As more and more homeowners seek clean energy solutions, solar power is increasingly attractive. By harnessing the sun's natural rays, homeowners can reduce their dependence on traditional utility companies. Not only does this yield significant savings on monthly electric bills (potentially even eliminating those bills altogether), but it also reduces direct contributions to atmospheric pollution.
Ultimately, the decision about getting solar panels is a highly individual one. For some homeowners, going solar makes plenty of sense. For others, it may prove unwise or unfruitful.
As you consider what's best for you, make sure you take into account your home: The surface area available on your roof, the kind of weather you get, and the level of sunlight you're exposed to.
Also think about the panels themselves: Which performance factors should you consider? Which type of panels is best? And which brand is best aligned with your needs and your budget?
By weighing all of these factors, you can make a well-informed decision about the best solar panels for your household.
More than two dozen people have been killed by catastrophic flash flooding in central China in recent days.
At least a dozen people drowned in the subway in Zhengzhou, Henan province, and about 100,000 people have been evacuated. Social media videos showed extreme flooding that turned cars into bathtub toys — as well as the harrowing rescue of 150 children and teachers from a flooded kindergarten.
The city was deluged by 24.3" (617.1mm) of rain — 96% of its annual average — in just three days from Saturday to Tuesday. The extreme rainfall, and the severe heatwaves that strained the province's electrical grid just days prior, are both clear signals of the climate crisis, caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels.
"Such extreme weather events will likely become more frequent in the future," Johnny Chan, a professor of atmospheric science at City University of Hong Kong, told Reuters.
As reported by The Washington Post:
Experts and environmental organizations have connected the increase in severe weather events to climate change and China's rapid urbanization. The environmental advocacy organization Greenpeace warned last week that China's cities would face hotter summers and wetter rainy seasons because of climate change. Those conditions could cause more dangerous heat waves and heavier flooding in urban areas, Liu Junyan, the climate and energy project leader for Greenpeace in Beijing, told Al Jazeera.
The floods in Henan follow a string of unusually severe heat waves, floods and fires across the world in recent weeks. Flooding in Germany last week killed at least 165 people, and Canada and the Pacific Northwest have seen record-breaking heat and forest fires.
For a deeper dive:
Reuters, The New York Times, The Washington Post, BBC, The Guardian, France24, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg; Recent heatwaves: Bloomberg; Climate Signals background: Extreme precipitation increase; Extreme heat and heatwaves
The West Coast of the U.S. continues to bake as high temperatures fuel wildfires.
The region faced its third heat wave this summer as the heat dome effect that smothered the Pacific Northwest in late June settled over California and parts of the Southwest over the weekend, The New York Times reported. More than 31 million people are now living in areas under heat warnings or advisories.
"This time, the core of the high pressure and heat has been anchored farther to the south and has allowed excessive heat to build up across the region," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Adam Douty said.
High temperatures were expected to impact southeast Oregon, northern California, the Mojave Desert, eastern California, and parts of Nevada and Utah, CNN reported.
The effect has led to some record-breaking temperatures. Death Valley broke a daily record first set in 1913 on Friday with a temperature reading of 130 degrees Fahrenheit, AccuWeather reported. Las Vegas, meanwhile, reached 117 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, tying the city's all-time record. Other cities in Nevada and California also broke or tied their all-time high the same day.
Record Report! 💥 Numerous high temp records broke or tied across the region today. 🌡️ #LasVegas, Desert Rock, Bar… https://t.co/GW1ExkLSQo— NWS Las Vegas (@NWS Las Vegas)1625980161.0
Meanwhile, Lake George, Utah hit a temperature of 117 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, which may match the highest temperature ever recorded in the state, pending confirmation.
We reached 117°F in St. George today. This would tie the all-time record high for the state of Utah. The record rem… https://t.co/kvPKs668zv— NWS Salt Lake City (@NWS Salt Lake City)1625968224.0
One particular danger of the heat wave has been high night-time temperatures. In parts of the Desert Southwest, the thermometer has not dipped below 90 after sunset, CNN reported. In California, National Weather Service meteorologist Sarah Rogowski predicted nighttime temperatures would be 15 to 25 degrees above average, according to The New York Times.
"When you start getting those warm temperatures overnight combined with those high temperatures during the day, it really starts to build the effect," Rogowski told The New York Times. "People aren't able to cool off; it's a lot harder to get relief."
This can put people at more risk of developing heat stroke and dying, according to CNN.
The high heat is also fueling 55 large wildfires. Fires now cover nearly 500 square miles in six Western states, USA TODAY reported. The largest is the Bootleg Fire, which has engulfed more than 220 square miles in Oregon and is zero percent contained.
Another fire in Arizona proved deadly when a plane heading to respond to the fire crashed on Saturday, killing two firefighters. California is also battling its largest fire so far this year in the Beckwourth Complex Fire, which doubled in size over the weekend, as 9&10 News reported.
"There have been 3,061 people affected by the evacuation with 1,199 residences threatened," Beckwourth Complex Fire Information spokesman Mike Ferris told CNN.
⚠️#BeckworthComplexFire has jumped US 395. Evacuation orders reinstated for Rancho Haven and Flanigan Flats communi… https://t.co/XkovJwUlPb— Truckee Meadows Fire & Rescue (@Truckee Meadows Fire & Rescue)1625967790.0
The region should begin to see relief Monday into Tuesday evening, but the West is expected to stay five to 10 degrees warmer than average. And climate scientists believe that this summer's relentless heat is a sign of things to come.
The climate crisis has raised average temperatures by nearly two degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, so when heat waves occur they are likely to be both hotter and deadlier, The New York Times explained.
- Record-Breaking Heat Is a Clear Sign of Climate Change - EcoWatch ›
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- 80 Wildfires Rage Across West, Bootleg Fire Burns Over 300,000 Acres ›
- 17 States Under Heat Alerts as Fifth Summer Heat Wave in the U.S. Begins ›
By Tara Lohan
It's hard not to think about how hot it's been — even if you live somewhere that has escaped the heat in the past few weeks. When British Columbia clocks temperatures of 121° F, it gets the world's attention. As it should.
Here are six reasons why we need to be paying more attention to heat waves.
1. Deadly Numbers
Heatwaves may seem to lack the drama of other weather events with named storms and categorized wind speeds, but they're actually the most deadly severe weather event.
Last week's heat dome that locked the Pacific Northwest in a sweltering vice is an apt reminder. The prolonged stretch of record-high temperatures in British Columbia is estimated to have claimed around 300 lives. Another 76 deaths were reported in Washington and Oregon.
Across the world, things have been heating up — with deadly results. Between 1998 and 2017, heatwaves killed 166,000 people, the World Health Organization reports. That includes 70,000 who perished in Europe's 2003 heatwave.
2. Yep, Climate Change
Not surprisingly, climate change is making things worse. An increase in global temperatures has resulted in a rise in the frequency of heatwaves. In the years to come, climate change is expected to also make heatwaves more severe and longer lasting.
As people pump up the air conditioning and stay indoors, that also puts increased pressure on the electrical grid. New research found that these extreme weather events are triggering more failures of critical infrastructure.
Power failures, for example, have jumped 60% since 2015. The combination of excessive heat and blackouts in major U.S. cities would have calamitous results. In Detroit, the researchers found in their modeling, that could mean 450,000 exposed to dangerous temperatures and a whopping 1.7 million in air conditioning-reliant Phoenix.
3. The Dangers of Humidity
The most recent deadly heatwave hit the arid West, increasing concerns about wildfires.
An aerial image of the McKay Creek fire in British Columbia acquired by the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8 on June 30, 2021 during the region's record-breaking heatwave. NASA
Our bodies sweat to help keep us cool. But when the relative humidity is too high that moisture from our skin can't evaporate as well and we don't cool down. Scientists have identified the related wet bulb temperature of 95° F as the upper limit of what we can tolerate when conditions are both hot and extremely humid.
By midcentury, models predict, climate change will make wet bulb temperatures near 95° F a reality. But new research shows that areas in South Asia, the coastal Middle East and the coastal southwest of North America are already hitting that critical point.
4. Inequity Makes It Hotter
Not all people will face the same risks — even if they live in the same cities. Neighborhoods that lack tree canopy and green space, and have more road surfaces and large buildings, could be as much as 20° F hotter.
A 2020 study of 108 cities published in the journal Climate found that areas with higher temperatures are almost always the same neighborhoods that have experienced historic racist housing policies such as "redlining."
"This study reveals that historical housing policies may, in fact, be directly responsible for disproportionate exposure to current heat events," the researchers wrote. Another recent study in Nature Communications found that people of color have a higher risk than whites of high heat exposure in all but six of the largest 175 cities in the United States.
5. Wildlife at Risk
People aren't the only ones feeling the heat. The Pacific Northwest's recent heatwave also threatens cold-water-loving salmon. The Columbia and Snake rivers this year are seeing temperatures within two degrees of the "slaughter zone" that killed 250,000 sockeye in 2015, The Seattle Times reported.
When water temps rise above 62, #salmon are "more vulnerable to disease, and as temperatures climb higher, they wil… https://t.co/idBET1J1Vy— NWF - Idaho (@NWF - Idaho)1624993175.0
The heatwave hit at the peak of the sockeye run, and also when spring and summer chinook and steelhead are migrating. Some fish are being pulled out of the river and trucked to hatcheries for spawning.
"We are crossing the line to temperatures that can be disastrous for fish," Michele DeHart, manager of the Fish Passage Center, told The Seattle Times. "I would say the outlook is pretty grim."
6. Vicious Circle
The hotter it gets, the more fortunate people who have air conditioning crank up the dial and the longer they'll need to leave it running. In a fossil-fuel driven world, that means even more emissions that will continue heating the planet.
Already 10% of global electrical use is from people trying to stay cool with air conditioning and electric fans, according to the International Energy Agency. Expect that number to climb as temperatures get hotter and more people become able to afford A/C.
The International Energy Agency reports that over the next 30 years, air conditioning may be one of the top drivers of electricity demand. "Without action to address energy efficiency, energy demand for space cooling will more than triple by 2050 — consuming as much electricity as all of China and India today," the agency reports.
That makes the need for high-efficiency cooling extremely vital. Not to mention more widespread use of renewable energy and, of course, drastically curbing climate emissions.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
- Extreme Heat Wave Melts Cables, Buckles Roads in Northwest ... ›
- Heat Waves Cook Bird Eggs - EcoWatch ›
- 17 States Under Heat Alerts as Fifth Summer Heat Wave in the U.S. Begins ›
While the bulk of the fires themselves are burning in the West, the smoke is projected to fill skies across the entire country, reaching as far east as New York.
"It's becoming an unfortunate new feature of New York City's summer weather -- wildfire smoke from the West Coast billowing east, adding to the haze here," NBC4 New York reported Friday.
Every state in the nation is expected to experience at least light, surface level smoke with the exception of the Four Corners states and the coastal Southeast, CNN reported. This is because the smoke is being lifted high enough into the atmosphere to reach the upper air masses, which push it east.
However, the states seeing the biggest impact from the smoke are still the states closer to the fires themselves. Minnesota and North Dakota are experiencing unhealthy air as fire smoke from Canada moved across the border Thursday into Friday. Air quality alerts are also in place in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, in addition to Minnesota.
#SATELLITE SPOTLIGHT: @NOAA's #GOES17🛰️ is tracking a lot of #smoke from the numerous #wildfires burning across the… https://t.co/4X2X44lcKo— NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs (@NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs)1626286235.0
The smoke is so dense it can be seen from space, as Space.com reported. The largest fire is the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, which has burned 241,497 acres and is only seven percent contained, according to the most recent update from InciWeb. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been monitoring the massive fire and its smoke with its GOES-17 satellite.
UPDATE: Oregon's #BootlegFire showed explosive growth last evening, with its #smoke and #pyrocumulus clouds seen he… https://t.co/KyQJunXgCX— NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs (@NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs)1626355259.0
Wildfire smoke is a problem because it contributes to air pollution.
"The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explained. "These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death."
There is even evidence that wildfire smoke can help spread COVID-19. A study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology Tuesday found a 17.7 percent increase in coronavirus cases in Reno, Nevada during the period when the city was most exposed to wildfire smoke from Aug. 16 to Oct. 10 of 2020.
That makes wildfire smoke another example of how the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis compound each other. Climate change makes fires in the West more frequent, bigger, faster and more severe, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
"Climate affects how long, how hot and how dry fire seasons are," Natasha Stavros, who studies wildfires as an applied science system engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained. "As climate warms, we're seeing a long-term drying and warming of both air and vegetation."
2020 was a record-breaking season for fires in the West, but 2021 has already surpassed it, helped along by historic heat wave and drought conditions.
So far this year, there have been 6,271 more wildfires than in 2020 that have burned 511,427 more acres, CNN reported.
And states in the region don't expect relief any time soon.
"We are looking at a couple of months at least with wildfire smoke in areas," Idaho Department of Environmental Quality regional airshed coordinator Mike Toole told KTVB7. "Long term, I think we are going to see the smoke through the summer and into the fall."
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The traditional end of summer weekend will feel more like mid-July in the West.
The National Weather Service is not mincing words about what's in store for Southern California this weekend as it warns of "dangerous heat expected Friday through Labor Day." The warning says that triple digit temperatures are expected away from the beaches with 115 degree temperatures possible in the San Fernando Valley, as well as an elevated risk of fire.
"A widespread heat wave with record high temperatures expected will bring dangerous heat and elevated fire weather conditions nearly everywhere Friday through at least Labor Day," the Weather Service says, as The Washington Post reported. "There is an exceptional risk for heat illness and power outages."
Just a couple of weeks ago, the state was seeing record-breaking heat that strained the power grid and forced rolling blackouts, as EcoWatch reported. This heat wave won't be as humid and as sticky as the last one, but it does come at a time when firefighters are still working to contain the second and third largest wildfires in state history, according to The Washington Post.
The heat will begin Friday and continue through the weekend, peaking on Sunday. The heat will also cover a large expanse of the West, with excessive heat in California, Nevada and Arizona. The temperatures in Los Angeles are expected to reach 107 degrees on Saturday and 106 in Sacramento on Sunday, according to Bloomberg.
"Bad things can happen with this kind of heat," said Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, to The Los Angeles Times.
The state's power grid operator ordered all work on transmissions lines to be postponed so there is enough electricity running through the system over the weekend.
"With the fires and the wear and tear on units, this weekend could be ugly," said Campbell Faulkner, senior vice president and chief data analyst at OTC Global Holdings, a commodities broker, to Bloomberg. "It's just a really difficult spot for California."
The heat will even extend up to Oregon, which is under a heat advisory.
"High pressure building in the west will contribute to temperatures being 15-20 degrees above average for much of Oregon by Thursday," the National Weather Service office in Portland said in an urgent weather message Tuesday, as NBC News reported.
The temperatures around Los Angeles may not only be the hottest for September, but may actually break a record for the hottest on record ever, according to The Washington Post.
"The heat wave building for most of the West is just plain mean for September," wrote Bill Kairns, a meteorologist for NBC News on Twitter. "More fire danger, poor air quality and record highs."
The two large wildfires that have destroyed thousands of acres near the Bay Area are still technically alive. However, recent mild weather has allowed firefighters to get them under control, so they are both now more than 70 percent contained, according to NBC News.
"With this heat coming, any new starts could create problems," said Lynne Tolmachoff, a Cal Fire spokesperson, as NBC News reported. "We're staffed up. With the holiday there's going to be a lot of people out recreating. We're asking people to stay safe and don't start new fires."
Scientists have already noticed that the vegetation in the state seems highly stressed over the last few months and conditions are near record levels of dryness. Right now, shrubs are drier than they were in 2018, when the state had record wildfires. That has raised the concern that this weekend's excessive heat could put several areas back into record levels of dryness and catalyze fires that spread rapidly and are impossible to control, according to The Washington Post.
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Thousands of scientists reiterated calls for immediate action over the climate crisis in an article published Wednesday in the journal BioScience.
"The extreme climate events and patterns that we've witnessed over the last several years — not to mention the last several weeks — highlight the heightened urgency with which we must address the climate crisis," said Philip Duffy, co-author of the study and executive director of the Woodwell Climate Research Center in the US state of Massachusetts.
Two years ago, more than 10,000 scientists from around 150 countries jointly declared a global climate emergency. They are now joined by over 2,800 more signatories in urging the protection of life on Earth.
Since the 2019 declaration, Earth has seen an "unprecedented surge" in climate-related disasters, researchers noted.
What Are the Signs?
For the study, researchers relied on "vital signs" to measure planetary health, including greenhouse gas emissions, glacier thickness, sea-ice extent and deforestation. Out of 31 signs, scientists found that 18 hit record highs or lows.
The year 2020 was the second-hottest year since records began, scientists said. And earlier this year, the carbon dioxide concentration in the Earth's atmosphere was higher than at any time since measurements began.
The authors noted that all-time low levels of ice mass have been recorded in Greenland and Antarctica. Glaciers are melting 31% faster than they did just 15 years ago, they added.
Meanwhile, the annual loss rate of the Brazilian Amazon reached a 12-year high in 2020.
Tim Lenton, director of the University of Exeter's Global Systems Institute and co-author of the study, said the recent record-breaking heat wave in the western United States and Canada showed that the climate had already begun to "behave in shocking, unexpected ways."
"We need to respond to the evidence that we are hitting climate tipping points with equally urgent action to decarbonize the global economy and start restoring instead of destroying nature," he said.
How Can We Respond to the Climate Crisis?
Researchers reiterated calls for transformative change, listing three main emergency responses in the immediate term:
- Phasing out and eliminating fossil fuels
- Implementing "a significant carbon price"
- Restoring ecosystems such as carbon sinks and biodiversity hotspots
Climate change should be included in core curricula in schools worldwide to raise awareness, the authors said.
Scientists also urged slashing pollutants, stabilizing the human population and switching to plant-based diets.
"We need to stop treating the climate emergency as a standalone issue — global heating is not the sole symptom of our stressed Earth system," said William Ripple, a lead author of the study and professor of ecology at Oregon State University's College of Forestry.
"Policies to combat the climate crisis or any other symptoms should address their root cause: human overexploitation of the planet."
Reposted with permission from DW.
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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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On Monday, Portland saw its hottest temperatures yet — a record high of 116 degrees Fahrenheit. The fire department issued a ban on fireworks, according to KATU.
In addition to Portland, Tualatin, and Bend have also prohibited fireworks through July 9. Despite the ban, Bend still has two public fireworks shows scheduled. In Bend, violators can face up to a $750 fine. Tualatin officials unanimously passed the ban on fireworks.
"If we don't take this proactive step now, I fear the consequences could be devastating," the Portland fire chief, Sara Boone, said in a statement. "It is not easy to make a decision like this so close to our national holiday, but as fire chief, I feel I have a higher responsibility to sometimes make unpopular decisions during unprecedented times to protect life, property and the environment."
Ashland, Oregon, has had a ban on all fireworks for years and is canceling its public, annual firework show out of precaution. Jacksonville just issued its own firework ban, according to KOBI15.
In Washington, the city of Vancouver has existing bans on the use of fireworks. Due to the dry, hot conditions, Battle Ground, Camas, and Washougal joined Vancouver on its ban on firework sales and use, according to KATU.
Due to the significant fire risks, Clark County officials' ban of firework sales and usage went into effect on June 29 and will last until midnight on July 4, according to The Guardian.
"This was a very difficult decision to make, but in consideration of the elevated fire danger, it was deemed the only decision possible to ensure the safety of our neighborhoods, communities, and green spaces," Camas-Washougal Fire Chief Nick Swinhart said to KATU. "The threat of fireworks causing a fire in these extreme conditions is too high to allow the use of fireworks this July 4th."
On Tuesday, Yreka, California, which is located near the still-burning Lava Fire, has also announced its ban on fireworks, according to KOB15. Also on Tuesday, Etna and Weed in California announced their fireworks bans.
"Its tough to make that call," Yreka Mayor Duane Kegg said to KOBI15, when choosing to ban fireworks. "Right now our resources are really hurting, so if we were to have any other major instances come through the Yreka area, it would greatly impact the safety and well being of our citizens."
In addition to Oregon, California and Washington, other U.S. cities have banned fireworks this year, including several municipalities in Utah and Montana. Furthermore, some tourist venues have canceled their shows, according to The Guardian.
"The grass always catches on fire … Why are we doing something that causes fire when fire's our biggest issue?" Winnie DelliQuadri, a town projects manager in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, said, according to the Associated Press.
The 2021 wildfire season could surpass the devastation seen in 2020, the worst wildfire season on record, according to the Los Angeles Times. Last September, a pyrotechnic device used at a gender reveal party caused a California fire that killed a firefighter and burned the second-highest amount of land in 40 years, according to the Associated Press.
This year, fireworks have already started a couple of fires — one in central California, and another in Utah, which was started by a child, according to The Guardian.
"As a fire scientist, I'm bracing myself for this fire season because of how dry and hot it is already," Jennifer Balch, the director of Earth Lab at the University of Colorado, told the Associated Press. "I think fireworks right now are a terrible idea."
Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.
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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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