By Alison Gold
Wildfire activity has increasingly threatened life in the western United States over the past several decades. Many of this year's record-setting wildfires raged over hundreds of thousands of acres. However, one of their most dangerous and understudied effects is too small to perceive with the naked eye: the tiny particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs.
New research suggests that by the 2050s, each fire season in the region may cause an additional 155,000 asthma-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations and $850 million more in health care costs compared with today.
The new study predicts that parts of northern Idaho, western Montana, and the coasts of Oregon and Washington may experience the highest rates of increased asthma events. Jennifer Stowell, a postdoctoral associate in climate and health at the Boston University School of Public Health, and her team presented their findings at AGU's Fall Meeting 2020.
"Scientists think that wildfire smoke is more toxic than just the normal air that we breathe. We're trying to better characterize that and understand what biological mechanisms might be behind that," Stowell said. "The closer we can get to modeling these things, the better equipped we will be as far as policy and preparing and planning."
An Invisible Threat
When a substance burns, particles are released into the air. The size and composition of those particles differ on the basis of what material is being burned. The new research considers fine particulate matter (PM2.5) — particles small enough to be inhaled deeply into the lungs, cause inflammation, and worsen asthma. Some fine particulate matter may even enter the bloodstream.
To conduct the study, Stowell's team first used novel modeling technologies to project the increase in PM2.5 in wildfire smoke between now and 2050. Using those projections and previously collected data about asthma emergency room visits and hospitalizations on high-smoke days, the researchers then estimated how many more patients are likely to need treatment for asthma by the 2050s. Finally, they calculated the associated health care costs of treating those individuals.
The Problem Grows
The western United States' arid environment, decades of poor forest management, and global climate change have combined to produce longer, more intense fire seasons in the region, according to Susan Anenberg, an associate professor of global environmental health at George Washington University who was not involved in the new research.
"Smoke exposure is going to increase, and we can anticipate more air pollution–related health outcomes as a result," Anenberg said.
Some populations may be disproportionately affected by wildfire smoke, including people who work outdoors and those without access to air filtration systems, said Christine Wiedinmyer, an associate director of science at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, who was not involved in the new research. Wiedinmyer said she expects that more research will emerge on the effects of wildfire smoke on other aspects of human health, like mental health, cardiovascular complications, diabetes, and low birth weight.
Carbon emissions produced today will still linger in the environment and affect the climate decades into the future, Stowell said. Even an immediate drop in carbon emissions will not lead to an immediate decrease in wildfires and pollution. The team hopes its research can help emergency planners and policymakers understand where need will be highest and how to distribute resources.
"We can only expect it to get worse, at least for the next couple of decades, from what it is right now," Stowell said. "There's not a whole lot that we can do [to stop that] right now. But we can start planning."
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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When wildfires swept through the hills near Santa Cruz, California, in 2020, they released toxic chemicals into the water supplies of at least two communities. One sample found benzene, a carcinogen, at 40 times the state's drinking water standard.
Our testing has now confirmed a source of these chemicals, and it's clear that wildfires aren't the only blazes that put drinking water systems at risk.
In a new study, we heated plastic water pipes commonly used in buildings and water systems to test how they would respond to nearby fires.
The results, released Dec. 14, show how easily wildfires could trigger widespread drinking water contamination. They also show the risks when only part of a building catches fire and the rest remains in use. In some of our tests, heat exposure caused more than 100 chemicals to leach from the damaged plastics.
As environmental engineers, we advise communities on drinking water safety and disaster recovery. The western U.S.'s extreme wildfire seasons are putting more communities at risk in ways they might not realize. Just this year, more than 52,000 fires destroyed more than 17,000 structures – many of them homes connected to water systems. Heat-damaged plastic pipes can continue to leach chemicals into water over time, and ridding a water system of the contamination can take months and millions of dollars.
A Baffling Source of Contamination
The cause of drinking water contamination after wildfires has baffled authorities since it was discovered in 2017.
After the 2017 Tubbs Fire and 2018 Camp Fire, chemicals were found in buried water distribution networks, some at levels comparable to hazardous waste. Contamination was not in the water treatment plants or drinking water sources. Some homeowners found drinking water contamination in their plumbing.
Tests revealed volatile organic compounds had reached levels that posed immediate health risks in some areas, including benzene levels that exceeded the EPA hazardous waste threshold of 500 parts per billion. Benzene was found at a level 8,000 times the federal drinking water limit and 200 times the level that causes immediate health effects. Those effects can include dizziness, headaches, skin and throat irritation and even unconsciousness, among other risks.
Plastic water pipes don't have to burn to be a problem. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University, CC BY-ND
The Problem With Plastics
Plastics are ubiquitous in drinking water systems. They are often less expensive to install than metal alternatives, which hold up against high heat but are vulnerable to corrosion.
Today, water pipes under the street and those that deliver water to customers' water meters are increasingly made of plastic. Pipes that transport the drinking water from the meter to the building are often plastic. Water meters also sometimes contain plastics. Private wells can have plastic well casings as well as buried plastic pipes that deliver well water to plastic storage tanks and buildings.
Pipes inside buildings that carry hot and cold water to faucets can also be plastic, as can faucet connectors, water heater dip tubes, refrigerator and ice maker tubing.
Some common types of drinking water pipes: Black plastic is HDPE; white is PVC; yellow is CPVC; red, maroon, orange, and blue are PEX; green is PP; and gray is polybutylene. The metal pipes are lead, iron and copper. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University, CC BY-ND
To determine if plastic pipes could be responsible for drinking water contamination after wildfires, we exposed commonly available plastic pipes to heat. The temperatures were similar to the heat from a wildfire that radiates toward buildings but isn't enough to cause the pipes to catch fire.
We tested several popular plastic drinking water pipes, including high-density polyethylene (HDPE), crosslinked polyethylene (PEX), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and chlorinated polyvinylchloride (CPVC).
Benzene and other chemicals were generated inside the plastic pipes just by heating. After the plastics cooled, these chemicals then leached into the water. It happened at temperatures as low as 392 degrees Fahrenheit. Fires can exceed 1,400 degrees.
While researchers previously discovered that plastics could release benzene and other chemicals into the air during heating, this new study shows heat-damaged plastics can directly leach dozens of toxic chemicals into water.
What to Do About Contamination
A community can stop water contamination from spreading if damaged pipes can be quickly isolated. Without isolation, the contaminated water may move to other parts of the water system, across town or within a building, causing further contamination.
During the CZU Lightning Complex Fire near Santa Cruz, one water utility had water distribution system valves that seemed to have contained the benzene-contaminated water.
Rinsing heat-damaged pipes won't always remove the contamination. While helping Paradise, California, recover from the 2018 Camp Fire disaster, we and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that some plastic pipes would have required more than 100 days of nonstop water rinsing to be safe for use. Instead, officials decided to replace the pipes.
Different types of pipes respond to heating in different ways. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University, CC BY-ND
Even if a home is undamaged, we recommend testing the water in private wells and service lines if fire was on the property. If contamination is found, we recommend finding and removing the heat-damaged plastic contamination sources. Some plastics can slowly leach chemicals like benzene over time, and this could go on for months to years, depending on the scale of contamination and water use. Boiling the water doesn't help and can release benzene into the air.
Avoiding Widespread Contamination
Communities can take steps to avoid contaminated drinking water in the event of a fire. Water companies can install network isolation valves and backflow prevention devices, to prevent contaminated water moving from a damaged building into the utility pipe network.
Insurance companies can use pricing to encourage property owners and cities to install fire-resistant metal pipes instead of plastic. Rules for keeping vegetation away from meter boxes and buildings can also lessen the chance heat reaches plastic water system components.
Homeowners and communities rebuilding after fires now have more information about the risks as they consider whether to use plastic pipes. Some, like the town of Paradise, have chosen to rebuild with plastic and accept the risks. In 2020, the city had another wildfire scare and residents were forced to evacuate again.
Disclosure statement: Andrew J. Whelton received funding from the Paradise Irrigation District and Paradise Rotary Foundation. He also participated in the California Governor's Operations of Emergency Services Camp Fire Water Task Force from January, 2019 to May, 2019. Amisha Shah received funding from the Paradise Irrigation District. Kristofer P. Isaacson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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.
Hot, dry and windy conditions fueled a wildfire southeast of Los Angeles Thursday that injured two firefighters and forced 25,000 to flee their homes.
As of Thursday evening, the Bond Fire had spread to 6,400 acres and was only 10 percent contained, the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) tweeted. It comes as California has already experienced its worst year for wildfires, The Associated Press reported. The Bond Fire is also burning close to where the Silverado Fire forced tens of thousands to evacuate in October. Among them was Kolbi Winters, who had to evacuate again Thursday.
"I had one month literally to enjoy myself before another fire happened," Winters told The Associated Press. "If this continues happening, and we don't take care of this, one day, I'm not going to have a home."
California's worsening fires have been linked to the climate crisis, as warmer temperatures make the state and its vegetation drier, fueling the flames.
The Bond Fire began in a house before 10:15 p.m. Wednesday night, CBSLA reported. However, three factors influenced its spread, according to CNN. A combination of Santa Ana winds up to 70 miles per hour, humidity as low as four percent and the hottest temperatures across the continental U.S. created a "particularly dangerous situation" for fires in the region, the National Weather Service Los Angeles said. These factors prompted utilities to shut off power to 123,000 customers as a preventative measure and sparked several fires, of which the Bond Fire was the largest, according to The Associated Press. High winds helped turn the house fire into a wildfire.
"When crews arrived it was a fully engulfed house and the winds were extremely strong and they pushed flames into the vegetation," OCFA spokeswoman Colleen Windsor told The Associated Press.
The blaze then damaged other structures.
"We know that a number of houses have been damaged, potentially destroyed," OCFA chief Brian Fennessy said at a press conference, The New York Times reported.
Fennessy also said that more than 500 firefighters from more than 30 agencies were helping to battle the flames. Two of those firefighters, who were with the U.S. Forest Service, were injured sometime Thursday afternoon, according to CBSLA. They were treated by paramedics and taken to a hospital, where their condition was not known. However, their injuries were not life-threatening, according to The New York Times.
The fire forced 25,000 to evacuate, though some evacuation orders were lifted, CNN reported. Evacuations were complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. Because of the contagious disease, authorities could not set up an overnight shelter and advised people to stay with family or in a hotel.
The Red Cross set up an evacuation point and said it had provided hotel rooms for 170 people, The New York Times reported.
The combination of back-to-back fires and the pandemic have taken a toll on the local community and its small businesses.
"Because of the fire, the quality of the air is very bad," 47-year-old Mohadeseh Sadollahi, who owns the Bellaria Coffee House in the evacuated community of Foothill Ranch, told The New York Times. "People can't sit outside, and they can't sit inside. As a small-business owner paying all my bills and rent, I can't fix it very easily."
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Thousands of homes were evacuated Wednesday after a Colorado wildfire exploded in size, growing at a rate of 6,000 acres per hour.
The East Troublesome fire had been burning since Oct. 14, but suddenly took off Wednesday in a more erratic manner than even worst-case-scenario predictions had anticipated, Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said, as The Colorado Sun reported. The fire had grown to 125,600 acres by Thursday morning and 170,163 acres by Thursday evening, making it the second-largest wildfire in Colorado history. It is only five percent contained, according to InciWeb.
"The growth that you see on this fire is unheard of," Schroetlin said during a Thursday press conference reported by NPR. "We plan for the worst. This is the worst of the worst of the worst. And no matter how we look at it, we can't control Mother Nature."
Heartbreaking video of homes burning in the #EastTroublesomeFire overnight. Listening to scanners right now and fir… https://t.co/y82wWnmchu— Emily Allen (@Emily Allen)1603352332.0
Schroetlin said Thursday morning that there was "lots of structure loss," according to The Colorado Sun, though no official tally of damage has been reported. As many as five people were unaccounted for by Thursday evening. However, there have been no reports of deaths or injuries.
The fast-moving fire was first driven by high winds into the town of Grand Lake Wednesday night, Colorado Public Radio (CPR) reported.
"It was basically out of a movie," retired newscaster Ernie Bjorkman told CPR. "It was a firestorm in downtown Grand Lake. Smoke and embers flying around. It was just a chaotic scene. We locked the door and said, 'hopefully, house, we'll see you when we get back.' "
As of Thursday, town manager John Crone told CPR that the town's historic Grand Lake Lodge and downtown area had not burned.
The fire then crossed the Continental Divide by 1:15 pm Thursday, according to The Colorado Sun. It also entered Rocky Mountain National Park, forcing it to close.
Latest satellite info shows increased fire intensity on the #EastTroublesomeFire early this afternoon. The fire has… https://t.co/GZC77SWXqB— NWS Boulder (@NWS Boulder)1603394384.0
The flames also menaced the park gateway town of Estes Park, filling it with smoke Thursday morning.
"The air quality has just decreased to a level that's almost unsafe to go outside," resident Alec Rogers told CPR.
Estes Park was also put under an evacuation order Thursday, and traffic stalled as people tried to leave.
PHOTOS: The sky has gone from yellow to orange. There is a long line of cars waiting to leave Estes Park.… https://t.co/tsKRcONrNk— Matthew Jonas (@Matthew Jonas)1603399983.0
However, incident commander Noel Livingston said Thursday that a cold front had checked the fire somewhat as it burned inside Rocky Mountain National Park and that it was no longer headed towards Estes Park, The Colorado Sun reported.
The concern is now that the fire will merge with the Cameron Peak fire, the largest fire in Colorado history, which is burning only 10 to 12 miles away. Livingston said he thought a merger was unlikely, but not impossible.
"This year has been one of those years when low-potential events seem to be happening with high frequency," Livingston said, as The Colorado Sun reported.
Officials are hopeful that snow forecast for this weekend will help them to get the fire under control, CNN reported.
The rapid growth of the East Troublesome fire is only the latest development to scorch the fire-weary Western U.S. this year. Its explosion to the second-largest fire in state history means that three of Colorado's five largest fires have now ignited in 2020.
The fire was driven quickly east by a combination of high winds, dry air and the fuel provided by lodgepole pines killed by beetles, InciWeb said. However, the climate crisis is creating ideal conditions for fire across the West. Almost all of Colorado was experiencing drought by the end of September, according to NPR. Fire scientists told The New York Times that fires burning so close to winter in Colorado show how the season has grown because of changing conditions.
"People have built and developed in these areas without recognizing the hazard they're in, and climate change is notching that up every year," University of Montana fire ecologist Philip Higuera told The New York Times. "It has me concerned for communities across the West that are in increasingly flammable landscapes."
- Colorado Wildfire Forces 1,000 to Evacuate - EcoWatch ›
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The federal government is more likely to take action aimed at reducing the severity of future wildfires in white and wealthy communities, according to new findings reported by the New York Times.
Poor households and people of color are disproportionately hurt by wildfires because they are often more physically exposed and are less likely to have insurance, and the new report from Resources for the Future shows the government's actions after a fire exacerbate those inequities.
Over the past decades, most people who moved to fire-prone areas were white and affluent, but rising housing costs are pushing lower-income families and families of color into those areas. These and other changes mean authorities need to improve on even basic elements of fire response like making sure non-English speakers are adequately informed of fire dangers and evacuation orders. The report follows a fire season, fueled by climate change, that obliterated records across the American West.
As reported by The New York Times.
One of the most important ways the federal government can cut wildfire risk is through so-called "fuel treatment" projects: reducing the amount of flammable vegetation in fire-prone areas, using either heavy machinery or by burning it off with a carefully controlled fire, set intentionally and for that purpose. But those projects are expensive, and Congress provides the government with funds to treat just a small fraction of the land at risk from fire each year.
Christopher Peters, president of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, which aims to help Native American communities, said Native Americans are disproportionately exposed to wildfires because of where they live, but have a harder time getting federal agencies to reduce fire risk on nearby land. "When it comes to putting the dollars where their mouth is, they provide services to nonnative communities," Mr. Peters said.
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A megadrought worsened by climate change is creating and exacerbating problems across the Western U.S. as NOAA predicts precipitation levels below historical norms through June.
NOAA's official spring outlook, released late last week, predicts expanding and worsening drought from Louisiana to Oregon and unusually warm temperatures in almost the entire country — which in turn make drought worse. "We are predicting prolonged and widespread drought," National Weather Service Deputy Director Mary Erickson told the AP. "It's definitely something we're watching and very concerned about."
Shrinking snowpack means even less water will be available for everything from drinking water to hydropower to irrigation, and reservoirs such as Lakes Mead and Powell are already at below-normal levels. Climate change exacerbates drought in multiple ways, including by creating weather patterns that, "leav[e] the southwestern states mostly warm, dry, and prone to wildfires,'' Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, told Bloomberg.
As reported by CNN:
The greatest area of snow drought expansion has been in the Sierra Nevada where no large storms have occurred since the strong atmospheric river in late January. This has left almost all of the Sierra Nevada weather stations below the 30th percentile of snow water equivalent, and a few locations in the Southern Sierra are even below the 10th percentile.
But what is bad for some can be good for others in terms of snowpack. It's the ultimate dichotomy.
That's because unlike in some previous years, that lack of snowmelt means flooding will be less severe across the Plains and Midwest, but it also means lack of necessary water for the western states that rely on it to keep drought conditions in check.
For a deeper dive:
- 12 New Books Explore Fresh Approaches to Act on Climate Change ... ›
- NOAA Updates Extreme Weather Forecasting Model ›
For the second time this year, Colorado is battling the largest wildfire in state history.
Strong winds pushed the Cameron Peak fire 17 miles to the east Tuesday and Wednesday, Wildfire Today reported. It burned more than 20,000 acres in a single day, swelling to 158,300 acres by 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and placing at least nine new areas under evacuation orders, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reported.
Here is the #CameronPeakFire map created with data from the multi mission aircraft (MMA) flight earlier today. Th… https://t.co/PQanYpzbyT— Canyon Lakes Ranger RD (@Canyon Lakes Ranger RD)1602731642.0
"This really was almost an epic day for doing evacuations and again, for everybody that's been moved, I know it's extremely difficult," officials said Wednesday night, as CBS4 Denver reported. "We do know that we lost structures today and for anybody who is impacted, you know, our heart goes out to you."
One family lost two cabins they owned in the Buckhorn Canyon area.
"The materials is one thing," Parker Hutchinson told CBS4 Denver. "But the amount of family heirlooms and just the memories of that area, they've been burned."
Despite these individual tragedies, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said the day could have been even worse.
"We have no reported injuries, no deaths, a lot fewer structures were impacted that we truly anticipated based on what we saw with that said, there's certainly a lot of folks that got hit," he said, as Colorado Public Radio reported.
Time lapse sent by a colleague (with permission to share), taken near the mouth of the Big Thompson canyon… https://t.co/phRPfP4sAs— Russ Schumacher (@Russ Schumacher)1602699633.0
The Cameron Peak fire has been burning since Aug. 13 in the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forest. It has persisted despite a snowstorm in early September and more snow on Sunday, fueled by high winds and drought. It had already destroyed or damaged 99 structures before exploding Tuesday, and officials said conditions were still too dangerous to assess the total number of buildings impacted in the last 24 hours. It is now 56 percent contained and more than 1,000 people are fighting it.
The fire is burning to the west of Fort Collins, but Smith said he did not think the flames would reach that more populous area or the nearby city of Loveland because they are protected by bodies of water and a lack of the heavy timber that feeds the flames.
The two largest fires in Colorado history both ignited this year. The Cameron Peak fire unseated the Pine Gulch fire, which burned 139,007 acres over the summer and held the record for only 48 days.
The ten largest fires in Colorado history all took place in the last 20 years, and seven took place in the last 10, according to figures reported by the Fort Collins Coloradoan.
As of August, 2020 was Colorado's third driest year on record and twelfth warmest, according to Colorado Public Radio. Almost a fourth of the state is experiencing extreme drought. These fire-fueling conditions are in line with what scientists say the climate crisis will do to the state.
"What we're seeing here is indicative of the fact that when the hot, dry years come around, they're hotter than most of the time when they've occurred in the past," state climatologist Russ Schumacher told Colorado Public Radio. "And that's pretty well in line with what climate projections have been saying for some time."
- Colorado Wildfire Forces 1,000 to Evacuate - EcoWatch ›
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As the planet warms, mountain snowpack is increasingly melting. But "global warming isn't affecting everywhere the same," Climate Scientist Amato Evan told the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.
In a recent study, a team of researchers examined if snowpack melted faster in the Western U.S. than in other areas. Their findings were published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Snowpack disappearance is occurring most rapidly in coastal regions and the south, according to scientists. This means that the Sierra Nevadas, Cascades and Southern Arizona mountains are at most risk for melting compared to the Rockies or Utah mountains.
"As you get closer to the ocean or further south in the U.S., the snowpack is more vulnerable, or more at-risk, due to increasing temperature, whereas in the interior of the continent, the snowpack seems much more impervious, or resilient to rising temperatures," Evan, the study's lead author, told Scripps Oceanography.
Funded by NOAA's Climate Program Office, the study analyzed regional variations in snowpack melt with temperature increases. Using four decades of observations, the scientists created a new model to understand the "discrepancy in the timing of snowpack disappearance," according to Scripps Oceanography.
They found shorter winters and early springs changed the amount of time snow had to accumulate and cover the ground. "Our theory tells us why that's happening, and it's basically showing that spring is coming a lot earlier in the year if you're in Oregon, California, Washington, and down south, but not if you're in Colorado or Utah," Evan told Scripps Oceanography.
For example, California's snowpack is not only melting faster but also accumulating less, threatening the state's water supply — one-third of which comes from the Sierras, NBC Bay Area reported. Rapid melting could also have "adverse societal effects because it contributes to a longer fire season," Scripps Oceanography wrote.
During a typical summer, gradual snowpack runoff keeps soil and plants moist. Yet in early spring 2020, the West experienced a warm and dry climate, The Washington Post reported.
"The magnitude we're seeing right now is pretty startling," Bryan Henry, a meteorologist with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, told The Washington Post last spring. By September, wildfires had burned more than five million acres in California, Oregon and Washington, The New York Times reported.
Understanding the threats limited snowpack had on regions, researchers were also able to use their models to make global projections. Coastal regions, the Arctic, Central Europe and South America will experience rapid snowpack melts sooner than the northern interiors of North America and Eurasia, the scientists wrote.
While their findings offer a dire warning, they could also help climate leaders focus on areas where action is most needed.
"I was excited by the simplicity of the explanation that we ultimately arrived at," Climate Scientist Ian Eisenman told Scripps Oceanography. "Our theoretical model provides a mechanism to explain why the observed snowmelt dates change so much more at some locations than at others, and it also predicts how snowmelt dates will change in the future under further warming."
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Six months of summer may sound like a school child's fantasy, but it could be a very real, and very serious, impact of the climate crisis.
A study published in Geophysical Research Letters last month found that summer in the Northern Hemisphere could last nearly six months by 2100 if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And this could spell "increased risks to humanity," the study authors warned.
"A hotter and longer summer will suffer more frequent and intensified high-temperature events – heatwaves and wildfires," Congwen Zhu of the State Key Laboratory of Severe Weather and Institute of Climate System at the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, who was not involved with the study, said in an American Geophysical Union (AGU) press release.
The research was based on the observation that summers are already getting longer in the Northern Hemisphere.
"More often, I read some unseasonable weather reports, for example, false spring, or May snow, and the like," study lead author Yuping Guan, an oceanographer at the State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography, South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, told AGU.
So Guan's team looked at climate data from 1952 to 2011 in the Northern Hemisphere. They defined summer as when temperatures began to be 25 percent hotter than during the rest of the year, and winter as when temperatures were in the coldest 25 percent of the year. What they discovered is that seasons are already shifting:
The new study found that, on average, summer grew from 78 to 95 days between 1952 to 2011, while winter shrank from 76 to 73 days. Spring and autumn also contracted from 124 to 115 days, and 87 to 82 days, respectively. Accordingly, spring and summer began earlier, while autumn and winter started later. The Mediterranean region and the Tibetan Plateau experienced the greatest changes to their seasonal cycles.
"Summers are getting longer and hotter while winters shorter and warmer due to global warming," Guan summarized.
The researchers then used climate models to predict how the length of seasons would change in the future based on how swiftly we act to reduce emissions. They found that, in a business-as-usual scenario, summers would extend nearly six months while winters would last fewer than two.
This would have serious implications for a wide range of human and animal activities, such as bird migration and agriculture, LiveScience explained. Another consequence could be the spread of deadly diseases.
"Tropical mosquitoes carrying viruses are likely to expand northward and bring about explosive outbreaks during longer and hotter summers," the study authors wrote, as LiveScience reported.
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By Jessica Corbett
The world's largest humanitarian network warned Wednesday that urgent international action is needed to address the rising risk of climate-related displacement, highlighting data that shows disasters such as storms, droughts, fires, and floods internally displaced more than 10 million people from September to February.
"In just the last six months, there have been 12.6 million people internally displaced around the world and over 80% of these forced displacements have been caused by disasters, most of which are triggered by climate and weather extremes," said Helen Brunt of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
"Asia suffers much more than any other region from climate disaster-related displacements," noted Brunt, IFRC's Asia Pacific Migration and Displacement coordinator. "These upheavals are taking a terrible toll on some of the poorest communities already reeling from the economic and social impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic."
The new report, Responding to Disasters and Displacement in a Changing Climate, draws data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. According to the IDMC, about 2.3 million displacements over the past six months are related to conflict compared with 10.3 million due to disasters.
MEDIA RELEASE: New report reveals 12.6 million people have been internally displaced around the world in the last s… https://t.co/4Y5c8OiwTq— IFRC Asia Pacific (@IFRC Asia Pacific)1615970193.0
The report details how the IFRC has responded to various humanitarian needs across Asia, with case studies about assisting communities affected by drought in Afghanistan; seasonal cyclones and monsoon rains, which lead to flooding and landslides, in Bangladesh; and a dzud, a term for extreme winter conditions that cause mass livestock loss, in Mongolia.
The network also dedicates a section to the Philippine Red Cross's efforts to adopt a strategic approach to housing, land, and property rights for displaced communities.
"We are seeing an alarming trend of people displaced by more extreme weather events such as Typhoon Goni, the world's most ferocious storm last year, that smashed into the Philippines," said Brunt. "Three storms hit the Philippines in as many weeks, leaving over three million people destitute."
More broadly, she added, "We need greater action and urgent investment to reduce internal displacement caused by the rising risk of disasters. Investing much more in local organizations and first responders is critical so they have the resources needed to protect lives, homes, and their communities."
The report includes eight overall recommendations:
- Investment in and focus on local actors and local responders;
- Meaningful community engagement and accountability;
- A protection, gender and inclusion (PGI)-informed approach and response;
- Strengthening national and branch level internal systems and capabilities;
- Monitoring population movements in the context of both slow and sudden onset disasters;
- Community-led assessments;
- Coordinating and promoting the centrality of durable solutions to displacement; and
- Humanitarian diplomacy, and multi-stakeholder partnerships and coordination.
"Things are getting worse as climate change aggravates existing factors like poverty, conflict, and political instability," Brunt told Reuters. "The compounded impact makes recovery longer and more difficult: people barely have time to recover and they're slammed with another disaster."
While the IFRC's report focuses on internal displacement — meaning individuals who remain within their home countries — recent climate-related disasters have also generated calls for just and updated policies related to refugees.
Last month, a report from Kayly Ober, senior advocate and program manager for the Climate Displacement Program at Refugees International, provided the Biden administration with a policy roadmap, declaring that "the United States has a moral and practical responsibility to lead on issues of climate change, migration, and displacement."
"Yes, we should invest in climate change adaptation and resilience measures, because it enables people to stay in place if they would like to," Ober told Common Dreams. "But we also need to understand that people are already on the move and will continue to be on the move, especially as climate change impacts increase in intensity and frequency."
An analysis released last year by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics & Peace found that as the global population climbs toward 10 billion by 2050, ecological disasters and armed conflict could forcibly displace about 10% of humanity.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Just days after a new report detailed the "unequivocal and pervasive role" climate change plays in the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, new fires burned 10,000 acres on Sunday as a "dome" of hot, dry air over Northern California created ideal fire conditions over the weekend.
In Napa County, the Glass Fire burned more than 2,500 acres, forcing at least 2,000 residents and a hospital to evacuate and threatening about 2,200 structures.
The fire tore through vineyards and jumped two rivers Sunday evening and was zero percent contained as of late Sunday night.
"It's a cremation," Craig Battuello, whose family has raised grapes in St. Helena for more than a century, told KPIX.
As of Monday morning, the Shady and Boysen Fires, burning near the Sonoma-Napa county line were believed to be spot fires from the Glass Fire.
Further north, the Zogg Fire had burned 7,000 acres as of Sunday evening.
Electricity will be shut off for 65,000 Northern California customers in 16 counties to prevent the spread of the fires.
For a deeper dive:
Increased frequency and intensity: BBC, E&E; Weekend conditions: Washington Post, The Guardian, San Francisco Chronicle; Fires: CNN, KPIX, San Francisco Gate, CBS, The Press Democrat, San Francisco Chronicle, ABC-7 KGO News, Mercury News, KRCR, SFist, San Francisco Chronicle, Weather Channel; Climate signals background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season
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The California wildfires set a record this year after burning more than 4 million acres in a season that is still going, according to the AP. Fire officials announced the grim new record Sunday, noting that the amount of land the fires have consumed this year is at least double that of any previous fire year.
"Since CAL FIRE officially began recording state responsibility fire figures in 1933, all large fire years have remained well below the 4 million acre mark for acreage burned, until now," said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the state's official fire agency, on Twitter Sunday. "This year is far from over and fire potential remains high. Please be cautious outdoors."
On Sunday, CAL FIRE announced that this year the state has battled more than 8,200 blazes, which have damaged more than 8,000 structures. The fires have also resulted in 31 deaths. That does not include the damage caused by the fires that raged through Oregon and Washington. Currently, roughly 17,000 firefighters are still working to control and extinguish at least 23 major fires in the state, as NPR reported.
"The 4 million mark is unfathomable. It boggles the mind, and it takes your breath away," said Scott McLean, a spokesman for CAL FIRE, as the AP reported. "And that number will grow."
The August Complex Fire is the largest blaze still burning in California. It is burning in Northern California as it has done since it started Aug. 16. It is currently 54 percent contained, according to CAL FIRE updates from Sunday night. On Saturday, wind cleared some smoke. When that happened, high temperatures and low humidity fed oxygen to the fire, giving it new strength, according to the update.
Fortunately, rain is in the forecast for Northern California this week, which will provide some much needed aid in containing the region's ongoing blazes, as CNN reported.
"A front is pushing through the Pacific Northwest today which is bringing cooler, drier air," CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said on Monday. The areas that are fighting the August Complex Fire, the Zogg Fire and the Glass Fire will all see significant rainfall on Friday, which will last through the weekend.
"Rain through this period will impact areas from San Diego to Seattle — however the bulk of the rain will occur from the Mendocino area in Northern California to the Canadian border," Guy said, as CNN reported. "This should be something to help the firefighters contain the blazes."
While there is some optimism about next weekend's weather prediction, the immediate forecast is for continued heat that will force firefighters to keep up their relentless efforts to contain the fire.
"We are seeing some relief in the weather, but it's going to be three of four days before it really makes a difference on the fire," said CAL FIRE meteorologist Tom Bird at a Sunday news briefing about the Glass Fire, as the AP reported. "The one good thing going forward, we're not expecting any wind events to push into the fire."
As of Sunday morning, the Glass Fire, which started in Napa last week, covered 63,885 acres and was 17 percent contained, as NPR reported.
The size of this year's fires is more than double the 2018 record of 1.67 million burned acres, or 2,609 square miles, in California, according to the AP. That meant that they affected people who were not in the path of the fires as air quality around the state plummeted and gave an eerie orange hue to the sky. The phenomenon of bad air that made its way into homes prompted a run on air purifiers across the state.
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