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Snow Trucked in for Iditarod, Ski Resorts Remain Closed as February Experienced Most Extreme Weather in History

Climate

A new report this week from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory finds that the rate of climate change, which has increased in recent decades, will increase even more in the 2020s. And Alaska, along with the rest of the Arctic, has been warming even faster with six degrees of winter warming as the loss of snow and ice cover triggers a feedback loop of further warming, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Alaska's rapid warming is very evident. It wasn't enough that they moved the start of the Iditarod 300 miles further north this year to Fairbanks from the traditional start of Anchorage, which has had record low snowfall. They had to reroute the course again when the Chena river, a part of the new course, failed to freeze sufficiently.

The ceremonial start of the race was still held in Anchorage, which as of March 9 received less than one-third of its average snowfall, according to Slate. So, the city had to truck in snow for the event. Sen. Lisa Murkowski tweeted about it with the hashtag "we make it work." I think the planet begs to differ. In a Senate hearing last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders brilliantly grilled Alaskan leaders for not only failing to address climate change but advocating for increased production of fossil fuels, despite leading scientists saying we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground to prevent catastrophic climate change.

A ski area outside of Juneau had to close temporarily due to lack of snow. They are still way below average, but they opened back up for the rest of the season. Boston received more snow in a single storm than Anchorage has seen all winter. 

Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in Canada is way below their average snowfall for the winter. This photo was taken March 1. Photo credit: Randy Goodman

And it's not just Alaska. As we all know, the drought-stricken West is having another exceptionally warm winter. Last month, the West cooked while the East froze. Ski resorts in California, Oregon and Canada closed due to lack of snow. One Southern Californian told me he had to use his air conditioning a few times this winter, while those of us in the East have had record snow and sub-freezing temperatures.

This past February marked the first time that one-third of the U.S. experienced exceptional cold while another third experienced exceptional warmth in the same month. Photo credit: NOAA

This past February was the most extreme on record, marking the first time that one-third of the U.S. experienced exceptional cold while another third experienced exceptional warmth in the same month, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "All-time records were set for the coldest month in dozens of Eastern cities, with Boston racking up more snow than the peaks of California’s Sierra Nevada," said Slate's Eric Holthaus. Meteorologists have even come up with a nickname for the phenomenon, "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge."

Meteorologists are calling the polar jet stream's abnormal pattern the "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge." Photo credit: NASA

“It’s the weather-controlling polar jet stream—a fast river of wind in the upper atmosphere—that has been locked in an extreme pattern for the past few years," explained Climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Rather than circling in a relatively straight path, the jet stream has meandered in great north-south waves. In the west, it’s been bulging northward, arguably for the past two winters. Over frigid northern Canada, the jet takes a hard right turn and plunges into the upper Midwest and East Coast, plummeting temperatures and creating punishing ice and snow storms.”

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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