At least 100,000 people were evacuated along India's west coast as the country's financial capital of Mumbai awaits its first cyclone in more than 70 years.
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At least 14 people were killed when Tropical Storm Amanda walloped El Salvador Sunday, Interior Minister Mario Duran said.
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At least 84 people were killed when Cyclone Amphan walloped India and Bangladesh Wednesday, bringing "war-like" destruction to the city of Kolkata in the Indian state of West Bengal, The Guardian reported.
The devastation caused by hurricanes in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, North Carolina and Houston over the last few years is a direct effect of the climate crisis, which is making tropical storms stronger and wetter, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as CNN reported.
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By Juan Declet-Barreto
In early April, when social distancing took hold across many places in the U.S. — with school and workplace closings and public life coming to a halt — it seemed like an inopportune time to talk about climate change.
The Double whammy of Climate and COVID-19 on Vulnerable People<p>If the litany of pandemic scientists' warnings sounds familiar, it's because climate scientists have been issuing, for decades, similar warnings about the need to reduce carbon emissions to curb climate change and avoid catastrophic consequences for human life and the infrastructure that supports it. And while climate change and COVID-19 may seem unrelated on the surface, we live in an interconnected world where carbon emissions and viral agents like the novel coronavirus are globalized, operating and disrupting our lives at different spatial and temporal scales. Think, for example, of the novel coronavirus' 1-14 day incubation period in our bodies, a climate change-driven heat wave through our city, or seasonal flooding through our region.</p><p>Our new pandemic reality has been made more complicated and dangerous by climate change and the added pressure it can exert on millions of people — e.g., to seek cooling centers, endure a long power outage, flee the path of hurricanes, the loss of life or property, habitats, and ancestral ways of life — and the combination looks frightening.</p><p>A few weeks ago, my colleague Dr. Kristy Dahl and I analyzed the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/kristy-dahl/new-ucs-analysis-coronavirus-and-flooding-set-to-collide-in-us?fbclid=IwAR0H0KQu7pq6mlssXFHYCCrJ_NPcQ9sIiYVbV00vPiqtXjJOCKdSMUNlezg" target="_blank">confluence of projected COVID-19 infections</a> and spring flood predictions by the end of May 2020. We found that many areas in the U.S. South and Midwest, including rural agricultural communities like Cedar Rapids, IA, and large metropolitan areas like Atlanta and St Louis could be dealing with evacuating people to shelters while simultaneously trying to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus by maintaining social distancing guidelines.</p><p>Fortunately, most of those flood predictions have not come true. But NOAA's Spring flood outlook, <a href="https://www.weather.gov/dvn/2020_springfloodoutlook" target="_blank">updated since we did that analysis</a>, is warning that spring rain and wet soil conditions could still drive flooding in the late season.</p>
Protecting Against Both COVID-19 and Extreme Weather<p>As temperatures across the U.S. rise with the approach of summer, another climate and COVID-19 quandary is in sight: how to protect people — especially the most vulnerable — from heat waves, while also protecting them from COVID-19?</p><p>For example, elderly people, who are at <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/adrienne-hollis/catch-22-of-coronavirus-for-seniors-most-at-risk-and-the-importance-of-up-to-date-information" target="_blank">higher risk of death from COVID-19</a>, are also at high risk of becoming sick or dying from extreme heat, as was the case in the <a href="http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/July-2015/1995-Chicago-heat-wave/" target="_blank">1995 Chicago heat wave</a> that killed 700-plus (many of them people of advanced age who lived on their own). In some cities, where heat tends to be more extreme because of the <a href="https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/WCAS-D-15-0026.1" target="_blank">urban heat island effect</a>, many elderly people live on their own, may not have an air conditioner unit at home, or may be unable to afford its use. Many among those will be forced to observe social distancing by sheltering in place in dangerously hot homes. But poverty and social isolation on their own will unfortunately also take their toll on the most vulnerable if we don't take steps to protect them.</p><p>COVID-19 is already ravaging <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/adrienne-hollis/the-crisis-within-the-crisis-covid-19-is-ravaging-african-americans" target="_blank">African American</a> and <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/coronavirus-takes-more-native-americans-lives-killing-our-elderly-erases-ncna1189761" target="_blank">Native American communities</a>, and <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/juan-declet-barreto/para-enfrentar-la-pandemia-del-coronavirus-necesitamos-escuchar-a-los-cientificos-y-mantener-el-distanciamiento-social" target="_blank">Latinos are also disproportionately exposed</a> to the novel coronavirus. Many of the usual steps taken to protect people from extreme heat in many of these communities — in urban and rural areas alike — are incompatible with the social distancing measures taken to prevent virus contagion. And if climate change continues unchecked, the <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/killer-heat-united-states-0" target="_blank">number of "killer heat" days</a> could quadruple in many areas of the U.S., putting more people in harm's way.</p><p>Before the COVID-19 crisis, it may have been possible for elderly people and other vulnerable persons to go to nearby cooling centers, malls, movie theaters, parks, lakes, or beaches, but in many states these are closed to limit spread of COVID-19 infections.</p><p>In mid-April, the <a href="https://twitter.com/DecletBarreto/status/1250882413837901826" target="_blank">heat index in parts of Florida exceeded 100<strong>°</strong>F</a>, prompting calls for Governor DeSantis to enact a statewide moratorium on utility shutoffs for lapses in bill payment. Keeping the air conditioner (AC) on is a critical way for people to stay healthy and alive indoors during extreme heat days while observing social distancing and stay-at- home orders.</p><p>This came into focus last week across the Southern U.S. as a deadly heat wave blanketed the region. As my colleague <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/rachel-licker/how-to-keep-us-south-safe-from-covid-19-and-scorching-heat-even-as-some-states-ignore-pandemic-dangers" target="_blank">Dr. Rachel Licker pointed out</a>, the combination of income loss, COVID-19, extreme heat, and the lack of utility shutoff moratoria are bad, bad news for millions across the South. In this time when multiple environmental hazards are hitting us, the way to keep people safe from a heat wave is to keep the AC running at home so they don't have to go outside to cool and risk spread of COVID-19.</p><p>Under normal times, it's difficult for a significant chunk of the U.S. population to keep the AC, refrigerator, and other essential home appliances running, but loss of jobs and income will make it even harder for an even larger segment of the population.</p>
Six Ways Congress Can Keep Low-Income People at Home and Cool During the Pandemic<ul> <li><strong>Ensure Parity in energy bill assistance benefits to residents of public housing </strong>– In at least 26 states, residents of public housing with energy costs included in rent are <a href="https://liheapch.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/440.htm" target="_blank">not eligible for energy bill payment</a> assistance under the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Such an arrangement means that tenants don't have to pay out of pocket for electric bills, which can serve to protect from heat those residents of public housing that includes AC units. But it does not work for public housing that does not include AC units because LIHEAP does not cover the purchase of AC units. In addition, residents of public housing in many states receive less LIHEAP benefits regardless of how energy costs are paid. Residents of public housing, like other low-income populations, already face significant challenges to meeting material needs, and should not be penalized by LIHEAP. Congress must ensure parity in LIHEAP benefits for all low-income populations.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Eliminate LIHEAP medical documentation requirement </strong>– One requirement for LIHEAP benefits eligibility is that an applicant with a health or medical risk that could worsen with a utility disconnection provides medical documentation of such risk. In this country, many low-income persons lack health insurance due to cost barriers. In addition, in-person medical appointments are currently largely not possible due to the need to observe social distancing during the pandemic, and virtual medical appointments require broadband internet connections at home and computer equipment that may be out of reach for many low-income populations. Beyond pre-existing medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes that could be exacerbated by extreme heat, many persons without diagnosed medical conditions are still at risk of heat-related illness or death. While some <a href="https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs/resource/liheap-dcl-initial-covid-19-program-guidance" target="_blank">LIHEAP implementation guidelines have been explicitly relaxed during the COVID-19 emergency</a>, jurisdictions do not appear to have authority to relax medical documentation eligibility requirements.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Enact utility shutoff moratoria in all states and territories for the duration of the pandemic </strong>– While Florida is the only state with no protections against utility shutoffs due to health or medical reasons, only nine states have enacted bans for electricity shutoffs based on temperature thresholds. <a href="https://www.metro.pr/pr/noticias/2020/03/17/aee-rechaza-otorgar-moratoria-pagos-energia-electrica.html" target="_blank">Puerto Rico</a> and the <a href="http://www.viwapa.vi/news-information/press-releases/press-release-details/2020/03/28/wapa-reiterates-commitment-to-not-disconnect-delinquent-accounts-during-covid-19-state-of-emergency" target="_blank">US Virgin Islands</a> have not formally enacted moratoria, but their respective power companies have committed publicly to not disconnect power for non-payment during the COVID-19 emergency. But as my colleague Joe Daniel wrote, voluntary actions of <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/joseph-daniel/how-covid-19-leads-to-energy-insecurity" target="_blank">power companies do not provide</a> comprehensive protection and are not uniform across the U.S. Therefore, what is needed is a national mandatory moratorium on utility disconnections that includes territories and tribal nations as well. If power bills stack up and become due at some point after the crisis, many low-income people will see their energy burden increase, so a national utility disconnection moratorium needs to come with a plan for recouping costs that does not impose an inequitable burden.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Enact parity in evictions moratoria for the duration of the pandemic </strong>– The CARES Act temporarily banned evictions for not paying rent, but similar to the utility shutoff ban, the evictions moratorium "<a href="https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/04/amid-pandemic-congress-suspends-evictions-but-not-for-all/" target="_blank">has gaps, limits, and pitfalls</a>" and can also be problematic for landlords. There is no straightforward way for renters to know if their landlords are banned by law from evicting renters–not unless the landlord shares with renters information on for example, if the landlord has a federally-backed mortgage, or participation in housing programs for victims of domestic violence. And landlords will typically have little incentive to share such information with their tenants. Regardless, <a href="https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/cares-act-eviction-moratorium-covers-all-federally-financed-rentals-thats-one-four-us-rental-units" target="_blank">the CARES Act moratorium</a> covers just 28 percent of rental units in the US. Just like with the utility shutoff ban, Congress must enact a national moratorium on evictions that includes the territories and tribal nations as well.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Increase income ceiling for LIHEAP eligibility </strong>– Income eligibility for LIHEAP is somewhere between 100 and 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (<a href="https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/federal-poverty-level-fpl/" target="_blank">FPL</a>), and states have discretion in choosing the specific cutoff within that range. To use an example, the FPL for a family of four (like mine) is $26,200, obviously a very modest income, and too low for many households to deal with the <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewdepietro/2017/12/28/cost-of-living-is-surging-in-these-major-cities-and-what-it-could-mean-for-2018/#74d1fe5571c6" target="_blank">increasing cost of living in US cities</a>. Congress must raise the income limits for LIHEAP eligibility, which would go a long way to reduce energy insecurity among millions in the US.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Increase funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program </strong>– Poor-quality homes increase cooling (and heating) costs, which can increase the energy burden of low-income households. The <strong><a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/mark-specht/three-stimulus-package-priorities-to-rebuild-a-more-equitable-and-sustainable-economy" target="_blank">Weatherization Assistance Program</a> (WAP) funds home improvements such as insulation, repairs to heating or cooling systems, and home appliance upgrades to more energy-efficient models. </strong> This program supports thousands of jobs, and can help low-income households lower their energy bills and thus their energy burden. Increased funding for the program will create more jobs and lower energy burdens.</li></ul>
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It will be warmer in Fairbanks, Alaska, than it will be in New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland and even Atlanta this weekend, AccuWeather predicted Wednesday.
If nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, one third of humanity could live in conditions as hot as the Sahara Desert by 2070.
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"This appears to be just the beginning of a more extreme trend toward megadrought as global warming continues," the authors wrote in the study.
A team of researchers from Columbia University conducted the study. They described the ongoing dry spell, which has helped intensify wildfire seasons and threatened water supplies for people and agriculture, as an "emerging megadrought," according to The New York Times.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. By comparison to the previous 19 years, 2019 was actually a fairly wet year. Unpredictable climate variability may also bring enough rain to the region to end the drought, but global warming boosts the chances that the drought will endure.
"We know that this drought has been encouraged by the global warming process," said lead author A. Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, as The New York Times reported. "As we go forward in time it's going to take more and more good luck to pull us out of this."
Scientists have suspected for a while that that the dryness is evolving into a megadrought. The new research not only confirms their suspicion, but also concludes this megadrought may be as bad or worse than anything known before.
"We now have enough observations of current drought and tree-ring records of past drought to say that we're on the same trajectory as the worst prehistoric droughts," said Williams, in a statement, as USA Today reported. This is "a drought bigger than what modern society has seen."
The researchers say that man-made global warming caused about half of this drought. Changes in the climate have contributed to dwindling reservoirs and harsher wildfire seasons.
It all could get much worse.
"Anthropogenic global warming and its drying influence in (southwestern North America) are likely still in their infancy," the study warns, as CNN reported. "The magnitude of future droughts in North America and elsewhere will depend greatly on future rates of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions globally."
Without a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, these droughts are just the beginning.
"The effects of future droughts on humans will be further dependent on sustainable resource use because buffering mechanisms such as ground water and reservoir storage are at risk of being depleted during dry times," the study continues, according to CNN.
To conduct the study, the researchers performed a comprehensive long-term analysis of thousands of square miles, stretching across nine states from Oregon and Montana down through California, Arizona, New Mexico and part of northern Mexico. They looked at 1,200 years of tree ring data, modern weather observations and dozens of climate models, according to CBS News.
The tree rings allow scientist to gauge soil moisture dating back centuries. Williams and his team identified dozens of droughts across the region, starting in 800 AD. Four of those stand out as megadroughts — with extreme dryness that lasted for decades — in the late 800s, mid-1100s, the 1200s and the late 1500s.
The team then compared the ancient megadroughts to soil moisture records from the years 2000 to 2018. The current drought ranked as the second-driest, already outdoing the three earliest ones and on par with the fourth period which spanned from 1575 to 1603, as CBS News reported.
The warmer air during this drought is pulling more moisture from the ground, intensifying dry soils. Furthermore, temperatures in the West are expected to keep rising, meaning this trend is likely to continue.
"Because the background is getting warmer, the dice are increasingly loaded toward longer and more severe droughts," said Williams, as CBS News reported.
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A deadly pathogen is spreading across olive trees in Europe and may cause over $20 billion in losses and increase the price of olive oil, according to the BBC.
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