By Gloria Oladipo
In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.
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By Jeff Berardelli
This story was originally published on CBS News on September 9, 2020. All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication.
Right on the heels of arguably the West Coast's most intense heat wave in modern history comes the most ferocious flare-up of catastrophic wildfires in recent memory. Meanwhile, just a few hundred miles east, a 60-degree temperature drop over just 18 hours in Wyoming and Colorado was accompanied by an extremely rare late-summer dumping of up to 2 feet of snow.
It's not coincidence, it's climate change.
Increase in California areas burned by wildfires, 1975 to 2015. WILLIAMS, ABATZOGLOU ET AL., EARTH'S FUTURE<p>Abatzoglou makes clear that there are many factors — not just climate change — that contribute to the escalation of fire activity. These include the increased settlement of people in fire-prone lands and a legacy of fire suppression in many lower-elevation forests, which led to years of heavy growth of trees and brush.</p><p>"We can focus on the bad fortune of the <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lightning-siege-hits-california-with-nearly-12000-strikes-in-a-week-2020-08-22/" target="_blank">lightning siege</a> around the San Francisco Bay Area, or the multitude of <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/gender-reveal-fire-party-california-wildfire/" target="_blank">stupid human tricks</a> that materialized in large wildfires, but the confluence of long-term and short-term environmental factors set the table for the 2020 fire season," he said. </p><p>In other words, though climate change does not cause the heat waves or fires, it sets the stage so that when conditions are ripe, like the summer and fall of 2020, heat waves are more intense and fires burn more fiercely. </p>
CLIMATE CENTRAL<p>This summer has been extremely hot and dry in the West. According to NOAA, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah each had their <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/summer-2020-ranked-as-one-of-hottest-on-record-for-us" target="_blank">warmest August</a> on record. Research has found that heat waves are now larger, getting more intense and lasting longer than decades ago. Specifically in California, extreme heat waves — like the ones of recent weeks — are now <a href="https://crd.lbl.gov/assets/Uploads/Wehner/California-heatwave-attribution-and-projection.pdf" target="_blank">3 to 4 degrees</a> Fahrenheit warmer due to climate change. By 2080, that same study finds such heat waves will intensify by another 3 to 5 degrees.</p><p>This week's NOAA report also finds that the same general area in the West also experienced one of its driest Augusts on record. This short-term dry and hot pattern is mainly due to natural cycles in weather, and from season to season has the biggest impact on the amount of area burned because it determines how dry the forests and brush are.</p><p>"Across the Western U.S. forests, we find that climatic measures of fuel dryness explain about ¾ of the year-to-year variability in the burned area — highlighting that climate very strongly enables big fire seasons in warm-dry summers and inhibits widespread fire activity in cool-wet summers," explains Abatzoglou.</p><p>But over the long term, human-caused climate change has been gradually drying out the atmosphere and the fuel. "The observed changes in fuel dryness [plus the] number of days of high fire danger have been particularly stark in the American West over the past half-century," says Abatzoglou.</p><p>Since the 1970s the warm season in the West has heated up by 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. This extra heat has increased the evaporation of moisture from the surface. While atmospheric moisture has also increased some, it has not increased nearly as fast as the temperature. That has caused a long-term "moisture deficit" and has accelerated the rate of foliage drying. This is part of the reason why, according to research, the West has entered into one of the worst <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-drought-california-western-united-states-study/" target="_blank">megadroughts</a> in the past 1,200 years.<br> <br>A <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2019EF001210" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recent study</a>, co-authored by Abatzoglou, found a direct link with <em>nearly all</em> of the increase in summer forest-fire area during the period from 1972–2018 driven by the increased moisture deficit. To illustrate just how impactful the moisture deficit is, right now, as <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/california-wildfire-overruns-14-firefighters-rugged-mountains/" target="_blank">unprecedented wildfires</a> burn out of control, the deficit is at record low levels in the majority of the Western U.S.</p>
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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.
<div id="004a5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="809799a50bac6ced919c6da89ce0efec"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1297987100491554816" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Multiple extremes resemble the chaotic climate future scientists have been warning us about for decades — only it's… https://t.co/CjhLfao5rc</div> — CBS News (@CBS News)<a href="https://twitter.com/CBSNews/statuses/1297987100491554816">1598299214.0</a></blockquote></div><p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>"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.</p>
California Wildfires<p>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.</p><p>As of Monday morning, CalFire <a href="https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/" target="_blank">reports</a> 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 <a href="https://weatherwest.com/archives/7459" target="_blank">10 times</a> more firefighting resources than are available.</p><p>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 <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lightning-siege-hits-california-with-nearly-12000-strikes-in-a-week-2020-08-22/" target="_blank">siege of lightning strikes</a> as a result of moisture drawn into California from two decaying tropical systems in the eastern Pacific, which ignited dry brush.</p><p>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 <a href="https://weatherwest.com/archives/7459" target="_blank">blog post</a> 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."</p>
<div id="9db58" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ab45cd0dbe96672e8d896463f1d8fcca"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1296620330861989889" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">"Vapor pressure deficit" (gap between how much moisture *could* be in the air vs. how much is *actually* there) is… https://t.co/LXKN0hUQLi</div> — Daniel Swain (@Daniel Swain)<a href="https://twitter.com/Weather_West/statuses/1296620330861989889">1597973351.0</a></blockquote></div><p>According to the paper, "Nearly all of the increase in summer forest-fire area during 1972–2018 was driven by increased vapor pressure deficit."</p>
Midwest Derecho<p>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 <a href="https://www.weather.gov/dmx/2020derecho" target="_blank">event</a> that took place August 10 in Iowa and Illinois seemed otherworldly.</p><p>The squall line <a href="https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/147154/derecho-flattens-iowa-corn" target="_blank">plowed a path</a> 800 miles long and 40 miles wide through communities and corn fields, damaging <a href="https://www.radioiowa.com/2020/08/11/43-of-iowa-corn-soybean-crop-hit-by-mondays-storm/" target="_blank">43%</a> of Iowa's corn and soybean crop and causing nearly <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/iowa-storm-derecho-seeking-4-billion-dollars-disater-aid/" target="_blank">$4 billion in damage</a>. Winds are estimated to have reached up to 140 mph, with hurricane-force winds <a href="https://cbs2iowa.com/news/local/how-does-the-2020-iowa-derecho-compare-to-others" target="_blank">lasting</a> 40 to 50 minutes.</p><p>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 <a href="https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2017AGUFM.A12C..01P/abstract" target="_blank">recent paper</a> found some alarming results.</p><p>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." </p><p>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.</p><p>"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.</p><p>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."</p>
Hurricane Season<p>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 <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hurricane-season-2020-forecast-extremely-active-24-named-storms/" target="_blank">predicting up to 25 named systems</a> this year, which would place second behind 2005.</p><p>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<a href="https://twitter.com/ClimateCentral/status/1005109784750776320/photo/1" target="_blank"> increased</a> by around 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, and the measure of <a href="https://www.nodc.noaa.gov/OC5/3M_HEAT_CONTENT/" target="_blank">Ocean Heat Content</a> hits record highs each and every year.</p><p>Warmer ocean temperatures do not guarantee more storms, but they do tip the balance, giving storms that extra boost to develop. After years of <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2019/07/how-climate-change-is-making-hurricanes-more-dangerous/" target="_blank">research</a>, 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 — <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hurricane-categories-what-the-ratings-scale-means/" target="_blank">Category 3 and greater</a> — are responsible for 85% of the damage, a warmer climate is likely to have devastating economic and human consequences.</p>
Compound Events<p>Within research circles and among emergency planners, the concept of <span style="background-color: initial;"><a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-multiple-disasters-at-once-study-warns/" target="_blank">compound threats</a></span> 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.</p><p>"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. </p><p>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. </p><p>"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.</p><p>Bowen recently authored a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0790-4" target="_blank">paper</a> 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." </p><p>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.</p>
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By Jen Monnier
In the summer of 2015, Laurie Weitkamp was walking on the beach near her coastal Oregon home when she saw something strange: The water was purple. A colony of tunicates, squishy cylindrical critters that rarely come to shore, had congregated in a swarm so thick that you could scoop them out of the water with your hand. "I'd never seen anything like it," she says.
Weitkamp, a research fisheries biologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Oregon, knew that something had been afoot in the northeast part of the Pacific Ocean since the fall of 2013, which was unusually sunny, warm and calm. A mass of warm water stretched from Mexico to Alaska and lingered through 2016, disrupting marine life. Tunicates weren't the only creature affected; sea nettle jellyfish all but disappeared, while water jellyfish populations moved north to take their place, and young salmon starved to death out at sea, according to a report by Weitkamp and colleagues. Scientists dubbed this event "The Blob."
Marine heat waves like The Blob have cropped up around the globe more and more often over the past few decades. Scientists expect climate change to make them even more common and long lasting, harming vulnerable aquatic species as well as human enterprises such as fishing that revolve around ocean ecosystems. But there's no reliable way to know when one is about to hit, which means that fishers and wildlife managers are left scrambling to reduce harm in real time.
Fisheries biologist Laurie Weitkamp is helping develop policies to reduce the threat of marine heat waves, which can devastate ocean life. Photo courtesy of Laurie Weitkamp
Now, oceanographers are trying to uncover what drives these events so that people can forecast them and so minimize the ecological and economic damage they cause.
The Blob, which lasted three years, is the longest marine heat wave on record. Before that, a heat wave that began in 2015 in the Tasman Sea lasted more than eight months, killing abalone and oysters. A 2012 heat wave off the East Coast of Canada and the U.S., the largest on record at the time, pushed lobsters northward. It beat the previous record — a 2011 marine heat wave that uprooted seaweed, fish and sharks off western Australia. Before that, a 2003 heat wave in the Mediterranean Sea clinched the record while ravaging marine life.
As Earth's climate warms, record-setting marine heat waves are becoming more frequent and severe. Map adapted from Marine Heatwaves International Working Group.
Heat waves are a natural part of ocean systems, says Eric Oliver, an assistant professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. As with temperature on land, there's an average ocean temperature on any particular day of the year: Sometimes the water will be warmer, sometimes it will be colder, and every once in a while it will be extremely warm or cold.
But greenhouse gas emissions have bumped up the average temperature. Now, temperatures that used to be considered extremely warm happen more often — and every so often, large sections of the ocean are pushed into unprecedented heat, Oliver says.
Pelagic ocean ecosystems, however, have not caught up to these hotter temperatures. Organisms may be able to survive a steady temperature rise, but a heat wave can push them over the edge.
When blue swimmer crabs started dying in western Australia's Shark Bay after the 2011 heat wave, the government shut down blue crab fishing for a year and a half. This was hard on industry at the time, says Peter Jecks, managing director of Abacus Fisheries, but it managed to save crab populations. Not all creatures were so lucky — abalone near the heat wave's epicenter still haven't recovered.
"If you don't have strong predictions [of marine heat waves], you can't be proactive. You're left to be reactive," says Thomas Wernberg, an associate professor of marine ecology at the University of Western Australia.
See Them Coming
After Wernberg saw his region's sea life devastated by the heat wave, he recruited scientists from many disciplines in 2014 to begin studying these extreme events in what became the Marine Heatwaves International Working Group. The group held their first meeting in early 2015 and has since created protocols for defining and naming marine heat waves, tracking where they happen and measuring their ecological and socioeconomic impacts.
If we could see heat waves coming, aquaculturists, fishers and wildlife managers would have a better chance at saving money and species, Wernberg says. Seafood farmers could hold off stocking their aquaculture facilities with vulnerable species. Lawmakers could enact seasonal fishing closures or temporarily expand protected areas. Scientists could store animals or seeds of vulnerable plants.
That's why scientists around the world are trying to understand what triggers extreme warming in the ocean. Oliver is one such scientist. He feeds ocean data gathered by scientists, satellites, buoys, and deep-diving robots into computer modeling software to identify the forces that drive marine heat waves.
It's a relatively new field of research for which there are still few definitive answers. But past heat waves can be broadly classified into two categories, Oliver says: those driven by the ocean and those driven by the atmosphere.
For an example of an ocean-driven heat wave, Oliver points to the 2015 Tasman Sea heat wave. An ocean current that flows south down the East Coast of Australia normally veers toward New Zealand, but in 2015 it pulsed westward toward Tasmania, bringing a wave of warm water from the tropics that lingered more than six months. "Tropical fish were seen in water that is normally almost subpolar in temperature," Oliver says.
On the other hand, a 2019 heat wave in the Pacific, the so-called "Blob 2.0," was brought down from the atmosphere, according to Dillon Amaya, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Using computer models, Amaya found that this heat wave emerged when a weather system over the Pacific lost steam, leading to weaker-than-usual winds. Wind helps cool the ocean by evaporating surface water in the same way a breeze cools a person's sweaty skin. But stagnant air above the Pacific locked more of the sun's heat into the water that year.
The recent "Blob 2.0" heat wave bears some resemblance to "The Blob," which disrupted marine life from Mexico to Alaska over the course of three years. NOAA Coral Reef Watch
Amaya is able to simulate heat waves thanks to recent technological advances. Scientists have known for decades that marine heat waves exist, he says, but "we have just begun to recognize these events as unique and deterministic — something we can predict — in the last five to 10 years."
That understanding inspired researchers to build computer simulations capable of playing out complicated ocean processes by weaving together information about ocean and atmospheric currents, sea surface temperature and salinity. Creating these simulations helps them learn more about heat wave mechanics, which lays the groundwork for predicting future events.
Back in Oregon, Weitkamp is part of the group that manages the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. As heat waves like The Blob and Blob 2.0 deplete fish populations, the group is trying to figure out how to create policies better suited to this new normal. Knowing when the next one might hit could help.
"These heat waves have been a good wake-up call," she says. "People are trying to figure out how they're going to adapt."
Reposted with permission from Ensia.
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Eoin Higgins
The number of fires in the vast north Asian region of Siberia increased fivefold this week, according to the Russian forest fire aerial protection service, as temperatures in the Arctic continued higher than normal in the latest sign of the ongoing climate crisis.
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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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By Roman Goncharenko
Unseasonably warm temperatures, blue skies and gardens in full bloom — most of Europe is currently enjoying dreamy spring weather. But that's not how farmers see it. They are hoping for rain, and fear that without it their crops will suffer greatly. And experts say there is a very real prospect that beyond the continuing coronavirus pandemic, Europe could be facing weather-induced crop failures in the very near future.
Global Warming Hasn't Gone Away<p>"January was too warm. There is no evidence that global warming has paused or slowed," says Andreas Becker of the German Weather Service (DWD) in Frankfurt am Main. Moreover, he says, January and March were far too dry and February too wet. Water levels in Germany's largest river, the Rhine, were more than 6 meters (20 feet) above average in early March, though they are now falling once again. Currently, the Rhine is close to its average depth of 3.5 meters, but water levels are continuing to drop.</p><p>Meteorologist Becker says the good thing about having such a wet February is that it helped offset some of the groundwater loss that occurred over the past two years as temperatures soared above 40℃ (104℉). He says plants, which draw water from the top 20-50 centimeters (8-20 inches) of soil, have been doing better than trees, which draw theirs from depths closer to two meters. Becker says there is very little water remaining at those levels.</p><p><span></span>Now, he warns, things will have deteriorated further still as March was such a dry month. This year, Germany only received 50-75% of the rainfall that it usually gets for the month. For meteorologists, that comes close to qualifying as a drought.</p>
Eastern Europe Especially Dry<p>Andreas Marx from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research's Central Germany Office in Leipzig points out that the past three years have seen unusually low amounts of precipitation. He says that has been the case not only in northern Germany, but also in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Romania.</p><p>The expert says three-week cycles without rain are normal for Europe, but says what has been unusual over the past three years has been the increasing stabilization of the jet stream, which normally meanders around the North Pole some 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) above the Earth. A veritable conveyor belt for winds, the jet stream normally winds and shifts its path, changing weather patterns on the Earth's surface.</p><p>"Climate change has caused the North Pole to warm far faster than the Equator. Now the jet stream is increasingly moving in a north-south direction," says Marx. As a result, the jet stream is not moving around as much as it once did, leading to stable weather patterns such as the extended dry periods that Germany suffered in 2018.</p>
How Dry Will Things Get This Summer?<p>Since weather predictions for even a week or two are considered uncertain, meteorologists shy away from making long-term weather predictions about things such as how the upcoming summer might be. Both Becker and Marx add that due to Europe's varied geography — including its mountains and oceans — it is far more difficult to predict the weather in Europe than in places like Australia, which is surrounded by water. Still, both expect this summer to be warmer than usual. The German Weather Service, for instance, has already suggested that temperatures in Germany could be half a degree (Celsius) warmer than average.</p><p>Marx, who is currently basing his modeling on data from the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), says not only does he expect the coming summer to be warmer than usual, but also drier. He points out that hot periods have changed all over the world.</p><p>"Technically, hot days are those over 30℃. Statistically, one can expect seven or eight such days each year in Leipzig. But we had 36 of them in 2018, and 29 in 2019. That means heat waves last three to four times longer than average." Marx says that has serious consequences for farmers but also for human health. </p>
Heat Could Amplify the Effects of the Coronavirus<p>If things go as the experts expect, Europeans will not only face the prospect of movement restrictions necessitated by COVID-19, but will also have to suffer under extended periods of extreme heat. That heat is something that already plagues elderly citizens — who are also most at risk from the coronavirus — and it makes wearing a face mask all the more uncomfortable.</p><p>Long droughts also increase the chance of forest fires and the massive amounts of smoke that they produce. That would be yet another burden on peoples' lungs, especially those infected with the coronavirus.</p>
By Richard Connor
Scientists have recorded Antarctica's first documented heat wave, warning that animal and plant life on the isolated continent could be drastically affected by climate change.
Global Impact on Climate<p>The authors of the study said the local effects of climate change could have a global impact.</p><p>"Antarctica may be isolated from the rest of the continents by the Southern Ocean, but it has worldwide impacts," they said.</p><p>"It drives the global ocean conveyor belt, a constant system of deep-ocean circulation which transfers oceanic heat around the planet, and its melting ice sheet adds to global sea-level rise."</p><p>Co-author Dana Bergstrom said the hot summer could affect local populations positively at first, but could also lead to drought and heat stress on species adapted for the cold.</p>
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