Quantcast
The Great Smog of Delhi.

Top 10 Weather Events of 2016 (#2 Will Surprise You)

By Jeff Masters

The top weather story of 2016: Earth had its warmest year on record (again)! While the final numbers are not officially tabulated, 2016 appears certain to be the warmest year in every major dataset scientists use to track global warmth.

The previous warmest year on record for Earth's surface was set in 2015, which in turn broke the record set in 2014. The three-year string of warmest years on record is the first time such an event has happened since record keeping began in 1880. One official record has already been announced: Earth's warmest year in the 38-year satellite-measured lower atmosphere temperature record was 2016, beating a record had stood since 1998, according to the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

The first seven months of 2016 all set new monthly records for global heat in the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) database, giving the planet an unprecedented streak of 15 consecutive record-warm months. February 2016 had the warmest departure from average of month in recorded history and July 2016 was the warmest month in recorded history in absolute terms.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), 2016's global temperatures were approximately 1.2 C above pre-industrial levels. About 0.2 C of this warming was due to the strong El Niño event that ended in May 2016 and the remainder was due to the long-term warming of the planet from human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. Assuming that all nations who agreed to the Paris climate accord in 2015 fulfill their pledges, Earth is on track to see 2.3 C of warming over pre-industrial levels by 2050. This is above the "dangerous" 2 C level of warming considered likely to greatly increase the risk of hunger, thirst, disease, refugees and war.

Figure 1. Departure of the global surface temperature from average for the period January—November, for all years from 1880 to 2016. The year 2016 will easily beat 2015 as the warmest year on record. NOAA

Louisiana Faces Faster Levels of Sea-Level Rise Than Any Other Land on Earth

Louisiana—which faces faster levels of sea-level rise than any other land on Earth—could lose as many as 2,800 square miles of its coast over the next 40 years and about 27,000 buildings will need to be flood-proofed, elevated or bought out, the New Orleans Advocate reported.

These dire predictions were pulled from a new rewrite of the state's Coastal Master Plan for 2017 released Tuesday by the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The plan, first introduced in 2007 post- Hurricane Katrina, acts as a 50-year blueprint for restoring the Pelican State's rapidly disappearing coastal wetlands and protecting the state's natural resources and communities. Louisiana's Legislature unanimously approved the 2007 and 2012 versions.

The new plan, which is now out for public review and must be voted up or down by the Legislature, calls for 120 new projects, including a $6 billion proposal to protect or vacate properties in areas that are at risk of experiencing a 100-year storm. The plan also aims to restore 800 to 1,200 square miles of wetlands and build new levees and flood walls to protect against hurricane storm surges.

The plan was authored by state coastal scientists and engineers and several federal agencies. Stakeholders from the shipping and fishing industries also provided input.

The most significant details are the grim edits made to the 2012 plan. As the Advocate detailed, "the worst-case scenario for human-caused sea-level rise in the 2012 plan, 1.48 feet, has become the best-case scenario in the 2017 edition. In fact, the National Climate Assessment now estimates sea levels on U.S. coastlines could rise 4 feet by 2100."

Not only that, "the new worst-case scenario projects that 4,000 square miles of the coast would be lost if the state stops all efforts to restore its coastal landscape. That's double the loss projected in the same scenario in the 2012 plan," the Advocate explained.

The plan's original investment was $50 billion, but an evaluation from Tulane University determined that its actual inflation-adjusted cost is now around $92 billion.

The report does not shy away from pointing fingers at natural disasters and human-caused climate change that have contributed to the state's alarming coastal erosion.

"Between 1932 and 2010, Louisiana's coast lost more than 1,800 square miles of land. From 2004 through 2008 alone, more than 300 square miles of marshland were lost to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike," the report states. "The culprits to this land loss include the effects of climate change, sea level rise, subsidence, hurricanes, storm surges, flooding, disconnecting the Mississippi River from coastal marshes, and human impacts."

Earlier reports have described how Louisiana's wetlands are disappearing at a rate of approximately one football field every hour and coastal communities are already washing into the Gulf of Mexico.

In June, reports emerged of the first American climate refugees. Residents from a Louisiana island called Isle de Jean Charles were forced off the land they have lived on for generations due to encroaching water. The island, which used to be the size of Manhattan, has lost 98 percent of its land over the last 60 years.

Additionally, NPR reported on Wednesday that it's not just land that's being swallowed up by the Gulf of Mexico, but also important ancient archaeological sites dating 300 to 500 years back.

Sponsored

6 Weather Predictions for 2017

By Bob Henson

Between a record-strong El Niño and catastrophic floods, fires and drought, 2016 was a memorable year for weather and climate in North America as well as globally. What can we expect as we roll into 2017? A precise weather forecast is asking too much, but there is already a lot we can say about some key factors. Here are six developments to watch for in 2017. They're presented in rough order of increasing confidence, followed by details on each prediction.

1. Better Odds of El Niño Than La Niña, but a Neutral Pacific Still Favored

The biggest single driver of year-to-year atmospheric variations around the globe is the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), including El Niño and its counterpart, La Niña. A year ago, it was virtually certain that the record-strong El Niño of 2015-16 would continue through at least the first few months of 2016, as it indeed did. This time around, the ENSO signal is far less clear-cut. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific have been inconclusive in recent months, hovering close to the La Niña threshold (at least -0.5 C below the seasonal average) since late July.

Figure 1. Departures from average sea surface temperature for this time of year as of mid-December show a diffuse, borderline La Niña signal across the central and eastern tropical Pacific. NOAA Climate Prediction Center

It's now become less likely that the ocean and atmosphere will commit to a well-defined La Niña event for early 2017. There's almost no telling what will happen later in the year, on the other side of the infamous "spring predictability barrier" that often separates one El Niño or La Niña event from another. One clue we do have is the unusual persistence this year of a belt of warmer-than-average SSTs from the central tropical Pacific to the west coast of North America. This warm phase of what's called the Pacific Meridional Mode may herald a new El Niño event in 2017-18, as niftily explained by Dan Vimont (University of Wisconsin Center for Climatic Research) in a recent climate.gov post.

In their joint probabilistic outlook issued in early December, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) called for decreasing odds of La Niña over the next few months, dropping to just 18 percent by late spring. Neutral conditions are deemed most likely by CPC/IRI, with 65 percent odds by spring and 53 percent by summer. And the odds of El Niño are expected to steadily rise throughout the first half of 2017, reaching 29 percent by summer. Strong El Niño events like the one we just had are usually followed by a significant La Niña event. If the atmosphere instead ends up cueing El Niño for 2017-18, it would reinforce the notion that we've entered a positive phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation—a sign that we might expect more El Niño than La Niña events for as long as a decade or two.

Figure 2. Probabilities of El Niño (red), La Niña (blue) and neutral conditions (green), for each overlapping three-month period from November-January 2016-17 (left) to July-September 2017 (right).NOAA / IRI

2. Wide Range of Possibilities for Atlantic Hurricane Action

The well-predicted demise of the 2015-16 El Niño boosted confidence in 2016's largely successful seasonal hurricane outlooks for the Atlantic, where wind shear was down from 2015 and sea-surface temperatures saw a spike atop their long-term warming trend. (See our roundup post from Dec. 27 on global tropical cyclones in 2016 and their connections to climate change.) Because ENSO is one of the biggest shapers of Atlantic hurricane seasons, our current uncertainty about next year's ENSO state means we can't say much yet about whether the 2017 Atlantic tropical season will be hectic, sedate or somewhere in between.

Forecasters at Colorado State University no longer issue formal seasonal hurricane outlooks as early as December, but CSU's Dr. Phil Klotzbach laid out his thoughts for us last week in a qualitative discussion. Along with monitoring ENSO, Klotzbach also keeps close tabs on the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and Atlantic thermohaline circulation, which are cyclic natural variations in SST, surface air pressure, and oceanic flow across the North Atlantic. When the AMO is positive (warm) and the THC is strong, the Atlantic pumps out more hurricanes over periods that can range from 25 to 35 years. At other times, unusually cold waters prevail in the far North Atlantic, typically a sign of a slowdown of the THC and a ramp-down in Atlantic hurricane action.

Figure 3. Warmer-than-average waters covered most of the Atlantic Ocean from the equator northward for the period Dec. 1-18. NOAA / ESRL Physical Sciences Division, courtesy Phil Klotzbach

With cold waters widespread across the far north Atlantic in 2014 and 2015, Klotzbach hypothesized in a 2015 Science article that the active Atlantic period that began in 1995 may have already drawn to a close. Now he's not so sure. "I was generally thinking we had moved into a cold AMO, but we haven't yet seen the re-emergence of the cold anomalies in the far North Atlantic like we have the past couple of winters (at least not yet!)," Klotzbach told me in an email. For this analysis, Klotzbach typically uses SSTs across a box roughly bounded by 50 N-60 N latitude and 10 W-50 W longitude. Figure 3 shows that only part of this area currently has below-average SSTs. "We're just now moving into the height of winter, though, so we may still see some reemergence and anomalous cooling in the far North Atlantic this winter," said Klotzbach. "I decided to hedge with the outlook so far, and hopefully we'll have a better idea of what is coming up by the time the April forecast rolls around." Here are the five possibilities (with odds) put forth by Klotzbach in his December update:

40 percent chance: AMO/THC is above average and no El Niño occurs (resulting in a seasonal average Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) activity of ~ 130).

20 percent chance: AMO/THC becomes very strong in 2017 and no El Niño occurs (ACE ~ 170).

20 percent chance: AMO/THC is below average and no El Niño occurs (ACE ~ 80).

10 percent chance: AMO/THC is above average and El Niño occurs (ACE ~ 80).

10 percent chance: AMO/THC is below average and El Niño develops (ACE ~ 50).

3. More Tornadoes and Tornado Deaths in 2017 Than 2016? Probably So

It's been a blessedly quiet year for U.S. tornadoes, climatologically speaking. According to Patrick Marsh (NOAA Storm Prediction Center), the year 2016 delivered a preliminary total of 1060 tornado reports through Dec. 28, with few or none expected through the rest of the year. This may sound like a very high total, but the number of final tornado reports typically drops from the preliminary total by about 15 percent after duplicate reports have been weeded out. The annual number drops even further relative to prior years when it's adjusted for "inflation" against earlier decades, when fewer people were watching and reporting every twister. Using a linear trend adjustment, Marsh estimates that the final, inflation-adjusted tornado total for 2016 will be around 888, which would be the lowest for any year going back to at least 1954 assuming that the database is normalized (inflation-adjusted) through 2015. "Four of the last five years—2016, 2014, 2013 and 2012—have been the quietest years on record when report inflation is accounted for," said Marsh.

This year did produce a few dramatic outbreaks during peak tornado season, but these played out mostly in open country, where few structures were damaged and few people were hurt. The deadliest events of 2016 were "off-season": seven people died in a Southeast and East Coast tornado outbreak on Feb. 23-24--the nation's second-largest February outbreak on record--and five deaths occurred across the South during an overnight outbreak on Nov. 29-30.

All told, tornadoes have killed only 17 people in the U.S. in 2016, well below the average toll of 46 per year over the three prior years. Assuming we make it to Dec. 31 without any additional tornado deaths, which looks almost certain, we'll have been graced with the least-deadly U.S. year for twisters since 1986, when only 15 people were killed. In data going back to 1875 provided by Harold Brooks (National Severe Storms Laboratory), the only other year with fewer than 20 deaths was 1910, with just 12 fatalities.

Figure 5. During El Niño events (top), the frequency of U.S. tornadoes typically drops. When a La Niña phase prevails (bottom), tornado frequency goes up (indicated by red areas). The effect is strongest in the boxed area.Nature Geoscience 2015, courtesy IRI

The strong El Niño of 2015-16 likely helped tamp down tornado activity this year, at least in the heart of Tornado Alley. Researchers at IRI/Columbia University have shown that the most active spring seasons for tornado and hail over the central U.S., especially the Southern Plains, are linked to strong La Niña events, while the very quietest seasons are related to strong El Niño events. In January 2015, the researchers, led by John Allen (now at Central Michigan University), called for better-than-even odds (54 percent) of a below-average number of tornadoes this year, as opposed to the 33/33/33 percent split (below, above, and near average) one would otherwise expect. (See more details at this conference presentation).

As with Atlantic hurricanes, even a mostly quiet season can still produce deadly mayhem if one destructive event, such as a major landfalling hurricane or a family of violent tornadoes, happens to hit the wrong place at the wrong time. "It's an ongoing challenge to think about how to convey this information," Allen told me. "I think it's also worth noting that we still don't have a lot of other climate signals for improving our forecasts when we don't have ENSO-driven predictability." It's thus hard to tell how tornado counts will evolve in 2017, since the ENSO signal is so weak. However, given the very low activity this year, there's a good chance that we will see more twisters prowling the nation in 2017 than we did in 2016.

Figure 6. The U.K. Met Office predicts that the 2017 global temperature (forecast range shown in green at right) will likely fall below the record value expected to be set in 2016. The dark line shows global temperature since 1850. UK Met Office

Florida Faces Worst Orange Harvest Crisis Since Records Began in 1913

Production of the official fruit of Florida continues to plummet as the first forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the 2016-2017 growing season indicates a 14 percent drop in the state's orange crop.

On Wednesday, the USDA predicted farmers will have enough oranges to fill 70 million boxes for the season. Last season, Florida produced 81.5 million boxes, a 52-year low. This latest forecast shows that the region is in the midst of the worst orange harvest crisis since records began in 1913, according to The Guardian.

After the announcement, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said that the forecast is disheartening and further proof of the difficult times facing Florida's citrus industry which has been dealing with citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease that can kill a tree within two years.

Citrus greening disease on mandarin oranges.T.R. Gottwald and S.M. Garnsey / USDA

"Production of our state's signature crop is down 70 percent from 20 years ago, and the future of Florida citrus depends on a breakthrough in the fight against greening," Putnam said. "We must continue to support our growers and provide them with every tool available to combat greening."

The state has set aside $8 million in the budget to help fight against greening, in addition to $14.7 million for a citrus health response program within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, reports The Tampa Bay Times. Farmers themselves have put $100 million into fighting the disease that is spread through hurricanes and storms that hit the state.

"Farmers are giving up on oranges altogether," Judith Ganes, president of the commodities research firm J Ganes Consulting, told The Guardian. "Normally after a freeze or a hurricane [which both kill lots of trees], the growers would replant 100% of their plants. But the disease has been spread all over by hurricanes, and made it totally uncontrollable. Farmers are giving up and turning to other crops or turning land over to housing."

This, in turn, is causing the steep rise in wholesale prices and companies are getting more creative in how they sell their juice in stores either by making the cartons smaller or blending the juice with other fruits or water.

So far, The Guardian reports that these methods have kept prices from increasing in grocery stores for now, in addition to the fact that demand for orange juice is down.

"U.S. consumers have it in their mind that orange juice is high in sugar, which it is, but it's natural sugars that don't contribute to obesity," John Michalik, a beverages expert at the Canadian division of the market research group Global Data, said. "People are not having the full breakfast at home like they used to. Now almost all breakfasts are a coffee and sandwich or snack on the go."

While some farmers may be abandoning the orange industry, Michael Sparks, vice president and CEO of grower group Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents many of the 62,000 people employed in the state's citrus industry, said Wednesday that their farmers are not giving up yet.

"The 2016-17 citrus season is here and we are cautiously optimistic heading into it," he said. "The all Florida orange forecast number of 70 million boxes is about what we expected, and although it's low, Florida growers will again use their trademark resilience to bring consumers the best citrus in the world."

Sponsored

Climate Denial Collides With Extreme Weather

By John Hocevar

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew ripped through southeast Florida, doing more than $26 billion in damage and killing at least 65 people. At the time, I was working on a masters degree in marine biology in southeast Florida; several of my close friends lost their homes during the storm.

Our marine lab was at the end of a barrier island and there were so many overturned Australian pines along the road that it looked like someone had dumped a giant bag of Lincoln Logs. I remember helping friends move their belongings off houseboats and out of trailers to higher and safer ground, and the mint green color of the sky just before our transformer blew up.

Houses surrounded by water in St. Augustine, Florida Oct. 8 in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.Marc Serota / Greenpeace

Strangest of all, I remember being asked to shoot holes in the deck of a yacht to try to put it on the bottom and prevent it from destroying everything else by being thrown around by wind and storm surge.

Two decades later, another devastating storm—Hurricane Matthew—has wreaked havoc in the southeastern U.S. and claimed more than 1,000 lives in Haiti.

The Link Between Climate Change and Hurricane Season

For a long time, the science has been clear that our reliance on fossil fuels has not only been heating our planet, but also fueling bigger and more devastating storms.

Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy helped make this real for millions of people, especially those who lost homes or loved ones in New York, New Jersey, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

It has also been clear for a long time that Florida, with its expansive coastline covered with high rise hotels and condominiums often just a few feet above sea level, is among one of the most vulnerable places in the world to extreme weather heightened by climate change.

Property damaged along the coast in St. Augustine, Florida Oct. 8 in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.Marc Serota / Greenpeace

I studied coral reef conservation in grad school. At the time, coral bleaching was a new phenomenon, and no one had yet imagined that coral reefs might be driven to extinction in the coming decades. Much of Florida's reef tract has been given State Park or National Marine Sanctuary status, but in recent years it has been dying so quickly you can almost watch it happen.

Climate-driven bleaching is one of the main culprits, with implications for a tourism industry that brings 100 million people and $50 billion to Florida each year.

Climate Change and the Politics of Denial

By outright denying the science of climate change and the threat it poses to his state, Florida Gov. Scott has utterly failed the people of Florida.

Now that the waters receded and the power is back on, we need to think carefully about whether climate deniers like Gov. Scott are suitable candidates to take responsibility for our future.

Instead of working to reduce carbon emissions and build strategies to cope with climate impacts like sea level rise, erosion, flooding, saltwater intrusion, insect-borne disease outbreaks and extreme heat, he has stuck his head in Florida's sand. Famously, Scott even banned state employees from using the phrase climate change. This would be irresponsible anywhere, but in a state like Florida on the frontlines of the climate battle, it borders on criminal negligence.

Boats are damaged and sunk in St. Augustine, Florida, Oct. 8 in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.Marc Serota / Greenpeace

Scott has been busy dealing with the impacts of Hurricane Matthew on Florida's people, environment and businesses, which left more than 1,000 dead in Haiti and is the worst to hit Florida in decades.

Now that the waters receded and the power is back on, we need to think carefully about whether climate deniers like Scott—and his party's presidential nominee Donald Trump—are suitable candidates to take responsibility for our future.

For a growing number of people who suffer at the hands climate-denialist politics, the answer is clear.

John Hocevar is a trained marine biologist and an accomplished campaigner, explorer and marine scientist, John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace's oceans campaign in 2004.

Billions of Gallons of Animal Waste From Factory Farms Poses Health Risks in Wake of Hurricane Matthew

Reports emerging Thursday of dead farm animals and breached manure pits highlight a health risk that will linger long after Hurricane Matthew's floodwaters recede: The threat of pollution from the billions of gallons of animal waste stored at North Carolina's loosely regulated factory farms.


The immensity of the ongoing threat to human health and the environment across a coastal plain clustered with factory farms is demonstrated by the fact that just four counties in the severely flooded lower Cape Fear River basin are home to 36.5 million farm animals, producing more than 40 billion pounds of animal waste annually, according to research by the Center for Biological Diversity.

"Our hearts go out to the tens of thousands of North Carolinians whose lives have been turned upside down by the horrible flooding," said Hannah Connor, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney specializing in harms caused by factory farming. "Sadly they've been put at additional long-term risk by the threat of pollution of their waterways and groundwater from billions of gallons of largely untreated animal waste at these industrial operations."

This is not the first time a major storm event has exposed the risks posed by factory farms in North Carolina, which is home to the second-largest hog population in the country as well as one of its largest poultry populations.

During Hurricane Fran in 1996, 22 animal waste pits in the state were reportedly ruptured or overflowed. A major manure spill was reported following Hurricane Bonnie in 1998, and after Hurricane Floyd dumped as much as 20 inches of rain across the region in 1999, animal-waste lagoons overflowed directly into waterways and surrounding communities.

Even during more routine weather events, the unchecked growth of massive, poorly regulated factory farms has left the region's high water table and numerous waterways at constant risk of pollution from the industrial hog and poultry production operations that rely on waste management and disposal systems that are highly susceptible to harmful runoff and spills.

The escalating environmental risks posed by poorly regulated animal waste will be highlighted in a forthcoming report from the center identifying the 10 areas across the nation where factory farms produce the greatest amounts of sewage—most of it virtually untreated.

"Unfortunately the environmental health risks posed by the billions of gallons of waste generated by factory farms won't go away when Matthew's floodwaters disappear," said Connor. "Until we move toward more sustainable farming practices, and the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] takes a more realistic approach to reducing the harm these industrial operations have on animals and the environment, the risks are only going to escalate."

Sponsored

Duke Energy 'Asleep at the Switch,' Takes News Station to Inform Them of Dam Breach

The embarrassment continues for Duke Energy who is dealing with the breach of a 1.2-billion-gallon cooling pond dam at its H.F. Lee plant due to flooding from Hurricane Matthew.

It all began Wednesday morning when Duke Energy issued a statement claiming that the "ash basin and cooling pond dams across the state continue to operate safely," but then helicopter footage from Raleigh's local television station WRAL showed that one of the dams had been breached.

In the statement, Duke Energy also attacked Waterkeeper Alliance for raising what Duke considered inaccurate and inappropriate concerns about the safety of coal ash ponds in the wake of Matthew.

On Thursday, Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert confirmed to the Charlotte Business Journal that the company found out about the breach after WRAL contacted Duke about a half-hour after their statement came out and shared its video. Culbert said a Duke inspection crew had flown over the area earlier in the morning and, at the time, the dam was intact and showed no signs of stress. After they saw the video, the company put out an update acknowledging the damage at the dam.

The breach at the main cooling pond is visible on the right of the photo and is releasing to the Neuse River, which is outside of the frame on the left.Duke Energy

"We are really grateful for their good timing which allowed us to respond and put our emergency protocols into effect," Culbert said.

Donna Lisenby of Waterkeeper Alliance said this incident proves Duke Energy was "asleep at the switch when it was supposed to be monitoring the safety of dams at the H.F. Lee facility during record setting floods."

"They weren't aware of a 50-foot wide breach in the cooling pond dam until notified by a TV crew. How is it possible for a company with helicopters actively flying over dams and hundreds of engineers to miss a 50-foot-wide breach? Apparently, one small WRAL news crew is more competent and better at monitoring the safety and integrity of Duke Energy dams than all the hundreds of Duke Energy employees and contractors combined," Lisenby exclaimed.

Duke Energy said the 545-acre man-made reservoir that was breached does not contain coal ash and supplies cooling water to power plants at the site. It said the active ash basins are not affected by this incident and continue to operate safely.

"We are giving this our fullest attention," said Regis Repko, senior vice president of Fossil-Hydro Operations. "We are assessing what resources we need and will position repair materials so we can respond quickly once conditions are safe to do so."

Waterkeeper Alliance said they remain very concerned about the integrity of Duke Energy's ash pond dams as the river recedes over the next week.

"This failure likely happened because the river has begun to recede, which is when structural problems often develop," Pete Harrison, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance, and Matthew Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, said Wednesday. "Like so many of Duke Energy's coal ash ponds across the state, the cooling pond at Lee has a long history of structural problems—these are disasters waiting to happen."

In addition to concerns at Duke Energy's coal ash ponds, environmentalists are keeping an eye on floodwaters that have washed over factory farms in eastern North Carolina following the storm.

Millions of chickens are feared dead after at least a half-dozen poultry houses were found completely flooded and tens of thousands of carcasses were seen floating the water in Cumberland and Robinson counties.

Duke Energy Cooling Pond Dam Collapses in Wake of Hurricane Matthew Flooding

[This breaking news is an update to a post earlier today on EcoWatch: Millions of Chickens Feared Dead at Factory Farms in Wake of Hurricane Matthew]

Waterkeeper Alliance and Upper Neuse Riverkeeper are responding to and documenting the breach of a 1.2-billion-gallon cooling pond dam at Duke Energy's H.F. Lee plant.

The breach occurred today just minutes after Duke Energy issued a statement claiming that the "Ash basin and cooling pond dams across the state continue to operate safely; in fact, we've been pleased with their good performance during the historic flooding Hurricane Matthew brought to eastern North Carolina."

Pete Harrison, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance, and Matthew Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, released the following statement:

"When families are being threatened by some of the worst flooding in North Carolina's history, they should not also have to worry about Duke Energy's dams collapsing.

"This failure likely happened because the river has begun to recede, which is when structural problems often develop. Like so many of Duke Energy's coal ash ponds across the state, the cooling pond at Lee has a long history of structural problems—these are disasters waiting to happen.

"Minutes before the dam collapsed on the cooling pond, Duke Energy issued a statement declaring it was operating safely. Duke continues to claim the dam of a 120-acre coal ash pond at Lee is operating safely, even though the river has only begun to recede. The same ash pond suffered extensive damage after flooding caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. We remain very concerned about the integrity of the ash pond dams at Lee as the river recedes over the next week.

"It has been more than two years since the Dan River disaster, and Duke's coal ash continues to sit behind rickety dams on the banks of flood-prone rivers all across the state. Three ash ponds at the Lee plant, totaling 160 acres, have been completely submerged since Sunday."

In response to Waterkeeper Alliances breaking news, Greenpeace organizer Caroline Hansley said:

"Duke Energy can attack environmental groups all it wants, but the fact remains that it is misleading the public and the people of North Carolina about the safety of its dams, and Governor McCrory is letting the company get away with it- again. As the flood waters from the devastating Hurricane Matthew recede, we need a Governor who will put people's safety and access to clean drinking water before the interests of his previous employer, Duke Energy.

"Duke Energy has a terrible track record when it comes to protecting the safety of North Carolina's waterways and drinking water. In the two years since the Dan River coal ash disaster, Duke Energy has fought efforts to clean up leaking coal ash pits which threaten the health and safety of nearby communities. Instead of cleaning up its hazardous messes, Duke uses its political influence with its previous employee, Governor McCrory, allowing the company to leave 70 percent of its toxic coal ash leaking across the state.

"Hurricane Matthew proves again that Governor McCrory will always put corporate interests before the people of North Carolina."

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox