As the death toll mounts, secondary effects of the Texas grid failure, driven primarily by the failure of gas, coal, and nuclear plants to handle the cold, are becoming apparent.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By John Rogers
The Polar Vortex hitting much of the US has wreaked havoc not just on roadways and airports, but also on our electricity systems, as plenty are experiencing first-hand right now. Households, institutions, and communities across the region — and friends and family members — have been hit by power outages, and all that comes with them.
1. Restoring power (safely) is Job 1.<p>First: Some things about all this we won't know until we have the benefit of a few days — or months — of hindsight, and data. But one thing we do know right now is that electricity, which we so often take for granted, is crucial to so many aspects of our lives.</p><p>For some, power outages are an inconvenience. For others, they're <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/julie-mcnamara/hurricane-irma-power-outage" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">life-threatening</a>. So keeping the power flowing, or getting it back up as quickly as possible, is key. Grid operators need to avoid affecting vulnerable populations and critical infrastructure as much as possible when they're implementing rolling blackouts, and need to prioritize them when they're restoring service.</p><p>While all confronting power outages or near misses are indebted to those working around the clock to keep things from getting worse, keeping crews safe is also key. Weather like this, combined with the ongoing pandemic, sure doesn't make for the easiest working conditions, so utilities and grid operators will need to use really solid judgement about where they can safely focus people, and when, for any needed repairs.</p>
2. The power outages are about both supply and demand.<p>Utilities and grid operators have been hit by the double whammies of unprecedented demand and big challenges on the supply side. On the demand side, for example, Texas on Valentine's Day <a href="https://twitter.com/ERCOT_ISO/status/1361142665140711427" target="_blank">shattered</a> its previous winter peak record by almost 5%. The peak was 11,000 MW above what ERCOT, Texas's electric grid operator, was projecting and planning for as of November — some 15-20 good-sized power plants' worth.</p><p>And on the supply side, power lines taken out by the weather are a piece of it, as you'd expect. But it also turns out that all kinds of power plants have gone offline, for a range of reasons. Take natural gas, for example:</p>
3. Natural gas plants have been hit hard.<p>Gas plants suffer from their own supply-and-demand issues. One piece of it is the fact that the same gas that supplies them is also needed for heating homes and businesses. And if a power plant doesn't have firm contracts to get gas when it needs it, the way gas utilities would, the power plant loses out. The laws of physics may also be coming into play, as any moisture in the gas lines succumbs to the extreme cold and gums up the works—valves, for instance.</p><p>And indeed, initial indications are that a lot of the lost capacity is natural gas-fired. Data from Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the grid operator for much of the Great Plains, <a href="https://marketplace.spp.org/pages/capacity-of-generation-on-outage#%2F2021%2F02" target="_blank">show</a> that 70% of its "outaged" megawatts (MW) were natural gas plants.</p><p>ERCOT, which is powered primarily by natural gas and wind, was <a href="http://www.ercot.com/news/releases/show/225210" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warning</a> yesterday that "Extreme weather conditions caused many generating units — across fuel types — to trip offline and become unavailable." It <a href="https://twitter.com/Sonalcpatel/status/1361365934204674053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">clarified</a> elsewhere, though, that the majority of the capacity it had lost overnight was "thermal generators, like generation fueled by gas, coal, or nuclear". In all, Texas was out <a href="https://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/energy/article/Wholesale-power-prices-spiking-across-Texas-15951684.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">more than a third</a> of its total capacity.</p>
4. Don’t think an “all of the above” strategy would have saved the day.<p>As ERCOT's messages suggests, this isn't just a gas issue, and these last few days should in no way be fodder for the type of fact-free "all of the above" pushes <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/jeremy-richardson/rick-perry-rejects-facts-in-favor-of-coal-and-nuclear-bailouts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">favored</a> by the prior administration.</p><p>For example, many power plants, including all nuclear plants, virtually all coal plants, and a lot of natural gas plants, depend on <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/water-power-plant-cooling" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">water to cool the steam</a> that drives the electricity-producing turbines. Any power plant dependent on cooling water will run into trouble if that cooling water is actually frozen solid. And they can have their own troubles with fuel availability during extreme cold.</p><p>(While we're on the subject of fossil fuels: Note that the extreme weather has also <a href="https://www.eenews.net/energywire/2021/02/16/stories/1063725119" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hit oil production</a>, with the Permian basin, for example, down an estimated 1 million barrels a day.)</p>
5. Wind turbines can be winterized (but Texas…?).<p>Wind turbines aren't immune to extreme cold, and initial reports show that they, too, have been hit by this wave. In SPP, wind was the <a href="https://spp.org/newsroom/press-releases/spp-becomes-first-regional-grid-operator-with-wind-as-no-1-annual-fuel-source-considers-electric-storage-participation-in-markets-approves-2021-transmission-plan/" target="_blank">#1 source</a> of electricity last year, and initial data from yesterday suggested it accounted for almost a fifth of the capacity taken offline.</p><p>ERCOT also mentions wind turbines going offline; one source <a href="https://twitter.com/Sonalcpatel/status/1361357248988143620" target="_blank">suggests</a> 4,000 MW of wind was offline yesterday morning, compared with 26,000 MW of downed thermal capacity (mostly gas). Wind is ERCOT's second-largest supplier of power, accounting for 23% of its electricity last year (from a nation-leading <a href="https://cleanpower.org/resources/american-clean-power-market-report-q4-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">33,000 MW</a>).</p><p>But wind farms going offline appears to be a <a href="https://finance.yahoo.com/news/frozen-wind-farms-just-small-002954294.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">much smaller piece</a> of the picture than detractors will suggest. And wind power has played an important role in keeping the lights on in past extreme cold events (remember the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wind-power-bomb-cyclone-2554824592.html" target="_self">Bomb Cyclone</a>?). They can also be at least partially winter-proofed — by hardening the control systems, using the right fluids, and de-icing the blades. But if you don't see weather like this coming…</p>
6. We need to be ready for more extreme weather.<p>And that's one of the lessons to learn from this episode, once we get beyond the immediacy of it all: Past performance is no indication of what's going to be coming at us. We know that climate change is bringing not just overall warming, but also <a href="https://ucsusa.org/resources/does-cold-weather-disprove-climate-change" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">more extremes at <em>both</em> ends</a>. We also know that there are all kinds of ways that <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/power-failure" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">climate change affects our ability to keep the lights on</a>.</p><p>So we need to be ready, or readier, for situations like this. And it turns out that there are <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/julie-mcnamara/noreaster-power-grid" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a lot of ways</a> we can be. Stronger transmission links can <a href="https://mailchi.mp/acore/acore-statement-on-heartland-power-outages?e=a4ae549508" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">allow regions to back each other up</a> when they aren't all facing the same challenges at the same time. A diversity of (clean) power options can mean some might be available even when others aren't. (ERCOT anticipated yesterday morning being able to reconnect customers later that day in part because of "additional wind & solar output".)</p><p>We also <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/julie-mcnamara/one-way-to-boost-renewables-let-flexible-demand-lend-a-helping-hand" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">don't have to take electricity demand</a> as a fixed, can't-do-anything-about-it quantity. Utilities (including mine, a few days ago) called on customers to <a href="http://www.ercot.com/news/releases/show/225151" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">be as efficient as possible</a> to get us past the latest crunches. Programs put in place ahead of time can reward customers for delaying or shifting their electricity use.</p><p>And energy storage can be an important middleperson between supply and demand, from the large scale all the way down to battery packs in our garages and basements.</p>
Getting through this, and beyond<p>Right now, the task is getting the power back on. Longer term, the goal shouldn't be about ensuring 100% reliability (because of the prohibitive cost of removing that last fraction of a fraction of a possibility of a blackout), but to make them as infrequent and as limited in duration as possible. It should, though, be about making sure we make <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/lights-out" target="_blank">decisions</a> that serve us well in the short term and, in the face of climate change, in the long term.</p><p>Blackouts will happen; that doesn't mean we're powerless against them. The need is there, but so are the tools.</p><p><em><a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/author/john-rogers" target="_blank">John Rogers</a> is a senior energy analyst with expertise in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and policies.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/polar-vortex-power-outages-6-things-to-know-about-supply-demand-and-our-electricity-future" target="_blank">Union of Concerned Scientists</a>. </em></p>
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- What Exactly Is the Polar Vortex? - EcoWatch ›
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According to the UN Environment Program, up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used globally each year, and because of the material they're made from, most municipal recycling centers don't accept them (more on this below).
The most sustainable option is to skip the bag altogether. You can also make your own reusable produce bags out of old T-shirts. But if you'd rather purchase them new, here are our recommendations for the best reusable produce bags on the market today.
Eco Joy<p>If you're making the switch to more sustainable shopping bags and want a variety of products to use, the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Reusable-Sandwich-Biodegradable-Eco-Drawstring/dp/B003PK4W3I/ref=sr_1_36?crid=3TDUCB8ZOM7WI&dchild=1&keywords=produce+bags+grocery+reusable&qid=1613484643&sprefix=produce+bags%2Caps%2C189&sr=8-36" target="_blank">Eco Joy Cotton Reusable Produce Bags</a> set is a great place to start. The set comes with three mesh drawstring bags, three muslin drawstring bags, a large mesh tote and a zippered sandwich-size pouch.</p><p>Each product is made with organic, non-GMO cotton that's ethically sourced in accordance with Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) standards. The cotton comes from India and Turkey, and the bags are hand-assembled in Canada by the owner of Eco Joy, so you can feel good about supporting a small business while reducing your environmental impact.</p><p><strong>Customer rating:</strong> 4.7 out of 5 stars with over 300 Amazon reviews</p><p><strong>Why buy: </strong>Zero-waste; Handmade in Canada; WRAP compliant; Machine washable</p>
Organic Cotton Mart<p>Some shoppers prefer to use mesh bags when shopping for fruits and veggies. We recommend checking out <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Best-Reusable-Produce-Organic-Cotton/dp/B07CK2TJKL/ref=sr_1_16?crid=10A7NM0LQ0B7E&dchild=1&keywords=mesh+produce+bags&qid=1613483897&s=home-garden&sprefix=mesh+pro%2Cgarden%2C162&sr=1-16" target="_blank">Organic Cotton Mart's Reusable Cotton Mesh Produce Bags</a> if you're in this camp, as they're made with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton.</p> <p>Mesh reusable produce bags can make the checkout process easier than muslin bags since you can see what's inside them without having to open them up. Plus, the tare weight (i.e., the weight of the empty bag that should be subtracted from the total weight of your produce to make sure you don't pay extra for using your bag) is printed right on the label of Organic Cotton Mart's bags, making everything that much more convenient.</p> <p><strong>Customer rating:</strong> 4.6 out of 5 stars with nearly 1,000 Amazon reviews</p><strong>Why buy:</strong> GOTS certified; Machine washable; Biodegradable
Simple Ecology<p>On the other hand, if you just want to purchase muslin bags, we like <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Simple-Ecology-Reusable-Organic-Shopping/dp/B004UJ0U0C" target="_blank">Simple Ecology's Reusable Produce Bags</a>, which are also made with GOTS-certified organic cotton. Simple Ecology also has a <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N6AUMBG/ref=sspa_dk_detail_2?psc=1&pd_rd_i=B01N6AUMBG&pd_rd_w=MA3ZS&pf_rd_p=cbc856ed-1371-4f23-b89d-d3fb30edf66d&pd_rd_wg=hVunQ&pf_rd_r=G6RTQ1Z5DKEY325MAJZ9&pd_rd_r=5d298b3a-1be7-4ebd-a9e1-d5d672a40497&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUExMzc4RVAxWjNLOTdCJmVuY3J5cHRlZElkPUEwNTc0NTAwMzBDMjFYOVJPTUpWSCZlbmNyeXB0ZWRBZElkPUEwNjYyOTM4M0s4Vk81SVBPS1NFSyZ3aWRnZXROYW1lPXNwX2RldGFpbF90aGVtYXRpYyZhY3Rpb249Y2xpY2tSZWRpcmVjdCZkb05vdExvZ0NsaWNrPXRydWU=" target="_blank">starter kit</a> that comes with several reusable grocery bags if you're looking for more variety.</p> <p>The benefit of using muslin reusable produce bags is that, unlike mesh, there are no holes for small items to slip through. This means that in addition to larger produce, you can use them to purchase bulk foods like lentils, beans and rice — or even powders like flour or spices — without worrying about anything leaking. They're also best for keeping leafy greens fresh.</p> <p><strong>Customer rating:</strong> 4.7 out of 5 stars with nearly 1,500 Amazon reviews</p><strong>Why buy:</strong> GOTS certified; Machine washable; Biodegradable; Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified packaging when purchased from manufacturer
ECOBAGS<p>Whether you're buying bread, fresh flowers, produce or all of the above, the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/ECOBAGS-Market-Collection-Reusable-Natural/dp/B08KFGPGN5" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ECOBAGS Market Collection Reusable Bag Set</a> is ideal for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/farmers-markets-coronavirus-safety-2645581711.html" target="_self">farmers market</a> shopping or large grocery hauls. The netted bags are durable, flexible, and pack down small so they're easy to keep in your car or purse.</p> <p>ECOBAGS is a woman-owned certified B Corp, which means it uses sound social and environmental practices. These bags come in packs of three or five and have a few different handle lengths and color options, but they're all made with GOTS-certified organic cotton.</p> <p><strong>Customer rating: </strong>Not applicable</p><p><strong>Why buy:</strong> GOTS certified; Machine washable; Biodegradable; Certified B Corp; SA8000 certified for the protection of basic human rights of workers</p>
By Zachary Lawrence and Amy Butler
At the start of February 2021, a major snowstorm hit the northeast United States, with some areas receiving well over two feet of snow. Just a few weeks earlier, Spain experienced a historic and deadly snowstorm and dangerously low temperatures. Northern Siberia is no stranger to cold, but in mid-January 2021, some Siberian cities reported temperatures below minus 70 F. Media headlines hint that the polar vortex has arrived, as if it were some sort of ice tornado that wreaks wintry havoc wherever it strikes.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8ec1afae3c2fc9c680a48a02dbdfed65"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I_htSntkNaA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h2>The Domino Effect</h2><p>Since the Earth's atmosphere is one giant shell of air that moves like a fluid, the polar vortex is interconnected with the weather that moves around the Earth at lower altitudes. Normal variations in the jet stream and weather can disturb the structure of the vortex in the stratosphere. Like an elastic band, the vortex usually rebounds back to its normal shape and size, maintaining its strong winds and low temperatures.</p>
Between December (left) and January (right), the polar vortex moved entirely off the North Pole and lost much of its structural integrity. Zachary Lawrence/CIRES/NOAA<p>But sometimes, these weather and jet stream variations can knock the polar vortex off balance, causing significant wobbles in its shape, location, temperatures and winds. When this happens, the structural integrity of the polar vortex begins to break down. If this happens often enough over a period of time, everything can go haywire with the polar vortex as the winds break down and the vortex warms up.</p>
As the polar vortex deforms between December and January, the jet stream became much wavier and brought cold storms farther south. Zachary Lawrence/CIRES/NOAA<p>This is precisely what has unfolded this year: On Jan. 5, the polar vortex was completely thrown out of whack by an event called a <a href="https://www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/enso/sudden-stratospheric-warming-and-polar-vortex-early-2021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sudden stratospheric warming</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1029/2020RG000708" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sudden stratospheric warming</a> is the technical name for these violent disturbances that severely distort and weaken the vortex, knocking it off of the pole or even ripping it apart. When this happens, temperatures in the normally cold polar stratosphere explosively rise by as much as 90 F over the span of a few days – hence the name of these events.</p>
<div id="ddc94" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0a524a784617e498d5240c824aaf7239"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1084935021171924992" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Here is my "official" 3D animation of this year's stratospheric #PolarVortex split. Another beautiful event! https://t.co/ml59N1cDoh</div> — Zac Lawrence (@Zac Lawrence)<a href="https://twitter.com/zd1awrence/statuses/1084935021171924992">1547503640.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Hannah Fuchs
Let's not waste time. You will need: warm clothes, plenty of firewood and enough supplies (flour, yeast, toilet paper — the usual) to not have to leave the house for the next week or two.
<div id="40dd2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ba383ef5df2622b97b4bf813f96e7c7f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1349033280696414209" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Out of this world! Spain is a winter wonderland right now. Bitterly cold after historic snow. Cencellada, Albacete… https://t.co/LwEvXSQ2tc</div> — Scott Duncan (@Scott Duncan)<a href="https://twitter.com/ScottDuncanWX/statuses/1349033280696414209">1610469572.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="c849e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="83d72081c8ad90d173524c79c3fe973b"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1348586699224395776" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Another split of the #PolarVortex is set to happen 15th-17th Jan. A stratospheric ridge noses in between two vortex… https://t.co/nPj0wmRuSc</div> — James Peacock (@James Peacock)<a href="https://twitter.com/peacockreports/statuses/1348586699224395776">1610363099.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="61163" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bf8068fe0ef6acc77daa5d20c887ef9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1349664429185634306" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">A strong example of knock-on effect in latest #Forecast model runs. The further west a low moves cold air (C) Mond… https://t.co/qnE7piXtH3</div> — James Peacock (@James Peacock)<a href="https://twitter.com/peacockreports/statuses/1349664429185634306">1610620050.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The reason: the approaching Atlantic depressions. They are supposed to cause the winter air to move from the west further to Russia, and the snow line is supposed to rise to over 1,000 meters. But that does not mean that it will stay that way for the rest of winter. The cold may well return.</p><p>In the end, the weather just does what it wants — whatever our forecasts. </p>
- How Wind Power is Saving Millions During Polar Vortex - EcoWatch ›
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- Late Polar Vortex Could Bring Record Cold to Northeastern U.S. ... ›
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By Brenda Ekwurzel
When temperatures hit the 80s Fahrenheit in May above latitude 40, sun-seekers hit the parks, lakes, and beaches, and thoughts turn to summer. By contrast, when temperatures lurk in the drizzly 40s and 50s well into flower season, northerners get impatient for summer. But when those 80-degree temperatures visit latitude 64 in Russia, as they just did, and when sleet disrupts Mother's Day weekend in May in Massachusetts, as it just did, thoughts turn to: what is going on here?
Hot Arctic<p>Before we jump into the science, let's take a quick look at the unusual spring weather. This past weekend, Russia was the scene of record-high temperatures. A city above the Arctic circle — <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/Arkhangelsk,+Arkhangelsk+Oblast,+Russiafirstname.lastname@example.org,21.0114658,3.95z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x441833f755c232e1:0x403eec437ac89a31!8m2!3d64.5472507!4d40.5601553" target="_blank">Arkhangelsk</a> — recorded a high of 84 degrees Fahrenheit on May 11 at the <a href="https://www.wunderground.com/history/monthly/ru/arkhangelsk/ULAA/date/2019-5?cm_ven=localwx_history" target="_blank">Talagi Airport weather station.</a> The average high temperature for Arkhangelsk this time of year is <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/05/14/it-was-degrees-near-arctic-ocean-this-weekend-carbon-dioxide-hit-its-highest-level-human-history/?utm_term=.6130b4150f75" target="_blank">around 54 degrees Fahrenheit</a>.</p>
Gloomy Weather<p>Meanwhile in the Northeast U.S., try having a conversation that doesn't loop back to the endlessly gloomy, chilly, unseasonable weather. When gloomy weather becomes such a dominant topic of conversation in a region, a form of citizen science is occurring, and it tells you something: it is unusual, it is anomalous, it is downright wacky.</p><p>Many locations are not seeing the sun nearly as much as normal memory serves — and science confirms — for this time of year. The Long Island town of Islip, New York, recorded its <a href="https://weather.com/news/weather/news/2019-05-08-northeast-rain-fatigued-but-might-catch-break-soon" target="_blank">longest streak of rainy days on record </a>from April 20 to May 7. It rained for <a href="https://weather.com/news/weather/news/2019-05-08-northeast-rain-fatigued-but-might-catch-break-soon" target="_blank">21 days this April in Boston</a>.</p><p>It's not just in the Northeast: repeated rain events resulted in much of the contiguous U.S. being ranked in the <a href="https://twitter.com/mattlanza/status/1128750813839597569" target="_blank">99th percentile for soil moisture on May 14</a>, including many of the Plain states (South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas) and most states eastward. This is a continuation of a high soil moisture ranking percentile pattern (see Jan – April 2019 in Figure 1). Soil moisture ranking percentile is from the <a href="https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/soilmst/w_lb.html" target="_blank">1948-2000 Climatology</a></p><p>As of this writing, there are headlines with exasperated tones wondering when winter will truly depart, including:</p><ul> <li>"Chicago narrowly misses breaking 112-year-old record for late-season snow" – <a href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/weather/ct-met-snowfall-totals-late-april-snow-20190428-story.html" target="_blank">April 28, Chicago Tribune</a></li></ul><ul> <li>"It MAY snow in the Northeast this week. In MAY" – <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/13/us/may-snow-northeast/index.html" target="_blank">May 13, CNN</a></li></ul><ul><li>"Extreme weather pattern to divide nation next week…"– <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/05/16/wild-weather-possible-next-week-big-storm-central-us-degrees-southeast-snow-western-plains/?utm_term=.4f863c95d3a8" target="_blank">May 16, Washington Post</a></li></ul><p>In that third article, Jason <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/05/16/wild-weather-possible-next-week-big-storm-central-us-degrees-southeast-snow-western-plains/?utm_term=.4f863c95d3a8" target="_blank">Samenow describes the abnormal late May forecast </a>for snow, hail, tornadoes, flooding, and excessive heat to different parts of the contiguous US over upcoming days.</p>
Continental U.S. Monthly Soil Moisture ranking percentile for Jan-April 2019. Repeated rain events resulted in a large portion of the contiguous U.S. being ranked in the 99th percentile for soil moisture on May 14.
Damages<p>Unfortunately, the consequences of these gloomy, chilly and rainy or snowy conditions are very real in terms of damages, both personal and in the larger economy. People are taking time away from work — lost labor hours — to deal with them. People are pumping water out of basements and throwing away cherished items lost to water damage.</p><p>Some of the flooding is from intense storms like the <a href="https://co.ng.mil/News/Archives/Article/1810834/governor-activates-colorado-national-guard-for-another-bomb-cyclone/" target="_blank">two rare interior U.S. bomb cyclones</a> that caused <a href="https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=23&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiimf6dtaHiAhWJr1kKHXp9BRgQFjAWegQIBhAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DJzTwtgsXPe4&usg=AOvVaw2AJXCUaOuBotzgMcmIp64e" target="_blank">flooding</a> and prompted governors to spring into action, calling on the <a href="https://co.ng.mil/News/Archives/Article/1810834/governor-activates-colorado-national-guard-for-another-bomb-cyclone/" target="_blank">National Guard</a>. There is a current backlog of unmet <a href="https://governor.nebraska.gov/sites/governor.nebraska.gov/files/doc/press/Governors%20Disaster%20Supplemental%20Letter.pdf" target="_blank">disaster relief requests</a>. Some of the flooding is from water tables rising since relentless repeated rain events don't allow the soil enough time to dry out.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/global-warming-impacts/floods" target="_blank">natural and human-driven</a> aspects of flooding are critical to tease apart so we can better prepare our communities for the flood risk of today and the changing flood risks of the decades ahead. This is especially important when <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/433523-disaster-stricken-communities-arent-receiving-the-funds-they-were" target="_blank">investing dollars in infrastructure</a> that are anywhere near surface water or groundwater (also known as the water table).</p>
Eurasian October Snow Cover Extent Indicator<p>It may seem counter-intuitive, but the story of the strange weather unfolding this spring in the U.S. is related in part to snow last October in Eurasia. This indicator — the Eurasian October snow cover extent indicator — is proving to be worthy of additional attention by U.S. weather geeks. The good news is that the scientists who were paying attention to the Eurasia snow extent behavior during October, along with a host of other indicators, gave <a href="https://www.aer.com/science-research/climate-weather/winter-2019-recap/" target="_blank">advanced warning of the emerging U.S. winter and spring weather pattern for 2018/2019</a>. Winter sports enthusiasts rejoiced and sought the snow-peaked slopes of Colorado and Utah.</p><p>The bad news is it can feel extremely bouncy going through record-breaking cold and record flooding, with temporary relief periods over these past months. It can feel like riding a seesaw. But the lasting memory of the major pattern is what becomes the talk of the region. Terrific winter snowpack, tragic flooding and gloomy northeast.</p><p>You may wonder about the Eurasian snow extent indicator and the broader connections. I encourage those who want to know, to spend some time clicking on the links here or links in earlier blogs that point to even more information (see <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/brenda-ekwurzel/us-winter-2018-2019-bomb-cyclones-arctic-outbreaks-abundant-snowfall-flooding-and-an-unseasonably-warm-alaska" target="_blank">here</a>, <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/brenda-ekwurzel/arctic-report-card-2017-ice-cover-is-shrinking-faster-compared-with-prior-1500-years" target="_blank">here</a>, <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/brenda-ekwurzel/unseasonably-warm-arctic-winter-is-thawing-alaska-and-may-be-linked-to-noreasters" target="_blank">here</a> and <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/erika-spanger-siegfried/global-warming-in-the-arctic-a-sensitive-climate-gone-off-the-rails" target="_blank">here</a>). These describe the details regarding how Arctic sea ice decline, particularly in the <a href="https://polarbearscience.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/kara-sea_pbsg.jpg" target="_blank">Barents-Kara sea ice</a>, north of Scandinavia and Russia, contributes to ocean and atmosphere behavior. Which contributes to Eurasian snow cover extent behavior. And ultimately a wavy jet stream with episodic cold outbreaks over winter and spring in the Northern Hemisphere, including the U.S.</p><p>Here is an example of the science as Judah Cohen <a href="https://www.aer.com/science-research/climate-weather/winter-2019-recap/" target="_blank">explained</a>, "There is a growing consensus that it is Barents-Kara sea ice in the late fall and early winter that has the greatest impact across Eurasia. Therefore, low Barents-Kara sea ice in November for example, favors a strengthened Siberian high, increased poleward heat flux, a weak stratospheric Polar Vortex and finally a negative Arctic Oscillation. An important point regarding the Siberian high is that it strengthens or expands northwest of the climatological center. For low snow cover and/or high sea ice the opposite occurs." Translation, a weakened polar vortex means more cold outbreaks deep into U.S. territory like this past winter and spring.</p><p>We know that burning coal, oil, and gas and the resulting global warming has caused dramatic declines in Arctic summer sea ice extent (minimum occurs in September). It takes longer to cool the warmer than normal Arctic ocean enough to grow new sea ice or thicken remnant ice in the following October and November. Over each successive decade, we are more likely to experience low Barents-Kara sea ice extent over more years, causing weather geeks to keep monitoring jargon indicators: Sea ice extent, Eurasian Snow Cover Extent, Stratospheric Polar Vortex, El Niño Southern Oscillation, North Atlantic Oscillation, Arctic Oscillation and more to improve U.S. seasonal outlooks.</p><p>This is little consolation to those throwing out their flood-soaked cherished items from Kansas to Maine this spring season.</p>
During bouts of extreme weather, we always turn to our beloved meteorologists to analyze, forecast and report these events.
So you know it's really cold outside when trusted weather experts, like Minneapolis's Chris Shaffer of WCCO-TV, dedicate The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face" to Mother Nature amid temperatures that feel like the negative 30s, 40s and 50s.