Selected category: Extreme Weather

Nothing stood in Irma's way – that's why she turned into a monster storm

Hurricane Irma continued to wreak havoc in the Caribbean Sept. 8 en route to Miami as a mass evacuation continued into the weekend.

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

I’m watching with concern and awe at the power of Hurricane Irma as it continues to batter the Caribbean with 150 mph winds. If it hits Florida as a category 4 or 5 hurricane as forecast, it will be the first time that two hurricanes of such a magnitude have made landfall in continental United States during a single hurricane season.

This, in and of itself, is astonishing – but Irma also happens to be a storm unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

It’s as if Earth is running a controlled scientific experiment to isolate the relationship between warming of the Atlantic Ocean temperatures and hurricane intensity – with the goal of showing us, with terrifying detail, what happens when rising global temperatures fuel powerful storms.

Warm ocean water drove this storm

Hurricanes thrive on two things: Low wind shear and warm ocean temperatures. Wind shear is a rapid change in wind speed and direction, which keeps hurricanes from gaining strength, and Irma has encountered virtually none.

This hurricane, in other words, formed and moved through an area of extremely warm ocean temperatures with nothing to slow her down.

What can that tell us about the future Atlantic hurricanes?

The current state of the science suggests that, on average, uncertainties in the direction of future wind shear may not cause more hurricanes to occur, but models suggest that the intensity of storms will continue to increase as the Atlantic Ocean gets warmer.

Irma strongest Atlantic hurricane in history

As a pragmatic climate scientist and former NOAA research meteorologist, it’s my job to take all factors into account when considering the link between weather extremes and climate change.

While there are several natural and human-caused factors to consider in a given extreme event, I am nevertheless struck by the fact that we are witnessing the impacts of the strongest hurricane to form in the Atlantic Ocean since record keeping began.

It is not just that Irma achieved such an ominous milestone, but the length of time that it has maintained this incredible strength – longer than any other storm of its magnitude. It has all the signs of a record-breaking hurricane, and this is worrisome.

I called an old friend in Fort Lauderdale yesterday to see how he was doing. He asked me, “What should I do?” My response: “Finish preparing for the storm and then get out as fast as you can.”

Also posted in News, Science| Read 1 Response

6 ways NOAA budget cuts will hurt weather reporting – and Americans

 

(This post first appeared on EDF Voices)

At a time when storms are getting more destructive, floods more devastating and people and property more vulnerable, accurate weather forecasting is more critical than ever.

Which is why the Trump administration’s brazen proposal to slash funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most important forecasting and storm prediction programs has set off alarms in recent days. In all, the president wants to slash the agency’s budget by 16 percent.

Having spent more than six years as a NOAA scientist, I know there are ways to become more efficient and make government work better. Many dedicated professionals within the agency would be eager to partner with the administration to develop that kind of action plan.

Except, efficiency is not what this proposal is about. Rather, it blatantly disregards science and how it protects lives and property.

Here are a few of the NOAA budget lowlights, and why they could matter to you:

1. Delays hurricane forecast improvements

Several NOAA programs are developing advanced modeling to make weather and storm forecasts more accurate and reliable. But the same week NOAA called for an above-average season of hurricane activity, the Trump administration requested a $5 million funding cut for these important programs.

It would slow the transition of such advanced forecasting models into real-life warning systems – directly affecting families and business owners who must prepare for severe storms. It would also make the accuracy of American weather forecasts fall farther behind its European and Japanese peers.

2. Eliminates critical tornado warning program

Vortex-Southeast – a $5 million program used to detect, respond to and warn against tornadoes in Southeastern United States – would be terminated. The program studies the intensity and path of twisters in a region with more tornado deaths than any other, and how to best communicate forecasts to the public.

3. Terminates Arctic research protecting fishermen

The president wants to cut a total of $6 million from two NOAA programs that support improvements to sea ice modeling and predictions, along with a program that models vulnerabilities among ecosystems and fisheries.

These programs, among other things, help predict where potentially hazardous floating sea ice may be present, supporting the safety and business of fishermen, commer­cial shippers, cruise ships and local commu­nities in Alaska.

4. Closes lab tracking mercury pollution, fallout

NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory researches how mercury and other harmful materials travel through the atmosphere and fall to Earth. The lab’s models also help emergency agencies and the aviation industry minimize and respond to pollution disasters such as radioactive fallout or anthrax attacks.

And yet, the administration has requested a $4.7 million decrease to close the entire lab.

5. Slows flood forecasting improvements

A $3.1 million cut would slow upgrades to the National Water Model, an initiative hailed as a “game changer” for flood prediction when it launched in 2016. The model offers hourly forecasts for the nation’s entire river network – information that helps emergency agencies, farmers, barge operators and others respond faster and more efficiently to floods.

6. Scales back forecasts of El Niño

A $26 million cut targets programs that monitor the tropical Pacific Ocean and help forecasters predict El Niño and other global environmental weather patterns. Such cuts would make it much harder to anticipate short-term climate events such as drought, excessive flooding and other extreme weather.

These are just a few of the highlights of the administration’s proposed budget for NOAA, but should give you an idea of just how severe they are. These program cuts are not in America’s best interest.

Also posted in Health, News, Policy, Science| Comments are closed

Healthier, safer summers – brought to you by EPA

This weekend is Memorial Day – the unofficial start to summer. That means kids across the country – and adults too – are counting down the days until summer vacation.

Whether your plans include going to a beach, visiting a national park, or just letting your kids play outside in the sprinklers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plays an important role in making your summer healthier and safer – in ways you might not realize.

Here are four examples of how EPA improves summers for all Americans:

  1. Reducing deadly smog

Smog comes from pollution emitted from cars, power plants, and other sources. It can lead to asthma attacks, heart attacks and even deaths.

The summer smog season has already started in most parts of the country. A number of “code orange” days – the terms for days when the air may be too dangerous for some people, like children with asthma and seniors with heart conditions, to be outdoors – have already been issued.

Los Angeles in 1948 USC Libraries Special Collections – Los Angeles Examiner

Smog has improved significantly in recent decades, thanks to EPA and state leadership, but air quality in the U.S. continues to be a serious problem that can jeopardize public health and limit many individuals’ freedom to spend time outdoors. The American Lung Association estimates that more than a third of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of smog.

EPA has worked for decades to reduce smog, most recently when the agency issued new standards for smog in 2015. Once they're in effect, those standards will prevent 230,000 asthma attacks among children every year. That doesn’t include the benefits for California, which EPA calculated separately – the smog standards will prevent another 160,000 asthma attacks among children in that state alone.

Los Angeles nowAlamy

Unfortunately, smog standards are under attack in Congress. Several bills to delay and fundamentally alter how these and other air pollution standards are set are now moving through the Senate. Additionally, President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 cuts funding for the air monitoring that warns families about “Code Red” and “Code Orange” days – the days when air quality reaches unhealthy levels – by almost one third. 

  1. Safer, cleaner beaches

Many of us look forward to summer for the opportunity to spend time on the beach.

Last year, U.S. beach attendance was almost 360 million (more than the entire U.S. population!).

Unfortunately, beaches can be shut down by pollution – including raw sewage, which can expose swimmers to harmful microorganisms called “pathogens” that can make people sick.

An analysis done by the Natural Resources Defense Council a few years ago looked at water samples from 3,485 coastal U.S. beaches – and found that 10 percent of them were above EPA’s benchmark for swimmer safety. The analysis also notes that an estimated 3.5 million people are sickened every year from contact with raw sewage.

EPA – in partnership with states, local governments, and others – works to protect our nation’s beaches. The agency enforces laws and administers programs that regulate sources of water pollution at beaches, conducts leading scientific research on pathogens and sets national standards and criteria, funds grants to states and local governments to help protect our beaches, provides information to the public about water quality, and more. This work helps ensure that America’s beaches stay safe, clean, and open for visitors.

Here are a few examples of beach monitoring and cleanup grants distributed by EPA:

  • Lakeview Beach Green Infrastructure Project in the Great Lakes. The City of Lorain, Ohio got a $250,000 grant to construct a “green” stormwater treatment system at the city’s Lakeview Park, located on Lake Erie. The new system will reduce the E. coli bacteria in stormwater from being directly discharged into Lake Erie at Lakeview Beach, and will reduce the frequency of bacteria-related beach closures.

President Trump’s proposed budget for EPA would eliminate the beach monitoring grants program, among many other things that could impact the health of our nation’s beaches.

  1. Cleaning up the air in our national parks

Shenandoah National Park on a clear day and a hazy dayNational Park Service

National parks are a popular destination for summer vacationers across the country.

According to the National Park Service, there were over 307 million visits to our national parks last year and those visitors spent $16.9 billion in surrounding communities. This spending supported 295,000 jobs and contributed $32 billion to economic output nationally.

EPA and other agencies monitor visibility at 155 national parks and wilderness areas across the country. Unfortunately, many national parks suffer from haze – a form of pollution – that can tarnish scenic vistas and create health problems for visitors.

EPA’s program to reduce haze and other pollution harming our parks has led to measurable improvements in visibility. However, according to the National Parks and Conservation Association, three out of four of our most iconic national parks struggle with unhealthy air, and visitors miss about 50 miles of scenery because of haze.

EPA’s work to reduce the pollution affecting our parks is under threat by Administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued EPA over a plan to reduce haze when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma.

  1. Reducing the pollution contributing to climate change

Climate change affects virtually every facet of our lives and can exacerbate all of the problems listed above – more smoggy days, rising sea levels and more pathogens potentially spreading at beaches, and worse haze in our parks.

Extreme summer heat can also cause illness and death, and climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of those potentially deadly heat waves.

EPA has provided essential leadership to address climate change – including setting standards that would reduce pollution from power plants, cars, trucks, oil and gas operations, and more. Actions underway by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and severe budget cuts in President Trump’s proposed EPA budget could significantly harm the progress we’ve made and delay urgently needed protections for public health and our climate.

President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have indicated they will seek to unravel numerous climate protections, including the Clean Power Plan. Their proposed budget for EPA and other agencies undermines climate research and policies, including by zeroing out the U.S. Climate Action Plan.

Protecting the things that we love about summer

EPA’s work protects our air, our water, our beautiful beaches and parks – and most important, the health and safety of our families. As you enjoy your summer, please remember how important it is to protect the qualities that make summer great.

We need a strong EPA – now and all year long. More than just our summers are at stake.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Health, News, Policy, Science| Comments are closed

Scott Pruitt Peddles Junk Science to Serve Trump’s Anti-Climate Agenda

This week has brought alarming indications that the Trump Administration is poised to roll back life-saving, common-sense climate protections with no plan for replacing them — and that the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejects basic facts about climate change and the clean air laws he is charged with carrying out.

These developments fundamentally threaten efforts to address climate change – the direst environmental challenge of our time.

News reports say that President Trump is on the verge of signing an executive order aimed at revoking the Clean Power Plan – the only national limits on climate-destabilizing carbon pollution from existing power plants, which are our nation’s largest source of these emissions.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt did an interview with CNBC in which he made the wildly inaccurate statement that there’s “tremendous disagreement” about the role climate pollution plays in climate change, and said that he does “not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

And in a second interview, on Fox Business, Pruitt questioned whether EPA has “the tools in the tool box to address [climate change],” and said “Congress has never spoken on this issue” — even though the Supreme Court has determined that the Clean Air Act, which was passed by Congress, does provide those “tools.”

Pruitt does not have a scientific background — just an extensive history of bringing highly politicized lawsuits against environmental protections, and of using his public office on behalf of the fossil fuel interests that have helped fund his political career.

His statements are not just false and misleading representations of climate science. They also call into question whether he can faithfully discharge his clear responsibility under our nation’s clean air laws to protect the public from climate pollution.

Pruitt Is Wrong on Climate Science

The U.S. government’s leading scientific agencies have conclusively determined that climate change is “due primarily to human activities” and is already manifesting itself in rising sea levels, heat waves, more intense storms, and other severe impacts felt by communities across the country.

Just in the last year, respected scientists have reported that the impact of human emissions on climate change is evident in February heat waves, devastating Louisiana storms, and flooded coastal communities.

Contrary to Pruitt’s statement that there’s “tremendous disagreement” about human impacts on climate, there is overwhelming scientific consensus that human emissions of carbon dioxide are destabilizing our climate. This consensus has been affirmed by many of our nation’s most respected scientists and scientific institutions, including:

NASA

Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived ‘forcing’ of climate change. – NASA website

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere. – NASA press release

U.S. National Academy of Sciences

Direct measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere and in air trapped in ice show that atmospheric CO2 increased by about 40% from 1800 to 2012. Measurements of different forms of carbon … reveal that this increase is due to human activities. Other greenhouse gases (notably methane and nitrous oxide) are also increasing as a consequence of human activities. The observed global surface temperature rise since 1900 is consistent with detailed calculations of the impacts of the observed increase in atmospheric CO2 (and other human-induced changes) on Earth’s energy balance. – Climate Change: Evidence & Causes, page 5 (issued jointly with the Royal Society)

U.S. Global Change Research Program

Evidence from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans, collected by scientists and engineers from around the world, tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming, and over the last half century, this warming has been driven primarily by human activity — predominantly the burning of fossil fuels. – U.S. Global Change Research Program website

More than 800 Earth Scientists (in a letter to then-President-Elect Donald Trump)

Publicly acknowledge that climate change is a real, human-caused, and urgent threat. If not, you will become the only government leader in the world to deny climate science. Your position will be at odds with virtually all climate scientists, most economists, military experts, fossil fuel companies and other business leaders, and the two-thirds of Americans worried about this issue. – scientists’ letter

Pruitt either refuses to accept this science, or is unaware of it – and either possibility presents a huge problem for the nation’s top environmental official.

Pruitt Has a Legal Obligation to Protect the Public from Climate Pollution

Pruitt’s assertions that “Congress has not spoken” on climate change and that EPA may lack the “tools” to address the issue show that he is just as wrong on the law as he is on climate science.

Our nation’s clean air laws require EPA to protect public health and well-being from all forms of dangerous pollution, and the Supreme Court has recognized on three separate occasions that this responsibility clearly applies to carbon dioxide and other climate-destabilizing pollutants. Contrary to Pruitt’s comments, the courts have consistently found that Congress has directly “spoken” to the issue of climate change by vesting EPA with broad responsibility and tools to address this and other emerging threats to human health and welfare.  And EPA has, in fact, put these tools into practice over the last few years by establishing common-sense protections that are reducing pollution, protecting public health, and strengthening our economy – including fuel efficiency and emission standards for cars and trucks, emission standards for power plants, and standards for oil and gas facilities.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, decided a decade ago, the Supreme Court found “without a doubt” that EPA is authorized to regulate carbon dioxide and other climate pollutants under the Clean Air Act:

Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of ‘air pollutant,’ we hold that EPA has the statutory authority to regulate the emission of such gases from new motor vehicles. — Massachusetts v. EPA, 2007

The Supreme Court then ordered EPA to make a science-based determination as to whether carbon dioxide and other climate pollutants endanger public health and welfare. In 2009 – after an exhaustive review of the scientific literature and over 380,000 public comments – EPA released its nearly 1,000-page finding that climate pollutants posed such a danger.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld this finding against a barrage of legal attacks by polluters and their allies (including a lawsuit by Scott Pruitt, who was then Attorney General of Oklahoma). The Supreme Court allowed that decision to stand without further review.

Two years after EPA made its determination, the Supreme Court unanimously decided in American Electric Power v. Connecticut that section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act – the provision that EPA relied upon in issuing the Clean Power Plan – clearly authorizes EPA to regulate emissions from existing power plants:

[Massachusetts v. EPA] made plain that emissions of carbon dioxide qualify as air pollution subject to regulation under the Act … And we think it equally plain that the [Clean Air] Act ‘speaks directly’ to emissions of carbon dioxide from the defendants’ plants. – American Electric Power v. Connecticut (2011)

And in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA in 2014 the Supreme Court once again affirmed EPA’s responsibility to address climate pollution by finding that the Clean Air Act requires new and modified industrial facilities to adopt limits on climate pollution. Notably, at the oral arguments in both American Electric Power v. Connecticut and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, attorneys for some of the same coal-based power companies that now oppose the Clean Power Plan recognized EPA’s authority to regulate climate pollution from power plants.

As George W. Bush’s former EPA Administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, said in a recent interview:

I think, as a matter of law, that carbon is a pollutant has been settled. – (Climatewire, The Clean Power Plan is gone — and there's no 'replace' – March 9, 2017)

Notably, Scott Pruitt told the Senate under oath that he would abide by this framework. He specifically said that Massachusetts v. EPA and the Endangerment Finding are the “law of the land” and that “the endangerment finding is there and needs to be enforced and respected.” Pruitt ought to keep that testimony in mind should he try to attack the bedrock legal principles requiring EPA to protect the public from harmful climate pollution.

The Facts Are Clear

There is scientific consensus that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate pollutants are driving dangerous climate change. And under our nation’s clean air laws, EPA is required to protect Americans from this pollution – a responsibility that Pruitt’s predecessors have carried out by taking common-sense, cost-effective steps to reduce pollution from power plants, cars and trucks, oil and gas facilities, and other sources.

It’s outrageous and unacceptable that the principal federal official charged with carrying out this solemn responsibility is relying on “alternative facts” peddled by climate deniers to shirk his responsibility under the law.

 

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Science, Setting the Facts Straight| Read 3 Responses

These Critical Disaster Safety Efforts Will Be at Risk if Trump Eliminates the Climate Action Plan

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy brought 14-feet storm surges to the unprotected New Jersey shore and billions in damages. Photo: State of New Jersey

As you’ve probably heard by now, President Trump has replaced the Obama administration’s Climate and Energy web page with a new one that reiterates our 45th president’s promise to tear down the Climate Action Plan and expand our reliance on fossil fuels.

What you may not know is that this 180-degree policy shift will also undermine efforts to prepare for climate change disasters that are already upon us – at a great cost to public safety and our nation’s economy.

By rescinding Obama’s plan for turning the corner on climate change – in which a main pillar was to prepare the United States for its impacts – President Trump would make it harder for:

  • businesses to manage extreme weather-related disruptions to their supply chains
  • infrastructure developers to account for changes in extreme weather and coastal flooding from sea level rise, and to be able to withstand climate surprises
  • farmers to become adept at managing continually changing precipitation patterns
  • states to manage their water resource operations more effectively
  • state and local emergency preparedness personnel to effectively manage safety risks

In 2016 alone, the hottest year on record, we experienced no fewer than 15 weather and climate change-related disasters – at a total cost of $46 billion in damages.

Storms and other such climate disasters with costs exceeding $1 billion have increased in the U.S. over the last 37 years.  These are hard dollar facts nobody can deny.

Economically responsible leaders today continue to build resilience in the face of a changing climate. Critical elements of our society – including businesses, infrastructure, agriculture, and essential water resources – depend on such action.

Keeping citizens safe

I watched President Trump express his condolences to the families who lost loved ones to the severe weather in the South in late January. But we can do more than just express empathy when American communities are torn apart by disasters.

We can also mitigate such disasters by improving our resilience to climate change and by advocating for climate-smart policies.

One of the most important ways to increase our preparedness for extreme climate events is to continually improve and refine our understanding of how climate variability and change is linked to extreme weather.

Obama’s Climate Action Plan aimed to do just that by helping federal climate science research break new ground and continue to advance our understanding of impacts from both short-term climate anomalies – such as how El Niño and La Niña affect severe weather – and from impacts related to warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Throwing out the this plan is not how we protect the safety of our citizens, which, after all, should be the primary goal of any administration and the first way to keep America great.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Policy, Science| Comments are closed

As Earth Gets Hotter, Scientists Break New Ground Linking Climate Change to Extreme Weather

So here we are again with yet another annual global temperature record. That’s right, 2016 will go down as the warmest year globally since record-keeping began, with preliminary reports indicating that 2016 was 1.3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

If it feels like you’ve heard this song before it’s because you have. The last three years have all smashed the previous year’s record for highest globally averaged temperature, a clear signal that the Earth continues its unprecedented rate of warming.

For sure, the 2016 record was helped along somewhat by one of the strongest El Niño events on record, but we also know that over many years, such cycles have very little to do with the overall global warming trend from rising greenhouse gas emissions. The trajectory is clear.

But there’s more to the story. As temperatures rise, we’re also learning more about how these rising temperatures affect our weather – and extreme weather events, in particular.

With the help of new and evolving climate research, we’re detecting a stronger link between warming and changing weather patterns.

Rapid response: Climate analysis in real time

Until recently, all studies on climate attribution were typically published a year or more after a big storm or heat wave, long after news headlines and public attention had waned.

But the science of climate attribution – an emerging and rapidly advancing branch of climate science that separates out the greenhouse gas cause from naturally occurring causes to quantify the human impact – is becoming nimble.

The World Weather Attribution project, an international effort “to sharpen and accelerate the scientific community’s ability to analyze and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme-weather events,” now conducts initial analyses in near real time.

In 2016, this project covered the March coral bleaching in the Pacific Ocean, the May European rain storms, the August Louisiana floods, the extreme Arctic warming during November and December, and the December cold air outbreak over the United States – all significant weather events.

In four of the five events, scientists found links to human-caused climate change, with the December cold air outbreak being the only event without a discernible human fingerprint.

The next step for climate science: to project how future weather events will change under different scenarios spelled out by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Extreme weather in a 1.5° or 2° degree world

Scientists are engaged in a new international research effort trying to predict differences in weather extremes under both a 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees Celsius warmer world, the targets discussed during the Paris climate talks.

Although climate change impacts on weather extremes are already underway, as 2016 has shown, it is critical to understand potential socioeconomic consequences under these two policy scenarios.

We’ve already experienced more than 1 degree Celsius of global warming and its impacts. The big question now is to what extent the next degree will be worse than the first.

As we continue to break heat records, quicker climate analyses and better predictions will be critical as we adjust to our rapidly changing climate – and science is on the case.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, News, Science| Comments are closed
  • About this blog

    Expert to expert commentary on the science, law and economics of climate change and clean air.

  • Get new posts by email

    We'll deliver new blog posts to your inbox.

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Categories

  • Meet The Bloggers