Hail! It’s America’s most underrated climate risk, Atlantic, February 9, 2021. (See bottom of this post) Wisconsin researchers in a new study find that over the last 40 years hail has expanded its footprint across the country and has become more frequent in the so-called Hail Alley stretching from Wyoming to Texas.
Study: Warmer weather will increase flooding in the Columbia River Basin this century, Oregon Public Broadcasting, February 15, 2021. According to an Oregon State University study, 100-year floods will increase by 60 percent during the next 50 to 100 years in major river basins due to less precipitation falling as snow during the winter and accelerated spring runoff.
The western United States is a hotspot for snow droughts, Revelator, February 1, 2021. University of California Irvine researchers find that snow droughts became longer and more intense during the 21st century in a few hotspots. Western states saw a 28 percent increase in the length of periods of snow drought.
The Colorado River crisis is a national crisis, New Republic, February 8, 2021, andand The Colorado River Basin’s worsening dryness in five numbers, KUNC Public Radio, January 29, 2021. Drought conditions since the turn of the century continue to worsen, driving basin states negotiators to the bargaining table to look for new ways to divvy up the declining flows.
California’s rainfall is at historic lows. That spells trouble for wildfires and farms., Guardian, February 11, 2021. The two-year rainfall deficit is the worst since the mid-1800s.
California’s rainy season now starts a month later than it used to, Yale Environment 360, February 4, 2021. According to a new study, the start of California’s rainy season now begins a month later than it did 60 years ago, prolonging the wildfire season and exacerbating water shortages. Why firefighters are facing a growing mental health challenge, National Public Radio, February 16, 2021. More destructive, harder-to-control wildfires driven by climate change are triggering sentiments of defeat and mental instability.
Desert creatures survive climate change underground, San Diego Union Tribune, February 17, 2021. San Diego Natural History Museum researchers publish results comparing data to a century-old survey, showing that burrowing Southern California desert mammals are adapting to climate disruption, but populations of birds, less able to escape the heat, are crashing.
Small mammals climb higher to flee warming temperatures in the Rockies, University of Colorado Boulder media release, February 11, 2021, and Denver 7, February 16, 2021. According to a study of 47 species by University of Colorado Boulder scientists, habitat for small mammals has moved up at least 400 feet, and as much as 1,100 feet since the 1980s.
Heat killed a record number of people in Arizona last year, ‘a staggering increase’, Arizona Republic, January 31, 2021. At least 494 deaths were linked to heat, compared to the previous record of 283 during 2019. Heat-related deaths, RMCO notes, are usually under-reported and under-counted.
The life-altering effects heat is having on American children, Guardian, February 16, 2021. Research shows that rising heat has a disproportional impact on Black and Latino children before they are even born, as well as in the first years of their lives.
Western wildfires, drought, coronavirus boost public fears about the state of public lands, new poll shows, Colorado Sun, February 5, 2021. The annual Colorado College State of the Rockies eight-state poll shows that public concern over the growing threats of climate change to western lands and waters has doubled in the past decade. Results are broken out for each state, including by ethnicity.
First-in-the-nation rule to slash methane emissions from Colorado oil and gas operations relied on compromise, Colorado Sun, February 18, 2021. The Air Quality Control Commission makes Colorado the first state to require retrofits of pneumatic controllers with non-emitting controllers at oil and gas well sites and compressor stations, while also requiring non-emitting controllers at all new sites. The requirements for installation of new non-emitting technology were the result of an unusual consensus rule negotiated by industry, conservation groups, and local governments.
After a bruising year, the oil industry confronts a diminished future, New York Times, February 2, 2021. Pandemic-driven reduced demand was largely to blame for global losses in the tens of billions, but growing concerns about climate change, tighter regulations, and the rise of electric cars and trucks cloud the industry’s future.
Closures, more volume declines hitting Powder River Basin coal region in U.S., S&P Global Market Intelligence, February 9, 2021. Production in the country’s largest coal-producing basin fell 22 percent in 2020, and two of the region’s largest producers indicate that 2021 may not be much better.
Judge orders US officials to weigh coal mine’s climate costs, AP News, February 4, 2021. A U.S. district court in Montana rules that the Interior Department’s approval of the Spring Creek mine expansion in Montana failed to take into account the social costs of carbon.
Extensive media coverage of the rapidly expanding electric vehicles market:
- Study reveals EV secret: They are driven less than gas cars, E&E News, February 8, 2021.
- Automakers drop efforts to derail California climate rules, New York Times, February 2, 2021.
- Electric vehicles close to ‘tipping point’ of mass adoption, Guardian, January 22, 2021.
- Electric cars are coming, and fast. Is the nation’s grid up to it?, New York Times, January 29, 2021.
- G.M. will sell only Zero-Emission Vehicles by 2035, New York Times, January 28, 2021.
- Nevada lithium mine kicks off a new era of western extraction, High Country News, February 18, 2021, and Nevada rancher sues to block lithium mine near Oregon line, AP News, February 17, 2021. An open-pit mine would dig up the nation’s largest-known lithium supply to make EV batteries, but is challenged in court.
Arizona’s 2020 wildfire season among worst in past decade, AP News, January 27, 2021. Extreme drought conditions, excess ground fuel, and inadequate moisture created fast moving, large-scale fires that burned close to one million acres.
National Climate Policies
EPA to jettison major Obama climate rule, as Biden eyes a bigger push, Washington Post, February 12, 2021. The Biden administration decides not to try to resurrect the Clean Power Plan overturned by Trump because its goals have largely been met, and will instead pursue a stronger rule to limit power plant carbon pollution.
How states may drive — or foil — Biden’s clean energy plan, E&E News, February 5, 2021. Despite the administration’s push for clean energy, congressional gridlock
Our Chief Programs Officer Luke Ilderton… – Energy Outreach …www.facebook.com › energyoutreach › posts › our-chi…Our Chief Programs Officer Luke Ilderton discussing our partnership with the City of Denver on low-income energy programs https://bit.ly/2SqQ8jJ.
E&E News | Thomas Frank Climate change will cause the total annual flood damage to U.S. homes to rise to $32 billion by 2051, a 60% increase from the current level of $20 billion a year, according to new projections by a flood-forecasting group. An analysis released today by the nonprofit First Street Foundation says that flooding costs will increase mostly because homes currently in flood zones will experience more damage. The increased damage will be driven by rising sea levels, intensifying storms and more severe storm surge along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, First Street found. Flood zones themselves will not expand much. The number of homes facing a 1% annual chance of sustaining flood damage will increase only slightly in the next 30 years, from 4.3 million to 4.5 million, First Street predicts. But the average flood damage to at-risk homes will soar from $4,700 a year to nearly $7,600 a year. “The properties that already have risk are going to see the greatest increases in risk” in the next 30 years, said Jeremy Porter, First Street’s head of research and development. The group’s analysis covers only residences with one to four units and does not account for population growth or increased development. […] Matthew Eby, First Street’s founder and executive director, said the increased flood damage is tied directly to climate change, which is causing sea levels to rise, coastal storm surge to increase and hurricanes to move more slowly after making landfall. Slow-moving hurricanes such as Hurricane Sally in Alabama last year and Hurricane Harvey, which caused massive flooding in southeast Texas in 2017, dump more rain and cause more damage by lingering over communities for extended periods. The analysis is the latest from First Street, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that drew wide attention last year with an unprecedented nationwide database showing that the number of U.S. properties with a 1% annual chance of being flooded is nearly twice as high as the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. The report said that FEMA’s flood maps, which set official boundaries of flood zones, omit 8 million homes and businesses from high-risk flood areas. In August, Realtor.com began posting on its website First Street’s analysis of the flood risk for each of 100 million properties. […] First Street found that 1.6 million homes with the most extreme flood risk account for a huge share — nearly 84% — of the nation’s flood damage. Those homes tend to be high-value properties in high-risk areas such as the Florida coast and beach communities in Maryland, Delaware and Long Island,
Southerly Magazine | Carly Berlin On Aug. 27, Hurricane Laura ripped through Lake Charles as a Category 4 storm. [Sasha] Miller evacuated to Biloxi, Miss. for a week. When she returned, the city was barely habitable, with widespread power outages and limited access to potable water. Strong winds had blown out windows downtown and collapsed houses; powerlines littered the roads. […] Fairview Crossing, the apartment complex Miller lived in since her daughter was an infant, sustained substantial damage, but her apartment was mostly spared. A tree hit the balcony, and some water seeped in from outside. With Calcasieu Parish still under a mandatory evacuation order, they couldn’t stay, so Miller bounced around to hotels for a week. She applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance, and in early September received about $2,500 from the agency to cover two months of rent, personal property damage, and critical needs like food, water, and prescriptions. Later that month, she called Fairview Crossing to ask about returning and learned that they were ending all leases because of hurricane damage. Miller said she was told she had five days to get out. […] Louisiana law allows landlords to seek possession of their property to make repairs if a rental is damaged enough to warrant that tenants not live there during the process. If external circumstances like a hurricane destroy rented property, leases end automatically (though landlords must still go to court to formally evict tenants). […] Southwest Louisiana lacked adequate shelter capacity for those experiencing homelessness before the storms, according to Denise Durel, president and CEO of the United Way of Southwest Louisiana. The five-parish region has no family shelter, so a single mother with a child, like Miller, might have to go as far as Houston to find one. When the storms hit, most shelters in the area had to close because of damage. […] The cascading crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and two hurricanes — and the subsequent lack of sufficient and timely aid — has left renters in southwest Louisiana with few options for places to live. Job losses during the pandemic left many struggling to make ends meet. Lawyers are investigating what they consider to be FEMA’s inadequate response to the storms. And despite a federal eviction moratorium — which President Joe Biden extended through March — landlords have used loopholes in state rental laws to put people on the curb. Post-hurricane evictions and a lack of affordable rentals have led to an increase in homelessness. But understanding the scope of the problem is nearly impossible, said Gordon Levine, manager of the Louisiana Balance of State Continuum of Care, a stakeholder group for homelessness service organizations. After the hurricanes, “we became meaningfully unable to quantify what homelessness looks like in southwest Louisiana,” he said.
The Hill | Brooke Seipel Some Texans say they’re getting massive electric bills following the winter storm that caused chaos throughout the state this past week. NBC News reports that some Texans are getting bills as high as $10,000, while local ABC News affiliate WFAA in Dallas says one man’s bill shows him owing more than $17,000. […] The families who saw their bills spike were reportedly on variable-rate plans with Griddy, an electricity provider in the state. Griddy had recommended that customers switch to a different provider this week, warning them to find fixed-rate plans instead as it predicted the climbing cost of electricity due to the spiking demand. But many customers who tried to switch said other companies were not accepting new customers until weeks into the future, leaving them stuck with their large bills. Ty Williams told WFAA in Dallas that he normally spends $660 for his home, guest house and office electric bills each month. His new bill after the rate spike exceeded $17,000. He told the outlet that he ultimately managed to switch to another provider and was hoping to work out a way to pay his massive bill. But Williams described the situation as “being held hostage and there isn’t anything you can do about it.” Some groups, such as Reliant Energy, say they are willing to work with customers and offer flexible bill payment options following the storm. The spike in people’s bills was due to the skyrocketing demand for power during the freezing conditions, which overloaded the unprepared Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages power for around 90 percent of the state. That demand increased the price of power, but only those on variable rates directly saw their bills impacted.
A 57-year-old Santa Clara woman died on February 6, 2020. We didn’t know it at the time, but she was the country’s first Covid-19 death. Since that day, we’ve lost more than 500,000 Americans to the pandemic. Reuters with a look back at the scourge. 500,000 Lives Lost. So much of this carnage was avoidable. The Capitol insurrection was a visible crime. The covid lies were a crime against humanity.
+ WaPo: A mass-casualty event every day. Inside the dark winter in America.
+ Biden mourns 500,000 dead, balancing nation’s grief and hope.
Welcome to ‘Hail Alley,’ a U.S. Region Prone to Pelting Ice
A few unfortunate factors make some western states more susceptible to strong, damaging storms. Researchers are collecting data to better predict when hail will fall.
By Leslie NemoJanuary 13, 2021 11:45 AM
(Credit: Salienko Evgenii/Shutterstock)
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Come summer every year, a large swath of the country braces for hail. Known as Hail Alley, the region stretching from Wyoming to Texas receives more hailstorms, and more severe ones, compared to other parts of the country.
Features on land and in the atmosphere make perfect hail conditions for this part of the U.S. But living in the hail sweet spot can get inconvenient.
“My car got really dinged up the second year that I was here,” says Sam Childs, a researcher at Colorado State University. After that, “I decided I’d like to take a look at hail,” he says.
Damaged vehicles are one of many consequences of severe hailstorms. That’s why researchers are trying to improve forecasts for the weather events, to better predict when and what type of icy disruption might be coming.The skill could get more valuable over time, as climate change might make hailstorms more common in the area.
The Sweet Spot
For hail to hit the ground, there needs to first be a thunderstorm with strong upward winds. Those updrafts push falling raindrops backward, up into the atmosphere, until it gets cold enough for water to freeze. Like a ping-pong ball hovering over an air vent, the ice pellet falls and gets carried high by the upward winds over and over. The ice collides with other water droplets in the clouds along the way, building frozen layers and growing in size, until it’s too heavy for the wind to keep lifting and it falls to the ground.
Though Hail Alley sees ice fall relatively often, thunderstorms across the country build the tiny ice balls all the time, says Katja Friedrich, an atmospheric scientist at University of Colorado Boulder. But in most places, the air is too warm to keep the ice intact. It melts somewhere between the final drop out of the cloud and the ground. “Hail has been produced in thunderstorms in Florida and even in hurricanes,” Friedrich says. “But the problem is, this area is so warm that the hail barely reaches the [ground] or it just reaches the [ground] in really small pellets.”
In Hail Alley, conditions are cold enough to keep the ice solid. Additionally, much of the area is at a higher elevation, Friedrich says. Land in Colorado’s High Plains, for example, is closer to the source of the hail and gives ice pellets less time and space to melt before making contact with the ground. The region prepares for hail in the spring because that’s when warm air from the south and cold air from the north meet, creating perfect conditions for thunderstorms.
Looking to the Future
Since every thunderstorm is unique, every hailstorm is too. And about five years ago, the National Weather Service reached out to Friedrich to see if she might help keep track of one particular icy variable: how much hail accumulated on the ground.
Storms in Colorado sometimes dump huge volumes of tiny ice pellets, much like snow. ln some cases, so much hail will blanket roads in a short span of time that cities will have to get out snowplows that were already put away for the season to clear the streets.
Ideally, municipalities would be able to anticipate these hailstorms and prepare for them. So Friedrich and her research team set out to collect data on how much hail accumulates during different storms — a project they’re still working on — and build prediction models that provide short-term forecasts on whether hail might fall and what it would look like. The work is still in its early stages.
“The more we investigate, the more questions we have,” Friedrich says. While the team knows many of the influential factors — like the amount of moisture in the clouds or how fast the storm moves — transforming those observations into a model that predicts what a result might be is challenging.
While Friedrich and her team iron out the details of predicting upcoming hailstorms, Childs is looking farther ahead. Knowing what these storms might look like farther into the future can help shape policies meant to address their harm — how insurance companies handle damages, for example, or what farmers might expect for ice-pelted crops.
A Changing Climate
Childs and other researchers have found that in the coming decades, climate change could push hailstorms to become more frequent and drop larger ice pellets in Hail Alley. One study Childs co-authored, for example, predicts three extra days of hail per year come 2100.
This shift seems likely because a few major hailstorm influences will grow stronger and more common over time. For one, a warming atmosphere will evaporate more moisture into the air. Increasing the amount of water in thunderstorms will potentially make them more likely to develop hail, Childs says.
Research also suggests the upward winds of thunderstorms might grow stronger in an increasingly warmer climate, allowing hail to grow larger and keep reaching the cold-enough atmosphere high above. Larger ice pieces, then, stand a better chance of coming all the way to land, boosting the likelihood that a given storm drops significant ice chunks.
These predictions don’t apply across all of the U.S., and hinge on calculations about future atmosphere conditions that may not pan out either. If lower levels of the atmosphere become increasingly moist, for example, hail could become less of a problem since higher humidity makes melting more common, Childs says. And there are caveats to making predictions about future hail events in the West based on data from storm levels in the past.As the areas became more densely populated over time, the likelihood of someone even being in a hailstorm path and reporting the event rose, too.
Regardless, hail research has gained attention in recent years. And maybe that’s because the storm impacts show an array of damaging consequences, from big hailstones smashing car windshields to tons of tiny pellets clogging storm drains and causing flooding events, such as the 2018 storm that killed animals and injured staff at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado. As Childs puts it, “I think people are realizing how dangerous hailstorms can be.”
Editor’s note: this story has been updated with the correct location of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.