Extreme weather takes the lives of 14 people


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Tornados ripped through eastern Texas on Saturday night. (Red Cross/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 2, 2017

Flooding and tornados swept across the Midwest and southern U.S. this weekend, leaving at least 14 people dead.

The National Weather Service reported that four tornados moved through eastern Texas beginning Saturday evening. The twisters left an area of destruction 35 miles long and 15 miles wide in Van Zandt County, according to Canton, Texas Mayor Lou Ann Everett. Primarily small towns were affected in the mostly rural area east of Dallas; four individuals lost their lives.

Strong winds and flooding in Arkansas took the lives of five residents near Madison county. Four additional deaths were reported in Missouri and Mississippi, also due to flash flooding and strong winds.

Tragically, severe weather events like these are becoming more common as climate change rears its ugly head. According to archived data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s webpage prior to President Trump’s inauguration, “In recent years, a larger percentage of precipitation has come in the form of intense single-day events.” Similarly, the amount of precipitation falling on the heaviest rain days has increased in the last few decades. Many regions of the U.S. are seeing significantly more severe river flooding, while other areas are ravaged by drought. The Midwest, Great Plains, and Northeast have seen a significant increase in flooding, but the Southwest has experienced a decrease.

Scientists are still evaluating the relationship between climate change and twisters. The EPA notes that climate change does lead to stronger and more frequent thunderstorms, which can cause tornados, but there is a lack of empirical data on the matter.

Researchers can confidently conclude that climate change has caused more intense and frequent heat waves, fewer frequent and less intense cold waves, and regional changes in floods, droughts, and wildfires.

People’s Climate March set for this Saturday


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Demonstrators gather at the first People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014 in New York City. (Doug Turetsky, flickr)
Jenna Ladd | April 28, 2017

The People’s Climate March will take place this Saturday, on President Trump’s 100th day in office.

The National Park Service has approved a permit for 50,000 to 100,000 to gather on Washington D.C.’s National Mall to advocate for action on climate change. This march comes exactly one week after the March for Science, but Thanu Yakupitiyage, national communications manager for 350.org said this demonstration has a different focus. In an interview with the Washington Post, she said, “The March for Science was really the response of scientists who felt that there was really an assault on rationality and science. This is really more of a community response.”

The first People’s Climate March was held in September of 2014 when over 400,000 people marched through New York City on the day before the UN Climate Summit. Ever year since then, the People’s Climate Movement has organized multiple demonstrations that “Prioritize leadership of front-line communities, communities of color, low-income communities, workers and others impacted by climate, economic and racial inequity.”

While the main event will take place in the nation’s capital, hundreds of other demonstrations are expected to take place around the U.S. Iowa City will host its march titled, “Unifying to Protect Life on Earth” on Saturday, April 29 from 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm. Protesters will meet on the North side of the Sheraton Hotel in the pedestrian mall to “march together for rational military spending, social justice, a living wage, and an ecosystem that flourishes,” according to the event’s webpage.

Another march will be held at the Iowa State Capitol on Saturday from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. The Des Moines event is sponsored by a diverse group of organizations including the Sierra Club, Indigenous Iowa, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Interfaith Green Coalition and the Citizens Climate Lobby, among others.

The massive climate-action demonstration will take place just three days after President Trump issued an executive order to reevaluate the status of nationally protected lands, possibly freeing them up to drilling for fossil fuels and other types of resource extraction.

Attorneys general, large businesses urge Trump administration to remain in Paris Climate Agreement


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The Eiffel Tower was illuminated in green during the Conference of the Parties 21 in an effort to raise money for reforestation efforts. (Yann Caradec/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | April 27, 2017

Fourteen attorneys general sent a letter to President Trump on Tuesday urging him not to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

The United States agreed to the Paris accord along with 200 other nations during the Conference of the Parties 21 (COP21) in 2015. Each country that signed on agreed to take some action to improve environmental conditions, mostly by reducing fossil fuel emissions that cause climate change. For its part, the U.S. pledged to bring its emission levels 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels before 2050.

Tuesday’s letter was signed by top ranking prosecutors in Iowa, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, the District of Columbia and American Samoa. It read, “The Paris Agreement, by securing commitments from countries the world over, reflects this collective interdependency and constitutes an unprecedented global effort to address a problem threatening the well-being of everyone on Earth.”

The White House also received a letter from several major businesses in support of staying in the Paris agreement. On Wednesday, Apple, DuPont, General Mills, Google Intel, Shell and Walmart, among others, wrote to the President,

“Climate change presents U.S. companies with both business risks and business opportunities. U.S. business interests are best served by a stable and practical framework facilitating an effective and balanced global response. We believe the Paris Agreement provides such a framework.”

Trump Administration officials will meet today to discuss whether the U.S. should leave the Paris Agreement or stay the course. President Trump pledged to “cancel” the agreement during his campaign, but some of his top officials like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are in support of the accord.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a press conference that a decision will be made by “late May-ish, if not sooner.”

 

Iowa leads midwest in clean energy momentum


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The recently released top ten list ranks states not only by current performance but also potential for clean energy development in the future. (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Jenna Ladd | April 21, 2017

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently published its list of top ten states demonstrating “clean energy momentum,” and Iowa led the Midwest.

States were ranked using twelve metrics that fit into three general categories: technical progress; direct, visible effects on our daily lives; and policies to build momentum for the future. Their publication pointed out that despite recent federal rollbacks of Obama-era climate policy, great strides have been made in renewable energy development. They note that wind farms nationwide produce enough electricity to power 20 million U.S. households. Additionally, they write, enough solar electric panels were added in 2016 to power another two million houses.

The usual suspects led the pack with California at the top of the list. The Golden State is among the top performing states in eight of the metrics and is in the number one position for electric vehicle adoption. Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Washington, New York and Iowa complete the top ten list. Iowa is the first midwestern state to appear on the list, followed by Minnesota.

Wind energy has played a fundamental role in Iowa’ development as a clean energy leader. The Hawkeye state was the first to generate more than 30 percent of its energy from wind. Iowa has already seen $11.8 billion in wind project investment alongside the creation of 8,000 new jobs. Moving forward, Iowa is expected to generate 40 percent of its energy from wind by 2020.

“While the federal government can play important roles in making efficiency, renewable energy, and vehicle electrification a national priority, states can be a consistent, powerful, positive force as well,” the report read.

More information about the rankings and the full report can be found here.

March 2017 breaks temperature records, even without El Niño


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(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)
Jenna Ladd | April 20, 2017

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which is among the scientific organizations on the Trump Administration’s budget chopping block, has reported yet another global warming record.

March 2017 was the first time ever that a monthly average temperature was more than 1°C above average in the absence of an El Niño event. During El Niño episodes the ocean-atmosphere system in the Tropical Pacific moves in different ways that result in warmer than usual temperatures worldwide. Record warmth in the absence of El Niño suggests that human-induced climate change is to blame.

NOAA’s March 2017 report revealed that warmer and much-warmer-than-average temperatures were measured for much of Earth’s land and oceanic surfaces. The U.S. mainland, Europe, Russia, Mongolia, and Australia saw the hottest month, where departures from average temperatures were +3.0°C (+5.4°F) or more. Some regions such as western Canada and Alaska did experience a colder than usual year but no cool weather records were set.

According to a continental analysis by NOAA, four of the six continents experienced a top seven warm March since records began in 1910. Europe and Oceania had their second hottest March on record, despite the absence of an El Niño even this year.

 

The first three months of 2017, January through March, have already proven to be the second warmest on record. Only 2016 had higher average temperatures, but that was an El Niño year. Even more notably, the first three months of 2017 have been significantly warmer than January through March of 2015, which was also an El Niño year.

Zeke Hausfather is a climate scientist at University of California, Berkeley and commented on the report in an interview with the Associated Press. He said, “If El Niño were the main driver of record warmth, there is no way the last three months would have been as warm as they have been.”

U.S. energy flow chart reveals the good and the bad


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(Lawerence Livermore National Laboratory)
Jenna Ladd | April 18, 2017

Each year since 2010, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has released an energy flow chart that illustrates sources of U.S. energy, what it’s used for and how much of it goes to waste.

The 2016 energy flow chart quantifies energy use in British Thermal Unit “quads,” which is shorthand for quadrillion or one thousand trillion. A British Thermal Unit (BTU) is equal to the amount of energy required to raise one pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. Americans used 97.3 quads of energy in 2016, which is about 0.1 quadrillion BTU more than last year.

The gray box on the upper right-hand corner of the graphic depicts just how much of that energy was wasted this year: 66.4 quadrillion BTU or 69 percent of all energy produced. It is important to remember that per the second law of thermodynamics, when raw materials are converted into energy, some energy is always lost to heat. In other words, no reaction is 100 percent efficient.

Since the 1970’s, wasted energy has surged in the United States due to a rapid increase in personal electricity consumption and private vehicular transportation, which are both extremely inefficient. Roughly 75 of the energy generated for private transportation and two-thirds of energy required for electricity goes to waste.

This year’s energy flow chart was not all bad news. Coal use fell by nine percent nationwide. That supply was replaced by rapid growth in wind, solar and natural gas energy production. Wind and solar energy did particularly well, with wind energy up 19 percent and solar energy up 38 percent.

Fossil fuel consumption for transportation rose by 2 percent this year, but residential, commercial and industrial energy use all decreased slightly. In all, the U.S. is slowly moving away from fuels that emit greenhouse gases. Total carbon dioxide emissions fell by 4.9 percent in 2016. It is uncertain, however, whether this trend will continue under the Trump administration.

Warm Gulf of Mexico Waters could cause more spring storms


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Sea surface temperature difference from average. (WeatherBell.com)
Jake Slobe | April 17, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses the abnormally warm temperature of the Gulf of Mexico this winter and the potential effect on springtime storms.

Gulf of Mexico waters have been exceptionally warm, which could mean explosive springtime storms.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

 This winter, the average sea surface temperature of the Gulf of Mexico never fell below 73 degrees for the first time on record.  Water temperatures at the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and near South Florida are on fire. The warm waters caused historically warm winter in the southern United States and could fuel intense thunderstorms in the spring throughout the southern and central U.S. While this relationship is far from absolute, scientists have found that when the Gulf of Mexico tends to be warmer than normal, there is more energy for severe storms and tornadoes to form than when the Gulf is cooler.

A study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in December found that the warmer the Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures, the more hail and tornadoes occur during March through May over the southern U.S.

The implications of the warm water for hurricane season are less clear. Warmer than normal water temperatures can make tropical storms and hurricanes more intense, but wind shear and atmospheric moisture levels often play more important roles in hurricane formation.

To learn more about the warm water temperatures and their effects, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.