Wildfires bring smoke to Iowa


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Smoke from a wildfire this May billows over a local road. (flickr/Michael Lusk)
Jenna Ladd| September 5, 2017

A yellowish haze blanketed most of eastern Iowa this Labor Day weekend thanks to wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada.

Wildfires throughout Montana, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are credited with much of this weekend’s smoke. Just this Sunday, evacuations were ordered for Glacier National Park in Montana and 140 campers were rescued from a smoldering forest on Sunday in Oregon.

As the climate changes, wet areas become wetter and dry areas become drier, allowing for longer wildfire seasons in many parts of the western U.S. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, compared to the 1980’s, wildfires now last nearly five times as long, occur almost four times as often and burn more than six times the land area on average.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Cousins said that this weekend’s haze cut visibility at Davenport Municipal Airport by two and a half miles.

A report out of Dubuque revealed that the Air Quality Index (AQI) in the area is moderate to unhealthy for individuals sensitive to poor area quality.

Houston flood expected to drain slowly


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Give its flat landscape and dearth of flood control infrastructure, the city of Houston will rely primarily on slow-moving bayous to drain the area. (Adam Baker/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| September 1, 2017

While the downpour in Houston has finally subsided, the Texas city has few options for draining the 15 trillion gallons of water that fell in the region.

The city of Houston has no levees or pumps or flood walls it can call on to drain water more quickly back into surrounding bayous. As a low-lying coastal plain, it also has a rather flat landscape. Arturo Leon, a professor of water resources engineering at the University of Houston said, “This means the capacity for drainage is very slow. If there were a slope, then it would drain faster,” in a report by Scientific American.

In the last thirty years, the city has grown a great deal, all without any zoning laws that regulate development, even in flood prone areas. For example, since 2010 about 7,000 residential buildings have been built on land the federal government considers a 100 year floodplain, according to a review by the Washington Post. Stormwater drainage systems have not kept pace with the area’s development.

Sam Brody, director of the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at Texas A&M University, said, “Houston is the Wild West of development, so any mention of regulation creates a hostile reaction from people who see that as an infringement on property rights and a deterrent to economic growth. The stormwater system has never been designed for anything much stronger than a heavy afternoon thunderstorm.”

As a result, the city relies heavily on surround bayous to reabsorb rainwater. Bayous are slow moving, and especially so on Houston’s flat landscape.

A list of options for donating to victims and displaced residents in the area can be found here.

Climate change to make storms like Harvey more frequent, intense


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A Texas National Guard member rescues a Houston resident during Hurricane Harvey. (The National Guard/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| August 30, 2017

More than fourteen million olympic-sized swimming pools could be filled with the amount of rain that has fallen in Houston as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and scientists say that climate change added to the deluge.

To begin, sea surface temperatures near where Harvey picked up its strength were about 1 degree Celsius higher than average. The Clausius-Clapeyron equation, a law of thermodynamics, says that the warmer a body of air is, the more moisture it can hold. In this case, the atmosphere surrounding Hurricane Harvey was able to hold roughly three to five percent more moisture than usual.

“The water in the Gulf of Mexico is the heat reservoir to support these hurricanes,” said Ben Kirtman, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Miami, in a report from NPR. Kirtman added, “For a small change in temperature, you get a huge amount of evaporation.”

In the last three decades, sea levels have risen worldwide by about six inches thanks to a warming climate and, in part, to human activities like offshore oil drilling. Higher sea levels make inland floods more devastating.

Climate Central scientist Ben Strauss said, “Every storm surge today reaches higher because it starts from a higher level, because sea level is higher. A small amount of sea-level rise can lead to an unexpectedly large increase in damages to most kinds of structures.”

Scientists are careful to point out that climate change did not directly cause Harvey, but is likely to produce storms like it more often. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine revealed that category 4 hurricanes like Harvey will occur more frequently in the future due to a warming climate.

So far, fourteen casualties have been identified as the storm continues to devastate the area.

Climate change to significantly alter urban climates


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Climate Central and the World Meteorological Organization’s list of top ten fastest warming cities. (Climate Central)
Jenna Ladd| August 28, 2017

Climate Central in partnership with the World Meteorological Organization have created an interactive tool detailing how average summer temperatures in cities around the globe are likely to change by 2100.

The effects of global warming are often compounded in cities by the urban heat island effect, which can make cities up to 14°F hotter than rural areas. On average, land temperatures are expected rise by 8.6°F by 2100, but some cities will warm much more. For example, the analysis found that if emissions are not curbed, Ottawa, Canada is projected to have a climate comparable to Belize City by 2100. In the same scenario, residents of Chicago can expect to have a climate more similar to Juarez, Mexico.

At present, more than 54 percent of the world’s population call cities home. Given that rising global temperatures will felt more acutely in urban areas, it is no surprise that many U.S. mayors have pledged their continued support of the Paris Climate Accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw.

Check out the interactive tool here to see how climate change is projected to change the climate in your city.

August rainfall benefits some parts of Iowa


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August rainfall saved much of Iowa from severe drought conditions, but parts of south central are still experiencing extreme dryness. (Iowa DNR)
Jenna Ladd| August 25, 2017

Rainfall in the last part of August helped to lift many parts of Iowa out of drought conditions, but some parts of the state are still experiencing extreme drought, according to the latest Water Summary Update.

The Water Summary Update is a succinct monthly report of Iowa’s water resources and those events that affect them prepared by the technical staff at Iowa DNR, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering, and the U.S. Geological Survey, in partnership with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department.

The latest summary revealed that while August started off very dry, high rain totals increased groundwater levels and streamflow in many parts of the state. The total area of the state classified as experiencing drought or dryness decreased from over 70 percent at the beginning of the month to 55 percent this week. In contrast, south central Iowa is still experiencing D2 and D3 drought conditions. Clarke county and Wapello county are seeing the most extreme dryness.

Researchers point out that August temperatures this year have been about three to four degrees cooler than normal, on average. Lower temperatures slow down evaporation rates and provide a protective factor for crops in drought-stricken areas.

To follow Iowa DNR’s regular water summary update, visit their website here.

State of the Climate Report reveals more than just temperature


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A global map depicting the difference from 2016 when compared to temperatures from 1981-2010. (NOAA, State of the Climate)
Jenna Ladd| August 24, 2017

2016’s position as the hottest year on record has been widely reported, but many other important, albeit terrifying, climate change milestones were achieved last year according to the State of the Climate Report published in the American Meteorological Society Bulletin.

The report, which is spearheaded by top editors from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information, has been described as a comprehensive annual physical for the planet. This year’s check up brought some bad news.

To begin, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record high. The increase from 2015 to 2016 of 3.5 ± 0.1 parts per million was the largest jump in one year on modern record.

Drought was also widespread in 2016. During every month of the year, at least twelve percent of the global area was experiencing drought conditions. More than half of the land south of equator experienced drought conditions during some part of 2016.

2016 was the sixth year in a row when global sea levels were higher than the year before. In fact, global sea levels were 3.5 inches higher last year than they were in 1993. This sea level rise is attributed to alpine glacial melt; 2016 marked the 37th year in a row during which alpine glaciers retreated worldwide.

So far, 2017 is on track to bring more of the same, despite the absence of El Niño event.

 

Trump eliminates climate change advisory panel


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The White House has moved to dissolve its panel on climate change, despite the fact that temperatures in recent decades were higher than they have been in 1,500 years. (Michael Vadon/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| August 22, 2017

The Trump administration announced on Friday that it will terminate the U.S. climate change advisory panel.

The panel, called the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment, was established two years ago by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The group is tasked with producing a National Climate Assessment every four years and working with policymakers and business leaders to interpret the report’s findings and act accordingly. Its fifteen members included scientists, local officials and business representatives.

The charter for the panel expired Sunday after NOAA administrator Ben Friedman announced that the Trump administration had decided to dissolve the group. The next National Climate Assessment was due to be released this spring.

A major component of the spring 2018 assessment called the Climate Science Special Report is currently under review at the White House. The report, which was written by scientists from thirteen separate institutions, states that human activity is responsible for steadily rising global temperatures from 1951 to 2010.

This report has not yet been approved by the Trump administration.