Heavy rains have left the ground saturated, rivers swollen, and has caused widespread flooding in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Last week, after a record number of tornadoes swept across the South and left a path of death and destruction the likes of which haven’t been seen in US since at least 1925, it seemed like this year’s spring season had doled out its last big strike. And yet, here we are, less than a week later and still the weather conditions are wreaking havoc, this time in the Central States, with record flooding along the Mississippi River.
According to Jeff Masters at Weather Underground, the Mississippi River flooding through Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee has been caused by a combination of high waters on both the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers upstream from where the two join:
Snowmelt from this winter's record snow pack across the Upper Mississippi River has formed a pulse of flood waters that is moving downstream on the Mississippi. This pulse of floodwaters passed St. Louis on Saturday, where the river is now falling. This floodwater pulse is headed south to Cairo, Illinois, and will join with the record water flow coming out of the Ohio River to create the highest flood heights ever recorded on a long stretch of the Mississippi, according to the latest forecasts from the National Weather Service.”
The Ohio River swelled following two weeks of intense rainfall across Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Although scientists have not yet found evidence that global and regional climate changes are changing tornado risks, that isn’t the case with extremely h...
With at least 340 dead from dozens of tornadoes, including at least 249 deaths in Alabama alone, the tornado outbreak that tore across the South on Wednesday was certainly one for the record-books. Storm surveys are still going on, but it appears likely that this outbreak spawned several violent tornadoes, of the EF-4 to EF-5 category on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Already one tornado has been designated an EF-5. It destroyed much of the town of Smithville, Mississippi, killing at least 14. The tornado that decimated parts of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Ala. is likely to be rated at least an EF-4, with maximum winds of at least 165 mph.
Such tornadoes are capable of ripping a home off its foundation and leaving just a concrete slab behind. The 1974 "Super Outbreak", which was the most recent outbreak of a similar magnitude, killed 330 people and featured a whopping 24 F4 and F5 tornadoes, including the infamous Xenia, Ohio F5 tornado, which destroyed most of that Ohio town.
The images of the tornadoes and the destruction they have wrought have sparked plenty of questions: why did this outbreak occur, and why has April been such an active month for tornadoes? And, might global climate change be making tornadoes stronger or more frequent, or perhaps be shifting Tornado Alley out of the Great Plains and into more heavily populated areas of the South?
Aerial footage of damage from the Tuscaloosa, Ala. tornado. Credit: ABC 33/40 TV.
Those of us who write about cli...
This morning, New Hampshire's NPR radio station broadcast an interesting story about how the small town of Seabrook, N.H. is beginning to plan for sea level rise and the increased risk of devastating storm surges. With this part of the Northeast coast exposed to both sea level rise, which is currently happening at about 1.2 inches every decade (similar to the global average rate), as well as the and natural sinking of the coastal land (known as subsidence), the beach homes around Seabrook are now facing a creeping shoreline.
As NPR's Andrea Muraskin reports:
With funds from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES), the Rockingham Planning Commission conducted a study two years ago in Seabrook. That study recommended Seabrook plan for a 3 to 5 feet mean sea level rise by the year 2100, and at least 1.5 feet by mid-century. Slowly, the town has started to take action.
Though sea level rise by itself may be enough to threaten some of the homes built directly on the beach, the real risk comes from what the higher water level means for storm surges from fall and winter storms, known in the area as "Nor'easters" due to their strong northeasterly winds. In the article, Muraskin interviewed Ted Diers, from the state's DES, who says:
Seabrook is starting to see 100 year floods more frequently. “It’s statistically significant that we’re getting more and more rain on fewer and fewer precipitation events. Where we sit here is particularly vuln...
Changing Planet, Changing Health is the first mass-market book to focus on the public health impacts of climate change, which may include more frequent dangerous heat waves, increases in certain infectious diseases, asthma and allergies, and tree and crop diseases. Instead of just outlining all the frightening prospects and current realities, Dr. Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University, and science writer Dan Ferber provide some practical real-world solutions. I took a few minutes to ask Dr. Epstein some questions by phone, and pick his brain on how we can get from these current climate and public health scenarios to a more sustainable future.
Q. You lay out a number of practical solutions, and one of these is creating a new global environment and development fund that would support the creation of a low-carbon infrastructure. You propose a "Tobin tax" to raise money for this fund, which is something like a quarter-penny on every dollar used in large currency transactions, and say that would generate around $500 billion for global environmental initiatives. Can you tell us a little more about this?
Epstein: The Tobin tax is a levy on currency transactions done mostly by banks and large financiers that trade on the difference between currencies — Yen, Euros, dollars. It’s a big casino. It’s called “hot money” and it can move in and out of countries rapidly. There ar...
This is the third in a series of blog posts from scientists taking part in the third Catlin Arctic Survey.
If you want to understand how ocean acidification might impact some marine creatures you need to do two things. First go to the seaside and find a seashell. Then go to a shop and buy a fizzy drink — any brand will do. Put the seashell in the fizzy drink and leave it for a few days. Then have a look and see how much of the shell is still there.
You will see that it is starting to dissolve away.
A similar process is happening in the oceans today. Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the oceans. When CO2 dissolves in water it forms carbonic acid. Fizzy drinks are also carbonated — they have CO2 bubbled into them, and this makes them acidic. In the oceans, cold waters absorb CO2 more rapidly, and so the process of ocean acidification affects the coldest seas, such as the Arctic Ocean, the most.
The carbonic acid in the oceans doesn’t stay as carbonic acid for very long. It quickly breaks down into bicarbonate (HCO3-) and a hydrogen ion (H+). Acidity is the measure of hydrogen ions in a liquid. So as the number of hydrogen ions increases we say it is becoming more acidic, and we communicate this using the pH scale.
On the pH scale, the oceans are actually basic — the current average pH level of the oceans is about 8.2 (compared to freshwater which has...