In Monday’s New York Times, Kim Severson and Kirk Johnson wrote an eloquent story on the intense drought that is maintaining a tight grip on a broad swath of America’s southern tier, from Arizona to Florida. Reporting from Georgia, Severson and Johnson detailed the plight of farmers struggling to make ends meet as the parched soil makes it nearly impossible for them to grow crops and feed livestock.
The piece is a great example of how emotionally moving storytelling from a local perspective can convey the consequences of broad issues and trends, in this case, a major drought that has enveloped 14 states. In that sense, it served Times readers extraordinarily well.
However, when it came to providing readers with a thorough understanding of the drought’s causes and aggravating factors, Severson and Johnson left out any mention of the elephant in the room — global climate change, and pinned the entire drought on one factor, La Niña. For this, it was overly simplistic, and even just downright inaccurate.
Here’s how the story framed the drought’s causes:
From a meteorological standpoint, the answer is fairly simple. “A strong La Niña shut off the southern pipeline of moisture,” said David Miskus, who monitors drought for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The La Niña “lone gunman” theory is problematic from a scientific standpoint. Just last week, Marty Hoerling, the federal government’s top researcher tasked with examining how clim...
On Tuesday night, a massive dust storm rolled into Phoenix, Arizona knocking out power in much of the city, reducing visibility to nearly zero, and grounding flights overnight. Photos of the 100-mile wide dust cloud swallowing the city up circulated yesterday, and the event looked practically apocalyptic. In fact, if the photos weren’t in color, and there weren't YouTube videos of the dust storm, I would have thought I was looking at old-timey images from the 1930’s dust bowl. Now, a couple days later, lingering dust in the air has triggered allergy-like symptoms for many people.
On July 5, a massive dust cloud, or haboob, swept across Phoenix, Arizona, brought by the North American monsoon. Credit: Greg Gorman/flickr.
This isn’t the worst dust storm Phoenix has endured, mind you; not by a long shot. This kind of immense dust cloud, known as a haboob, can stir up in the Southwest during North America’s monsoon season, and Phoenix can see several of these each year. According to the Wunderblog’s Jeff Masters, last night’s storm was brought on by:
a large complex of thunderstorms known as a mesoscale convective system (MCS) that developed to the east of Phoenix. As the outflow from the MCS hit the ground, large quantities of sand and dust became suspended in the air by 50 - 60 mph winds.
Tuesday's intense monsoon thunderstorm drove heavy winds down across the dry land, and whipped it up into a dust cloud that pushed ahead of rain that accompanied the storm.
If you’re like me, you might not know much about the North American monsoon, but the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMA...
When a TV meteorologists says "temperatures will average ten degrees above normal for the next few days" or "rainfall this past month was below normal," the word "normal" has a very specific meaning. Every ten years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) looks back over the previous three decades and calculates the average temperature or precipitation for a given day or month, in a given location, during that period. If the high temperatures on every August 10th in New York City averaged out to 83 degrees, that's defined as the normal high for that place for that date. If the average low for January 3 was five degrees above zero in Minot, ND, that becomes the normal low meteorologists will refer to.
The reason NOAA does the recalculations every decade is that long-term trends, either upward or downward, can push the numbers in either direction — but since the average goes back 30 years, only a long-term trend can make a difference. A couple of randomly warm years, or a couple of cold ones, won't change a 30-year average by much.
The latest average does show such a long-term trend, however. Every one of the lower 48 states in the U.S. has a new average overall temperature (winter and summer, day and night) that's higher than i...
It's rare when two major long-term challenges intersect in such a dangerous, and glaringly obvious way. Rarer still do such events take place without many people making the all-important connections between them. But such is the case right now as two different extreme weather and climate events, both of which may be aggravated by global warming, are placing three American nuclear facilities in jeopardy — two nuclear power plants in Nebraska and the iconic Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
Thus, the U.S. currently faces a bizarre display of what happens when nuclear energy/weapons issues and the climate crisis meet. If we're lucky, the results won't be too damaging — this time.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko speaks to reporters while visiting the Cooper Station nuclear plant in Nebraska. Credit: NRC Public Affairs.
Let me start with the situation in Nebraska, where the Missouri River has overflowed its banks and flooded parts of two nuclear power plants. The river has encroached upon the Fort Calhoun plant near Blair, and Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville. Although floodwaters are affecting both, the situation at Fort Calhoun is more serious, as floodwaters have already breached two of the plant's flood defenses.
Aerial photos show a facility that looks more like an island than a functional power plant. Although the river is not expected to rise to a level that would reach critical facilities, the high water levels are expected to continue for several weeks. This raises the risk that flooding will weaken parts of the nearly 40-year-old plant's physical structure, and co...
These days, extreme weather and climate is on everyone’s mind, thanks to the Southwestern wildfires, the Missouri and Mississippi River floods and the most active month on record for tornadoes, which occurred in April. There are so many headline-grabbing weather events taking place at the same time, in fact, that a lot of people are asking scientists, what's the connection to long-term climate change?
That’s exactly the question the Pew Center on Global Climate Change has just weighed in on. The Center released a new map earlier this week that illustrates some of the most extreme incidents that have happened in the U.S. since 1995, including major floods, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires. The map doesn’t go beyond the U.S., so it doesn’t point out events like last year’s Russian heat wave or Pakistan floods.
Surprisingly, the map also doesn’t capture some of the costliest U.S. storms from the past 15 years, including Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and this year’s wild tornado season — but that’s because the scientific case for a climate change connection with these events is not yet ironclad.
What is becoming more scientifically sound is how much the warmer global atmosphere has increased the likelihood of floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires happening in the U.S. (and around the world).
Droughts, floods, and wildfires obviously aren’t new. They’ve been happening for far longer than humans have been around to notice them. Generally speaking,...