Natural disasters of 2022, a short recap

Via Flickr

Grace Smith | December 29, 2022

Extreme weather and natural disasters have caused negative economic impacts and destruction around the world, costing billions of dollars in damage. The effect of climate change has been noticeable in 2022 through numerous natural disasters across the globe. 

The summer of 2022 was one of the hottest summers on record around the world and in the U.S. Houston, Texas experienced the hottest month of July on record with one day reaching over 103 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, 100 million Americans were under a heat advisory or warning in July. 

In addition to the U.S., Europe also encountered extreme heat and wildfires during the hot summer months. In just one week in July, wildfires swept across Greece, Spain, and Portugal. From January to November 2022, 1.9 million acres burned through Europe. Between July 10-19, Spain recorded 1,047 deaths linked to the record-breaking heat. 

In June, thousand-year floods closed Yellowstone National Park after intense rainfall caused mudslides and flooding throughout the park. The landslides caused bridges to collapse and damaged roads. Conditions were so bad that the park had to close for the first time since 1988. 

This year’s monsoon season heavily impacted Pakistan with heavy downpours that impacted the infrastructure and strained emergency services. Flooding washed away roads and bridges, making it nearly impossible for emergency personnel to travel to help people. As of October, millions of Pakistan citizens were displaced, two million homes were displaced, and 1,500 people reportedly died. 

Many activists and lawmakers are thinking about these natural disasters and others and considering the repair costs that come with the new normal in the world because of climate change.

Feedlot in Iowa fined $2,000 for stream contamination

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Grace Smith | December 29, 2022

An employee of the third largest open feedlot in Iowa pumped onto a field that was too watered with rainwater to absorb the liquid, which resulted in a $2,000 fine, which feedlot owner Brian Wendl paid. 

In June, an Iowa resident reported the manure water was being pumped from the feedlot to a stream connected to Middle Raccoon River near Carroll County. Wendl said he was in Tennesee when he heard of the improper manure pumping, but came back soon after to deal with the contamination. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said there were increased levels of bacteria and ammonia in the stream, but no dead fish were recorded. 

After agreeing to pay the $2,000 fine, The DNR said Wendl increased vegetation growing in the field to help contain manure water contamination. The owner also said he would create better operating procedures to monitor manure water being pumped into the field.

3M to stop making ‘forever chemicals’ by the end of 2025

Via Flickr

Grace Smith | December 27, 2022

3M, a Minnesota mining and manufacturing company, announced on Dec. 20 that it will stop manufacturing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and also push to end using chemicals in its products by the end of 2025.

PFAs are also known as “forever chemicals” because of the duration the chemicals exist without breaking down. PFAs are all human-made chemicals that are released into the air from repellents, non-stick sprays, packaging, and the manufacturing of the materials for about 120 years.

Making these forever chemicals has accumulated millions of wet industrial waste. 3M then dumped that waste in unlined landfills, polluting a large amount of groundwater in the East Metro. 

“This is a moment that demands the kind of innovation 3M is known for,” 3M chief executive officer Mike Roman said in a news release. “While PFAS can be safely made and used, we also see an opportunity to lead in a rapidly evolving external regulatory and business landscape to make the greatest impact for those we serve.”

3M said it will stop manufacturing PFA-based products, ​​fluoropolymers, and fluorinated fluid by the end of 2025. The company also said it has already started reducing PFAs across its current products, but it will work to stop the use of all PFAs in products by the end of 2025.

Hawaii coral reefs now protected under $2 million insurance policy

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Grace Smith | December 23, 2022

The Nature Conservancy took out a $2 million insurance policy at the end of November for Hawaii’s coral reefs. The policy provides funding for the repair and restoration of coral reefs after hurricane or storm damage. 

This insurance policy is the first policy for reefs in the United States. The first reef insurance policy in the world was in 2019 after hurricane damage in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Since then, different partners have been working with TNC to build a larger and more impactful insurance program.

“In Hawai‘i, we are rooted in the environment; the health of our coastlines and communities is directly tied to the health of the coral reefs surrounding our islands,” Ulalia Woodside Lee, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy, Hawai‘i and Palmyra said. “By investing in nature, our insurance and finance partners are demonstrating its value as a critical natural, cultural and economic resource.”

Coral reefs are an important natural asset for Hawaii and its people and culture. Reefs provide coastal flood protection for people and property worth more than $836 million and $1.2 billion through tourism. But coral reefs are under serious threat because of climate change, which is heightening and increasing natural disasters like tropical storms and hurricanes.

“Managing natural resources is a costly endeavor, and more investment is always needed,” Brian Nielson, Administrator, Division of Aquatic Resources, State of Hawaiʻi Division of Land and Natural Resources said. “It is a step forward in coral reef conservation and will provide vital funding to repair reefs when it is urgently needed.”

Crashes, accidents reported on roads during Midwest snowstorm

Via Flickr

Grace Smith | December 22, 2022

The state patrol reported responding to numerous accidents and crashes overnight during icy and snowy conditions in Iowa. From Dec. 21 at noon to Dec. 22 at 5 am, state patrol responded to 70 crashes. Four injuries and no fatalities were reported. The DOT said most primary roads are fully covered.

An increase in wind is expected to worsen roads and driving conditions. A front, which came into Iowa Wednesday night, is expected to bring strong winds, with 40 mph to 50 mph gusts on Thursday. The blizzard and snowy conditions are anticipated to continue until Saturday at 6 am. 

Andrew Ansorge, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Johnston, told the Des Moines Register that these conditions are occurring earlier than the forecast had predicted. “It’s not going to be pretty,” Ansorge said. Ansorge also said that traveling is deeply discouraged Thursday and Friday. 

According to Public Works Director Jonathan Gano, Des Moines plans to keep snow plows on major roads until the snow stops falling. From there, the plow will move to residential streets once the major roadways are clear and the storm ends.

A portion of northwest Iowa river has been pumped dry

Via Iowa DNR

Grace Smith | December 20, 2022

A two-mile portion of the Ocheyeden River dried up in September 2022 during extreme drought conditions and an increase in pumping by Osceola County and the Osceola County Rural Water System. This segment which dried up led to many aquatic lives to die. 

“It’s surreal,” said Ed Jones, who owns 90 acres of pasture land that borders the river told the Iowa Capital Dispatch. “There’s no water. There’s no mud. There’s no nothing. It’s just gravel.” Jones, also a supervisor, said that the dry is becoming blatant and worse because a large amount of water from the river is getting pumped by the rural water utility and sold for use in Minnesota. 

An extensive portion of the river has become dry several times in the past seven years because the rural water utility has pumped more water from the ground and sold a quarter of it out of state.

In November, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources asked the Osceola County Rural Water System and Osceola County to develop new plants to prevent the rest of the river from drying up even more. The rural utility draws water from shallow wells near the river and the DNR said those wells directly impact the water levels in the river. The rural water utility declined to comment on the Iowa Capital Dispatch article, so it is unclear what the utility’s plans are.

USDA announces $325 million in projects for climate-smart funding for farmers

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Grace Smith | December 16, 2022

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Dec. 12 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Biden-Harris Administration are investing an extra $325 million for 71 projects under the second funding pool of the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities effort. Back in September, the USDA gave out $2.8 billion for 70 projects. 

Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities is a USDA strategy to keep mitigating climate change through agriculture, using incentive-based, involuntary methods. 

“I it’s fair to say that farmers, ranchers and producers and forested landowners all across the United States recognize and appreciate the risks and challenges that they face as a result of a changing climate,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said on Dec. 12. “And we also know that far too often, those risks and those challenges impact and affect farmers, small-sized farming operations, and those who have been historically underserved, perhaps a bit harder than others.”

USDA hopes the funding pools provided combined will create multiple positive outcomes. 

  • The funding will reach 60,000 farms and 25 million acres of land participating in climate-smart production.
  • Over 60 million tons of carbon dioxide withdrawn from projects
  • 100 universities and 30 minority institutions to bring creative ideas and skills 
  • Over 20 tribes and tribal groups will lead projects and represent a vast geography 

Fusion breakthrough and further research could solve climate crisis

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Grace Smith | December 15, 2022

On Dec. 5, a National Ignition Facility team at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history to produce more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to operate it. The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration announced on Dec. 13 that the breakthrough by the LLNL will pave the way for the future of clean energy in a way that emulates the sun by generating energy to support life on Earth. 

“We have had a theoretical understanding of fusion for over a century, but the journey from knowing to doing can be long and arduous. Today’s milestone shows what we can do with perseverance,” said Dr. Arati Prabhakar, the President’s chief adviser for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

During the test on Dec. 5, the nuclear reaction activated in a small target area released about 50 percent more energy than it took to drive the reaction with the laser. Scientists warn that although this breakthrough is exciting, this technology has a long way to go to stop the climate crisis. The experiment generated 3.15 megajoules of energy from 2.05 megajoules of input from the laser. But, the laser drew 300 megajoules from the grid just to operate. 

This milestone alone doesn’t stop the climate crisis, but the urgency to cut fossil fuel emissions will push researchers and scientists to continue this work. A long-term goal for the future is to create a system that can fire constantly and power the laser with energy to spare. Scientists hope in future decades to build a power plant with the research completed and with future analyses to be conducted.

Iowa’s drought ahead of winter is the worst in a decade

Via U.S. Drought Monitor

Grace Smith | December 13, 2022

Although Iowa’s drought conditions are improving since November, they are still the worst conditions in 10 years heading into winter, where the cold season and frozen grounds do not provide soil moisture an opportunity to improve. 

“Unless you get into a month like December of last year with the derecho and temperatures in the 70s — you will see some improvement from an anomalous event like that — but overall you don’t really see a lot of change through the wintertime,” State Climatologist Justin Glisan told the Iowa Capital Dispatch

Almost 30 percent of the state is suffering from a severe drought and about 73 percent of Iowa is experiencing moderate drought conditions, per the U.S. Drought Monitor

18 counties in the state are experiencing extreme and exceptional drought conditions in northwest Iowa. Some fields in these counties are also undergoing the worst crop yields in the state. In a November U.S. Department of Agriculture report, only 7 percent of northwest Iowa’s topsoil had adequate moisture. 

Despite northwest Iowa’s soil moisture, around 44 percent of Iowa had adequate or surplus topsoil moisture. The state’s corn yield average is still expected to surpass 200 bushels per acre, despite Iowa’s major drought conditions.

Crews battle explosion, fire at alternative fuel plant in Marengo, Iowa

Via Flickr

Grace Smith | December 9, 2022

Crews from numerous nearby counties and cities arrived to battle an explosion at an alternative fuel plant, which resulted in a fire, on Thursday. Firefighters and other public safety personnel fought the fire at C6-Zero, while the town’s residents were told to shelter or evacuate the area because of dense smoke. Firefighters battled the fire until 4:30 am Friday morning.

“Anyone evacuated due to the fire can go to the Iowa County Transportation building. Please stay indoors otherwise. A large fire is being fought. PLEASE, NO SIGHTSEEING!” A Facebook post said. 

The fire started at 11:16 am. 30 people were reported to be inside the facility during its explosion and fire. As of 2:30 pm Thursday, no fatalities have been recorded by patrol trooper Bob Conrad. Although no fatalities have been reported, several citizens were injured and taken to the University of Iowa and other local hospitals. 

The smoke from the fire resulted in thick, murky air. Public safety officials monitored air and ground quality on Thursday. Conrad said safety officials worked together to help contain the threat.