Could climate change be behind Hurricane Florence?


Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 11.01.07 AM
The National Hurricane Center shows the “cone of uncertainty” predicting where Hurricane Florence’s eye might travel.

Julia Poska| September 14th, 2018

North and South Carolina have both issued evacuation warnings in anticipation of a very destructive weekend. The eye of Hurricane Florence is made landfall this afternoon, though her rain bands touched land late Thursday.

As of Thursday morning, Florence’s strongest sustained winds of 105 mph put her in Category 2 classification for wind. As of Friday afternoon, she has downgraded to Category 1.  Forecasters say her storm surge, the swell of water pushed onshore by hurricane winds, will be a Category 4. The National Hurricane Center predicts floods over 9 feet above ground in some areas.

States as far inland as Indiana may receive the tail end of the hurricane, which will most likely have weakened to a less windy but still wet tropical storm or depression by then.

Experts debate whether climate change will increase the frequency and severity of tropical storms and hurricanes in coming years, and whether it already has. It is difficult to separate natural variability from human-induced effects when examining any specific storm, but many of the conditions needed to spawn hurricanes are certainly undergoing change.

To many experts, it seems to many that rising sea levels exacerbate storm surge, that rising sea surface temperatures could add more fuel to storms, and that a warmer, wetter atmosphere increases rainfall.  Just look to 2017’s especially devastating season for evidence that these storms are getting nastier.

Other experts say that climate change will increase wind shear, friction between upper and lower level winds moving in different directions, which could actually stop more hurricanes from forming. Only time will tell which factors

As climate change is variable over the Earth’s surface, models show both increase and decrease of all those different factors in different locations. While climate change will almost certainly impact hurricanes, only time will tell the nature of that impact.

 

U.N. official pushes for faster, better climate efforts


United_Nations_Headquarters_-_panoramio
The United Nations headquarters in New York City (wikimedia.commons).

Julia Poska| September 13th, 2018

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called on global leaders to ramp up their Paris Accord commitments and to do it soon in a speech he gave September 10 at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

“If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us,” he said, as quoted in Al Jazeera.

Guterres pointed to record-breaking temperatures and devastating natural disasters like Hurricane Maria as evidence that climate change is outpacing human efforts to reduce it. He called on leaders outside of national government, like industry leaders and local officials, to take initiative as well.

The U.N Paris Accord, signed by almost 200 countries, aims to keep global temperatures at least 2 degrees Celsius below a pre-industrial baseline by the end of the century.  2020.  As of right now, many countries are not on track to meet these targets. Even if the Accord met its full potential, many critics argue the reductions it outlines would not actually meet the 2 degree mark.

Guterres spoke of the agreement, saying “What we still lack, even after the Paris Agreement, is leadership and the ambition to do what is needed,” as quoted in the New York Times. He asked leaders to step up and meet their Paris Accord promises to show citizens of their countries they “care about the people whose fate they hold in their hands.”

The next U.N climate summit, COP24, will be held in Poland this December. At this summit, world leaders who have heeded Guterres’ warning will have the opportunity to announce plans to increase their fossil fuel emission reduction targets.

Severe storms hit eastern Iowa Tuesday night


19421538104_0fb1ee2980_z
Shelf clouds, like the one depicted in this photograph from Flickr, rolled across Eastern Iowa during Tuesday night’s storms. 

Julia Poska | August 31, 2018

Severe storms swept through the midwest the evening of Aug. 28, causing flash flooding and wind damage from central Wisconsin through eastern Iowa.

Over 100,000 midwesterners lost power at some point during or after the storm, AccuWeather.com reports.

Within Iowa, the heaviest damage occurred in the Iowa City and Quad Cities areas. Flash floods soaked homes, businesses and even the University of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, which was drained almost immediately.

As of the morning of Thursday, Aug. 30, the National Weather Service forecasts a chance of more storms every day until Monday. Climate change projections warn Iowans to expect more wet weeks and severe rain events in coming years.

Three tornado warnings sounded across eastern Iowa Tuesday night as well:  southwest of Williamsburg, Iowa County; in Iowa City; and and in De Witt, Clinton County. The National Weather Service reported wind of 83 miles per hour at the Iowa City Municipal Airport.

Tuesday’s storm came less than a week after the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Gov. Kim Reynold’s request for funding to help private individuals and businesses recover from severe storms earlier this summer, as reported by the Des Moines Register. FEMA did grant Iowa funding to repair public infrastructure.

 

Border to arid western climate creeps closer to Iowa


1600px-Map_of_Great_Plains
The 100th Meridian, located at 100 degrees west, is shown dividing the United States’ Great Plains. This longitude line has long been considered the border between the arid west and humid east (from Wikimedia Commons).

Julia Poska | August 30, 2018

The divide between America’s dry west and humid east appears to have shifted two degrees east since the 1970’s, according to recent research from Columbia University.

Topography and atmospheric circulation from both coasts create a pattern of increasing aridity from east to west. The 100th meridian, which splits the Dakotas in half and continues south through Texas and into western Mexico, historically separated the United States’ arid and humid climate zones.

The new study, published in the journal Earth Interactions, places the wet and dry dividing line closer to 98 degrees west today. Researcher Richard Seager attributed this in part to rising temperatures in a National Public Radio interview.

The shifting climate has had major implications farms in between the 100th and 98th meridians. Corn requires warmth and humidity, while wheat can grow in more arid conditions, but both crops have suffered where the soil has dried.

Iowa’s westernmost point sits at about 96 degrees. If the western divide were to bring dry conditions another two degrees east, the results would be devastating for Iowa corn growers.

Climate projections for Iowa do anticipate further warming, but they also predict increased humidity rather than aridity (see the 2017 Iowa Climate Statement). Though Iowa is unlikely to dry out anytime soon,  climate change will nonetheless create other serious challenges for agriculture statewide.

2017 is the third warmest year on record


4392965590_cb953086dd_z.jpg
The past three years have been the hottest on record. (NASA/flickr)

Eden DeWald | August 8th, 2017

According the the State of the Climate report, 2017 is the third warmest year on record. The annual State of the Climate report is published by the American Meteorological Society and is based on international data taken from land, air, and sea monitoring stations. 2016 still remains the warmest year on record, and 2015 comes in as the second warmest.

The data from 2017 also reveals that last year, atmospheric greenhouse gas levels were the highest ever recorded.  The average global carbon dioxide concentrations reached 405 parts per million. This far surpasses any carbon dioxide concentrations from previous climate data, as well as C02 concentrations found in ice cores from well over half a million years ago.

The report also contains information about continued sea level rise, ocean surface temperatures, coral bleaching, and declining polar ice cap coverage. To read the State of the Climate in 2017, or any of the past reports, click here.

New climate predictions for Iowa


8176514882_01eac3d46e_z
Iowa will be facing even hotter temperatures. (Rich H/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 25th, 2018

Two professors from Iowa recently contributed an article to the Des Moines Register about new climate change predictions for the state of Iowa. Gene Tackle, an emeritus professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, and Jerry Schnoor, a professor of civil and environmental at the University of Iowa and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, wrote about the serious effects that climate change will have for Iowans, and how Iowans are already being effected.

Schnoor and Tackle reference information from the from the Climate Science Special Report which is part of the National Climate Assessment Report. The report found that heat wave temperatures will increase to a range of 97-102 degrees by 2050. Currently, heat wave temperatures fall in a range of  90-95 degrees. These temperatures have serious consequences for vulnerable populations such as the young and elderly, as well as our agricultural interests in Iowa. Extreme weather events, such as the recent flooding in Polk County, have already demonstrated the danger of climate change we are facing today.

Despite Iowa facing these grim predictions, Schnoor and Tackle urge Iowans that they can still take action. Supporting renewable energy, voting in local elections, and joining local organizations that spread information about climate change are all presented as important ways to help protect our future.

 

 

Coastal homes are threatened by sea level rise


28357572834_7c2ed02142_z
Beautiful sea front property is being threatened by sea level rise. (flickr/sdobie)

Eden DeWald | June 20th, 2018

Coastal homes all the way from Maine to Florida are feeling the threat of sea level rise. Approximately 300,000 homes along the East and West Coast of the United States are at risk for reoccurring flooding due to sea level rise. According to National Geographic, the global mean sea level has risen four to eight inches over the past century. However, the rate at which sea level is rising has been twice as fast for the last 20 years when compared to the first 80 years of the last century.

Sea level rise is caused by three main factors, all of which are consequences of climate change. Thermal expansion, the melting of ice over Antarctica and Greenland, and the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers, all contribute to the measurable rise that researchers have observed over the past century. In 2012, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that sea level could rise up to 38 inches by 2100.

Sea level rise has serious consequences for homeowners. By 2045, the slowly creeping disaster of chronic flooding could pose great threats to coastal housing markets. The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted a study on the effect that sea level will have on the East Coast and the Gulf area. Kirsten Dahl, an author of the study, stated that the loss of tax revenue from affected homes could cut the tax base of small towns by as much as 70 percent. Coastal homes are highly sought after real estate, but buying a beach house may not be the luxury it once was.