Late Friday night and early Saturday morning brought deadly tornadoes to Kentucky and other states nearby. There were at least 50 tornado reports from late Friday into Saturday in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
As of this afternoon, the death toll stands at 74 in Kentucky, with 109 Kentuckians still unaccounted for, according to Gov. Andy Beshear. The numbers are coming from emergency management.
The tornado that devastated numerous communities in Kentucky was on the ground continuously for at least 128 miles in the state, and likely longer, an official with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Paducah told CNN on Monday.
Scientists know that warm weather and precipitation are key ingredients in tornadoes and that climate change is altering the environment in which these kinds of storms form, however they can’t directly connect those dots. The research into the link between climate and tornadoes still lags behind that of other extreme weather events such as hurricanes and wildfires.
Some areas of the United States entered October in summer-like heat while others faced frosty cold and intense rain.
Dry heat is scorching the south and eastern parts of of the country. More than a dozen cities — including Cleveland, New Orleans, Nashville and Indianapolis — broke high temperature records for the whole month of October. The Weather Channel forecasts that records may continue to break through Thursday.
Meanwhile, states like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming felt unseasonable cold, with temperatures in 38 degrees Fahrenheit in Boise, Idaho. These temperatures follow a frosty weekend in the region, with record-breaking cold and snowfall.
The Weather Channel attributes the temperature extremes to an especially dramatic curve in the polar jet stream — a fast-moving, high-altitude band of wind that impacts weather throughout the hemisphere. Right now, the jet stream dips abnormally southward in the Western U.S. and soars abnormally northward in the east for this time of year.
Storms and floods along the stream’s path (where, the hot/dry and cool/wet air masses meet) are threatening parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.
Studies say climate change alters the jet stream, intensifying weather phenomena like the “polar vortex,” though it is difficult to determine whether greenhouse gasses are playing a role in this week’s weather patterns.
The ongoing flooding tormenting the Midwest and nearby states, has its origins in a series of unusual and recording setting weather events impacting Iowa and the Midwest.
University of Iowa assistant research engineer, Antonio Arenas with the help of his colleagues at IIHR Hydroscience & Engineering and the Iowa Flood Center created an easy to use digital timeline that describes extreme weather events that have occurred in the Midwest over the last year and their impact on Iowa.
The timeline starts with the months of June and July 2018 as being months with above-average rainfall. Arena also documents record Iowa rainfall in the fall of 2018, as well as the heavy snowfall in the Midwest this past winter and how it all has contributed to record flooding in Iowa this spring.
Antonio Arenas states that these weather events are noteworthy and for some, are record setting. However, he also believes it is equally important to note that all of these weather fluctuations had all occurred within a 12-month window.
The digital timeline offers information on the past 12 months of extreme weather events such as the Polar Vortex, extreme precipitation, a rare bomb cyclone, ice dams, heavy snowfall, frozen ground, and more.
Arena invites people to click through the animated slides, videos, maps, satellite images, and brief descriptions to see how these recent extreme weather events have impacted Iowa and the Midwest.
The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research had a big day yesterday; we released the 2018 Iowa Climate Statement at the Cedar Rapids Public Library for the press and public. Today we can reflect on the magnitude of the statement’s message.
Titled “Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate,” the statement warns of the urgent need to adapt buildings and public infrastructure to withstand the extreme weather of tomorrow. Scientists predict that average annual heat waves will increase by 7ºF and the most extreme rainfall events will double in intensity by midcentury.
“These are really scary numbers which will have negative consequences for the elderly, the economy, for corn and soybeans, as well as beef, hogs and poultry even under sheltered confinement,” said Jerry Schnoor, co-director of CGRER. “We must start now to adapt our built environment, including buildings and flood mitigation systems, to this changing climate.”
“Water will also enter buildings from the foundation or basement walls,” Passe said. “In particular, heavier rain events and higher water tables affect foundations, and standards going forward must reflect that.”
She provided examples of several adaptations that can be made to buildings to prepare them for increased heat and precipitation, including steeper roof slopes, increased insulation and better ventilation. She said Iowan communities should consider managing increased rainwater runoff with green, vegetation-based infrastructure like rain gardens and urban forestry as well.
These adjustments need to be made as soon as possible; Iowa’s weather is already feeling the effects of climate change.
“Warming over the Gulf of Mexico is helping feed large rain events in Iowa and the Midwest,” Schnoor said. “That’s why we’re prone to intense downpours and major flooding like Des Moines saw on June 30 and like eastern Iowa has been experiencing for the past six weeks. People’s homes and businesses are being flooded that have never been flooded before.”
Burning less fossil fuel and reducing atmospheric carbon emissions can help mitigate climate change’s impacts as well, but at this stage, adaptation is absolutely crucial. We at CGRER hope those with decision-making power take the statement to heart, and listen to the record 201 science faculty and researchers from 37 Iowa colleges and universities who endorsed it.
As the Northern Hemisphere enters warmer seasons where severe weather and flooding are more likely, it is yet to be seen whether 2018 will top 2017 as the most costly year for natural disasters ever.
Since 1980, the yearly average for natural disasters in the U.S. that cause more than $1 billion in damages has been 5.8 events. Last year, the country saw 16 such events, including three tropical cyclones, eight severe storms, two inland floods, a crop freeze, drought and wildfire. While this number technically ties with 2011, 2017 had more extreme weather as wildfires are tallied by region rather than single events, and last year brought more wildfires costing upwards of $1 billion than ever before.
The midwest U.S. saw at least two severe storms last year that caused more than $1 billion in damages, both of them in mid-June. Flooding associated with storms like these has caused some $13.5 billion in economic losses from 1988 to 2015 in Iowa alone, according to a recent op-ed by Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski. Midwesterners also faced early tornado outbreaks in 2017, which tore across the region in late February and early March. Both events cause more than $1 billion in damages.
The National Centers for Environmental Information point out that increased development in vulnerable areas like coastlines, floodplains and fire-prone areas are causing the increase in billion dollar disasters. Climate change plays a role too. They write,
“Climate change is also paying an increasing role in the increasing frequency of some types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters. Most notably the rise in vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall and inland flooding events are most acutely related to the influence of climate change.”
Yesterday’s International Women’s Day inspired record-setting strikes, calls for equal pay and representation as well as conversations about how climate change disproportionally affects women and girls.
A recent photo essay from the United Nation’s titled, “Climate Change is a Women’s Issue” depicts the ways climate disasters and gradually shifting weather patterns exacerbate the social inequities faced by women. Its figures state that 80 percent of the people that have been displaced by climate change worldwide are women. Increasingly frequent periods of drought mean that women and girls also spend much more time walking to retrieve water and much less time working or in school.
The United Nationa’s environment gender expert, Victor Tsang, and communication officer, Shari Nijman, wrote recently,“While environmental changes affect everyone, due to existing gender inequalities, women often bear the bulk of the burden. In patriarchal societies, cultural, legal and political restrictions often undermine women’s adaptability and resilience to climate change.” The authors later suggest that providing equal access to land, agricultural extension services, financial inclusion and education for women is key to curbing and coping with climate change.
For the first time ever, the U.N. climate talks incorporated a Gender Action Plan this year at the COP23 conference in Bonn, Germany. The plan “seeks to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and promote gender-responsive climate policy and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Convention and the work of Parties.”
Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security argued in a 2015 report that inclusion of women in high-levels of climate decision-making like the U.N. conference of the parties is necessary, but not sufficient. Among many recommendations, they ask that national governments develop disaster plans that specifically aim to lessen impacts on women and that private sector stakeholders invest in job opportunities for women that also combat the effects of climate change. Researchers point out that these steps not only lessen the burden of a warming planet for women but also recognize them as a powerful part of the solution.
As former Finnish president H.E. Tarja Halonen once said, “[Women] are powerful agents whose knowledge, skills and innovative ideas support the efforts to combat climate change.”
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has developed a Climate Resilience Screening Index (CRSI) and determined the expected resiliency of each county as the climate continues to change, making floods, droughts and wildfires more common.
The report was released in October and used 117 measurements to figure each county’s severe weather risk, governance, society, built environment, and natural environment into an overall resiliency score. Fortunately, researchers found that many U.S. counties have moderate to strong likelihood of bouncing back following a natural disaster however, the outlook varies.
The Appalachians, many counties in the southeast and the western Midwest and some counties in southwestern Texas were found to have lower resiliency scores. The factors that decrease a region’s resiliency in the face of climate disaster include limited access to internet and radio to communicate during an emergency, insufficient infrastructure for evacuation and the absence of local construction industries to rebuild afterward. Southeastern states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee scored the lowest collectively in the U.S.
Those counties with higher social cohesion, levels of education and natural resource conservation are predicted to fare much better. The Pacific Northwest was determined most resilient to the changing climate, with region one of the U.S., including Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island following close behind.
The report’s authors suggest that index’s information be used to determine where climate mitigation resources are allocated in the future. However, it is unlikely that the current administration will use the information to inform any real climate policy.
Dr. James DeWeese is a research analyst studying on climate resilience at the World Resources Institute and was not involved in this study. He said to the Pacific Standard, “Whatever happens, I definitely think the CRSI is something innovative. I haven’t seen much else like it.”
Unfortunately, scientists say that the existing emission-reduction pledges by the world’s nations are not enough to keep temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. The study finds that if temperatures were to rise to 3 degrees hotter than preindustrial levels, North America would see at least a 300 percent increase in extreme weather events, for example.
Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh is a climate scientist at Stanford University and the study’s lead author. He said to the Scientific American, “In addition to not meeting the global temperature target, those commitments also imply substantial increase in the probability of record-setting events. Not only hot events but wet events, and also in other regions of the world, dry events as well.”
The study found that extreme heat records are the most likely to be affected by unabated climate change. Scientists focused primarily on North America, Western Europe and East Asia. They found that hotter-than-ever night time temperatures have been occurring much more frequently in recent years. If the climate warms to the 3 degree threshold, extreme heat events are expected to happen five times more frequently in half of Europe and at least three times more frequently in parts of Eastern Asia.
The study reads, “However, even if cumulative emissions are sufficiently constrained to ensure that global warming is held to 1° to 2°C, many areas are still likely to experience substantial increases in the probability of unprecedented [extreme weather] events.”
Jonathan Godt of the U.S. Geological Survey told the New York Times, “It was pretty rare, in essence a worse-case scenario from that standpoint. The same rainfall that falls on a burned landscape can cause a lot more damage than it would before a fire.”
AccuWeather officials have predicted that a shift in the jet stream will bring more moisture from the Pacific Ocean into southern California’s atmosphere by January 23rd and 24th. They caution that the weather pattern presents the risk for “locally heavy rainfall, flash flooding and a significant risk of mudslides.” Their report states that areas surrounding Point Conception, California are most likely to be affected.
February and March are heavy precipitation months for Santa Barbara county, and following California’s record-setting year for wildfires, conditions are right for faster-moving and more destructive landslides.
AccuWeather meteorologist Evan Duffey said, “People need to leave the area by evacuation deadlines as they are given. Once a mudslide begins, there may only be minutes to seconds before a neighborhood is wiped out.”
A recently published study in the journal Nature Human Behavior found that humans’ personalities are shaped by the temperatures where they live. Existing research confirms that human personality varies geographically, but it is unclear why exactly that is. The study’s leading author Lei Wang, a social and cultural psychologist at Peking University in Beijing, posits that temperature could play a big role because the conditions outside influence people’s habits.
Regardless of gender, age, sex, or income, people from regions with temperatures that were mild were more agreeable, conscientious, emotionally stable, extroverted and open to new experiences. These findings were true in both countries. However, people living in harsher weather regions in the U.S. and China had generally different personality types. Those that resided in harsher weather zones such as Heilongjiang, Xinjiang and Shandong had more collectivist personality traits than their fellow Chinese from more temperate climates. In the U.S., people who live in harsher climates like Montana and Minnesota generally have more individualistic personality traits than those that live in more mild climates.
The study’s authors call for more research on the topic but also point out, “as climate change continues across the world, we may also observe [associated] changes in human personality. Of course, questions about the size and extent of these changes await future investigation.”