From CNN’s Helen Regan, Esha Mitra and Rishabh Madhavendra Pratap
Coronavirus patients were among more than 100,000 people evacuated from low-lying coastal areas in India’s western states as a cyclone advanced toward Mumbai in Maharashtra today.
Cyclone Nisarga made landfall at around 1 p.m. local time (3:30 a.m. ET) with wind speeds of up to 110 kph (68 mph), according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).
The cyclone, which formed in the Arabian sea on Tuesday morning, hit Alibag town, south of Mumbai.
Cyclones in that part of the country are relatively rare — Mumbai, India’s financial center and home to 18 million people, was last hit by a major storm in 1948.
The arrival of Cyclone Nisarga today comes as Maharashtra grapples with India’s worst coronavirus outbreak. Hospitals are struggling to treat an influx of patients as the confirmed number of cases in that state passes 72,300, with more than 2,400 deaths.
Ahead of landfall, the cyclone strengthened to the equivalent of just below a Category 1 Atlantic hurricane, or a Severe Cyclonic Storm in the West Pacific.
Kolkata (CNN)More than 80 people have been killed and thousands more left homeless after Cyclone Amphan slammed into coastal towns and cities in India and Bangladesh on Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities are now racing to provide relief efforts in communities already stricken by the coronavirus, hampered in many areas by heavy rains and fallen debris that has made roads impassible.
Large-scale evacuation efforts appear to have saved many lives, but it could take days to realize the full extent of the deaths, injuries and damage from the cyclone.
Amphan — which was the most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal before it weakened — ripped apart homes, tore down trees, washed away bridges and left large predominately rural areas without power or communications.
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At least 72 people died in West Bengal state, including 15 in the city of Kolkata, the state’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said Thursday. Among them was a young girl killed after a wall collapsed inside her home in Howrah district.
“I have never seen such disaster,” Banerjee told reporters. “All areas have faced destruction. Nothing is left.”
In neighboring Bangladesh, 10 people have been confirmed dead, according to the governmental Health Emergency Operations Center. Among those killed was a 57-year-old Red Crescent volunteer in Barisal who drowned when attempting to help others to safety, the Red Crescent Society of Bangladesh said.
Disaster teams worked throughout the night and into Thursday morning in India’s West Bengal and Odisha states, clearing trees and other debris from roads.
A man salvages items from his house damaged by Cyclone Amphan in Midnapore, West Bengal, on May 21, 2020.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged the devastation caused by the cyclone in a series of tweets on Thursday, writing, “No stone will be left unturned in helping the affected.”
“The entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal,” he wrote. “My thoughts are with the people of Odisha as the state bravely battles the effects of Cyclone Amphan.”
Banerjee said that she would appeal to the central government in New Delhi for help and ask Modi to visit the stricken area on the Bay of Bengal.
No deaths have been reported yet in the neighboring coastal state of Odisha, despite wind and storm surges causing heavy damage, according to the government there.
Sunderbans islands ‘pulverized’
S.N. Pradhan, director-general of India’s National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), said the worst of the damage is concentrated in two of West Bengal’s coastal districts and that the Sunderbans had been “pulverized” by the cyclone.
The Sunderbans are an ecologically fragile cluster of low-lying islands spread across India and Bangladesh, known for mangrove forests and rare wildlife, including the endangered Bengal tiger.
“Maximum impact, as expected has been seen there,” Pradhan said.
Four of the state’s least affected districts could be up and running in four to six days, and some coastal parts of Odisha are expected to be back up by this evening, he said.
“People have started moving out of shelters to assess the damage to their homes. Some have even started repairing their damaged homes,” Pradhan said.
In Kolkata, the biggest city in the direct path of the cyclone and home to 14 million people, Pradhan said that a lot of trees had been uprooted and “the city has never seen such high winds.”
Cyclone Amphan is a disaster bigger than the coronavirus outbreak, the state’s chief minister Banerjee said at a news conference Wednesday.
“The whole of the southern part of the state has been affected. We are shocked,” the chief minister said. “The cyclone has affected the electricity supply and destroyed many houses, bridges and embankments.”
In the areas affected by the cyclone, many villagers live in temporary homes with thatched or tin roofs, which were easily swept away in the powerful winds.
In Bangladesh, nearly every coastal district has been seriously affected by Cyclone Amphan, according to Ranjit Kumar Sen, an official at the Bangladesh Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.
Sen said that the damage along the coast was “huge.” Among the 10 killed in the country, five people were in Barisal state — including the Red Crescent volunteer — four in Khuna, and one in Chittagong.
Several poorly maintained dams broke down even before the cyclone made landfall, causing extensive flooding in parts of the country.
Snigdha Chakraborty, with charity Catholic Relief Services, said the country saw storm surges as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters), inundating houses throughout the country.
Cyclone Amphan made landfall on India’s east coast, near Sagar Island in West Bengal, at around 5 p.m. local time Wednesday (7.30 a.m. ET) and began tracking north toward Kolkata, with wind speeds of up to 160 kph (100 mph), according to data from the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
Amphan weakened into the equivalent of an Atlantic tropical storm as it crossed the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh Thursday morning, but is still packing strong winds of up to 110 kph (68 mph). The system is expected to continue weakening over the next 24 hours as it travels northeast.
The next danger will come from the heavy rain, which could lead to flash flooding across the region through Thursday morning.
Mass evacuations and coronavirus
An ambitious evacuation mounted by India and Bangladesh saw an estimated 3 million people moved to safety across the two countries, according to regional authorities.
The relief operation came despite India and Bangladesh remaining under strict lockdown orders due to the coronavirus. The virus, which continues to spread through both countries, has complicated the emergency response, as relief teams grapple with how to get people to safety while also protecting them against the risk of Covid-19.
India passed more than 100,000 confirmed infections earlier this week, according to Johns Hopkins University, and recorded its largest single-day spike on Wednesday with 5,611 new cases. Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s infection count is rapidly rising, with more than 1,300 new cases on Sunday, its biggest rise to date. In total, the country has recorded 26,738 confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins.
Police officers carry a disabled man to a safer place following his evacuation from a slum area in Kolkata, India.
In Odisha, where more than 150,000 people were evacuated, a total of 211 of the state’s 809 permanent cyclone shelters were being used as Covid-19 quarantine centers.
Pradeep Jena, special relief commissioner for Odisha state, said emergency services had to balance saving lives from the cyclone with saving lives from the coronavirus. In evacuation centers, Jena said they were trying to keep the elderly and pregnant women separate from the rest of the population and were working hard to obtain adequate soap.
“Social distancing is definitely a very good concept but enforcing it in the strictest possible manner in a disaster situation may not always be possible,” he said.
In India’s West Bengal, which bore the brunt of the cyclone’s winds, about 500,000 people were temporarily housed in storm shelters, according to authorities, while in Bangladesh the government said they had evacuated 2.4 million peopleas well as about 40,000 livestock animals.
People gather at a cyclone center for protection before Cyclone Amphan made landfall in Gabura, on the outskirts of Satkhira district, Bangladesh May 20.
It’s unknown when many of those people will be able to return home. Bangladesh Oxfam director, Dipankar Datta, said Wednesday that thousands of makeshift homes in Bangladesh had been uprooted due to the cyclone.
In what is likely to be one small glimmer of hope, Catholic Relief Services’ Chakraborty there had been no major damage reported so far in sprawling refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, which are home to nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees and had been a source of concern to aid workers after Covid-19 cases were identified there last week.
Some weak shelters were damaged in the storm and now need to be repaired, she said.
Though there is concern that the precipitation from the storm — though it made landfall on the other side of Bangladesh — could still cause landslides and flooding in the camps.
The first typhoon of the 2020 Western Pacific season rapidly strengthened before slamming into the eastern Philippines Thursday, forcing an evacuation of thousands that was complicated by efforts to avoid spreading coronavirus at shelters.
The first typhoon to hit the country this year rapidly strengthened over a 24-hour period, going from the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane to a Category 3 storm. The state weather bureau said the storm slammed ashore in San Policarpio town in Eastern Samar province around noon.
Typhoon Vongfong rapidly intensified before impacting the Philippines on Thursday. (NOAA)
Footage posted to Twitter showed wind gusts in the Gubat area of Sorsogon, Philippines, north of Samar island.
Joy Anne ☾@purajoyanne
9:00 am | Gubat, Sorsogon
Praying for everyone’s safety . #AmboPH
Other video shared to Facebook showed locals battling gusts in the town of San Policarpo. The fierce rain and wind swayed coconut trees, rattled tin roofs and obscured visibility in Eastern Samar, where some towns lost power.
Typhoon Vongfong is forecast to barrel northwestward across densely populated eastern provinces and cities before exiting in the north Sunday. Tens of millions are in its path.
Residents brave rains and strong wind as they walk past uprooted trees along a highway in Can-avid town, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines on May 14, as Typhoon Vongfong makes landfall. (Photo by ALREN BERONIO/AFP via Getty Images)
The government weather agency warned that “along with large swells, the typhoon will bring a storm surge may cause potentially life-threatening” flooding, adding that sea travel would be dangerous in Vongfong’s path.
The only evacuation shelters in the town of 8,000 villagers are a gymnasium and the town hall. Ver, who also is the town’s only doctor, told the AP he has secured enough face masks to protect them from the virus in the town hall when the typhoon hits.
Provincial Gov. Ben Evardone told the AP that all emergency shelters were turned into quarantine facilities with medical equipment in case of outbreaks, but may have to be rearranged back into evacuation centers if large numbers of people need shelter.
Provincial disaster officials said they had asked the education department for more schools for temporary shelters, putting thousands in classrooms and school gymnasiums, Reuters reported.
Dark clouds envelop the skies as workers fold a billboard to prepare for the coming of typhoon Vongfong in Manila, Philippines Thursday May, 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Authorities also asked 47 churches in the area to accept people fleeing the typhoon.
“We will be overwhelmed, so we’re expanding our evacuation to include churches,” Cedric Daep, disaster chief in central Albay province, told Agence France-Presse.
Metropolitan Manila will not be hit directly by the storm, but may be lashed by strong winds. Officials were advised to remove medical quarantine tents set up outside hospitals.
The region of the Philippines initially hit by Vongfong was devastated in 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million.
Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans have reached record highs
Hurricanes, wildfires and severe thunderstorms all affected
The world’s seas are simmering, with record high temperatures spurring worry among forecasters that the global warming effect may generate a chaotic year of extreme weather ahead.
Parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans all hit the record books for warmth last month, according to the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information. The high temperatures could offer clues on the ferocity of the Atlantic hurricane season, the eruption of wildfires from the Amazon region to Australia, and whether the record heat and severe thunderstorms raking the southern U.S. will continue.
In the Gulf of Mexico, where offshore drilling accounts for about 17% of U.S. oil output, water temperatures were 76.3 degrees Fahrenheit (24.6 Celsius), 1.7 degrees above the long-term average, said Phil Klotzbach at Colorado State University. If Gulf waters stay warm, it could be the fuel that intensifies any storm that comes that way, Klotzbach said.
“The entire tropical ocean is above average,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a forecaster at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. “And there is a global warming component to that. It is really amazing when you look at all the tropical oceans and see how warm they are.”
The record warm water in the Gulf of Mexico spilled over into every coastal community along the shoreline with all-time high temperatures on land, said Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring section at the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina. Florida recorded its warmest March on record, and Miami reached 93 degrees Wednesday, a record for the date and 10 degrees above normal, according to the National Weather Service.
While coronavirus has the nation’s attenton right now, global warming continues to be a threat. Sea water “remembers and holds onto heat” better than the atmosphere, Arndt said.
Overall, the five warmest years in the world’s seas, as measured by modern instruments, have occurred over just the last half-dozen or so years. It’s “definitely climate-change related,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. “Oceans are absorbing about 90% of the heat trapped by extra greenhouse gases,”
Worldwide, sea temperatures were 1.49 degrees Fahrenheit above average in March. That’s the second highest level recorded since 1880 for the month of March, according to U.S. data. In 2016, temperatures were 1.55 degrees above average.
The first of Colorado State’s 2020 storm reports, led by Klotzbach, forecast this year that eight hurricanes could spin out of the Atlantic with an above-average chance at least one will make landfall in the U.S. during the six-month season starting June 1. The U.S. is set to issue its hurricane forecast next month.
The searing global temperatures this year can also be traced back to intense climate systems around the Arctic that bottled up much of that region’s cold, preventing it from spilling south into temperate regions. Combined with global warming, this was a one-two punch for sea temperatures that’s brought them to historic highs.
One of the best-known examples of how oceans drive global weather patterns is the development of the climate system known as El Nino. It occurs when unusually warm waters in the equatorial Pacific interact with the atmosphere to alter weather patterns worldwide. In the Atlantic, for instance, El Ninos can cause severe wind shear that can break up developing storms with the potential to become dangerous hurricanes.
This year, the chance of an El Nino developing are small, and scientists are theorizing one reason could be that climate change is warming all the world’s oceans. El Nino “depends on contrasts, as well as absolute values of sea-surface temperatures,” according to Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Strengthening Their Fury
Meanwhile, if the Atlantic stays warm through the six-month storm season that starts June 1, the tropical systems can use it as fuel to strengthen their fury.
The oceans also play a role in setting the stage for wildfires. In the case of Australia and the Amazon, really warm areas of the ocean can pull rain away from the land, causing drier conditions and, in extreme cases, drought. Last year, for instance, the Indian Ocean was really warm off Africa, so that is where all the storms went. Australia was left high and dry.
Back in the Atlantic, research by Katia Fernandes, a geosciences professor at the University of Arkansas, has also shown a correlation between sea surface temperatures in the northern tropical Atlantic and drought and wildfires in the Amazon. The warmer the water, the further north rainfall is pulled across South America.
According to Fernandes model, even Atlantic temperatures in March can serve to predict if the Amazon will be dry and susceptible to fires.
For California, the outlook isn’t as clear. Wildfires there depend as much on how well vegetation grows, providing fuel for the flames, as it does on the weather conditions coming off the Pacific.
“Tricky question,” said Mike Anderson, California state climatologist. “Our weather outcomes are influenced by sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, but it depends on where and when the warm waters appear and how long they persist. In the end we have a highly variable climate that doesn’t map in a statistically convenient way to patterns of sea-surface temperatures.”
We only have a decade to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
That’s the warning the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put out last year. But so far, nations are not slashing emissions enough to keep Earth’s temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — the threshold established in the Paris climate agreement.
“What we know is that unabated climate change will really transform our world into something that is unrecognizable,” Kelly Levin, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute’s climate program, told Business Insider.
That transformation has already begun. The last few years saw record-breaking temperatures, catastrophic and bizarre storms, and unprecedented ice melt. That’s all likely to get worse by 2030.
Here’s what we can expect in the next 10 years.
Scientists attribute the increasing frequency of record-breaking temperatures, unprecedented ice melt, and extreme weather shifts to greenhouse-gas emissions.
Fossil fuels like coal contain compounds like carbon dioxide and methane, which trap heat from the sun. Extracting and burning these fuels for energy releases those gases into the atmosphere, where they accumulate and heat up the Earth over time.
“As long as we burn fossil fuels and load the atmosphere with carbon pollution, it all gets worse,” climate scientist Michael Mann told Business Insider in an email.
Last year, the IPCC warned that we only have until 2030 to act in order to avoid the worst consequences of severe climate change.
According to the IPCC, the world’s carbon emissions have to fall by 45% by 2030 to keep the world’s average temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
So the next 10 years are crucial for any efforts to slow this trend.
If Earth warms more than 1.5 degrees, scientists think the world’s ecosystems could start to collapse.
“The choices that we make today are going to have profound impacts,” Levin said.
Even if nations stick to the goals they set under the Paris climate agreement, emissions will still likely be too high, according to the IPCC.
Under the voluntary goals set in the Paris agreement, the world would still emit the equivalent of 52 to 58 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030, according to the report. (This is measured as an “equivalent” in order to factor in other greenhouse gases, like methane, which is 84 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.)
So far, most countries are not on track anyway.
Regardless of what actions we take, there are a few changes scientists know we’ll see in the next 10 years.
That’s because the world will keep getting warmer even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases immediately.
In the worst case scenario, we might even the 1.5-degree temperature-rise mark by 2030.
The globe’s ice caps will continue to melt, and crucial ice sheets like the one in Greenland might start down an irreversible path toward disappearing completely.
“Somewhere between 1.5 and 2 degrees, there’s a tipping point after which it will no longer be possible to maintain the Greenland Ice Sheet,” Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, told Inside Climate News. “What we don’t have a handle on is how quickly the Greenland Ice Sheet will be lost.”
Greenland’s ice is already approaching that tipping point, according to a study published in May. Whereas the melting that happened during warm cycles used to get balanced out when new ice formed during cool cycles, warm periods now cause significant meltdown and cool periods simply pause it.
That makes it difficult for the ice sheet to regenerate what it’s losing.
That will lead to more sea-level rise — about 0.3 to 0.6 feet on average globally by 2030, according to the US’ National Climate Assessment.
In addition to melting ice, rising ocean temperatures cause seas to rise because warm water takes up more volume. As the globe heats up, scientists expect that simple fact of physics to account for about 75% of future sea-level rise.
The risk of high-tide flooding (which happens in the absence of storms or severe weather) is rapidly increasing for communities on the US Gulf and East Coasts.
In 2018, the US Northeast saw a median of one major sunny-day flood per year. By 2030, projections suggest the region will see a median of five such floods per year. By 2045, that number could grow to 25 floods.
The rising seawater won’t be distributed evenly across the globe.
Low-lying countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, and the Seychelles are especially vulnerable. Rising oceans have already begun to threaten cities like Miami, New Orleans, Venice, Jakarta, and Lagos.
Some areas could see sea levels up to 6 feet higher by the end of the century.
Extra warmth and water means hurricanes will become slower and stronger. In the next decade, we’re likely to see more cyclones like Hurricane Dorian, which sat over the Bahamas for nearly 24 hours.
Over the past 70 years or so, the speed of hurricanes and tropical storms has slowed about 10% on average, according to a 2018 study.
When storms are slower, their forceful winds, heavy rain, and surging tides have much more time to cause destruction. In the Bahamas, Dorian leveled entire towns.
“The slower you go, that means more rain. That means more time that you’re going to have those winds. That’s a long period of time to have hurricane-force winds,” National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham said in a Facebook Live video as Dorian approached the Bahamas.
To make matters worse, a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture. The peak rain rates of storms have increased by 30% over the past 60 years.
That means up to 4 inches of water per hour. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was a prime example of this: After it made landfall, Harvey weakened to a tropical storm then stalled for days, dumping unprecedented amounts of rain on the Houston area. Scientist Tom Di Liberto described it as the “storm that refused to leave.”
Hurricanes are likely to intensify more rapidly as well.
“It’s pretty well understood that if the water is warmer and it’s causing more moist air to come up, you have the potential of a storm to grow quickly and intensely,” Brian Haus, a researcher who simulates hurricanes at the University of Miami, previously told Business Insider.
Overall, extreme weather is expected grow more common and intense.
“Certain types of extreme events in the US have already become more frequent and intense and long-lasting,” Levin said. “There’s no reason to think that we’re not going to start to see an amplification of what we’ve been seeing.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that, overall, climate change will kill an additional 241,000 people per year by 2030.
The WHO expects that heat-related illnesses will be a major culprit, killing up to 121,464 additional people by 2030.
In the coming years, experts expect to see “day zeros” — the term for the moment when a city’s taps run dry.
In January 2018, Cape Town, South Africa, got dangerously close to this reality: The government announced the city was three months from day zero. Residents successfully limited their water use enough to make it to the next rainy season, however.
The IPCC projects severe reductions in water resources for 8% of the global population from 2021 to 2040.
Dry vegetation in hot regions lights up easily, which means more frequent, bigger wildfires.
“Climate change, with rising temperatures and shifts in precipitation patterns, is amplifying the risk of wildfires and prolonging the season,” the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in a July release.
A 2016 study found that climate change nearly doubled the amount of forest that burned in the western US between 1984 and 2015, adding over 10 billion additional acres of burned area. In California in particular, the annual area burned in summer wildfires increased fivefold from 1972 to 2018.
We’re also likely to see more wildfires in the Arctic, which is warming almost twice as fast as the global average. That means Arctic sea ice is also disappearing.
“You take what was a reflective surface, the white ice, and you expose darker oceans underneath it,” Levin said. “That can lead to a much greater absorption of solar radiation, and knock-on warming impacts as well as change of weather patterns.”
The Amazon rainforest is in trouble as well, largely because farmers and loggers are cutting it down so rapidly.
A 2008 study projected that humans would clear away 31% of the Amazon by 2030. Another 24% would be damaged by drought or logging, the study found.
“The risk of transforming the Amazon to a savannah-like state — it could have a tremendous impact for our ability worldwide to get a handle on the climate-change problem,” Levin said.
That’s because the Amazon stores up to 140 billion tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of 14 decades’ worth of human emissions. Releasing that would accelerate global warming.
“You have a vital carbon sink no longer acting as a carbon sink, but instead acting as a carbon source,” Levin added.
Other crucial ecosystems face collapse in the next decade as well. At present rates, it’s expected that 60% of all coral reefs will be highly or critically threatened by 2030.
High ocean temperatures can cause coral to expel the algae living in its tissue and turn white, a process called coral bleaching.
It’s an increasingly dire problem, given that oceans absorb 93% of the extra heat that greenhouse gases trap in the atmosphere. Recent research revealed that the seas are heating up 40% faster, on average, than the prior estimate.
The consequences of coral bleaching extend beyond the coral itself, since reefs house 25% of all marine life and provide the equivalent of $375 billion in goods and services each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
About 55% of the world’s oceans could suffer due to rising temperatures, acidification, decreasing oxygen, and other symptoms of climate change by 2030.
These largely irreversible changes will eventually force mass migrations of marine life, upend ocean ecosystems, and threaten human livelihoods that depend on the ocean, according to a 2017 study. Many species that can’t adapt could die out.
“Climate impacts are also going to exacerbate social inequality,” Levin said.
That’s because people with fewer resources will be less able to avoid the worst impacts.
“That National Climate Assessment shows that residents, for example, in rural communities who often have less capacity to adapt, are going to be especially hard-hit given their dependence on agriculture,” Levin explained.
She added: “You can think also of the scenario of the poor who live in cities who could be at greater exposure to heat stress if they lack air conditioning and heat waves increase in frequency and duration.”
Myrelis “Mara” Diaz never expected to move to the U.S. mainland. That wasn’t in her plans.
But on Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria raged through Puerto Rico and tore up her San Juan apartment complex, leaving residents without running water. An AmeriCorps worker, Diaz spent the following days lugging heavy jugs of water up the stairs for her neighbors. She’d come home without food for herself. One day on a water delivery, when she tripped on the stairs and bruised a chunk of her leg, she decided she’d had enough.
Diaz, now 28, refers to herself as a climate change refugee. Less than two months after the hurricane hit, the graduate student fled Puerto Rico and relocated to Arizona for a new job, leaving the rest of her family behind.
“I’m in love with my island,” Diaz said. “This is not something that I chose for myself.”
Diaz is a part of Ecomadres, a program for Latinas fighting for clean air, and just one of dozens who traveled to Dallas to testify Thursday against the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to roll back methane emissions standards.
It was the only public hearing on President Donald Trump’s proposed rollback of protections, and it attracted dozens of environmental activists — many of them mothers — from all over the country, several of whom held back tears and trembled as they described the impacts that air pollution had on their lives. Several said they had lived near oilfields and had noticed their children’s health significantly decline.
EPA officials estimated the rule change would save the oil and gas industry $17 million to $19 million a year, and increase methane emissions by 370,000 short tons by the end of 2025. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that has 28 to 36 times the impact of carbon dioxide on global warming over a 100-year span, according to the EPA.
Michael Abboud, an EPA spokesman, said in a statement Thursday that the rule would “remove regulatory duplication” and save the oil and gas industry millions in compliance costs every year, “while maintaining health and environmental protection.” The agency has received 963 comments so far on the new standards, he said. Written statements will be accepted until Nov. 25.
“EPA will review and consider all comments in the development of the final rule,” Abboud said.
Speakers at the hearing in the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse included residents from southern Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Sharon Wilson, a Dallas-based senior organizer for the environmental nonprofit Earthworks, said her son fell into a serious state of depression after he graduated from college because of climate change. She held up a photo of him to the three-member panel of EPA officials, and said many millennials felt a sense of “despair” over what’s to come.
“When you go home, see his face,” Wilson said. “See my tears and find the courage to do the right thing.”
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, came to support the rollback and said the oil and gas industry is still committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning into cleaner energy sources.
“The vast majority of production will be covered by this rule,” Sgamma said Thursday.
But even Native American leaders from tribes who have come to rely on the oil and gas industry’s revenues testified in opposition to the EPA proposal.
Carol Davis, a Navajo Nation member and coordinator of environmental nonprofit Diné CARE, said tribal communities have suffered from oil and gas companies’ methane waste on their land and are committed to transitioning to a clean energy economy.
Shaina Oliver, a Navajo Nation tribal member and advocate in Mom’s Clean Air Force in Denver, broke down in tears in her testimony as she told EPA officials they had an obligation to respect indigenous peoples’ voices and rights over their land.
“It’s really hurtful to see the people’s stories and to hear their pain,” Oliver said.
For Diaz, every moment she spends away from her island home is a reminder of the day she lost everything due to climate change, she said.
Some experts attribute the extreme amount of rainfall dumped by Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico to climate change, and they worry the intensity of hurricanes will only become greater.
Diaz came to tell her story for her nieces, she said, who still live in Puerto Rico and who are more likely to experience displacement.
“I urge you,” she said fighting back tears,”to keep methane pollution safeguards, to fight climate change and demonstrate your commitment to our communities and our children.”
Climate change is already here. It’s not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting US senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.
But these early omens of our unstable, hot, wet future can be difficult to wrap our heads around. So Teen Vogue partnered with the team at the nonprofit news service Nexus Media, who developed a timeline predicting how climate change could affect three major US cities over the course of the 21st century. Climate change will look different in different places across the world, but we chose three places with distinct geographic concerns and climate vulnerabilities—to ground all the ominous statistics and headlines in a real sense of place. These are cities you may have visited, or where you may have family, or where you may even live.
According to the research Nexus compiled, St. Louis will see flooding, extreme heat, severe rainfall, and drought in the surrounding farmland. In Houston, on the Gulf of Mexico, hurricanes will grow more destructive and temperatures will soar. San Francisco will witness rising sea levels, fierce wildfires, and extreme drought.
This timeline is based on interviews with a dozen climate experts and a review of several dozen scientific studies. The projections assume an average sea level rise of six feet by 2100—a little more in some places, and less in others—and the business-as-usual emissions scenario, which assumes that we will continue to pollute and use fossil fuels at our current rate.
Rather than a scientific assessment, it is a rigorously researched prediction of what our future could bring unless we come together as a country and as a global community—fast—to address climate change as the crisis it is.
As Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, put it: “The future is not set in stone. Some amount of change is inevitable. It’s as if we’ve been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for decades, but we don’t have lung cancer yet.”
“The amount of change that we’re going to see—whether it’s serious, whether it’s dangerous, whether it’s devastating, whether it’s civilization-threatening—the amount of change we’re going to see is up to us,” she continued. “It depends on our choices today and in the next few years.”
Houston’s starting to get hot. It’s now about one degree fahrenheit warmer in Houston than it was in the second half of the 20th century. Houstonians can expect especially balmy falls this decade, as autumns are warming faster than other seasons in Texas.
Houston knows how much it stands to lose from climate change. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated the city, which was supercharged by warm waters in the Gulf. But Houston is also helping to drive the rise in temperature. Several major oil companies and a vast network of oil refineries and petrochemical plants call the city home.
This decade, St. Louis is expected to be more than two degrees fahrenheit warmer than it was, on average, during the latter half of the 20th century. While locals have endured more sweltering summer days, they have felt the change the most during the cold months. Missouri winters are warming faster than summers, springs, and falls.
Warmer air holds more water, which can lead to more severe rainfall. In recent years, rainstorms have pummeled the Midwest and led to widespread flooding across the region. In 2019 in St. Louis, rivers reached near-historic levels, and floodwaters inundated the area around the city’s iconic Gateway Arch.
For San Franciscans, the beginning of the decade will feel only a little different from past years. In 2020, it’s expected to be less than one degree fahrenheit warmer in San Francisco than it was, on average, between 1950 and 2000. The change is small, but locals can sometimes feel it in the spring, which is warming faster than the other seasons, or on especially hot days.
But there are new worries for the city. Rising temperatures have fueled ongoing drought in recent years, which has, in turn, led to more wildfires. Fires now burn more regularly across the Sierra Nevada as well as coastal mountain ranges. The flames may ruin plans for weekend getaways to Yosemite or deliver noxious smoke to the Bay Area. And locals may start to reach for air masks as dangerously smoky days become more common.
“We get a lot of the smoke that comes from the wildfires that happen in inland California, and that makes it really hard to breathe the air,” said Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who is based in San Francisco. “Last year when there was a massive wildfire hundreds of miles away, San Francisco for a day [ranked among] the worst air quality in the entire world.”
By 2030, temperatures are expected to have warmed almost two degrees fahrenheit in Houston. Seas are expected to have risen a little more than a foot, enough to occasionally flood some low-lying areas outside the city. Warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico will raise the speed limit for winds during hurricanes and ramp up rainfall during storms.
“Hurricanes are not getting more frequent, but they are getting stronger and bigger and slower,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. “They’re intensifying faster and they have a lot more rain associated with them today than they would have had a hundred years ago.”
By 2030, temperatures are expected to have warmed around three degrees fahrenheit in St. Louis. The kind of rainstorm that currently strikes the Midwest around once every five years will hit around once every three years this decade.
“We’ve seen these record-breaking, devastating floods in the Midwest,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. “It’s not like they’ve never had floods before, but the floods are just getting a lot worse and a lot more frequent.”
This could mean trouble for local infrastructure. Rivers swell after heavy rains, and the rush of water can weaken bridges by carrying away sediment from around their foundations. This could be a big problem in Missouri, which is home to hundreds of aging bridges, many of which have been deemed deficient. Climate change could mean even more heavy repair costs for taxpayers.
This decade, the rise in temperature is expected to pass two degrees fahrenheit in San Francisco. That may not feel like a lot in the city. But warmer weather is taking a serious toll.
California’s drought will get progressively worse this decade, the product of warmer temperatures drying out soil and meager rainfall failing to replace the water lost. Rising temperatures will also yield less snowfall. The snow that does come down will melt in the spring and early summer, depriving the state of a critical source of water in the late summer, when, historically, melting snow has fed streams and rivers.
The snow drought will strain farmers in the Central Valley, while putting pressure on cities to use less water. The water restrictions the state put in place in 2018 will have grown much more severe in the past 12 years. Officials could urge Californians across the state to take shorter showers and stop watering their lawns to cope with the worsening drought.
This decade, sea level rise around Houston is projected to reach two feet, enough to inundate much of nearby Freeport and Jamaica Beach. That extra water will mean that hurricanes, when they strike, will deliver more powerful floods to coastal areas.
“A small and steady rise of the water level elevates a platform for flooding that we’ve had throughout history,” said Maya Buchanan, a sea level rise scientist at Climate Central. “That means larger storm surges.”
That’s bad news for people who live near the shore. Around half of deaths caused by hurricanes are the result of coastal flooding, and waters tend to inundate poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color, which are more likely to lie in flood-prone areas.
In 2040, St. Louis is expected to be four degrees fahrenheit warmer than it was at the end of the last century. While that may sound like a small number, it means big problems for the city. A small uptick in the average temperature could lead to milder winters, stifling summers, and changing rainfall.
St. Louis will tend to see wetter springs and drier summers. That means the region will withstand heavier downpours, but it will also endure long stretches without a drop of rain. Despite the growing peril of major flooding, extended dry spells and rising temperatures will dry out the land. Drought will set in in Missouri, endangering farms.
And just remember—it will never be this cool again.
By 2040, sea levels are predicted to rise around one foot, enough to encroach the beaches on the west side of the city and Candlestick Point on the east, popular recreation areas. Parts of San Francisco Airport and Oakland Airport will flood regularly, making air travel in and out of the city more difficult.
Drought will have grown increasingly severe. Forests will dry out, and become vulnerable to bark beetles, which burrow into trees to lay their eggs. Healthy trees can ward off the bugs by covering them in resin—but already struggling trees have no way to protect themselves.
Large parts of forests will die, and the dead trees will become tinder for wildfire. In 2040, fires are expected to burn around twice as much of the Sierra Nevada as they do today. Areas south of San Francisco will also grow more vulnerable to erupting in flames.
By midcentury, temperatures are expected to have warmed more than three degrees fahrenheit in Houston. Waters in the Gulf of Mexico will have also warmed, fueling more dangerous storms.
In the decades to come, the Gulf will see more category-four and -five hurricanes, like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Katrina, according to Suzana Camargo, a climate scientist at Columbia University. Warm water is like ammunition for cyclones, arming them with more powerful winds and heavier rains. People might want to think twice before they purchase a home in Houston.
“I think people have to think very carefully how they are going to plan when they want to buy a house,” Camargo said, explaining that in the future, cyclones will deliver more flooding to seaside cities and towns.
St. Louis is expected to have heated up by more than five degrees fahrenheit on average by the middle of the century. Hot weather will dry out soil. Past 2050, the Central Plains, including much of Missouri, can look forward to decades-long drought.
This drought will be especially disastrous for Missouri farmers. Growers will have to take more water out of underground aquifers to feed their crops, drawing down a limited supply of groundwater, often at great cost. This, in turn, could drive up the price of food.
By 2050, temperatures in San Francisco are expected to have risen more than three degrees fahrenheit. In the second half of this century, changing weather patterns will yield lasting dry spells, leaving much of California to endure long stretches without rain. Around the time someone graduating high school today turns 50, they can expect California to enter a decades-long drought—with disastrous consequences.
Farmers in California will have to draw more and more water from underground. Eventually, they may not be able to grow fruits and vegetables in parts of the state. This will drive up the cost of many foods, such as strawberries, almonds, and lemons.
Snow will also start to disappear from the Sierra Nevada. By 2050, projections say, there will be a third less snow than we see today. San Francisco depends on that snow for its water, and a dry Sierra Nevada could mean a looming water crisis for the city.
The drought will also leave California’s forests all the more vulnerable to wildfire—fires that could cover San Francisco in smoke, making it dangerous to go outside.
By 2060, temperatures are expected to have warmed by more than four degrees fahrenheit. The city could see up to 25 days a year with temperatures over 100 degrees fahrenheit.
Local sea level rise, meanwhile, is expected reach three feet during this decade. This will raise the level of Buffalo Bayou, the waterway that stretches through the middle of Houston. The Scholes International Airport in nearby Galveston will sink into the sea, and at high tide, water will flood much of the San Jacinto Battleground, site of the 1836 clash where Sam Houston, the city’s namesake, overcame the Mexican Army.
St. Louis is expected hit a six-degrees-fahrenheit increase in its average temperature this decade. While this might be bad news for humans, it’s good for many insects, who love warm weather. Rising temperatures will bring disease-carrying mosquitoes to St. Louis’s doorstep. Missourians will have to be more vigilant about their health as the bugs could spread tropical viruses like Zika, dengue, and yellow fever around the warming Midwest.
Climate change will also bring more deer ticks to St. Louis. Because warmer air can hold more water, as temperatures rise, so does humidity—and deer ticks thrive in humid weather. While ticks are little seen in Missouri today, later this century they will fan out across the state, potentially spreading Lyme disease. Those afflicted will endure fever, headache, and fatigue. They may see their joints swell or feel their face droop.
By 2060, temperatures in San Francisco are expected to have risen by more than four degrees fahrenheit.
Wildfires will burn roughly three times as much of broad swaths of the Sierra Nevada as they do today, laying waste to large stretches of California’s pristine forests.
This decade, sea level rise is projected hit two feet. Water will begin to spill over the edges of the Mission Creek Channel, while threatening routine floods around San Francisco’s iconic Fisherman’s Wharf. Waters will have flooded much of nearby San Rafael, north of San Francisco. To the south, Foster City will be underwater, displacing thousands of residents—many of whom currently work in the tech industry.
By 2070, Houston is projected to be more than five degrees fahrenheit hotter than at the end of the 20th century. This warming is part of a larger trend that is heating up the planet and melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica, raising the sea level near the city.
“As flooding events get more severe, that can impact property values, and that could impact where people decide to live,” Buchanan said, explaining that rising seas will drive down the value of homes in low-lying areas.
By this time, waters will have already subsumed much of the coastline from Freeport, south of Houston, all the way to New Orleans. Rising seas will make much of the Gulf coast unrecognizable as the ocean swallows up most of southern Louisiana. Later this decade, sea levels are expected to have risen by four feet.
In 2070, St. Louis is projected to be more than seven degrees fahrenheit hotter than it was at the end of the last century. Before the decade is through, the city is expected to see eight degrees fahrenheit of warming. Rising temperatures will have utterly transformed the weather in Missouri, making it virtually unrecognizable to current residents. The city will see around 20 fewer days of frost each year than it does today, as well as around 20 extra days with temperatures over 95 degrees fahrenheit. The heat will be felt most acutely in neighborhoods short on trees and parks.
Outside the city, severe heat will cripple the growth of corn and soybeans at nearby farms. So will drought, which experts say will be worse than at any time in living memory. The state will endure more consecutive days without rain. When it does rain, however, it will pour. Warmer temperatures will produce more extreme rainfall.
By 2070, San Francisco’s average temperature is expected to have warmed by more than five degrees fahrenheit. Drought will be more severe than at any time in living memory. Rising temperatures and diminished rainfall will take a toll on trees around the San Francisco Bay. More and more evergreen forests will die off and grasslands will spring up in their place, fundamentally changing the landscape around the city.
By 2080, temperatures are projected to have warmed around six degrees fahrenheit on average, a dizzying change in the weather that means Houston won’t feel like Houston anymore.
The city will grow warmer and wetter. Around 2080, Houston will feel something like Ciudad Mante in Mexico does today, with its warmer, drier winter.
As the climate changes, Houston’s native wildlife could start to head north. At the same time, plants and animals that currently make their home south of Houston may start to work their way toward the city.
St. Louis is expected to be nearly nine degrees fahrenheit warmer by 2080. The temperature will have changed so drastically that St. Louis no longer feels like the same city.
Around 2080, St. Louis will start to feel like Prosper, Texas, does today. This new St. Louis will be hotter and drier. Summer weather will go from balmy to sweltering, and the city will see much less rain during the warm months.
It’s not just that St. Louis will feel more like Prosper. It might start to look like it too. Animals that currently live around Prosper could head northward as the climate changes, searching for a new home that feels like their old one. At the same time, the shrubs and grasslands that stretch across north Texas could start to edge their way toward Missouri.
By 2080, the average temperature is expected to have risen by more than six degrees fahrenheit in San Francisco. The city will start to feel a lot like present-day Los Angeles. The weather will be warmer and drier, much like the current climate in Palos Verdes Estates, a coastal city in the Los Angeles area.
With less rainfall, many of the trees that make their home in San Francisco will die. At the same time, the smaller, scrubbier plants that make their home in LA could migrate toward the city. It’s not just that San Francisco will start to feel like LA, scientists say. It might start to look like it too.
By now, temperatures are projected to have warmed close to seven degrees fahrenheit, while sea levels will have risen five feet, subsuming the coastline. Much of nearby Galveston is underwater.
It’s not just hot days that threaten Houston. Rising temperatures will allow the air to hold more water, increasing humidity—which could be a big problem for public health.
“As humidity rises, it becomes harder and harder for the sweat to evaporate off our skin—and it’s that evaporation of sweat that cools our bodies,” said Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “So it might only be a temperature reading of 90 degrees, but if you have 60% humidity, it’s going to feel hotter than 90 degrees.”
Dahl said that Houston will heat up so much that it will be hard to quantify how hot it will feel.
“By the end of the century, Houston would see about three weeks of what we call off-the-charts heat conditions, which are when the combination of temperature and humidity falls above the national weather services heat index scale,” she said. “What that means is that we can’t even calculate a heat index to reliably warn people about how dangerous it is.”
St. Louis is expected to have warmed by almost 10 degrees fahrenheit, a transformational change in the climate of the city. Rising temperatures could provoke a spike in violent crime—when people are hot, research shows, they tend to feel more aggressive.
By the end of the century, St. Louis will endure around 80 days per year where the heat index is above 100 degrees—compared to just 11 days at the end of the 20th century, according to Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“It’s really striking because historically those off-the-charts conditions have only occurred in the Sonoran desert region of the US, the California-Arizona border,” Dahl said.
In addition to extreme heat, the city will also endure severe drought, punctuated by the occasional supercharged rainstorm. The kind of downpour that currently strikes the Midwest around once every five years will hit around once every year or two. The most severe storms—the kind that currently show up once every 20 years—now arrive once every six or seven years.
Heavy rainfall will lead to flooding, and floodwaters will mix with raw sewage, helping to spread bacteria. Rains will also swamp homes and businesses, offering a place for mold to grow.
By now, San Francisco is projected to have heated up more than seven degrees fahrenheit on average. The extra heat will mean many people will be spending more time outdoors, potentially leading to a spike in violent crime.
The state will be mired in lasting drought. Wildfires could consume around four times as much of the Sierra Nevada as they do today, as well as forests closer to San Francisco, endangering locals.
The Bay Area is expected to have seen more than three feet of sea level rise. The San Francisco and Oakland Airports will be completely underwater. Across the bay, coastal flooding will inundate parts of Alameda. Low-lying areas on the south end of the San Francisco Bay will also be flooded, including some of San Jose.
By the end of this century, temperatures are expected to have warmed close to eight degrees fahrenheit in Houston. In the summer, Houston will feel something like Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, does today. High temperatures will average over 100 degrees fahrenheit during the warmest months.
By making life harder for workers, severe hotter weather will shrink the economy of the greater Houston area by 6%. Extreme heat will also kill hundreds more people each year. Poorer neighborhoods tend to be warmer, in part because they tend to have fewer trees. People who live in those neighborhoods are also less likely to have air conditioners, which will put them at greater risk.
On top of the heat, Houston is expected to have seen close to six feet of sea level rise by 2100. Waters encroach on the east side of town near the water, where oil refineries and chemical plants could continue to service our catastrophic addiction to oil and gas. Routine flooding of these facilities may cause dangerous explosions and potentially release toxic chemicals into the air.
Much of the city, however, will stay safe from the encroaching sea. That means Houston could absorb hundreds of thousands of new residents by 2100—people who were driven from Miami and New Orleans by ever-worsening coastal floods.
By the end of this century, St. Louis is expected to have warmed by roughly 11 degrees fahrenheit. Winter will scarcely look like winter. Summers will have gone from hot to unbearable.
During the hottest months, it will be so scorching that it will be dangerous to go outside for much of the day. People will depend more on air conditioners to stay cool, leading to bigger electric bills. Elderly people, particularly those who can’t afford to run an air conditioner, will face the risk of heat stroke and death.
The intense heat will take an immense toll on the local economy. Farms in Missouri and southern Illinois could see yields cut in half, ruining livelihoods.
In St. Louis itself, experts project that heat will stifle productivity by making it too hot to work. This could help cut the city’s economic output by around 8%.
By 2100, San Francisco is expected to have heated up by more than eight degrees fahrenheit on average. It will be hot and dry. Snow will be hard to find in the Sierra Nevada. By 2100, the mountain range will see two thirds less snow than we see today, depriving San Francisco of a much-needed water source.
Seas will have risen four feet, projections say. Large parts of Alameda will be underwater. Hunters Point will have flooded, as well as much of Mission Bay. And flooding won’t be limited to San Francisco.
Sea level rise could flood the homes of 13 million Americans by the end of the century, leading to a massive exodus from many coastal areas. By one estimate, rising seas in places like Oakland, Alameda, and San Mateo could spur close to 300,000 residents to move to inland cities in Arizona, Texas, and New Jersey. It is the poorest neighborhoods that will be the most vulnerable to floods.
Editor’s note: This story is based on RCP 8.5, the so-called “business-as-usual” emissions scenario that assumes that Earth will continue to heavily rely on fossil fuels as the global economy grows. Per Nexus Media, “As we are currently doing virtually nothing to stop climate change, RCP 8.5 is a pretty good predictor of what’s going to happen over the next couple of decades. Part of that is because it will take a while for the climate to reach a new equilibrium, so even if we stopped polluting now, the planet would continue to warm for decades.” It looks at a sea level rise of six feet, on average, globally, based on the findings of this widely-cited 2014 study.
People watch the Isuzu River swollen by Typhoon Hagibis, in Ise, central Japan Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)
As Typhoon Hagibis (which translates to “speed” in Filipino) approached landfall, the U.S. Geological Survey registered a 5.3 magnitude earthquake centered off the coast of Tokyo. It was considered to be a deep quake, which can cause less damage compared to more shallow ones.
A tornado also ripped through Chiba, a town north of Tokyo. At least five people were injured.
Destroyed house and vehicle are seen following a strong wind in Ichihara, Chiba, near Tokyo Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Tokyo and surrounding areas braced for a powerful typhoon forecast as the worst in six decades, with streets and trains stations unus
According to local reports, at least one person has died as a result of the typhoon and more than 50 were injured.
At the time of this publication, four people were reported missing.
Japan’s rugby team player Jiwon Koo, carries teammate James Moore in a flooded walkway at a stadium in Tokyo as the team practices ahead of their match against Scotland, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Tokyo and surrounding areas braced for a powerful typhoon forecast as the worst in six decades, with streets and trains stations unusually quiet Saturday as rain poured over the city. (Yuki Sato/Kyodo News via AP)
Cancellations included Japan Airlines and Nippon Airways, which grounded many of its domestic and international flights from the country’s main airports.
Also closed was the Tokyo Disneyland, along with a number of department stores and smaller shops throughout Tokyo.
WDW News Today@WDWNT
A photo of Tokyo Disneyland closed due to the typhoon
The first few days of the season haven’t felt much like fall at all for many across the United States. From snow storms to heat waves — hello? Did we miss something? What happened to mild temperatures and colorful leaves?
Here’s a look at three wild weather events that marked the start of season.
Record-breaking snowfall in the Northwest
“This has never happened, ever,” said Ray Greely, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls, Montana, about the September snowfall. The city got 9.7 inches of snow on September 28 — the highest one-day September snow amount in Great Falls history.
But that’s not where the craziness ends. Even higher amounts fell in other areas in Montana: Browning got 4 feet, the Dupuyer area got 37 inches and the Heart Butte area got 34 inches.
History was made in Missoula, where the city broke its September snowfall record of 1.5 inches set in 1934.
Montana saw record snowfall in late September.
Spokane, Washington, got in on the action. The 1.9 inches of snow on September 28 broke the monthly record for September, set in 1926, of 1.4 inches, according to the weather service.
And a heat wave in the East
“You would imagine its sometime in early September, maybe even in the latter portion of August, because temps [are] running 10 to 15 degrees above average,” said CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri at the end of September, predicting that the summer heat would last into October.
He hasn’t been wrong. Nashville reached 97 degrees on October 1, making it the warmest October day in the city’s history.
And that’s not all. Pensacola, Florida, reached a high of 96 degrees on the same day, shattering the record high temperature for the month of October. Indianapolis, Asheville, North Carolina and Charleston, West Virginia, were among the dozens of other cities that broke October heat records with temperatures in the 90s on the first day of the month.
These hot temperatures should be dissipating in the next few days across the country.
Plus, a Category 5 hurricane, not where you think it’d be
Yes, you read that right. Former Hurricane Lorenzo strengthened into a Category 5 storm on September 28, before weakening into a Category 3 the next day.
But its (brief) strength isn’t the only thing that makes Lorenzo remarkable. It’s the strongest hurricane recorded so far north and east in the Atlantic, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm has since headed to our neighbors across the pond, bringing wind and rain to Ireland and parts of the United Kingdom this week. Though the effects of the storm have largely died off, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said it was a rare event for the UK to have a wind storm from a system that was a hurricane.
Phoenix, one of the hottest and fastest-warming cities in the US, could be hit by “a [Hurricane] Katrina of extreme heat” with temperatures peaking in the 120s and lingering for two weeks. In a heat wave like this, the power grid would succumb to brownouts and blackouts and many elderly would die in their homes. (Complete story here.)
Southern California could see a wildfire that burns a total of 1.5 million acres. Smoke from the blazes could carry at least 100 miles west into Los Angeles and 100 miles south to San Diego, leading to hazardous air quality throughout the region and thousands of hospitalizations. Well over 100,000 structures would likely be destroyed and hundreds could die the flames. “The damage would likely be massive, potentially dwarfing what we have seen recently,” David Sapsis, a scientist with Cal Fire who reviewed the simulated fire, told me. (Complete story here.)
Tampa Bay is one of the areas in the US most at risk when hurricanes arrive because of its location, growing population, and the geography of the bay. If a Category 5 hurricane makes a direct hit on the bay, parts of Pinellas County — which is home to St. Petersburg — will temporarily become an island. People who choose to remain — or can’t evacuate — might be trapped. (Complete story here.)
For the Vox series, the Big Ones, we asked scientists about worst-case extreme weather scenarios for three vulnerable regions of the United States. Each of these events we described in these stories would be an outlier, a rare, extreme event, the far end of bad. But climate change is, broadly, rendering these kinds of events more severe, and in some cases more frequent, in many parts of the country.
And even if one of these events were to happen, even at a lesser degree of severity, it would still be extraordinarily costly, both in terms of human lives and other losses. The kind of event you’d wish you’d prepared for better, if you were a citizen, or a government official.
It’s clear these regions — Tampa Bay, Southern California, and Phoenix, along with countless others with similar vulnerabilities — are not doing enough to reduce the impact of these kinds of events, at this level of severity or at a milder but still damaging level. They’re still building in the path of tempests, still replacing heat-mitigating trees and soil with concrete. Government agencies are leaving millions of dead trees in the forest, ready to burn at the first spark.
With Hurricane Dorian, which recently slammed into the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm, most of the deaths have been recorded in the community of undocumented Haitians who work on golf courses but live in shanty towns. In the scenarios we’ve outlined, the poorest, most vulnerable people stand to lose the most as well.
Weknow these disasters may be coming, but we need not cower in fear of them
The New Yorker published an essay earlier this week by the decorated novelist Jonathan Franzen that chastised climate activists and scientists for their “unrealistic hope,” and belief that “catastrophe is theoretically avertable.” Franzen, a “doomer dude,” views the “climate war” as unwinnable. Rather than doing everything we can to reduce carbon emissions, we should divert resources to adaptation and conservation, he says.
Franzen seems to be quite misguided.Vox’s Sigal Samuel wrote a great piece dissecting the criticism scientists and advocates voiced, from Franzen’s characterization of the science and the politics to his take on human psychology and behavior around climate change.
“[I]t is precisely the fact that we understand the potential driver of doom that changes it from a foregone conclusion to a choice, a terrible outcome in the universe of all possible futures,” Kate Marvel, a prominent climate scientist, wrote Wednesday in a piece for Scientific American titled “Shut Up, Franzen.”
The whole kerfuffle is a great reminder of how tempting it is for doomers to strip the conversation about climate change down to binaries, and zero-sum positions. Mitigation or adaptation. Naive hope or realistic pessimism.
Ultimately, these don’t serve the conversation well. We’re much better off in the realm of nuance, balancing awareness of the possibly catastrophic consequences of our past, current, and future emissions with the ongoing opportunity to prevent a mounting burden of suffering for future humans.
As Mary Annaïse Heglar, a climate justice essayist and the director of publications at the Natural Resources Defense Council, put it: “It is absolutely possible to prepare for the disasters already, terrifyingly, upon us while also doing our damnedest to quit baking more in.”
Weknow these disasters may be coming, but we need not cower in fear of them. We can learn about them, and feel empowered to soften their blow.
Ultimately, these scary scenarios are worth contemplating because fear of impending disaster can be motivating; it can release us from the complacency that has kept us from insisting that our leaders get far more aggressive on reducing emissions. The growing threat of climate catastrophe can be a helpful nudge to leaders to up their ambition on decarbonization — and their disaster preparedness game at the same time — without succumbing to the Franzen-style cynicism of doom.