Tag: Climate change

As More-Powerful Hurricanes Batter the Country, Scientists Ask, ‘How Much Worse Did Climate Change Make It?’

Mexico Beach, Florida — When Hurricane Michael exploded in strength over the Gulf of Mexico in October 2018 and hit Florida with a devastating storm surge and 157 mile-per-hour winds, it marked the first Category 5 storm to reach the Panhandle and only the fifth to make landfall in the United States.

Michael reduced much of the Panhandle town of Mexico Beach to splinters and destroyed parts of other nearby communities. We saw the destruction firsthand while reporting here for The American Climate Project. It killed 16 people across the Southeast and is considered responsible for 43 other deaths in Florida, including from storm clean-up accidents and health issues worsened by the hurricane, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It inflicted about $25 billion of damage to the region, including about $5 billion alone at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City. The storm caused catastrophic damage in southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia, as well.

More than other weather disasters, hurricanes seem to prompt people to ask: Was climate change to blame?

That, climate scientists say, is the wrong question. People should, instead, be asking, “How much worse did climate change make it?” said Texas Tech climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe. Read more.

Also from InsideClimate News’ American Climate Project:
The Sound of Rain, the Crackle of Fire Take Victims Back to the Moment of Their Nightmares

The Sound of Rain, the Crackle of Fire Take Victims Back to the Moment of Their Nightmares

Daniel Hill remembers the indelible sounds: how the wind gusted like a dry hurricane, and the trees crackled before bursting into flame, and his neighbors’ propane and well-pressure tanks exploded as the Camp Fire swept through each block of his hometown of Concow.

In the early morning of Nov. 8, 2018, Daniel, with his family and friends, fought the blaze as its flames towered and swirled across their northern California farm. By midday, the fire would kill 85 people in Butte County and incinerate nearly the entire town of
Paradise, population 26,000, becoming the deadliest, most destructive fire in California history.

Disasters split people’s lives apart into a before and an after. Even as they move on, for victims of these disasters, the sounds from those disasters take them right back to the dark moments.

The tanks exploding during the Camp Fire told people their communities would soon become unrecognizable. The disembodied beeping of smoke detectors in piles of rubble after Hurricane Michael marked the destruction. In the aftermath, the familiar morning bustle of a small town disappeared, becoming a troubling silence instead. New sounds like the whine of chainsaws arrived during the rebuilding, which often added to the confusion of a newly unstable world. After the trauma, everyday sounds that once brought comfort — rainfall, the crackle of fire — now brought anguish and pain. Read more.

Also from InsideClimate News’ American Climate Project:
As More-Powerful Hurricanes Batter the Country, Scientists Ask, ‘How Much Worse Did Climate Change Make It?’

Most Superfund Sites in Alabama Are at Greater Threat Due to Climate Change

Eleven federal Superfund sites in Alabama — including two near Birmingham — are at greater risk from disasters such as flooding, hurricanes and wildfires due to the possible consequences of climate change, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Government Accounting Office.

Nationwide, at least 60 percent — 945 of 1,571 — of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund locations nationwide are threatened by warmer temperatures, rising seas and more intense storms expected from the changing climate, according to the “EPA Should Take Additional Actions to Manage Risks from Climate Change” report. Read more.

Changing Climate: Many in Coastal Alabama Act Now to Rebuild Shorelines, Prepare for Storms

Some Alabamians and the politicians they elect traditionally have denied global warming. But many people in coastal Alabama are preparing now for what they fear will be inevitable consequences of increased warming of the air and oceans. They see Mobile Bay and the Alabama coast as uniquely susceptible in the state to harm from forces of nature.

Money for their programs comes from a variety of public, private and institutional sources. Some dollars are being generated from a man-made disaster in the past – the BP Horizon oil spill. It’s being spent to help prepare the shoreline and bay for man-made disasters ahead as scientists say temperatures and sea level will rise, storms intensify, and the state will be slammed with more torrential rain alternating with periods of severe drought.

Here are two examples of those efforts.

Bayou la Batre’s Lightning Point

Judy Haner heads the Alabama chapter of nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, part of a collaboration of entities using oil spill money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore 40 acres of marsh, tidal creeks and other habitat for fish, shellfish and birds in Bayou la Batre. That small fishing and seafood processing town has not fully recovered from the twin hits of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP Horizon oil spill five years later. Read more.

Over the next year, BirminghamWatch will visit places in Alabama where ways of life have been affected as climate changes and look at what’s being done to mitigate or avoid the effects. This is the fourth in a series of four stories from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Read the earlier stories: Alabama Sees Heat, Storms, Drought and Turtles, Cloudy Future for Dauphin Island, a Canary in the Coal Mine of Climate Change , In Pursuit of the Disappearing Alabama Oyster. Will They Ever Return?

Changing Climate: In Pursuit of the Disappearing Alabama Oyster. Will They Ever Return?

Oysters, one of the vital signs of the health of Alabama’s coastal waters, were once a jewel of the state’s economy and a local delicacy. Now, wild oysters from the Mobile Bay area have almost entirely disappeared. With few exceptions, the oysters most of us now enjoy originate elsewhere.

Numbers tell the sad story: Wild oyster harvests from local reefs amounted to more than a million pounds annually in the early 1950s. In the one-week 2017 season, only a negligible amount was taken. And the 2018 season was cancelled due to the lack of young oysters found when the Marine Resources Division surveyed public reefs.

The Alabama Marine Resources Division announced Nov. 1 that limited areas of public oyster bottoms will be opened for harvest beginning Nov.11. “Our surveys of the public oyster bottoms show that there are enough legal-size oysters in some areas to allow for a limited harvest,” said Scott Bannon, director of the division.

The cause of the collapse of the industry has many influences, not least of which is the destruction of oyster reefs by human hands. But other factors are attributed to climate change’s rising temperatures, more powerful storms, more torrential rains and increased acid in ocean waters. The secondary effects include poor water quality, changing salinity and low oxygen concentration. Read more.

Cloudy Future for Dauphin Island, a Canary in the Coal Mine of Climate Change

Over the next year, BirminghamWatch will visit places in Alabama where ways of life have been affected as climate changes and look at what’s being done to mitigate or avoid the effects. This is the second in a series of four stories from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Read the first story, Changing Climate: Alabama Sees Heat, Storms, Drought and Turtles

Along coastal Alabama lies Dauphin Island, a narrow, shifting strip of sand inhabited by a laid-back vacation town that is becoming more endangered with every passing storm and every incremental rise in the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Dauphin is one of perhaps 2,200 barrier islands that make up 10% to 12% of the globe’s coastline. They help absorb the blows of nature and suffer greatly for it, either eroding dramatically from catastrophic hurricane forces or gradually, almost imperceptibly, from constant wave action.

These sandy, offshore bodies are potent poster children for our planet’s warming, part of a natural, 100,000-year cycle that, according to most scientists, has greatly accelerated since the birth of the Industrial Age.

That transformative age was and largely continues to be powered by the burning of carbon-based fuels, principally coal. Almost 60 percent of emissions from such fossil fuels remain in the atmosphere and is largely responsible for global warming. That coal is to blame lends irony to the view that fragile Dauphin Island is a canary in the coal mine of climate change.

No doubt there remains a veneer of resistance to this scientific consensus – few political leaders of red-state Alabama voice agreement with the voice of science on this matter. Yet, on Dauphin Island, realpolitik is at work as the town begins to consider how to respond to the question of its own survival. Read more.

Changing Climate: Alabama Sees Heat, Storms, Drought and Turtles

Over the next year, BirminghamWatch will visit places in Alabama where ways of life have been affected as climate changes and look at what’s being done to mitigate or avoid the effects. This is the first in a series of four stories from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Next week, read about the impact climate change is having on Dauphin Island.

Alabama’s a long way from the South Pole, but Jim McClintock knows the places are connected. For decades, the UAB researcher has been witnessing effects of climate change on the polar region. He sees that his state is starting to feel the impacts, as well, and predicts greater changes ahead.

From his vantage point as a UAB polar biology researcher, McClintock has seen the future in vast chunks of ice breaking off from the southern continent and he’s seeing how it affects sea levels on the Alabama coast.

He sees how some small and large flora and fauna that used to thrive in the polar cold are suffering as temperatures rise. They either adapt to the warming waters and atmosphere or give way to others that expand their habitat southward.

Scientist Ken Heck not only sees the sea rise onto beaches near the Dauphin Island Sea Lab he directs, but also watches the movement of subtropical species such as mangrove trees into the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Parrot fish, black snapper and green sea turtles also are extending their range northward, and with the intrusion comes change. Read more.

Birmingham-Hoover Metro Among Top Areas Predicted to Suffer Economically From Climate Change

Alabama will be among the states most hit in the pocket book by changes due to global warming this century, even as it seems most Trumpian in its opposition to the issue.

The Birmingham-Hoover metro area is among the nation’s top 15 metro areas that will experience negative economic effects from increased heat and extreme weather events and other consequences.

A new county-by-county study by the Brookings Institution shows Alabama counties are among those facing the biggest long-term losses in income by the end of the 21st century. The analysis found that the top 10 states whose economy would suffer most include Alabama and eight others that voted for Trump, who has consistently downplayed or derided the idea of global warming.

In other words, people who are most exposed to climate impacts consistently vote for people who are opposed to doing much to mitigate climate change.

Adding insult to injury, a recent Department of Defense document named Reagan Operations Center in Huntsville and Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery as among the installations currently or in the future vulnerable to climate effects as it assessed “operational risks.” Flooding and damage from stronger, more frequent events such as hurricanes, health and safety effects from increased temperatures, and greater land management issues are among the risks named.

These warnings came just as congressional Democrats prepare to lay out a Green New Deal that envisions economic benefits of policies that would ameliorate the effects of global warming. Read more.

If National Climate Goals Disappear, What Happens in Alabama?

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement thrilled his backers in solid red Alabama and alarmed the state’s environmentalists, who say Alabama is less prepared than other places to handle on its own the effects of a warming planet.

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan called the Paris accord ineffective, too-costly, toothless and “not in our best interests.” Both of Alabama’s U.S. senators signed letters backing the nation’s withdrawal from the pact.

Nationally, environmentalists called for states and cities to continue to work to solve problems, especially the impact carbon dioxide emissions have on global warming. But those solutions “are virtually nonexistent in Alabama,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp, a health advocacy organization headquartered in Birmingham. “There are no plans to reduce climate risks, nor have we implemented any adaptation strategies.” Read more.