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Florida Emergency Declared as More Than 100 Wildfires Burn Across the State

The effects of global warming on temperature, precipitation levels, and soil moisture are turning many of our forests into kindling during wildfire season.The Union of Concerned Scientists

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Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency yesterday as a deepening drought and above average temperatures sparked a large wildfire outbreak.

(Florida is now under a state of emergency due to widespread wildfires.)

Over 100 wildfires across the state have now burned 20,000 acres, destroyed 19 homes, and blanketed dense population centers like Orlando with smoke. Moderate to severe drought conditions cover 42 percent of the state. And the result is the worst fire season since 2011 — a record outbreak for Florida which burned over 200,000 acres during the year.

So far for 2017, about 2.5 times the area of land that burns during a usual wildfire season by mid April has already been consumed.  Fires are now burning from one end of Florida to the other:

“From St. George Island in the Panhandle to a wildfire just north of one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions in Orlando, we’re seeing that every area of our state is susceptible to wildfire,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said.

(Moderate to severe drought across 42 percent of Florida is increasing fire risk. The dry season for this region typically lasts until June when Atlantic moisture arrives — bringing with it more frequent thunderstorms. Image source: The U.S. Drought Monitor.)

Florida wildfire season typically runs year-round. However, January to June sees higher fire risk as drier conditions settle in. Summer rains tend to tamp down fires during the hotter months as oceanic and gulf moisture flows increase.

This year, record to near record warm sea surface conditions in the Gulf of Mexico have helped to lock in warmer to much warmer than average temperatures over Florida from January to April. These warmer than normal temperatures have helped to promote drought onset during the dry season.

(As global temperatures have increased, so too have the number of acres burned by wildfires. Image source: US EPA.)

Climate change also plays a role by increasing rates of drought onset, by pushing average temperatures higher, and by generally amplifying wildfire risk. Like many places, Florida has probably been rendered more vulnerable to wildfires by a warming primarily brought on by fossil fuel burning. And it is also a sad irony that the present Governor has outlawed the use of the words climate change in government communications due to a harmful political ideology which has decided to deny the basic science of human-caused warming (Trump has issued similar gag orders). A backward and reactionary policy that renders Florida less able to mitigate and respond to disasters related to human-caused climate change.

Presently, drought conditions are not as intense as those that contributed to the severe 2011 wildfire outbreak. However, forecasters are calling for little rain over the coming week and continued warm to warmer than normal weather. If this weather continues, the present Florida drought is likely to worsen — along with the fire risk.

(UPDATED)

Links:

The U.S. Drought Monitor

Florida Governor Declares State of Emergency as Destructive Wildfires Rage Across State

Polk County Emergency Management

Florida Wildfire State of Emergency

Is Global Warming Fueling Increased Fire Risks?

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The Rains of Climate Change, Voracious Locust Swarms Wreck Crops in Russia

This year was supposed to set new records for Russian grain production. But that was before a persistent trough in the Jet Stream funneled storm after storm over the Ukraine through Western and Central Russia setting off record extreme rainfall events. Before a swarm of locusts invading further north earlier than is typical ravaged over 170,000 ares of corn in Southern Russia. Now the combined insect plague and stormy weather has put cereal crops at risk of shortfalls.

Planting Season Disrupted by Severe Rains

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(A big polar amplification enhanced dip in the Jet Stream over Central and Western Russia set off record heavy rains during May, putting the cereal growing season in jeopardy. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

For Western and Central Russia, May was a terrible month for planting season. Warming in the Arctic aided in the generation of numerous high amplitude Jet Stream waves. These waves, in turn, generated a deep trough zone over Central and Western Russia. As with many recent climate change related weather features, the trough stuck around. And a series of seemingly endless storms dumped between 2 and 6 times the normal amount of rainfall over Russia’s most productive growing zone.

The rains prevented or slowed the rate of seed planting. For Central Russia, planting all but halted. Now some estimates are hinting that Russia may miss its record grain harvest target. Andrey Sizov Jr., managing director at consultant SovEcon in Moscow stated to AGWeb today that:

“There’s too much rain. Planting all but stopped in the center. If rains continue, there will be no record” grain crop.

Locust Swarm Devours 10 Percent of Southern Russia’s Corn Crop

(A massive locust swarm blackens the skies over Southern Russia. The early swarm is already reported to have devoured a big portion of the region’s corn crop — prompting officials there to declare a state of emergency.)

New doubts over Russia’s grain harvest also emerged after media reports indicated that 10 percent or 170,000 ares of Southern Russia’s corn crop was destroyed by a massive swarm of locusts during late May and early June. The swarm is part of an annual arrival of the insects from North Africa. But this year, warmer than normal weather conditions — enhanced by the hot air dredged up ahead of the rainy trough to the north — are thought to have spurred breeding, swelled the size of the swarm, and aided in its early arrival.

Last year, a voracious locust swarm also devoured a significant portion of Southern Russia’s crops during mid to late summer. Sadly, the swarm this year has likely only just gotten started — meaning that with most of summer ahead, there’s a risk that the swarm will continue to expand for weeks or even months.

Farmers have attempted to control the insects through the use of pesticides and by lighting fires over swarming fields. But the locusts, which can grow to the size of small bird and eat their weight in food every day, are both tough and resilient. This year’s early swarm was so intense that local officials have now declared a state of emergency.

Conditions in Context

Human forced climate change both has the increased potential to set off extreme rainfall events and to extend the period of time during which swarming insects like locusts can move and breed. Heat creeping northward also expands the range of locust swarms even as extreme heat, drought, and heavy rainfall events can increase insects tendency to gather into large groups rather than forage individually.

During recent months, numerous trough zones around the globe have produced extreme and record rainfall events related to human caused climate change. The Central and Western Russia rains add to extreme flooding in Germany, France, and over Southeastern Texas to generate a global context of ongoing climate disruption. Disruptions that have in total flooded hundreds of homes injured dozens and resulted in related losses of life. A new kind of weather hazard that is, when combined with a huge early swarm of warming-enflamed locusts, is now threatening the Russian growing season.

But Russia isn’t the only region whose crops are feeling the sting of all the climate change related extreme weather. In France, record rains there have put the wheat crop in danger. In the UK, crops have been impacted by drought. In Argentina, 4 to 8 million tons of soy have been lost due to flooding. In India, drought has cut off water to 330 million people, forced farmers to abandon their livelihoods and seek refuge in a growing diaspora to the cities. In the US, California agriculture is still reeling under the effects of a four year drought. And with a record heatwave emerging over the US West on Friday even as Texas continued to be buried under rains, the litany of crop disrupting weather just seems to go on and on.

Links:

Russian Rains Put Grain Harvest in Doubt

Russia Declares State of Emergency over Locust Swarm

Earth Nullschool

Huge Swarm of Locusts over Russia

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Kalypso

Hat tip to DT Lange

Large Algae Bloom Still Ongoing As Toledo Officials Declare Water Safe to Drink

 

Algae bloom Lake Eerie

(Large algae bloom still visible in Lake Erie satellite shot on August 4, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Warming, more toxic waters. It’s a problem directly driven by human-caused climate change. And for Toledo, Ohio, this weekend, it’s a reality that was starkly driven home as water services to half a million residents were suddenly shut off. There, in the waters of Lake Erie, a massive bloom of freshwater cyanobacteria pumped out enough poison to put human health at risk and force Ohio officials to declare a state of emergency.

Emerging Threat to Public Health

In Northern Ohio, water safety officials have been nervously testing Lake Erie supplies for many years now. Microbial blooms in western Lake Eerie were on the rise and the worry was that the new blooms may pose a future health threat as both climate change and agricultural run-off intensified.

By 2011, the wettest summer on record and warm waters in Lake Erie helped trigger a major outbreak of cyanobacteria blooms which ultimately resulted in more than 10 billion dollars in damage due to fouled waters, toxic beaches, and losses to the fishing and tourism industries of Lake Erie’s bordering states. Last year, a massive bloom caused some small northern Ohio towns to temporarily cut off water supplies. By last weekend, the entire water supply of Toledo, Ohio was under threat from the microbe-produced toxin called microcystin.

Water Poisoning by Microbes

Microcystin is a potent toxin produced by the small-celled, fresh water cyanobacteria. The substance is unsafe at levels greater than 1 part per billion in drinking water (according to the World Health Organization). Consumption of the toxin results in headaches, nausea and vomiting. Microcystin is directly toxic to the liver with exposure resulting in severe damage. It also results in damage to the digestive system and low levels of exposure have been linked in studies to various forms of abdominal cancer.

Since the toxin is a chemical that has already been produced by bacteria, usual sanitation methods, such as boiling water, are ineffective and may even help to concentrate the poison, making it more potent. So the toxin must be prevented from entering the water supply at the source — which can be difficult if much of the water source is contaminated, as is the case with Lake Erie.

A Threat Driven By Climate Change and Human Activity

As waters warm, they host larger and larger blooms of cyanobacteria harmful to animal life, including humans. The microbes thrive in warm, nutrient-rich water. And under climate change waters both warm even as runoff in certain regions increases due to more frequent bursts of heavy rainfall. This has especially been the case for the central and north central sections of the US, this year, which have suffered extensive and frequent downpours together with record hourly and daily rainfall totals in many areas.

The deluges flush nutrients down streams and into major bodies of water. The water, warmed by human-caused climate change, are already a haven for the cyanobacteria. So the blooms come to dominate surface waters. In addition, the runoff contains added nutrients due to large amounts of phosphorus and other agriculture-based fertilizers. It’s a combination that really gives these dangerous microbes a boost. Under such conditions, the massive resulting blooms can turn the surface lake water into green sludge.

Dead Zones, Anoxic Waters

Lake Erie algal blooms, August 2011

(Green cyanobacteria in Lake Erie during the large algae bloom of 2013. Image source: University of Michigan.)

Eventually, the cyanobacteria leech the surface waters of nutrients and begin to die out. As they do, they undergo decay which strips oxygen from the waters. Through this process, dangerous, anoxic dead zones radiate from areas previously dominated by large cyanobacteria blooms. The dead zone and toxin producing bacteria often result in large-scale fish kills and the wide-scale fouling of waters that can be so damaging to various industries. However, the dead zones themselves are havens for other toxic microbes — the hydrogen sulfide producing kind.

Water is Declared Safe — Information Still Unavailable to the Public

Today, water safety officials lifted the ban on water use for Toledo, claiming that water was now safe to use and drink after the water system was properly flushed. Officials apparently conducted six tests to confirm water supply safety but have not yet made results public. Personnel with the EPA unofficially stated that microcystin levels were at 3 parts per billion on the day the water was declared unsafe but that water was now safe for residents.

The declaration was met with widespread criticism due to the fact that data on water testing was not made publicly available, reducing confidence in the safety officials’ assertions and causing many residents to question their veracity. State and city water officials say they plan to post the data on their website, but have yet to confirm a time.

Meanwhile, the large cyanobacteria bloom is still ongoing. Experts expect the bloom to peak sometime in mid September and then begin to recede with the advent of fall and cooler weather. With more than a month and a half still to go, Lake Erie water troubles may just be starting to ramp up.

Links:

Toledo Water Ban Lifted, Results Kept Secret

Don’t Drink the Water

LANCE-MODIS

University of Michigan

Spring Rain, Foul Algae in Ailing Lake Eerie

Toxins in Water Lead to State of Emergency

 

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