Historic US Drought Shows Slight Improvement Overall, Worsens in Some Areas, 69 Percent of Winter Wheat Crop Threatened

According to this week’s Drought Monitor, the ongoing historic drought, made worse by global warming, still grips a large swath of the United States despite cooler temperatures and two rain systems sweeping through the central US.

Overall, US drought coverage fell to 62% of the contiguous US, a 2% fall from last week and a three percent fall from the maximum drought area reached this year. However, large swaths of the US and, in particular, US farmland are still struggling under drought. Though some areas on the eastern fringes of the larger drought zone saw improvement, other areas such as South Dakota and Nebraska saw intensifying dryness.

Reports from farmers this week also showed that the winter wheat crop had been put at risk due to ongoing drought conditions. Usually, cooler temperatures and rains bring a respite to drought conditions during this time of year. However, a fall dryness is allowing drought to maintain its grip over much of the country. Currently, over 69 percent of the areas normally planted for winter wheat are suffering from some level of drought. Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana have been particularly hard hit. Seed germination is well behind schedule in most regions and many farmers are not willing to take the risk of planting in such dry conditions. The result is a major risk to US wheat crops after a difficult corn planting season across the US.

Under current drought conditions, the US is now consuming more food than it produces. This rare event is having widespread impact on world food markets. Overall world food security has been dealt a sever blow since the early 2000s when forward food supplies were higher than 104 days. But six of the past eleven years have seen extreme weather conditions that resulted in the world consuming more food than it produced. As a result, forward food supply has fallen, on average, to 74 days. Recently, the UN noted that the world’s food markets were currently strained to the limit and couldn’t bear any more ‘unexpected events.’ But a major unexpected event continues apace over most of the US.

Climate scientists are showing that such dry conditions will likely grow worse over the coming years if both the US and the world fail to begin to reduce carbon emissions. Sadly, some drought will likely happen in the coming decades even if carbon emissions are rolled back. But the devastation that is likely to occur if carbon emissions continue on their current track is unconscionable. Climate models show that both large swaths of the US and much of Europe become as dry as north Africa. This devastation to major productive regions would be very damaging to the world’s food security and likely result in major regional and global upheavals. Yet this condition, which is starting now and which will grow worse over time, is being largely ignored by the world’s leaders. In particular, the US has one political party that wholesale denies the impacts of global warming. This denial is as destructive to our farmers as it is poisonous to our political climate. If we are to deal rationally with these problems and, likely, if we are to survive as a nation, this self-destructive, brutish and and small-minded denial must end.

We have entered the gates of a crisis and we need all hands to be alert and ready to defend the ship, not knocking holes in the hull.

Links

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

http://www.agprofessional.com/news/Drought-threatens-winter-wheat-planting-174108971.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/iv-drip/climate-change-denial-is-a-rightwing-conspiracy-8215887.html

 

 

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In Worst US Fire Season On Record, US Runs Out of Money to Fight Fires, Diverts Money From Fire Prevention Fund

It’s official, this year’s forest fire season was the worst on record for the United States. It was the longest duration, it resulted in the largest fires, and it resulted in the most acres burned.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise to know that the budget used to fund fire fighting has been exhausted. But in a perfect metaphor for robbing the future to pay for the present the Forest Service has decided to divert funds used to prevent fires in order to fight the fires still cropping up in the west.

From the Washington Post:

In the worst wildfire season on record, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service ran out of money to pay for firefighters, fire trucks and aircraft that dump retardant on monstrous flames. So officials did about the only thing they could: take money from other forest management programs.

But many of the programs were aimed at preventing giant fires in the first place, and raiding their budgets meant putting off the removal of dried brush and dead wood over vast stretches of land — the things that fuel eye-popping blazes, threatening property and lives.

The problem with diverting funds now is that there’s no guarantee next year won’t be as bad or worse. In fact, a growing global warming crisis is resulting in a long-term drying out of the US west and heartland. Reports show that the years since 2000 and leading up to the present have been the 5th driest for the US west in 500 years. In addition, climate models show that as global warming advances, the US continues to dry out.

One would think that prevention would be the best course in fighting this battle. Reducing carbon emissions would go a long way toward preventing a rapid rise in fires across the west and even worse damages to come. The risk becomes that, as costs mount, the US is no longer able to pay to prevent, fight or repair all the damage from wildfires, droughts, sea level rise, or other extreme weather emergencies. This exhaustion of public resources is a primary first threat posed by climate change and the impacts, as we can see in the running out of fire money, and in the 75 billion dollar and growing US drought, are happening now.

Links:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/us-runs-out-of-funds-to-battle-wildfires/2012/10/07/d632df5c-0c0c-11e2-bd1a-b868e65d57eb_story.html?tid=wp_ipad

Cooler Temperatures Bring Little Relief From Intensifying Drought

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Though cooler temperatures graced the mid-section of the country this week, the most recent report from the US Drought Monitor shows that the worst drought since 1956 continued to deepen over much of the country.

In total, more than 63% of the land area of the continental US suffered from drought conditions. This is an increase of 1% over last week’s drought report which showed 62% of the US mainland suffering from drought. Fully thirty percent of the US was suffering from extreme or exceptional drought, about the same levels as last week.

That said, beneficial rains in the Ohio valley resulted in slightly less farmland being gripped by drought. According to the Drought Monitor, 85% of the U.S. corn crop, 83% of soybeans, 63% of hay, and 71% of cattle areas are still experiencing drought. Though this number is a slight improvement, it is still a very large swath of US agriculture.

Other impacts from the ongoing drought this week included large regions affected by fires. California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington all experienced large blazes. Idaho has experienced its worst fire year on record and so far the United States has seen the most area burned for this time of year. Fires continued to rage in far eastern Russia, but most Siberian fires are now currently contained. The Balkans also experienced a major outbreak of wildfires during an extreme heat wave that resulted in numerous heat deaths and temperatures soaring to well over 104 degrees in many places. Spain saw fires continue both on the mainland and on one of its islands. Greece saw a major wildfire engulf one of its islands as well.

The Mississippi river experienced sporadic interruptions of traffic with sections of the river shut down on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week. Though the river has been running low throughout the summer, this is the first time that major traffic interruptions have occurred.

Worldwide, large areas of drought also affected the Balkan states, swaths of Europe, parts of India, and large sections of Asia.

The UN has recommended that nations begin setting up plans to deal with long-term droughts and the number of climate scientists linking the current droughts and extreme weather events to climate change continues to grow.

Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Numerous Wildfires Still Raging Across American West, Greek Island Engulfed, Russian Blazes Smolder

In California, Idaho and Washington, large regions were still under threat of massive fires today.

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Across California, more than a dozen fires blazed forcing thousands to evacuate and threatening many homes. One northern California fire near the towns of Manton, Shingleton and Viola threatened more than 3,500 homes spread across a ridge near the blaze. In total more than 350,000 acres still burned across the state.

In Idaho, a fire on Trinity Ridge swelled to more than 15 square miles posing a major problem for the more than 1,000 firefighters currently battling the blaze. Hot temperatures and dry conditions were factors that added to the fire’s intensity. In Featherville, more than 350 homes were evacuated as smoke from a nearby blaze encroached on the community there.

Large fires continued to burn through central Washington as lightning strikes threatened firefighters’ efforts to contain blazes there. Fires in the Cascade range were mostly contained after having destroyed nearly 300 structures over the past week.

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Overseas, the Greek island of Chios suffered a major fire today. The blaze began early Saturday morning and has since swelled to a 16,000 acre inferno. Nearly 400 firefighters and 50 vehicles are currently involved in fighting the blaze. The Aegean island has lost the majority of its bee hives and a significant portion of its crops to the fire. Smoke from the blaze was visible 230 miles away in Crete.

In Siberia, the hottest temperatures in 170 years continued to contribute to sporadic blazes there.

Current estimates are that fires over Russia may rival the epic spree of fires that took place in 2010. However, since most fires have occurred in Siberia, these blazes appear to have resulted in less loss of life and property damage than that tragic year.

Furthermore, and somewhat off topic, it has been very difficult to find summer estimates for methane release in the Siberian tundra and East Siberian Arctic Shelf. We’re currently involved in researching the matter and hope to bring you more information shortly.

(Photo Credits: NASA)

 

Burning Rings of Fire: So Far this Summer, 6.4 Million Acres Consumed in US, 12 Million Acres Consumed in Russia

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The satellite image above was taken from space. It shows a region of Siberia where wildfires are consuming massive areas of tundra and woodlands. The ring-like structures you see are fires, their night-time glow visible to infrared cameras in space.

Not only has this summer shown unprecedented heat, drought, Greenland melt, and sea ice melt, we have also seen massive and expanding zones of wildfires across the northern hemisphere. In the US alone, 10,000 square miles has burned so far, making this one of the worst years in a decade of extreme fire years. In California, more than 8,000 firefighters were engaged in containing wildfires. In Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona, thousands more battled blazes as whole towns were evacuated.

In Russia, an army of nearly 200,000 firemen, nearly double the number of US soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan combined, and 40,000 vehicles struggled to get immense blazes under control. The level of activity on the ground is nearly equal to that of a war. And all just to fight this summer’s bought of climate-change enhanced wildfires. In total, preliminary reports show that 12 million acres had burned in Russia by early August with fires showing potential to reach or exceed the vast areas burned in 2010 by season’s end.

Across Spain, more than a dozen wildfires raged, forcing thousands of people to evacuate and killing 2 more there. The Canary Islands La Gomera forest, which has survived for 11 million years, was under threat of being consumed by a massive blaze that has already claimed ten percent of its woodlands. Spain has been suffering from fires since June when a massive blaze rained ash over the city of Valencia.

Unfortunately, these fires are spurred on by intense summer heat and extreme weather events influenced by climate change. And as we have seen over the past decade, as the globe has warmed, the frequency and severity of these blazes has increased.

Please help support our continuing efforts.

Please help support our continuing efforts.

Links:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2012/08/07/nighttime-view-of-russian-wildfires-from-space/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BadAstronomyBlog+%28Bad+Astronomy%29

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2012/08/09/Fires-spread-in-Russian-Far-East/UPI-80681344529149/

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Spains+Canary+Islands+says+fire+Gomera+burning+underground+that/7105033/story.html

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2012/08/08/Wildfires-sweep-southern-Bulgaria/UPI-45601344446454/?rel=80681344529149

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/16/idaho-wildfire-2012_n_1787238.html?utm_hp_ref=green

For Much of US, Historic Drought Persists, Expected to Continue Through November

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Though rains brought some relief to Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and parts of the southeast, much of the nation’s heartland continued to wither under drought. Conditions worsened throughout Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Missouri.

In total, about 62 percent of the United States experienced some level of drought, a slight fall from last week, but still encompassing much of the country.

Impacts to US farming, however, remain devastating. According to the Drought Monitor, as of last week, 87% of the U.S. corn crop, 85% of soybeans, 63% of hay, and 72% of cattle areas were experiencing drought. This translates to very poor conditions for many crops. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 51% of the corn crop was in poor or very poor condition as was 48% of sorghum and 38% of soybeans. The percentage of corn rated in the poor to very poor category is just below the 53% value that occurred during August of 1988, a drought that some are claiming the current drought has surpassed.

Ongoing dry conditions have also severely hampered US rivers and river traffic. In areas of the plains, midwest, and west, rivers have dried up completely or heated to such a degree as to result in massive fish kills. The Platte River, for example, dried out in a 100 mile section. Many of these rivers feed the Mississippi and the drying has severely impacted water levels there. Barge traffic along the great river was forced into narrower and shallower channels. In many cases one-way lanes were necessary. In some areas, the mighty river has experienced its lowest levels ever recorded forcing barge companies to lighten their loads in order to prevent running aground. Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging furiously in an attempt to keep river traffic flowing. Despite these efforts, nine barges have run aground since mid July.

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The fall forecast provides some hope for areas on the periphery of current drought zone, but shows large areas of drought persisting well into November. Much of the heartland, the mountain west, north Texas, and a large section of the central west are forecast to remain under drought conditions. Areas forecast to receive relief include parts of the northeast, the Ohio river valley, a smattering of areas in the central north, the southeast, southeast Texas, and Arizona. However, the hardest hit areas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas, are under the region where drought is expected to persist.

Overall, this forecast shows large areas of the US remaining under drought through late fall.

Year after year of dry or drought conditions over many regions of the US throughout the past decade has taken its toll. It is worth noting that US Department of Agriculture soil moisture monitors are well below their usual climatological range for many regions. This rain deficit would require a long period of above average rainfall to completely alleviate. For many regions, this level of rainfall is still not in the forecast.

That said, the end of summer should bring some respite from the combined heat and dryness. A return to El Nino conditions in the Pacific would likely increase rainfall for the east and southeast with the potential to bring powerful winter storms to the west coast as well. Current ENSO forecasts, however, aren’t clear on the expected strength of the predicted El Nino, which would impact any new rainfall.

Overall, the US is experiencing increased long-term heat and dryness due to a slowly intensifying regime of global warming. This climate change, unless slowed or altered by long-term policy measures, will continue to bring periods of increasingly severe drought over the coming years and decades. Such a pattern would have intensifying detrimental impacts to US agriculture, water security, food security, river transport, trade and poses a long-term threat to stable coastlines. The most recent drought is, likely, just one in a long parade. So any serious policy to address the plight of US farmers must also take a long, hard look at the underlying conditions of global warming which continue to harm their prospects.

Please help support our continuing efforts.

Please help support our continuing efforts.

Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ 

http://www.usda.gov/oce/weather/pubs/Weekly/Wwcb/index.htm

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/enso/enso.current.html

July 2012: Hottest Month Since Record-Keeping Began in 1895

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According to a recent report by NOAA, July 2012 was the hottest month since record-keeping began back in 1895. NOAA data showed that the average temperature for the United States was 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit, .2 degrees hotter than the previous record set back in July of 1936.

The hottest month on record coincides with the hottest 12 month period ever recorded in the United States. The heat, which has spurred drought conditions over 63 percent of the United States, has had a severe impact on US Agriculture.

NASA scientist James Hansen and other climate scientists have repeatedly warned that heating events such as this year’s US drought, the Texas drought of 2011, and the Russian drought of 2010, are likely to become more common as human-caused global warming intensifies. A few days ago, NASA published a paper showing that extreme temperature events are currently likely to occur with ten year frequency. In the 1951-1980 period, comparable events were likely to occur only once every 300 years.

A number of newspapers have made statements to the effect that we should hope that atmospheric conditions change soon. And though, eventually, this drought will end, unless something is done about worldwide human greenhouse gas emissions, these kinds of extreme events will continue to recur and worsen.

Please help support our continuing efforts.

Please help support our continuing efforts.

Half of Counties in US Declared Disaster Areas Due to Drought

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More than half of the United States has been declared a disaster area due to an ongoing record drought. Currently, 1584 counties, 50.3% of all counties in the US, are drought disaster areas.

Over much of July, record heat and dryness resulted in expanding and continuing drought conditions for much of the US. These record conditions are severely impacting the nation’s agricultural industry. According to the US drought monitor, 37% of the US soybean crop and 48% of the US corn crop were rated in poor to very poor condition. Livestock has also experienced severe impacts with 66% of the nation’s hay and 73% of the nation’s cattle acreage experiencing drought.

According to the US Drought Monitor, about 63% of the US landmass is currently undergoing drought conditions.

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For years, climate scientists have warned that human-caused global warming would result in intensified drought conditions for the US. With drought conditions occurring across wide swaths of the US for the past 7 years, it appears that this future is now. The current drought is one of the worst on record and threatens to intensify. It follows on the heels of a massive and debilitating drought in Texas last year. It is the second major drought to impact the southeast in five years. Unfortunately, weather forecasts show this drought is likely to continue through Halloween. If such an event materializes, the current severe impacts will grow far, far worse.

Though it is normal for extreme droughts to occur over long time-scales, it is not normal that they occur with such frequency and such recurring severity. Most climate scientists now agree the current drought was made worse by climate change. A more clear statement is that the current drought is a product of human-caused climate change. What would have likely been a hot, dry period, has become an extreme event due the effects of added atmospheric heating.

Stating this obvious fact should be something we encourage. It is impossible to deal with a problem unless it is first validated. But, considering our situation, it is only responsible to make a concerted call, not for panic, but for action.

Strong changes to energy policy, major support for alternative fuels for transportation and electricity (wind, solar, biofuels, plug in hybrid electric vehicles and pure electric vehicles), a dedicated program of cut-backs for fossil fuel use (coal, oil, natural gas, tar sands), and national funding for climate emergency mitigation will be necessary to deal with this crisis. The goal will be to prevent future, worse disasters while working to mitigate the disasters that are currently under way.

Given the current state of the world’s climate, without prevention and mitigation, we are likely to experience continued and worsening instances similar to this drought in the future. Regional and national droughts will continue to intensify, with more extreme events becoming more frequent and more intense. Even with prevention and mitigation, we can expect a period of difficulty, but with proper policy measures, these difficulties should be manageable.

It is worth noting the amazing degree of short-sightedness business and political leaders pushing for expanded fossil fuel use express. This complete lack of responsibility and leadership in pursuit of short-term profit and political gain, if continued, will result in nothing short of the United States losing its position as an agricultural superpower. It will also have severe and devastating impacts on both national and world-wide food security.

So let this be an appeal to these  leaders — the oil barons, the coal barons, the gas barons, and the politicians who support them — the time for change is well past. You may continue your attempts at dominance and short-sighted profit, but you do so by waging a campaign of devastation and degradation on the rest of us. This is unconscionable. It must stop now.

Please help support our continuing efforts.

Please help support our continuing efforts.

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