Smoke from fires near Cle Elum obscures the Cascades as a paddle boarder on Lake Washington glides past the hazy horizon including the Bellevue skyline on Monday, 28 August 2017. Photo: Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times

By Christine Clarridge
22 September 2017

(The Seattle Times) – This summer in Seattle was the warmest and driest ever recorded.

For those of us living in the Puget Sound region, it might not come as a surprise. In fact, it’s been a year full of extremes, with numerous daytime high records broken, one of the wettest rainy seasons and some of the haziest, smokiest days in memory from wildfires that blanketed the Pacific Northwest.

But this summer was special. Meteorologist Doug McDonnal, of the National Weather Service in Seattle, said the stretch from June 21 (the first day of summer) to Sept. 21 (the last full day of summer) is going down in the record books as being tied for the hottest since 1894 — when record-keeping began — with an average high temperature of 78.6 degrees, about 4 degrees warmer than average.

Tied for first place is 1967, when the average high was also 78.6 degrees, according to the weather service.

Early Friday morning, the weather service said 2017 had the hottest summer, but that was amended when the overnight numbers were calculated, McDonnal said.

(For those interested, third, fourth and fifth places are held by 2015, 2014 and 2013, respectively.)

This summer was also the driest on record, according to the weather service, with just 0.52 inches of rain, beating out 1910 at 0.58 inches. The region usually gets 2.25 inches of rain in that three-month period. [more]

We just experienced warmest and driest summer ever recorded in Seattle

The 'Moon Tree', a sycamore planted at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in 1976, sprouted from a seed that flew on Apollo 14. The tree was toppled by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, forcing crews to remove it from the complex. Photo: Florida Today

By Emre Kelly
21 September 2017

(Florida Today) – A tiny tree seed that began its voyage in an Apollo command module and later sprouted to life at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex was lost to the winds of Hurricane Irma earlier this month.

Known as a "Moon Tree," the perennial plant once located in a visitor complex courtyard spent nearly two weeks of 1971 tucked away in the personal kit of Apollo 14 Astronaut Stuart Roosa and completed 34 orbits of Earth's closest neighbor.

But despite its epic voyage, the sycamore tree planted in 1976 to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial was removed from the visitor complex after Irma toppled it, which created a hazard to guests.

"The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Moon Tree was a beautiful, living artifact, and part of our nation’s history of space exploration," the visitor complex said in a statement. "We were saddened to lose it."

A NASA analysis found that Irma's winds reached as high as 94 mph at Kennedy Space Center. [more]

Irma topples NASA's 'Moon Tree' that flew on Apollo 14

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative has this screenshot taken between 5 April 2017 and 30 May 2017 of the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay website. Numerous mentions of “climate change,” “greenhouse gasses” and other phrases related to global warming have been found to be altered or deleted. Graphic: EDGI / EPA

By Dino Grandoni
22 September 2017

(The Washington Post) – Numerous mentions of “climate change,” “greenhouse gasses” and other phrases related to global warming have been found to be altered or deleted from another portion of the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, according to a new environmental watchdog report.

At the beginning of President Trump's term, the EPA’s SmartWay program, designed to help businesses looking to lower their impact on the environment find ways of doing so when shipping goods, told visitors that “many companies monitor their carbon emissions and establish inventories or overall 'carbon footprint' to help decision makers identify the best strategies for reducing climate impacts."

But by May, those descriptions had been replaced by more generalized terms. Instead of tracking carbon emissions, firms could monitor “fuel consumption.” Instead of shrinking their carbon footprint, companies could address their "environmental footprint." Instead of reducing climate impacts, they were told they could “improve sustainability.”

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative has the above screenshot taken between April 5 and May 30.

Elsewhere on SmartWay’s website, other phrases used in climate science were deleted without replacement, with “climate change” and “greenhouse gas emissions” being dropped from a paragraph describing the environmental effects of freight transport. In one instance, the sentence “The science is clear — greenhouse gas emissions from all sources must decrease” was struck entirely from the website.

The changes were detailed in a report released Friday by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, a group of nonprofits and academics who among other activities have monitored changes to federal government websites during the Trump administration.

According to EDGI, the alterations occurred sometime between late March and early May. In April, the EPA announced an overhaul of the agency’s website that included a review of “content related to climate and regulation.”

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but in April the agency’s associate administrator for public affairs, J.P. Freire, addressed the website overhaul in a statement: “We want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.” [more]

The Energy 202: Climate change terms altered in another corner of EPA’s website


By Kelly Kasulis
15 September 2017

(Mic) – The world’s oceans are going to have more plastic in them than fish by 2050, according to World Economic Forum projections. But we don’t need to wait for the future to witness grim scenes of polluted waters.

Just look at the photo below. Photographer Justin Hofman caught a tiny sea horse latched onto a cotton swab along the coast of Sumbawa Island in Indonesia, one of one of the most biodiverse nations in the world.

“After 10 minutes, the tide started to turn and all this junk started to flow through,” the 33-year-old said in a phone call from Monterey, California. “It first grasped onto a piece of sea grass, then there was a little wispy piece of plastic that it grabbed onto, and the next thing it was this Q-tip. It was this weird progression of going from natural to unnatural in this short span.”

Hofman said that he was “surprised at how good the coral” in the area was, but the waters were otherwise heavily polluted. The white blurry spots in the photo’s background are actually bits of plastic drifting around, and the water started to stink as sewage came through (which he thinks made him sick the next day). […]

“I was just in the Arctic a couple weeks ago and we watched a polar bear dig through trash and eat plastic. It was pretty heartbreaking stuff,” he said. “I’ve seen dynamite fishing, shark fishing, starving polar bears, whales caught in nets … a lot of depressing shit.

“I do truly feel like I carry this weight sometimes,” he added. [more]

Justin Hofman’s viral sea horse photo shows the heartbreaking state of our polluted water

Police have now recovered the former headteacher Emma Kelty's GPS device, as well as a mobile phone and a memory card (pictured), which the gang of seven 'pirates' sold to local villagers after killing her. Photo: Daily Mail

By Gerard Couzens and Matt Roper
21 September 2017

(Daily Mail) – A British headteacher murdered while canoeing along the Amazon was tortured and sexually assaulted by a gang before being killed and dumped in the river, it has been claimed.

Horrific new details of the last moments of Emma Kelty's life were revealed in a confession made by one of the suspects shortly after the British kayaker's death.

Evanilson Gomes da Costa was found dead after going on the run in the wake of the murder having reportedly been shot by rival drug traffickers.

But before he died - and just hours after the death of Miss Kelty - the 24-year-old told a local villager what the gang had done, it has been claimed.

One of the men, Artur Gomes da Silva, claimed he tried to decapitate the headteacher with a machete.

José Afonso Barradas Jr, police chief in the city of Coari, northwestern Brazil, said: “He claimed he tried to cut her head off with a machete but failed.”

The villager said da Costa had told him how his gang had come across Miss Kelty's tent and, believing it to belong to drug traffickers, had opened fire from 50m away.

The unnamed villager added: “The woman was hit in the arm. She started waving frantically and screaming for help.”

But still believing she was transporting drugs, they approached the tent and started attacking her, cutting off her hair with a knife as they ordered to hand over narcotics.

One of the group then slit her throat before all four men “sexually abused her”, the villager said.

Her body was then dumped in the Amazon before the men fled. Villagers provided police with their details and identities, he added. [more]

British headteacher murdered while canoeing along the Amazon 'was sexually assaulted by gang who tried to cut off her head with a machete before dumped her body in the river'

When Hurricane Maria swept across Puerto Rico on 20 September 2017, meteorologists expected it to deliver a tremendous amount of rain in a short period of time. Satellite data confirm that that is exactly what happened. This map shows satellite-based measurements of rainfall in the Caribbean near Puerto Rico. It depicts accumulations measured from the evening (local time) of 18 September 2017 to the evening of 20 September 2017. The brightest areas reflect the highest rainfall amounts, as much as 20 inches (500 millimeters) in places. The measurements are a product of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, which is a partnership between NASA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and five national and international partners. Graphic: Joshua Stevens / NASA Earth Observatory

By Kerry Emanuel
19 September 2017

(The Washington Post) – As the United States struggles to recover from two back-to-back hurricanes, it would be wise to reflect on why we keep having such calamities and whether they are likely to get worse.

We must first recognize the phrase “natural disaster” for what it is: a sham we hide behind to avoid our own culpability. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and wildfires are part of nature, and the natural world has long ago adapted to them. Disasters occur when we move to risky places and build inadequate infrastructure.

In the United States, we have in place a range of policies that all but guarantees a worsening string of Katrinas, Sandys, Harveys, and Irmas as far as we can see into the future. Climate change acts as a threat-multiplier to these policy-generated disasters, making them progressively worse than they would have been in a stable climate.

The U.S. hurricane policy disaster has its roots in the hijacking of politics by special interests. In a free market, risk is largely communicated through pricing. Smokers pay greater health insurance premiums to cover the added risk of their voluntary activity. In a rational world, premiums in hurricane-prone places would be sufficiently high to reflect the actual risk to the property.

But agitation by coastal property owners has resulted in a rigged system in which states place caps on property insurance premiums, or on the maximum difference between premiums charged to risky and less risky customers, forcing the latter to subsidize the former. Hurricane storm surges and freshwater flooding are covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, and here too agitation has resulted in rates that do not adequately reflect the risk. Congress revamped this program in 2012, only to retract many of those changes in 2014 in response to a backlash from flood-prone homeowners.

On top of this, federal disaster relief, as necessary as it may be, inadvertently subsidizes risk. As a consequence of these subsidies, coastal populations are rising much faster than the general population. Globally, the population exposed to hurricane hazards has tripled since 1970, and the trend shows no signs of abating.

To make matters worse, climate change is increasing the probabilities of hurricane disasters in many places. Rising sea levels worsen storm surges, often the most deadly and destructive aspects of hurricanes. Sandy would probably not have flooded Lower Manhattan had it occurred 100 years earlier, when sea levels were about a foot lower in New York. [more]

Why it’s time to stop calling these hurricane disasters ‘natural’

An indigenous mother and child enjoy an Amazon river. The establishment of the Indigenous Territory of Turubaxi-Téa, covering 1.2 million hectares along the Middle Negro River in Amazonas state, is a major victory for indigenous groups in Brazil, at a time when many government decisions have gone against their ancestral land rights. Photo: Zanini H. / Visual Hunt

By Sue Branford
18 September 2017

(Mongabay) – The Temer government, widely criticized for its attacks on indigenous rights, has approved its first significant measure in favor of the country’s indigenous communities.

Last week, Brazil’s official gazette published a decree, signed by Justice Minister Torquato Jardim, establishing the Indigenous Territory of Turubaxi-Téa along the middle reaches of the Negro River in the state of Amazonas. More than 900 Indians from ten different groups, distributed in eight villages, inhabit the reserve, which covers 1.2 million hectares (2.9 million acres).

It is an important victory for the Indians, who have been struggling for over two decades to have their lands recognized. The long delay has harmed the communities, as the un-demarcated land has been repeatedly invaded by loggers and farmers.

The indigenous groups are confident that the situation will now improve. “We are still suffering threats and other acts of disrespect,” said Carlos Nery Pira-Tapuya, president of the Association of Indigenous Communities on the Middle Negro River (ACIMRN). “But we believe that, once our territory is demarcated, there will be fewer invasions and in this way our communities will be able to make great advances in administering the territory.”

Marivelton Barroso Baré, president of the Federation of the Indigenous Organization of the Negro River (FOIRN), said the government has finally done what it should have done years ago: “It is the duty of the Brazilian state to recognise the rights of the indigenous population as the original inhabitants. Now we need to go on struggling to speed up other demarcations in the region.”

Despite the repeated incursions by loggers and farmers, the dispute over this land has by no means been as fierce or violent as in the southern Amazon basin, where large scale agribusiness has arrived and highway construction has increased access to outsiders and led to a rocketing in land prices.

No one in Brasilia was lobbying against the creation of Turubaxi-Téa reserve and no one contested its boundaries, established by the indigenous agency FUNAI after an anthropological study. In the southern Amazon, the ruralistas have worked aggressively to undermine indigenous rights and dispute land claims. [more]

Indigenous victory: Brazil’s Temer decrees 1.2 million Amazon reserve

The four rapid-intensifier hurricanes of 2017, compared with Hurricane Wilma of 2005. Shown are the last periods in which the hurricanes were at various levels (tropical depression, tropical storm, or Category 1 hurricane) along with the intervals from that point to the first point at which they achieved their top rating (either Cat 4 or 5). Graphic: Dr. Jeff Masters / Weather Underground

By Chris Mooney
19 September 2017

(The Washington Post) – “Maria is developing the dreaded pinhole eye,” wrote National Hurricane Center forecaster Jack Beven on Monday evening, as the storm reached Category 4 intensity.

That inward contraction of a hurricane’s eye can be one telltale indicator of what hurricane gurus technically call “rapid intensification,” although a more evocative word might simply be “explosion.” Whatever you call it, it’s something we keep seeing this year. Harvey, Irma, Jose and now Maria have rapidly strengthened — and all too often, have done it just before striking land.

It’s a dangerous and scary phenomenon that scientists and forecasters are still trying to understand.

“It’s not a common event. Typically, that occurs in maybe 5 percent of our forecasts,” said Mark DeMaria, acting deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.

But DeMaria said that this season is seeing more rapid intensification events than usual and that Maria, in particular, appears to have set a key record for hurricane rapid intensification in the Atlantic.

“Looking back through the records, Maria went from a tropical depression to a Category 5 hurricane in just two and a half days,” he said. “I couldn’t find any other tropical cyclones in our historical record that went that quickly from a depression to a Category 5 hurricane.”

That’s a big problem, because rapid intensification sets the stage for worst-case scenarios. Sadly, that’s what happened to the Caribbean island of Dominica on Monday night, hit by Maria at full Category 5 strength.

There’s little chance to warn people or for them to prepare if rapid intensification occurs, so forecasters naturally want to be able to have a handle on it — but it’s a struggle.

“One of the key issues is that it remains quite difficult to predict on a day-to-day basis. And of course, it’s something we would very much like to be able to predict, especially when an intensifying storm is near land,” said Gabriel Vecchi, a hurricane expert at Princeton University.

The National Hurricane Center technically defines rapid intensification as a wind speed increase of at least 35 miles per hour in 24 hours. All four of the most intense Atlantic storms in 2017 beat that easily:

  • On the evening of 24 August 2017, a day before landfall, Harvey was a Category 1 hurricane with 85-mile-per hour winds. Twenty-four hours later, at landfall in Texas, the storm was a Category 4 with 130-mile-per-hour winds.
  • At 11 a.m. on Monday, 4 September 2017, Hurricane Irma was already a strong Category 3 storm with 120-mile-per-hour winds. But Irma then radically strengthened further, becoming a superpowered upper-end Category 5 storm with 180-mile-per-hour winds in just 24 hours.
  • Following behind Irma in the middle of the day on 7 September 2017, Hurricane Jose was a Category 1 storm with 90-mile-per-hour winds. Twenty-four hours later, it was rated a high-end Category 4 with 150-mile-per-hour winds.
  • Beven’s “pinhole eye” language came as Hurricane Maria reached Category 4 intensity, despite having been a Category 1 just 12 hours earlier. But Maria wasn’t done. The storm would leap further to Category 5 strength, ultimately increasing in intensity by 65 miles per hour in 24 hours. [more]

The scariest thing about 2017’s hurricanes: They keep getting really strong, really fast

Rescue workers help people after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico, on 20 September 2017. Photo: Carlos Garcia / Reuters

By Holly Yan and Cassandra Santiago
20 September 2017

(CNN) – Hurricane Maria's eye has left Puerto Rico, but the mammoth storm is still lashing the island with devastating winds.

Maria weakened to a Category 3 hurricane Wednesday afternoon, hurling winds of 115 mph. But hurricane-force gusts topping 74 mph still extend over much of Puerto Rico, the National Hurricane Center said.

Maria's brute force wiped out electricity to the entire island. "We are 100% without power," a spokesman for the Puerto Rico governor's office said Wednesday.

The storm also ripped trees out of the ground and caused widespread flooding.

"This is total devastation," said Carlos Mercader, a spokesman for Puerto Rico's governor. "Puerto Rico, in terms of the infrastructure, will not be the same. … This is something of historic proportions."

Maria has already killed seven people on the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, said Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda.

Browne said he had been communicating with the Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, who reported "widespread devastation" and whose own house was shredded by the storm.

Maria is expected to dump a total of 12 to 18 inches of rain on Puerto Rico before barreling toward the Dominican Republic. [more]

Hurricane Maria knocks out power to all of Puerto Rico, cripples other islands


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