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Hawaii’s Hurricane Lane is already a flooding catastrophe

A rare hurricane is dousing Hawaii, producing flooding, power outages, and washing away roads — damage the National Weather Service is calling “catastrophic.” It’s increasingly clear that the Aloha state is already feeling the effects of a changing climate.

As of Friday morning, Hurricane Lane is at Category 2 strength and continues to move towards Oahu, home to Honolulu and Hawaii’s most densely populated island. Though the latest projections showed Lane’s center remaining offshore, the most powerful side of the storm will still wash over nearly all of Hawaii’s main islands, bringing torrential rainfall for more than 24 hours to a million people.

As Lane approached Thursday evening, civil defense sirens pierced the cloudy Honolulu skies and federal officials pre-staged plane-loads of supplies in the country’s most isolated state, hoping to prevent a repeat of the government’s bungled response to Hurricane Maria’s in Puerto Rico. The Big Island has been hardest hit so far with rainfall exceeding 30 inches, transforming normally tranquil waterfalls into violent torrents.

As a result of Lane’s slow motion, the National Weather Service in Honolulu has boosted its maximum rainfall prediction to 40 inches in some parts of the islands — months worth of rain, even for Hawaii’s lushest locations. In an update late Thursday Hawaii time, the NWS said Lane is “expected to lead to major, life-threatening flash flooding and landslides over all Hawaiian Islands.”

There has never been a hurricane landfall in Maui or Oahu in recorded history. Even if Lane doesn’t achieve that feat, it’s already the closest a storm has ever approached central Hawaii. Water temperatures near Hawaii are as much as 4.5 degrees F warmer than normal this week, supporting Lane’s high winds and heavy rains.

As the waters of the Pacific warm, heavy rainfall has become an increasingly dangerous problem for Hawaii. Lane is Hawaii’s second major flooding disaster this year, after torrential rainfall on Kauai in April produced nearly 50 inches in 24 hours, a new U.S. record. Our warmer atmosphere can now hold more water vapor, resulting in heavier rainfall during both regular thunderstorms and hurricanes. Since the 1950s, the amount of rain falling in the worst storms in Hawaii has increased by about 12 percent, according to a University of Hawaii study.

As the the country’s only ocean state, Hawaii is on the front lines of climate change. Hurricane Lane is the latest example that Hawaii’s warmer, wetter reality is already here.

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Hawaii’s Hurricane Lane is already a flooding catastrophe

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X-15 Diary – Richard Tregaskis


X-15 Diary
The Story of America’s First Space Ship
Richard Tregaskis

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $10.99

Publish Date: November 15, 2016

Publisher: Open Road Media

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

The riveting true story of the world’s fastest plane and the first manned flights into outer space. First tested in 1959, the X-15 rocket plane was at the forefront of the space race. Developed by the US Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in collaboration with North American Aviation, the X-15 was sleek, black, and powerful—a missile with stubby wings and a cockpit on the nose. By 1961 it could reach speeds over three thousand miles per hour and fly at an altitude of thirty-one miles above the earth’s surface—the lower reaches of outer space.   Acclaimed journalist and bestselling author Richard Tregaskis tells the story of the X-15’s development through the eyes of the brave pilots and brilliant engineers who made it possible. From technological breakthroughs to disastrous onboard explosions to the bone-crushing effects of intense g-force levels, Tregaskis captures all the drama and excitement of this crucial proving ground for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.   X-15 Diary recounts a thrilling chapter in the history of the American space program and serves as a fitting tribute to the courageous scientists and adventurers who dared to go where no man had gone before.   This ebook features an illustrated biography of Richard Tregaskis including rare images from the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. “Arresting glimpses of man’s most daring venture with the machine.” — The New York Times Book Review   “Fascinating, detailed.” — Kirkus Reviews   Praise for Guadalcanal Diary “The book’s secret is the simple secret of all good reporting—fidelity and detail.” — Time   “A great new chapter in American history. One of the best books of the war.” — The Philadelphia Inquirer   “Tregaskis shaped America’s understanding of the war, and influenced every account that came after. . . . A superb example of war reporting at its best.” —Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down Richard Tregaskis (1916–1973) was a journalist and award-winning author best known for Guadalcanal Diary (1943), his bestselling chronicle of the US Marine Corps invasion of the Solomon Islands during World War II. Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Tregaskis graduated from Harvard University and reported for the Boston American before joining the International News Service. Assigned to cover the Pacific Fleet operations after Pearl Harbor, he was one of only two reporters to land with the Marines on Guadalcanal Island. His dramatic account of the campaign was adapted into a popular film and became required reading for all Marine Corps officer candidates. Invasion Diary (1944) vividly recounts the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy and Tregaskis’s brush with death when a chunk of German shrapnel pierced his skull. Vietnam Diary (1963) documents the increased involvement of U.S. troops in the conflict between North and South Vietnam and was awarded the Overseas Press Club’s George Polk Award. Tregaskis’s other honors include the Purple Heart and the International News Service Medal of Honor for Heroic Devotion to Duty. He traveled the world many times over, and wrote about subjects as varied as the first space ship ( X-15 Diary , 1961), John F. Kennedy’s heroism during World War II ( John F. Kennedy and PT-109 , 1962), and the great Hawaiian king Kamehameha I ( Warrior King , 1973). On August 15, 1973, Tregaskis suffered a fatal heart attack while swimming near his home in Hawaii. After a traditional Hawaiian funeral, his ashes were scattered in the waters off Waikiki Beach.  

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X-15 Diary – Richard Tregaskis

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Obama designates world’s largest protected area — it’s underwater

Obama designates world’s largest protected area — it’s underwater

By on Aug 26, 2016Share

President Obama, who marked the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service by designating a whole new land monument in Maine, is giving oceans some love, too.

On Friday, he expanded the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, also known as Papahānaumokuākea, to 582,578 square miles. At nearly three-and-a-half times the size of California, the monument is now the world’s largest protected area.

Papahānaumokuākea encompasses 10 islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which supports over 7,000 species — a quarter of which are unique to Hawaii.

Native Hawaiians urged for the monument’s expansion back in January and consider the place a “the boundary between Ao, the world of light and the living, and Pō, the world of the gods and spirits from which all life is born and to which ancestors return after death,” according to the White House.

Protecting this area means it will be closed for the extraction of oil, gas, minerals, and other energy development. You can learn more about it from this video by Pew:

Election Guide ★ 2016Making America Green AgainOur experts weigh in on the real issues at stake in this electionGet Grist in your inbox

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Obama designates world’s largest protected area — it’s underwater

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A Hawaiian clean energy plant makes electricity from seawater and ammonia

A Hawaiian clean energy plant makes electricity from seawater and ammonia

By on 25 Aug 2015commentsShare

The ocean is often considered to be the final frontier for energy, whether we’re talking about Arctic oil reserves or giant floating wind turbines. Now, a 40-foot tall tower on the Big Island of Hawai’i will harvest the oceans’ energy using a method that has renewable energy advocates drooling. It’s part of a new research facility and demo power plant that uses seawater of different temperatures to power a generator via turbine.

Most sources of energy (even the naughty ones!) originate from the sun’s rays, and the technology at the demo plant — a joint project of Makai Ocean Engineering and the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority — is simply experimenting with a different way to capture them. Oceans cover upward of 70 percent of the earth’s surface, which means that 70 percent of Earth-bound sunlight strikes the ocean — and that makes for a lot of unharnessed heat. The Makai project extracts this thermal energy from the warmed ocean water.

Popular Science has the story:

The plant uses a concept called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). Inside the system is a liquid that has a very low boiling point (meaning that it requires less energy to evaporate), like ammonia. As ammonia passes through the closed system of pipes, it goes through a section of pipes that have been warmed by seawater taken from the warm (77 degrees Fahrenheit), shallow waters. The ammonia vaporizes into a gas, which pushes a turbine, and generates power. Then, that ammonia gas passes through a section of pipes that are cooled by frigid (41 degrees Fahrenheit) seawater pumped up from depths of around 3,000 feet. The gas condenses in the cold temperatures, turning back into a liquid, and repeats the process all over again. The warm and cold waters are combined, and pumped back into the ocean.

Despite the cool factor, the type of OTEC technology powering the Makai plant isn’t the most efficient out there. It takes a good chunk of electricity to pump in (and out) all that deep seawater. The demo plant currently uses a 55 inch-wide pipeline pumping 270,000 gallons per minute in order to operate. There are also relatively few ocean sites — off the U.S. coast or otherwise — that allow for the depth and temperature gradients necessary for ideal OTEC conditions. But above all else, the Makai plant is a research facility, and teams of engineers are constantly fiddling with the heat exchangers in the name of efficiency gains.

Of course, the thermal plant would also be more efficient if it were actually offshore, closer to the chilly ocean depths. Making the expansionary move could boost the plant’s capacity to powering upwards of 120,000 homes — 1,000 times as many as Makai expects the demo plant to power today. The energy company projects that a single full-scale offshore plant would prevent the burning of 1.3 million barrels of oil annually.

Watch the rather patriotic video above for more info.


A new energy plant in Hawaii generates power from ocean temperature extremes

, Popular Science.


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A Grist Special Series

Oceans 15

How to feed the world, with a little kelp from our friends (the oceans)Paul Dobbins’ farm needs no pesticides, fertilizer, land, or water — we just have to learn to love seaweed.

This surfer is committed to saving sharks — even though he lost his leg to one of themMike Coots lost his leg in a shark attack. Then he joined the group Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation, and started fighting to save SHARKS from US.

This scuba diver wants everyone — black, white, or brown — to feel at home in the oceanKramer Wimberley knows what it’s like to feel unwelcome in the water. As a dive instructor and ocean-lover, he tries to make sure no one else does.

This chef built her reputation on seafood. How’s she feeling about the ocean now?Seattle chef Renee Erickson weighs in on the world’s changing waters, and how they might change her menu.

Oceans 15We’re tired of talking about oceans like they’re just a big, wet thing somewhere out there. Let’s make it personal.

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A Hawaiian clean energy plant makes electricity from seawater and ammonia

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There Have Been 5—Yes, 5!—Monster Hurricanes in the Eastern Pacific This Year

Mother Jones

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Right now, swirling south of the Baja California peninsula, is a monster hurricane named Marie. Currently a Category 4 storm with 145 mile per hour maximum sustained winds, yesterday the storm was a full fledged Category 5, with 160 mile per hour winds. That makes Marie the first Category 5 in the Eastern Pacific hurricane basin so far this year—but there have been at least three other Category 4 storms so far, and one Category 3 to boot.

By any measure, these numbers are pretty striking.

According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the average Eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 through the end of November, and sees 15.4 total named storms, including 8.4 hurricanes, and 3.9 major hurricanes (Category 3 and greater). This year, by contrast, has already seen 13 storms, including 8 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes! And there are still fully 3 months to go.

In fact, for 2014, the Climate Prediction Center forecast “3 to 6” major hurricanes in the East Pacific. We’re already there, but we’re only halfway through the season! Just for comparison, in the jaw-dropping 2005 Atlantic hurricane season—the season featuring Katrina, Rita, and Wilma—there were a total of 7 major hurricanes.

Moreover, all this activity has been accompanied by numerous hurricane records. Back in May, Category 4 Hurricane Amanda was the strongest May storm ever seen in the basin. And just weeks later, Category 4 Hurricane Cristina set another new record, becoming the “earliest 2nd major hurricane formation” in the basin.

Now, the National Weather Service office in San Diego adds yet another record for Marie:

Note, though, that this record would appear to include Category 4 Hurricane Genevieve, which seems questionable. Genevieve was a truly rare storm that started in the Eastern Pacific as a tropical storm, and then tracked all the way across the Pacific from east to west, only attaining Category 4 strength in the Central Pacific region west of Hawaii, before then crossing the international dateline and becoming classified as a typhoon.

But with or without Genevieve, we’re still talking about a ton of strong hurricane activity. So what’s going on here? Note that even as the Eastern Pacific has been gangbusters, the Atlantic basin, where hurricanes tend to threaten the United States, has been pretty quiet. That’s no coincidence, explains Weather Underground blogger Jeff Masters by email:

…hurricane activity in the Epac East Pacific and the Atlantic are usually anti-correlated—when one is very active, the other is usually quiet. This occurs because when sinking air occurs over one ocean basin, there must be compensating rising air somewhere—typically over the neighboring ocean basin. Large-scale rising air helps encourage thunderstorm updrafts and thus tropical storm formation. Since ocean temperatures are much warmer than average over the Epac and near average over the Atlantic, the atmosphere over the Epac has tended to have more rising air this season than the Atlantic. Warm waters heat the air above it and make the air more buoyant, causing rising motion.

Right now, there are two major questions: Just how many more records will the 2014 Northeast Pacific Hurricane season set? And will one of those be a new record strongest hurricane ever recorded in the basin?

The current strongest storm, recorded in 1997, was Category 5 Hurricane Linda, which had maximum sustained winds of 184 miles per hour and a minimum central pressure of 902 millibars.

As for Marie: While the storm is far out at sea and unlikely to directly threaten any major land areas, it is kicking up huge waves that may be felt as far away as Los Angeles. Eastern Pacific hurricanes occasionally strike Mexico, and on rare occasions travel west far enough to menace the Hawaiian islands.

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There Have Been 5—Yes, 5!—Monster Hurricanes in the Eastern Pacific This Year

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Hawaii lawmakers move to block local bans on GMOs, pesticides

Hawaii lawmakers move to block local bans on GMOs, pesticides


Late last year, the Kauai and Hawaii County councils passed laws restricting the use of pesticides and experimental GMOs on their slices of Hawaiian paradise. But those laws could soon be sunk by state lawmakers.

Hawaii County’s rules ban biotech giants from the island and prohibit the new planting of GMO crops (farmers who already grow GMO crops may continue doing so). Kauai’s rules require disclosures from anyone growing GMOs or spraying agricultural pesticides and the creation of pesticide-free buffer zones near schools, parks, hospitals, and homes.

Enter House Bill 2506. Hawaii has long been a haven for scientists conducting trials for Monsanto, Syngenta, and other agricultural giants — and the bill aims to keep it that way. If passed and signed, it would block local governments from enacting their own agricultural rules.

“No law, ordinance, or resolution of any unit of local government shall be enacted that abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production, and ranching practices not prohibited by federal or state law, rules, or regulations,” the bill states.

If you were to glance at the legislation, you could be forgiven for thinking it was designed to help Farmer Bob continue tilling his land despite opposition from NIMBY new neighbors. From the bill:

The legislature finds that during the last several decades, population growth and migration to Hawaii has resulted in urban encroachment into rural areas traditionally reserved for agricultural activity. This intrusion brings inevitable conflict when new neighbors face dust, pesticide use, noise, and other activity typical of farming operations.

The purpose of this Act is to protect the farmer’s freedom to farm and promote lawful and proven agricultural activities by bona fide farmers that are consistent with long-standing state and federal laws, rules, and regulations.

Why are state lawmakers so eager to quash the anti-GMO laws? Truthout has some insight:

During the 2012 election cycle, Monsanto and two lobbyists that represent the company were among the top 15 donors to Sen. Clarence Nishihara, the bill’s main sponsor in the state Senate, according to state records. During the same election year, Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, another sponsor in the Senate, received a combined $3,650 of donations from Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Dow Chemical and an additional $5,450 from Monsanto lobbyists and industry representatives.

The biotech heavyweights aren’t waiting for state lawmakers to protect their experimental operations. They recently filed a lawsuit against the County of Kauai, alleging that it has been “irrationally” restricted from operating within “arbitrarily drawn” zones. “The Bill also imposes unwarranted and burdensome disclosure requirements relating to pesticide usage and GM crops that compromise Plaintiffs’ confidential commercial information,” the complaint reads.

For now, it seems Hawaiian citizens can’t say “aloha” to GMOs just yet — or at least without a court battle.

Hawaii’s GMO War Headed to Honolulu and Federal Court, Truthout

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

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Hawaii lawmakers move to block local bans on GMOs, pesticides

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Why I’m Still Skeptical of GMOs

Mother Jones

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Over the weekend, listservs, blogs, and Twitter feeds lit up with reactions to Amy Harmon’s New York Times deep dive into the politics behind a partial ban on growing genetically modified crops on Hawaii’s main island. The fuss obscured a much more significant development that occurred with little fanfare (and no Times attention) on Friday, when the US Department of Agriculture took a giant step toward approving a controversial new crop promoted by Dow Agrosciences, that could significantly ramp up the chemical war on weeds being waged in the Midwest’s corn and soybean fields. Since the ’90s, the widespread use of corn and soy crops genetically engineered to withstand the herbicide Roundup has led more weeds to resist that chemical. Farmers have responded by using even more chemicals, as this Food and Water Watch chart shows.

Food and Water Watch

Dow’s new product promises to fix that problem. The company is peddling corn and soy seeds engineered to withstand not just Roundup, but also an older and much more toxic herbicide called 2,4-D. In a Jan. 3 press release, the company noted that “an astonishing 86 percent of corn, soybean and cotton growers in the South have herbicide-resistant or hard-to-control weeds on their farms,” as do more than 61 percent of farms in the Midwest. “Growers need new tools now to address this challenge,” Dow insisted.

Use of 2,4-D—the less toxic half of the infamous Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange—had been dwindling for years, but the rise of Roundup-resistant superweeds has revived it.

Food and Water Watch

Farmers have been using it to “burn down” superweed-ridden fields before the spring planting of corn and soybeans. But if Dow gets its way, they’ll be able to resort to it even after the crops emerge. Dow has downplayed the concern that the new products will lead weeds to develop resistance to 2,4-D. But in a 2011 paper (abstract here), weed experts from Penn State—hardly a hotbed of anti-GMO activism—concluded that chances are “actually quite high” that Dow’s new product will unleash a new plague of super-duperweeds that resist both Roundup and 2,4-D. (I laid out the details of their argument in this post.) Here’s their model for how the new product would affect herbicide application rates on soybeans. Note how they project that glyphosate (Roundup) use will hold steady, but that “other herbicides,” mostly 2,4-D, will spike—meaning a windfall for Dow but nothing good for the environment.

From “Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management,” by David A. Mortensen, et all, in Bioscience, January 2012.

The USDA, which oversees the introduction of new GMO crops, appeared set to green-light Dow’s new wonderseeds at the end of 2012. But in May of last year, after a firestorm of criticism from environmental groups, the department slowed down the process, announcing in a press release it had decided that release of the novel products “may significantly affect the quality of the human environment,” and that a thorough environmental impact statement (EIS) was necessary before such a decision could be made.

Then on Friday, the USDA reversed itself—it released the draft of the promised EIS, and in it, the department recommended that Dow’s 2,4-D-ready crops be unleashed upon the land. Once the draft is published in the Federal Register on Jan. 10, there will be a 45-day public comment period, after which the USDA will make its final decision. At this point, approval seems imminent—probably in time for the 2015 growing season, as Dow suggested in its press release reacting to the news.

Why did the USDA switch from “may significantly affect the quality of the human environment” to a meek call for deregulation? As the USDA itself admits in its Friday press release, the department ultimately assesses new GMO crops through an extremely narrow lens: whether or not they act as a “pest” to other plants—that is, they’ll withhold approval only if the crops themselves, and not the herbicide tsunami and upsurge in resistant weeds they seem set to bring forth, pose a threat to other plants. And Dow’s new corn and soy crops don’t cross that line, the USDA claims. I explained the tortured history and logic behind the USDA’s “plant pest” test in this 2011 post. Long story short: it’s an antiquated, fictional standard that doesn’t allow for much actual regulation.

US farmers planted about 170 million acres of corn and soy in 2013—a combined land mass roughly equal to the footprint of Texas. Every year, upwards of 80 percent of it is now engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup. It’s chilling to imagine that Dow’s 2,4-D-ready products might soon enjoy a similar range.

Given the USDA’s regulatory impotence in the face of such a specter, perhaps the Hawaiian activists who pushed for that ban aren’t quite as daft as The New York Times portrayed them in its recent piece. The big biotech companies don’t operate on the island that imposed the partial ban on GMOs. But as another New York Times piece, this one from 2011, shows, they do operate on other islands within the state—using them as a testing ground for novel crops and a place to grow out GMO seeds, taking advantage of the warm climate that allows several crops per year. According to The Times, GMO seeds are now bigger business in Hawaii than tropical stapes like coffee, sugar cane, and pineapples—and the GMO/agrichemical giants have “have stepped into the leading, and sometimes domineering role, once played by the islands’ sugar barons.” As for Dow, it cops to having field-tested its 2,4-D-ready corn there.

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Why I’m Still Skeptical of GMOs

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Endangered species could be screwed by rising seas

Endangered species could be screwed by rising seas

Fuzzy Gerdes

Rising sea levels could ruin this Hawaiian monk seal’s favorite beaches.

Sea-level rise isn’t just bad news for coastal-dwelling humans. It’s also bad news for coastal-dwelling critters and plants, including one out of every six threatened and endangered species in the U.S. 

That’s according to a Center for Biological Diversity analysis of federal data. From the new report:

Left unchecked, rising seas driven by climate change threaten 233 federally protected species in 23 coastal states. …

The most vulnerable groups are flowering plants, which represent a third of all at-risk species, followed by anadromous fishes, birds, mammals, reptiles and freshwater mussels.

These species will be harmed as their habitat areas are submerged and eroded by rising seas. Saltwater intrusion also contaminates groundwater and causes the die-off and conversion of plant communities. …

Faced with rising seas, coastal wildlife and their habitats will need to move inland to survive. However, because 39 percent of the U.S. population lives in coastal counties, much coastal habitat has already been lost to development, leaving species with few places to move. Without help, many species are at risk of being squeezed between rising seas and shoreline development.

Here’s a list of five animal species most at risk from rising seas:

Center for Biological DiversityClick to embiggen.

The authors of the report call for cutting greenhouse gas emissions (duh) as well as protecting coastal areas. “If existing coastal habitats in the United States remain intact, exposure to sea-level rise hazards could be reduced by half,” the report says.

And it wouldn’t hurt if Americans also refrained from accidentally procreating. To that end, the Center for Biological Diversity is handing out 25,000 free Endangered Species Condoms this holiday season.

Deadly Waters — How Rising Seas Threaten 233 Endangered Species, Center for Biological Diversity

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

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Endangered species could be screwed by rising seas

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California is about to get drenched by an ‘atmospheric river’

California is about to get drenched by an ‘atmospheric river’

This is a post about the weather in California, so it’s only appropriate that it begins with a weed reference.

Remember The Pineapple Express?

In the movie, “Pineapple Express” is the name of the high-quality pot the protagonists enjoy. The dealer, Saul Silver, explains where the name comes from:

My guy Red told me it’s when this Hawaiian flood takes special dirt to the weed or some shit. It’s pretty scientific.

Not quite, Saul. (Saul is not good with details for some reason.) Actually, a Pineapple Express is a weather pattern that brings heavy precipitation to the West Coast. It’s a particular type of a phenomenon called an “atmospheric river.” And if you want to know what happens in an atmospheric river, stick around Northern California for a bit.

From The Sacramento Bee:

[G]et ready for an “atmospheric river” late in the week that will bring perhaps 3 inches of rain to the [Sacramento River] valley region, the National Weather Service said today.

The term of art — atmospheric river — tells the story: [National Weather Service meteorologist Darren] Van Cleave describes it as a “garden hose … focused right in our area.” …

Atmospheric rivers, he said, tend to be longer than they are wide. This one fits that description. But they also tend to affect an area for about 12 to 24 hours. Forecasts show this one lingering over the valley beyond Thursday night well into the weekend.


This week’s river.

This isn’t just a rainstorm. As noted by @Burritojustice (a Twitter must-follow), in 1862 a lengthy atmospheric river created a massive, temporary lake in the middle of the state. From Weather Underground:

Massive runoff from the mountains during the warm storms filled the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys almost from the foothills of the Sierra on the east to the hills on the west side of the Great Valley. A giant lake 250-300 miles long and 20 miles wide apparently formed, some 5,000-6,000 square miles (of what is now some of the most valuable agricultural land in the world and home to about 2 million people).

Climate experts fear that a deluge at that scale — or bigger — could happen again.

On occasions, as it presumably did during December 1861-January 1862, this stream of moisture becomes a persistent feature lasting for days and even weeks and funneling storm after storm towards the West Coast of the United States. …

The USGS suggests that up to 120” of rain might fall in California over the course of such an event (in favored orographic locations) the run-off from which would flood the entire Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys as well as the basins of Southern California. A very detailed analysis from the report predicts damage to exceed $300 billion with up to 225,000 people permanently displaced (in terms of complete destruction of dwellings) and a further 1.2 million forced into evacuation.

Flooding from a massive “atmospheric river” event would look something like this:


According to a report from the state of California [PDF], climate change is bound to make atmospheric rivers more intense, with increased moisture, warmer air, and a longer “season” during which the storms could occur. Scientists also expect a large increase in the number of so-called “50-year flood” events in the Sierras — the sort of precipitation that drowned the state in 1862.

This week’s storm won’t last for weeks, turning California’s bread basket into a soggy mess. But it could happen, someday — and there’s not much you can do to prepare for it. Evacuate as necessary, get a flashlight and canned food, and, of course, stock up on Pineapple Express.

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

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California is about to get drenched by an ‘atmospheric river’

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