Equilibrium & Sustainability

Nearly every state to freeze by Christmas Eve

Temperatures plunged to dangerous levels across the country on Thursday as a continent-spanning cold front moved down from Canada.

By Christmas Eve, all lower 48 states can expect temperatures below 20 degrees, according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA).

In many places, that change is happening with staggering speed — resulting in a drop of 20 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour or less, NOAA warned. 

In Cheyenne, Wyo., temperatures plummeted 40 degrees — from 43 F to 3 F — in half an hour, according to the local branch of the National Weather Service (NWS).

And Denver International Airport tracked a 37-degree fall — from 42 F to 5 F — in an hour, according to the local NWS office.

Other regions experienced less dramatic but still alarming drops.  

“When we woke up at 4 it was 25 degrees — and it was 13 and snowing by 7,” Missouri farmer Joe Maxwell told Equilibrium.

Maxwell, head of a group that advocates for small farmers on the front lines of climate changes, added that with wind chill, temperatures were less than minus 25 F. 

Other extremes are coming. Next week, Maxwell noted, Missouri can expect a “wild swing” in the opposite direction — with highs back in the 50s by New Year’s Day, according to The Weather Channel. 

Denver, meanwhile, can expect highs in the 50s by Christmas Day, as can Cheyenne by Dec. 27, per the Weather Channel.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Subscribe here or in the box below.

Today we’ll track the impacts of the enormous storm bearing down on the continental U.S., from canceled flights to iguanas falling from trees. Plus: Some good news on emissions from Europe, and the urgent danger of climate tipping points.

Storm impacts bear down across country

A plane is de-iced Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022 at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport in Minneapolis. (Alex Kormann /Star Tribune via AP)

More than 2,000 U.S. flights have been canceled as the nation’s airports buckled down for the ongoing winter storm, according to tracking site FlightAware.  

The cancellations in airports generally accustomed to extreme cold are a measure of the severity of the storm.

  • About a quarter of flights arriving in or departing from Chicago O’Hare International Airport and St. Louis Lambert International Airport had been canceled as of press time. 
  • Meanwhile, Denver International Airport’s cancellations were around 30 percent for arrivals and 24 percent for departures.

Tough pivot: These conditions meant tough choices for passengers seeking to get out ahead of the storm, ABC7 Chicago reported.

  • “Our flight got canceled at 8 o’clock this morning, so my husband is going to try and get us on another flight, but if not, we have to rent a car,” one traveler said.
  • “It’s an extra $500 to rent a car, so it’s going to be hard.”

What about the grid? Power outages are a distinct possibility amid blowing snow and high winds, according to St. Louis-based station KSDK.

According to tracking site PowerOutage.us:

  • More than 26,000 were without power in Texas 
  • About 12,000 were without power in Oregon
  • And nearly 6,500 were without power in Oklahoma

But while life-threatening lows will hit Texas, officials are confident that the power will stay on through the storm, according to the Texas Tribune.

SHUTOFFS PLAGUE RENTERS 

Some of the nation’s 44 million renters are facing the storm — which the National Weather Service described as “once-in a generation” — with the added strain of  having utilities shut off by landlords.

Texas: In Austin, property managers shut off the water at one apartment complex — with residents still inside, Nexstar station KXAN reported.

  • “I just woke up and the signage was out there,” said building resident Ming Dan.
  • That move is likely illegal, a local housing nonprofit told KXAN. 

Oklahoma: In Oklahoma City, some families hunkered down in rented apartments without working heat, Nexstar station KFOR reported.

  • Residents told the outlet that landlords had neglected to fix broken heating in time for the storm.
  • “I feel bad, terrible. I’m worried because who knows if we’ll wake up the next day, not to say it like that, but that’s how I’m feeling,” Tanya Sanders, a mother of three, told KFOR. 

An attorney told KFOR that “it just seems impossible that landlords would be providing housing without essential services such as heat.”

Iguanas could fall from trees as storm hits Florida

As the transcontinental arctic storm approaches the East Coast this weekend, South Floridians could find iguanas falling from trees, The Washington Post reported. 

Falling from trees? Yup. The cold air is expected to render cold-blooded animals immobile, according to the Post.  

  • Iguanas relaxing in tree branches could lose their grip and plunge to the ground.
  • Sea turtles could also become weak — a condition known as “cold-stunning” — and wash ashore from Texas to New England. 

Why such drastic effects? “You change the environment, and the organisms that are going to feel it first and hardest are the ectotherms,” Martha Muñoz of Yale University told the Post, referring to cold-blooded animals.  

  • That’s because their bodily function depends on thermal conditions, Muñoz explained.  
  • And this weekend, much of Florida will likely experience 30-degree-Fahrenheit temperatures, according to the Post. 

Is this unprecedented? No, but it’s also not an everyday event. When forecasts predict temperature drops to the low 40s, Miami’s National Weather Service branch sometimes issues a “falling iguana” warning, Tampa Bay’s Fox 13 News reported.  

  • Such weather alerts have been issued the past two winters. 
  • But this situation “is not a regular occurrence,” Ron Magill, Zoo Miami communications director, told Fox 13. 

Residents should be careful: Wildlife experts warned against touching the iguanas, as they’ll eventually warm back up and could get defensive, according to Fox 13. 

They also advised proceeding under trees with caution, as iguanas can also grow to nearly 5 feet long and weigh almost 20 pounds, Fox 13 reported.  

Iguanas can cope, but turtles cannot: While iguanas will still likely fall, researchers are finding that they aren’t getting quite as incapacitated as they used to — indicating that the animals may be adjusting to evolving climate conditions, the Post reported.  

But other reptiles, including sea turtles, do not seem to be acclimating quite as well to the unusual conditions, according to the newspaper.

Rescuing the turtles: If these stunned sea turtles are not found quickly enough, they can be attacked by birds or coyotes, Donna Shaver of the National Park Service told the Post.  

“They’re not adapting,” she said. 

Widespread animal impacts: The Kansas City Zoo closed its doors all day Thursday, with hopes of maintaining animal safety, according to Nexstar station Fox 4 Kansas City.

  • Workers at Iowa’s Blank Park Zoo were monitoring indoor holding areas with temperature sensors and lights, ABC affiliate Local 5 News reported.  
  • Dairy farmers in Missouri, meanwhile, were rotating animals through a heated milking barn — telling KMBC while cows like cold, “they do not like bitter cold.”

Defying expectations, EU emissions plunged this fall 

Carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union reached a 30-year low in November — upending forecasts that a surge in fossil fuel imports would do the opposite, a new report revealed. 

Emissions staying down: An ongoing energy crisis, driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, generated concern that a subsequent scramble for fossil fuels would cause an increase in the bloc’s emissions, according to the report.  

  • Yet power sector emissions and coal use plunged in November for the third month in a row, the authors determined.
  • The report was released on Thursday by the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.  

Clearing up a misunderstanding: The report, which relied on near-real-time tracking of EU carbon, attributed these surprising developments to a “misunderstanding” about resource acquisition versus actual consumption.  

  • The EU increased its fossil fuel imports to replace lost supplies, after Moscow cut off natural gas exports and the bloc in turn banned Russian coal imports. 
  • Weak nuclear and hydropower output also boosted coal and gas demand in early 2022.  
  • Nonetheless, the bloc also experienced dramatic reductions in fossil fuel use.  

Why was there such a reduction? The authors linked this decrease to the impact of high prices on demand, combined with increases in wind and solar power production.   

  • Both coal and gas-fired power fell year-over-year in November.  
  • Coal’s share of thermal power generation did rise, as the fall in gas-fired generation was about four times as large as the drop in coal-fired production.
     
  • But both solar and wind output achieved new records in November 2022.  

Conservation has been key: “However, the main driver of the fall in emissions are reductions in electricity and gas consumption prompted by the high prices,” the authors stated.  

Resulting conservation measures — such as lowering indoor temperatures — kept demand low, while relatively mild weather conditions did not have such a significant effect, the report found.  

To read more from the report, and what’s likely in store for December emissions, please click here for the full story. 

Climate tipping points possible at current levels

Dangerous climate tipping points are possible even at current levels of global heating, a new study has found.

  • The relationship is straightforward, according to Nico Wunderling, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.  
  • “We found that the risk for the emergence of at least one tipping event increases with rising peak temperatures,” Wunderling, who co-authored the study, said in a statement. 

Chances of the collapse of vital Earth systems rises to 50 percent if global warming exceeds 4 degrees Celsius (6.4 Fahrenheit) — even if society successfully brings them to safe levels later, according to the study in Nature Climate Change. 

Into the danger zone: Fully avoiding such a collapse is only possible at less than
1 C
 of global heating (1.8 F) above pre-industrial levels, the authors explained. 

Where are we now? Average global temperatures are now at 1.2 C above pre-industrial temperatures. 

Click here for the full story.

Thursday Threats

Millions of U.S. children suffering from food insecurity, current conservation initiatives aren’t saving Antarctic wildlife and green hydrogen’s leaky Achilles heel. 

US food insecurity remains high as prices rise 

  • Millions of American children are not getting enough food every day, while some food banks say they’re seeing more demand due to escalating inflation rates, our colleagues at NewsNation reported. Food scarcity remains highest in Louisiana, followed by Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C.   

Conservation efforts insufficient to thwart Antarctic biodiversity declines: study

  • Population declines are likely to affect 65 percent of Antarctica’s wildlife by 2100, due to inadequate conservation efforts, according to a new study in PLoS Biology. But a $23 million investment in 10 key strategies — detailed by University of Queensland scientists — could help up to 84 percent of terrestrial bird, plant and mammal groups.

Leaks could wipe out green hydrogen’s climate advantage 

  • While green hydrogen is widely touted as a climate solution, the resource has a potentially fatal flaw: leaks, which even at a rate of just 10 percent would wipe out the fuel’s climate benefits, Reuters reported. Hydrogen molecules are far smaller than even notoriously leaky than methane, the primary component in natural gas, according to Reuters.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for more and check out other newsletters here. We’ll see you tomorrow.

Tags Climate change Temperature records winter storm

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