by John Lawrence
At least seven people died when more than 50 tornadoes swept across parts of the south and eastern United States in late February. The extreme weather destroyed hundreds of homes and forced the closure of schools and government offices. At least four people died in Virginia, including a two-year-old boy. One witness said that the destruction in the small town of Waverly was "completely devastating." Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency. Scientists have linked an increase in the intensity and deadliness of tornadoes to climate change.
Tornadoes also devastated parts of Mississippi, Lousiana, Alabama and Florida. Dozens were injured and severe damage was reported across the Deep South. Two of the dead were in an RV park in Convent, Louisiana. A tornado ripped through the park leaving 160 motor homes and trailers in a field of debris. "Cars were crumpled on the highway. It picked cars up and threw them in the ditch," Sharon Faison, a medical assistant who drove to the mobile home park where the three deaths occurred, told the station. "We just have to pray."
Storms demolished apartment buildings north of Pensacola. The path of the Pensacola tornado was roughly 7 miles long. It destroyed four buildings and damaged 24, with minor damage to 58. As many as 30 tornadoes were reported. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
Some 209,000 customers were without power, officials with utility companies in several states and the District of Columbia said. There were 70 mph winds and flash flood warnings in several states with tens of millions of people in the danger zone. Tornadoes were embedded in thunder storms.
Five tornadoes touched down in North Carolina. A tornado also touched down in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Multiple buildings, homes and barns were taken down.
A rare February tornado watch was issued for parts of the Northeast. The watch area included the District of Columbia, Delaware, central and eastern Maryland, southern New Jersey, southeast Pennsylvania, and Northern Virginia.
These kinds of tornadoes are not normally seen until spring, but there is nothing normal about today's weather. The violent weather was blamed on El Nino which is driving a sub-tropical jet stream containing higher than normal moisture across the south.
Record Heat in the West
February 2016 was the hottest February in San Diego history with an average temperature of 64 degrees F surpassing the previous record set in 1980 by 4 degrees F. Daytime average temperatures averaged 74.5 degrees. San Diego set heat records for Feb 9 (83°), Feb 11 (84°) and Feb 16 (89°). A high pressure dome blocked storms from the region. Total rainfall was .05 inches.
Dozens of record highs were set across the Golden State, Desert Southwest and other parts of the West, as many locations had temperatures in the 80s and 90s. The heat was a staggering 15 to 25 degrees above average, even warmer than typical highs during the hottest months of the summer.
Phoenix recorded their earliest 90-degree day on record more than a full week ahead of the previous earliest occurrence according to the National Weather Service.
Downtown Los Angeles set a daily record high by reaching 90 degrees on Feb 16, just one day after setting a new record high for Feb. 15 of 89 degrees. These temperatures were considerably higher than the average high in the upper 60s. At an average high temperature of 77.5, this February sailed almost two degrees above the previous record set in 1954, according to the LA Times. February 29’s reported high of 74 capped a 10-day spell of temperatures in the 70s and 80s. Those mild but abnormally warm days combined with two record heat spells earlier in the month to lift February 2016 into the lead for hottest February ever according to a Times analysis of weather data going back to 1878.
Anaheim, California set a record for the warmest location in the US on February 16, according to the Weather Prediction Center, after temperatures soared to 97 degrees.
Death Valley, California, reached the 90-degree mark for the first time this year, topping a daily record, and missing the earliest such "first 90s" of the year by just six days (Feb. 10, 2006). Incidentally, America's hottest location had more days with highs in the 90s last year (193 days) than days of lower high temperatures.
Climate Change Responsible for Erratic Weather
In a new Ted talk, Al Gore runs down the dire facts that climate change is already bringing into existence. Droughts are forcing subsistence farmers off their lands throughout the world. Then they move to the cities where they become part of the urban poor living in slums. Miami, which is scheduled to be wiped out from sea level rises, already experiences flooding streets at high tide even when there is no rain. The water comes up from the storm drains.
First the bad news : "[T]he accumulated amount of man-made, global warming pollution that is up in the atmosphere now traps as much extra heat energy as would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding every 24 hours, 365 days a year."
Al Gore continues:
So we're having record-breaking temperatures. Fourteen of the 15 of the hottest years ever measured with instruments have been in this young century. The hottest of all was last year. Last month was the 371st month in a row warmer than the 20th-century average. And for the first time, not only the warmest January, but for the first time, it was more than two degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average. ...
These climate-related disasters also have geopolitical consequences and create instability. The climate-related historic drought that started in Syria in 2006 destroyed 60 percent of the farms in Syria, killed 80 percent of the livestock, and drove 1.5 million climate refugees into the cities of Syria, where they collided with another 1.5 million refugees from the Iraq War. ...
The 10 largest risk cities for sea-level rise by population are mostly in South and Southeast Asia. When you measure it by assets at risk, number one is Miami: three and a half trillion dollars at risk. Number three: New York and Newark. I was in Miami last fall during the supermoon, one of the highest high-tide days. And there were fish from the ocean swimming in some of the streets of Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale and Del Rey. And this happens regularly during the highest-tide tides now. Not with rain -- they call it "sunny-day flooding." It comes up through the storm sewers. And the Mayor of Miami speaks for many when he says it is long past time this can be viewed through a partisan lens. This is a crisis that's getting worse day by day. We have to move beyond partisanship.
Now the Good News:
And I think the answer is in three parts. First, the cost came down much faster than anybody expected, even as the quality went up. And low-income countries, places that did not have a landline grid -- they leap-frogged to the new technology. The big expansion has been in the developing counties. So what about the electricity grids in the developing world? Well, not so hot. And in many areas, they don't exist. There are more people without any electricity at all in India than the entire population of the United States of America. So now we're getting this: solar panels on grass huts and new business models that make it affordable. Muhammad Yunus financed this one in Bangladesh with micro-credit. This is a village market. Bangladesh is now the fastest-deploying country in the world: two systems per minute on average, night and day. And we have all we need: enough energy from the Sun comes to the Earth every hour to supply the full world's energy needs for an entire year. It's actually a little bit less than an hour. So the answer to the second question, "Can we change?" is clearly "Yes." And it's an ever-firmer "yes."
Last year -- if you look at all of the investment in new electricity generation in the United States, almost three-quarters was from renewable energy, mostly wind and solar.
Just like cell phones leapfrogged over landlines in many parts of the world where no phone service existed, renewable energy has been put in place where no previous electric grids existed. The cost of renewables is now below the cost of fossil fuels. That means that, from an investment standpoint, new energy installations are going to be renewables and not fossil fuels. The only question is can the planet get there fast enough.