Wildfires have begun several months early this year due to drought (and mismanagement) in Idaho, California, Colorado, and Minnesota. There may be others, but that is all I could find in a short time frame.
An agency that watches for wildfire conditions (see below) predicts 2013 will be a killer season. On a personal level, news about wildfires and floods hit me hardest. It’s when good people come together to help their neighbors in such visual, visceral, and gut striking way.
First responders, like firemen, who are usually unpaid volunteers, put their lives on the line for us. They are great people. These types of disasters are at once heartening, because they impact regular people so hard, and frustrating, because our government is partially responsible for mismanaging land and not providing adequate equipment. I fear that 2013 will be the year of tears - let’s hope that I’m wrong.
BOISE, Idaho—Two small but unseasonably early fires burning in northern California’s wine country and another wind-whipped blaze farther south likely are a harbinger of a nasty summer fire season across the West.
Officials with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise said Wednesday in their first 2013 summer fire outlook that a dry winter and expected warming trend mean the potential for significant fire activity will be above normal on the West Coast, in the Southwest and portions of Idaho and Montana.
“We’re looking at a combination of a low-moisture winter and a warming and drying pattern in the West that will increase the fire potential,” said Ed Delgado, predictive services manager.
If that sounds familiar to the region’s residents, it should.
In 2012, record-setting fires raged in New Mexico and Oregon, while destructive Colorado blazes torched hundreds of homes amid one of the state’s worst seasons in years.
Just like last year, Colorado experienced some of its first 2013 wildfires in March.
Outside the West, however, much of the U.S. is expected to experience normal fire conditions, with below-normal danger in the South where significant, long-duration rains saturated the landscape since Jan. 1, Delgado said.
In California, wine-producing counties Napa and Sonoma experienced early-season blazes Wednesday, as warm temperatures, low humidity and gusting winds through already-dry foothills areas east and north of
San Francisco led to warnings of extreme wildfire conditions.
Both were more than half-contained, according to crews.
And a fast-moving fire east of Los Angeles grew Wednesday afternoon to at least 1,500 acres near Banning in the San Bernardino Mountains, where winds from the east were blowing at nearly 30 mph. Some evacuations were ordered.
Evacuations were ordered for residences on two streets but the number of people was not immediately known. A KCAL-TV helicopter showed at least one structure engulfed by flames.
You know a flood is bad when a Duck paddles past your window…
…belonging to Anderson Eye Care at the Riverfront Plaza Building in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., as The Grand River reaches an all time high of 21.85 feet, a full 2.2 feet above the record set in 1985. Previous water levels can be seen marked on the wall.
Picture: AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Cory Morse
Streamgauges small machines placed in a water body, such as a river like the Mississippi, or an aquifer underground. So, streamgauges measure the flow and height of rivers and water supply around the country. They help cities and governments manage dam and levee systems, drinking and agricultural supply, and help emergency crews evacuate homes and businesses when appropriate.
They’re critical infrastructure. And they serve to increase the health, safety, and welfare of 100’s of millions of Americans.
Nearly 400 streamgauges may be shut down due to Obama’s budget cuts. The U.S.Geological Survey (USGS) has a map of gauges scheduled to be shut down, here.
Villa Epecuen: The Town That Was Submerged For 25 Years via Amusing Planet
By late nineteenth century, the first residents and visitors started to arrive to Villa Epecuen and set up tents on the banks. Villa Epecuen transformed from a sleepy mountain village to a bustling tourist resort. The village soon had a railway line linking it to Buenos Aires. Before long, tourists from all over South American and the World came flocking, and by the 1960s, as many as 25,000 people came every year to soak in the soothing salt water. The town’s population peaked in the 1970s with more than 5,000. Nearly 300 businesses thrived, including hotels, hostels, spas, shops, and museums.
Around the same time, a long-term weather event was delivering far more rain than usual to the surrounding hills for years, and Lago Epecuen began to swell. On 10 November 1985 the enormous volume of water broke through the rock and earth dam and inundated much of the town under four feet of water. By 1993, the slow-growing flood consumed the town until it was covered in 10 meters of water.
Nearly 25 years later, in 2009, the wet weather reversed and the waters began to recede. Villa Epecuen started coming back to the surface.
Neat, but that water is a polluted disaster of radiation and radon, metals like mercury, aluminum, and iron, and countless other poisons leaching from rotting concrete, underground sewer pipes, disintegrating metal infrastructure, etc… What an environmental mess.
Interesting conference recap for my resilience, cities, and adaptation readers. Focus seems to have been on public-private partnerships in rebuilding after disasters - getting NGOs, non-profits, and governments together to discuss how to better plan and manage environmental risks. Big fan of the international flavors at this event.
In 2011 a couple of months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear aftermath, the Global Platform for Disaster Reduction, which also hosted the first World Reconstruction Conference, brought together almost 3000 people working on reducing disaster risks and building resilient communities. This included several Heads of State, Ministers, a Managing Director of the World Bank, over 2,600 delegates representing 163 Governments, 25 inter-governmental organizations, 65 non-governmental organizations, parliamentarians, private sector, local government, academic institutions, civil society and international organizations.
The Chair’s Summary of the 2011 event identified 9 ways to place DRR at the forefront to preserve and protect the balance of nature and ensure sustainable development and well-being of future generations. This included supporting local government, drawing on the untapped potential of local actors, building on the role of women as change agents, involving children and youth in decisions that affect their future, engaging the private sector, building on the role of parliamentarians in setting policy, promoting cooperation at the local, national, and regional levels, supporting the scientific and technical communities to inform decisions, and supporting UNISDR in its leadership role in within the UN on DRR.
Rijkswaterstaat and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment took me and others on a tour of this and other adaptation-engineering projects last year. I wrote a report for a Republican Congressman in Florida who is concerned about sea level rise (interesting backstory on that one!). Anyway, behind closed doors, the Dutch weren’t convinced this sand-engine would work very well over the long-term, but conceded it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Also interesting about this - special barges are sent into the North Sea to dredge up this sand (and for other projects). The barges have bomb specialists on them because the North Sea sand contains unexploded bombs and shells from WWII. Gnarly, gnarly work.
Smart-Dikes and Sand Engines: The Netherlands’ Approach to Rising Sea Levels
On a freezing winter day along the south-central coast of Holland, two beachcombers, hunched against the wind, stroll along a crescent of sand extending more than half a mile into the North Sea. Nearby, a snowkiter skims over the 28 million-cubic-yard heap of dredged sediment spreading along the shore. If all goes as planned, the mound will eventually disappear, rearranged by ocean currents into a 12-mile-long buffer protecting the coastline for the next two decades.
This is the Sand Engine, one of the latest innovations from Dutch masters of flood control technology and designed, as the national water board Rijkswaterstaat says, so that “nature will take the sand to the right place for us.”
After having constructed the country’s vaunted system of sea gates and dikes, Dutch planners and engineers are now augmenting it with new technology enlisting nature to keep the water at bay. “Normally, there is a lot of erosion here,” says hydraulic engineer Mathijs van Ledden, sweeping an arm toward the snow-covered spit snaking around an elongated lagoon. Van Ledden is a flood risk reduction specialist with Royal HaskoningDHV, a Dutch engineering consultancy involved in creating the Sand Engine, currently 2.2 miles wide.
“This big reservoir of sand should re-nourish the rest of the coast in time,” he says, gesturing toward the skyline of The Hague, several miles away.
Infographic: Global Sea Level Rise Projections and Risk to the U.S.A.
A 2012 study by the U.S. Geological Survey determined that sea levels along the East Coast will rise three to four times faster than the global average. The study named Norfolk, New York City, and Boston as the three metro areas most vulnerable to the devastating effects of rising sea levels—ranging from the dramatic increase in storm surge, as winds scoop up water from the sea and dump more of it farther from the coast than ever before, to the steady erosion of roads, buildings, and arable soil as seawater creeps inland.
Inspectors discovered 326 deficient levees across the US, whose likely failures could leave millions of people dead.
A breach could demolish homes and cost local governments millions of dollars. By failing to repair the defective structures, the US is choosing to risk the lives of its citizens who are walking on eggshells with their proximity to the flood zones. In its first ever inventory of the nation’s flood control systems, inspectors raised the overdue alarm that hundreds of levees may be unable to regulate water levels and prove useless in face of heavy rains. Such populated cities as Washington DC, Sacramento, Dallas, Cleveland and many others might be flooded at any moment.
The US Army Corps of Engineers has only issued ratings for 58 percent of the 2,487 flood control systems, which means inspectors could still discover hundreds more deficient levees. Many of the earthen levees are crumbling under the effect of trees, shrubs and animal holes. Decaying pipes and pumping stations could also cause the flood control systems downfall, while some of the levees are dangerously close to houses or even have houses built on top of them.
The glacier Gigjokull, an outlet of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland. On March 20th 2010, just under a year after this was taken, a volcano in the area began to erupt, triggering fears of a jokulhlaup, or glacial outburst flood, from glaciers such as this one and it’s neighbour, Steinholtsjokull.
A much larger jokulhlaup from the Grimsvotn volcano under the Vatnajokull icecap in 1996 washed away a section of the Iceland Ring Road.
On April 14th 2010 a new eruption started even closer to Gigjokull, the glacier in this image, releasing large amounts of ash which caused air traffic over Iceland, the UK and most of northern Europe to be suspended. Additionally rivers in the region have risen as meltwater escapes from the glacier.
Recent photos and video from this glacier suggest that the lake in front of the glacier has filled with ash and sediment, and floodwater is surging down the slope at the sides of the ice.
Worst storm in 20 years hits eastern Mediterranean. Several dead. Storm intensifies health issues for war torn Syria and refugees. What’s worse, is the snow will melt quickly, causing flash floods, which will ruin roads and weakened infrastructure. Click through for slide show and full story.
The worst winter storm in two decades has hit the eastern Mediterranean this week, bringing destruction and death to Syria and its neighbors who are already dealing with a refugee crisis from the country’s civil war.
Opposition activists in Syria, where war has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and cut off access to food, fuel and power for cities and towns, say dozens of people have died there in four days of relentless extreme weather.
A new commission formed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, charged with figuring out how New York should adapt in the long term to cope with worsening storms amid climate change and population growth, has recommended an extensive menu of programs: it includes turning some of the state’s industrial shoreline back into oyster beds, hardening the electric and natural gas systems, and improving the scope and availability of insurance coverage, according to a draft version obtained by The New York Times.
The NYS 2100 commission, one of four that Mr. Cuomo established in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, is tasked with evaluating and recommending changes to the state’s infrastructure to better prepare for the harsher weather expected in the future.
Its broad 175-page study says the state should consider storm barriers with movable gates that would span the Narrows, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars, and endorses a variety of “soft infrastructure” investments like building dunes and wetlands and oyster reefs, which were more prevalent along New York’s coastline in the 1800s.
The commission also recommends some major actions that, conveniently, are already in the works, like a rail connection between the Metro-North commuter lines and Pennsylvania Station, and some ideas that have been around for years, like a new rail connection under the Hudson River. Though extensive, it is short on details, particularly on cost estimates and how the state might pay for new mitigation programs.
Louisiana cemeteries sinking, washing away. (Click for video). Some of the cemeteries were built above sea level, but marshy soils, tough hurricanes, and sea level rise are destroying the land.
Eleven cemeteries in Jefferson Parish have repeatedly flooded since Hurricane Katrina. In Lafourche, Terrebonne and Plaquemines parishes, more than a dozen others have succumbed to tidal surge. Some have more than 300 gravesites.
Officials say not much can be done to save the cemeteries or the sinking communities that surround them, though some towns have tried pouring concrete slabs to build up the burial sites and hold headstones in place. They’ve also anchored above-ground caskets to the slabs to keep them from floating off. USAToday
These types of stories are going to keep popping up in the next few years. Cemeteries, historic properties, naval yards, ports, bridge pilings, hotels, etc., anything close to the soft coastlines are going to get chewed up. And journalists will swarm to grab stories of nostalgia - “Mah grammie was buried in thar,” “I had mah first kiss in that thar light house,” “This hotel has been in operation since 1923. Important to the economy, you know. Now it’s lost to the sea.”
We know these things are going to happen. So who should pay to repair these structures?
Btw dear readers, I’m really (teeth-grindingly) annoyed I couldn’t embed this video from USA Today. They’re a great paper, way underrated imo. I’d share more vidoes and news from them, but their IT is out of touch. Does anyone know how to grab the embed code from the page script? Usually I can scrape the video code, but not with these guys. The url is here if you want to mess with it. Hit me up if you can help me!
A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.
I'm a climate change consultant specializing in climate adaptation, environmental law, and urban planning based in the U.S. In addition to traveling and hiking, I research, publish, and lecture on how cities can adapt to climate change.
Professional and sponsorship inquiries, please