Forecast Calls For Unpredictable Smoke Plumes

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. It’s not the virus, it’s the Canadian wildfire smoke. A few of us are wearing masks (indoors) at our Brainerd Lakes cabin, after air quality fell to hazardous levels yesterday. The EPA website advised us to ‘stay indoors’. Lovely.

The weather this summer has been vaguely apocalyptic, between suffocating heat, jungle-like humidity, withering drought and jaw-dropping floods. A sign of summers to come? I hope not – but we need to be prepared for whatever an overheated, agitated Mother Nature throws at us.

For the record, predicting smoke plume movement and intensity is nearly impossible – but thick smoke may keep us cooler in the days to come. Expect a smoky-blue sky into the weekend with highs in the 80s, close to average for this time of year. Showers brush southern Minnesota later today with a stray instability shower late Saturday.

No pattern shifts or soaking rains are brewing. 75 percent of Minnesota is now in severe drought; 22 percent in extreme drought.

Perfectly Normal (for China). Air quality as measured by EPA’s “AirNow” dropped into the hazardous zone yesterday as north winds behind a cooler front brought thick wildfire smoke back into Minnesota. It looked like fog – it was actually smoke, with PM2.5 levels highs enough to warrant a “stay indoors” advisory. Very strange, especially in late July.

Brainerd Air Quality Index yesterday

Air You Can Chew. Visibility dropped to a few miles (in thick smoke) in the Brainerd Lakes area with a PM2.5 value of 346, in the hazardous zone. Good grief.

Relatively Comfortable Into Early Next Week. Temperatures trend close to average (imagine that) for the next few days before slowly warming up next week. We should get a break from the 90s for at least a week to 10 days.

NOAA NDFD Temperatures for MSP
ECMWF Temperatures for MSP

Heating Up Again Mid August? If you believe the GFS we’re not quite done with the 90s. Another robust ridge of hot high pressure builds over the central US within 2 weeks. We’re up to 22 days at/above 90F so far this summer in the Twin Cities. At the rate we’re going we stand a good chance of reaching 30 days of 90+. Average is 13 days.

July Rainfall Deficits. No whining about showers and thunderstorms anytime soon, considering a 2-3” rainfall deficit across much of Minnesota this month.

Belgium and German Deal With “Unimaginable” Piles of Post-Flood Trash. Politico Europe has details: “After the deluge comes the garbage. German and Belgian authorities are struggling to clear mountains of waste — washing machines, smashed furniture, paper, cars, plastics, chemicals, sewage and building debris — washed up by this month’s catastrophic floods. The tsunami of trash is so vast that the main priority is getting rid of the stuff before it poses a risk to human health and not recycling and reusing it as called for by EU guidelines. Only “a small quantity” of post-flood trash in the Belgian city of Liège is being sent to recycling facilities, said Jean-Jacques De Paoli, spokesperson for the local waste management association Intradel…”

Extreme Weather is Upending Lives in the U.S. West. has the post; here’s an excerpt: “…He moved to Portland, Oregon, three years ago. Beck felt it was a smart decision given the city’s historically temperate climate, and one that is relatively insulated from the worst effects of climate change. This summer has wiped that illusion away. In ways big and small, the effects of climate change — which scientists have long warned will worsen without swift efforts to limit greenhouse grass emissions — are upending lives across the US. Many residents of the West who spoke with CNN say that they are frightened by the inescapable heat, the explosive wildfires and the unrelenting drought. Most of all, they fear how much worse things could get for them and their children…”

Symbols represent the 99.9th percentile of observed daily maximum wet-bulb temperature for 1979–2017 for HadISD stations with at least 50% data availability over this period.
Source: “The emergence of heat and humidity too severe for human tolerance” by Colin Raymond, Tom Matthews and Radley M. Horton, published by Science Advances by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Beyond Human Endurance. Will some countries be unlivable in the years and decades to come? Here’s an excerpt from The Washington Post (paywall): “…A term we rarely hear about, the wet-bulb temperature reflects not only heat, but also how much water is in the air. The higher that number is, the harder it is for sweat to evaporate and for bodies to cool down. At a certain threshold of heat and humidity, “it’s no longer possible to be able to sweat fast enough to prevent overheating,” said Radley Horton a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Scientists have found that Mexico and Central America, the Persian Gulf, India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia are all careening toward this threshold before the end of the century…”

Wildfires Have Burned a Combined Area the Size of Delaware and Rhode Island Combined. reports: “Wildfires in the US have burned nearly three million acres so far this year — that’s the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined and then some — as the nation’s largest fire scorches even more land and buildings. The Bootleg Fire, the largest active fire in the US, has been steadily growing since it was sparked by lighting July 6. It has charred 413,400 acres in southern Oregon, destroying hundreds of structures and vehicles in its way. It was 53% contained late Tuesday, according to Inciweb, the clearinghouse for fire information in the US. The enormous fire has destroyed 161 residences and 247 outbuildings, according to a statement on InciWeb…”

The Great Salt Lake recedes from Anthelope Island near Salt Lake City. The waters have receded further since this photograph was taken in May.
Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

Water Levels in Utah’s Great Salt Lake Hits Historic Low. The Guardian reports: “The water levels at the Great Salt Lake have hit a historic low, a grim milestone for the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River that comes as a megadrought grips the region. On Saturday, the US Geological Survey announced average daily water levels had dropped about an inch below the previous record of 4,191.4ft (1,278 meters) above sea level, which was set in 1963. The new record comes months earlier than when the lake typically hits its lowest level of the year, indicating water levels could continue to drop even further, said Candice Hasenyager, the deputy director of Utah’s division of water resources…”

U.S. Drought Monitor Created with Datawrapper

New Residents Flood Into the Most Drought-Stricken Counties. A post at Economic Innovation Group caught my eye; here’s an excerpt: “…Nearly 20 million additional residents could be in some of the most water-starved counties by 2040. Some of the country’s most water-starved states like Arizona, Utah, and Texas are poised to continue adding millions of residents in the coming decades, further compounding economic and infrastructure concerns around water availability and heat-related health problems. NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center produced several county-level population projections factoring in various future development policies, fossil-fuel usage, emission reductions, and climate adaptation policies. Based on the “middle of the road” scenario involving medium challenges to climate change mitigation and adaptation, the U.S. population is expected to grow by nearly 54 million through 2040. Almost 37 percent of those gains are expected to occur in the 507 counties, mainly in western states and Texas, that have cumulatively experienced at least three years of severe drought conditions since 2010...”

This graph shows electricity net generation in all sectors (electric power, industrial, commercial, and residential) and includes both utility-scale and small-scale (customer-sited, less than 1 megawatt) solar.
U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Monthly Energy Review

Renewables Became Second-Most Prevalent U.S. Electricity Source in 2020. Here’s an excerpt from a post at the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA): “In 2020, renewable energy sources (including wind, hydroelectric, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy) generated a record 834 billion kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity, or about 21% of all the electricity generated in the United States. Only natural gas (1,617 billion kWh) produced more electricity than renewables in the United States in 2020. Renewables surpassed both nuclear (790 billion kWh) and coal (774 billion kWh) for the first time on record. This outcome in 2020 was due mostly to significantly less coal use in U.S. electricity generation and steadily increased use of wind and solar…”

Delta Variant Surge Shows the Folly of a Normal Return to Office. Fortune Magazine makes the case: “With vaccine effectiveness against the coronavirus Delta variant dropping to 39%, according to a new report from Israel, it’s pure folly to pursue a normal office return. Make no mistake about the danger: The Delta surge is forecast to grow much worse in the next few months. Indeed, the CDC is considering asking vaccinated people to wear masks indoors and moving toward recommending booster shots. Yet many large companies and midsize firms, along with the federal government, are forcing employees who successfully worked from home during the height of the pandemic to return to the office. Over a third have already returned and most of the rest are slated to return by the end of summer or early-to-mid-fall, when schools will reopen and Delta cases will soar...”

Swimming Gives Your Brain a Boost – but Scientists Don’t Know Yet Why It’s Better Than Other Aerobic Activities. The Conversation explains: “It’s no secret that aerobic exercise can help stave off some of the ravages of aging. But a growing body of research suggests that swimming might provide a unique boost to brain health. Regular swimming has been shown to improve memory, cognitive function, immune response and mood. Swimming may also help repair damage from stress and forge new neural connections in the brain. But scientists are still trying to unravel how and why swimming, in particular, produces these brain-enhancing effects…”

85 F. Twin Cities high on Thursday.

83 F. average MSP temperature on July 29.

84 F. high on July 29, 2020.

July 30, 1971: A cool spell across Minnesota brings frost to northern Minnesota. Freezing temperatures are reported as far south as Pipestone.

FRIDAY: Partly sunny, smoky. Winds: S 5-10. High: 82

SATURDAY: Some sun, stray PM T-shower. Winds: N 15-25. Wake-up: 67. High: 84

SUNDAY: Partly sunny and cooler. Winds: N 10-20. Wake-up: 63. High: 77

MONDAY: Plenty of sun, light winds. Winds: NW 5-10. Wake-up: 61. High: 79

TUESDAY: Mix of clouds and sun. Winds: NW 8-13. Wake-up: 61. High: 82

WEDNESDAY: Hazy sun, seasonably warm. Winds: E 5-10. Wake-up: 65. High: 85

THURSDAY: Peeks of sun, still too dry. Winds: SE 5-10. Wake-up: 66. High: 86

Climate Stories…

“Climate Change Has Become Real”. Extreme Weather Sinks Prime US Tourism Site. The Guardian explains: “…Beyond impacts to recreation, climate change is creating other big problems for Lake Powell and its sister reservoirs in the Colorado River storage system that provides water to 40 million people in the western United States. The entire system is depleted from extreme drought conditions and Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, is expected to reach a record low in August that will trigger the first ever mandatory water cutbacks to Arizona and Nevada. As water managers and the Park Service scramble to adapt an infrastructure that was designed to function optimally when Lake Powell was full – which last happened in 1999 – some environmentalists are fighting to protect the nearly 100,000 acres of land that has emerged from beneath the high water mark…”

The International Space Station flies over a city at night. Human activity may be pushing the climate beyond a ‘tipping point,’ a new report suggests.

Ignoring Climate Change Will Yield “Untold Suffering”, Panel of 14,000 Scientists Warns. Details via a post at Live Science: “Nearly 14,000 scientists have signed a new climate emergency paper, warning that “untold suffering” awaits the human race if we don’t start tackling global warming head-on, effective immediately. The new paper, published July 28 in the journal BioScience and led by researchers from Oregon State University, is an update of a 2019 paper that declared a global “climate emergency” and evaluated Earth’s vital signs based on 31 variables — including greenhouse gas emissions, surface temperature changes, glacial ice mass loss, Amazon rainforest loss, plus various social factors like global gross domestic product (GDP) and fossil fuel subsidies…”

Toyota Led on Clean Cars. Now Critics Say It Works to Delay Them. The New York Times (paywall) has the story; here’s an excerpt: “…Behind that position is a business quandary: Even as other automakers have embraced electric cars, Toyota bet its future on the development of hydrogen fuel cells — a costlier technology that has fallen far behind electric batteries — with greater use of hybrids in the near term. That means a rapid shift from gasoline to electric on the roads could be devastating for the company’s market share and bottom line. The recent push in Washington follows Toyota’s worldwide efforts — in markets including the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia — to oppose stricter car emissions standards or fight electric vehicle mandates…”


Why the Paris Climate Agreement Might Be Doomed to Fail. Inside Climate News reports; here’s a clip: “The outcome of the game illustrates a problem inherent to climate change: Success or failure is determined only by whether the collective goal is achieved, regardless of how much any single country contributes. So while countries are all but assured of a bad outcome if they don’t take action, they could be even worse off if they limit their own emissions sharply but others do not. “What they want is some kind of assurance that others will contribute,” Barrett said. The game showed that the Paris accord, like the global climate pacts that preceded it, fails to provide this assurance, Barrett said. But there is another treaty, created 34 years ago in response to a threat to the atmosphere’s ozone layer, that is widely viewed as a success and credited with preventing hundreds of millions of cases of skin cancer. And Barrett thinks that earlier accord has lessons to offer international leaders, as they struggle to reach climate goals…”

Volunteers from All Hands and Hearts working on the Ponderosa. “It hurt, looking at a place where you grew up basically in shambles,” says Donna’s son Jalen.
Sam Van Pykeren

Want Proof We Need a Civilian Climate Corp? Look No Further Than Louisiana. Here’s an excerpt from Rolling Stone: “…As of June 1st, 2,500 Lake Charles households were living in or awaiting FEMA trailers and 3,000 residents were still displaced. It’s the climate refugee crisis in America’s own backyard — and this is only the beginning. Climate trauma is now routine across the Gulf Coast, with many locals having lived through multiple disasters. In 2020, Laura and Delta were just two of the record-setting 30 named storms to make landfall in the Atlantic, exhausting the alphabetic naming system and forcing the use of Greek letters (all the way to the ninth one, “Iota”). Natural disasters cost the U.S. about $95 billion last year — twice as much as 2019. As government relief aid fails those who most need it, the Gulf Coast ethic of “neighbors helping neighbors” is rapidly becoming exhausted…”

‘People are Winning’ — Oil Hub First in US to Ban Fossils: Climate Nexus has headlines and links: “The Whatcom County Council in Washington state has unanimously passed permanent land-use policies that ban new fossil fuel infrastructure, becoming the first in the US to pass such a measure. The ordinance prohibits the construction of new refineries or coal facilities and places more restrictions on expansion of fossil fuel facilities at Cherry Point, such as requiring offsets for greenhouse gases emitted from any expansions and rigorous environmental review. Whatcom is currently polluted by two of Washington’s five oil refineries, and five years ago saw the cancellation of the country’s largest planned coal export facility due to concerns from the Lummi Tribe around fishing treaty rights. “What’s been happening in Whatcom County for the last 10 years and in the state and Oregon is that people have been saying no to these new proposals coming forward one by one by one,” said Matt Krogh, director of the Safe Cities campaign for “And people are winning.” (KNKX, Northern Light, Guardian, InsideClimate News)

Paul Douglas

Is This the End of Summer as We’ve Known It? The New York Times (paywall) asks a question that I’ve heard from many others this summer: “In the state that perfected if not invented the American summer, the smell of 17 million gallons of spilled sewage lingered last week on a Southern California beach. There were bare rocks where snow once capped the Sierra Nevada and bathtub rings where water once glistened in Shasta Lake. Wildfires roared across the West, threatening the electrical grid, the smoke so thick it could be seen from space, pluming into the jet stream, delaying planes in Denver, turning the sun red in Manhattan, creating its own weather. Health authorities warned that recent Death Valley-style heat waves had contaminated shellfish from Washington State. Monsoons swept cars from the road in Arizona. Pennsylvania songbirds were dying. This is the summer that feels like the end of summer as we have known it…”

Minnesota DNR

The Climate Change Link to More and Bigger Wildfires. Public Radio Tulsa has the story; here’s a clip: “Across the country people have been experiencing hazy skies from big wildfires in Western states. More than 3 million acres have already burned, and fire experts say this is just the beginning. A historic drought and heatwave have primed forests to burn big this year, just like they did last year. A conservative estimate from the U.S. Forest Service said by 2015, fire season had gotten about two-and-a-half months longer than it was in the 1970s. Scientists say that number is growing even larger. At the same time, wildfires are burning more acres than ever before. The nine largest wildfire seasons since reliable records begin have occurred since 2005…”

Climate Central

Dog Days of Summer Can Injure Our Pets. Here’s an excerpt of an explainer at Climate Central: “When the air temperature hits 77°F degrees, asphalt surfaces can reach 125°F in direct sunlight and when there’s no wind. This is the temperature that can burn human skin, and it can be unsafe for dogs’ unprotected paws. Climate Central looked at the temperature trends for 246 U.S. cities, and found that 94% (232) have seen an increase in days each year that were 77°F or above since 1970.

  • The annual number of days above 77°F has increased by at least 3 weeks on average in 43 cities.
  • Bluefield, Va. showed the greatest increase, with 45 more days on average above 77°F, followed by Tucson, Ariz. (40 days), Santa Maria, Calif. (34), Erie, N.Y. (33), and Flint, Mich. (31).

As air temperatures rise, pavement gets much hotter in the sunlight. At 86°F, the surface temperature jumps to 135°F. At 87°F, only one degree more, the asphalt temperature rises to 143°F…”

Researchers Identify Battery Alternative to Slow Climate Change. has an interesting story – here’s an excerpt: “…The salt in most traditional batteries are lithium-ions. Takeuchi said the trouble starts with cost. Building enough lithium-ion batteries for renewable energy storage can be expensive. “There’s like one or two places on Earth where you can actually mine these elements. And one of the elements, cobalt, that’s used in lithium-ion, the biggest mines are all located in Congo, in Africa,” she said. The salt Takeuchi uses is made of manganese and zinc, instead of lithium. “If these batteries are really big, can we use elements, can we use materials that are not very dangerous, that are Earth abundant, that are readily available?” she said…”

Hot Start to Olympics Raises Health Concerns: Climate Nexus has headlines and links: “The 2020 Summer Olympics kicked off in Tokyo on Friday and there are already signs the toughest part of the competition may just be the extreme heat and humidity in what is expected to be the hottest Olympics on record. Temperatures in Tokyo this time of year are usually in the high 80’s, but a heat wave is pushing temperatures into the 90s. The heat index on Saturday made it feel like 100°F and humidity levels were above 80% on Sunday. Temperatures in July and August are 5.15°F/2.7°C warmer than they were last time Tokyo hosted the games in 1964, and on average, there are eight more days of 95-plus-degree weather. Athletes are feeling the heat already: ahead of the Opening Ceremony on Friday, Russian Archer Svetlana Gomboeva collapsed during a qualifying event due to the heat. The Tennis tournament, which began Saturday, was also affected by the heat, as Russian player Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova required a medical timeout after feeling dizzy due to the heat. Then, several athletes participating in the triathlon, which finished Monday morning, had to be helped off the track due to overheating. Extreme heat is now the deadliest weather event, and it is only getting worse as the planet continues warming. Despite this, currently, the International Olympic Committee doesn’t take climate change into consideration when selecting host cities. Japan’s proposal to host the 2020 games, for example, claimed “this period provides an ideal climate for athletes to perform their best” because of its “many days of mild and sunny weather.” (Overview: Wall Street Journal $, Popular Science; Weather: NBC News, Axios, Washington Post $; Gomboeva: Yahoo, Reuters $, AP; Tennis: Reuters $, AP, Insider; Health: Vox; Commentary: Dan Wetzel, Yahoo).