Smoke Gets In Your Eyes – And Lungs

One of many benefits living in Minnesota: clean air. There are few polluting, heavy industries upwind. But a recent story at Star Tribune caught my eye. There have been 9 air pollution alerts this summer in Minnesota; 7 just in August. That’snthe most since the current warning system began in 2010.

Air pollution still claims an average of 2,000 lives in Minnesota, annually. In this case the culprit was wildfires in the western USA and Canada, sending thick plumes of smoke into the state. Fine particulants, 2.5 microns or smaller, can penetrate the lungs, increasing the risk of asthma, stroke and heart disease.

Air quality should, in theory, improve in the coming months as western fires begin to subside. We’ll all be breathing easier this week as cooler Canadian air dips south. 70s will feel like sweet relief into Friday, with a shot at 80F next weekend – with a mostly dry, sunny sky.

The severe storm threat shifts south & east today as the atmosphere stabilizes a bit, but a few showers may linger. The next chance of boisterous storms comes late Thursday into Friday night.

Some smoke, but still no quakes, volcanoes or debilitating heat.

Damage Reports. NOAA SPC data shows most of Monday’s hail damage north of the metro, while the most damaging wind gusts were south of the Twin Cities into Wisconsin. Map: AerisWeather.

More Damage Reports. We don’t yet know if damage in the Red Wing area was straight line winds or a tornado (a Tornado Warning was in effect at the time). There were numerousreports of downed trees, mainly south and east of the Twin Cities. Info: IEMBot.

Severe Storm Protocol for the Minnesota State Fair. This was top of mind for a time late Monday as severe storms roared across the region. There is no substitute for personal responsibility and being “weather-aware” anytime you’re outside during the summer months. That includes checking the forecast and receiving weather alerts on your smartphone. Here’s an excerpt from The Minnesota State Fair: “The National Weather Service notifies State Fair Police ahead of time, as soon as severe weather moves into eastern Hennepin County. You will hear a severe weather siren and/or be alerted by State Fair Police squads that you need to seek shelter. Move into a nearby building, preferably one of the five designated storm shelter buildings identified on all official Minnesota State Fair maps (also available at any information booth on the fairgrounds). You will be notified when it’s safe to move out onto the fairgrounds…”

Looks Like September. By the second week of September temperatures over the far northern tier of the USA begin to cool a bit, but no premature outbreaks of unusually chilly air are brewing the next 2-3 weeks.

Behind Uneventful Minnesota Summer Weather Lurks Signs of Climate Change. Josephine Marcotty reports for Star Tribune; here are a couple of excerpts that caught my eye: “…Instead, there were seven air alert days in August, bringing the summer’s total to nine — by far the highest number recorded since the state started using the current warning system in 2010. Though the state’s overall air quality has improved markedly — thanks to fewer coal-burning power plants and stricter pollution and fuel efficiency requirements — airborne pollution still contributes to the deaths of about 2,000 Minnesotans annually, according to the Minnesota Department of Health…Forest fires aggravate a common air pollutant: The smoke carries high levels of fine particulates, 2.5 microns or less, that penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream. That can trigger attacks of asthma, heart disease and stroke. In some places around Minnesota this month, where concentrations reached 100 or more nanograms per cubic meter, breathing the air for a day was like smoking four or five cigarettes...

Photo credit: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune.

People Still Aren’t Wearing Sunscreen and Melanoma Rates Are Rising. Here are a couple of excerpts from a troubling post at Quartz: “The prevalence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is growing in the US…Even with advanced sunscreen, truly protecting ourselves from the sun’s rays is a lot of work. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, most people should be using about an ounce of sunscreen to cover their entire bodies (smaller amounts if only parts of their skin are exposed) every day. This sunscreen should protect from both UVA and UVB rays, and should have a rating of at least 30 for its sun protection factor (or spf), and should be reapplied every couple of hours if you get wet or sweaty. In addition, you need to wait 15 minutes or so for sunscreen to dry after applying before they work at full power. Effective skin maintenance requires a lot of vigilance and planning—it takes the spontaneity out of running out to meet a friend or to jump in the ocean. And even when people do apply sunscreen, they usually don’t even put on enough...”

File image: FiveThirtyEight.

Climate Signatures in 2018. Mark Seeley has some very good perspective on 2018, to date – compared with long-term averages, in this week’s edition of Minnesota WeatherTalk: “A certain high degree of variability is evident in the Minnesota climate statistics so far this year. Some examples: For the January through August period, both average statewide temperature and precipitation are pretty close to the 30-yr averages. But for the May-August period this year ranks as the 2nd warmest historically, trailing only the growing season of 1988. And this is mostly thanks to very warm nights. Though the statewide May-August rainfall has been near normal, there is great disparity across the state. The southwestern counties have had the 2nd wettest May-August period in history with an average of nearly 23 inches (2nd only to 1993), while the south-central counties have reported the 8th wettest May-August period with an average of nearly 22 inches. Conversely, northwestern counties, which are in a moderate drought, have reported an average of less than 10 inches for the May-August period, ranking as the 12th driest in history back to 1895…”

Hurricane Harvey is Houston’s Unending Nightmare. The Atlantic reports on Houston, roughly 1 year after The Flood To End All Floods: “…In two days, Hurricane Harvey dumped 51 inches of rain on greater Houston. More than 75 people died in Texas. Of Houston’s 50 victims, most died by drowning. The catastrophic event has prompted an existential crisis of sorts in Houston. Almost every recent administration, including White’s, has made flood mitigation and relief a top priority. With each year comes newer technology, more sophisticated takes on infrastructure, and a deeper understanding of the threats posed by global warming. Yet Harvey has brought the question of Houston’s flood preparedness into sharp relief. For a city looking to outpace Chicago as the third-largest city in the country, it’s an unenviable position to be in. In the past year, Houston officials have thus scrambled to probe what went wrong, and what went right, in the lead up to Harvey, all the while attempting to rebuild the homes and lives of those displaced…”

File photo: DoubleHorn Photography.

A Houston Homeowner Has Spent $100K on Flood Prevention. It’s Probably Not Enough. Reminds me of the story of the kid with his finger in the (leaking) dike. Quartz has the story: “Atul Vir is ready for the next Hurricane Harvey. As soon as floodwaters start rising, pumps will start channeling the incoming stream into the 60-bathtubs-worth of storage below his Houston property. Brick walls below the windows and doors will keep water up to 12 inches out. If breached, the cascading water will flow through his front door, down his dining room’s sloped, tiled floor, past the living room, and into an indoor pond that drains into the sewer. If all this fails to keep water out, the Virs will move to their rooftop deck, designed to accommodate a helicopter rescue. Vir, a 59-year-old businessman, isn’t preparing for a post-apocalyptic water world, but present-day Houston. The extremes to which he’s gone to protect his property highlight the city’s severe flooding problem—and how unevenly it is spread across the US’s fourth-largest city…”

Photo credit: “A contingency deck.” Michael Starghill for Quartz.

Why Hurricanes Like Lane May Become More Common in Hawaii. A good post at Forbes from Dr. Marshall Shepherd: “…This study used the methodology that renowned tropical meteorologist Dr. Kerry Emanuel (MIT) has applied to climate models. The study also found that a term called the Power Dissipation Index also increases. This suggests that overall hurricane intensity will also increase, not just the number of them. Some scientists would counter that the business-as-usual or “worst-case” scenarios are not likely to happen so presenting results from that perspective are misleading. While perhaps a fair point in isolation, it is important to understand the full range of risks on the table. At the scale of weather threats, emergency managers and insurers have told me that they want to the full range of possibilities so I do not have an issue with this approach within a climate context...”

There’s a Time Bomb for U.S. – Mexico Relations Ticking Underground. It’s all about the water, as Quartz explains: “All along the 1,250 miles of border between Texas and Mexico, hidden under hundreds of feet of soil and rock, lie more than a dozen underground aquifers—areas of permeable earth that hold water—that crisscross the national boundaries. They might be the only sources of water the region will have left when the Rio Grande, hit by a one-two punch of climate change and a booming population, inevitably dries up. And yet there is no binational agreement for all this shared groundwater. Texas and Mexico have elaborate sharing agreements for every acre-foot of water that flows through the Rio Grande, which makes sense, especially since the river is dwindling. Making sure both sides are upholding those agreements while the region rides through its regular whiplash of droughts and floods takes up most of the bandwidth of water officials on both sides…”

Graphic credit: “The combined geographical area covered by the 15 aquifers Rosario Sanchez has found that cross beneath the Texas-Mexico border.”

In 1973, an MIT Computer Predicted the End of Civilization. So Far It’s On Track. 2040? OK, we may have a few relatively good years left. I’m dubious/cautious/skeptical, but in the spirit of full disclosure here’s a clip from Big Think: “In 1973, a computer program was developed at MIT to model global sustainability. Instead, it predicted that by 2040 our civilization would end. While many in history have made apocalyptic predictions that have so far failed to materialize, what the computer envisioned in the 1970s has by and large been coming true. Could the machine be right? What World One showed was that by 2040 there would be a global collapse if the expansion of the population and industry was to continue at the current levels…As reported by the Australian broadcaster ABC, the model’s calculations took into account trends in pollution levels, population growth, the amount of natural resources and the overall quality of life on Earth. The model’s predictions for the worsening quality of life and the dwindling natural resources have so far been unnervingly on target...”

No One at General Motors Is Allowed to Walk Around on their Smart Phone. Fast Company has a story that resonated: “At General Motors, employees are not allowed to walk around on their phones. That’s pretty standard behavior for warehouses and manufacturing facilities, but this rule extends to the office. That means no looking at a phone on the way to a meeting. No taking calls while en route to the bathroom. No checking email while you’re going to the kitchen to get a coffee. “We have asked people not to text and walk or walk and talk on phones because it takes your attention away from potential hazards,” says Jim Glynn, GM’s vice president of Global Workplace Safety...”

Dire News About Teens and Reading. A story by Laurie Hertzel at Star Tribune is cause for concern: “…One-third of all high school students do not read for pleasure. Fewer than 20 percent of high school students read every day. This is a tragedy. Instead, their free time is eaten up by video games and social media, which are not, as you know, really reading, even though words are often involved. This news came from professors at San Diego State University, who analyzed data from a decades-long survey project through the University of Michigan called Monitoring the Future. The San Diego professors analyzed the reading habits of more than 1 million teens between 1976 and 2016. That’s a lot of teenagers. What they found was a steep, sharp drop in reading. In the 1970s, about 60 percent of high school seniors read a book, a magazine or a newspaper every day. In 2016, that number was only 16 percent...”

Image credit: Medium.

Even Teens Are Worried About Too Much Smartphone Use. has the story: “More than half of all teenagers think they use their phones too much, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday. A quarter of teens reported feeling anxious, lonely and upset without their phones. Girls were more likely to report feeling that way.  Screentime and phone addiction have received increasing attention from the companies selling them. Google, Facebook and Apple have created tools to help people cut down on the amount of time they spend using their devices. Doctors and other experts worry that phones, tablets and other screens might affect everything from cognitive development to social skills. The Pew study is the latest in its series of inquiries focusing on kids aged 13 to 17…”

Screens Are Killing Your Eyeballs, And Now We Know How. One more reason to put the phone down, according to new research highlighted at Popular Science: “...In a recent paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers at the University of Toledo have begun to parse the process by which close or prolonged exposure to the 445 nanometer shortwave called “blue light” can trigger irreversible damage in eye cells. The results could have profound consequences for consumer technology. Catastrophic damage to your vision is hardly guaranteed. But the experiment shows that blue light can kill photoreceptor cells. Murdering enough of them can lead to macular degeneration, an incurable disease that blurs or even eliminates vision...”

Photo credit: “Put the phone down—or turn on an ambient light!” Deposit Photos.

Why You Should Stop Reading News. Farnam Street has food for thought: “…There are several problems with the way we consume news today:

First, the speed of news delivery has increased. We used to have to wait to get a newspaper or gossip with people in our town to get our news, but not anymore. Thanks to alerts, texts, and other interruptions, news find us almost the minute it’s published.

Second, the costs to produce news have dropped significantly. Some people write 12 blog posts a day for major newspapers. It’s nearly impossible to write something thoughtful on one topic, let alone 12. Over the course of a year, this works out to writing 2880 articles (assuming four weeks of vacation). The fluency of the person you’re getting your news from in the subject they’re covering is near zero. As a result, you’re filling your head with surface opinions on isolated topics. Because the costs have dropped to near zero, there is a lot of competition…”

Cartoon courtesy of Avi Steinberg.

Sperm Count is Decreasing in Rich Nations – And No One Knows Why. Handmaid’s Tale, anyone? PBS NOVA Next has the story: “Over the past 40 years, sperm counts in men from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have dropped by over 50 percent, researchers announced on Tuesday. Researchers examined 7,500 studies conducted between 1973 and 2001. They selected 185 studies with consistent counting methods and performed analyses on data from almost 43,000 men. Their findings, released in Human Reproduction Update, showed that sperm concentration fell from 99 million per milliliter to 47.1 million per milliliter during the span of the study, indicating a 52.4% decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3% decline in total sperm count for men in these nations. What’s more, the scientists found that the decrease in sperm count is not slowing. As sperm counts have implications for morbidity and mortality, these results raise potential concerns for health and fertility...”

Image credit: “Sperm counts in men from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have dropped by over 50 percent over the past 40 years.”

Go Ahead and Waste Some Time – It’s Good For You. Here’s Why. I’m fairly good at this; The Washington Post explains why “free time” is so important for healthy brains and healthy outlooks: “…The mind needs periods of rest to replenish itself. Some researchers believe that one benefit of sleep is to give the mind an opportunity to make sense of the input of the day. I would argue that constant external simulation during waking hours, without any time for quiet contemplation, is equivalent to sleep deprivation. The need to rest the mind has been known for thousands of years and can be found in the meditation traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Our hyperconnected lifestyle, without downtime, threatens our “inner selves.” My inner self is that part of me that imagines, that dreams, that explores, that is constantly questioning who I am and what is important to me. My inner self is my true freedom…”

New Research Suggests Evolution Might Favor “Survival of the Laziest”. This story made me happy, courtesy of and Slashdot: “If you’ve got an unemployed, 30-year-old adult child still living in the basement, fear not. A new large-data study of fossil and extant bivalves and gastropods in the Atlantic Ocean suggests laziness might be a fruitful strategy for survival of individuals, species and even communities of species. The results have just been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B by a research team based at the University of Kansas. Looking at a period of roughly 5 million years from the mid-Pliocene to the present, the researchers analyzed 299 species’ metabolic rates — or, the amount of energy the organisms need to live their daily lives — and found higher metabolic rates were a reliable predictor of extinction likelihood…”

Goat Grazing Program Combats Invasive Species. I had no idea. The City of Minnetonka has details: “In late August, the City of Minnetonka begins the third season of its goat-grazing program, intended to help control invasive buckthorn plants. Goats will be herded into a fenced paddock at the southeast corner of Purgatory Park. The herd will be on site for two to four weeks. The program is conducted in late summer or autumn to minimize the goats’ impact on native wildflowers and target their feeding on young buckthorn. Any buckthorn consumed by goats also reduces the amount of herbicide and gas-powered tools that must be applied by staff to control this highly invasive species. The herd is managed by a private contractor, Goat Dispatch…”

My (our) thoughts and prayers go out to Denise and Randy, and their families. We hope for a very positive outcome for these 2 friends…

TUESDAY: Cooler, showers linger. Winds: NW 10-15. High: 73

TUESDAY NIGHT: Damp with lingering clouds. Low: 55

WEDNESDAY: Partly sunny and comfortable. Winds: NW 5-10. High: 72

THURSDAY: Some sun, T-storms possible late. Winds: SE 8-13. Wake-up: 57. High: 75

FRIDAY: Humid with T-storms, some heavy. Winds: S 8-13. Wake-up: 62. High: 79

SATURDAY: Mix of clouds and sun, not bad. Winds: NW 7-12. Wake-up: 64. High: near 80

SUNDAY: Plenty of sun, good Fair weather. Winds: SE 7-12. Wake-up: 62. High: 82

MONDAY: Sticky with more T-storms. Winds: SE 7-12. Wake-up: 64. High: 80

Climate Stories…

John McCain’s Climate Change Legacy. InsideClimate News has the story: “Among the many battles Sen. John McCain waged in his storied career, it is easy to overlook his fight for U.S. action on climate change. He wrote legislation that failed. He built a bipartisan coalition that crumbled. And when Congress came closest to passing a bill that embraced his central idea—a market-based cap-and-trade system—McCain turned his back. And yet, McCain’s nearly decade-long drive on global warming had an impact that reverberates in today’s efforts to revive the U.S. role in the climate fight. In the Senate chamber and on the campaign trail, the Arizona Republican did more than any other U.S. politician has done before or since to advance the conservative argument for climate action. Today’s efforts to recruit GOP members into the climate movement—appeals to conservative and religious values, the framing of climate change as a national security threat, efforts to stress market-based solutions and the role business leaders can play—all owe a debt to McCain…”

McCain Was a Warrior for the Climate. Here’s an excerpt of an Op-Ed at The Wall Street Journal: “…Long before other Republican lawmakers, McCain spoke out loudly about the dangers climate pollution posed to America and the world. While his colleagues treated climate change as a political issue, or sought to protect their benefactors, the gentleman from Arizona warned about “the melting of glaciers, the dying of coral reefs, and rising ocean temperatures.” If McCain’s colleagues had followed his lead, the risks Americans face from climate change today would be far more manageable and less costly. McCain spoke with young people passionate about climate change during his 2000 presidential campaign. Convinced that “most of the observed warming over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities,” he hoped to build a bipartisan consensus for action. Along with his friend, Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, McCain sponsored the first Climate Stewardship Act in 2003, which would have capped U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions at the 2000 level. The bill failed, but that didn’t stop McCain…”

Climate Change is Real. We Must Not Offer Credibility to Those Who Deny It. Here’s an excerpt of an Op-Ed at The Guardian: “We are no longer willing to lend our credibility to debates over whether or not climate change is real. It is real. We need to act now or the consequences will be catastrophic. In the interests of “balance”, the media often feels the need to include those who outright deny the reality of human-triggered climate change. Balance implies equal weight. But this then creates a false equivalence between an overwhelming scientific consensus and a lobby, heavily funded by vested interests, that exists simply to sow doubt to serve those interests. Yes, of course scientific consensus should be open to challenge – but with better science, not with spin and nonsense. We urgently need to move the debate on to how we address the causes and effects of dangerous climate change – because that’s where common sense demands our attention and efforts should be...”

File image: Skeptical Science.

Climate Researchers Warn Only Hope For Humanity Now Lies in Possibility They Are Making All of This Up. Parody and sarcasm courtesy of The Onion: “…The evidence indicates our planet still might stand a chance of averting a complete climate catastrophe as long as my colleagues and I belong to a cabal of charlatans who are secretly paid huge sums of money to trick everyone into believing excess greenhouse gases will precipitate record-breaking natural disasters and worldwide famine. Otherwise, we’re all doomed.” On a personal note, Vanderwall added that he hopes that one day, his grandchildren will discover that he was involved in a massive, nefarious conspiracy spanning every country on the face of the earth, because it is the only thing that can possibly save them.”

“Loading the Dice”. Scientists Say Biblical Storms Like Hurricane Harvey Could Strike More Often. Data suggests we won’t necessarily see more hurricanes, but the storms that do form may be wetter and stronger. Here’s a clip from The Dallas News: “…Was it merely a cyclical climate event, an act of God or a man-made catastrophe? Scientists across the world started trying to answer those questions almost immediately after the storm. At least five peer-reviewed scientific papers have been published in the last year looking at how global warming has affected and changed the probability of a storm of this scale. And more research is in the pipeline seeking to provide the broadest possible understanding of Harvey. So far, a couple of things are becoming clearer: Harvey-like storms are likely to happen more often and hurricanes in general are expected to cause more damage as a result of climate change. And that could put more lives at risk in the nation’s fifth largest metro area that is also home to more than a fourth of the country’s petroleum refining capacity...”

Big Oil Asks Government to Protect Its Texas Facilities from Climate Change. Wait, wasn’t it just fairly recently the big oil majors were still disputing the science and denying the trends? CBS News has one of the more ironic headlines I’ve read recently: “…But the idea of taxpayers around the country paying to protect refineries worth billions, and in a state where top politicians still dispute climate change’s validity, doesn’t sit well with some. “The oil and gas industry is getting a free ride,” said Brandt Mannchen, a member of the Sierra Club’s executive committee in Houston. “You don’t hear the industry making a peep about paying for any of this and why should they? There’s all this push like, ‘Please Senator Cornyn, Please Senator Cruz, we need money for this and that.'” Normally outspoken critics of federal spending, Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz both backed using taxpayer funds to fortify the oil facilities’ protections and the Texas coast. Cruz called it “a tremendous step forward...”

Climate Change is Melting the French Alps. A story at The Guardian caught my eye: “…One of the consequences of climate change is the ongoing retreat of glaciers. “In the Alps, the glacier surfaces have shrunk by half between 1900 and 2012 with a strong acceleration of the melting processes since the 1980s,” says Jacques Mourey, a climber and scientist who is researching the impact of climate change on the mountains above Chamonix. The most dramatic demonstration of glacial retreat is shown by the Mer de Glace, the biggest glacier in France and one of Chamonix’s biggest tourist hotspots which would now be unrecognisable to the Edwardian tourists who first flocked there…”

File image: NASA.

Fighting Climate Change is Not Just a Cause, It’s Also a Business. reports: “Amid growing awareness about climate change and a consequent shift in consumer behavior, brands are increasingly selling more sustainable goods. From vegan footwear to recycled denim and organic toothpaste, the offer to consumers is growing — but such items are often more expensive than their non-sustainable equivalents. “As a fair trade business and the only retailer to be certified by the World Fair Trade Organization, it is important to us that we know the true cost of the product so that the people making the goods are paid a fair price and a ‘living’ wage,” Melanie Traub, managing director at online retailer People Tree, told CNBC via email...”