The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Farmers just starting to plant in water-logged Illinois

Climate change has arrived with a splash in Illinois. Unusual rainfall combined with bad timing on this past winter's freeze-thaw cycle means we may not have much of a soybean crop this year:

The soggy conditions will likely delay planting, again. Dillon, the Machesney Park resident, lives across the river from a plot of farmland he said has been barren for the last five years due to persistent flooding.

"You used to be able to raise corn in that field," Dillon said. "In the last five years, I don’t know if he’s had a crop in there or not. It’s always flooded. It’s too wet to plant, too wet to harvest."

The torrential rainfall and runoff has been known to wash fertilizer, animal waste and other pollutants from farm fields into waterways. It can also cause sewer systems to back up.

In either scenario, the untreated water can contain an unsafe amount of nitrogen, which can render the water dangerous for consumption. Fertilizer and sewage can also stimulate algae blooms that can degrade water quality. This, in turn, raises the costs associated with treating water, the new report says.

On Wednesday, [Illinois governor J.B.] Pritzker toured flooded areas of Winnebago and Stephenson counties. While no deaths related to the flooding have been reported, state and local officials say nearly 200 people have been evacuated.

“These are some of the highest river levels this area has seen in more than three decades, and I commend local emergency managers, law enforcement, fire and the volunteer organizations that have come together to keep people safe and preserve property,” Pritzker said in a statement. “For downstream communities that will be impacted by flooding in the days and weeks to come, I know that many groups are already preparing to help their neighbors. While we know that rebuilding will take a lot of time and work, we are committed to being your partners for the future.”

The Tribune explicitly tied these events to climate change in its headline.

So much rain!

The Tribune reports that today ends Chicago's second-wettest spring ever, the wettest May ever, and the only second month in recorded history (out of 1,770 months) to have 21 days of precipitation. This might become the new normal: 9 of the last 10 Mays have had above-average precipitation.

Lake Michigan, the inland sea ten blocks from where I'm sitting, has near-record water levels:

Lake Ontario, downstream, has swelled by almost a meter in the last two months to all-time record levels:

So not only has all this rain has caused massive flooding in rivers throughout the Midwest, but the high lake levels prevent rivers from draining and have accelerated wetland erosion along the shore.

Another thing: all this fresh water drains out through the St Lawrence Seaway right into the North Atlantic. Combined with meltwater coming off Greenland, that surge of lighter, fresher water is slowing the thermohaline circulation that brings warmth to Northern Europe. So as most of the world gets warmer, Europe could get a lot colder in the next century.

Said any climate scientist ever interviewed this past year, "We told you so 30 years ago."

Direct economic effects of climate on Illinois

As Chicago finishes the wettest May in history, Bloomberg points out that all the rain has caused serious problems with Illinois agriculture:

Rabobank is predicting an unprecedented number of unplanted acres of corn, the most widely grown American crop. A Bloomberg survey of 10 traders and analysts indicates growers could file insurance claims for about 6 million corn acres they haven’t been able to sow, almost double the record in 2013.

Corn futures surged more than 20% to a three-year high over the past few weeks on fears farmers wouldn’t be able to get seeds in the ground ahead of crop-insurance deadlines. So-called prevented plant claims reached 3.6 million acres in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Field conditions deteriorated over the past few weeks, indicating significant corn acreage loss was a risk, according to Gro Intelligence, a New York-based analysis firm that uses satellites among other data sources. Areas with the biggest risk of acreage loss were in central Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and the region around the borders of South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska.

Of course, no one knows for sure how much land will remain unsuitable for planting. But simple physics (higher air temperatures lead to more moisture in the air which leads to more precipitation) underpins a lot of climate-change thinking.

Meanwhile, the Administration plans to form a committee to obfuscate climate science. Because of course it will. How's that helping farmers?

Very wet May

Yesterday Chicago set a few weather records: wettest Memorial Day ever recorded, tied for most days in May with measurable prediction (18), tied for most days in May that have had more than 7.6 mm of precipitation (10), and up to the 3rd wettest month of May (186 mm). And we have more rain predicted tonight.

Warmer air holds more moisture. The atmosphere worldwide is warmer. QED.

In other news...Therexit!

Burger King's brand implosion aside, other, more important news came out in the last couple of days:

  • This morning, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced she would step down on June 7th, having lost the confidence of the right-wing crazies holding her majority together. The likely outcome of this will be Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is actually less popular than May, forcing a general election through incompetence by the August bank holiday.
  • The heads of NOAA and NASA have raised the alarm that the proposed 24 GHz frequency band proposed for 5G wireless will mask the existing 23.8 GHz frequency of passive microwave energy which weather forecasting systems need to actually forecast weather.
  • Since February 2017, when he took his first of over a hundred golf trips as president, Donald Trump has cost us more than $100 million playing golf.
  • San Francisco's KPIX-TV Broadcast Operations Manager Eliot Curtis apparently gave himself an LSD trip while repairing a 1960s-era synthesizer.

Must be Friday.

Not Norway's best export

Due to climate change and gentrification, rat sightings in North America have gone up:

New York has always been forced to coexist with the four-legged vermin, but the infestation has expanded exponentially in recent years, spreading to just about every corner of the city.

Rat sightings reported to the city’s 311 hotline have soared nearly 38 percent, to 17,353 last year from 12,617 in 2014, according to an analysis of city data by OpenTheBooks.com, a nonprofit watchdog group, and The New York Times. In the same period, the number of times that city health inspections found active signs of rats nearly doubled.

Milder winters — the result of climate change — make it easier for rats to survive and reproduce. And New York’s growing population and thriving tourism has brought more trash for rats to feed on.

Chicago — crowned the nation’s rat capital in one study — has more than doubled its work crews dedicated to rats, who set out poison and fill in burrows in parks, alleys and backyards. It also passed ordinances requiring developers and contractors to have a rat-control plan before demolishing buildings or breaking ground on new projects.

Yah, thanks for that "rat capital" thing, New York Times.

Rats don't bother me, despite their urine often containing deadly bacteria. They clean up after us, feed crows and coyotes, and spread disease less than other local rodents. (Rabbits have made Parker sick a lot more often than rats.) And squirrels? Just ask a moose.

A warm, cozy feeling at Mauna Loa

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide had reached 415 ppm on Friday:

In poetic punctuation to that point, Arkhangelsk, Russia, near the Arctic Ocean, recorded a temperature of 29°C Saturday:

In Koynas, a rural area to the east of Arkhangelsk, it was even hotter on Sunday, soaring to 87 degrees (31 Celsius). Many locations in Russia, from the Kazakhstan border to the White Sea, set record-high temperatures over the weekend, some 30 to 40 degrees (around 20 Celsius) above average. The warmth also bled west into Finland, which hit 77 degrees (25 Celsius) Saturday, the country’s warmest temperature of the season so far.

Across the Arctic overall, the extent of sea ice has hovered near a record low for weeks.

Data from the Japan Meteorological Agency show April was the second warmest on record for the entire planet.

These changes all have occurred against the backdrop of unremitting increases in carbon dioxide, which has now crossed another symbolic threshold.

Why is 415 ppm a "symbolic threshold?" Because for years, climate scientists have believed that at 415 ppm, we can't undo the damage; we can only slow it down a little. Even if we return to pre-industrial levels (280 ppm), we now have too much carbon in the atmosphere to stop radical climate change:

For the planet itself, 415 ppm is no BFD. Over the past 4 billion years or so, it’s been much, much higher. But for us humans, 415 is a very dangerous number. The last time CO2 levels were at 415 ppm, during the Pliocene period about 3 million years ago, there was plenty of life on Earth, but the Earth itself was a radically different place. Beech trees grew near the South Pole. There was no Greenland ice sheet, and probably not a West Antarctic ice sheet, either. Sea levels were 50 or 60 feet (or more) higher.

That’s the world we’re creating for ourselves by pushing carbon dioxide levels to 415 ppm. Right now, a lot of atmospheric warming is being absorbed in the oceans. But those oceans are like a big flywheel, and the heat will be radiated out. That means, among other things, goodbye ice sheets, hello condo diving in Miami.

One way to think about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is as a thermostat for the planet. As you’ll remember from third-grade science class, carbon dioxide is exhaled by animals, including humans, and inhaled by plants. It is also released when plants and animals decay, volcanoes erupt, and, most importantly, when we burn fossil fuels. Last year, we dumped about 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. The more coal, oil and gas we burn, the faster that number rises. Before the Industrial Revolution, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 ppm. Sixty years ago, it was 315 ppm. For the past few years, it has been rising by about 2 or 3 ppm a year.

That might not sound like much. However, carbon dioxide molecules happen to be very good at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Scientists have understood this very well since the 19th century. Carbon dioxide molecules are like the prison guards of the Earth’s atmosphere — they let sunlight in, but they don’t let heat out. Scientists argue about exactly how efficient carbon dioxide is at warming the Earth, but there is basic agreement that a doubling of carbon dioxide levels from 280 ppm will warm the Earth’s atmosphere by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius.

We predicted this in time to slow it down or even stop it. Nice work, team.

Climate science panel reforms independently

After President Trump disbanded the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment  in August 2017, the group got back together on its own:

The panel is now known as the Science to Climate Action Network (Scan) and has now completed work it would have finished for the federal government, releasing a report on Thursday warning that Americans are being put at risk from the impacts of a warming planet due to a muddled response to climate science.

“We were concerned that the federal government is missing an opportunity to get better information into the hands of those who prepare for what we have already unleashed,” said Richard Moss, a member of Scan and a visiting scientist at Columbia University, who previously chaired the federal panel.

“We’re only just starting to see the effects of climate change, it’s only going to get much worse. But we haven’t yet rearranged our daily affairs to adapt to science we have,” he added.

The fourth National Climate Assessment, released on the day after Thanksgiving last year, detailed how climate change is already harming Americans, with sobering findings on future impacts. At the time, Trump said he didn’t believe the report.

Columbia University and the American Meteorological Association are funding the reconstituted panel.

Readings between meetings

On my list today:

Back to meetings...

Chicago's sinking, but don't worry

Wherever a landmass had several kilometers of ice on top, it deformed. Glaciers covered much of North America only 10,000 years ago. Since they retreated (incidentally forming the Great Lakes and creating just about all the topography in Northern Illinois), the Earth's crust has popped back like a waterbed.

Not quickly, however.

But in the last century, Chicago has dropped about 10 cm while areas of Canada have popped up about the same amount:

In the northern United States and Canada, areas that once were depressed under the tremendous weight of a massive ice sheet are springing back up while others are sinking. The Chicago area and parts of southern Lake Michigan, where glaciers disappeared 10,000 years ago, are sinking about 10 to 20 cm each century.

One or 2 millimeters a year might not seem like a lot, but “over a decade that’s a centimeter. Over 50 years, now, you’re talking several inches,” said Daniel Roman, chief geodesist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s a slow process, but it’s a persistent one.”

While Chicago’s dipping is gradual, this dynamic could eventually redefine flood plains and work against household sewer pipes that slope downward to the sewer main.

The same phenomenon has affected the UK as well. Scotland is popping up and England is sinking, as are other pairs of regions similarly glaciated. (Sterling, however, has a long way to go...)