Climate Compass Blog

Learning about Our Risks from Hurricane Irene

So how bad was Hurricane Irene? Some commentators seem to think Irene didn’t match up to the media, yet  preliminary assessments suggest Irene will be one of the top 10 costliest hurricanes ever in the United States. New Yorkers are indeed fortunate that the worst case scenario did not play out in their fair city, but that doesn’t mean there were no worst case scenarios elsewhere.

The worst fears about wind intensity did not play out, but a different devastating outcome did occur: Historic inland flooding across a huge swath of the interior Northeast. From New Jersey to Vermont, as much as 12 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours, swelling creeks and streams to well beyond flood stage. Paterson, New Jersey, is still under several feet of water five days after the storm passed and many residents have not be able to return home. Thirteen towns in Vermont were cut off from the outside world, and relief workers were unable to reach one town for days. More than 250 Vermont roadways are damaged and 30 bridges were destroyed.

Hurricane Irene: Climate Connection?

“Don’t wait, don’t delay, we all hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” President Obama’s statement on Hurricane Irene urges the public to take precautions before one of the most significant northeast hurricanes in recent history. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for much of the Atlantic seaboard, including coastal areas of New York City. All lanes of one major highway in New Jersey are headed in one direction only – west. The safest course of action is always to get out of the way of an approaching storm – to minimize the risk of harm when you can.

The 2011 Texas Drought in a Historical Context

Texas climatologists have recently stated that the ongoing dry spell is the worst one-year drought since Texas rainfall data started being recorded in 1895. The majority of the state has earned the highest rating of “exceptional” drought and the remaining areas are not far behind with “extreme” or “severe” ratings by the U.S. Drought Monitor. So far, Texas has only received 6.5 inches of the 16 inches that has normally accumulated by this time of year.

Help Make an Impact Win a CLASSY Award

“All kids growing up in this generation know how they’re impacting the environment. We’re teaching today’s kids about recycling and being responsible.”
- Shawn Kerr, eighth-grade science teacher at Alcoa Middle School in Alcoa, TN.

Fifteen schools participated in the Make an Impact: Change Our 2morrow (MAI CO2) schools’ challenge, an educational energy conservation competition led by the Center’s Make an Impact (MAI) initiative in partnership with Alcoa. Mr. Kerr’s words sum up the program’s outcome, in which Make an Impact, a corporate employee and community engagement program, expanded the reach of its energy efficiency message to middle and high schools in five Alcoa communities across four states this spring.

Alcoa Middle School principle Jim Kirk holds up the $1,000 check that the school won for being named a regional runner-up in the MAI: CO2 schools’ challenge.

We had high hopes for the MAI CO2 campaign, but our success at engaging a younger audience in acting on energy efficiency far exceeded our expectations. In one month, we reached more than 8,000 students/parents/teachers and motivated them to calculate their carbon footprint with the Make an Impact calculator. The program wasn’t just about students realizing their impact on the earth; we also tried to teach and empower these young individuals to make a difference – by saving energy, money, and the planet. Between March 14 and April 11, participants identified more than 14.4 million pounds of potential carbon savings and an estimated $1.75 million in energy savings.

Risk to Livestock during Heat Waves

Cattle deaths have been mounting in the central U.S. as the recent heat wave has pushed heat indices above 120 degrees in a number of states. Faced with dry pastures, rapidly depleting hay supplies and drought stressed surface water sources, ranchers in Texas are engaging in a significant  livestock sell-off, referred to in one press account as culling into “the heart of the herd.” The size of the U.S. herd is now at a record low as farmers liquidate, enticed by high beef prices and expensive feed. The situation is dire enough that the government has stepped in with low interest loans to ranchers and direct payments for farmers that lost animals due to the extreme weather. Under the Livestock Indemnity Program, cattle lost to extreme weather are reimbursed by the government at 75 percent of their value, a significant expenditure when cattle losses are counted in the thousands. Texans are already looking for ways to adapt to the drought and improve their climate resilience. Henderson County is hosting a training session on August 22 entitled “Managing the Effects of Drought for Beef Producers.”