Hurricane forecasts are typically issued five days in advance once a storm has formed, but people in the path of Tropical Storm Ida, a fast-charging storm in the Gulf of Mexico, have had significantly less time to prepare for landfall.
Ida passed through the Cayman Islands early Friday, less than 12 hours after forming, and could strike Louisiana, which was battered by hurricanes last year, as a Category 2 hurricane on Sunday, only three days after forecasters determined that a weather disturbance over the southern Caribbean had become a tropical depression. That designation by the National Hurricane Center triggers the forecast products associated with tropical storms and hurricanes.
Forecasters had been monitoring the system for several days, but models had predicted a more westward track toward Mexico or the southern Texas coast. The storm’s formation occurred farther north than had been expected, leading to the accelerated timeline and greater risk to the northern Gulf Coast.
Ida officially became a tropical storm when its surface winds exceeded 39 miles per hour and is expected to become a hurricane as it moves northwestward over the Gulf of Mexico. A warm upper ocean and low vertical wind shear — which allows the storm to remain upright — will favor further strengthening.
Late on Thursday night, hurricane watches were issued for most of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts; a tropical storm watch was issued for the entire Alabama coast.
“Ida could be near major hurricane strength when it approaches the northern Gulf Coast,” the National Hurricane Center said in a forecast update.
The center introduced the designation “potential tropical cyclone” in 2017 for systems that were not yet tropical depressions but were likely to develop quickly enough to pose a threat to land within 48 hours. This option was not used for Ida, which reached the Cayman Islands early Friday and was headed in the direction of western Cuba.
After that, Ida is on a path toward Louisiana.
The state was hit by several storms last year, hobbled by Cristobal in June, Laura and Marco in August, Sally and Beta in September, and Delta and Zeta in October. The most damage came from Laura, a Category 4 hurricane that was one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the state, and Delta, which unleashed considerable flooding.
Tropical Storm Ida moved through the Cayman Islands on Thursday and could reach the northern Gulf Coast of the United States over the weekend as a major hurricane, just days after forming as the ninth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center said.
As of 5 a.m. Eastern time, the center of the storm was passing through the Cayman Islands. It was 50 miles north northwest of Grand Cayman, the center said, and moving northwest at 12 miles per hour, with maximum sustained winds of 45 m.p.h.
Forecasters warned that the storm could cause life-threatening flash flooding, mudslides and rip currents. Jamaica had been expected to receive six to 10 inches of rain, with isolated totals of up to 15 inches, while the Cayman Islands and parts of Cuba could receive eight to 12 inches of rain, with isolated totals of up 20 inches, the center said.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Cayman Islands. A warning was also issued for Cuba ahead of the storm’s expected arrival on Friday on its way toward the Gulf Coast of the United States.
In preparation for the storm, Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana declared a state of emergency on Thursday night.
“The people of Louisiana have been tested time and time again, and while it is my hope and prayer that this storm will not bring destruction to our state, we should be prepared to take the brunt of the severe weather,” Mr. Edwards said on Twitter.
I have declared a state of emergency due to the potential impacts and further development of Tropical Storm #Ida. According to the @NHC_Atlantic, this system is forecast to approach the Gulf Coast at or near major hurricane intensity Sunday. https://t.co/Dq6nBSh50n #lagov #lawx
— John Bel Edwards (@LouisianaGov) August 26, 2021
Along the Gulf Coast, a hurricane watch was issued from Cameron, La., to the border of Mississippi and Alabama. The metropolitan New Orleans area was also under a hurricane watch, in addition to Lake Pontchartrain. At least one community in Southern Mississippi will be under a mandatory evacuation order by Friday morning.
The eye of the storm could reach Louisiana by Sunday as a hurricane, with maximum winds of 110 m.p.h. and gusts of up to 130 m.p.h., according to the center’s tracking model.
It has been a dizzying few weeks for meteorologists who monitored three named storms that formed in quick succession in the Atlantic, bringing stormy weather, flooding and damaging winds to different parts of the United States and the Caribbean. First came Tropical Storm Fred, which made landfall on Aug. 16 in the Florida Panhandle. As Fred moved across the Southeast, it brought heavy rains and touched off several tornadoes. At least five people were killed after flash floods wiped out homes in Western North Carolina in the wake of the storm.
Grace formed in the eastern Caribbean on Aug. 14, the same day a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti’s western peninsula. The storm quickly moved west as the country struggled to free people trapped in rubble, dumping at least 10 inches of rain. Grace then made another landfall on the Yucatán Peninsula, bringing more heavy rain, power failures and hundreds of evacuations. Another landfall, on the eastern coast of Mexico’s mainland, left at least eight people dead.
What is “landfall”? And what are you truly facing when you’re in the eye of the storm?
During hurricane season, news coverage and forecasts can include a host of confusing terms. Let’s take a look at what they mean →
And Henri formed on Aug. 16 as a tropical storm off the East Coast of the United States. It strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane but was downgraded before making landfall in Rhode Island, sparing the region the worst of what had been predicted. It thrashed the Northeast with fierce winds and torrential rain, knocking out power to more than 140,000 households from New Jersey to Maine. Some communities in Connecticut were evacuated and rainfall records in New York City were shattered.
The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to see stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms could drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.
Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.
A major United Nations climate report released in August warned that nations have delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, leading to more frequent life-threatening heat waves and severe droughts. Tropical cyclones have likely become more intense over the past 40 years, the report said, a shift that cannot be explained by natural variability alone.
Ana became the first named storm of the season on May 23, making this the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season on June 1.
In May, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic. In early August, in a midseason update to the forecast, they continued to warn that this year’s hurricane season will be an above average one, suggesting a busy end to the season.
Matthew Rosencrans, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that an updated forecast suggested that there would be 15 to 21 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, by the end of the season on Nov. 30. Ida is the ninth named storm of 2021.
Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.
It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.
Neil Vigdor and Derrick Bryson Taylor contributed reporting.
The Caldor Fire was burning about a dozen miles south of Lake Tahoe on Friday, as crews battling blazes across Northern California braced for a dangerous combination of hot, dry and windy conditions over the weekend.
Fire crews made some progress fighting the Caldor on Thursday, but new evacuation orders were issued for areas north and south of Highway 50, one of the main routes connecting the Lake Tahoe area with Sacramento. Evacuation warnings were also issued for parts of the nearby Tahoe Basin.
The Caldor fire, an urgent concern for state officials, has burned through an area larger than Denver since it started more than 70 miles southwest of the lake on Aug. 14. Residents were leaving the Lake Tahoe area this week, as toxic smoke spiked past the highest levels on air quality charts. The Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority said on Thursday that visitors should “postpone any immediate travel plans to the area” until the fire was under control.
The Caldor was 12 percent contained as of Thursday night, even with nearly 3,000 firefighters trying to stop its progress, according to Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency. Cody Bogan, a Cal Fire official, said at a briefing on Thursday that wildfire smoke had reduced visibility and prevented firefighting planes from flying.
Dusty Martin, another Cal Fire official, said fire crews, public utilities and other agencies were working “full throttle” on the blaze.
“There’s still a lot of red on this map, and that means we’re still working tirelessly to get containment of that area,” he said.
In many spots where California fires are raging, the forecast for the next few days calls for breezy winds, hot weather and low humidity. In Northern California, a so-called red flag warning for fire danger will be in effect from Friday morning until at least Saturday morning.
The Caldor isn’t the only fire keeping crews busy. The state’s largest fire, the Dixie Fire, which began last month in Northern California, has burned about 750,000 acres — an area nearly the size of Rhode Island — and is only 45 percent contained. Further west, the Monument fire has consumed more than 157,000 acres since late July and is only 20 percent contained.
In Southern California, the French fire has burned through more than 22,000 acres north of Los Angeles in just nine days. It is 19 percent contained; fresh evacuation orders and warnings were issued in the area on Thursday.
And in this disaster-filled summer, new fires are always cropping up.
On Thursday, the Washington fire appeared west of Sonora, chewing through 81 acres near Yosemite National Park by sunset. Cal Fire said the blaze was exhibiting “extreme fire behavior,” and that fire crews would be working into the night.
The floods that killed at least 20 people in Tennessee last weekend arrived with shocking speed and force — seemingly a case study of the difficulties of protecting people from explosive rainstorms as climate change gets worse.
A closer look at what happened in the days, years and even decades before the storm reveals that a series of government decisions — where and how to build, when to update flood maps, whether to join the federal flood insurance program and how to warn of dangerous floods — left residents more exposed to flooding than they had to be.
Record rainfall, at times exceeding three inches an hour, swelled rivers and creeks in Middle Tennessee on Saturday, destroying homes, cutting off power and cellphone service and washing away bridges. Among the dead are 7-month old twins, a 15-year-old girl and an Army veteran who died after helping his wife and daughter escape.
It’s impossible to say whether any single action could have prevented those deaths, especially given the ferocity of the flooding. But interviews with climate and disaster experts and a review of state and federal data show how governments have been slow to adapt to growing threats and failed to take steps that, together, could have lessened the damage.
“These extreme weather events will become more intense and more frequent,” said Hiba Baroud, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Vanderbilt University in Nashville who specializes in resilience. “We need to be more proactive, and think about ways to prevent or at least mitigate the impact of these events.”
The story of the disaster in Humphreys County, the hardest-hit area in the state, includes its refusal to accept publicly subsidized flood insurance from the federal government; its decision not to adopt residential building codes; and federal flood maps for the area that had not been updated in more than a decade.
A fast-moving wildfire in the parched woodlands of northeastern Minnesota continued to threaten cabins, homes and recreational sites on Friday as hundreds of firefighters fought to contain it.
The Greenwood fire, in the Superior National Forest not far from the Canadian border, has burned more than 25,000 acres since it began on Aug. 15, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The fire, which has not been contained, was started by lightning, the authorities said.
Evacuation orders are in effect for several areas, including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake, and areas along Highway 2 and north of Highway 1. The fire destroyed 12 primary structures, which include homes and cabins, and 57 outbuildings, which include garages or outhouses, earlier this week, the Lake County Sheriff’s office said. Crews used heavy machinery on Wednesday to build a fire line along the part of the fire to the west of Highway 2.
“Our hearts go out to any of you who lost your cabin or your home,’’ Connie Cummins, a forest supervisor, said at a news conference on Thursday.
She added that “there has been some really good progress made on the fire. We’re just looking very closely at prioritizing those lines that will provide the most protection.”
More than 475 people, including firefighters, logging groups and contractors, were battling the blaze, Brian Pisarek, an incident commander, said at the news conference.
The Greenwood fire and others in the region are causing air-quality problems across a wide area, according to the National Weather Service. An air quality alert was in effect through Friday evening.
“Some members of the general public may experience health effects,” the Weather Service said on Friday, adding
that children, older adults and people with respiratory or cardiac issues should avoid all strenuous outdoor activities in the affected area.
Fires just across the border, in Quetico Provincial Park in Canada, also continue to burn with no containment and will contribute to smoky conditions.
The rain showers and thunderstorms that were expected to move into the region Friday will continue on and off throughout the weekend, the Weather Service said.
There was also a flash flood watch in effect for Friday. Flash flooding of creeks, streams, urban areas, and low lying areas was possible.
Though Minnesota is dotted with lakes, severe to exceptional drought conditions related to climate change have ravaged much of the state this summer, as they have in areas across the Northern Plains and Western United States, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Drought restrictions were imposed in parts of Minnesota last week, limiting or banning activities like lawn watering.
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The United Nations recently released a major scientific report concluding that a hotter future is certain but that there is still a chance to prevent the most dire outcomes. Brad Plumer, a climate reporter for The New York Times, says there is a consensus among scientists on what must happen to limit global warming: Nations need to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In an interview, Mr. Plumer, who focuses on the policy and technology efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions, discussed the significance of the U.N. report, how he approaches a subject that can be upsetting to readers and his own environmentally conscious efforts. This interview has been edited.
What questions are you interested in exploring on your beat?
Halting further emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, particularly from fossil fuels and deforestation, is an enormous task, and it means rethinking so many fundamental aspects of the modern global economy, from the cars we drive to how we produce food. So I’m drawn to writing about people trying to figure out the best ways to get to zero emissions, as well as the huge structural challenges standing in the way.
Did you know this U.N. report was coming?
We’ve known this report was coming for some time. Every few years since 1990, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has put out comprehensive assessments of the latest science around global warming, which means essentially summarizing thousands of existing studies into a coherent picture. This was the sixth such assessment, and hundreds of scientists had been working to put it together for months.
For this particular report, we were able to get our hands on a few early drafts that allowed us to figure out what was new and noteworthy here. And my colleague Henry Fountain and I called up a number of scientists beforehand to get a better sense of how climate research has advanced since the I.P.C.C.’s last big assessment in 2013. That early prep work helped us write an initial version of the story ahead of time. Then, when the panel released a finalized embargoed draft to reporters three days before its release, we could quickly check our facts to make sure we hadn’t missed anything big and then called up more authors for official comment.
What is the significance of a report like this?
In a lot of ways, the overall picture on climate change hasn’t shifted much since the first I.P.C.C. report in 1990. Scientists have been warning us for decades that emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation can and will warm the planet, with damaging consequences.
But a few big things are different now. First, global warming is much more pronounced today than it was back then. Countries around the world have continued to increase their emissions, and the planet is now about 1.1 degrees Celsius hotter than it was in the 19th century. That means many of the impacts scientists have long warned about — more frequent heat waves, more severe droughts, ice sheets melting in Greenland and Antarctica that push up sea levels along the coasts — can now be seen very clearly in the present tense. This latest report offered the clearest look yet at how climate change is already, today, fueling a rise in extreme weather across the globe.
And scientists are now able to model with much more precision what’s likely to happen in the future. So there’s more confidence now that humans have basically locked in another half a degree or so of total global warming over the next 30 years.That adds an important twist to the challenge facing humanity: Yes, we’ll have to slash emissions if we want to prevent future global warming from getting even worse. But there are also dangers that are now unavoidable and we’ll need to take steps to adapt, such as managing forests to reduce wildfire risk or protecting people in cities from heat waves.
What questions did the U.N. report raise for you?
One of the starkest points in the report is that nations of the world essentially need to zero out all of their fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades if we want to avoid an even bigger rise in global warming than what’s already locked in. Plus we probably need to figure out how to suck vast quantities of carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere.
Doing all that would require an overhaul of the global energy system at a speed without precedent in human history. It’s staggering. So how do we do that? What technologies do we need? What sort of problems or dislocations might a huge transformation like that create? What mistakes might we make along the way? There are lots of smart people who think that this transformation is doable, but it certainly won’t be easy.
Climate coverage is a huge focus at The Times, but the topic can be unsettling for readers. Is this something you think about as you report and write these articles?
We do think about this a lot. When scientists are warning that global warming will impose real dangers and hardships around the world, I don’t think we can shy away from reporting that as plainly as we can, even if it can be scary or disheartening. It’s impossible to deal with a challenge like climate change unless we can clearly see what we’re up against.
But there’s also so much more to the climate story than merely doom and gloom. At the Climate desk and elsewhere at The Times, we write about people and cities coming up with creative ideas for protecting themselves against extreme weather. We write about how climate change intersects with existing social inequalities, and what might be done in response. We write about inventors and businesses tinkering with novel strategies for cutting emissions. We write about how climate change is transforming politics. We write about how individuals wrestle with their gut-level feelings on climate change.
Climate change — along with efforts to cut emissions and limit the damage — is going to be a central fact about the world for decades to come, touching on so many different aspects of modern life. Some of those stories will be grim, some will be hopeful. The trick is to try to capture that world, as best we can, in all its messy complexity.
Has reading this report, or previous reports, changed your own behavior at all?
I generally think that individual efforts to cut emissions are great, but most people’s choices are constrained by the environment around them. So, for instance, I mostly walk or bike or take the bus to get around every day, but it’s easy for me to do so because I live in a walkable neighborhood in Washington with easy transit options. Most people in the United States don’t have that choice, because most cities simply aren’t built like that. Finding ways to transform our built environment so that more people have alternatives to driving would go so much further than trying to guilt people into driving less when they don’t have much choice.
The climate crisis is at high risk of becoming an economic crisis.
That is an increasingly widespread view among leading economic thinkers — that a range of economic and financial problems could result from a warming planet and humanity’s efforts to deal with it. But if you believe that to be true, what should the United States’ economist-in-chief do about it?
That question has taken new urgency as President Biden weighs whether to reappoint Jerome Powell to another term leading the Federal Reserve or choose someone else.
Climate activists and others on the left have argued that Mr. Powell should be replaced by someone with stronger credentials as a climate hawk. Demonstrators backing this cause were planning to protest at an annual Fed symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo., starting Thursday, but the event was made online-only at the last minute because of a rise in coronavirus cases. Among other things, they want the Fed to use its regulatory powers to throttle the flow of bank lending to carbon-producing industries.
At the same time, some Republicans are assailing the Fed for mere research efforts involving climate. It is clear there would be a huge outcry on the right if a new Fed chair were to take an activist stance in trying to limit the availability of capital in energy-extraction businesses.
So far, Mr. Powell and other leaders at the central bank have taken a middle ground. They’ve committed to studying the ways global warming will affect the economy and the financial system, and they’re factoring those conclusions into their usual jobs of guiding the economy and regulating banks — but not trying to manage how loans and resources are allocated.
Arguably, one of the more important things the Fed can do to help fight climate change is to excel at its primary job: maintaining a stable, strong economy. Consider some surprising public opinion data.
Since 1989, Gallup has polled Americans about whether climate change worried them personally. The net share of people who have expressed concern — those who have said they worry about climate a “fair amount” or a “great deal” versus those who have worried “only a little” or “not at all” — offers a sense of how seriously Americans take the threat.
The net share of people worried about climate change reached its peak not in recent years, when the damaging effects have become more visible. The peak was in April 2000, when the share of people worried about the climate was 45 percentage points higher than the share not worried. That was also one of the best months for the U.S. economy in decades, near the peak of the late 1990s boom, with unemployment a mere 3.8 percent.
Two of the times when climate worry in the survey hit a low were in 2010 and 2011, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, when the net shares of those worried versus not worried were only four and three percentage points.
Using a broader range of evidence from both the United States and Europe, two political scientists at the University of Connecticut, Lyle Scruggs and Salil Benegal, found that a decline in climate concern in that period was driven significantly by worse economic conditions, which increased worry about more immediate issues. In times of scarcity, people tend to think less of policies with long-term payoffs.
“The state of the economy affects people’s sensitivity to the future versus the present,” Professor Scruggs said. “Historically climate change has fallen into the same camp as a lot of other environmental issues, where people’s answers tend to wax and wane with the economy.”
If a central bank can achieve consistent prosperity, this research suggests, it may change some political dynamics on aggressive climate action. Prosperity could support branches of government that have more explicit responsibility for curtailing greenhouse gases, building out clean energy capacity, or helping communities adapt to more extreme weather.
Not everyone who studies public opinion on climate agrees.
Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, attributes the decline in concern about climate change in the early 2010s not to the weak economy, but to widening political polarization and a pivot of conservative media toward climate change denialism.
“What we saw was a symbiotic relationship between conservative media, conservative elected officials and the conservative public,” he said. “That drove the shift. It wasn’t the economy.”
A paper published this summer by Michael T. Kiley, a Fed staff member, analyzed how temperature variations affect economic performance. It concluded that climate change may not change the typical rate of growth in the economy over time, but could make severe recessions more common. A major crop failure, for example, would lower G.D.P. directly and could simultaneously create economic ripple effects such as bank failures.
And Lael Brainard, a Fed governor and potential Biden appointee to become the next chair, has emphasized that the unpredictable nature of climate change could make obsolete the historical models on which economic policy is based.
“Unlike episodic or transitory shocks, climate change is an ongoing, cumulative process, which is expected to produce a series of shocks,” she said in a March speech. “Over time, these shocks can change the statistical time-series properties of economic variables, making forecasting based on historical experience more difficult and less reliable.”
If Ms. Brainard is correct, it raises a dispiriting possibility: As the planet gets hotter, it could make it harder to keep the economy on an even keel. But the worse the economy performs, the more toxic and dysfunctional climate politics may become.