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Climate

AM Briefing: Snow, or No?

On wild winter weather, logging in Canada, and electric firetrucks

AM Briefing: Snow, or No?
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: More than 300 flood warnings are in place across England • Hazardous waves up to 16 feet tall are slamming into the California coast • Rain and snow is expected this weekend in Japan's Ishikawa Prefecture, where rescuers are racing against time to find earthquake survivors.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Northeast braces for first major winter storm of the season

It’s been almost 700 days since Central Park received an inch of snow, and it doesn’t look like that snowless streak will end any time soon. A winter storm is targeting the Northeast this weekend but forecasters think major coastal cities including New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia will see mostly rain. Up to 12 inches of snow could fall farther inland, though, and the same system could bring heavy rainfall – and possibly ice – to the South and Southeast today before heading north. Meanwhile, much of the West remains in a severe snow drought, with California registering its lowest snowpack in a decade.

Expected preciptation totals over the next 72 hours.NOAA

The warm winter weather trend – caused by a combination of man-made climate change and the El Niño weather pattern – has become impossible to ignore, promting somber reflections on how the seasons aren’t what they used to be. “There’s this sort of existential offness,” Heather Hansman, author of the book Powder Days: Ski Bums, Ski Towns, and the Future of Chasing Snow, toldVox. “My body knows that this isn’t right.”

2. Wisconsin’s largest solar farm comes online

A massive solar farm in Wisconsin became fully operational this week. The 300 megawatt Badger Hollow Solar Farm spans 3,500 acres and has 830,000 solar panels capable of powering about 90,000 homes. It is the state’s largest solar farm, and one of the biggest in the Midwest region. The project’s panels are bifacial, meaning they can capture solar energy on both sides. This is important in areas with lots of snowfall because the panels can absorb solar energy reflected off the ground.

3. Azerbaijan names COP29 president

Azerbaijan, which is the host country for next year’s COP29, has appointed its environment minister Mukhtar Babayev as president of the climate summit. There isn’t a lot of public information available about Babayev, but according to Climate Home News, he spent 26 years working for the country’s state-owned oil and gas company Socar where his job involved trying to “reverse the environmental damage caused by the company.” One source told Climate Home News that Babayev was “nice” and “soft” but added “you don’t feel the authority and status like from [COP28 president] Sultan [Al-Jaber], I don’t feel he is an independent person able to push for phasing out fossil fuels globally.”

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  • 4. Study: Logging has decimated Canada’s boreal forests

    A new study published in the journal Land found that 35.4 million acres of Canada’s evergreen forests in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec have been effectively lost to logging since 1976. And the government-approved methods used to regenerate those forests — which require loggers to replant cleared areas or show that the region will recover on its own — have had a devastating result. While 56 million acres of older trees remain across the two provinces, that acreage is now interspersed with patchworks of newly planted trees chosen for their future suitability for logging, not for purposes of ecological diversity or wildfire prevention, explainsHeatmap’s Jacob Lambert. “So while Canada may not have widespread deforestation, what it does have are swaths of newer trees that are far less effective than their forebears when it comes to carbon capture, species diversity, and wildfire prevention.”

    5. Germany’s emissions drop to 70-year low

    Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped about 10% in 2023 to a 70-year low, according to analysis from think tank Agora Energiewende. Last year’s dip is “largely attributable to a strong decrease in coal power generation,” Agora says. At the same time, renewables accounted for more than 50% of the country’s electricity generation. Germany is Europe’s largest economy, and it aims to cut emissions by at least 65% by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2045. Agora warns last year’s emissions cuts aren’t entirely sustainable, and calls for policy changes and greater investment in climate solutions to maintain momentum.

    THE KICKER

    Arizona just got its first all-electric firetruck, the Vector:

    REV Group/E-ONE

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    Jessica  Hullinger profile image

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

    Technology

    AM Briefing: TerraPower Breaks Ground

    On Bill Gates’ advanced nuclear reactor, solar geoengineering, and FEMA

    TerraPower Just Broke Ground on Its Next-Gen Nuclear Project
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Heavy rains in China are boosting the country’s hydropower output • Late-season frost advisories are in place for parts of Michigan • It will be 80 degrees Fahrenheit and cloudy today near the Port of Baltimore, which has officially reopened after 11 weeks of closure.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Bill Gates’ TerraPower breaks ground on next-gen nuclear project

    TerraPower, the energy company founded by Bill Gates, broke ground yesterday on a next-generation nuclear power plant in Wyoming that will use an advanced nuclear reactor. As Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo and Matthew Zeitlin explained, these reactors are smaller and promise to be cheaper to build than America’s existing light-water nuclear reactor fleet. The design “would be a landmark for the American nuclear industry” because it calls for cooling with liquid sodium instead of the standard water-cooling of American nuclear plants. “This technique promises eventual lower construction costs because it requires less pressure than water (meaning less need for expensive safety systems) and can also store heat, turning the reactor into both a generator and an energy storage system.” TerraPower is still waiting for its construction permit to be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and TheAssociated Press reported the work that began yesterday is just to get the site ready for speedy construction if the permit goes through.

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    Donald Trump snapping a wind turbine.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Clean energy developers and the bankers who fund them are all pretty confident that a change in power in Washington, should one occur next year, won’t mean the end of the Inflation Reduction Act or the buildout of renewables across the country — except, that is, when it comes to offshore wind. Trump has special contempt for wind energy in all its forms — to him, all wind turbines are bird murderers, but offshore turbines are especially deadly, adding both whales and property values to their list of victims. He has said he will issue an executive order on day one of his second turn as president to “make sure that that ends.”

    While the scope and legal enforceability of any potential executive order remain unclear, the wind industry, environmental activists, and analysts have all found plenty of other reasons to be worried.

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    Donald Trump and Jaws.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Former President Trump wants to know: Would you rather be electrocuted or eaten by a shark?

    On Sunday, during a rally in Las Vegas, the Republican nominee floated the question for what is at least the second time this campaign season (an odd choice, perhaps, given that Nevada is hardly shark territory, and therefore his supporters there are unlikely to have given the question much thought).

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