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Climate

AM Briefing: Weather Warnings Everywhere

On an incoming winter storm, nanoplastics, and a new kind of tire

AM Briefing: Weather Warnings Everywhere
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: A tornado struck the Florida panhandle • Two towns in Australia’s state of Victoria have been forced to evacuate due to severe flooding • It’s 69 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny in Tel Aviv, where Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with Israeli officials to try to smooth relations in the region.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Severe winter storm moves across the U.S.

After a weekend of winter weather, vast swathes of the U.S. are bracing for another storm system. It will cover nearly 2,000 miles in 72 hours, bringing blizzard conditions to the central and southern Plains, and lashing the South and East Coast with high winds and heavy rain. Meanwhile the Pacific Northwest is enduring a powerful cold front that could bring several feet of snow across the Cascade mountain range. Forecast maps show a kaleidoscope of colors and a chaotic converging of weather events:


NOAA

2. EPA awards $1 billion for low-emission school buses

More than 90% of the nation’s school buses run on diesel, but the Biden administration is trying to change that. Yesterday the administration announced 67 new recipients of nearly $1 billion in grant funding to transition to low- and zero-emission school buses. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean School Bus Program, which gets funding from Biden’s 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, has $5 billion to spend over five years on helping schools swap old buses for cleaner ones. So far it has allocated about $2 billion across 652 school districts, and this new round of funding will buy more than 2,700 clean buses. Most of the grant recipients are located in low-income, rural, and tribal communities, according toThe Washington Post. “Zero-emission school buses can and one day will be the American standard,” EPA administrator Michael Regan told reporters.

3. Study finds shocking amount of plastic particles in bottled water

A new study finds that one liter of bottled water contains hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces of plastic, up to 100 times more than the amount initially estimated. Most of these particles are nanoplastics measuring just billionths of a meter – small enough to make their way into human cells and cross the blood-brain barrier, reports the Los Angeles Times. The authors of the study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, say these particles can carry pollutants and pathogens and interfere with cells and tissues inside the human body. Research on animals has connected microplastics with reproductive problems, hormone issues, poor heart health, and many other ailments. The team tested samples from three popular bottled water brands, but won’t divulge which ones.

4. 2023 natural disasters cost $250 billion in losses

Natural disasters cost the world $250 billion in losses last year, according to a new report from reinsurer Munich Re. Less than half of those losses were insured. The tally includes the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, but the analysis also points to climate change as a main driver of severe storms that plagued North America and Europe, resulting in unprecedented losses. “The warming of the Earth that has been accelerating for some years is intensifying the extreme weather in many regions, leading to increasing loss potentials,” says Munich Re's chief climate scientist Ernst Rauch. He added: “Society and industry need to adapt to the changing risks – otherwise loss burdens will inevitably increase.” There's a map that shows the most expensive natural disasters. It is too big to feature in one go, so here it is split in two:

Major natural disasters in 2023Munich Re

Major natural disasters in 2023Munich Re

5. Wind surpasses coal for electricity generation in Europe

Wind has overtaken coal as a source of electricity in Europe for the first time, “marking a key milestone for regional energy transition efforts,” Reutersreports, citing analysis from think tank Ember. In the final quarter of 2023, 184 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity was generated by coal plants. Comparatively, 193 TWh of electricity came from wind, which is about 20% more than the amount generated in the same quarter of 2022.

THE KICKER

Goodyear is developing a new, more durable tire that is meant specifically for electric vehicles. It could extend an EV’s tire mileage by up to 30,000 miles.

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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. Read More

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AM Briefing: Texas on Fire

On the massive blazes, BYD's next move, and South Fork Wind

The Texas Panhandle is on Fire
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Hundreds of people hunkered down in Chicago O’Hare’s emergency shelter during severe storms • Volcanic ash delayed flights out of Mexico City • The tree pollen count in Washington, DC, has been extremely high.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Large wildfires burn out of control in Texas

Massive wildfires are burning in the Texas Panhandle, fueled by strong winds and dry conditions. At least four fires have scorched more than 500,000 acres so far in areas surrounding Amarillo, and the flames have crept into neighboring Oklahoma. The biggest blaze is the Smokehouse Creek Fire, which remains out of control. Some communities have been evacuated, others are sheltering in place. Texas’ Hutchinson County was experiencing power and water shortages. Much of Texas experienced record-breaking heat at the start of this week, prompting red flag warnings.

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