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Climate

Brace for Weather Whiplash

On wild February warmth, oil and gas profits, and carbon removal startups

Brace for Weather Whiplash
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: The Northern Sierra mountain range could see up to 12 feet of snow • Raging bushfires are forcing 30,000 people in Australia’s Victoria state to evacuate • It will be unusually warm across much of Michigan today as voters participate in the state’s presidential primaries.

THE TOP FIVE

1. End of February brings weather whiplash

This week has already been a wild one for U.S. weather, as what is expected to be the warmest February on record comes to a close. Many states in the Midwest and South experienced a heatwave yesterday that brought record high winter temperatures. It was 65 degrees Fahrenheit in Minneapolis, for example, where the normal high is 33. Parts of Texas saw temperatures soar into the 90s. In Chicago, where February temperatures usually sit in the low 30s at best, it was a balmy 60 degrees yesterday. The warm weather brought with it wind gusts and fire risks, and red flag warnings were in place from Texas to Missouri.

But prepare for some weather whiplash: A cold front is advancing east, and will plunge some of those warmer states into frigid temperatures. Grand Forks, North Dakota, for example, won’t see temperatures rise above 9 degrees today; yesterday it was 55. In Chicago, it’ll be cold with a threat of tornadoes. Forecasters reminded Reuters climate change is making extreme and unpredictable weather more frequent.

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2. Famous sled dog race canceled due to lack of snow

Authorities have canceled Maine’s Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race, the longest such race in the eastern United States, due to lack of snow. Since 1992, the 250-mile trek has taken place in snowy northern Maine, but this year the region has seen just over half the typical amount of snowfall. “The unique challenges presented by the lack of snow have led us to conclude that moving forward with this year’s race could compromise the well-being of all involved,” wrote Can-Am President Dennis Cyr. “It is a decision made with heavy hearts but necessary caution.” National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Wegman said the lack of snow across parts of the country is creating a feedback loop: “Most of the eastern two-thirds of the country has had a relatively snow-less winter, so the ground is bare and dry. So we're getting much warmer temperatures just due to solar radiation.”

3. Report: First Solar helped create 16,000 U.S. jobs in 2023

First Solar, the largest solar panel manufacturer in America, has been a boon for the nation’s economy, according to analysis from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center and commissioned by the company. The report found that First Solar had 2,700 people on payroll in 2023, but because “each First Solar job ends up supporting six more jobs throughout the U.S. economy,” the company had a trickle-down effect of supporting some 16,000 jobs, Electrek’s Michelle Lewis explained. The company added $2.75 billion in value and $5.32 billion in output to the U.S. economy last year. By 2026, those numbers are expected to climb to $4.99 billion and $10.18 billion, respectively, as the company expands its solar capacity. First Solar is “a fully vertically integrated manufacturer of thin-film PV solar panels,” Lewis said. “This means they can turn a sheet of glass into a functional solar panel in about four hours, relying heavily on U.S.-sourced materials like glass and steel.”

4. Oil and gas profits triple during Biden presidency

Major U.S. oil and gas producers have seen profits nearly triple during President Biden’s presidency as production has soared, reported the Financial Times. The 10 most valuable operators – including ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and others – amassed a combined net income of $313 billion between 2020 and 2023, up from $112 billion during the same period of Donald Trump’s presidency. “The outperformance under Biden underlines the limited role of the White House in dictating the sector’s fortunes.” But it still won’t look great on his resume as he seeks to bolster support from climate-conscious progressives heading into the 2024 election. Biden ran “the most ambitious climate platform of any U.S. president in history,” and has indeed taken aim at the oil and gas industry during his tenure, the FT wrote. But he has also pushed to keep production high in the face of inflation and energy shocks.

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  • 5. Carbon removal startup Equatic to build demonstration plant in Singapore

    Carbon removal startup Equatic confirmed today that it is building a $20 million plant in Singapore to demonstrate the company’s technology, Bloombergreported. Equatic uses electrolysis to permanently remove carbon dioxide from seawater, enabling it to absorb more of the greenhouse gas from the air. The process also creates hydrogen as a byproduct. The company already has two smaller pilot plants in operation, but the new one will be different for a few reasons: First, it’s much bigger – when complete, it could rival the annual carbon capturing capabilities of Climeworks, currently the world’s biggest carbon removal plant. Second, it will use a new proprietary process that doesn’t produce harmful chlorine gas. And third, it will mark a step toward commercialization as the company looks to scale and find more buyers. Boeing is among its most prominent customers, committing to pay the company to remove 62,000 tons of CO2 and produce 2,100 tons of hydrogen. Equatic plans to eventually build a commercial-scale plant that it claims will remove 100,000 tons of CO2 per year.

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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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    THE TOP FIVE

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    Tesla will report first-quarter earnings today after the markets close, and expectations are pretty low. Analysts think the EV maker will report at least a 4% drop in revenue compared to Q1 last year. In the earnings call, CEO Elon Musk will probably be keen to talk about his big plans for the robotaxi, but investors will want him to elaborate on more pressing issues, like waning demand, steep price cuts, the Cybertruck recall, and whether plans for a $25,000 Tesla have really been scrapped. They’ll be looking for Musk to be “the adult in the room,” said Dan Ives, a Wedbush Securities analyst. As well as setting out a clear vision for the company’s future, investors may want Musk to acknowledge his recent missteps as a sign he’s ready to turn things around. But as Nick Winfield wrote at The Information, “expecting the truculent Tesla CEO to admit his mistakes is probably too much to ask for.” Tesla’s stock is down 41% this year. The company frantically cut prices on several models in the last few days and announced a round of big layoffs, which apparently included the entire U.S. marketing team and part of the design team.

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