To continue reading

Create a free account or sign in to unlock more free articles.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy

Sparks

California Is Headed for Another Wet Winter

For the first time in four years, drought is nowhere to be found.

California rain.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The 2020s got off to a parched, smoky start in the West. But after three years of unrelenting drought, 2023 brought the region some relief.

Thanks to a very snowy winter followed by a very rainy spring, the worst of the Western drought receded rapidly in the early months of this year, data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows. The extent bottomed out in the early summer, when only one-sixth of the West was experiencing any level of drought at all. It’s crept upward since then to about 45% of the region, but still — that’s the lowest drought level the contiguous Western states have seen at this time of year since 2019.

Most remarkable, in some ways, has been California’s transformation. After years with far too little precipitation, in 2023 California often received far too much. A spate of atmospheric rivers early in the year dumped inches of rain on its lower elevations and feet of snow in its mountains. In April, Hurricane Hilary smashed rainfall records across the southern part of the state.

Two years ago this week, 100% of California was drought-stricken; early this fall, the last patches disappeared (though a small but declining percentage of the state is still considered “abnormally dry”). This is the first time drought has been absent from California since 2019. The most recent time before that was 2011. Before that, it was 2006.

Meanwhile, the uptick in Western drought since summer has been most severe in Arizona and New Mexico, where the vast majority of places are drier than usual and conditions in some areas are becoming more severe. Temperatures in Phoenix rose above 110 degrees Fahrenheit on a record 55 different days between June and September, including an historic 31-day streak that baked the city for almost all of July, the Arizona Republic reported. While the wet winter replenished some of the Colorado River’s dwindling water supply, the temporary boost wasn’t enough to avert imminent cutbacks among the Southwestern states that depend on it.

This precipitation rebound won’t last, of course. The above-average mountain snowpack that piled up from heavy winter snows and kept streams flowing through the spring and into the summer is long gone now. And the decline this year in infernos terrorizing the West is almost certainly a blip in the trend toward ever more devastating fire years, The Washington Post reported last week. If historic patterns hold true, there might not be another fire season this quiet for decades.

“We have just had a respite,” Tonya Graham, the mayor of Ashland, Ore., told the Post. “We have had a little bit of breathing space in this trajectory that is taking us toward higher wildfire and smoke risk and more extreme temperatures.”

But that rest doesn’t look to be over for everyone just yet. Snowpack is already starting to accumulate again. And the National Weather Service forecasts that at least in California and neighboring states, there’s a good chance precipitation will stay higher than normal through the winter.

Blue

Nicole Pollack

Nicole Pollack is a freelance environmental journalist who writes about energy, agriculture, and climate change. She is based in Northeast Ohio. Read More

Read More

To continue reading

Create a free account or sign in to unlock more free articles.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy

Sparks

Coal’s Slowdown Is Slowing Down

Rising electricity demand puts reliability back on the table.

Pollution.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The United States has been able to drive its greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since the early 1990s largely by reducing the amount of energy on the grid generated by coal to a vast extent. In 2005, by far the predominant source of U.S. electricity, making up some 2.2 million gigawatt-hours of the country’s 4.3 million GWh total energy consumption, according to the International Energy Agency. In 2022, by contrast, coal generation was down to 900,000 GWh out of 4.5 million GWh generated. As a result, “U.S. emissions are 15.8% lower than 2005 levels, while power emissions are 40% lower than 2005 levels,” according to BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

But the steady retirement of coal plants may be slowing down. Only 2.3 GW of coal generating capacity are set to be shut down so far in 2024, according to the Energy Information Administration. While in 2025, that number is expect to jump up to 10.9 GW, the combined 13.2 GW of retired capacity pales in comparison of the more than 22 GW retired in the past two years, according to EIA figures. Over the past decade, coal retirements have averaged about 10 GW a year, with actual retirements often outpacing forecasts.

Keep reading...Show less
Blue
Sparks

Trump Thinks EV Charging Will Cost $3 Trillion — Which Is Incorrect

Nor will charging infrastructure ”bankrupt” the U.S.

Electric car charging.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Shortly after being fined $350 million (more than $450 million, including interest) over fraudulent business practices and then booed at Sneaker Con, former President Donald Trump traveled to Waterford, Michigan, where he said some incorrect things about electric vehicles.

Even by Trump’s recent standards, Saturday’s Waterford rally was a bit kooky. During his nearly hour-and-a-half-long speech, the former president claimed that his opponents are calling him a whale (“I don’t know if they meant a whale from the standpoint of being a little heavy, or a whale because I got a lot of money”) and, improbably, claimed not to have known what the word “indictment” meant.

Keep reading...Show less
Blue
Sparks

This Chicken Named Potato Will Teach Your Kids About Climate Change

A chicken from the future, to be clear.

Future Chicken.
Heatmap Illustration/CBC, Getty Images

If I told you there was a chicken named Potato who was going to teach our kids about climate change, would you think I was kidding? Either way, I’m here to inform you that Future Chicken, an “ECOtainment platform” co-created by Catherine Winder and Annabel Slaight, launched last year, including original content like a TV show that airs on CBC and YouTube, games, and a podcast, all aimed at warding off climate doom and instead highlighting climate solutions.

Winder and Slaight have, to put it mildly, impressive resumes, with Slaight having been an executive producer of The Big Comfy Couch and Winder a force behind multiple Angry Birds movies. The show’s premise is fun, and was actually thought up by kids. The main character is a chicken (named Potato) from the year 2050, a time when climate change has seemingly been solved. She travels back and forth between the future and the present, sometimes talking about the solutions of her time.

Keep reading...Show less
Yellow
HMN Banner
Get today’s top climate story delivered right to your inbox.

Sign up for our free Heatmap Daily newsletter.