Taking A Look Back at Winter 2019 Climate Statistics (Credit: NOAA National Center for Environmental Information-Climate)
Discussion: As the cold days of winter fade away, spring is starting to go into full gear across the United States. The National Center for Environmental Information has released their climate statistics from this past winter. Breaking these statistics down, the overall average temperature for the season (December 2018- February 2019) was 33.4°F. This number is 1.2°F above the average temperature. These averages are based on a record spanning 125 years. This winter ranked the top third warmest of winters since the record began. Regions that experienced these warmer than average winter temperatures included parts of the New England, the Southern Plains, and Southeast Ohio Valley. In Alaska, the average winter temperature was 10.5℉. This was the thirteenth warmest winter for Alaska, 6.9°F warmer than the long-term average. Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee all had overall winter temperatures that ranked in the top ten warmest for their state. Though many areas saw a warmer winter, cooler than average temperatures were present in the Rocky Mountains, the Southwest, and Central and Northern plains. During the end of January, many parts of the Midwest experienced record breaking, downright frigid temperatures. Despite the extreme cold during that time, no state broke a record for cold or warm.
The average total of wintertime precipitation this year was 9.01 inches, which was above average by 2.22 inches. This amount ranks this winter (December 2018-February 2019) as the wettest winter on record, beating the winter of 1997-1998 by just 0.02 inches. Across the contiguous United States, most of the nation experienced above average precipitation rates except for only five states! The standout state was Tennessee, which experienced their wettest winter and February on record, while Wisconsin had their second wettest winter. Snowfall records were broken in Omaha, Nebraska and Nome, Alaska. Omaha had a record breaking 46.1 inches of snowfall which broke their 2003-2004 winter record of 44.3 inches. Nome tallied 69.5 inches of snow with help from a record-breaking February snowfall of 35.6 inches. That record-breaking February snowfall was the highest single February snowfall in Nome since 1920! With all of the snow and rain that fell across the United States this winter, no state ranked below average in the precipitation category.
Winter 2019 was a fairly active season. Across the United States, various weather events occurred. From Washington to Wisconsin, numerous cold temperature and snowfall records were broken in February. In Hawaii, Mauna Kea experienced a temperature of 9 degrees! A storm system known as a Kona Low was the cause bringing snow, heavy winds, and high waves. Across California and the West Coast, an atmospheric river event brought in heavy rainfall. These heavy rains caused flooding on the Russian River, which is located north of Santa Rosa, California. The atmospheric river event also contributed positively to the above average Sierra Nevada Mountains snowpack. In the southeast, heavy rain caused flooding and mudslides, while in the Northeast and Great Lakes, winter storms brought coastal flooding, heavy snowfall, and hurricane force winds.
In other locations across the west, snowfall broke records. In Flagstaff, Arizona, a one-day total of 35.9 inches was recorded! This marks the snowiest day on record for the city. For Las Vegas, Nevada, they saw their first measurable snowfall in over a decade. This winter broke records and brought some of the coldest temperatures that some parts of the country have ever experienced. With the winter cold and snow behind us, springtime temperatures will be right around the corner!
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©2019 Meteorologist Shannon Scully
How Climate Change Might Impact Maple Syrup Production (Credit: Climate Central, NewYorkUpstate.com)
Discussion: Late winter is synonymous with many aspects of the Northeast, such as Winter Storms and lingering cold temperatures. Across the Northeast, late winter is also known for maple syrup production. Sugar maple trees are abundant from the Tennessee Valley into the Northeast, but it is only in the Northeast where the climate is right for tapping the sap from the tree. The combination of the cold nights and warmer days is beneficial for the production of sap from the maple trees. With the difference in temperature between day and night, there is a difference in pressure that allows for the sap to be pushed out of the tree. Sap is then boiled off and turned into maple syrup and other maple products. Scientists are concerned however, that the sugaring season is now being affected by climate change. The maple syrup season usually ranges from February to April but now according to some owners in Upstate NY, those seasons are being cut short with trees not being ready until mid-March.
According to maple tree researchers, the maple season in New England has been starting 8 days earlier and ending 11 days earlier than a half a century ago. In Vermont, researchers are worried due to the fact that Vermont and New York have similar climates. If the temperatures become too warm, it results in less sugar in the sap of the maple trees. The less sugar there is in the sap requires more sap per gallon of maple syrup. Vermont is the biggest producer of maple syrup in the United States. The maple syrup industry is a $141 billion-dollar industry. Maple trees need below freezing temperatures during the winter, and during the early spring need a range of temperatures for the sap to flow. As the winter season continues to change climatologically, it is likely that the Northeast will slowly become the sole hub of Maple Syrup due to the maple trees down south becoming less viable for sap production.
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Photo credit: Climate Central
©2019 Meteorologist Shannon Scully
In the northernmost region of the large island of Hawai’i, there is a tall mountain that separates the east from the west: Kohala Mountain. It has long been a trademark of the region for its incredible effect on the island. It’s responsible for creating the obvious rift in geography between the leeward and windward sides of the mountain that one can see in the image above. What about the mountain though causes one side to be lush with vegetation, while the other is basically a desert?
The answer has to do with orographic uplift, which is the upward movement of air along given mountains. Hawai’i lies within the area covered by the easterly trade winds, causing the eastern side of Kohala Mountain to be the first mountainous region to intercept winds coming over the ocean in northern Hawai’i. That moist air from the Pacific Ocean rises up over the mountains though orographic uplift and then condenses into clouds at the top of the mountain. Consequently, the windward side of Kohala receives plenty of precipitation and moisture, which creates its lush vegetation. However, once the air condenses and precipitates over the east, there is not much moisture left for the west side of the mountain. Instead, dry air falls back down the west side of the mountain and warms up, creating a desert. This is an example of a rain shadow, and they are present all over the world.
One very notable example aside from Hawai’i is the mid-west of the United States. In the continental United States, winds primarily come from the west over the Pacific Ocean. When that air reaches the Rocky Mountains, it creates a rain shadow over the leeward side of the mountains, which is part of the reason why it tends to be so dry in the mid-west. Additionally, the area west of the mountains gets a lot of rain and is why Seattle is known for being so rainy. Other instances of the rain shadow effect creating dry areas include the Atacama Desert in Chile due to the Andes Mountains, and the Gobi Desert in Mongolia due to the Himalayan Mountains.
Since rain shadows heavily impact people and wildlife on both sides of mountain chains, it’s an important phenomenon to know in order to understand the geography and climate of different areas around the world. Although it is only one piece of the puzzle in deciphering why different parts of the planet have different climates, the rain shadow is still an essential element in determining the behavior of the weather throughout the world.
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© 2018 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow
In recent weeks, the spring-time thaw has been forecasted and broadcasted across the contiguous United States. With this past winter bringing record snowfall to numerous places, the combination of snow melt and spring-time rain will surely create difficult situations for various locations across the U.S. A recent study citing a rise in extreme rain events will also create havoc in an already damp and strenuous environment. The long-time saying of “April showers, bring May flowers” will definitely bloom in popularity with this increase in extreme rain.
Precipitation is an ever changing aspect of an ever changing climate. A one-degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures would lead to a four percent increase in water vapor in the atmosphere. This abundance of water vapor would have the potential to strengthen downpours, snow fall and even those “all day” rainfalls. In a recent study NOAA and NCEI indicates that the 10 years with the most extreme one-day precipitation have come all since 1995. The study used conventional climate extremes data that looked at monthly maximum and minimum temperature, daily precipitation and drought data for regions around the globe.
This upward trend of more extreme rain can be seen as a part of other extremes that are on the rise and have been for approximately a decade or so. The NOAA/NCEI Climate Extremes Index evaluates the percentage of the contiguous U.S. that is much above (or below) normal for six indicators that are related to temperature, drought, precipitation and tropical cyclones. This data goes back to 1910, but shows the top four of the five values occurred in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017, with 2018 coming in eighth. Of all the climate extremes that this index calculates, water imbalance issues stand out. In the coming decades, water imbalance, which includes precipitation, drought and water scarcity, will have the utmost climate impacts due to the reliance on water as well as the dangers that extreme rainfall and flooding possess.
In recent years, extreme rainfall events have seen a small but steady increase. Along with this, a slight rise in temperature, which is projected, will only increase extreme rainfall events further. To keep up with the NOAA/NCEI Climate Extremes Index, go here.
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©2019 Weather Forecaster Alec Kownacki
Spring has Sprung: An Analysis of CPC’s Spring 2019 Outlook (Photo Credits: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, Fred Dunn)
NOAA's CPC outlook for April-May-June (updated March 21 2019) ; MLK Memorial in Washington D.C. surrounded by cherry blossoms in March 2018
This morning, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) released its three-month outlook for spring temperatures and precipitation. An official El Niño declaration was made about a month ago, with positive temperature anomalies reigning in the central Pacific.
The CPC makes 6-10 day outlooks, 8-14 day, monthly, and seasonal outlooks across the United States. For example, the three month spring outlook (April-May-June) gives the probability of of precipitation occurrence on the three upcoming months of the forecast model run. Probability of precipitation will be in one of 3 possible categories: below (B), median (N), or above (A). Categories are defined by separating the 30 years of the most recent climatology period 1981-2010 into the 10 driest years, the middle 10 years, and the wettest 10 years on any given 5-day period. The probability of any category being selected at random is ⅓. The colored shading on the map indicates the degree of confidence. The darker the shading, the greater level of confidence.
For New Mexico, in particular, the Madden-Julian Oscillation, or MJO, played a bigger role in active winter weather systems. But, what does that mean for spring across northern and central New Mexico? Wetter than normal conditions are more likely during El Niño events in the Southwest, especially during the cool season months of winter and spring, in which there is an eastward extension of deep tropical convection. While odds generally favor a wetter winter during El Niño, an analysis of individual stations reveals precipitation to be highly variable from event to event. Temperatures are more of a mixed bag, based on current dynamical and statistical output and historical trends (i.e. whether an earlier spring snowmelt will affect higher elevation temperatures). MJO, on the other hand, is forecast to remain active through the end of the month, where mid-latitudinal teleconnections become weaker during the spring months. While an El Niño event will tilt the odds for a wet winter and spring in New Mexico, it does not guarantee above average precipitation.
Following a round of chilly temperatures and a polar vortex, it looks like the groundhog may have forecasted spring at an opportune time!
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©2019 Meteorologist Sharon Sullivan
Aside from the Thornthwaite Climate Classification system which was reported upon a couple months ago (go here to read that article), the classification system that came before Thornthwaite’s time is the Koppen Climate Classification. The classification was first published by Russian climatologist Vladimir Koppen in 1884. Although it was published in 1884, it wasn’t completed until 1936 after several modifications by Koppen. To add several more modifications, climatologist Rudolf Geiger introduced several other changes that were needed. The two climatologists and their work is what gives this classification system the name of Koppen-Geiger climate classification. But, for the sake of title and to give credit to the creator, it is commonly known as the Koppen climate classification.
Koppen’s aim was to devise formulas that would define climatic boundaries in a way that would correspond to vegetation zones, known as biomes, which were being mapped out during his time. The system divides climates into five main climate groups, with each group being divided based on seasonal precipitation and temperature patterns. These groups are represented by capital letters A, B, C, D and E. All of which, except for B, are defined by temperature criteria. Type B looks more at the amount of precipitation or dryness rather than temperature. The climate designations are as follows: tropical, A; dry/arid, B; temperate, C; continental, D; and polar, E.”
Along with the capital letters to represent the type of climate, Koppen wanted more specific factors to truly identify the climate of a given area. With this in mind, he designated numerous other letters to represent the other features that a climate could have:
As shown in the table above, the lower case letters represent the kind of climate an area possesses. The overall differentiation is based upon temperature with precipitation dividing the classification further. Koppen wanted to show how climates are split up based upon vegetation and the precipitation they receive. He created just that, but with more concentration on temperature and precipitation. This differs from the Thornthwaite Classification System by relying upon the temperature and precipitation of the area. Thornthwaite, who grew up as a farmer and was educated in botany, expanded his system to the characteristics of the area; such as the vegetation type. Thornthwaite measured the precipitation and evaporation of the climate to classify it. To learn more about the Thornthwaite system refer to the link which was provided earlier in this article.
The Koppen classification system was the first of its kind that measured both temperature and precipitation and how they both effect the climate of a given area. Koppen’s system is still heavily used to this day and helps climatologists, along with other scientists, determine how to classify the climate of region.
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©2019 Weather Forecaster Alec Kownacki
Los Angeles as seen from Griffith Park on January 10th, 2019, just days before an Atmospheric River moved into the region. Source: Gerardo Diaz Jr.
After spending a few days soaking in the Southern California sun, I was about ready to head back up to my home in the Midwest. That being said, my last morning in LA was anything but sunny. The sky was grey and traffic was backed up for miles on several of the freeways as rain slowly moved its way into the normally picturesque blue skies of the famed Golden Coast. Indeed, these conditions had only just begun to roll into the region after months of historic wildfires that left many parts of the State in ruins, including well-known towns such as Malibu. And while the region is renowned for having near-perfect weather all year round, these sudden and often abrupt rain events are an integral piece to the region’s climate.
Grey skies over the Santa Monica Pier. Source: Gerardo Diaz Jr.
Atmospheric Rivers, or ARs, are the transport of moisture from the tropics into higher latitudes. In the case of California, moisture tends to be transported over from the warm tropical waters of the West Pacific. As the moisture is carried over a landmass, the continental air mass will become saturated, resulting in the release of moisture in the form of precipitation. This process is so frequent and comes at such a varying degree of intensities on the West Coast that it is colloquially referred to as the Pineapple Express. Overall, ARs bring both benefits and challenges to the State, all while playing an important role in supplying and maintaining the entire region’s water sources.
Cloudy skies overlooking downtown Santa Monica on the morning of January 14th, 2019, as more and more moisture was advected onto shore. Source: Gerardo Diaz Jr.
In terms of their benefits, ARs are responsible for providing much of the annual precipitation for places like Southern California, along with the vast majority of the snow pack for higher elevations all along the entire stretch of the West Coast. The improvement of snowpack following a severe drought is critical for ski resorts all along the State. The lack of snow over much of the Sierra Range was a major cause for concern for resorts all across the State, especially in North and Central California. Thankfully, much of the region as of the time that this article was released has experienced a rejuvenation in its snow pack thanks entirely to the most recent AR. In fact, according to NWS Sacramento, many parts of the Sierra and outlying towns hare now at or even above average precipitation levels for the first time in months. As such, ARs can significantly help in alleviating drought conditions and can bring an immediate and sudden end to wildfire seasons, as has been the case over the last couple of years in California. The most recent and devastating fires across the State were essentially washed away by the introduction of moisture into the region via ARs.
The average amount of water that has fallen over parts of Central and Northern California this season. Source: National Weather Service, Sacramento.
With that all being said and done, moderate to strong ARs can have dramatic and extreme impacts to unsuspecting residents, especially if they occur immediately following a prolonged dry-spell. In fact, during this most recent rain spell alone, LA has seen over half of the rain it typically experiences in a single year, placing it in a much better situation than where the region was during the end of last year in terms of drought conditions but in a much more serious risk for flash flooding and landslides. Indeed, an immediate and large introduction of moisture to such a concentrated region just weeks after it experienced severe fire damage is a recipe for new challenges, including mudslides, and landslides, if said areas are introduced to large amounts of precipitation. This was exactly what occurred on January 17th, 2019, as reports of cars being either washed away or struck directly by mud and debris were reported all across the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California. Simply put, the dried and burnt up mountains and hills in the region simply could not absorb the large quantities of precipitation that fell in the region during such a short amount of time. It also should be noted that Northern California is just as susceptible to extreme moisture introduction following heavy drought and fire weather conditions.
Damage along the Pacific Coast Highway due to a heavy rain-induced mudslide. Source: Courtesy Caltrans(@CaltransDist7).
It is an understatement to say that this atmospheric process is an important part of the climate system of the region. Without ARs, the state of California, and indeed the entire West Coast of the United States, would experience a much more arid climate and subsequently would struggle to maintain its current population. Nevertheless, when strong ARs bring large quantities of moisture are advected into the region in a short amount of time, the consequences can be extreme, especially in those areas that experience drought conditions immediately before the moisture advection. As such, understanding ARs is important for both meteorologists who forecast them and for those who live along the West Coast and experience their effects first-hand.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Gerardo Diaz Jr.
Image credit: NBC News
Increasing ocean temperatures are one of the best indicators of how Earth’s climate is changing. This is because the oceans absorb excess heat in our planet’s system before the atmosphere does. While ocean heat storage is somewhat beneficial in the sense that it keeps heat out of the atmosphere, there are numerous consequences associated with warming oceans. Unfortunately, a recent study has shown that ocean temperature increase is accelerating – confirming predictions previously made by climate models. This accelerated warming spells danger for ocean ecosystems and for people as well.
Many species of ocean plants and animals can only live within specific temperature ranges. As ocean temperatures change, species that can move will migrate to places with more appropriate temperatures. Species that cannot move will perish. We currently see this happening in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which lost roughly half of its coral between 2016-2018. This loss can be attributed to elevated water temperatures in the Australian area of the Pacific Ocean.
These changes in aquatic ecosystems affect economies worldwide. First, many people around the world depend on fishing and selling their catches. Changes in fish/shellfish species in an area mean changes to how – or even whether – these people are able to make a livelihood. Other economies depend on ecotourism, which is when people visit a destination for experiences like scuba diving or snorkeling. As ecosystems that lend themselves to such activities disappear, tourism in these areas will collapse, bringing local economies with them.
Warming oceans also provide fuel for devastating hurricanes. These storms form where water is warm, and use the energy provided by warm water to grow in size and strength. Warmer ocean temperatures mean there is more energy available for hurricanes to grow. The more energy in a hurricane, the more rainfall it produces, and the higher winds it carries. Wind and rain cause the devastating impacts of hurricanes, from flooding to downed trees and power lines. It is likely that with warmer oceans, we will see more catastrophic hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Florence that have hit the United States in the past two years.
The best course of action in response to this information is to increase the amount of electrical power generated by renewable sources like wind and solar energy. However, technologies like fish farming and aquaculture may serve as a good adaptation to changing oceans and ensure that people who make their living by fishing can continue to earn money; and economies that rely heavily on this industry can continue to function.
©2018 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
For more about the Great Barrier Reef: https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/04/19/half-of-the-great-barrier-reef-coral-has-died-since-2016/#3954b37e5f9f
Barrier islands are important and dynamic geographic features that are essential to both humans and natural ecosystems. Recently, they have been struggling to remain intact. In the past, barrier islands have stayed above water by having their sands shifted towards the mainland by ocean waves, where the elevation is higher. When people build on these islands, it blocks the natural flow of sand that keeps the island alive. On top of this, climate change has increased the rate of sea level rise, making it harder for the islands to compensate with their shifting sands, putting barrier islands at even greater risk. So, the barrier islands are in trouble, but why are they so important?
The answer is simple: the utility offered by these islands is irreplaceable. Just a few benefits that barrier islands provide are sanctuaries for shellfish, fish, and birds, wetlands that filter pollutants, food, and protection against storm surge. Additionally, if humans develop on these islands, there is a financial benefit that comes from tourism and fishing. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, while human development on barrier islands creates financial benefits, it detracts from ecological benefits. That is why it is critical to consider the environmental impacts of building on barrier islands in order to strike a balance between financial income and environmental preservation.
With the rise in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms over the past decades, it has become even more important to consider the preservation of barrier islands because of their role as a buffer against storms and erosion. When a major storm strikes the mainland, it can experience storm surge, which is a rise in sea level that results from the strong winds of the storm constantly pushing ocean water towards the mainland. If an area experiences storm surge, damaging floods can cause severe damage to life and property. Barrier islands can shield against the brunt of the winds and waves from the storm and shift in response to wave energy to stay alive to protect against other storms.
Of course, barrier islands can’t protect against all the energy from storms that are approaching the mainland, so coastal cities should always have infrastructure that can withstand flooding. However, having a first line of defense against dangerous hurricanes is unfailingly useful and preserving these islands is crucial for our coastal cities in the face of a changing climate.
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© 2018 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow
In 2016, Hurricane Matthew walloped North Carolina. The state was still recovering from Matthew when Hurricane Florence severely flooded the Carolinas this year. Later in the season, Hurricane Michael hit the western part of the Carolinas as a weakened tropical cyclone after battering the Florida Panhandle.
Hurricane Matthew formed in the Caribbean in early October of 2016. It quickly became a monstrous category 5 storm and barreled through several Caribbean islands, including Haiti and the Bahamas. On October 8th, the storm made landfall on the coast of South Carolina as a category 1 hurricane. The storm caused hundreds of deaths throughout the Caribbean, with 25 in North Carolina and 4 in South Carolina. Water levels were high all along the Southeast coast, but North Carolina recorded the storm’s highest U.S. water level, with Cape Hatteras recording a water level of 5.8 feet above the Mean Higher High Water (MHHW), or the average daily highest tide.
NOAA concluded that eastern North Carolina had been hit hardest by Matthew, with over 100,000 structures damaged in the region. To understand why this part of the state is so prone to flooding and surge from hurricanes, one must understand the geography of the region. North Carolina’s Coastal Plain is the lowest-lying region of the state. The Coastal Plain can further be divided into two sub-regions: the Inner and Outer Coastal Plains. The Outer Coastal Plain consists of the Outer Banks and the Tidewater region. This region is prone to severe flooding and acts as a buffer for the Inner Coastal Plain. Elevations in the Inner Coastal Plain can reach as high as 900-1,000 feet above sea level. However, in the case of Matthew, storm surge and flooding reached the higher elevations of the Inner Coastal Plain, likely due to the state’s expansive river and inlet system.
Residents of the state were still recovering from Matthew even this year. A man in Lenoir County, about 75 miles east of Raleigh, was still waiting on the Lenoir County buyout list for his trailer to be bought—over two years later. In a small town in South Carolina’s Pee Dee region, the town’s main street had been designated a floodplain after Matthew, increasing the cost of building, and thereby slowing the town’s rebuilding process. Stories like this were being reported throughout North Carolina just as Hurricane Florence rattled the state this year. The storm created a flooding catastrophe, with a recorded rainfall of 35.93 inches in Elizabethtown, NC. This broke the previous record rainfall for a tropical cyclone in the state, which was held by Hurricane Floyd which brought 24.06 inches of rain to Southport, NC. The storm slowed down once it hit land, which aided in the flooding aspect of the storm, bringing it to catastrophic levels.
After Florence, public opinion concerning the climate seemed to have changed. Elon University conducted a poll of over 840 registered voters and found that nearly 83% of all registered voters in the state believed that climate change will have a negative impact on coastal communities. The needed policy change came this year, when Governor Roy Cooper committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the state 40% by 2025. This is a move that is in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, the agreement that set strict global standards to cut carbon emissions. While the US withdrew from this agreement, North Carolina is taking measures to mitigate climate change that are in line with the agreement. The Governor went a step further by issuing an executive order in October which outlined the state’s rigorous plan to combat climate change. Part of this plan is to move hog farms and communities away from the coast via buyouts. North Carolina is one of the top ten states for agricultural production, according to the USDA, and it is a leader in the production of certain commonplace goods, especially beef. Hog farmers in the state are extremely concerned about their future. While coastal communities will always be more likely to sustain significant damage, they are also more likely to have the money to rebuild. 33 of the state’s 3,000 hog farm lagoons were breached, causing the spilling of hog waste that could spread diseases and infections. Many of these lagoons are located in more impoverished areas of the state, and some were actually bought out by the state’s government after Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The program was canceled, but then revived by Cooper after Matthew. Buyouts were ramped up even more this year after Florence. To top it all off, a major hog producer, Smithfield, proceeded with their own plans to cut emissions 25% by 2025 by collecting methane energy at its hog farms. That little push from the private sector may give the state the momentum needed to enforce adaptation plans for the nearly 120,000 residents at risk of coastal flooding in the state.
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© 2018 Weather Forecaster Jacob Dolinger