Tim McDonnell

Tim McDonnell

Climate Desk Associate Producer

Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.

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This Video Shows What It's Like to Drive Through California's Raging Valley Fire

| Mon Sep. 14, 2015 10:21 AM EDT

Hellish new video has emerged from the heart of California's Valley Fire, which turned vicious over the weekend, destroying an estimated 400 homes and 20 businesses in Lake County, northeast of wine country and Santa Rosa.

While not the biggest in size, the Valley Fire has become one of the most destructive in a fire season exacerbated by California's prolonged drought. According to the LA Times, four firefighters were injured and one civilian may have been killed. As of Monday morning, the fire, currently burning 50,000 acres, is only 5 percent contained, and more than 1,400 firefighters are on the ground.

Yesterday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Lake and Napa counties, allowing the California National Guard and other state resources to mobilize against the fire.

Walls of flames crept up on one resident of the Anderson Springs community, who fled along a road swept by fire and posted a harrowing video of his escape. In a comment on the video, YouTube user mulletFive wrote, "We got no phone call, there were no sirens, no ash falling, no smoke, no air support. As far as we knew the fire was still far away. But it turns out it was very close to our home, there was simply not enough firefighters to tend to our area." He made it safely south to the Bay Area, according to comments on the video.

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New Photos: See Pluto's Surface in Incredibly Rich Detail

| Thu Sep. 10, 2015 3:44 PM EDT

We love Pluto. We love that we know so much more about it now—after the spacecraft New Horizons hurtled 3 billion miles to get there and send back the amazing Pluto pictures that arrived in July. Today, NASA released a new set of images that bring us right up close to the planet's weird, chaotic surface in unprecedented detail.

Here's NASA's take

"This is what we came for—these images, spectra and other data types that are going to help us understand the origin and the evolution of the Pluto system for the first time," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. "And what's coming is not just the remaining 95 percent of the data that's still aboard the spacecraft—it's the best datasets, the highest-resolution images and spectra, the most important atmospheric datasets, and more. It's a treasure trove."

Our friend Phil Plait at Slate has some more detail about what these images tell us. But for now, just check them out for yourself. Kickass!

NASA: "This synthetic perspective view of Pluto shows what you would see if you were approximately 1,100 miles above Pluto's equatorial area, looking northeast over the dark, cratered, informally named Cthulhu Regio toward the bright, smooth, expanse of icy plains informally called Sputnik Planum. The entire expanse of terrain seen in this image is 1,100 miles across." NASA
 
NASA: "This image features a tremendous variety of other landscapes surrounding Sputnik. The smallest visible features are 0.5 miles in size, and the mosaic covers a region roughly 1,000 miles wide." The white squares outline close-ups in the following two images. NASA
 
A close-up from the image above, this is called the "chaos region" because of the diversity of surface geology. NASA
 
NASA: "This 220-mile wide view illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet. The image includes dark, ancient heavily cratered terrain; bright, smooth geologically young terrain; assembled masses of mountains; and an enigmatic field of dark, aligned ridges that resemble dunes; its origin is under debate." NASA
 
NASA: "Two different versions of an image of Pluto's haze layers, from a distance of 480,000 miles. Pluto's north is at the top, and the sun illuminates Pluto from the upper right. The left version has had only minor processing, while the right version has been specially processed to reveal a large number of discrete haze layers in the atmosphere. In the left version, faint surface details on the narrow sunlit crescent are seen through the haze in the upper right of Pluto's disk, and subtle parallel streaks in the haze may be crepuscular rays—shadows cast on the haze by topography such as mountain ranges on Pluto, similar to the rays sometimes seen in the sky after the sun sets behind mountains on Earth." NASA
 
The moon, Charon. NASA

Breaking: The US Will Accept 10,000 Syrian Refugees

| Thu Sep. 10, 2015 1:53 PM EDT
A boy sits on a bus on Wednesday after his family arrives in Athens from the Greek island of Lesbos.

After weeks of mounting pressure, the Obama administration has finally agreed to raise the quota of Syrian refugees allowed into the US to 10,000 in the next fiscal year, which begins October 1.

The US has so far played a pretty small role in the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe. Tens of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis, and Syrians are fleeing war in their home countries in search of a better life elsewhere—prompting dramatic scenes as migrants use any means possible to get to countries across Western Europe.

So far, only about 1,500 Syrians have been allowed into the US—out of roughly four million that have poured out of the country to escape attacks by ISIS and their own government since the start of the civil war. Meanwhile, European countries are accepting many more, as they open their borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants: Germany alone approved 42,680 Syrian asylum applications in 2014, according to the Guardian.

Germany expects to receive 800,000 refugees in total this year, according to CNN.

Today, President Barack Obama opened the door a crack more, announcing the US will be prepared to handle 10,000 Syrian migrants, according to Reuters:

The number reflects a "significant scaling up" of the US commitment to accept refugees from the war-torn country and to provide for their basic needs, White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

That influx of Syrians, in addition to refugees from other parts of the world, would push the total number of refugees taken in by the US to around 100,000, according to the New York Times.

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