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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Sorry, California. Winter Isn't Going to Fix Your Drought.

| Thu Oct. 16, 2014 1:32 PM EDT
NOAA

California's crippling drought is not expected to improve over the winter, according to new forecast data released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Nearly 60 percent of the state is experiencing exceptional drought—the worst category—NOAA reported. The map above shows that the northern California coast could see some improvement. But in the Central Valley, a critical source of fruits, nuts, and vegetables for the whole country, conditions won't be getting better any time soon. A little rain is expected, NOAA forecaster Mike Halpert said in a statement, but not enough to reverse the trend.

"While we're predicting at least a 2 in 3 chance that winter precipitation will be near or above normal throughout the state, with such widespread, extreme deficits, recovery will be slow,” he said.

The report adds that El Niño, which tends to brings wet weather for the West Coast, is expected to be weak this winter and thus won't provide much relief.

California's winter is also more than 50 percent likely to be warmer than average:

temp map
NOAA

And in case you're still wondering why you should care about California's drought, try this: The state is the country's number-two pumpkin producer. And with Halloween approaching, pumpkin prices have jumped 15 percent because of the drought. Scary!

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Nepal Just Had a Deadly Freak Avalanche. Is Climate Change To Blame?

| Thu Oct. 16, 2014 11:32 AM EDT
Rescue workers carry the body of an avalanche victim at the Thorong La Pass in Mustang, Nepal, on October 15.

Hikers on one of Nepal's most popular mountaineering routes may have had a deadly face-off with climate change this week, when a freak storm swept in and triggered an avalanche that killed at least 27 people.

Rescue work is underway for dozens of hikers who are still missing. October is typically a time for clear skies in Nepal, and already some scientists are pointing a finger of blame at global warming for the unseasonable storm. From the Toronto Star:

The current situation in Nepal — the incessant rain, blizzard and avalanche — appears to have been triggered by the tail of Cyclone Hudhud in neighboring India. The cyclone, reports suggest, was among the strongest storms recorded off the Indian coast.

“Storms in that region are getting stronger,” said John Stone, an IPCC lead author and adjunct professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. “It is not inconsistent with what scientists have been saying.”

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, a regional agency based in Kathmandu that serves eight countries, said in a May report — just weeks after the April avalanche on Mt. Everest — that rising temperatures have shrunk Nepal’s glaciers by almost a quarter between 1977 and 2010, with an average of 38 square kilometers vanishing annually.

The report said that besides bringing more intense and frequent floods, avalanches and landslides affecting millions of people living in remote mountain areas, such changes could also hit adventure-seeking mountaineers.

As if summitting a giant Himalayan peak wasn't scary enough already.

Pentagon: We Could Soon Be Fighting Climate Wars

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 12:45 PM EDT
The submarine USS Annapolis breaks through three feet of ice in the Arctic Ocean during an exercise in 2009. A report today from the Pentagon calls for an increased US military presence in the Arctic.

In one of its strongest statements yet on the need to prepare for climate change, the Defense Department today released a report that says global warming "poses immediate risks to US national security" and will exacerbate national security-related threats ranging "from infectious disease to terrorism."

The report, embedded below, builds on climate readiness planning at the Pentagon that stretches back to the George W. Bush administration. But today's report is the first to frame climate change as a serious near-term challenge for strategic military operations; previous reports have tended to focus on long-term threats to bases and other infrastructure.

The report "is quite an evolution of the DoD's thinking on understanding and addressing climate threats," said Francesco Femia, co-director of the Center for Climate and Security. "The Department is not looking out into the future, it's looking at what's happening now."

 

Alaska's Stranded Walruses Face a New Threat: Oil Drillers

| Fri Oct. 10, 2014 11:07 AM EDT
walrus map
Yellow lines show the movement of radio-tracked walruses in 2013; the green highlighted section is where offshore drilling leases are available. USGS

Remember that jaw-dropping photo from last week that showed 35,000 walruses crammed onto a narrow strip of land because they couldn't find enough space on the disappearing Arctic sea ice? Turns out melting ice isn't the only thing the walruses have to worry about.

Last month, the energy blog Fuel Fix reported on details of Shell's newest plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. The company has a history of failure in the Arctic since it first got a federal green-light to explore there in 2012. Now they'll be heading back out next summer for another try, with up to six new wells in the Chukchi Sea.

The ocean expanse north of Alaska where Shell wants to drill is the most popular hangout for Alaskan walruses, as the map above, from a US Geological Survey study of walruses last year, shows. The yellow lines show the movements of a group of walruses over a two-week period in July 2013; red X's mark where researchers deployed radio tags on the walruses. The green outline indicates the cluster of Arctic oil drilling lease locations administered by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, including those Shell is eyeing. The wells would be upstream of Hanna Shoals, a biologically rich shallow shelf that tends to hold sea ice longer than other areas.

The Shoals are vital walrus habitat, especially as climate change diminishes sea ice throughout the Arctic, said Margaret Williams, Arctic programs director for the World Wildlife Fund. Risks to the walruses (and other marine life, for that matter) include disturbance by ship traffic and the fallout from oil spills. Spill cleanup is particularly challenging in icy waters, and the nearest Coast Guard station is across the state in Kodiak. 

"It's an amazing place that is full of life, with a very rich food chain," Willaims said. If oil and gas drilling goes forward, "you have a huge potential mess."

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