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History > 2008 > USA > Nature, Weather, Climate (I)




Big Storms Continue to Strike Midwest


March 22, 2008
The New York Times


Floodwaters continued to rise Friday in parts of the Midwest as rivers and streams from Texas to Pennsylvania surged past their banks, causing the evacuation of hundreds of houses.

At the same time, another weather system snowed on Illinois and Wisconsin, creating treacherous driving conditions and grounding hundreds of airplane flights.

At least 16 deaths have been connected to weather in recent days.

Some of the worst flooding on Friday occurred near St. Louis, where the Meramec River submerged houses and businesses and lapped at Interstate 44. Crews fought to keep the water at bay with concrete barricades and sandbags.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Warren Imhos of Pacific, 30 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Mr. Imhos’s house, 200 yards from the river, is flooded to the top of the door frame. Mr. Imhos, his wife and two young children have been staying at his father-in-law’s house since Wednesday.

“We just put in a new wood floor and trim,” Mr. Imhos said. “We were just about to put carpet in. I’m glad we didn’t do it.”

Although the rain had stopped, the river was still rising and was expected to crest this weekend. Forecasters predicted that the Meramec would reach a near-record 42 feet in Eureka and a record 40 feet in Valley Park.

Hundreds of houses have been evacuated in Missouri and Arkansas.

This week President Bush approved federal disaster aid for St. Louis and 70 Missouri counties.

In Ohio, floodwater closed two Interstate highways before starting to recede Friday.

In the Chicago metropolitan region, forecasters expected up to nine inches of snow, and more than 400 flights were grounded.

“We’re challenged, we’re sick of it, and we’re fed up,” said Mike Claffey, a spokesman with the Illinois Transportation Department.

Mr. Claffey said that since November, his agency had used 300,000 tons of rock salt on roads in the Chicago area, more than twice the amount used in a typical winter.

In addition to the snow, Mr. Claffey said, Chicago’s weather this winter — sometimes jumping between freezing temperatures and days that felt like spring — has wreaked havoc on pavement, causing a spike in the number of potholes.

“We’ve used twice as much asphalt as we did last year to fill all the potholes this winter,” Mr. Claffey said.

The flooding farther south followed moisture-rich air from the Gulf of Mexico crashing into a stationary front. That led to heavy rains in the Mississippi Valley and the lower Ohio Valley, said Todd Miner, a meteorologist at Penn State University.

The weather system was then swept northeast, Mr. Miner said, where blizzards in Maine broke the record for seasonal snowfall in Caribou, a city in the northern tip. The last record was set in the 1954-5 season.

Rescue workers in Missouri worked to help communities surrounded by water, said Susie Stonner, a spokeswoman for the State Emergency Management Agency.

“We have people who’ve been plucked out of cars, and now we’re having to evacuate new areas,” Ms. Stonner said. “It’s been pretty much continuous.”

The entire population of Dutchtown, in southeast Missouri, was evacuated, Ms. Stonner said, and the town was “completely under water.”

Mr. Imhos, whose house was inundated, was grateful that he had insurance.

“It’s going to be a hard row to hoe,” he said. “But we’ll get through it.”

Catrin Einhorn reported from Chicago, and Malcolm Gay from Pacific, Mo. Karen Ann Cullotta contributed reporting from Chicago.

Big Storms Continue to Strike Midwest, NYT, 22.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/22/us/22storm.html






Global Warming

Rushes Timing of Spring


March 19, 2008
Filed at 1:13 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The capital's famous cherry trees are primed to burst out in a perfect pink peak about the end of this month. Thirty years ago, the trees usually waited to bloom till around April 5.

In central California, the first of the field skipper sachem, a drab little butterfly, was fluttering about on March 12. Just 25 years ago, that creature predictably emerged there anywhere from mid-April to mid-May.

And sneezes are coming earlier in Philadelphia. On March 9, when allergist Dr. Donald Dvorin set up his monitor, maple pollen was already heavy in the air. Less than two decades ago, that pollen couldn't be measured until late April.

Pollen is bursting. Critters are stirring. Buds are swelling. Biologists are worrying.

''The alarm clock that all the plants and animals are listening to is running too fast,'' Stanford University biologist Terry Root said.

Blame global warming.

The fingerprints of man-made climate change are evident in seasonal timing changes for thousands of species on Earth, according to dozens of studies and last year's authoritative report by the Nobel Prize-winning international climate scientists. More than 30 scientists told The Associated Press how global warming is affecting plants and animals at springtime across the country, in nearly every state.

What's happening is so noticeable that scientists can track it from space. Satellites measuring when land turns green found that spring ''green-up'' is arriving eight hours earlier every year on average since 1982 north of the Mason-Dixon line. In much of Florida and southern Texas and Louisiana, the satellites show spring coming a tad later, and bizarrely, in a complicated way, global warming can explain that too, the scientists said.

Biological timing is called phenology. Biological spring, which this year begins at 1:48 a.m. EDT Thursday, is based on the tilt of the Earth as it circles the sun. The federal government and some university scientists are so alarmed by the changes that last fall they created a National Phenology Network at the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor these changes.

The idea, said biologist and network director Jake Weltzin, is ''to better understand the changes, and more important what do they mean? How does it affect humankind?''

There are winners, losers and lots of unknowns when global warming messes with natural timing. People may appreciate the smaller heating bills from shorter winters, the longer growing season and maybe even better tasting wines from some early grape harvests. But biologists also foresee big problems.

The changes could push some species to extinction. That's because certain plants and animals are dependent on each other for food and shelter. If the plants bloom or bear fruit before animals return or surface from hibernation, the critters could starve. Also, plants that bud too early can still be whacked by a late freeze.

The young of tree swallows -- which in upstate New York are laying eggs nine days earlier than in the 1960s -- often starve in those last gasp cold snaps because insects stop flying in the cold, ornithologists said. University of Maryland biology professor David Inouye noticed an unusually early February robin in his neighborhood this year and noted, ''Sometimes the early bird is the one that's killed by the winter storm.''

The checkerspot butterfly disappeared from Stanford's Jasper Ridge preserve because shifts in rainfall patterns changed the timing of plants on which it develops. When the plant dries out too early, the caterpillars die, said Notre Dame biology professor Jessica Hellmann.

''It's an early warning sign in that it's an additional onslaught that a lot of our threatened species can't handle,'' Hellmann said.

It's not easy on some people either. A controlled federal field study shows that warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide cause earlier, longer and stronger allergy seasons.

''For wind-pollinated plants, it's probably the strongest signal we have yet of climate change,'' said University of Massachusetts professor of aerobiology Christine Rogers. ''It's a huge health impact. Seventeen percent of the American population is allergic to pollen.''

While some plants and animals use the amount of sunlight to figure out when it is spring, others base it on heat building in their tissues, much like a roasting turkey with a pop-up thermometer. Around the world, those internal thermometers are going to ''pop'' earlier than they once did.

This past winter's weather could send a mixed message. Globally, it was the coolest December through February since 2001 and a year of heavy snowfall. Despite that, it was still warmer than average for the 20th century.

Phenology data go back to the 14th century for harvest of wine grapes in France. There is a change in the timing of fall, but the change is biggest in spring. In the 1980s there was a sudden, big leap forward in spring blooming, scientists noticed. And spring keeps coming earlier at an accelerating rate.

Unlike sea ice in the Arctic, the way climate change is tinkering with the natural timing of day-to-day life is concrete and local. People can experience it with all five senses:

-- You can see the trees and bushes blooming earlier. A photo of Lowell Cemetery, in Lowell, Mass., taken May 30, 1868, shows bare limbs. But the same scene photographed May 30, 2005, by Boston University biology professor Richard Primack shows them in full spring greenery.

-- You can smell the lilacs and honeysuckle. In the West they are coming out two to four days earlier each decade over more than half a century, according to a 2001 study.

-- You can hear it in the birds. Scientists in Gothic, Colo., have watched the first robin of spring arrive earlier each year in that mountain ghost town, marching forward from April 9 in 1981 to March 14 last year. This year, heavy snows may keep the birds away until April.

-- You can feel it in your nose from increased allergies. Spring airborne pollen is being released about 20 hours earlier every year, according to a Swiss study that looked at common allergies since 1979.

-- You can even taste it in the honey. Bees, which sample many plants, are producing their peak amount of honey weeks earlier. The nectar is coming from different plants now, which means noticeably different honey -- at least in Highland, Md., where Wayne Esaias has been monitoring honey production since 1992. Instead of the rich, red, earthy tulip poplar honey that used to be prevalent, bees are producing lighter, fruitier black locust honey. Esaias, a NASA oceanographer as well as beekeeper, says global warming is a factor.

In Washington, seven of the last 20 Cherry Blossom Festivals have started after peak bloom. This year will be close, the National Park Service predicts. Last year, Knoxville's dogwood blooms came and went before the city's dogwood festival started. Boston's Arnold Arboretum permanently rescheduled Lilac Sunday to a May date eight days earlier than it once was.

Even western wildfires have a timing connection to global warming and are coming earlier. An early spring generally means the plants that fuel fires are drier, producing nastier fire seasons, said University of Arizona geology professor Steve Yool. It's such a good correlation that Weltzin, the phenology network director, is talking about using real-time lilac data to predict upcoming fire seasons. Lilacs, which are found in most parts of the country, offer some of the broadest climate overview data going back to the 1950s.

This year, though, it's the early red maple that's creating buzz, as well as sniffles. A New Jersey conservationist posted an urgent message on a biology listserv on Feb. 1 about the early blooming. A 2001 study found that since 1970, that tree is blossoming on average at least 19 days earlier in Washington, D.C.

Such changes have ''implications for the animals that are dependent on this plant,'' Weltzin said, as he stood beneath a blooming red maple in late February. By the time the animals arrive, ''the flowers may already be done for the year.'' The animals may have to find a new food source.

''It's all a part of life,'' Weltzin said. ''Timing is everything.''


On the Net:

National Phenology Network: http://www.usanpn.org/

IPCC report on phenological changes:


National Park Service on cherry blossoms:


University of California at Davis butterfly changes:


University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee lilac data: http://www.uwm.edu/mds/gcb--2006.html

    Global Warming Rushes Timing of Spring, NYT, 19.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Warming-Spring.html






Powerful Tornado

Damages Downtown Atlanta


March 15, 2008
The New York Times


ATLANTA — A powerful tornado scored a direct hit on the commercial center of downtown Atlanta on Friday night, blowing windows out of dozens of high-rise buildings, tossing trees and cars, and severely damaging many of the city’s landmarks, including the CNN Center, the Georgia Dome, Philips Arena, Grady Memorial Hospital and Centennial Olympic Park.

At least 27 people were injured and transported to local hospitals, said Capt. Bill May of Atlanta’s Fire Rescue Department, most with cuts and bruises from flying glass and debris.

The weather service said the tornado’s winds reached 130 miles an hour and in only 20 minutes cut a path six miles long and 200 yards wide through the downtown area. There was considerable damage to the area’s older trees, which was made worse by the region’s long drought, weather officials said.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin declared a state of emergency in the city at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, a designation needed to make the city eligible for federal recovery money.

No fatalities had been reported by Saturday morning, though crews were still combing through a condominium building in the southeastern part of the city where four floors had fallen on each other, making search and rescue operations difficult and dangerous.

The severity of the sudden storm surprised forecasters, who broke into prime-time programming Friday night around 9:40 p.m. to report that possible tornadoes could be heading for the downtown area. Thousands of people had gathered in the sports and convention area for two basketball games and a dental convention.

The twister brought what was supposed to be a busy Saturday to a near-standstill. The convention was canceled, as was the St. Patrick’s Day parade and the Atlanta Home Show, both scheduled for Saturday. The Southeastern Conference basketball playoffs were moved to a smaller stadium open to players and their families only.

The storm damaged the roof of the CNN Center, sucking the furniture out of the lobby and allowing storm water to pour into the newsroom. CNN said one of its computers had been sucked through a broken window and that dust, glass and water were scattered around the building, though the network stayed on the air to report on the city’s damage.

The storm passed right through the heart of the city, wreaking havoc on landmarks large and small. It blew the windows out of Ted Turner’s restaurant, called Ted’s Montana Grill, and the Tabernacle, a popular concert venue. Skyscrapers were pocked with broken windows and billboards were twisted into skeletal scaffolds. Debris and glass carpeted the usually busy streets, making them impassible.

Brenton Young, a dentist from Shelby, N.C., had just put his drink order in at Thrive, a chic downtown restaurant, when street-level windows started exploding. “People were jumping up and screaming,” Mr. Young said. “We didn’t know if a car had hit the building or what had happened. People were hitting the floor. People were running for the center. It was a chaotic three seconds.”

Cheryl Denton, also in town for the convention, said she was in her hotel when the storm hit. “It just came up all of a sudden,” she said. “We looked out the window and stuff started swirling, and it was there and gone that quick.”

Her friend Dwayne Hawkins added, “It was on the news and it hit 15 minutes later.”

At a 2 a.m. news conference Saturday, Kelvin J. Cochran, the fire and rescue chief, said it would take 24 to 36 hours to complete the search and rescue operation.

One of the 11 people who were taken to Grady Hospital had life-threatening injuries, a spokeswoman for the hospital said, but by Saturday morning the condition of that victim had been upgraded to stable. The 10 others had been treated and released.

A few blocks away, where the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball playoffs were under way, players from both teams froze, mouths gaping on the court, when part of the fabric roof was torn away by the force of the storm, allowing a sudden gush of wind to blow through the Georgia Dome. Catwalks at the top of the dome swayed and bits of insulation rained down on players and fans during overtime of the Mississippi State-Alabama game, halting play and sending spectators scrambling for the exits.

After a 65-minute delay to sweep the court and make sure the facility was sound, the game resumed. (Mississippi beat Alabama, 69-67.)

Cory Reavis, a 32-year-old firefighter who lives in the loft building where several floors collapsed, said that most of the damage had occurred in a part of the complex that was under renovation and thus not occupied. But Mr. Reavis said he had helped rescue one man in another part of the complex.

“He was sleeping and the roof collapsed on top of him,” he said. Mr. Reavis said the man’s injuries were not serious.

Mr. Reavis and his girlfriend were in his loft when the storm passed. “We thought it was the Marta train, because you can hear the Marta from our house,” he said, referring to the local subway system. He added that the noise grew louder and louder until it seemed to shake the building. “Three minutes later, it was over.”

Laurie Kimbrell, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta chapter of the American Red Cross, said about 80 people had been transported to two shelters for the night. Fifty of those were elderly residents from the Antoine Graves high-rise apartments who were evacuated by Marta buses after the tornado damaged their building.

After passing through downtown, the storm continued east, passing the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District before hitting and devastating a large loft complex, the Stacks at Fulton Cotton Mill. The largely residential neighborhood behind it, known as Cabbagetown, was littered with tree trunks, smashed cars, and debris. Neighbors compared notes, talking about riding out the storm in closets.

Nearby, two men stood in a parking lot littered with cinder blocks that had once formed the walls of a two-story warehouse full of auto parts. “This don’t happen too often,” said Ruben Thorpe, 50, a delivery man for the warehouse owners, the Southeastern Auto Company. “A lot of bad weather, it goes around us. And for this to happen right here, it’s shocking.”

Lisa Janek, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said it was clear that the city was going to take a while to clean up the widespread damage.

“There’s a significant amount of debris still in the roads,” Ms. Janek said. “And another round of severe weather is on the way.”

Ms. Janek said they were scrambling to get as much as they could done before another expected round of thunderstorms, damaging winds and possible tornadoes hit in the early afternoon.

A team of meteorologists from the National Weather Service that had surveyed the downtown damage said that the chaos had definitely been caused by a tornado, said Ron Trumbla, public affairs officer for the Southern region of the weather service. “They’re still working on the strength,” Mr. Trumbla said.

A spokeswoman for Georgia Power said that as of midday Saturday, some 15,000 customers were still without electrical power.

Powerful Tornado Damages Downtown Atlanta, NYT, 15.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/15/us/15cnd-atlanta.html






Pollution Is Called

a Byproduct of a ‘Clean’ Fuel


March 11, 2008
The New York Times


MOUNDVILLE, Ala. — After residents of the Riverbend Farms subdivision noticed that an oily, fetid substance had begun fouling the Black Warrior River, which runs through their backyards, Mark Storey, a retired petroleum plant worker, hopped into his boat to follow it upstream to its source.

It turned out to be an old chemical factory that had been converted into Alabama’s first biodiesel plant, a refinery that intended to turn soybean oil into earth-friendly fuel.

“I’m all for the plant,” Mr. Storey said. “But I was really amazed that a plant like that would produce anything that could get into the river without taking the necessary precautions.”

But the oily sheen on the water returned again and again, and a laboratory analysis of a sample taken in March 2007 revealed that the ribbon of oil and grease being released by the plant — it resembled Italian salad dressing — was 450 times higher than permit levels typically allow, and that it had drifted at least two miles downstream.

The spills, at the Alabama Biodiesel Corporation plant outside this city about 17 miles from Tuscaloosa, are similar to others that have come from biofuel plants in the Midwest. The discharges, which can be hazardous to birds and fish, have many people scratching their heads over the seeming incongruity of pollution from an industry that sells products with the promise of blue skies and clear streams.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” said Barbara Lynch, who supervises environmental compliance inspectors for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “This is big business. There’s a lot of money involved.”

Iowa leads the nation in biofuel production, with 42 ethanol and biodiesel refineries in production and 18 more plants under construction, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. In the summer of 2006, a Cargill biodiesel plant in Iowa Falls improperly disposed of 135,000 gallons of liquid oil and grease, which ran into a stream killing hundreds of fish.

According to the National Biodiesel Board, a trade group, biodiesel is nontoxic, biodegradable and suitable for sensitive environments, but scientists say that position understates its potential environmental impact.

“They’re really considered nontoxic, as you would expect,” said Bruce P. Hollebone, a researcher with Environment Canada in Ottawa and one of the world’s leading experts on the environmental impact of vegetable oil and glycerin spills.

“You can eat the stuff, after all,” Mr. Hollebone said. “But as with most organic materials, oil and glycerin deplete the oxygen content of water very quickly, and that will suffocate fish and other organisms. And for birds, a vegetable oil spill is just as deadly as a crude oil spill.”

Other states have also felt the impact.

Leanne Tippett Mosby, a deputy division director of environmental quality for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said she was warned a year ago by colleagues in other states that biodiesel producers were dumping glycerin, the main byproduct of biodiesel production, contaminated with methanol, another waste product that is classified as hazardous.

Glycerin, an alcohol that is normally nontoxic, can be sold for secondary uses, but it must be cleaned first, a process that is expensive and complicated. Expanded production of biodiesel has flooded the market with excess glycerin, making it less cost-effective to clean and sell.

Ms. Tippett Mosby did not have to wait long to see the problem. In October, an anonymous caller reported that a tanker truck was dumping milky white goop into Belle Fountain Ditch, one of the many man-made channels that drain Missouri’s Bootheel region. That substance turned out to be glycerin from a biodiesel plant.

In January, a grand jury indicted a Missouri businessman in the discharge, which killed at least 25,000 fish and wiped out the population of fat pocketbook mussels, an endangered species.

Back in Alabama, Nelson Brooke of Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Black Warrior River and its tributaries, received a report in September 2006 of a fish kill that stretched 20 miles downstream from Moundville. Even though Mr. Brooke said he found oil in the water around the dead fish, the state Department of Environmental Management determined that natural, seasonal changes in oxygen levels in the water could have been the culprit. The agency did not charge Alabama Biodiesel.

In August, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, in a complaint filed in Federal District Court, documented at least 24 occasions when oil was spotted in the water near the plant.

Richard Campo, vice president of Alabama Biodiesel, did not respond to requests for an interview, but Clay A. Tindal, a Tuscaloosa lawyer representing the refinery, called the suit’s claims “sheer speculation, conjecture, and unsupported bald allegations.” Mr. Tindal said that “for various reasons,” the plant was not now producing fuel.

The company has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it has entered into a settlement agreement with state officials that requires it to pay a $12,370 fine and to obtain proper discharge permits.

Don Scott, an engineer for the National Biodiesel Board, acknowledges that some producers have had problems complying with environmental rules but says those violations have been infrequent in an industry that nearly doubled in size in one year, to 160 plants in the United States at the end of 2007 from 90 plants at the end of 2006.

Mr. Scott said that the board had been working with state and environmental agencies to educate member companies and that the troubles were “growing pains.”

Ms. Lynch said some of the violations were the result of an industry that was inexperienced in the manufacturing process and its wastes. But in other instances, she said, companies are skirting the permit process to get their plants up and running faster.

“Our fines are only so high,” Ms. Lynch said. “It’s build first, permit second.”

In October 2005, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management informed Alabama Biodiesel that it would need an individual pollution discharge permit to operate, but the company never applied for one. The company operated for more than a year without a permit and without facing any penalties from state regulators, though inspectors documented unpermitted discharges on two occasions.

For some, the troubles of the industry seem to outweigh its benefits.

“They’re environmental Jimmy Swaggarts, in my opinion,” said Representative Brian P. Bilbray, Republican of California, who spoke out against the $18 billion energy package recently passed by Congress that provides tax credits for biofuels. “What is being sold as green fuel just doesn’t pencil out.”

    Pollution Is Called a Byproduct of a ‘Clean’ Fuel, NYT, 11.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/11/us/11biofuel.html?hp






Southern Baptists

Back a Shift on Climate Change


March 10, 2008
The New York Times


Signaling a significant departure from the Southern Baptist Convention’s official stance on global warming, 44 Southern Baptist leaders have decided to back a declaration calling for more action on climate change, saying its previous position on the issue was “too timid.”

The largest denomination in the United States after the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, with more than 16 million members, is politically and theologically conservative.

Yet its current president, the Rev. Frank Page, signed the initiative, “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change.” Two past presidents of the convention, the Rev. Jack Graham and the Rev. James Merritt, also signed.

“We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues has often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice,” the church leaders wrote in their new declaration.

A 2007 resolution passed by the convention hewed to a more skeptical view of global warming.

In contrast, the new declaration, which will be released Monday, states, “Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed.”

The document also urges ministers to preach more about the environment and for all Baptists to keep an open mind about considering environmental policy.

Jonathan Merritt, the spokesman for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative and a seminarian at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said the declaration was a call to Christians to return to a biblical mandate to guard the world God created.

The Southern Baptist signatories join a growing community of evangelicals pushing for more action among believers, industry and politicians. Experts on the Southern Baptist Convention noted the initiative marked the growing influence of younger leaders on the discussions in the Southern Baptist Convention.

While those younger Baptists remain committed to fight abortion, for instance, the environment is now a top priority, too.

“In no way do we intend to back away from sanctity of life,” said the Rev. Dr. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.

Still, many powerful Southern Baptist leaders and agencies did not sign the declaration, including the convention’s influential political arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy at the commission, played down the differences between the declaration and the Southern Baptist Convention’s position.

The declaration says in fact that lack of scientific unanimity should not preclude “prudent action,” which includes changing individual habits and giving “serious consideration to responsible policies that effectively address” global warming.

The declaration is the outgrowth of soul-searching by Mr. Merritt, 25. The younger Mr. Merritt said that for years he had been “an enemy of the environment.” Then, he said, he had an epiphany.

“I learned that God reveals himself through Scripture and in general through his creation, and when we destroy God’s creation, it’s similar to ripping pages from the Bible,” Mr. Merritt said.

    Southern Baptists Back a Shift on Climate Change, NYT, 10.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/us/10baptist.html?hp






Snow, Thunderstorms

Black Out Thousands


February 26, 2008
Filed at 10:40 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- A broad storm system spread heavy snow across the Great Lakes region Tuesday and fired up violent thunderstorms that knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses in the Southeast.

At least one death was blamed on the stormy weather.

Fallen trees and other debris on roads slowed travel and several traffic accidents brought morning rush hour traffic to a standstill in Birmingham, authorities said.

A falling tree struck a mobile home and killed one person in Leeds, police reported in the town outside Birmingham.

Utilities said about 42,000 homes and business lost electrical service across central Alabama early Tuesday. About 93,000 more were blacked out in northern Georgia, mostly in the Atlanta metropolitan area, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Carol Boatright.

Snow fell from Illinois to New England, with more than 6 inches on the ground by late morning in northern Indiana and Ohio. Up to a foot of snow was possible in parts of Ohio, the National Weather Service said.

Schools were closed in parts of southern Michigan and northern areas of Indiana and Ohio, where the University of Toledo also closed for the morning. Some local government buildings closed in Ohio.

Several accidents shut down a stretch of slippery Interstate 75 in northern Ohio, police reported.

    Snow, Thunderstorms Black Out Thousands, NYT, 26.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Storms.html






Heavy snowfalls

could help dry West


24 February 2008
USA Today
By Alan Gomez


Heavy snowfall in the West this winter is likely to have a major positive impact on a drought that has dried up water supplies and parched farmland for the past eight years.

The heaviest snowfall in 10 years has produced snowpack levels 180% above normal in some areas and a return to normal snowpack levels in most other areas.

In Colorado, this year's snowfall is 132% above normal and the most since 1997, according to said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. And the snow season still has several weeks to go.

"We'd been seeing improvement in parts of the West, then it dives back into drought the next year. But this year, you're seeing widespread recovery," Gillespie said.

Gillespie and others said that while the good news does not necessarily mean an end to the drought, it does means that water supplies will likely be abundant this summer and reservoirs can partially fill up again.

At Lake Powell — one of two large reservoirs along the Colorado River — officials predict a 50-foot rise when the winter snowpack melts. That would be the largest rise in a decade for a lake that is currently at 45% capacity, said Paul Davidson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Davidson and others said the new water does not mean an end to the drought. Dry conditions could easily return next winter, and even a late-winter warm-up in March could cancel out the gains made so far this winter.

"That doesn't break the drought," Davidson said. "It takes a number of years to actually end a drought period. The only thing we can say is that things are looking a lot better."

The drought has hit hardest in a region surrounding the Colorado River Basin, including California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Facing the worst drought in a century, the seven states signed an agreement last month to share and conserve their water. Water restrictions are commonplace throughout the region, causing great difficulty to ranchers and farmers.

Since 2000, ranchers in Wyoming have cut back about 10% of their cattle and calves — or about 150,000 head — because the grasslands they use for food have been drying up, according to Leanne Stevenson of the state Department of Agriculture.

Stevenson, a co-chair of Wyoming's Drought Task Force, said farmers have been hit especially hard. As some areas see up to 25% less water available for irrigation, many have been forced to buy costly irrigation equipment to ensure they don't waste a drop.

"We have really shifted from saying, 'We're in a continued drought' to 'Maybe we need to look at this as the new standard,' " Stevenson said.

Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, said the West has always experienced extremes in weather.

"You don't see a lot of normal years," he said. "You get dry years and wet years, and when you average that out, that's your normal."

He warned that the big snowfall may not get to where it's needed.

Snow faces obstacles as it melts and flows to become usable runoff. A dry mountain can soak up a lot of water before it reaches rivers and streams, Fuchs said. And farmlands and grazing lands are so dry the soil has turned to hard crusts and gaping cracks in areas. Water can spill into the cracks and leave the topsoil dry.

"It could take an entire spring into summer before there's enough rain and moisture from runoff to break up that crust to let the water get in," Fuchs said.

    Heavy snowfalls could help dry West, UT, 24.2.2008, http://www.usatoday.com/weather/drought/2008-02-24-drought_N.htm






U.S. Ends Protections

for Wolves in 3 States


February 22, 2008
The New York Times


DENVER — The Bush administration on Thursday announced an end to federal protection for gray wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, concluding that the wolves were reproductively robust enough to survive.

“Wolves are back,” said Lynn Scarlett, the deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, in a telephone conference call with reporters. “Gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains are thriving and no longer need protection.”

A coalition of wildlife and environmental groups dismissed the government’s claims and announced plans for a lawsuit to reverse the decision, which is to take effect next month.

Advocates for the animals said there were too few wolves to make a genetically sound population, and that state plans to manage wolf populations were underfinanced and fueled by a long-simmering animosity against wolves that could drive them back to threatened status.

“The numbers are inadequate and the state programs are, too,” said Louisa Willcox, a senior wildlife advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a conservation group that is participating in the planned lawsuit.

From a base population of 66 wolves introduced into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the mid-1990s, there are now nearly 1,300, with an additional 230 or so in Montana that have drifted down from Canada. State management plans allow for wolf hunting, or outright eradication in some places — including most of Wyoming — with a target population of 150 in each of the three states.

Biologists cited by the environmental and wildlife groups say that target population is too small, and suggest instead that 2,000 to 3,000 animals are the minimum needed.

Gray wolves were first protected in 1974, one of the first animals to be covered by the Endangered Species Act, which was passed a year earlier. But it turned out there were none left to protect across most of the West. That led to the idea of reintroduction, which began in 1995.

“We’re not at recovery yet,” said Doug Honnold, the managing attorney at the Northern Rockies office of Earthjustice, a nonprofit legal group based in Oakland, Calif. “We’re in the neighborhood, we’re close, but we’re not there.”

Removing federal protections now, Mr. Honnold said, would violate the language of the Endangered Species Act that requires decision makers to use the best possible science in determining a viable target population.

Federal officials said their science was sound.

“Wolves are resilient, and their social structure is resilient,” said Ed Bangs, the gray wolf recovery coordinator for the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. Mr. Bangs said that even with federal protections in place almost one in four wolves die each year, either naturally or from human action, and yet the population has still been rising at a rate of about 24 percent a year.

The director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, H. Dale Hall, said that if the population dipped below the state’s pledged management levels, federal monitoring would be extended and other options explored as well, including a restoration of protection.

Environmentalists said those provisions were too vague to affect what the states do in the next few crucial months.

But people’s perceptions of wolves are also changing. Wealthy second-home owners, recreation enthusiasts and retirees began moving into the corridor of communities around Yellowstone about the same time as the wolves did.

Even in Wyoming, which has the harshest measures in place for controlling wolves, a majority of residents who spoke up during a public comment period on the state’s plan opposed it, according to an analysis by the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish.

    U.S. Ends Protections for Wolves in 3 States, NYT, 22.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/22/us/22wolves.html






Northeast Hit by Major Winter Storm


February 22, 2008
The New York Times


A major winter storm struck the northeast Friday morning, with snowfall causing massive delays at airports, closing schools and snarling traffic on streets and highways in the region.

Snow started falling earlier than expected, before daybreak, with four inches measured at mid-morning in Manhattan’s Central Park. A total of six to nine inches was expected before the snow is to change to sleet and rain in the afternoon

Arrival delays of more than five hours were reported by the Federal Aviation Administration at Kennedy and Newark airports with a lesser delay of slightly more than three hours at La Guardia. Hundreds of flights were canceled in the New York area as a result of the weather.

Philadelphia Airport also reported delays of more than five hours.

The speed limit on the New Jersey Turnpike was reduced to 35 miles per hour, and numerous automobile accidents were reported on the highway, although there were no serious injuries.

Speeds were reduced on some bridges in New York City and authorities in the region advised anyone who did not have to travel to stay home.

The storm stretched from northeastern Pennsylvania through New England, and transit delays are expected throughout the region.

    Northeast Hit by Major Winter Storm, NYT, 22.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/22/nyregion/22cnd-storm.html?hp






Snowstorm Blankets New York


February 22, 2008
Filed at 8:50 a.m. ET
The New York Times


NEW YORK (AP) -- A snowstorm blanketed the city early Friday, causing headaches for commuters and delaying flights at the region's major airports.

The National Weather Service predicted 5 to 7 inches for New York City, and more in some northern suburbs. The storm is the first significant snowfall so far this winter in the city.

Flights at John F. Kennedy International Airport were delayed more than five hours. Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey had delays of almost seven hours, and LaGuardia Airport was reporting delays of up to three hours.

Several airlines, including JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ:JBLU) and Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) , were letting passengers flying to or from the area rebook their tickets without paying a change fee.

Schools from Ohio to Connecticut called off classes for Friday.

Before moving into the northeast, the storm dropped up to four inches of snow on parts of southwest and central Ohio. Dozens of crashes were scattered across highways.

Throughout the Dayton area, residents and municipalities were worried about salt supplies. Many towns in the area are using more salt this winter, and West Carrollton has started preserving supplies by giving priority to heavily traveled roads.

"We have a minimal supply of salt left in the barn," West Carrollton service department director Rich Norton said. "We need to make this last until we can get a new supply."

Snowstorm Blankets New York, NYT, 22.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Winter-Weather.html






6.0 quake

rattles northeastern Nevada


21 February 2008
USA Today


RENO (AP) — A strong earthquake shook rural northeastern Nevada Thursday, causing at least one building to collapse and forcing a truck stop to evacuate, authorities said.

The magnitude of the quake, initially estimated at 6.3, was later revised to 6.0 by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo. The quake was centered in a sparsely populated area 11 miles southeast of Wells near the Nevada-Utah line.

"It was pretty bad," said Jane Kelso, who answered the phone at the Motel 6. "Everything in our whole building shook. "We have cracks in our walls."

The temblor was felt across eastern Nevada, Utah and as far away as Southern California. In Twin Falls, Idaho, residents reported severe shaking and items falling off shelves.

"Definitely a lot of people felt this, and if they were sleeping, they were awoken," said USGS geophysicist Carrieann Bedwell.

Elko County Undersheriff Rocky Gonzalez said there were reports of some damage to buildings. At least one building collapsed, he said, and a Flying J truck stop was evacuated because of a propane leak, he said.

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries, but a manager at the truck stop said the store was a wreck, with groceries and goods scattered. One woman was reportedly injured when cigarette rack fell on her.

    6.0 quake rattles northeastern Nevada, UT, 21.2.2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-02-21-nev-quake_N.htm






With Oil Prices Rising,

Wood Makes a Comeback


February 19, 2008
The New York Times


NEWPORT, Vt. — As a child, Brian Cook remembers hurling wood into the big orange boiler his father bought during the oil crisis of the late 1970s, helping feed the fire that provided heat and hot water to his family.

Thirty years later, Mr. Cook dragged the boiler out of his childhood home and hooked it up in the house that he and his wife, Jennifer, own to cut their oil bills.

“I did not want to pay $3,000 to heat this house,” Mr. Cook said in his garage here in Vermont’s heavily wooded Northeast Kingdom. “I see a lot more people burning wood this year.”

After years of steep decline, wood heat is back, with people flocking to dealers to buy new wood stoves, wood boilers and stoves that burn pellets made of wood byproducts. Others like Mr. Cook, to the dismay of environmentalists, are dusting off old wood-burning devices that are less efficient and more polluting.

“There’s a lot of people buying big stoves, planning on tackling oil head-on,” said Roy L’Esperance, owner of the Chimney Sweep in Shelburne, Vt., who has seen sales of wood stoves increase nearly 20 percent this year. “They say, ‘I just got a new house and I’m getting killed with oil bills, and propane is just as bad.’ ”

Nowhere in the nation is wood as beloved as it is here in New England, where winter conjures images of warming up around a potbelly stove. But in the last decade or so, as the price of oil and propane seemed to rise less sharply, devotion to wood stoves waned.

In 1993, 3.1 million homes used wood for heat; the number dropped to 2 million in 2001, according to census data provided by the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy.

But now residents like Dina Benoit of Orleans, Vt., are going back.

When Ms. Benoit moved into her home in 1994, it had an old wood stove. Tired of hauling logs through the house and feeding it every few hours, Ms. Benoit switched to a propane heater in 1998. The propane, however, got too expensive, and Ms. Benoit returned to wood. “I didn’t want to become dependent on kerosene or an oil supplier,” said Ms. Benoit, who bought a wood stove and said it cost $600 to heat her house last year. “It’s just so nice to stand next to; it has more of a personality than a regular heater.”

The owners of M and M Forestry and Land Management of Brownington, Vt., say they have been delivering more firewood than ever this year.

“Generally, say they burn a cord of wood a year, this year they are already on their second cord,” one of the owners, Michael Moore, said. “Some people are planning on burning two or three times more wood than they have in the past.”

Statistics from the last survey about the use of wood for heat, conducted in 2006, are not yet public, but the number of households that report using wood as their primary source of heat is expected to jump sharply, said Marie LaRiviere of the Energy Information Administration.

Chris Foster of Maupin’s Stoves-n-Spas in The Dalles, Ore., said sales of wood and pellet stoves were up 65 percent in the last year.

“Sales go up because of the economy,” Mr. Foster said. “If the economy is good, people go to gas. If the economy is sluggish, people go to wood and pellet stoves.”

Jack Murphy of Winchendon, Mass., has long burned wood in his home, but he was tired of buying and splitting the wood, feeding the stove and cleaning the ash. He switched to a pellet stove last year.

“Wood heat is dirty, it’s labor intensive, it messes up your yard and your floors when you carry it in the house,” Mr. Murphy said. “With pellets, I put them in my truck, and I bring my entire energy for the year home in one trip. I have two month’s worth just on my back porch.”

Air pollution is still a major concern, particularly with wood boilers. A 2006 report from the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a nonprofit association of Northeast air quality agencies, found that average particulate emissions from one outdoor wood boiler equaled that of 22 wood stoves, 205 oil furnaces or as many as 8,000 natural gas furnaces.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set clean-burning performance standards for wood stoves manufactured after 1988, and many communities, including Truckee, Calif., and Dayton, Ohio, have programs that allow owners of older stoves to turn them in and receive rebates or coupons to buy a new wood stove.

Sally Markos of the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency in Springfield, Ore., said that air pollution from stoves had gone down since the 1988 regulations took effect, but that it was still a problem. On Jan. 24 the authority asked residents to refrain temporarily from burning wood because tests showed the particulate level to be extremely high.

“The air pollution will get worse on days that people are feeling the economic pinch,” Ms. Markos said.

The E.P.A. developed similar standards for outdoor wood boilers last year, but unlike the stove standards, they are not mandatory.

Many counties and towns, however, have banned or restricted the use of wood boilers. Last year Vermont became the first state to set emissions limits on new wood boilers.

Air pollution is not the only concern. New Hampshire’s state fire marshal, J. William Degnan, said that heating systems were the top cause of fire in the state, and that many local departments were reporting an increase in fires from wood stoves.

“They’re seeing a rise in chimney fires,” Mr. Degnan said. “Many have fired up stoves they haven’t used for years and haven’t been maintained. There’s creosote in the chimney, and some were improper installations, just a tinderbox waiting to happen.”

Randy Swartz of Orleans, Vt., said he spent months researching safety and prices and would not go back to oil. He spent more than $6,000 last fall to buy a new wood boiler that heats his home and water.

Mr. Swartz, the maintenance manager at the Cabot Creamery, said he had to buy heating oil at work, and seeing the price of crude oil rise from $18 a barrel when he started his job a decade ago to almost $100 a barrel now made him want to change his personal energy consumption.

Sky Barsch contributed reporting from Orleans, Vt.

With Oil Prices Rising, Wood Makes a Comeback, NYT, 19.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/us/19woodstove.html






Bush tours tornado-hit Tennessee

and pledges help


Fri Feb 8, 2008
2:11pm EST
By Jeremy Pelofsky


LAFAYETTE, Tennessee (Reuters) - President George W. Bush toured tornado-battered parts of the U.S. South on Friday and pledged to help the region rebuild after the worst rampage of twisters in nearly a quarter-century killed 58 people.

Bush, seeking to avoid the mistakes of his administration's heavily criticized response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, flew to Tennessee for a look at some of the worst damage from tornadoes that whipped across half a dozen states this week.

"I'm here to listen ... to make sure that the federal response is compassionate and effective," Bush said after a helicopter tour of Macon County where he surveyed damaged homes, flattened trees and debris-strew fields.

Bush also came to comfort residents still reeling after dozens of tornadoes on Tuesday and Wednesday inflicted damage expected to total hundreds of millions of dollars.

Many were long-track tornadoes that hugged the ground for long periods and some packed hurricane-force winds. It was the deadliest U.S. tornado outbreak since the mid-1980s.

The death toll was 33 people in Tennessee, 13 in Arkansas, seven in Kentucky and five in Alabama. More than 150 people were injured.

Bush declared major disaster areas in parts of Tennessee and Arkansas, freeing up federal aid to help clean up and rebuild. More disaster declarations are expected.

Bush has taken pains in recent natural disasters to show Americans he is deeply engaged after his administration was accused of botching the initial response to Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf coast.

"I have no doubt in my mind this community will come back better than before," Bush said at a fire station in Lafayette during a briefing with local, state and federal officials.

Many in New Orleans, still not fully recovered from Katrina, have accused the federal government of neglecting their plight.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, criticized along with Bush for the chaos following Katrina, has worked to showcase its revamped disaster response capabilities.

"We've learned a lot of lessons from that time," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Tennessee. "We have improved our procedures in terms of working with state and local authorities."

Bush's motorcade drove through a neighborhood where houses had been torn apart, utility poles snapped and trees ripped up by the force of the winds.

He stopped to console a family of four as they dug through the debris of their apartment building's garage and retrieved trophies, stuffed toys and other memorabilia.

(Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Jeremy Pelofsky;

Editing by John O'Callaghan)

    Bush tours tornado-hit Tennessee and pledges help, R, 8.2.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN0523051420080208






Toll of Deadly Tornadoes in South

Climbs Past 50


February 7, 2008
The New York Times


ATKINS, Ark. — Residents in five Southern states rose Wednesday to widespread clusters of destruction caused by an unusually ferocious winter tornado system. At least 55 people were killed, and scores more were injured.

Many had spent a harrowing Tuesday night punctuated by breaking glass and warning sirens as the tornadoes tossed trailer homes into the air, collapsed the roof of a Sears store in Memphis, whittled away half a Caterpillar plant near Oxford, Miss., and shredded dorms at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., where crews rescued nine students trapped in the rubble.

Arkansas and Tennessee were the hardest hit, with Arkansas reporting 13 dead and Tennessee 31.

Here in Atkins, 50 miles northwest of Little Rock, a middle-age couple and their 11-year-old daughter were killed when their house was wiped out by a direct hit, and in northwestern Alabama the bodies of another family of three were found 50 yards from the foundation of their ruined home.

In Macon County, Tenn., a 74-year-old man whose trailer was destroyed was killed as his family waited for an ambulance to navigate debris-strewn roads.

Thirty-five injuries were reported in Gassville, a small community in Baxter County, Ark., that was almost totally leveled by the storm.

“The wrath of God is the only way I can describe it,” Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee said after a helicopter flight to survey the damage. “I’m used to seeing roofs off houses, houses blown over. These houses were down to their foundations, stripped clean.”

The governor said 1,000 houses in Tennessee were destroyed. President Bush announced that he would visit the state on Friday.

Much of the havoc was wreaked by rare “long-track” tornadoes, which stay on the ground for distances of 30 to 50 miles. One tornado in Arkansas seems to have burned a path through five counties, said Renee Preslar, the public education coordinator for the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management.

“Normally tornadoes touch down and they’re on the ground for 20 minutes and they pop back up,” Ms. Preslar said. “There’s no signs yet of this having ever come off the ground.”

On Wednesday, the storm, a bit tamer, moved toward the East Coast.

Tornado experts said there was no evidence that the deadly storms were related to global warming or anything other than the clash of contrasting cold and warm air masses that usually precedes such events.

Harold Brooks, a meteorologist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla., said there had been a long history of midwinter storms exacting a deadly toll. The most lethal February was in 1971, when tornadoes ripped across Louisiana and Mississippi. According to the laboratory’s archives, 134 people died in tornadoes in February that year.

The number of deaths is as much a function of luck and location as the number of tornadoes, Dr. Brooks added. He said the biggest midwinter outbreak of tornadoes on record, 134 on Jan. 21 and 22, 1999, left nine dead.

In Jackson, Matt Taylor, a junior at Union University, was scouring the campus Wednesday for his Jeep after a close call that left him with staples in his scalp and bandages on his leg.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Taylor hunkered down in Waters Commons, a residence hall, when the sirens went off, but when a door blew open he was sucked outside, bringing with him a gum-ball machine he had grabbed hold of. “By the time I got back in, it exploded,” he said of the building.

Although 80 percent of the residential section of the campus was demolished or severely damaged, there were no fatalities, for which officials credited the college’s disaster plan. Across the region, residents said they owed their lives to warning systems.

“I’ve lived in Champaign, Ill., and in southern Mississippi, and neither place had a decent early warning system like we do here in Moulton,” said Elaina Peyton in Moulton, the county seat of Lawrence County, Ala. “We heard the sirens last night at about 2 a.m., and so our daughter knew to come downstairs and we knew that something was happening. The television went out around 3:30 or so, and we just followed the news on the radio.”

The destruction began in Arkansas late Tuesday afternoon. A tornado residents described as a massive black wall of wind and debris tore a six-mile swath through Atkins, a rural, agricultural town of about 3,300, killing four people and injuring at least eight others.

Maj. Dillard W. Bradley, chief deputy of the Pope County Sheriff’s department, said 60 to 80 buildings “were completely blown away.”

Several one-story, wooden houses along Highway 64, one of the town’s main streets, were torn off their foundations and reduced to rubble. The few trees left standing looked as if they had been run though a wood chipper, limbs whittled to bare spikes, trunks stripped of bark.

Cyerice Martin, 41, gingerly picked her way through the pile of debris that was all that remained of her twin sister’s house. “The neighbors saw it hit this house, and they said it just exploded,” Ms. Martin said.

Next door, Pat Veverka, a truck driver, sifted through the remains of his one-story, wooden house. “I don’t know where to start,” Mr. Veverka said, his eyes filling. “I know it sounds like a cliché but you just never think,” he paused, biting his lip. “It took me 10 years to have something.”

His wife, Kim, marveled over a fragile glass Christmas ornament, the only one of a collection that had survived intact. “We’re looking for little miracles,” she said. “We keep finding them.”

Ms. Veverka’s daughter cooed in surprise at the ornament, taking it in her gloved hands to examine it. As she turned it over, it fell, smashing to bits.

From Arkansas, the storms moved east, spewing rain and hail as it swept parts of northern Mississippi and Alabama, virtually all of Tennessee and parts of Kentucky. Four people died in Alabama, and seven in Kentucky.

“We’re talking about winds in excess of 150 miles an hour,” said Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The center recorded 73 reports of tornadoes but has not determined how many were duplicates, he said.

In Macon County, near the Kentucky state line, boats and cars were strewn like jackstraws and neat brick homes were reduced to rubble. “It went from one county line to the other,” said Randall Kirby, director of emergency services for the county.

Ray Story said the twister left no trace of the trailer occupied by his 74-year-old uncle. The family found him, nearly naked, on the ground nearby. They called 911 and waited, in vain, for help. “He lived a pretty good while after we found him, maybe an hour and a half to two hours,” Mr. Story said. “He was tore up pretty bad.”

Helen Hesson said she took shelter in the bathtub when the tornado struck, until the bathroom window blew out. She moved to a closet, but even then the wind seemed to be trying to pry her out. “I really thought I was gone,” she said. “I couldn’t get the door closed. It was just scooping in right after me. It seemed like it lasted two hours.”

Shaila Dewan reported from Atlanta, and Brenda Goodman from Atkins, Ark. Contributing reporting were Cynthia Howle in Jackson, Tenn.; J. Michael Kennedy in Macon County, Tenn.; Jim Noles in Birmingham, Ala.; and Andrew C. Revkin in New York.

    Toll of Deadly Tornadoes in South Climbs Past 50, NYT, 7.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/07/us/07tornado.html






Deadly U.S. winter tornadoes not rare:



Wed Feb 6, 2008
3:59pm EST
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Winter tornadoes that ripped across parts of the American South this week were unusually lethal but not particularly rare, a U.S. government meteorologist said on Wednesday as the death toll mounted.

Tornado season in the United States generally starts in March and continues through the summer months but winter tornadoes have become an almost annual occurrence, according to Harold Brooks of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"While this is not a normal event, it's not an incredibly rare event," Brooks, based at the agency's National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, said by telephone.

Tornadoes that rolled through Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky this week killed more than 50 people. Brooks said tornadoes in the southeastern United States occur in winter "roughly once a year," he said.

The current tornado outbreak, which Brooks estimates includes some 30 to 40 tornadoes, is similar to a March 1, 2007, outbreak that killed 20 people in and around Enterprise, Alabama.

There were previous deadly tornado outbreaks on March 12, 2006, in Missouri and Illinois and on January 1, 1999, in Arkansas and Tennessee, Brooks said.

The difference between these other three outbreaks and the recent one is the death toll, he said.

Tornadoes develop in warm, moist air ahead of east-moving cold fronts. There are 800 tornadoes reported in the United States in an average year, resulting in 80 deaths and over 1,500 injuries, according to the weather agency's Web site www.nssl.noaa.gov/edu/safety/tornadoguide.html.

Big differences in temperature help fuel tornado development by whipping up strong winds aloft where masses of cold air and warm air meet. This year's cold northern temperatures and warm air in the U.S. south created good conditions for tornado formation, Brooks said.

Does climate change play any role in the frequency or intensity of tornadoes? Brooks said no, adding that the historical record of tornadoes is insufficient to let scientists figure out what impact, if any, climate change has.

"Our current physical understanding of how tornadoes work (is that) some of the ingredients that are important to make a tornado will increase in a greenhouse-enhanced world, some of them will decrease and the balance is unknown," Brooks said.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

    Deadly U.S. winter tornadoes not rare: NOAA, R, 6.2.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN0630245820080206?virtualBrandChannel=10005






Storms Across 5 States

Leave at Least 50 Dead


February 6, 2008
The New York Times


About 50 people were killed and at least 100 were injured after a wide swath of thunderstorms packing tornadoes, high winds and hail swept through the South on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

The authorities are searching for others who may be trapped in rubble.

The severe storms continued to move eastward on Wednesday morning, with tornado warnings posted for parts of Georgia, Alabama and northern Florida. Even if no tornadoes develop there, the storms are expected to bring pelting rains and gusting winds, forecasters said.

President Bush said Wednesday that he had called the governors of the states affected by the storms and pledged assistance from the federal government. “Loss of life, loss of property — prayers can help and so can the government,” Mr. Bush said in brief remarks before a ceremony at the Department of Agriculture in Washington. “I do want the people in those states to know the American people are standing with them.”

Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security, said that a regional emergency center in Thomasville, Ga., had been activated and that a group of officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were already active in Tennessee and others were on the way to the region. “We are going to keep watch on this,” he said.

Warnings had been in effect early Wednesday for Chattanooga, Tenn., but the area appeared to have been bypassed by the worst weather. Nevertheless, Tennessee was one of the hardest hit states in the region, with 24 deaths reported.

Other states reporting fatal injuries were Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama.

Officials in Tennessee asked residents to stay out of hard-hit Lafayette, according to the Web site of the Nashville newspaper The Tennessean.

“It looks like a war zone,” Lafayette police chief Jerry Dallas said, according to the website. “It’s just total devastation.”

Jason Pryor lost his mother, Mabel Pryor, 73, and brother, Ron Curry, 48, to the storm, the newspaper reported on its Web site. He arrived at the family home in Castalian Springs early Wednesday to find his mother was taken to a hospital and his brother being pulled from the wreckage, according to The Tennessean.

“My mom was just mom,” Jason Pryor told the newspaper. “She was real hard on me, but we were close.”

Mabel Pryor adored her grandchildren, Jason’s wife, Janette, said, the newspaper reported. “She especially loved my little girl, because she had just boys.”

In Atkins, Ark., only a concrete slab was left of the home of Seavia Dixon, according to The Associated Press.

The family’s brand new white pickup truck was upside down, about 150 yards from where it was parked before the storm, The A.P. reported. Another pickup truck the family owned sat crumpled about 50 feet from the slab.

Officials in Atkins said a man, woman and child from the same family had been killed. They said rescue operations were being hampered by a heavy snowfall that followed the thunderstorms and tornadoes.

“You know, it’s just material things,” Ms. Dixon told The A.P., her voice breaking. “We can replace them. We were just lucky to survive.”

The roof of a warehouse in Memphis collapsed, killing three people, local news organizations reported. Residents of the area told television interviewers that tornado warning sirens wailed for hours during the nighttime hours.

About 50 miles northwest of Nashville, a fire at a natural gas pumping station sent flames shooting hundreds of feet into the air. A spokesman for the company that owns the plant said it apparently took a direct hit by a tornado. No one was working at the plant at the time.

Student dormitories at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., were heavily damaged, briefly trapping some students, although no life-threatening injuries were reported.

“It looks like a war zone — cars and trucks thrown from one side of the campus to the other,” the university’s president, David Dockery, told CNN. Classes were canceled for two weeks because of the devastation to the campus.

Speaking at a televised news conference, Mr. Dockery said 40 percent of the dormitories were destroyed and another 40 percent heavily damaged. In addition, he said, two major academic buildings suffered “extensive damage.”

“We’re grateful that there was no loss of life last night,” he said. “If you walk through this campus and realize that there were 3,300 students in class yesterday and 1,200 on campus last night and you see what happened on campus and no loss of life, its an amazing thing and for that we are most grateful.”

He estimated the damage at close to $40 million.

Forecasters said the unusual winter tornadoes were caused by unusually warm temperatures in the region. But cold weather, possibly with snow and sleet, was expected to follow the line of thunderstorms.

Carla Baranauckas and Anahad O’Connor contributed reporting.

    Storms Across 5 States Leave at Least 50 Dead, NYT, 6.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/06/us/06cnd-storm.html?hp






Winter Storms Hit Northern U.S.


February 1, 2008
The New York Times


Snow, sleet and freezing rain pelted the northern Midwest and northeastern states Friday, closing the Buffalo airport and causing travel delays around the region. Hundreds of flights were canceled Thursday at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, and Friday started with arrival delays averaging two and a half hours, according to federal aviation officials.

As much as a foot of snow was expected by late Friday in the Chicago area and in southern Michigan, and snow covering roadways was expected to snarl traffic during the morning and evening rush hours. Dozens of school districts in Michigan were closed because of treacherous road conditions.

The storm was expected to move northeast during the day, with the snow changing to freezing rain and ice in northern Pennsylvania and New York and possibly accumulating on tree limbs and power lines, dragging them down. Forecasters said that as much as a half an inch of ice could accumulate on exposed surfaces. Winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour over much of the Northeast could add to the damage.

The icy conditions were expected to move into northern New England overnight with similar accumulations in places like Burlington, Vermont.

Freezing rain also fell in western Virginia and North Carolina along the Interstate 81 corridor.

Accumulating snow and ice forced authorities to close Buffalo Niagara airport at 6:30 a.m. on Friday. It reopened late in the morning. Poor weather conditions slowed operations at the New York area’s La Guardia and Newark airports, with arrival delays averaging about two hours by late morning. Delays at Philadelphia’s airport were averaging slightly more than an hour.

As much as two inches of rain was expected to fall along the coastal region stretching from Philadelphia to Boston.

Blowing snow in northern Texas resulted in whiteout conditions that caused a 40-vehicle chain reaction collision on Interstate 40 that killed one person, according to The Associate Press. A total of four deaths were attributed to the storm.

In the far west, heavy snows and the threat of avalanches prompted authorities to close highways and declare states of emergency, as they struggled to clear away the heavy accumulations.

    Winter Storms Hit Northern U.S., NYT, 1.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/01/us/01cnd-storm.html






Snow, Cold, Storms

Pound the Midwest


January 30, 2008
Filed at 8:40 a.m. ET
The New York Times


CHICAGO (AP) -- Severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and fierce winds sliced through the Midwest and took aim at the Northeast early Wednesday, leaving behind bitterly cold air and blizzards in the northern Plains that sent temperatures in some areas plummeting by 50 degrees in a few hours.

The bad weather reached upstate New York by early Wednesday and forecasters warned that the arctic blast would send mercury tumbling across the Northeast and New England.

''This is going to be a hard, vicious slap in the face from Mother Nature,'' Gino Izzi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, Ill., said Tuesday night. ''The temperature drop we saw was really spectacular in a bad way.''

The temperature in Buffalo, N.Y., went from a high of 54 degrees Tuesday to 21 degrees by 7 a.m. Wednesday, with winds gusting to more than 60 mph. Power was out in 40,000 homes and businesses, roads were slick and most schools in the Buffalo area were closed.

In northern Illinois, high winds downed power lines and knocked trees onto utility lines, causing nearly 14,000 customers to lose power overnight, mostly in Chicago's south suburbs, said ComEd spokeswoman Judy Rader. Service to all but 1,300 had been restored by Wednesday morning.

Thousands also were without power in Ohio and Illinois. In Michigan, Lower Peninsula residents were in the dark as blizzard conditions hit the western and northern parts of the state.

The winds and thunderstorms may have killed two people in Indiana on Tuesday, authorities said. Firefighters in southwestern Indiana pulled two bodies from a mobile home near Evansville that had been turned on its side by winds in a thunderstorm, WEHT-TV reported.

Wind gusts as high as 70 mph created problems for air travel and avalanche warnings were issued for some Western regions. Tornadoes or reports of tornadoes surfaced in several communities in the nation's midsection.

''I wouldn't call it a common occurrence to see winds this strong with this kind of snow,'' Izzi said. ''This isn't something we see every year.''

The system also dragged frigid air across the northern Plains. The Weather Service reported midday temperature Tuesday of minus-24 degrees at Glasgow, Mont. North Dakota registered wind chill factors of minus-54 degrees at Garrison, while Williston hit a low of minus-24 degrees.

Most of Minnesota was under wind chill warnings until noon Wednesday due to indexes that fell into the minus-30 degree level. It was as low as 50 degrees below freezing in Hibbing.

Though only light snow fell in western, central and eastern Iowa on Tuesday, winds snapping as fast as 60 mph caused visibility problems, and temperatures dropped into single digits.

''It's a little worse than your average snowstorm,'' said Rod Donovan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa.

Some 1,500 workers went home early from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., while critical medical staff were put up in hotels so they could stay close to serve patients. The blustery winds also put flight operations on ice at the Rochester airport.

In Cape Girardeau County, Mo., winds were as strong as 70 mph and dime-size hail fell. Two unconfirmed funnel clouds were reported, said Dick Knaup, the county's emergency management director.

The weather week began with heavy snow pummeling mountain areas from Washington state to northern Arizona as two storms converged, one from hard-hit California and another from the Gulf of Alaska, meteorologists said.

The storms were followed Tuesday by a third that threatened to leave up to 20 inches of snow in Idaho's mountains, said Jay Breidenbach of the Weather Service office in Boise, Idaho.

A fourth storm was on the way to the interior West: ''By Thursday, the next storm will be right on our doorstep. This is quite a storm system,'' Breidenbach said.

In the snow farther west, avalanche danger forced officials to close Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, Washington state's main east-west artery across the Cascade Mountains. The pass was to remain closed until Wednesday morning, Meagan McFadden of the state Department of Transportation said.

More than 200 trucks were backed up at North Bend, waiting to move freight across the pass. On a typical weekday, as many as 7,000 trucks travel I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, she said.

Snow also closed highways in Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming.

Two of three snowmobilers lost in the mountains west of Denver were found late Tuesday, said Summit County sheriff's spokeswoman Paulette Horr. The third was still missing.

In Oregon, two snowmobilers were rescued Monday after spending two nights in the Wallowa Mountains, where they were trapped by storms. Authorities said the two were dressed warmly and equipped with survival gear, matches and an avalanche beacon.


Associated Press writers P. Solomon Banda in Denver; Sophia Tareen and Michael Tarm in Chicago; Henry C. Jackson in Des Moines, Iowa; Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho; and Arthur H. Rotstein in Tucson, Ariz., contributed to this report.


On the Net:

Weather Service warnings: http://www.weather.gov/view/nationalwarnings.php

    Snow, Cold, Storms Pound the Midwest, NYT, 30.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Winter-Storm.html






Independence Journal

A Long-Dry California River

Gets, and Gives, New Life


January 12, 2008
The New York Times


INDEPENDENCE, Calif. — What Los Angeles took a century ago — a 62-mile stretch of river here in the parched Owens Valley — it is now giving back.

One of the largest river-restoration projects in the country has sent a gentle current of water meandering through what just a year ago was largely a sandy, rocky bed best used as a horse trail and barely distinguishable from the surrounding high desert scrub.

Mud hens dive for food. A blue heron sweeps overhead. Bass, carp and catfish patrol deep below. Some local residents swear they have even seen river otters.

So much reedy tule has sprouted along the banks, like bushy tufts of hair, that officials have called in a huge floating weed whacker, nicknamed the Terminator, to cut through it and help keep the water flowing — a problem inconceivable in years past.

The river, 2 to 3 feet deep and 15 to 20 feet across, will not be mistaken for the mighty Mississippi. And an economic boon promised to accompany the restoration has yet to materialize.

Yet the mere fact that water is present and flowing in the Lower Owens River enthralls residents nearly 100 years after Los Angeles diverted the river into an aqueduct and sent it 200 miles south to slake its growing thirst.

“This is infinitely better than before,” said Keith Franson, a kayaker pumping up his boat on the banks this week and preparing to explore a stretch of the renewed river. “You got birds, herons, terns, all sorts of wildlife coming back in because life is coming back in the river.”

Francis Pedneau, a lifelong Owens Valley resident who had sparred with Los Angeles city officials over access to fishing sites, said word was spreading among fishing enthusiasts about new spots along the river. Mr. Pedneau said he had actually caught fewer bass this past season, “probably because the schools are more spread out now.”

But Mr. Pedneau, 69, has praise for the project, even though he, like many old-timers, is generally suspicious of Los Angeles, given the tension-filled history behind its acquiring water and land here (the inspiration for the 1974 movie “Chinatown”).

“The river didn’t look anything like it does now,” he said. “I never thought I would live long enough to see this.”

Los Angeles officials are in a celebratory mood. Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa plans to come here next month when engineers temporarily step up the flow as part of regular maintenance.

The flow is carefully controlled, kept at a minimum of 40 cubic feet per second, well above the 5 cubic feet per second in the parts that had still managed to have something of a stream after the river was diverted.

Los Angeles agreed to restore the river as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Owens Valley Committee, a local group, and the Sierra Club over what it called the excessive pumping of groundwater in the valley in the 1970s and 1980s to increase drinking water supplies beyond what the city was taking from the river.

Under the settlement, Los Angeles, working with Inyo County on the $24 million project, has also taken steps to restore the cottonwoods, willows and wetlands that flourished along the river decades ago and drew an array of wildlife.

Near the river’s delta, the released water is recaptured, with most of it used to control dust on Owens Lake, which the diversion had dried up, and the rest sent back into the aqueduct and on to Los Angeles.

The city still gets about 50 percent of its water, including groundwater, from the valley, down about a third in the past several years because of environmental obligations like the river restoration.

Mr. Villaraigosa, who has promised to patch up relations with the Owens Valley, said ending litigation and reviving the river sent an important message.

“By releasing this water, we are demonstrating our commitment to environmental stewardship and a new era in terms of our relationship with Owens River residents,” he said. “We can’t claim the mantle of the cleanest, greenest big city in America if we continue to degradate the environment in places like the Owens Valley.”

Not all disputes are settled.

The Owens Valley Committee and the Sierra Club, while largely pleased so far, said they would like to see Los Angeles more closely monitor the wildlife and habitat making a comeback. Better management of the burgeoning ecosystem, they say, will ensure its success.

“We will have concerns if certain species that should be here are not returning,” said Mike Prather, a birder and a committee member.

Brian Tillemans, who manages the project for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said it was working on a plan. But the department generally prefers a “build a habitat and they will come” approach, Mr. Tillemans said, which costs less and allows nature to take the lead.

“The best we can do is optimize the habitat, and nature will take its course,” Mr. Tillemans said. Within three years, he said, trees will line the banks, drawing more wildlife and naturally controlling weeds and underbrush.

One species locals hope to see more of is humans.

Some businesses have noticed a slight increase in people coming to see or play on the river, and the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, one of the larger business development groups here, plans to revise its tourist guide to play up the restoration.

“People are starting to come at odd times of the year, like now, to visit, but what we look forward to is it making a great deal of difference in the long term,” said Kathleen New, the chamber president and a lifelong resident.

“Right now, it’s a lot of local people going out and getting wet and acting foolish,” Ms. New said. “It’s marvelous.”

Mr. Franson, the kayaker, prepared to launch his inflated boat. Some forays have been long, he said, and others cut short by the tule, but they were all a pleasure.

“I may just get around the corner and I’m stuck,” he said. “But, look, this was completely dry not long ago and now it is not.”

    A Long-Dry California River Gets, and Gives, New Life, NYT, 12.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/12/us/12water.html






Ferocious Storm

Punishes Northern California


January 5, 2008
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — A fierce Pacific storm howled into Northern California on Friday, bringing a treacherous mix of hurricane-force winds, torrential rains for millions of residents and blizzard conditions for many others.

The storm, one of two predicted for the weekend, hit the Bay Area before dawn and knocked out power to about 1.2 million people from Central California to the Oregon border. With repair crews in some areas forced to retreat in the face of flying debris and tree limbs, Pacific Gas and Electric, Northern California’s chief utility, warned that some customers could be without electricity through the weekend.

Forecasters promised punishing conditions for Southern California as well. Extremely heavy rain was expected there, raising the prospect of mudslides, particularly in areas stripped of vegetation by the wildfires of 2007. In expectation of such slides, The Associated Press reported, officials late Friday ordered the mandatory evacuation of about 1,000 homes in four Orange County canyons.

Here to the north, conditions were already challenging. Several major Bay Area roads, including Highway 101 and Interstate 580, were closed for much of the day by airborne construction materials and overturned vehicles, including five trucks that flipped on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, a major east-west thoroughfare spanning a northern finger of San Francisco Bay.

A downed tree on the tracks stopped BART rail service in the Mission District of San Francisco, sending evacuated passengers into the rain or onto buses. Morning ferry services across the bay were canceled as docked boats rocked like rubber ducks in a bath.

Scaffolding collapsed, breaking windows, taking down power lines and bringing electrically powered buses to a halt along at least one major San Francisco boulevard. People trying to make it to work dodged flying trash cans, orphaned umbrellas and dislocated newspaper vending machines.

Dozens of flights were canceled at the San Francisco airport, where winds topped 65 miles an hour at midmorning, making for even more flight delays than cancellations. Harrowing whitecaps from the bay lapped at the foot of the runways.

The most extreme conditions were about 200 miles to the east of San Francisco, in the Sierra Nevada, where the National Weather Service warned of blizzard and whiteout conditions and gusts of 160 miles per hour. Just hours into the storm, a 163-m.p.h. gust was reported on one mountaintop near Lake Tahoe.

Power was sporadic in some mountain towns along Interstate 80 from Sacramento to Reno, Nev. Only the hardiest of trucks and tire-chained cars were crawling along that stretch Friday.

Forecasters said trying to travel through the storm would be foolhardy.

“It’s an exceptional storm,” said Rhett Milne, a Reno meteorologist with the Weather Service. “If you do get stranded, it’s a life-threatening situation.”

The Weather Service said some upper elevations could get up to 10 feet of snow by the time the twin storms blow through at weekend’s close, and some ski resorts, visibility eliminated by blowing snow, had already shut their high-mountain lifts.

Even in less exposed areas, daily routines were brought to a halt by wind and rain. In San Anselmo, a pleasant commuter town north of San Francisco, shops were closed, floodgates were in use, and merchandise was moved to higher shelves. A New Year’s Eve flood two years ago badly damaged some local businesses there, and sandbagging for this storm started Thursday night, said Lauren Gregory, an owner of Bloomworks, a flower shop.

“It was really, really difficult for businesses to recover,” Ms. Gregory said of the earlier flood’s aftermath. “Most did, but they still haven’t really caught up financially and gotten out of debt. To go through that again would really be devastating.”

Forecasters attributed the storm to a particularly violent collision of subtropical moisture and a blast of arctic air, and the same system also lashed areas farther north. At the Washington-Oregon border, the ocean entrance to the Columbia River was closed to ship traffic, as was the entrance to Tillamook Bay, in northwest Oregon, the Coast Guard said. Inland, the police closed stretches of Interstate 84 for several hours after high winds toppled tractor-trailers.

In Washington, where December storms caused six deaths, meteorologists warned of more snow in the Cascade Mountains. Winds and unstable snow there would make conditions treacherous. Eight fatalities have already been attributed to avalanches in the state this fall and winter, making this the deadliest avalanche season in three decades, and forecasters weighed Friday whether to issue another avalanche warning.

After several consecutive dry years, not everyone in California was unhappy about Friday’s storm. Hydrologists at the California Department of Water Resources said five inches of rain had already fallen in reservoirs in northern counties, and were hopeful that the storm might single-handedly make up for a dry November and below-average rainfall last month.

And in parts of the ski-happy Sierras, where forecasters said snow could fall at a rate of several inches an hour for most of the weekend, resort operators were dreaming of a thick powder unlike any seen in the last couple of winters.

“We’re always pretty well equipped for the weather — that’s why we love living here,” said Roy Moyer, general manager of the Tamarack Lodge and Resort, a cross-country center near Mammoth Lakes, Calif. “So bring it on.”

Which the storm was busy doing. By midafternoon, some two feet of snow had fallen at Mammoth Lakes.

Katie Hafner contributed reporting from San Anselmo, Calif., and William Yardley from Seattle.

    Ferocious Storm Punishes Northern California, NYT, 5.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/05/us/05calif.html






A Divide as Wolves Rebound

in a Changing West


January 2, 2008
The New York Times


CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Sheltered for many years by federal species protection law, the gray wolves of the West are about to step out onto the high wire of life in the real world, when their status as endangered animals formally comes to an end early this year.

The so-called delisting is scheduled to begin in late March, almost five years later than federal wildlife managers first proposed, mainly because of human tussles here in Wyoming over the politics of managing the wolves.

Now changes during that time are likely to make the transition even more complicated. As the federal government and the State of Wyoming sparred in court over whether Wyoming’s hard-edged management plan was really a recipe for wolf eradication, as some critics said, the wolf population soared. (The reworked plan was approved by the federal government in November.)

During that period, many parts of the human West were changing, too. Where unsentimental rancher attitudes — that wolves were unwelcome predators, threatening the cattle economy — once prevailed, thousands of newcomers have moved in, buying up homesteads as rural retreats, especially near Yellowstone National Park, where the wolves began their recovery in 1995 and from which they have spread far and wide.

The result is that there are far more wolves to manage today than there once would have been five years ago — which could mean, biologists say, more killing of wolves just to keep the population in check. And that blood-letting might not be quite as popular as it once was.

“If they’d delisted when the numbers were smaller, the states would have been seen as heroes and good managers,” said Ed Bangs, the wolf recovery coordinator at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. “Now people will say they’re murderers.”

Wolves are intelligent, adaptable, highly mobile in staking out new territory, and capable of rapid reproduction rates if food sources are good and humans with rifles or poison are kept in check by government gridlock — and that is precisely what happened.

From the 41 animals that were released inside Yellowstone from 1995 to 1997, mostly from Canada, the population grew to 650 wolves in 2002 and more than 1,500 today in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The wolves have spread across an area twice the size of New York State and are growing at a rate of about 24 percent a year, according to federal wolf-counts.

Human head counts have also climbed in the same turf. From 1995 to 2005, a 25-county area, in three states, that centers on Yellowstone grew by 12 percent, to about 691,000 people, according to a report earlier this year by the Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana. That compares to a 6 percent growth rate for Wyoming as a whole in that period, 7.5 percent for all of Montana, and 19 percent for Idaho. The wolf population has grown faster in Idaho than any place else in the region, doubling to about 800 in the past four years.

The director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Terry Cleveland, said changes in economics and attitude were creating a profound wrinkle in the outlook for human-wolf relations. Mr. Cleveland, a 39-year-veteran with the department, said that many newcomers, who are more interested in breath-taking vistas than the price of feed-grain and calves, do not see wolves the way older residents do.

In the public comment period for Wyoming’s wolf plan, sizable majorities of residents in the counties near Yellowstone expressed opposition. Teton County, around Jackson Hole, led the way, with more than 95 percent of negative comment about the plan, according an analysis by the state. Many respondents feared that the plan would lead to more killing of wolves than necessary.

“It used to be, ‘Yeah, we live near wild animals,’ now it’s like, ‘Gosh, we need to manage them, and it’s the job of the state to do that,’ ” said Meg Daly, a writer in Jackson, who submitted a comment opposing the wolf plan and recently spoke to a reporter by telephone. Ms. Daly said she had lived in Wyoming as a child and moved back last year.

Many new land owners around Yellowstone have also barred the hunting of animals like elk on their property, sometimes, in a single pen stroke, closing off thousands of acres that Wyoming hunters had used for decades. Mr. Cleveland said he expected that those same “no trespassing” signs would be up and in force, creating de facto wolf sanctuaries, when wolf hunters or state wildlife managers started coming around this year. But the trend of land enclosure, Mr. Cleveland said, is probably not in the wolf’s long-term interest.

“As large ranches become less economically viable, the alternative is 40-acre subdivisions,” he said, “and that is not compatible with any kind of wildlife.”

Some advocates of wolf protection say that for all the talk of moderation and the nods to a changing ethos, old attitudes will take over once the gray wolf is delisted.

“I think it’s going to be open season,” said Suzanne Stone, a wolf specialist at Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation group.

Ms. Stone said she thought the changes that led to federal approval of Wyoming’s wolf plan were mostly cosmetic.

Ms. Stone and others are concerned that the plan grants Wyoming something that no other state in the Yellowstone region received: the right to kill wolves at any time by any means across most of the state.

In the northwest corner near Yellowstone and in Idaho and Montana, wolves will be classified as trophy game animals and may be killed only in strictly controlled numbers by licensed hunters. In the 80 percent of Wyoming outside the Yellowstone area, however, wolves will be labeled predators, with no limits and no permits required to kill them.

The state has pledged to maintain at least 15 breeding pairs, or about 150 animals, in a five-county region around the park. The state now has about 362 wolves, according to the most recent estimates in late September.

That formulation sounds just about right to Chip Clouse.

“I support no wolves on private land, and right now we have wolves running rampant,” said Mr. Clouse, a rancher and a former outfitter in Cody, just east of Yellowstone, who has lived in Wyoming for 37 years. “They brought the wolves in for people to see on the public lands, in the park, and what has happened is that they have grown so many packs that they’re now impeding on people who are just trying to live and make a living on their own property.”

Joel DiPaola, a chef at a Jackson ski resort who arrived in Wyoming from Connecticut in the early 1990s, just before the wolves, said he thought much of the huffing and puffing about the animals was emotional and would make little difference.

“As the state was dragging its feet, the wolves were breeding and expanding,” Mr. DiPaola said. “It’s now going to be almost impossible to get rid of them even if they try. Once they seem to get a foothold and have a refuge in the parks, they’re here.”

A Divide as Wolves Rebound in a Changing West, NYT, 2.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/02/us/02wolves.html




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