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History > 2012 > USA > Weather / Environment (I)




Immanuel Mgana holds his daughter Grace Mgana, 2,

as he surveys what is left of their home on July 1, 2012

in the Mountain Shadows subdivision of Colorado Springs.


Photograph: Helen H. Richardson

The Denver Post/Associated Press


Boston Globe > Big Picture > Wildfires in western US

July 2, 2012

















Enduring Drought,

Farmers Draw the Line at Congress


August 12, 2012
The New York Times


THURMAN, Iowa — John Askew pulled at a soybean pod and revealed two anemic beans dappled with stem rot, the harvest of a too hot sun and too little rain. Representative Tom Latham peered in and shook his head.

“We need a farm bill — that’s the first thing,” said Mr. Askew, whose family has farmed here for six generations. Mr. Latham, a Republican, agrees.

But House leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner, who popped into Iowa on Friday night to promote Mr. Latham’s re-election campaign, have been unable to muster the votes.

A summer drought that has destroyed crops, killed livestock and sent feed prices soaring is now extracting a political price from members of Congress, who failed to agree on a comprehensive agriculture bill or even limited emergency relief before leaving Washington for five weeks.

Farmers are complaining loudly to their representatives, editorial boards across the heartland are hammering Congress over its inaction, and incumbents from both parties are sparring with their challengers over agricultural policy.

In Minnesota, Senator Amy Klobuchar and her Republican Party-endorsed opponent, Kurt Bills, disagreed sharply in their first face-to-face debate over what a farm bill should contain. In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill and her Republican challenger, Representative Todd Akin, defended their positions before the state farm bureau’s political unit.

Representative Leonard L. Boswell, Mr. Latham’s Democratic opponent in a newly drawn district, said, “Every time I get out there, people keep asking me: ‘What happened to the farm bill? Why don’t we have a farm bill?’ ”

In Arkansas, the Democratic Party paid for an automated call by a farmer imploring rural voters to pester Representative Rick Crawford, a Republican, about the unfinished farm business. Representative Kristi Noem, Republican of South Dakota, took heat back home for backing away from a petition sponsored by Democrats that would have forced the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill to the floor.

“We would have much preferred they pass the House bill,” said Michael Held, the chief executive of the South Dakota Farm Bureau. “I think the attitude here is this is typical Washington, D.C., not getting its work done.”

With a quarter of the country experiencing an exceptionally severe drought that is expected only to deepen, with the government projecting that much of the spring’s record corn planting will wither away, with significant damage to soybean and wheat crops and with prices for feed at record levels, farmers and ranchers are increasingly anxious about the gridlock in Washington.

“I am tired of our leaders doing nothing,” Mr. Askew said.

President Obama will begin a tour of this drought-hit state on Monday, an unusual amount of attention that underscores Iowa’s swing-state status. Mitt Romney visited Des Moines last week and addressed the drought.

While the most recently enacted farm bill will not expire until next month, disaster relief that would have helped some livestock producers cope with the high costs of feed and fodder lapsed last week. And with big disagreements in Congress over proposals to overhaul insurance and other provisions, farmers are finding it difficult to plan for any recovery in the next growing season.

Farm policy bills, which typically come up for renewal every five years, are usually built to attract bipartisan support by combining subsidies for farmers with allotments for food stamps and other nutrition programs that appeal to urban lawmakers.

But in a dynamic that has roiled the 112th Congress, this year’s farm bill was unlike any before it. While the House Agriculture Committee signed off on a measure, its substantial cuts to food programs alienated too many Democrats. And its cuts to those programs, as well as to some forms of farm aid, were not enough to appease the chamber’s most conservative members.

Republican leaders were unable to muster enough support for even a one-year extension of the law and instead passed a short-term drought-relief measure, the first time the House has failed to bring its own farm bill to the floor. The Senate, which had passed its own version by a healthy bipartisan margin, declined to take up the short-term House bill, and Congress left town in a stalemate.

The differences over food stamps are among the most profound facing this Congress, as the costs of nutritional programs have been growing rapidly and account for about $80 billion in annual spending. The Senate’s farm bill would cut $4.5 billion, and the House’s version $16.5 billion.

Representative Paul D. Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and newly anointed vice-presidential candidate, has recommended cutting $134 billion from food stamps over the next decade and turning the program into block grants to the states. Over the years, he has run up a complex record on farm programs, with votes for and against various bills, but has generally remained skeptical of subsidies and favorable toward fundamental changes.

Mr. Ryan is also scheduled to visit Iowa on Monday.

In the new Third Congressional District in central Iowa — a long stretch divided roughly equally among Republicans, Democrats and independents — the farm bill debacle leaves Mr. Boswell and Mr. Latham, both senior incumbents, in tricky spots as they fight for their political survival.

Many voters clearly want a bill that would provide ample crop insurance for farmers but scale back nutrition programs. On the other hand, plenty of voters in an area like Des Moines support a robust food stamp program. Some, like Mr. Askew, whose wife volunteers in a food bank, want both.

But having both is not what this Congress is about.

“I would like to see a farm bill on the floor, I really would,” Mr. Latham said. “I think you can find a sweet spot on food stamps and farm programs. Spending is an issue to people in this district, but there is also an understanding that people are in need.”

Mr. Boswell, who is a member of the Agriculture Committee, counters that Mr. Latham should press Mr. Boehner to push Republicans to take up the bill. “Mr. Latham is such a buddy with Mr. Boehner,” he said, “why doesn’t he tell him to bring the bill to the floor?”

In this and other breadbasket states, members of each party are quick to deflect blame to the other side for the impasse. “This bill is being held up by the same people who held up the debt ceiling last year,” said Bob Kerrey, who is seeking to regain a Senate seat he once held in Nebraska, where he joined Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday for a drought meeting and news conference. “They don’t want a farm bill.”

Republicans counter that Democrats should accept a short-term fix until the broader issues can be ironed out. “You know the president — he’s going to be here in a couple of days,” Mr. Boehner said at a fund-raiser for Mr. Latham. “Some of you might want to remind him when he comes that the House passed a bill last week to help those in the livestock industry.”

While some editorial boards have saved their wrath for Mr. Boehner or Democrats, many have simply denounced the entire process. Criticizing the Congressional recess, The Times Record News of Wichita Falls, Tex., wrote last week: “Emergency aid for ranchers and farmers was left on the table. Each side of the aisle blames the other, but the finger-pointing gives little relief to our own Texas ranchers and farmers.”

With little relief in sight on either the legislative or meteorological front, farmers are at the mercy of the whims of August. “We had five inches of rain the other day,” said Derryl McLaren, a corn and soybean farmer who met with Mr. Latham at a farm bureau not far from here on Friday. “And it’s all gone to hell anyway.”

    Enduring Drought, Farmers Draw the Line at Congress, NYT, 12.8.2012,






Hundred-Year Forecast: Drought


August 11, 2012
The New York Times


BY many measurements, this summer’s drought is one for the record books. But so was last year’s drought in the South Central states. And it has been only a decade since an extreme five-year drought hit the American West. Widespread annual droughts, once a rare calamity, have become more frequent and are set to become the “new normal.”

Until recently, many scientists spoke of climate change mainly as a “threat,” sometime in the future. But it is increasingly clear that we already live in the era of human-induced climate change, with a growing frequency of weather and climate extremes like heat waves, droughts, floods and fires.

Future precipitation trends, based on climate model projections for the coming fifth assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, indicate that droughts of this length and severity will be commonplace through the end of the century unless human-induced carbon emissions are significantly reduced. Indeed, assuming business as usual, each of the next 80 years in the American West is expected to see less rainfall than the average of the five years of the drought that hit the region from 2000 to 2004.

That extreme drought (which we have analyzed in a new study in the journal Nature-Geoscience) had profound consequences for carbon sequestration, agricultural productivity and water resources: plants, for example, took in only half the carbon dioxide they do normally, thanks to a drought-induced drop in photosynthesis.

In the drought’s worst year, Western crop yields were down by 13 percent, with many local cases of complete crop failure. Major river basins showed 5 percent to 50 percent reductions in flow. These reductions persisted up to three years after the drought ended, because the lakes and reservoirs that feed them needed several years of average rainfall to return to predrought levels.

In terms of severity and geographic extent, the 2000-4 drought in the West exceeded such legendary events as the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. While that drought saw intervening years of normal rainfall, the years of the turn-of-the-century drought were consecutive. More seriously still, long-term climate records from tree-ring chronologies show that this drought was the most severe event of its kind in the western United States in the past 800 years. Though there have been many extreme droughts over the last 1,200 years, only three other events have been of similar magnitude, all during periods of “megadroughts.”

Most frightening is that this extreme event could become the new normal: climate models point to a warmer planet, largely because of greenhouse gas emissions. Planetary warming, in turn, is expected to create drier conditions across western North America, because of the way global-wind and atmospheric-pressure patterns shift in response.

Indeed, scientists see signs of the relationship between warming and drought in western North America by analyzing trends over the last 100 years; evidence suggests that the more frequent drought and low precipitation events observed for the West during the 20th century are associated with increasing temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere.

These climate-model projections suggest that what we consider today to be an episode of severe drought might even be classified as a period of abnormal wetness by the end of the century and that a coming megadrought — a prolonged, multidecade period of significantly below-average precipitation — is possible and likely in the American West.

The current drought plaguing the country is worryingly consistent with these expectations. Although we do not attribute any single event to global warming, the severity of both the turn-of-the-century drought and the current one is consistent with simulations accounting for warming from increased greenhouse gases. The Northern Hemisphere has just recorded its 327th consecutive month in which the temperature exceeded the 20th-century average. This year had the fourth-warmest winter on record, with record-shattering high temperatures in March. And 2012 has already seen huge wildfires in Colorado and other Western states. More than 3,200 heat records were broken in June alone.

And yet that may be only the beginning, a fact that should force us to confront the likelihood of new and painful challenges. A megadrought would present a major risk to water resources in the American West, which are distributed through a complex series of local, state and regional water-sharing agreements and laws. Virtually every drop of water flowing in the American West is legally claimed, sometimes by several users, and the demand is expected to increase as the population grows.

Many Western cities will have to fundamentally change how they acquire and use water. The sort of temporary emergency steps that we grudgingly adopt during periods of low rainfall — fewer showers, lawn-watering bans — will become permanent. Some regions will become impossible to farm because of lack of irrigation water. Thermoelectric energy production will compete for limited water resources.

There is still time to prevent the worst; the risk of a multidecade megadrought in the American West can be reduced if we reduce fossil-fuel emissions. But there can be little doubt that what was once thought to be a future threat is suddenly, catastrophically upon us.


Christopher R. Schwalm is a research assistant professor of earth sciences

at Northern Arizona University.

Christopher A. Williams is an assistant professor of geography at Clark University.

Kevin Schaefer is a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

    Hundred-Year Forecast: Drought, NYT, 11.8.2012,






Study Finds More of Earth Is Hotter

and Says Global Warming Is at Work


August 6, 2012
The New York Times


The percentage of the earth’s land surface covered by extreme heat in the summer has soared in recent decades, from less than 1 percent in the years before 1980 to as much as 13 percent in recent years, according to a new scientific paper.

The change is so drastic, the paper says, that scientists can claim with near certainty that events like the Texas heat wave last year, the Russian heat wave of 2010 and the European heat wave of 2003 would not have happened without the planetary warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases.

Those claims, which go beyond the established scientific consensus about the role of climate change in causing weather extremes, were advanced by James E. Hansen, a prominent NASA climate scientist, and two co-authors in a scientific paper published online on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The main thing is just to look at the statistics and see that the change is too large to be natural,” Dr. Hansen said in an interview. The findings provoked an immediate split among his scientific colleagues, however.

Some experts said he had come up with a smart new way of understanding the magnitude of the heat extremes that people around the world are noticing. Others suggested that he had presented a weak statistical case for his boldest claims and that the rest of the paper contained little that had not been observed in the scientific literature for years.

The divide is characteristic of the strong reactions that Dr. Hansen has elicited playing dual roles in the debate over climate change and how to combat it. As the head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, he is one of NASA’s principal climate scientists and the primary custodian of its records of the earth’s temperature. Yet he has also become an activist who marches in protests to demand new government policies on energy and climate.

The latter role — he has been arrested four times at demonstrations, always while on leave from his government job — has made him a hero to the political left, and particularly to college students involved in climate activism. But it has discomfited some of his fellow researchers, who fear that his political activities may be sowing unnecessary doubts about his scientific findings and climate science in general.

Climate-change skeptics routinely accuse Dr. Hansen of manipulating the temperature record to make global warming seem more serious, although there is no proof that he has done so and the warming trend has repeatedly been confirmed by other researchers.

Scientists have long believed that the warming — roughly 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit over land in the past century, with most of that occurring since 1980 — was caused largely by the human release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. Such emissions have increased the likelihood of heat waves and some other types of weather extremes, like heavy rains and snowstorms, they say.

But researchers have struggled with the question of whether any particular heat wave or storm can be definitively linked to human-induced climate change.

In the new paper, titled “Perception of Climate Change,” Dr. Hansen and his co-authors compared the global climate of 1951 to 1980, before the bulk of global warming had occurred, with the climate of the years 1981 to 2011.

They computed how much of the earth’s land surface in each period was subjected in June, July and August to heat that would have been considered particularly extreme in the period from 1951 to 1980. In that era, they found, only 0.2 percent of the land surface was subjected to extreme summer heat. But from 2006 to 2011, extreme heat covered from 4 to 13 percent of the world, they found.

“It confirms people’s suspicions that things are happening” to the climate, Dr. Hansen said in the interview. “It’s just going to get worse.”

The findings led his team to assert that the big heat waves and droughts of recent years were a direct consequence of climate change. The authors did not offer formal proof of the sort favored by many climate scientists, instead presenting what amounted to a circumstantial case that the background warming was the only plausible cause of those individual heat extremes.

Dr. Hansen said the heat wave and drought afflicting the country this year were also a likely consequence of climate change.

Some experts said they found the arguments persuasive. Andrew J. Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia who reviewed the paper before publication, compared the warming of recent years to a measles outbreak popping up in different places. As with a measles epidemic, he said, it makes sense to suspect a common cause.

“You can actually start to see these patterns emerging whereby in any given year more and more of the globe is covered by anomalously warm events,” Dr. Weaver said.

But some other scientists described the Hansen paper as a muddle. Claudia Tebaldi, a scientist with an organization called Climate Central that seeks to make climate research accessible to the public, said she felt that the paper was on solid ground in asserting a greater overall likelihood of heat waves as a consequence of global warming, but that the finding was not new. The paper’s attribution of specific heat waves to climate change was not backed by persuasive evidence, she said.

Martin P. Hoerling, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who studies the causes of weather extremes, said he shared Dr. Hansen’s general concern about global warming. But he has in the past criticized Dr. Hansen for, in his view, exaggerating the connection between global warming and specific weather extremes. In an interview, he said he felt that Dr. Hansen had done so again.

Dr. Hoerling has published research suggesting that the 2010 Russian heat wave was largely a consequence of natural climate variability, and a forthcoming study he carried out on the Texas drought of 2011 also says natural factors were the main cause.

Dr. Hoerling contended that Dr. Hansen’s new paper confuses drought, caused primarily by a lack of rainfall, with heat waves.

“This isn’t a serious science paper,” Dr. Hoerling said. “It’s mainly about perception, as indicated by the paper’s title. Perception is not a science.”

    Study Finds More of Earth Is Hotter and Says Global Warming Is at Work, 6.8.2012,






Fairs, Like Crops, Are Drooping With the Heat


August 4, 2012
The New York Times


CEDARBURG, Wis. — The cheese curds were sizzling in vats of oil, the cartoon-colored carnival rides were spinning, and the tractors, ready to pull something heavy, were revving. Yet all was not right last week at the Ozaukee County Fair, age 153.

Inside the barns here, the entries competing for top vegetable and flower were fewer than usual. The rabbits vying for prizes were scarcer, too, said Elaine Diedrich, supervisor of the rabbit tent, as she paced the aisles, ready to submerge overheated animals up to their noses in cold water.

Some show pigs were skinnier than normal, and some farm children in 4-H brought fewer cows than planned, after families had to shrink their herds under the weight of scalding heat, a dearth of feed and no end in sight.

Across the nation’s middle, it is fair season — the time of year when rural life is on proud display, generations of farm families gather and deep-fried foods are guiltless.

But at county and state fairs across corn country this year, the most widespread drought since the 1950s is also evident. While the fairs are soldiering on, dousing themselves in Lemon Shake-Ups and Midwestern resolve, the hot, dry, endless summer has seeped into even the cheeriest, oldest tradition.

“You see the stress of this all on individuals everywhere you go — even the fair,” said Vivian Hallett, who most years has entries (and winners) in nearly every imaginable plant category at the Coles County Fair in Illinois. Not this year.

“We just didn’t have the stuff,” said Ms. Hallett, 65. “All our pumpkins have died. Zucchinis? Dead. Our green beans are just sitting there turning rubbery. And my gladiolas never came up at all.”

Fair judges speak of discolored, shrunken vegetables and nearly empty categories (only one gladiola appeared at the Dane County Fair, a judge there said). But in some places, human attendance has shriveled, too — some combination, organizers say, of miserably hot weather and larger, overwhelming concerns back home on the farms.

“It was the roughest I’ve seen,” said Gary Shemanski, facilities manager at the Johnson County Fair in Iowa. There, he said, attendance fell, four rabbits perished in heat that passed 100 degrees, and a beloved, final fireworks display was canceled for fear of setting off a fire in the bone-dry county.

For some among the hundreds of agricultural fairs across the country — and particularly for the largest state-level fairs — events have gone along apace this summer, organizers said. Healthy numbers of visitors arrived, as did long lists of contest entries in a summer when rural families may need a distraction more than ever.

“The fair is just in your blood — you don’t think about it, you just go,” said Jean Klug, 63. “It’s something that’s passed from one generation to the next and always will be.”

Ms. Klug, a commercial vegetable grower, nearly always competes in 30 categories in the fair in Cedarburg, which runs through Sunday. She has entries in only three this year: potatoes, leeks and onions. “And the onions,” she added apologetically, “they’re only two inches big.”

Even at some of the most established, prestigious fairs, like the Indiana State Fair, which opened on Friday, fewer 4-H students were showing beef cattle — 2,169, down from 2,968 a year ago. And entries in an array of agriculture and horticulture competitions — which included categories like tallest stalk of corn, largest zinnia and heaviest pumpkin in the 200-pound-plus range — were down.

Here at the Ozaukee County Fair on a recent afternoon, the crowds were large and upbeat, but the reminders of drought were all around.

Jessica Depies, 12, held her breath as her cow, Spot, stepped onto the judges’ official scale. She had hoped Spot would break 1,400 pounds on his way to a prize, but the scale read 1,393. “He just hasn’t been eating,” she said. “It’s the heat.”

Inside the pig barns, families hung fans from fences and posts trying to aim extra air at their prized creatures, while others sprayed water from plant misters. Some of the contests required pig weights over 220 pounds, but a list showed that some had fallen short.

“The drought is carrying over into everything,” Matt Falkner, a farm equipment salesman, said as he looked over the slimmer pigs.

If anything, the drought has touched fairs far less than it has farming. While commercial farmers have found themselves giving up on parched cornfields and selling off livestock, many families have gone ahead with 4-H projects — the raising of a cow, the special watering of a prized gourd — for fairs they had committed to months before drought struck.

Fair organizers are bracing for the possibility of still more fallout next year, when, say, raising an extra pig for a fair may become an impossible luxury. “They may decide feed prices are just too high the next time,” said Brian Bolan, the agriculture director for the Wisconsin State Fair, which opened Thursday.

Why come to a fair at all in a year like this, when there seems so little to celebrate?

“It’s just country living,” said Bob Hartwig, who added that his children had intended to bring five cows to the Ozaukee County Fair but downsized to three just as his family was weighing downsizing a larger herd at home.

“I’ve never seen it this bad, but people keep doing what they’re doing,” he said. “What else are you going to do?”

Down the way, past a blur of game booths and inflatable prizes, Jordan Koster stood waiting at his corn-on-the-cob booth, eager to show off his healthy, full ear — a rare sight in these parts this summer and partly a result, Mr. Koster said, of a costly new irrigation system.

But few visitors stopped. Temperatures by then were soaring past 90 — too hot, it seemed, to eat.

    Fairs, Like Crops, Are Drooping With the Heat, NYT, 4.8.2012,






High Winds and Drought Fuel Oklahoma Wildfires


August 4, 2012
The New York Times


Firefighters in Oklahoma struggled on Saturday to contain at least a dozen wildfires that have burned more than 80,000 acres near Oklahoma City.

Fueled by searing temperatures and whipped by high winds, the fires forced hundreds of people to flee and had burned dozens of homes by late Friday. Oklahoma and other Midwestern states are suffering from one of the worst droughts in recent memory.

Temperatures were expected to reach 113 degrees and winds 20 miles an hour on Saturday, creating similar conditions to those that fueled the fires on Friday, said Forrest Mitchell of the National Weather Service office in Norman, Okla.

The only injuries reported as of Saturday afternoon were minor ones to several firefighters.

At least one of the fires near Oklahoma City may have been set deliberately, law enforcement officials said.

The police were investigating reports that a man was seen throwing flaming newspapers from the back of a pickup truck on Friday, Sheriff John Whetsel, who oversees the county that includes Oklahoma City, told the local news media. The fire in that area, moving quickly as high winds spread the flames, covered 80 square miles before the winds eased and firefighters began to bring it under control.

Gov. Mary Fallin, after touring the town of Luther on Saturday morning, described the damage as “devastating.” On Friday, fires had destroyed at least 25 homes, a day care center and other businesses there, according to the State Department of Emergency Management.

“Our challenge is that there are so many fires across the state, our resources are pretty stretched,” Ms. Fallin said.

The blaze knocked out the power in Luther, disabling water pumps and making firefighting more difficult. The town of 1,244 people, about 20 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, had to be evacuated.

The biggest wildfire on Saturday was in Creek County, near Tulsa, where an estimated 32,000 acres were burning.

The lack of rain has helped fuel wildfires in several states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas. As much as two-thirds of the country has suffered from drought this summer, which has killed crops, driven up food prices and caused feed shortages. And conditions grew more dire in several states in the last week.

“We saw drought continue to intensify over Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas this week,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist and author of the Drought Monitor at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. “It’s hard to believe that it’s getting worse, but it is, even with some rain in the region.”

State officials said that with each state’s firefighting and emergency response systems stretched thin, there was little they could do to help neighbors in an outbreak like the one in Oklahoma.

On Friday, Oklahoma officials evacuated people in four counties. While Oklahoma City’s metropolitan area appeared to be safe, dozens of homes in other towns and counties were destroyed, the agency said.

State officials also closed several major highways and roads.

    High Winds and Drought Fuel Oklahoma Wildfires, NYT, 4.8.2012,






The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic


July 28, 2012
The New York Times

Berkeley, Calif.


CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.

These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming. In its 2007 report, the I.P.C.C. concluded only that most of the warming of the prior 50 years could be attributed to humans. It was possible, according to the I.P.C.C. consensus statement, that the warming before 1956 could be because of changes in solar activity, and that even a substantial part of the more recent warming could be natural.

Our Berkeley Earth approach used sophisticated statistical methods developed largely by our lead scientist, Robert Rohde, which allowed us to determine earth land temperature much further back in time. We carefully studied issues raised by skeptics: biases from urban heating (we duplicated our results using rural data alone), from data selection (prior groups selected fewer than 20 percent of the available temperature stations; we used virtually 100 percent), from poor station quality (we separately analyzed good stations and poor ones) and from human intervention and data adjustment (our work is completely automated and hands-off). In our papers we demonstrate that none of these potentially troublesome effects unduly biased our conclusions.

The historic temperature pattern we observed has abrupt dips that match the emissions of known explosive volcanic eruptions; the particulates from such events reflect sunlight, make for beautiful sunsets and cool the earth’s surface for a few years. There are small, rapid variations attributable to El Niño and other ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream; because of such oscillations, the “flattening” of the recent temperature rise that some people claim is not, in our view, statistically significant. What has caused the gradual but systematic rise of two and a half degrees? We tried fitting the shape to simple math functions (exponentials, polynomials), to solar activity and even to rising functions like world population. By far the best match was to the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured from atmospheric samples and air trapped in polar ice.

Just as important, our record is long enough that we could search for the fingerprint of solar variability, based on the historical record of sunspots. That fingerprint is absent. Although the I.P.C.C. allowed for the possibility that variations in sunlight could have ended the “Little Ice Age,” a period of cooling from the 14th century to about 1850, our data argues strongly that the temperature rise of the past 250 years cannot be attributed to solar changes. This conclusion is, in retrospect, not too surprising; we’ve learned from satellite measurements that solar activity changes the brightness of the sun very little.

How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does. Adding methane, a second greenhouse gas, to our analysis doesn’t change the results. Moreover, our analysis does not depend on large, complex global climate models, the huge computer programs that are notorious for their hidden assumptions and adjustable parameters. Our result is based simply on the close agreement between the shape of the observed temperature rise and the known greenhouse gas increase.

It’s a scientist’s duty to be properly skeptical. I still find that much, if not most, of what is attributed to climate change is speculative, exaggerated or just plain wrong. I’ve analyzed some of the most alarmist claims, and my skepticism about them hasn’t changed.

Hurricane Katrina cannot be attributed to global warming. The number of hurricanes hitting the United States has been going down, not up; likewise for intense tornadoes. Polar bears aren’t dying from receding ice, and the Himalayan glaciers aren’t going to melt by 2035. And it’s possible that we are currently no warmer than we were a thousand years ago, during the “Medieval Warm Period” or “Medieval Optimum,” an interval of warm conditions known from historical records and indirect evidence like tree rings. And the recent warm spell in the United States happens to be more than offset by cooling elsewhere in the world, so its link to “global” warming is weaker than tenuous.

The careful analysis by our team is laid out in five scientific papers now online at BerkeleyEarth.org. That site also shows our chart of temperature from 1753 to the present, with its clear fingerprint of volcanoes and carbon dioxide, but containing no component that matches solar activity. Four of our papers have undergone extensive scrutiny by the scientific community, and the newest, a paper with the analysis of the human component, is now posted, along with the data and computer programs used. Such transparency is the heart of the scientific method; if you find our conclusions implausible, tell us of any errors of data or analysis.

What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.

Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.


Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley,

and a former MacArthur Foundation fellow, is the author, most recently,

of “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines.”

    The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic, NYT, 28.7.2012,






Corn for Food, Not Fuel


July 30, 2012
The New York Times


IT is not often that a stroke of a pen can quickly undo the ravages of nature, but federal regulators now have an opportunity to do just that. Americans’ food budgets will be hit hard by the ongoing Midwestern drought, the worst since 1956. Food bills will rise and many farmers will go bust.

An act of God, right? Well, the drought itself may be, but a human remedy for some of the fallout is at hand — if only the federal authorities would act. By suspending renewable-fuel standards that were unwise from the start, the Environmental Protection Agency could divert vast amounts of corn from inefficient ethanol production back into the food chain, where market forces and common sense dictate it should go.

The drought has now parched about 60 percent of the contiguous 48 states. As a result, global food prices are rising steeply. Corn futures prices on the Chicago exchange have risen about 60 percent since mid-June, hitting record levels, and other grains such as wheat and soybeans are also sharply higher. Livestock and dairy product prices will inevitably follow.

More than one-third of our corn crop is used to feed livestock. Another 13 percent is exported, much of it to feed livestock as well. Another 40 percent is used to produce ethanol. The remainder goes toward food and beverage production.

Previous droughts in the Midwest (most recently in 1988) also resulted in higher food prices, but misguided energy policies are magnifying the effects of the current one. Federal renewable-fuel standards require the blending of 13.2 billion gallons of corn ethanol with gasoline this year. This will require 4.7 billion bushels of corn, 40 percent of this year’s crop.

Other countries seem to have a better grasp of market forces and common sense. Brazil, another large ethanol producer, uses sugar instead of corn to make ethanol. It has flexible policies that allow the market to determine whether sugar should be sold on the sugar market or be converted to fuel. Our government could learn from the Brazilian approach and direct the E.P.A. to waive a portion of the renewable-fuel standards, thereby directing corn back to the marketplace. Under the law, the E.P.A. would first have to determine that the program was causing economic harm. That’s a no-brainer, given the effects of sharply higher grain prices that are already rippling through the economy.

The price of corn is a critical variable in the world food equation, and food markets are on edge because American corn supplies are plummeting. The combination of the drought and American ethanol policy will lead in many parts of the world to widespread inflation, more hunger, less food security, slower economic growth and political instability, especially in poor countries.

If the E.P.A. were to waive the rules for this year and next, the ethanol industry and corn farmers, who have experienced a years-long windfall, would lose out. Wheat and soybean farmers would also lose, because the prices of those crops have also been driven up: corn competes with soybeans for acreage and is substituted for wheat in some feed rations.

Any defense of the ethanol policy rests on fallacies, primarily these: that ethanol produced from corn makes the United States less dependent on fossil fuels; that ethanol lowers the price of gasoline; that an increase in the percentage of ethanol blended into gasoline increases the overall supply of gasoline; and that ethanol is environmentally friendly and lowers global carbon dioxide emissions.

The ethanol lobby promotes these claims, and many politicians seem intoxicated by them. Corn is indeed a renewable resource, but it has a far lower yield relative to the energy used to produce it than either biodiesel (such as soybean oil) or ethanol from other plants. Ethanol yields about 30 percent less energy per gallon than gasoline, so mileage drops off significantly. Finally, adding ethanol actually raises the price of blended fuel because it is more expensive to transport and handle than gasoline.

As the summer drags on, the drought is only worsening. Last week the International Grains Council lowered its estimate of this year’s American corn harvest to 11.8 billion bushels from 13.8 billion. Reducing the renewable-fuel standard by a mere 20 percent — equivalent to about a billion bushels of corn — would offset nearly half of the expected crop loss due to the drought.

All it would take is the stroke of a pen — and, of course, the savvy and the will to do the right thing.


Colin A. Carter is a professor of agricultural and resource economics

at the University of California, Davis. Henry I. Miller, a physician,

is a fellow in scientific philosophy and public policy at the Hoover Institution.

    Corn for Food, Not Fuel, NYT, 30.7.2012,






In Texas, Arguing That Heat

Can Be a Death Sentence for Prisoners


July 28, 2012
The New York Times


HOUSTON — Last summer’s record-breaking heat wave had a grim impact on Texas, playing a role in the deaths of roughly 150 people. Many of them were found in their homes or apartments, but a few were discovered somewhere else — in their prison cells.

Ten inmates of the state prison system died of heat-related causes last summer in a 26-day period in July and August, a death toll that has alarmed prisoners’ rights advocates who believe that the lack of air-conditioning in most state prisons puts inmates’ lives at risk.

The 10 inmates were housed in areas that lacked air-conditioning, and several had collapsed or lost consciousness while they were in their cells. All of them were found to have died of hyperthermia, a condition that occurs when body temperature rises above 105 degrees, according to autopsy reports and the state’s prison agency.

Other factors contributed to their deaths. All but three of them had hypertension, and some were obese, had heart disease or were taking antipsychotic medications, which can affect the body’s ability to regulate heat.

One inmate, Alexander Togonidze, 44, was found unresponsive in his cell at an East Texas prison called the Michael Unit at 8 a.m. on Aug. 8 with a body temperature of 106 degrees, according to prison documents. The temperature in his cell, taken by prison officials 15 minutes after he was pronounced dead, was 86.2 degrees and the heat index was 93 degrees.

Five days later, at the nearby Gurney Unit prison, Kenneth Wayne James, 52, was found in his cell with a body temperature of 108 degrees. His autopsy report stated Mr. James most likely died of “environmental hyperthermia-related classic heat stroke,” noting several risk factors, including Mr. James’s chronic illness and use of a diuretic, and the lack of air-conditioning.

“We were looking for him to come home in a few months,” said Mary Lou James, the mother of Mr. James, who had been charged with injuring a child and was serving a five-year sentence for violating probation. “I think that’s just awful, to have a place like that where you don’t have any air. I don’t think human beings should be treated in that manner.”

Officials with the prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said 12 inmates had died of heat-related causes since 2007. The debate over the lack of air-conditioning in the prison system has intensified in recent weeks, after lawyers from the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project sued the agency in federal court over one of the inmate deaths from last summer. They also plan to file additional wrongful-death lawsuits.

Of the 111 prisons overseen by the agency, only 21 are fully air-conditioned, and inmates and their advocates have argued that the overheated conditions during triple-digit summers violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Prison officials dispute those claims, saying that the health and well-being of the inmates are their top priorities and that the autopsies of the 12 inmates who died list a variety of contributing factors to their deaths. They said they take steps to help inmates on hot days, including restricting outside work activities and providing extra water and ice.

“It is unknown whether the lack of air-conditioning was a contributing factor in the offender deaths,” Jason Clark, a prison system spokesman, said in a statement. “Texas experienced one of the hottest summers on record in 2011. It was an unprecedented event affecting the entire state and much of the southern and eastern United States. T.D.C.J. took precautions to help mitigate the impact of temperature extremes on offenders and staff. The agency continues to do so.”

But a corrections supervisor who works at a prison where one of the 12 inmates died said the number of heat-related fatalities was a cause of concern, as was the larger number of inmates and corrections officers who require medical attention because of the heat.

At least 17 prison employees or inmates were treated for heat-related illnesses from June 25 through July 6, according to agency documents. Many of them had been indoors at the time they reported feeling ill.

At the Darrington Unit near Rosharon on June 25, a 56-year-old corrections officer fainted in a supervisor’s office and was taken to a hospital. Heat exhaustion was diagnosed. At the four-story Coffield Unit near Palestine, where one inmate died of hyperthermia last August, dozens of windows have been broken out — prisoners slip soda cans or bars of soap into socks and throw them at the windows, hoping to increase ventilation.

“I’m supposed to be watching them, I’m not supposed to be boiling them in their cells,” said the corrections supervisor, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “If you’ve got a life sentence, odds are you’re going to die in the penitentiary. But what about the guy who dies from a heat stroke who only had a four-year sentence? His four-year sentence was actually a life sentence.”

One of the 10 inmates who died last summer, Larry Gene McCollum, 58, a prisoner at the Hutchins State Jail outside Dallas, had a body temperature of 109.4 degrees. Nine days before his death in his cell, the indoor temperatures at Hutchins were routinely recorded by prison officials and ranged from 100 degrees to 102 degrees, according to agency documents.

Those temperatures exceed those allowed by a state law requiring county jails to maintain temperature levels between 65 and 85 degrees in occupied areas. But the law applies only to county jails, not to state prisons.

“After this many deaths, prison officials obviously know this is a problem,” said David C. Fathi, director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, in Washington. “Prisons aren’t supposed to be comfortable, nor are they supposed to kill you.”

State Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said he was not alarmed by the number of deaths, noting that the overall state inmate population exceeds 150,000. Keith Price, the former warden of the Coffield Unit, agreed.

“Just from a statistical standpoint, that’s really not significant, particularly when you consider the population,” Mr. Price, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at West Texas A&M University, said of the 12 deaths. “Many inmates are poorly equipped to manage their lives and thus make poor decisions. I do not believe it is up to the taxpayers to provide air-conditioning for inmates when some simple self-discipline would avoid many of these problems.”

Prison officials said that air-conditioning had not been installed in many buildings because of the additional construction and utility costs, and that retrofitting them would be an extraordinary expense.

Prisoners’ rights advocates said that treating inmates who become ill from the heat is just as costly, and that retrofitting entire buildings was not the only possible solution. They said allowing medically high-risk inmates to spend time in air-conditioned areas would be one improvement.

    In Texas, Arguing That Heat Can Be a Death Sentence for Prisoners, NYT, 28.7.2012,






California Envisions Fix to Water Distribution


July 25, 2012
The New York Times


COURTLAND, Calif. — Flanked by the interior secretary and a federal environmental watchdog, Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his plan to reconfigure the state’s oversubscribed water distribution system in hopes of satisfying the conflicting demands of Southern California cities, agribusinesses and environmentalists, which have competing claims on the flow of the Sacramento River, the state’s largest source of fresh water.

The officials said their plan would ensure both that the ecosystem of the Sacramento River’s delta would be reinvigorated and that water deliveries to the south would become reliable.

The $14 billion blueprint envisions both the physical and psychological re-engineering of California’s plumbing, including the construction of twin 35-mile-long pipelines, each about as wide as a three-lane highway, that would tap river water from a more northerly, less polluted location. The pipelines would deliver the water straight to the conveyances in the south, largely replacing a system that pumps water from the murkier southern part of the 500,000-acre delta, disturbing the fragile ecosystem.

It also includes financial incentives for consumers of water — municipalities and farming interests — to use less.

But beyond that, the sweeping and ambitious plan was noticeably shy of details.

“As broken and outdated as California’s water system is, we are also closer than ever to forging a lasting and sustainable solution that strengthens California’s water security and restores the health of the delta,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. “With science as our guide, we are taking a comprehensive approach to tackling California’s water problems when it comes to increasing efficiency and improving conservation.”

The secretary and Mr. Brown emphasized that the new system would be a hedge against natural disasters like flooding, earthquakes or sea level rise that could collapse crucial levees and disrupt water supplies. Mr. Salazar said the water system was “at constant risk of failure.” Mr. Brown added: “We know there are a couple of big issues, earthquakes and climate change. And this facility is absolutely essential to deal with both of them.”

Northern California legislators objected. “This rush to construction without the benefit of science is going to do irreparable harm, to Northern California in particular,” Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat from the Bay Area, said.

The plan to move forward was announced at a news conference in Sacramento, about 35 miles from this small town at the northern edge of the delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers meet.

The local marshland ecosystem has suffered, in the words of one area environmentalist, a “biological meltdown” after 150 years of levee building and ever-increasing water withdrawals.

Repairing the ecosystem, where fresh and salt water, overwhelmed by agricultural runoff and invasive species, push against each other in a perpetual dance, has been made a political priority. Officially, it is as important as assuring the viability of water deliveries through one of two major water arteries for Southern California. The other is the Colorado River.

For decades, advocates for fish, for cities and for farmers have been trying to agree on a plan to manage the water flowing through the delta. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan has been fraught from the beginning, and its plans widely criticized.

With the announcement Wednesday, state and federal leaders sidestepped most of the specifics that could create controversy: operational details like how much water would go through the pipes and when, scientific goals for recovery of endangered and threatened fish, and even economic assessment of whether the benefits would outweigh the costs.

The management of the new apparatus would spring from a hybrid of agencies; documents released by the state last week described a “decision tree” to ensure that science was a main element of operational decisions.

Many scientists believe that delivering the water that powerful agricultural interests say they need — one-quarter of the Sacramento River’s annual average flow of 22 million acre-feet — would further harm the battered populations of smelt, sturgeon, salmon and steelhead.

The failure to solve this dilemma has been the catalyst for some willingness to compromise, since most of the stakeholders agree that the current situation is untenable. Decisions in recent years by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and the courts to ensure there is enough water for fish have led to water delivery cutbacks in drought years.

“We live in a world of uncertainty, where we never really know what we are getting,” said Jeff Kightlinger, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million residents from San Diego to the northern and eastern reaches of Los Angeles. “We’ve been fighting every year, but every year we lose water and every year the fish get worse. Nobody is getting what they want right now.”

Although Ann Nothoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, is troubled by the lack of detail in the proposal, she believes, “The status quo is unacceptable.”

Some scientists and engineers have argued that, despite improvements, the current system exacerbates the destruction of fish by degrading their habitat.

David Hayes, the deputy interior secretary, said that the breakthrough in the talks about the delta was that “water contractors had been insisting that there be a guarantee of a specific” amount of water deliveries. “The regulatory agencies said: ‘We can’t guarantee that.’ And they” — the contractors — “stepped back and agreed to that.”

“We’re glad to see that decisions are being made,” said James M. Beck, the general manager of the Kern County Water Agency, which serves some of the most powerful agribusinesses in the state. “What we really need,” he added, “is some detailed specific information” about how much water stakeholders are entitled to, and how much they will have to pay for it.

Construction of the system is expected to take at least a decade, even after all the required environmental and engineering studies are complete. Those who consume water will have to cover the cost of construction; buying land and creating new habitat will fall to the government.

One coalition centered on the small-scale farmers within the delta rejects the idea that the new project is necessary. It worries that the clear Sacramento River water it now relies on will be replaced with tidal residues from the San Francisco Bay.

“This is a transfer of wealth,” said Rogene Reynolds, a small farmer in Stockton. “Because water is wealth.”

    California Envisions Fix to Water Distribution, NYT, 25.7.2012,






More Weather Extremes Leave Parts of U.S. Grid Buckling


July 25, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — From highways in Texas to nuclear power plants in Illinois, the concrete, steel and sophisticated engineering that undergird the nation’s infrastructure are being taxed to worrisome degrees by heat, drought and vicious storms.

On a single day this month here, a US Airways regional jet became stuck in asphalt that had softened in 100-degree temperatures, and a subway train derailed after the heat stretched the track so far that it kinked — inserting a sharp angle into a stretch that was supposed to be straight. In East Texas, heat and drought have had a startling effect on the clay-rich soils under highways, which “just shrink like crazy,” leading to “horrendous cracking,” said Tom Scullion, senior research engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. In Northeastern and Midwestern states, he said, unusually high heat is causing highway sections to expand beyond their design limits, press against each other and “pop up,” creating jarring and even hazardous speed bumps.

Excessive warmth and dryness are threatening other parts of the grid as well. In the Chicago area, a twin-unit nuclear plant had to get special permission to keep operating this month because the pond it uses for cooling water rose to 102 degrees; its license to operate allows it to go only to 100. According to the Midwest Independent System Operator, the grid operator for the region, a different power plant had had to shut because the body of water from which it draws its cooling water had dropped so low that the intake pipe became high and dry; another had to cut back generation because cooling water was too warm.

The frequency of extreme weather is up over the past few years, and people who deal with infrastructure expect that to continue. Leading climate models suggest that weather-sensitive parts of the infrastructure will be seeing many more extreme episodes, along with shifts in weather patterns and rising maximum (and minimum) temperatures.

“We’ve got the ‘storm of the century’ every year now,” said Bill Gausman, a senior vice president and a 38-year veteran at the Potomac Electric Power Company, which took eight days to recover from the June 29 “derecho” storm that raced from the Midwest to the Eastern Seaboard and knocked out power for 4.3 million people in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

In general, nobody in charge of anything made of steel and concrete can plan based on past trends, said Vicki Arroyo, who heads the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, a clearinghouse on climate-change adaptation strategies.

Highways, Mr. Scullion noted, are designed for the local climate, taking into account things like temperature and rainfall. “When you get outside of those things, man, all bets are off.” As weather patterns shift, he said, “we could have some very dramatic failures of highway systems.”

Adaptation efforts are taking place nationwide. Some are as huge as the multibillion-dollar effort to increase the height of levees and flood walls in New Orleans because of projections of rising sea levels and stronger storms to come; others as mundane as resizing drainage culverts in Vermont, where Hurricane Irene damaged about 2,000 culverts. “They just got blown out,” said Sue Minter, the Irene recovery officer for the state.

In Washington, the subway system, which opened in 1976, has revised its operating procedures. Authorities will now watch the rail temperature and order trains to slow down if it gets too hot. When railroads install tracks in cold weather, they heat the metal to a “neutral” temperature so it reaches a moderate length, and will withstand the shrinkage and growth typical for that climate. But if the heat historically seen in the South becomes normal farther north, the rails will be too long for that weather, and will have an increased tendency to kink. So railroad officials say they will begin to undertake much more frequent inspection.

Some utilities are re-examining long-held views on the economics of protecting against the weather. Pepco, the utility serving the area around Washington, has repeatedly studied the idea of burying more power lines, and the company and its regulators have always decided that the cost outweighed the benefit. But the company has had five storms in the last two and a half years for which recovery took at least five days, and after the derecho last month, the consensus has changed. Both the District of Columbia and Montgomery County, Md., have held hearings to discuss the option — though in the District alone, the cost would be $1.1 billion to $5.8 billion, depending on how many of the power lines were put underground.

Even without storms, heat waves are changing the pattern of electricity use, raising peak demand higher than ever. That implies the need for new investment in generating stations, transmission lines and local distribution lines that will be used at full capacity for only a few hundred hours a year. “We build the system for the 10 percent of the time we need it,” said Mark Gabriel, a senior vice president of Black & Veatch, an engineering firm. And that 10 percent is “getting more extreme.”

Even as the effects of weather extremes become more evident, precisely how to react is still largely an open question, said David Behar, the climate program director for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “We’re living in an era of assessment, not yet in an area of adaptation,” he said.

He says that violent storms and forest fires can be expected to affect water quality and water use: runoff from major storms and falling ash could temporarily shut down reservoirs. Deciding how to address such issues is the work of groups like the Water Utility Climate Alliance, of which he is a member. “In some ways, the science is still catching up with the need of water managers for high-quality projection,” he said.

Some needs are already known. San Francisco will spend as much as $40 million to modify discharge pipes for treated wastewater to prevent bay water from flowing back into the system.

Even when state and local officials know what they want to do, they say they do not always get the cooperation they would like from the federal government. Many agencies have officially expressed a commitment to plan for climate change, but sometimes the results on the ground can be frustrating, said Ms. Minter of Vermont. For instance, she said, Vermont officials want to replace the old culverts with bigger ones. “We think it’s an opportunity to build back in a more robust way,” she said. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency wants to reuse the old culverts that washed out, or replace them with similar ones, she said.

Ms. Arroyo of Georgetown said the federal government must do more. “They are not acknowledging that the future will look different from the past,” she said, “and so we keep putting people and infrastructure in harm’s way.”


Matthew L. Wald reported from Washington, and John Schwartz from New York.

    More Weather Extremes Leave Parts of U.S. Grid Buckling, NYT, 25.7.2012,






Severe Drought Seen as Driving Cost of Food Up


July 25, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Scorching heat and the worst drought in nearly a half-century are threatening to send food prices up, spooking consumers and leading to worries about global food costs.

On Wednesday, the government said it expected the record-breaking weather to drive up the price for groceries next year, including milk, beef, chicken and pork. The drought is now affecting 88 percent of the corn crop, a staple of processed foods and animal feed as well as the nation’s leading farm export.

The government’s forecast, based on a consumer price index for food, estimated that prices would rise 4 to 5 percent for beef next year with slightly lower increases for pork, eggs and dairy products.

The drought comes along with heat. So far, 2012 is the hottest year ever recorded in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose records date to 1895. That has sapped the production of corn, soybeans and other crops, afflicting poultry and livestock in turn.

It is also harming parts of the infrastructure. Highways in Texas, nuclear power plants in Illinois, runways and subway rails in Washington and the concrete, steel and sophisticated engineering that undergird the nation’s infrastructure are being taxed to worrisome degrees by heat, drought and vicious storms.

The impact of the hot and dry weather on the nation’s farmers has put new pressure on Congress to move ahead on a pending five-year farm bill. But House Republican leaders have been reluctant to act because of divisions within the party’s rank-and-file about the cost of the nearly $1 trillion bill.

The legislation includes several federal agriculture programs that farmers have come to expect, though it does not include any specific drought assistance. Several important disaster relief programs expired at the end of 2011, leaving farmers and ranchers who have lost cattle or grazing land with few options without Congressional action.

“I’ve been urging the House of Representatives to get a bill to the floor and get it voted on so they can conference with the Senate and get a farm bill passed,” said Thomas J. Vilsack, the agriculture secretary.

For now, analysts said they expected the broader economic impact of rising food prices to be modest. Americans spend just 13 percent of their household budgets on food. The falling price of gasoline — fuel and transportation costs being a major component of prices at restaurants and grocery stores — will help temper any price increases.

Analysts said there might be little effect on economic growth or overall inflation, which has been running around 2 percent a year.

But economists said consumers — particularly the poor and unemployed — would still feel the effects.

“It is one extra kick in the stomach” for low-income families, said Chris G. Christopher, senior principal economist at IHS, a consulting firm. “There’s a lot of people in this country living paycheck to paycheck. This is not a good thing for them.”

Higher food prices might also damp consumer sentiment. “Consumers are very sensitive to the price of gas and food,” said Jeet Dutta, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. “But overall inflation will still look pretty moderate for the rest of the year.”

Economists fear a far greater impact outside of the United States because America is a major exporter of a broad variety of agricultural products. Lower production at home means less supply and higher prices abroad.

“We’re seeing the price of wheat, corn and beans go up,” said Marc Sadler, the head of the agricultural risk management team at the World Bank, noting that in other regions of the world, like Eastern Europe, yields were also falling.

“Food wheat is about bread and cookies and instant noodles. But it’s about instant noodles in Asia and Indonesia, as much as it is about what you’re going to buy in Walmart,” Mr. Sadler said.

Countries that import substantial amounts of animal feed made from corn and soybeans will feel the impact the most, said Maximo Torero, an economist with the International Food Policy Research Institute, an international research group.

On Wednesday, government data showed the extent to which the heat and the drought had devastated crops and provided a first look at next year’s expected price increases.

The Agriculture Department’s figures show the largest percentage increase next year in its price indexes is expected for beef, a rise of 4 to 5 percent. The price of dairy products will increase 3.5 to 4.5 percent and eggs by 3 to 4 percent. Pork is expected to rise 2.5 to 3.5 percent.

The department also slashed its estimate for what was supposed to be the largest corn harvest on record. The government cut its corn yield forecast to 146 bushels an acre for the year, the lowest corn yield since 2003. The outlook just last month was for 166 bushels. The soybean yield is projected to be 40 bushels an acre, down from an estimate of 43.9 last month.

Cattle farmers in several states have already started selling off or culling cattle because the drought has ruined grass for grazing and the price for corn for feed has skyrocketed.

Daniel R. Glickman, the agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, said that as farmers started reducing or selling their herds, meat prices could fall because of a glut of beef on the market.

“So in the short term, that’s good for customers,” Mr. Glickman said.

    Severe Drought Seen as Driving Cost of Food Up, NYT, 25.7.2012,






Searching for Clues to Calamity


July 20, 2012
The New York Times


SO far 2012 is on pace to be the hottest year on record. But does this mean that we’ve reached a threshold — a tipping point that signals a climate disaster?

For those warning of global warming, it would be tempting to say so. The problem is, no one knows if there is a point at which a climate system shifts abruptly. But some scientists are now bringing mathematical rigor to the tipping-point argument. Their findings give us fresh cause to worry that sudden changes are in our future.

One of them is Marten Scheffer, a biologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who grew up swimming in clear lowland ponds. In the 1980s, many of these ponds turned turbid. The plants would die, algae would cover the surface, and only bottom-feeding fish remained. The cause — fertilizer runoff from nearby farms — was well known, but even after you stopped the runoff, replanted the lilies and restocked the trout, the ponds would stay dark and scummy.

Mr. Scheffer solved this problem with a key insight: the ponds behaved according to a branch of mathematics called “dynamical systems,” which deals with sudden changes. Once you reach a tipping point, it’s very difficult to return things to how they used to be. It’s easy to roll a boulder off a cliff, for instance, but much harder to roll it back. Once the ponds turned turbid, it wasn’t enough to just replant and restock. You had get them back to their original, clear state.

Science is a graveyard of grand principles that fail in the end to explain the real world. So it is all the more surprising that Mr. Scheffer’s idea worked.

By applying the principles of dynamical systems, Mr. Scheffer was able to figure out that to fix the ponds, he had to remove the fish that thrive in the turbid water. They stir up sediment, which blocks sunlight from plants, and eat the zooplankton that keep the water clear. His program of fixing the Netherlands’ ponds and lakes is legendary in ecology.

Mr. Scheffer and other scientists are now trying to identify the early-warning signals for climate that precede abrupt transitions. Tim Lenton, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter in England, has identified a handful of climate systems that could reach tipping points in the not-too-distant future. These are not so much related to global average temperatures — the main metric for climate-change arguments — as they are to patterns of climate that repeat themselves each year.

El Niño is one such pattern — a gigantic blob of warm water that sloshes around in the Pacific Ocean, causing weather changes across wide swaths of the globe. Another is the West African monsoon, which brings rain to the west coast of the continent. Each is subject to behaving like dynamical systems — which means they are prone to “flip” from one state to another, like one of Mr. Scheffer’s ponds, over time periods that vary from a year to a few hundred.

The most frightening prospect that Mr. Lenton has found is the vulnerability of the Indian monsoon. More than a billion people depend on this weather pattern each year for the rain it brings to crops. The monsoon, though, is being affected by two conflicting forces: the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is adding energy to the monsoons, making them more powerful. On the other hand, soot from fires and coal plants acts to blocks the sun’s energy, weakening the monsoons.

This opposition creates potential instability and the possibility that the atmospheric dynamics that bring the monsoons could change suddenly. Mr. Lenton’s analysis shows this could occur in a remarkably short time. The monsoons could be here one year, then gone the next year.

Other possible tipping points are the melting of the North Pole’s sea ice, Greenland’s glaciers and the Antarctic ice sheets, and the destruction of the Amazon rain forest and Canada’s boreal forests.

We know that the dynamical-systems idea worked for Mr. Scheffer’s ponds because he achieved real-world results. But why should we believe that the principle explains things like El Niño and the Indian monsoon? The acid test will be whether the real world behaves the way Mr. Lenton says it will. If the Indian monsoon disappears, we’ll know he is right.

What then? The real worst-case scenario would have one such event triggering others, until you have a cascade of weather flips from one end of the planet to another. It wouldn’t be quite as dramatic as Hollywood might want to depict, perhaps, but it would be dramatic enough to rewrite the predictions for sea level and temperature rises that are part of the current consensus. This worst case is highly speculative, but sudden shifts in climate patterns may already be happening.

The policy makers aren’t likely to be discussing dynamical-systems theory anytime soon. Fortunately, scientists like Mr. Scheffer and Mr. Lenton are trying to work out the details of how closely nature hews to these mathematics, what a true tipping point would look like and what we might do if and when we face one.

We need a tipping point in climate politics, where all of a sudden we start paying attention.


Fred Guterl is the executive editor of Scientific American

and the author of “The Fate of Species:

Why the Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It.”

    Searching for Clues to Calamity, NYT, 20.7.2012,






Obama Visits Colorado as Firefighting Progresses


June 29, 2012
The New York Times


COLORADO SPRINGS — As President Obama arrived here on Friday to tour the aftermath of the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, fire crews said they were slowly hemming in the blaze and beginning to reopen a few neighborhoods where residents had fled gales of ash and smoke.

Although plumes of smoke still curled skyward from the mountains above Colorado’s second-largest city, local authorities said the 17,000-acre blaze was not spreading and had been 25 percent contained. And some of the 32,000 people evacuated earlier this week returned home, unloading the suitcases, photo albums and pets they had hurriedly packed up as the fires descended down the hillsides.

But as officials reported tentative progress, they also offered a clearer picture of the extent of the damage. At least two bodies were found in a burned home, and fewer than 10 people were unaccounted for. More than 340 homes have been destroyed. Aerial photographs published by The Denver Post showed blocks of subdivisions reduced to ash and splinters, some homes standing intact while the ones next door were burned flat.

In some of the worst-hit neighborhoods, which Mr. Obama visited, expensive homes had collapsed into heaps of rubble, with only their chimneys still standing. Burned trees stood like charred skeletons, and the shells of abandoned cars squatted in the streets.

“In some of these subdivisions, the devastation is enormous,” Mr. Obama said after he walked through the area. “It’s still early in the fire season, and we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

On Friday, Mr. Obama declared a national disaster here and in another fire-stricken county in northern Colorado, making them eligible for federal funds.

The blaze, known as the Waldo Canyon fire, is only one of nearly five dozen wildfires raging across the arid West. The unusually fierce early-season fires have placed a heavy strain on the government’s firefighting resources, prompting criticism by some Republican politicians that the Forest Service was not moving quickly enough to corral additional large air tankers to douse the blazes.

“Every hour that goes by is an hour that could be that turning point,” Representative Elton Gallegly, Republican of California, said in an interview. “That’s what’s so doggone frustrating.”

In northern Colorado, firefighters were still struggling to contain a sprawling blaze in the foothills outside Fort Collins, home to Colorado State University. In western Colorado, a blaze erupted outside Grand Junction along Interstate 70, the state’s major east-west artery, and quickly grew to 16,750 acres, prompting 50 calls for evacuation.

Throughout the day, as evacuees in Colorado Springs passed time on shelter cots or downed cup after cup of coffee, fire crews said they were focused on trying to contain another flank of the fire. Helicopters and tankers buzzed through the hazy skies west of the city, and Rich Harvey, the fire’s incident commander, said crews were “putting muscle on the ground in front of this fire.”

Even without any rain, fire officials said that lighter breezes and less intense temperatures were helping their efforts.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Colorado Springs residents who had been forced to evacuate learned at a meeting on Thursday night whether their homes had been gutted or had survived.

The owners of the Flying W Ranch, which hosted popular cowboy-themed suppers and summertime concerts, said the ranch had burned to the ground, and two members of the Flying W Wranglers, a musical cowboy quartet, had lost their homes.

“We ask that you pray for all the families within the area,” the ranch’s staff wrote in a message on its Web site, “and we assure you we will do our best to hopefully rebuild.”

Other residents, like Timitra Stewart, 32, were still in the dark but feared the worst.

“It looks like my house is gone,” said Ms. Stewart, a stay-at-home mother of four. She said she was chased from her hillside home in the Wilson Ranch neighborhood by a “volcanic eruption” of advancing flames. “It came down that hill so fast. We were covered in smoke. The flames were right there.”

Ms. Stewart said she had bundled her children into her car with a few belongings and raced away. She has not been home since Tuesday. And with scant insurance to cover her belongings, she said she dreaded what she would find when she returned home.

“It’s devastating for all of us,” she said.

    Obama Visits Colorado as Firefighting Progresses, NYT, 29.6.2012,






Shift in Wind Allows Utah Fire Evacuees to Return Home


June 23, 2012
The New York Times


SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah (AP) — About 2,300 Utah wildfire evacuees were allowed to return to their homes on Saturday evening after officials determined that the blaze no longer posed a direct threat to them.

The fire had reached within a quarter-mile of homes in the towns of Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, but none of the houses had burned, said Teresa Rigby of the Bureau of Land Management.

A shift in the wind pushed some of the fire back on itself Saturday, and crews managed to put out hot spots closest to homes. Officials said they expected to have the blaze contained by Tuesday.

The fire is believed to have been started on Thursday by target shooters. The authorities were initially worried as flames moved toward property owned by an explosives company. But the fire shifted toward Saratoga Springs, and the focus turned to saving homes as the winds intensified.

On Friday, Sheriff James O. Tracy of Utah County said he feared that the fire would take down the area’s power grid, shutting off electricity to as many as 7,000 homes.

Several power poles and transformers “up and down the firelines have burned,” Sheriff Tracy said. If the fire “gets a couple more critical poles,” he added, “it will black out this entire area.”

Bureau of Land Management officials said they believed that the blaze was caused when a bullet hit a rock. This would be the 20th fire related to target shooting in Utah this year, they said.

A continued mix of hot, windy and extremely dry conditions has raised the fire danger across Utah and parts of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming.

Near a 69,000-acre wildfire in northern Colorado, some homes were evacuated on Friday because of spot fires started by embers blown outside the main blaze. Other homes were evacuated after the fire flared up last Sunday, and those residents were not able to return home until Wednesday.

The fire, west of Fort Collins, has destroyed at least 191 homes. It is also blamed for the death of a woman whose body was found at her ranch.

In southern Colorado, a new 300-acre fire near Mancos was threatening at least 10 structures and prompted the authorities to evacuate some homes east of town, federal officials said.

Officials in Gov. John W. Hickenlooper’s office said he had signed executive orders releasing $6.2 million more in state disaster money to fight the two fires and one other.

The northern Colorado fire will have $5 million more available, on top of $20 million made available under a previous order. The disaster money is coming partly from reserve funds.

    Shift in Wind Allows Utah Fire Evacuees to Return Home, NYT, 23.6.2012,






In Land of Gas Drilling,

Battle for Water That Doesn’t Reek or Fizz


June 2, 2012
The New York Times


PAVILLION, Wyo. — It has been more than four decades since the first well was drilled in the natural gas field beneath this stretch of slow rolling alfalfa and sugar beet farms. But for some who live here, in the shadows of the Wind River Mountains, the drilling rigs have brought more than jobs and industry.

For the last few years, a small group of farmers and landowners scattered across this rural Wyoming basin have complained that their water wells have been contaminated with chemicals from a controversial drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

A draft report by the Environmental Protection Agency, issued in December, appeared to confirm their concerns, linking chemicals in local groundwater to gas drilling.

But here on the front lines of the battle over fracking, which has become an increasingly popular technique to extract previously unobtainable reserves of oil and gas, no conclusion is yet definitive.

After an outcry from Wyoming’s governor, Matt Mead, and the energy industry that the federal report was premature and inconclusive, more testing was conducted by the United States Geological Survey and is being processed. The E.P.A. is also in the midst of collecting additional water samples for study.

In the meantime, the state has offered to provide cisterns for local residents, using $750,000 allocated by the Wyoming Legislature this year. Under the plan, people here would still have to pay a fee to have their water hauled from the nearby community of Pavillion, at a cost that could run more than $150 per month.

“I’d like to have the industry held accountable for once,” said Jeff Locker, a hay and barley farmer who said that his well water had gone bad around the mid-’90s and that the contaminants had contributed to his wife’s neuropathy. “We’ve got scientific proof. And they’re still turning their back on us. They expect us to pay between $100 and $200 for something we didn’t cause. It gets under my skin.”

Encana Oil and Gas (U.S.A.) Inc., which bought the Pavillion gas field in 2004 and operates about 125 gas wells in the area, is already providing jugs of drinking water for Mr. Locker and 20 other households. It is unclear whether Encana will defray any of the cost of the cistern water.

“Until there is a peer-reviewed study and a good scientific basis that indicates that the issues related to water are related to our operations, that is not something we are ready to address,” said Doug Hock, an Encana spokesman.

Encana has maintained that water in the area is naturally poor and that its operations did not cause the problems — fracking had also occurred before the company purchased the gas field. Moreover, the energy industry has steadfastly pointed out that there has never been any conclusive link between fracking and water contamination.

Mr. Hock said it should have come as no surprise that the E.P.A.’s two monitoring wells showed high levels of methane and benzene because they were drilled deep into a natural gas field.

But some locals say the draft report’s analysis of water samples, which identified synthetic chemicals consistent with natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing fluids, is proof of what they suspected for years.

“These are people that had good water,” said John Fenton, a barrel-chested farmer and chairman of the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens group. “And it changed when there was this rush to come in here and develop the area when they didn’t understand the geology.”

Mr. Fenton said he thought he had dodged a bullet until about three years ago, when his tap water began occasionally fizzing and smelling like petroleum. And even though Encana is giving him drinking water, Mr. Fenton said he and his family still bathe in dirty water.

Renny MacKay, a spokesman for Mr. Mead, said the governor was committed to figuring out a long-term fix for about 20 homes whose water was found to contain contaminants while the source of the pollution is studied.

“The governor believes let’s get more data points, let’s do more science on this that is peer reviewed and whatever the conclusion, you go from there,” he said.

At a meeting at the town high school on Thursday night, state environmental and water officials explained how the cisterns would work to about 50 people in attendance.

Some worried about their property values being deflated because of the attention the water contamination had drawn.

“Most of the property out here is fine,” said Jon Martin, a local landowner. “There’s nothing wrong with it. This is a shallow gas field. When you pass 200 feet, you’re liable to hit natural gas. This isn’t a fracking problem.”

Most residents seemed open to installing cisterns, peppering the officials with questions. How much would it cost? Was this the only option? And what of the additional water samples drawn by the United States Geological Survey, whose results will be released this fall, and the E.P.A.’s draft report and new data, which will be reviewed by an independent panel? For now, there were plenty of unknowns.

Louis Meeks, a landowner whose tap water reeks like diesel fuel, listened quietly. He said he had been trying to clean his water for years to no avail, and no longer lets his granddaughter wash her clothes or bathe in his home. Recently, Mr. Meeks printed business cards for anyone interested in his predicament. A glass of water is pictured prominently.

“Fresh, fizzy ... Fracked,” the cards read.

    In Land of Gas Drilling, Battle for Water That Doesn’t Reek or Fizz, NYT, 2.6.2012,






Ernest Callenbach, Author of ‘Ecotopia,’ Dies at 83


April 27, 2012
The New York Times


Ernest Callenbach, the author of the 1975 novel “Ecotopia,” the tale of an awakening paradise in the Pacific Northwest that evoked a devoted cult following as a harbinger of the environmental movement, died on April 16 at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 83.

The cause was cancer, his wife, Christine Leefeldt, said.

Written in the throes of the Vietnam War, “Ecotopia” tells of a secessionist nation — carved from what was once Oregon, Washington and Northern California — that by 1999 has evolved toward a “stable state” of bioregionalism, in which each territory cultivates its distinct ecological character.

Mr. Callenbach, the founding editor of Film Quarterly, originally published the novel himself, after 25 publishing houses had rejected the manuscript. It has now sold nearly one million copies and been translated into a dozen languages, most recently Chinese. Its readership has included hippies and New Agers, environmental activists and college and high school science students, as well as evangelical Christians increasingly concerned about the global environment. It was reprinted by Bantam Books in 1977, two years after Bantam rejected it, asserting, Mr. Callenbach recalled, that “the ecological fad is over.”

The novel is told through the accounts of a newspaper reporter who is sent to Ecotopia two decades after it seceded from an economically collapsing United States. Ecotopians realized just in time, the reporter writes, that “financial panic could be turned to advantage if the new nation could be organized to devote its real resources of energy, knowledge, skills and materials to the basic necessities of survival.”

The book describes a society in which recycling is a way of life, gas-powered cars are replaced by electric cars (although most people walk or commute on high-speed magnetic-levitation trains) and bicycles are placed in public spaces to be borrowed at will. In Ecotopia, solar energy is commonplace, organic food is locally grown and, instead of petrochemical fertilizers, processed sewage is used to cultivate crops.

Mr. Callenbach mixed his communal change-or-perish message with the free-love attitudes of the 1960s and ’70s. Ecotopian couples are “generally monogamous,” the reporter writes, “except for four holidays each year, at the solstices and equinoxes, when sexual promiscuity is widespread.” Marijuana is legal.

While long considered a cult novel, “Ecotopia” gained recognition for addressing issues that have since come to the fore as the environmental movement has grown.

“People may look at it and say, ‘These are familiar ideas,’ ” Scott Slovic, a professor of environmental literature at the University of Nevada, Reno, told The New York Times in 2008, “not even quite realizing that Callenbach launched much of our thinking about these things.”

“We’ve absorbed it,” he added, “through osmosis.”

The book, Mr. Callenbach told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 1989, “does seem to offer at least some people a sense of hope that we can work through the messes we have gotten our society into and actually arrive at some kind of decent way to inhabit our precious little planet.”

That hope was instilled in him while growing up in rural Boalsburg, Pa., where his father, a professor of poultry science at Penn State, raised chickens. Ernest William Callenbach — known since he was a baby as Chick — was born on April 3, 1929, one of three sons of Margaret and Ernest Callenbach Sr. The rural lifestyle, he told The Chicago Tribune in 1990, meant that “everything was recycled because no one was there to carry it away.”

The environment was not his first interest. Mr. Callenbach majored in English at the University of Chicago, receiving a bachelor’s degree there in 1949 and a master’s in 1953. Two years later, after studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and often watching four movies a day, he was hired as an assistant editor for the University of California Press.

He founded Film Quarterly in 1958 and edited it for 33 years. He also edited books on film for the university. He began focusing on ecological concerns in the early 1970s. In addition to “Ecotopia,” he wrote several books on protecting the environment, including “Living Cheaply With Style” (1977).

He practiced what he preached, his wife said. He grew organic fruits and vegetables in his backyard, which he had landscaped with drought-tolerant plants to conserve water, and he installed a device called a Kill-a-Watt in his home to monitor power usage.

Besides Ms. Leefeldt, whom he married in 1978, Mr. Callenbach is survived by a son, Hans; a daughter, Joanna Callenbach; two brothers, Tony and Tim; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Callenbach often took his message to the classroom. On a visit to La Jolla High School in San Diego in 1989, students told him that they wanted to live in a society like the one he had imagined, The Union-Tribune reported. They could, he replied, if they and others of their generation were committed to it. “If you don’t save us, nobody will,” he said.

    Ernest Callenbach, Author of ‘Ecotopia,’ Dies at 83, NYT, 27.4.2012,






Fees and Anger Rise in California Water War


April 23, 2012
The New York Times


SAN DIEGO — There are accusations of conspiracies, illegal secret meetings and double-dealing. Embarrassing documents and e-mails have been posted on an official Web site emblazoned with the words “Fact vs. Fiction.” Animosities have grown so deep that the players have resorted to exchanging lengthy, caustic letters, packed with charges of lying and distortion.

And it is all about water.

Water is a perennial source of conflict and anxiety throughout the arid West, but it has a particular resonance here in the deserts of Southern California. This is a place where major thoroughfares are named after water engineers (Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles) and literary essays (“Holy Water” by Joan Didion, for instance) and films (“Chinatown”) have been devoted to its power and mystique.

Yet in the nearly 80 years since the Arizona National Guard was called out to defend state waters against dam-building Californians, there has been little to rival the feud now under way between San Diego’s water agency and the consortium of municipalities that provides water to 19 million customers in Southern California. This contentious and convoluted battle seems more akin to a tough political campaign than a fight between bureaucrats, albeit one with costly consequences.

At issue is San Diego’s longstanding contention that it has been bullied by a gang of its neighbors in the consortium, able by virtue of their number to force the county to pay exorbitant fees for water. The consortium two weeks ago imposed two back-to-back 5 percent annual water rate increases on San Diego — scaled down, after strong protests, from what were originally set to be back-to-back increases of 7.5 percent a year.

The battle is being fought in the courts — a judge in San Francisco is struggling to untangle a welter of conflicting claims from the two sides — but also on the Internet. San Diego officials have created a sleek Web site to carry their argument to the public, posting 500 pages of documents they obtained through public records requests to discredit the other side.

And they might have struck oil, as it were, unearthing documents and e-mails replete with references to the “anti-San Diego coalition” and “a Secret Society,” and no matter that the purported conspirators contend that they were just being jocular.

“There is a lot of frustration,” said Jerry Sanders, the mayor of San Diego, who has watched from the sidelines as the independent San Diego Water Authority waged its wars. “It’s been building over the years.”

Asked about the tactics, Mr. Sanders demurred. “Whether they are effective or not, I’ll leave that to other people to judge.”

If nothing else, the fight is an entertaining diversion from the kind of bland bureaucratic infighting that usually characterizes these kinds of disputes.

Dennis A. Cushman, the assistant general manager of the San Diego authority, said it posted the documents — and asked a judge to force the disclosure of a ream of other private e-mails and documents — so beleaguered water consumers “could see how the business of water in California is actually done.”

“We had suspicions about what was going on,” Mr. Cushman said. “We were shocked by the depth and scope and the level of sophistication of what was going on.”

“It’s not done in public,” he said. “It’s done out of public view. The meetings aren’t open. They are designed to expressly exclude the agency they are discriminating against.”

Jeffrey Kightlinger, the general manager of the regional water consortium, described the charges as “nonsense,” saying that the meetings that Mr. Cushman had deemed illegal did not fall under the state’s open meetings laws. He described the campaign against his organization — the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, also known by the acronym M.W.D. — as unlike anything he had seen.

“It sounds like a political campaign, and hiring political consultants to run it for them strikes me as a new level of activity I haven’t seen before in public service,” he said.

“It just seems to me to have a different tenor and tone than before,” he said. “The idea of bandying about secret-society issues, talking about ‘the truth about M.W.D.’ strikes me as unprofessional and does a disservice to the public.”

Kevin P. Hunt, the general manager of the water district of Orange County, said he was taken aback at the suggestion that some kind of plot was afoot. “It would be funny if it hadn’t created such a furor,” he said. “It was a bunch of guys and gals getting together to do their work. It’s all in the spin you put on it — calling it a ‘secret society’ and making it sound like a cabal. I didn’t even know what a cabal was.”

The case ultimately will be determined in a state court in San Francisco. At issue is how much the district should be charging San Diego to use the district’s pipes to transport water the county bought elsewhere. (San Diego officials have made a concerted effort to expand the sources of their water over the years — including a long-contested, substantial transfer of Colorado River water from inland farmers — so they are not as reliant on the district as they once were).

San Diego has four seats on the district’s 37-member board, and there is little incentive for other communities to entertain San Diego’s argument: When San Diego pays less, everyone else pays more.

Mr. Cushman said that the district had come to view San Diego as “its golden egg.”

Still, even supporters of San Diego’s actions suggest that all accusations may ultimately be little more than a sideshow.

“It just doesn’t feel right,” said Lani Lutar, the president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. “They are already pursuing the lawsuit. Those are ratepayer dollars being spent and all of the advertising. Is that necessary? The lawsuit is going to resolve the matter. The P.R. stunt has taken it too far.”

San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the country, and this part of California gets 10 inches of rain a year, on average. And this city is at the end of two long water transport systems.

“We’ve always had end-of-pipeline paranoia,” said Lester Snow, the executive director of the California Water Foundation and a former head of both the San Diego and state water agencies. “It is often just physical — the pipeline crosses earthquake faults and anything that happens bad anywhere can affect us.”

The long history has left San Diego with what seems to be a permanent sense of grievance. But Mr. Snow said that this represented a new level of animosity. “The current dispute has gone way beyond a rate-increase dispute,” he said.

    Fees and Anger Rise in California Water War, NYT, 23.4.2012,






Widespread Drought Is Likely to Worsen


July 19, 2012
The New York Times


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The drought that has settled over more than half of the continental United States this summer is the most widespread in more than half a century. And it is likely to grow worse.

The latest outlook released by the National Weather Service on Thursday forecasts increasingly dry conditions over much of the nation’s breadbasket, a development that could lead to higher food prices and shipping costs as well as reduced revenues in areas that count on summer tourism. About the only relief in sight was tropical activity in the Gulf of Mexico and the Southeast that could bring rain to parts of the South.

The unsettling prospects come at a time of growing uncertainty for the country’s economy. With evidence mounting of a slowdown in the economic recovery, this new blow from the weather is particularly ill-timed.

Already some farmers are watching their cash crops burn to the point of no return. Others have been cutting their corn early to use for feed, a much less profitable venture.

“It really is a crisis. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this in my lifetime,” Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois said after touring ravaged farms in the southern part of the state.

The government has declared one-third of the nation’s counties — 1,297 of them across 29 states — federal disaster areas as a result of the drought, which will allow farmers to apply for low-interest loans to get them through the disappointing growing season.

“It’s got the potential to be the worst drought we’ve ever had in Arkansas,” said Butch Calhoun, the state’s secretary of agriculture. “It’s going to be very detrimental to our economy.”

What is particularly striking about this dry spell is its breadth. Fifty-five percent of the continental United States — from California to Arkansas, Texas to North Dakota — is under moderate to extreme drought, according to the government, the largest such area since December 1956. An analysis released on Thursday by the United States Drought Monitor showed that 88 percent of corn and 87 percent of soybean crops in the country were in drought-stricken regions, a 10 percent jump from a week before. Corn and soybean prices reached record highs on Thursday, with corn closing just over $8.07 a bushel and soybeans trading as high as $17.49.

As of Sunday, more than half of the corn in seven states was in poor or very poor condition, according to the Department of Agriculture. In Kentucky, Missouri and Indiana, that figure is above 70 percent. Over all, only 31 percent of the nation’s corn is in good to excellent condition, compared with 66 percent at the same time last year.

“We’re expecting significant reductions in production potential yield, potential for corn and soybeans in particular,” said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist with the Department of Agriculture.

The withering corn has increased feed prices and depleted available feeding land, putting stress on cattle farmers. A record 54 percent of pasture and rangeland — where cattle feed or where hay is harvested for feeding — was in poor or very poor condition, according to the Department of Agriculture. Many farmers have been forced to sell their animals.

Because feed can account for nearly half of a cattle farmer’s costs, consumers could see a rise in the price of meat and dairy products, experts said. The high sustained heat has led the key components in milk, like fat and protein, to plummet more than usual, said Chris Galen, a spokesman for National Milk Producers Federation.

“This is due to cows eating less dry matter, and drinking more water ... which tends to thin out the resulting milk output,” he said in an e-mail. “So, if you’re a cheese maker, you need to use a little more milk to get the same volume of cheese output.”

Still, this year’s drought is not expected to be as rough on Midwestern agriculture as the one in 1988. Corn yields were 22 percent under trend that year, and this year the Department of Agriculture is projecting yields 11 percent under trend — “though that could change in August,” said Joseph W. Glauber, the department’s chief economist.

Many also believe that farmers are better situated this year to handle the impact of a drought than they were two decades ago. More than 80 percent of corn and soybeans are estimated to be insured, Mr. Glauber said.

Last year, crop insurers paid a record $11 billion in indemnity payments, and that “should serve as a good model for what farmers can expect this year,” Tom Zacharias, the president of National Crop Insurance Services, said in a news release.

But the impact of this drought has extended beyond farming. In Missouri, the torrid conditions have sparked forest fires that resemble the types of wildfires seen in the West. Already, 117 wildfires have burned in Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest, a record-setting pace. Conditions have been so dry that there was a report of hay in a barn combusting on its own.

Meanwhile, water levels are falling in town reservoirs as well as major waterways like the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Barge and towboat operators have been reducing the size of their loads because of the low water, said Ann M. McCulloch, a spokeswoman for the American Waterways Operators. This means shipping operators, who transport a variety of goods from crops to gravel, have had to take more trips, increasing transportation costs that could be passed on to consumers.

Officials in Augusta, Kan., estimate that they have 110 days worth of water that they can draw from a nearby reservoir. The primary reservoir used for their municipal water supply dropped too low last year, the result of a drought in the area that started two years ago, said Josh Shaw, the assistant to the city manager. Indianapolis has put restrictions on water use; south of the city, Johnson County banned smoking at the county fair.

In Colorado, there is concern that the drought could damage forage that deer, elk and other game feed on in the fall. But the state also has seen advantages from the drought. Lower water levels have been helpful for fly fishing, and, with fewer places for animals to drink water, they will likely gather in concentrated areas, making conditions better for hunting.

And one Indianapolis painter is making the best of the situation, according to The Indianapolis Star, by starting a new arm of his business: painting brown lawns green.


Monica Davey contributed reporting from Chicago,

Mashid Mohadjerin from Augusta, Kan., and Joanna M. Foster from New York.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 24, 2012

A picture caption on Friday with an article about the severe drought

settling over more than half of the continental United States

misstated the surname of the two men shown on a farm in El Dorado, Kan.

They are David and Arlan Stackley, not Tackley.

    Widespread Drought Is Likely to Worsen, NYT, 19.7.2012,






The Big Spill, Two Years Later


April 17, 2012
The New York Times


Friday is the second anniversary of the explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and spilled upwards of five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks partly to nature’s resilience, some progress has been made. The gulf is open to fishing, beaches are mostly clean and President Obama has resurrected an ambitious oil exploration plan that he shelved immediately after the spill.

But the healing from this extraordinary act of corporate carelessness is far from complete, and there is important work to be done to minimize the chances that such a disaster will happen again. Here are central issues that remain unresolved:

THE GULF Scientists believe that the oil has mostly evaporated, been consumed by bacteria or dispersed in deep water. Yet oil has poisoned Louisiana’s salt marshes and wetlands, which are vital fish nurseries, and visibly damaged deep-sea coral. The toll on the gulf and its marine life may not be known for years. The herring population of Alaska’s Prince William Sound did not crash until three years after the Exxon Valdez spill.

REGULATION The spill exposed serious structural flaws in federal oversight of offshore drilling, including the cozy relationship between the oil industry and its regulators in the Interior Department. The department has since been reorganized to eliminate conflicts of interest, and it has agreed to give environmental concerns higher priority in the planning, leasing and drilling process.

By contrast, Congress’s response to the spill has been truly pathetic. It has not passed a single bill to prevent another catastrophe, according to a report issued Tuesday by former members of a presidential commission that investigated the spill. Congress has failed even to codify the Interior Department’s sound regulatory reforms, which could be undone by a future administration.

SAFETY The administration has developed new standards for each stage of the drilling process — from rig design to spill response — insisting that operators fully prepare for worst-case scenarios. But the commissioners’ report notes that the new equipment systems have not yet been tested in deep-water conditions.

REPARATIONS BP has paid $14 billion in cleanup costs and $6.3 billion in damages to individuals and businesses, with another $7.8 billion pledged. The company is also likely to owe several billion dollars for damages to natural resources under the Oil Pollution Act, and somewhere between $5 billion and $20 billion in penalties under the Clean Water Act, depending on the level of negligence.

BP may well prefer a negotiated settlement of these damages to a long and potentially damaging trial. If so, the Justice Department should press for the best possible deal from what is still a deep-pocketed company. Congress must make sure that the bulk of this money is used not only to address particular damage from the spill but to carry out a broad program of ecosystem restoration — the wetlands and barrier islands that had been weakened well before the spill by industrialization and mismanagement of the Mississippi River and by Hurricane Katrina.

The commissioners seemed encouraged by steps the administration had taken to strengthen the regulatory machinery and improve safety standards. (Their report also includes a strong note of caution about dangers of drilling in the Arctic, where harsh conditions would present even more difficult challenges in the event of a spill.) What disturbed them was the appalling refusal of this bitterly partisan, antiregulatory Congress to join the effort.

    The Big Spill, Two Years Later, NYT, 17.4.2012,






Surviving a Deadly Twister, Twice in 65 Years


April 16, 2012
The New York Times


WOODWARD, Okla. — On April 9, 1947, Wilma Lake was alone in her apartment on Oak Avenue when a tornado swept through this rural town in the dark of night. She survived — crouching beneath a table — but many of her neighbors did not.

That tornado killed at least 107 people in and around Woodward and destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in what would become the deadliest twister ever to strike Oklahoma.

For Ms. Lake, then a 23-year-old office assistant, life went on: she would soon become Mrs. Nelson, marrying Eldon Nelson, who was known as Bud, and raise three children at 3412 Robin Drive. In graceful cursive, the brass knocker on the front door read: The Nelsons.

Early Sunday morning, shortly after midnight, Mrs. Nelson, now 87, was home alone again, on the city’s west side, in the house on Robin Drive, when an alert came over her weather radio warning of a tornado spotted a few miles outside town.

Barefoot and in her pajamas, she stood inside a small closet in the master bedroom, trying to get her son’s dog, a tan-and-white cocker spaniel named Sugar, in with her. Sugar refused, so Mrs. Nelson shut the door.

“It was so fast,” she said. “I hadn’t been in there anytime at all until it was like a bomb went off. I guess it was the roof blowing off.”

As happened 65 years ago, Mrs. Nelson survived, uninjured, even though a piece of wallboard fell on her head. And this time, six of her neighbors died, in the deadliest of a series of tornadoes that left a trail of destruction throughout the central Plains late Saturday and early Sunday.

The tornado that struck Woodward was nowhere near as powerful as the one in the 1947. But for the handful of men and women in this city of 15,000 who survived the earlier tornado, the devastation stirred painful memories.

The great tornado remains part of the lore and history of the place — the mural on The Woodward News building has a swirling twister painted on it — but no one thought anything like that would happen again.

On Monday afternoon, Mrs. Nelson went back to her house for the first time since the tornado struck, injuring more than two dozen people and demolishing 89 homes and 13 businesses as it cut a miles-long path through the city. Oklahoma officials on Monday raised the death toll to six from five. Four of the victims were children, including a 5-year-old girl and her 7-year-old sister.

For the most part, 3412 Robin Drive exists in name only. The tornado rendered it a kind of half home: roofless, with caved-in white brick walls and shattered glass. The closet in which Mrs. Nelson took shelter now has the equivalent of a sunroof. The winds were so strong that a shard of a roof shingle pierced a plastic bottle of hand soap next to the closet and stuck there, like a dart.

Around the corner, a 10,000-square-foot store called Carpet Direct was ripped to shreds, with an upturned truck next to the wreckage.

As she surveyed the ruins of the home she shared with her late husband and the rest of her family for 47 years, Mrs. Nelson said she was not sure what it all means — surviving two of the worst nighttime tornadoes in Oklahoma history.

Mrs. Nelson, who turns 88 in July, stands 5-foot-2 and weighs 125 pounds, and her survival seemed to defy logic.

“I think the Lord must have left me here for a purpose,” she said, chuckling.

Relatives and neighbors — even the state insurance commissioner, John D. Doak — went to the house to greet Mrs. Nelson on Monday. As she sat in what remained of her living room, a friend arrived and gave her a hug.

“I’m going to make it,” Mrs. Nelson told her, tears in her eyes. “I’m a toughie. I told them at the hospital I was a tough old coot.”

Amid the destruction, the smallest things survived.

For 28 years, Mrs. Nelson kept a white bowl labeled “Grandma’s Goodies” on top of the refrigerator, with candies for her grandchildren and other children in the neighborhood. After the tornado, there it sat, without a crack in it. The front door remained intact, too, the door knocker unscarred.

Mrs. Nelson said only one thing went through her mind as the roof tore loose. “I was so worried about Sugar, and I just said, ‘Oh, God, take care of Sugar, take care of Sugar,’ ” she said.

After the tornado hit, one of her grandsons, Shane Semmel, 38, was the first relative to arrive at the house. Mrs. Nelson was in an ambulance parked outside. “She wasn’t worried about her house or anything else,” Mr. Semmel said. “She was worried about that dog.”

Mr. Semmel walked inside. Sugar was in the kitchen, covered in insulation. He knelt down and checked her.

She was fine. She had survived.

    Surviving a Deadly Twister, Twice in 65 Years, NYT, 16.4.2012,






100 Tornadoes in 24 Hours, but Plenty of Notice


April 15, 2012
The New York Times


WOODWARD, Okla. — The tornadoes were unrelenting — more than 100 in 24 hours over a stretch of the Plains states. They tossed vehicles and ripped through homes. They drove families to their basements and whipped debris across small towns throughout the Midwest. In some areas, baseball-size hail rained from the sky.

And yet, in a stroke that some officials have attributed to a more vigilant and persistent warning system, relatively few people were killed or injured.

As of late Sunday afternoon, the only five confirmed deaths from the weekend storms were all here in Woodward, a rural community about 140 miles from Oklahoma City. Local emergency management officials said on Sunday that children were among the victims and that there were 29 injured with ailments ranging from minor wounds to those requiring hospitalization.

Days ahead of the deadly winds there was an unusual warning that alerted residents across at least five states to the threat of “extremely dangerous” and “catastrophic” weather.

The predictions held, it seems. But the people listened.

“I really think people took the warnings and they took them very seriously,” Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas said Sunday. “We had more notice on this system than you normally do. You normally are looking at a couple of hours’ notice. Well, this one had almost two days’ notice.”

In southwest Iowa, a tornado battered the small town of Thurman, damaging or destroying 75 to 90 percent of its homes, the authorities said. And yet, somehow in the town of about 200, there were no serious injuries or deaths reported. “Mostly everybody was able to get to cover before it hit,” said Mike Crecelius, the emergency management director for the county.

Nearby, five tractor-trailers that had been traveling on Interstate 29 shortly before the tornado hit Thurman were overturned in the high winds. One truck driver was seriously injured and taken to a hospital with a perforated lung, Mr. Crecelius said.

Forecasters issued their first warning on Friday, predicting a tornado outbreak that had the potential of being a “high-end, life-threatening event” for a swath of the Midwest.

Officials said the enhanced language was developed because of the large number of deaths from tornadoes across the country in recent years. “This is one of the lessons learned from the various deadly outbreaks of tornadoes last year,” Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, said Sunday in a telephone interview.

One warning in Wichita, Kan., on Saturday said, “This is a life-threatening situation. You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter.”

The system will be tested for another six months before National Weather Service officials decide whether to continue or expand it.

Before the storms hit on Saturday, Mike Hudson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Kansas City, Mo., called the forecast perhaps the “first opportunity” to gauge the effect of the heightened language.

Early returns were promising, officials said.

Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department, said “the language that was being used appeared to make people pay more attention.” In 2011, 550 people nationwide, and more than 150 in Joplin, Mo., alone, were killed by tornadoes, Mr. Vaccaro said, the fourth deadliest year on record. The deadliest year was 1925, when 794 people were reported killed by tornadoes.

Weather service officials chose Kansas and Missouri to test the new language, Mr. Vaccaro said, because of the number of storms that typically develop there.

“We wanted to pick the central states because you’re in the heart of Tornado Alley,” he said.

Despite the impressive number of tornadoes, weather experts said the data did not indicate any significant increase in the number or the severity of storms in recent years.

“The occurrence of strong and violent storms has remained relatively stable over the long term,” said Bill Bunting, chief of operations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

What seems to be happening, Mr. Bunting said, is that the public has become more aware of smaller storms that once might have gone unrecorded.

“We have more people chasing and more storm spotters,” he said, adding, “I suspect that they were always occurring, but there are more people chasing them now and documenting them with cameras.” But, Mr. Bunting said, there was an “active pattern” in which large-scale conditions like stronger jet streams interacting with widespread areas of unstable air were making an environment more favorable for tornadoes to form.

The tornadoes were part of a weather system that encompassed parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa and spawned 122 confirmed tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service. Officials said that 99 twisters hit Kansas on Saturday, but as of late Sunday afternoon, no deaths had been confirmed in the state.

“God was merciful,” Governor Brownback said on CNN.

The governor said that officials were continuing to assess damages across Kansas, and he signed an emergency declaration on Sunday.

That there was not more damage, loss of life or injuries caused by this weekend’s swarm of storms was due to at least two reasons, officials said. Most of the reported tornadoes were either brief or struck largely in sparsely populated rural areas.

Perhaps the most important reason that so many people were kept out of harm’s way was the Storm Prediction Center’s unusual step of issuing a dire warning days ahead of the storm.

Matt Lehenbauer, emergency management director for both the city and county of Woodward, said that 89 homes and 13 businesses were destroyed. He said the tornado struck between 12:15 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. Sunday, on a path that was two to three miles long and a quarter of a mile to a third of a mile wide.

There were eight tornadoes in Woodward County on Saturday. And on the previous Monday — the 65th anniversary of a deadly 1947 tornado — seven tornadoes touched down.

“It has been a very active week for severe weather for us,” Mr. Lehenbauer said.

But Mr. Lehenbauer said that a series of problems affected Woodward’s 20 sirens. One was struck by lightning. Others failed to work because the tornado took out master power lines south of the city, he said.

“We do know that the ones that did work were on for two to three minutes before they shut off, from the loss of electricity,” he said.

Mr. Lehenbauer said city officials were stunned by the destruction, but grateful as well.

“Looking at the damage, we are a bit surprised we don’t have more injuries and/or fatalities, because some of the damage is very, very extensive,” he said.

Johnny McMahan, 55, managing editor of The Woodward News, the town’s six-day-a-week newspaper, said Woodward is largely an oil-and-gas town with a population close to 15,000.

In one of the heavily damaged neighborhoods on Sunday afternoon, Gov. Mary Fallin, Mayor Roscoe Hill, and other city and state officials met with residents who were cleaning debris from their homes and making repairs.

Mr. Hill walked down the middle of a street as a light rain began to fall. The five residents who died were very much on his mind. So was the long-ago tornado that had killed so many.

Asked if he had any regrets that several of the sirens failed, Mr. Hill replied, “Absolutely.”

“You don’t know if our sirens were working, maybe we could have saved one life,” he said.


Manny Fernandez reported from Woodward,

and Matt Flegenheimer from New York.

Channing Joseph contributed reporting from New York.

    100 Tornadoes in 24 Hours, but Plenty of Notice, NYT, 15.4.2012,






Violent Storms Cut Across the Central Plains


April 15, 2012
The New York Times


TULSA, Okla. — A series of powerful thunderstorms spawned dozens of reported tornadoes across parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa on Saturday and early Sunday morning, damaging homes, at least one hospital and nearly wiping out an entire small town, the authorities said.

Most of the reported tornadoes were either short-lived or struck largely rural areas, causing only minor damage, but there were a few exceptions.

Shortly after midnight Sunday morning, a large tornado hit Woodward, a city of 12,000 northeast of Oklahoma City, wrecking homes and businesses and injuring several people. “We’re hearing of what sounds to be significant damage in the area,” said Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. “We have injuries and quite a bit of damage to homes and buildings.”

In Iowa Saturday night, a possible tornado struck the Greater Regional Medical Center in Creston, a town of 7,800 about 75 miles outside Des Moines. The hospital sustained roof damage, but no injuries were reported and patients were being moved to a hospital about 30 miles away. The town’s mayor, Warren Woods, told The Weather Channel that about half the city was without power, and there were numerous trees and power lines down.

Late into the evening Saturday, there were other reports in Kansas of high winds or tornadoes damaging the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport and five homes in rural Saline County. Elsewhere in Iowa, a possible tornado battered the small community of Thurman, a town of roughly 300 about 43 miles south of Omaha, Neb.

Mike Crecelius, the emergency management director for Thurman’s Fremont County, said that 75 percent of the homes in the town were either damaged or destroyed, and that the entire community was on lockdown for safety reasons and without power. “Luckily, we have no injuries and no deaths,” Mr. Crecelius said in a telephone interview. “Mostly everybody was able to get to cover before it hit.”

On Friday, forecasters with the National Weather Service had predicted a tornado outbreak that had the potential of being a “high-end, life-threatening event,” issuing a rare high-risk warning for parts of Oklahoma and Nebraska. The warning, made more than 24 hours in advance of the storms, set the stage for a tense weekend across much of the Central Plains, as local emergency officials, residents and forecasters monitored a series of storms that appeared to gain strength on Saturday as evening approached.

Russell Schneider, the director of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said Saturday there was a “strong potential for damaging, long-track tornadoes” across large swaths of Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, including the metropolitan areas of Omaha, Wichita, and Oklahoma City.

At its most damaging, authorities were bracing for winds up to 70 miles per hour in some areas, Mr. Schneider said, with the chance of hail the size of “a golf ball, even tennis baseball, maybe even baseballs.”

The storms were expected to shift eastward on Sunday, moving toward Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri.

The high-risk warning forecast, issued by the Storm Prediction Center, came after a recent announcement from the weather service that increasingly ominous terms, like “mass devastation” or “catastrophic,” would be tested in warnings issued across areas of Kansas and Missouri.

The goal, said Mike Hudson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Kansas City, is to increase the likelihood that residents will heed the agency’s warnings during the most extreme weather events. “When we have a day like today, with a very significant risk for very significant weather, those are the days we want to be calling out the level of risk in our warnings,” he said. “This will be the first opportunity.”


Manny Fernandez reported from Tulsa, Okla., and Matt Flegenheimer from New York.

    Violent Storms Cut Across the Central Plains, NYT, 15.4.2012,






Rising Sea Levels Seen as Threat to Coastal U.S.


March 13, 2012
The New York Times


About 3.7 million Americans live within a few feet of high tide and risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades because of the sea level rise caused by global warming, according to new research.

If the pace of the rise accelerates as much as expected, researchers found, coastal flooding at levels that were once exceedingly rare could become an every-few-years occurrence by the middle of this century.

By far the most vulnerable state is Florida, the new analysis found, with roughly half of the nation’s at-risk population living near the coast on the porous, low-lying limestone shelf that constitutes much of that state. But Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey are also particularly vulnerable, researchers found, and virtually the entire American coastline is at some degree of risk.

“Sea level rise is like an invisible tsunami, building force while we do almost nothing,” said Benjamin H. Strauss, an author, with other scientists, of two new papers outlining the research. “We have a closing window of time to prevent the worst by preparing for higher seas.”

The project on sea level rise led by Dr. Strauss for the nonprofit organization Climate Central appears to be the most elaborate effort in decades to estimate the proportion of the national population at risk from the rising sea. The papers are scheduled for publication on Wednesday by the journal Environmental Research Letters. The work is based on the 2010 census and on improved estimates, compiled by federal agencies, of the land elevation near coastlines and of tidal levels throughout the country.

Climate Central, of Princeton, N.J., was started in 2008 with foundation money to conduct original climate research and also to inform the public about the work of other scientists. For the sea level project, financed entirely by foundations, the group is using the Internet to publish an extensive package of material that goes beyond the scientific papers, specifying risks by community. People can search by ZIP code to get some idea of their own exposure.

While some coastal governments have previously assessed their risk, most have not, and national-level analyses have also been rare. The new package of material may therefore give some communities and some citizens their first solid sense of the threat.

Dr. Strauss said he hoped this would spur fresh efforts to prepare for the ocean’s rise, and help make the public more aware of the risks society is running by pumping greenhouse gases into the air. Scientists say those gases are causing the planet to warm and its land ice to melt into the sea. The sea itself is absorbing most of the extra heat, which causes the water to expand and thus contributes to the rise.

The ocean has been rising slowly and relentlessly since the late 19th century, one of the hallmark indicators that the climate of the earth is changing. The average global rise has been about eight inches since 1880, but the local rise has been higher in some places where the land is also sinking, as in Louisiana and the Chesapeake Bay region.

The rise appears to have accelerated lately, to a rate of about a foot per century, and many scientists expect a further acceleration as the warming of the planet continues. One estimate that communities are starting to use for planning purposes suggests the ocean could rise a foot over the next 40 years, though that calculation is not universally accepted among climate scientists.

The handful of climate researchers who question the scientific consensus about global warming do not deny that the ocean is rising. But they often assert that the rise is a result of natural climate variability, they dispute that the pace is likely to accelerate, and they say that society will be able to adjust to a continuing slow rise.

Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington research group, said that “as a society, we could waste a fair amount of money on preparing for sea level rise if we put our faith in models that have no forecasting ability.”

Experts say a few inches of sea level rise can translate to a large incursion by the ocean onto shallow coastlines. Sea level rise has already cost governments and private landowners billions of dollars as they have pumped sand onto eroding beaches and repaired the damage from storm surges.

Insurance companies got out of the business of writing flood insurance decades ago, so much of the risk from sea level rise is expected to fall on the financially troubled National Flood Insurance Program, set up by Congress, or on state insurance pools. Federal taxpayers also heavily subsidize coastal development when the government pays to rebuild infrastructure destroyed in storm surges and picks up much of the bill for private losses not covered by insurance.

For decades, coastal scientists have argued that these policies are foolhardy, and that the nation must begin planning an orderly retreat from large portions of its coasts, but few politicians have been willing to embrace that message or to warn the public of the rising risks.

Organizations like Mr. Ebell’s, even as they express skepticism about climate science, have sided with the coastal researchers on one issue. They argue that Congress should stop subsidizing coastal development, regarding it as a waste of taxpayers’ money regardless of what the ocean might do in the future.

“If people want to build an expensive beach house on the Florida or Carolina coast, they should take their own risk and pay for their own insurance,” Mr. Ebell said.

The new research calculates the size of the population living within one meter, or 3.3 feet, of the mean high tide level, as estimated in a new tidal data set from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the lower 48 states, that zone contains 3.7 million people today, the papers estimate, a figure exceeding 1 percent of the nation’s population.

Under current coastal policies, the population and the value of property at risk in that zone are expected to continue rising.

The land below the 3.3-foot line is expected to be permanently inundated someday, possibly as early as 2100, except in places where extensive fortifications are built to hold back the sea. One of the new papers calculates that long before inundation occurs, life will become more difficult in the low-lying zone because the rising sea will make big storm surges more likely.

Only in a handful of places have modest steps been taken to prepare. New York City is one: Pumps at some sewage stations have been raised to higher elevations, and the city government has undertaken extensive planning. But the city — including substantial sections of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island — remains vulnerable, as do large parts of Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.

    Rising Sea Levels Seen as Threat to Coastal U.S., NYT, 13.3.2012,






Towns Search for Survivors After Widespread Storms


March 3, 2012
The New York Times


MARYSVILLE, Ind. — Here in this small farmland community, a single water tower emblazoned with the town’s name — the most commanding structure in the town — appeared to be the only thing not battered by the storms that cut a swath through southeastern Indiana.

Of the two dozen or so houses that once stood here, only a handful remained upright. Some were reduced to debris — piles of wood and possessions. Others were virtually erased.

On Saturday, the drone of chainsaws and diesel trucks filled the afternoon air, replacing the whistling of the tornado and the clamor of warning sirens that preceded it just the day before.

“There used to be a house there, and another one there,” said Jeremy Fraim, 28, pointing at large open lots next to what was left of his own house.

Mr. Fraim was at work when the storm passed through, and he arrived home Friday evening to find his one-story house torn apart.

“Just gone,” he said. “Everything gone. From the road, it looked like one brick wall was standing.”

He recruited some friends and relatives to help him pack up what was worth keeping, but there was not much.

“My truck is sitting in the backyard, and it’s a ball of steel,” he said.

“I’ve lost everything,” he added. “Everything that I’ve worked hard for I’ve lost.”

Residents across the South and the Midwest searched for survivors and sorted through storm-damaged remains on Saturday after a string of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms churned through on Friday, leaving at least 35 people dead, hundreds injured and a trail of damage from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes.

The storm systems were so wide that an estimated 34 million people were at risk from severe weather, said Mike Hudson of the National Weather Service’s regional office in Kansas City, Mo. The path of the storms made it hard to assess the full extent of the damage. At one point, they were coming so fast that as many as four million people were within 25 miles of a tornado.

At Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, operations were halted for an hour after debris littered the runways, a spokeswoman said. A trampoline was found in a tree in Cleveland, Tenn.

In Kentucky, where at least 17 people were killed and 200 injured, the National Guard was called out on Saturday to help search for missing people.

Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky spent Saturday touring the towns that were most devastated. West Liberty, in eastern Kentucky, sustained some of the worst damage, he said.

“The whole downtown is gone,” Mr. Beshear said in a telephone interview. “It looks like a bomb was dropped right in the middle of the town. Every building is destroyed or on the verge of collapsing.

“It’s been a tough time for us here in Kentucky,” he added.

Mr. Beshear said that the state would do what it could to help the towns rebuild.

“People are understandably devastated by this,” he said. “The initial reaction is one of disbelief. This kind of force happens in a matter of minutes, and it changes the lives of the people that get hit by this. But already people are bouncing back.”

Although 17 states were under some kind of weather threat on Friday, the heart of the first wave of storms struck southern Indiana, northern Alabama and sections of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Indiana officials said Saturday that the death toll here had risen to at least 14. Worst hit were the towns of Marysville, New Pekin and Henryville, where Gov. Mitch Daniels surveyed on damage Saturday morning.

In Henryville, the tornado tore off roofs, flattened homes and overturned vehicles. An empty school bus was thrown into a building across the street from the high school.

Rachael Dixon, 17, a junior, was just leaving the school when she heard the tornado sirens. She drove home, picked up her two dogs and her stepfather, and went to her grandmother’s basement.

“We were just waiting and waiting,” she said. “We finally heard all the wind whistle. It sounded like the wind was just destroying everything behind our house.”

Moments later, in an apparent window of calm, Rachael ventured upstairs to call her mother, who was at work in a nearby town, when hail the size of tennis balls started, shattering the windows in the bedroom and living room as she ran back to the basement. “It was like one of those horror films,” she said.

Down the street from the school, Scott Guillion, 39, sifted through the rubble of his home. He was inside with his wife and 4-year-old son when the sirens began, and drove his family to a church down the road as the tornado swept toward them.

“It was wide,” Mr. Guillion said, “and dark.”

The Associated Press reported that in New Pekin, searchers found a baby girl alone in a field. The unidentified child was taken to a hospital in Louisville, Ky., 24 miles away, where she was reported to be in critical condition.

Over all, the National Weather Service issued 255 tornado warnings on Friday. It received 94 reports of tornadoes, 208 reports of strong winds and 410 reports of hail. The office in Nashville reported that hail nearly 3 inches in diameter broke the windows of a house in Lebanon, Tenn.

Mr. Hudson, from the National Weather Service, described the storms’ cause as a “clash of the air masses” between cool systems in Canada and warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico. “It’s that battle zone in between where all the severe weather developed,” he said.

Harold Brooks, a research meteorologist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla., part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicted that Friday would be perhaps one of the top five days for bad weather this year.

Sgt. Jerry Goodin of the Indiana State Police recalled assisting in rescue efforts in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Obviously it’s not as widespread, but in the areas that are hit, the devastation is as bad, if not worse than what we had down there,” he said.

Along hundreds of miles of roads in Clark, Scott and Washington Counties, he said, homes left standing were few and far between. “There’s nothing there,” he said. “Just open spaces.”

When the tornado passed through Marysville, Dale Fulkerson’s house was lifted off its cinder blocks and shoved to the side. It sat there on Saturday, intact, but slouching. Its front stoop was still in place, but now led to a hole.

Mr. Fulkerson , 45, said he planned to demolish the house, which had been passed down for three generations.

“It’s a piece of you,” he said. “It’s like you’re losing a piece of family.”


Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Matt Flegenheimer contributed reporting from New York.

    Towns Search for Survivors After Widespread Storms, NYT, 3.3.2012,






Powerful Storms Cause Damage Across Several States


March 2, 2012
The New York Times


ATHENS, Ala. (AP) — Powerful storms stretching from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes flattened buildings in several states, wrecked a small Indiana town and bred anxiety across a wide swath of the country in the second powerful tornado outbreak this week.

Widespread damage was reported in southern Indiana, where Clark County Sheriff's Department Maj. Chuck Adams said the town of Marysville is "completely gone." Dozens of houses were also damaged in Alabama and Tennessee two days after storms killed 13 people in the Midwest and South.

No fatalities had been reported in the latest round of storms that were expected to threaten tornadoes late into Friday.

Thousands of schoolchildren in several states were sent home as a precaution, and several Kentucky universities were closed. The Huntsville, Ala., mayor said students in area schools sheltered in hallways as severe weather passed in the morning.

At least 20 homes were badly damaged in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area after strong winds and hail lashed the area. To the east in Cleveland, Blaine Lawson and his wife Billie were watching the weather when the power went out and winds ripped the roof off their home. Neither were hurt.

"It just hit all at once," the 76-year-old Blaine Lawson said. "Didn't have no warning really. The roof, insulation and everything started coming down on us. It just happened so fast that I didn't know what to do. I was going to head to the closet but there was just no way. It just got us."

In the Huntsville area, five people were taken to hospitals, and several houses were leveled by what authorities believed were tornadoes Friday morning. The extent of the people's injuries wasn't immediately known, and emergency crews were continuing to survey damage.

"Most of the children were in schools so they were in the hallways so it worked out very well," said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

An apparent tornado also damaged a state maximum security prison about 10 miles from Huntsville, but none of the facility's approximately 2,100 inmates escaped. Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said there were no reports of injuries, but the roof was damaged on two large prison dormitories that each hold about 250 men. Part of the perimeter fence was knocked down, but the prison was secure.

"It was reported you could see the sky through the roof of one of them," Corbett said.

Authorities are confident that storms that hit Limestone and Madison counties were tornadoes, but it will be up to the National Weather Service to confirm the twisters, said Alabama State Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Yasamie August.

"We're still getting reports of damage pretty much as we speak," she said at midday.

For residents and emergency officials across the state, tornado precautions and cleanup are part of a sadly familiar routine. A tornado outbreak last April killed about 250 people around the state, with the worst damage in Tuscaloosa to the south.

Forecasters warned of severe thunderstorms with the threat of tornadoes crossing a region from southern Ohio through much of Kentucky and Tennessee. By early Friday afternoon, tornado watches covered parts of those states along with Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

In Norman, Okla., forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center said they were bracing for what could be a potent tornado outbreak.

"Maybe five times a year we issue what is kind of the highest risk level for us at the Storm Prediction Center," forecaster Corey Mead said. "This is one of those days."

Mead said a powerful storm system was interacting with humid, unstable air that was streaming north from the Gulf of Mexico.

"The environment just becomes more unstable and provides the fuel for the thunderstorms," Mead said.

Schools sent students home early or cancelled classes entirely in states including Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and Indiana. In Alabama alone, more than 20 school systems dismissed classes early Friday. The University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and several other colleges in the state also canceled classes.

In Alabama, at least 10 homes were damaged in a subdivision in Athens. Homeowner Bill Adams watched as two men ripped shingles off the roof of a house he rents out, and he fretted about predictions that more storms would pass through.

"Hopefully they can at least get a tarp on it before it starts again," he said.

Not far away, the damage was much worse for retired high school band director Stanley Nelson. Winds peeled off his garage door and about a third of his roof, making rafters and boxes in his attic visible from the street.

"It's like it just exploded," he said.


Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jim Suhr in Harrisburg, Ill.,

and Jeff Martin in Atlanta, Associated Press videojournalist Robert Ray

in Cleveland, Tenn., and AP Radio's Shelly Adler in Washington.

    Powerful Storms Cause Damage Across Several States, NYT, 2.3.2012,






Illinois Town All Too Versed in Taking a Hit


March 1, 2012
The New York Times


HARRISBURG, Ill. — Even before a tornado tore through this small southern Illinois city, leaving residents cowering inside closets as ceilings tore away, huddling under mattresses showered with glass and metal and wood, hiding inside bathtubs that had somehow lost their bathrooms, Harrisburg had seen trouble.

Just last spring, flooding was bad enough to warrant a disaster declaration in this region. Three years earlier, a different flood caused $20 million in damage to the city, not to mention what residents recalled as several feet of water sloshing inside the local grocery.

Then there was the ice storm that downed tree limbs all over this part of the state in 2009; a tornado that damaged hundreds of homes here in the 1980s; the flood of 1937 when Harrisburg was, in the words of the city’s official Web site, nearly wiped off the map; and, as is common in this part of Illinois, an economic struggle lasting decades to hold onto jobs and young people in a coal-mining town that once had many more residents.

“We’ve taken our share of blows,” said Bill Ghent, an insurance agent who stood on Thursday staring at his own battered house in a neighborhood of houses battered by a system of violent tornadoes that swept through the Midwest and South this week leaving at least 13 dead, 6 of them just blocks from Mr. Ghent’s house. “The truth is, we’re used to taking cover by now, one way or another.”

In a city of 9,017, as the names of the dead from the latest storm began to trickle out, there was a special toll — most everyone knew at least a few of them. Among those killed: a married couple who had survived health problems, friends said, only to perish in the storm; Jaylynn Ferrell, 22, a nurse who taught Sunday school to toddlers; Mary Osman, 75, a widow who had once worked as a hatmaker.

But if residents in this region of Illinois have had to take hit after hit, they also have had to rebuild, over and over.

So, with whining seemingly not an option here, homeowners were by Thursday carting out tree limbs, combing through rubble for necessities and matter-of-factly snapping photographs for insurance adjusters, as city officials pledged that Harrisburg would, of course, soldier on again.

“Nothing fazes these people,” said Rhonda Belford of the state treasurer’s office, who was handing out information in Harrisburg about a disaster recovery loan program — a program that she said the place already was acquainted with, thanks in part to last year’s flooding.

“There is a real tradition of rising to the occasion in southern Illinois,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in an interview, ticking down his own surprisingly long list of disasters that have brought him to the region in just the last three years. (There was the ice storm, he said, “a siege where they lost power for eight days, and then there was a horizontal hurricane.”)

Harrisburg is hundreds of miles from Chicago, and it feels, some residents here happily say, like a world away, with an atmosphere more Southern than Northern. A city since 1889, Harrisburg boomed as a coal mining town. In 1930, its population was 15,659, but the numbers have since faded, as mining slowed and small towns all around grew smaller.

In recent years, mining has picked up again in the area, residents here said, and there are signs of economic growth. Harrisburg, a county seat, draws shoppers from smaller towns nearby, and some of the houses among those destroyed in the tornado were part of a well-to-do neighborhood near a country club.

Still, the median household income in Harrisburg is $33,278, more than $20,000 less than in the state as a whole, and a larger percentage of people are living below the poverty level.

“The economy is so bad,” said Bill Horning, 76, who is retired from the local bank. “Yes, there is mining, but not that much, and there’s just no other industry in any way, shape or form.” Residents complained of an aging, vanishing population and a younger generation with few choices but the mines, the military or fast food restaurants.

“It’s not easy to be 19 around here,” said Eli Rodgers, who had huddled in a closet with his fiancée and her family before dawn on Wednesday as much of their house blew away when the storm hit. “It took me six months to get a job,” he said, at the local Walmart, but he added that he hopes to get a spot in the mines.

As the sounds of repairs — whirring saws, a buzzing power generator, endless lines of rumbling supply trucks — filled the air here on Thursday, some residents speculated about why so many natural disasters touch the region.

Sure, they said, everyplace has its own set of storms to remember, but this seemed like an awful lot. Some guessed that farm fields outside towns might allow tornadoes to build strength. Others said the fallout from the Ohio River, with nearby streams that feed it, was always destined to be a problem for Harrisburg.

“They built this town in a swamp, and you can write that,” said Doyle Hedger, 83.

But in the parts of the city most damaged by the storm, few people were asking such questions. They were more worried about finding their wallets, their medications, their photographs, and then just getting on with things.

“What people don’t understand is you just make it out, just make it done,” Mr. Ghent said, glancing out at a sloping hill covered in trash, boards and insulation. “We’ll be mowing grass here in a few months.”

Ashley Plumlee, whose daughters, 5 and 6, had crouched beneath a mattress through this storm in their Barbie bicycle helmets — now kept at the ready, she said, for such occurrences — seemed less certain. Last year, a peculiar wind storm had swept through their yard, Ms. Plumlee said, destroying the family’s swing set.

On Thursday, a new swing set was a pile of crumpled metal, lifted up and dumped not far from a next-door neighbor’s trailer, which had blown away.

“Last year we got by fine, and this year we barely got by,” she said, searching through the items that filled her yard. “I don’t know if next year I want to risk it. Maybe we need a basement.”


Emma G. Fitzsimmons contributed reporting from New York.

    Illinois Town All Too Versed in Taking a Hit, NT, 1.3.2012,






Storms Cross the Midwest and South, Crushing Towns


February 29, 2012
The New York Times


HARRISBURG, Ill. — A powerful storm system tore through parts of the Midwest and South on Wednesday, killing at least 12 people, leaving pockets of devastation across several states and marking the acceleration of another deadly tornado season.

Tornadoes and powerful winds tore off roofs, downed power lines, tossed mobile homes and injured more than 150 people from Kansas to Kentucky, according to the National Weather Service.

The damage appeared to be most significant in Harrisburg, a small city in southern Illinois, where six people were killed in the storm and about 100 more injured, according to Lt. Tracy Felty of the Saline County Sheriff’s Office. Blocks of houses and businesses were reduced to rubble.

Trees and power lines were tangled along the streets. Puffs of building insulation floated in the air here.

“I don’t know how I could still be here with us,” said Charles Turner, 71, whose trailer collapsed on top of him. “After the sirens went off, there was a cracking sound, then everything lit up pretty as could be and my place just exploded around me. Everything went black, and I thought that was it, I was done.”

Firefighters pulled Mr. Turner from what was left of his home: the side of a bedroom stuck 20 feet up in a tree, walls gone, and old photos, Christmas decorations and a grandchild’s handwritten story strewn all around. He was treated at a local hospital and released, and he was packing up what items he could find before going to stay with relatives.

“Everything in the path was completely wiped out, just destroyed,” said Nick Sumner, who ran for cover after waking to tornado sirens.

“It’s indescribable,” he added. “It’s surreal. Nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s something you’d see on a movie. Complete devastation.”

The intense late winter storm system, which resulted from cold air from the Rocky Mountains mixing with warm air from the Gulf of Mexico, also killed at least three people in southern Missouri, according to state officials. Moving east Wednesday night, storms tore roofs from buildings and flattened trees in eastern Tennessee, leaving at least three people dead.

The sound of warning sirens and the sight of devastation provided unnerving reminders of the fierce unpredictability of the skies in this part of the country. Last year, 550 people were killed by tornadoes, making it the deadliest season in 75 years, according to the National Weather Service. The worst of those storms leveled much of Joplin, Mo., just east of several of the communities where people were digging out on Wednesday.

In one of them, Buffalo, Mo., a trailer park suffered a direct hit just after midnight. The dozen homes were scattered and splintered, many with their startled residents still inside. One person was killed and another 13 were injured, some seriously. One of the trailers caught fire during the rescue operation.

“It looks more like a war zone than a tornado path,” said Lt. Dana Egan of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, who described the scene.

Two deaths were reported elsewhere in Missouri, in Cassville and in Puxico, where Judy Richard, 59, the owner of a local grocery store, said that her cousin’s house, about seven miles away, was destroyed. “Their house looks like a bunch of matchsticks out there,” she said.

Branson, Mo., a popular tourist draw known for its country-themed shows, also was hit by a tornado, rated an EF2, which damaged the waterfront area, hotels and some of the city’s signature music venues as it moved up the main drag through the heart of the tourism district.

The Skaggs Regional Medical Center in Branson reported that 37 people were treated for injuries starting at 2 a.m. The storm system hit first in Harveyville, Kan., where a tornado carved a narrow path through the community on Tuesday night, hospitalizing six people, destroying about a dozen homes and erasing the familiar outline of the Harveyville United Methodist Church, said the Rev. Dennis Irwin.

“My wife looked up, and the church wasn’t there,” Mr. Irwin said. “It was almost surreal. You’re expecting to see this beautiful white church, and it’s a pile of rubble. It didn’t look real. I kept thinking this didn’t really happen, but I’m starting to realize that it is real.”

Already this year there have more tornadoes than usual, according to the National Weather Service. Two people were killed in Alabama in January. And while meteorologists said that it was impossible to predict whether this would continue to be a bad year for tornadoes, the season typically peaks in the coming months.

Another storm system is expected to return severe weather to the area this Friday. “We’re probably going to see these events increase in frequency as we go into March and April,” said Greg Carbin, a warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.


Monica Davey reported from Harrisburg, and A. G. Sulzberger from Kansas City,

Mo. Steven Yaccino contributed reporting from Chicago,

and Emma Fitzsimmons from New York.

    Storms Cross the Midwest and South, Crushing Towns, NYT, 29.2.2012,






Leak Offers Glimpse of Campaign Against Climate Science


February 15, 2012
The New York Times


Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars.

The documents, from a nonprofit organization in Chicago called the Heartland Institute, outline plans to promote a curriculum that would cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet. “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” one document said.

While the documents offer a rare glimpse of the internal thinking motivating the campaign against climate science, defenders of science education were preparing for battle even before the leak. Efforts to undermine climate-science instruction are beginning to spread across the country, they said, and they fear a long fight similar to that over the teaching of evolution in public schools.

In a statement, the Heartland Institute acknowledged that some of its internal documents had been stolen. But it said its president had not had time to read the versions being circulated on the Internet on Tuesday and Wednesday and was therefore not in a position to say whether they had been altered.

Heartland did declare one two-page document to be a forgery, although its tone and content closely matched that of other documents that the group did not dispute. In an apparent confirmation that much of the material, more than 100 pages, was authentic, the group apologized to donors whose names became public as a result of the leak.

The documents included many details of the group’s operations, including salaries, recent personnel actions and fund-raising plans and setbacks. They were sent by e-mail to leading climate activists this week by someone using the name “Heartland insider” and were quickly reposted to many climate-related Web sites.

Heartland said the documents were not from an insider but were obtained by a caller pretending to be a board member of the group who was switching to a new e-mail address. “We intend to find this person and see him or her put in prison for these crimes,” the organization said.

Although best-known nationally for its attacks on climate science, Heartland styles itself as a libertarian organization with interests in a wide range of public-policy issues. The documents say that it expects to raise $7.7 million this year.

The documents raise questions about whether the group has undertaken partisan political activities, a potential violation of federal tax law governing nonprofit groups. For instance, the documents outline “Operation Angry Badger,” a plan to spend $612,000 to influence the outcome of recall elections and related fights this year in Wisconsin over the role of public-sector unions.

Tax lawyers said Wednesday that tax-exempt groups were allowed to undertake some types of lobbying and political education, but that because they are subsidized by taxpayers, they are prohibited from direct involvement in political campaigns.

The documents also show that the group has received money from some of the nation’s largest corporations, including several that have long favored action to combat climate change.

The documents typically say that those donations were earmarked for projects unrelated to climate change, like publishing right-leaning newsletters on drug and technology policy. Nonetheless, several of the companies hastened on Wednesday to disassociate themselves from the organization’s climate stance.

“We absolutely do not endorse or support their views on the environment or climate change,” said Sarah Alspach, a spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline, a multinational drug company shown in the documents as contributing $50,000 in the past two years to support a medical newsletter.

A spokesman for Microsoft, another listed donor, said that the company believes that “climate change is a serious issue that demands immediate worldwide action.” The company is shown in the documents as having contributed $59,908 last year to a Heartland technology newsletter. But the Microsoft spokesman, Mark Murray, said the gift was not a cash contribution but rather the value of free software, which Microsoft gives to thousands of nonprofit groups.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Heartland documents was what they did not contain: evidence of contributions from the major publicly traded oil companies, long suspected by environmentalists of secretly financing efforts to undermine climate science.

But oil interests were nonetheless represented. The documents say that the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation contributed $25,000 last year and was expected to contribute $200,000 this year. Mr. Koch is one of two brothers who have been prominent supporters of libertarian causes as well as other charitable endeavors. They control Koch Industries, one of the country’s largest private companies and a major oil refiner.

The documents suggest that Heartland has spent several million dollars in the past five years in its efforts to undermine climate science, much of that coming from a person referred to repeatedly in the documents as “the Anonymous Donor.” A guessing game erupted Wednesday about who that might be.

The documents say that over four years ending in 2013, the group expects to have spent some $1.6 million on financing the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, an entity that publishes periodic reports attacking climate science and holds lavish annual conferences. (Environmental groups refer to the conferences as “Denialpalooza.”)

Heartland’s latest idea, the documents say, is a plan to create a curriculum for public schools intended to cast doubt on mainstream climate science and budgeted at $200,000 this year. The curriculum would claim, for instance, that “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy.”

It is in fact not a scientific controversy. The vast majority of climate scientists say that emissions generated by humans are changing the climate and putting the planet at long-term risk, although they are uncertain about the exact magnitude of that risk. Whether and how to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases has become a major political controversy in the United States, however.

The National Center for Science Education, a group that has had notable success in fighting for accurate teaching of evolution in the public schools, has recently added climate change to its agenda in response to pleas from teachers who say they feel pressure to water down the science.

Mark S. McCaffrey, programs and policy director for the group, which is in Oakland, Calif., said the Heartland documents revealed that “they continue to promote confusion, doubt and debate where there really is none.”


Steven Yaccino contributed reporting from Chicago.

    Leak Offers Glimpse of Campaign Against Climate Science, NYT, 15.2.2012,






Where the Colorado Runs Dry


February 14, 2012
The New York Times



MOST visitors to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon probably don’t realize that the mighty Colorado River, America’s most legendary white-water river, rarely reaches the sea.

Until 1998 the Colorado regularly flowed south along the Arizona-California border into a Mexican delta, irrigating farmlands and enriching a wealth of wildlife and flora before emptying into the Gulf of California.

But decades of population growth, climate change and damming in the American Southwest have now desiccated the river in its lowest reaches, turning a once-lush Mexican delta into a desert. The river’s demise began with the 1922 Colorado River Compact, a deal by seven western states to divide up its water. Eventually, Mexico was allotted just 10 percent of the flow.

Officials from Mexico and the United States are now talking about ways to increase the flow into the delta. With luck, someday it may reach the sea again.

It is paradoxical that the Colorado stopped running consistently through the delta at the end of the 20th century, which — according to tree-ring records — was one of the basin’s wettest centuries in 1,200 years. Now dozens of animal species are endangered; the culture of the native Cocopah (the People of the River) has been devastated; the fishing industry, once sustained by shrimp and other creatures that depend on a mixture of seawater and freshwater, has withered. In place of delta tourism, the economy of the upper Gulf of California hinges on drug smuggling operations that run opposite to the dying river.

In 2008 I tried to float the length of the 1,450-mile river to the sea but had to walk the last week of the trip. Pools stagnated in the cracked riverbed. Like the 30 million other Americans who depend on the river, I worry about drinking water — but I also worry about the sorry inheritance we are leaving future generations.

Demand for water isn’t the only problem. Climate change also threatens to reduce runoff by 10 to 30 percent by 2050, depending on how much the planet warms, according to a 2009 paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Although the river delta can’t yet be pronounced dead, its pulse is feeble and its once-vital estuaries and riverside forests are shrinking.

But a delicate beauty hangs on. Coyotes still bawl across the briny tang where a mirage-laden sky appears to pull the distant Sierra el Mayor down to sea level. The organic matter of this delta once sprawled 3,000 square miles to join Mexico and the United States in a miraculous mixture of fertility and desert; these sands have been washed out of the Rockies, carved from the Grand Canyon and tumbled through more than three million acres of river-dependent farms.

If the final reaches of this six-million-year-old delta were in the United States, they would have been declared a national park, with a protected free-flowing river. But because the river terminates in a foreign country, beyond the reach of the Endangered Species Act and most tourists’ cameras, it is suffering a slow death.

Yet even in its last gasp of fecundity, the delta is larger than the human imagination. Spring tides sweep, like heartbeats, from the upper Gulf of California and the Colorado River Delta Biosphere Reserve two dozen miles up the salt-crusted and rock-hard riverbed. From Arizona a canal runs farm wastewater about 50 miles south into the Mexican delta, creating an accidental, but now critical, bird sanctuary. Groundwater infuses verdant marshlands; newly planted trees line restored riverbanks; and an earthquake last spring destroyed farm irrigation canals, allowing the river to flow seaward again, but all too briefly.

The problems have been neglected amid attention on illegal immigration, the drug war and the debated border fence. But by the time this winter’s fogs burn off the delta, American and Mexican members of the International Boundary and Water Commission aim to complete negotiations on conserving water, responding to climate change and dedicating more water to the delta and its riverside forests instead of only to farms and distant cities.

These talks have gone on for years, but before Mexico’s election this summer, there is a rare ecological opportunity, if only political forces seize it. I hope the commissioners can transcend their differences and recall the wisdom of ancient empires, when civilizations flourished only as long as the Nile and the Euphrates and the Yangtze continued to flow. By strengthening the treaty between the United States and Mexico that governs the Colorado River, we have the opportunity to revive the river and show the world, as it is suggested in Ecclesiastes, that all rivers shall run to the sea.


Jonathan Waterman is the author of

“Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River.”

    Where the Colorado Runs Dry, NYT, 14.2.2012,






In Fuel Oil Country, Cold That Cuts to the Heart


February 3, 2012
The New York Times



With the darkening approach of another ice-hard Saturday night in western Maine, the man on the telephone was pleading for help, again. His tank was nearly dry, and he and his disabled wife needed precious heating oil to keep warm. Could Ike help out? Again?

Ike Libby, the co-owner of a small oil company called Hometown Energy, ached for his customer, Robert Hartford. He knew what winter in Maine meant, especially for a retired couple living in a wood-frame house built in the 19th century. But he also knew that the Hartfords already owed him more than $700 for two earlier deliveries.

The oil man said he was very sorry. The customer said he understood. And each was left to grapple with a matter so mundane in Maine, and so vital: the need for heat. For the rest of the weekend, Mr. Libby agonized over his decision, while Mr. Hartford warmed his house with the heat from his electric stove’s four burners.

“You get off the phone thinking, ‘Are these people going to be found frozen?’ ” Mr. Libby said. No wonder, he said, that he is prescribed medication for stress and “happy pills” for equilibrium.

Two days later, Mr. Libby told his two office workers about his decision. Diane Carlton works the front desk while her daughter-in-law, Janis, handles accounts. But they share the job of worrying about Ike, whose heart, they say, is too big for his bantam size and, maybe, this business.

The Hartford case “ate him,” Janice Carlton recalled. “It just ate him.”

Mr. Libby drove off to make deliveries in his oil truck, a rolling receptacle of crumpled coffee cups and cigarette packs. Diane Carlton, the office’s mother hen, went home early. This meant that Janis Carlton was alone when their customer, Mr. Hartford, stepped in from the cold. He had something in his hand: the title to his 16-year-old Lincoln Town Car.

Would Hometown Energy take the title as collateral for some heating oil? Please?

Maine is in the midst of its Republican presidential caucus, the state’s wintry moment in the battle for the country’s future. But at this time of year, almost nothing matters here as much as basic heat.

While federal officials try to wean the country from messy and expensive heating oil, Maine remains addicted. The housing stock is old, most communities are rural, and many residents cannot afford to switch to a cleaner heat source. So the tankers pull into, say, the Portland port, the trucks load up, and the likes of Ike Libby sidle up to house after house to fill oil tanks.

This winter has been especially austere. As part of the drive to cut spending, the Obama administration and Congress have trimmed the energy-assistance program that helps the poor — 65,000 households in Maine alone — to pay their heating bills. Eligibility is harder now, and the average amount given here is $483, down from $804 last year, all at a time when the price of oil has risen more than 40 cents in a year, to $3.71 a gallon.

As a result, Community Concepts, a community-action program serving western Maine, receives dozens of calls a day from people seeking warmth. But Dana Stevens, its director of energy and housing, says that he has distributed so much of the money reserved for emergencies that he fears running out. This means that sometimes the agency’s hot line purposely goes unanswered.

So Mainers try to make do. They warm up in idling cars, then dash inside and dive under the covers. They pour a few gallons of kerosene into their oil tank and hope it lasts. And they count on others. Maybe their pastor. Maybe the delivery man. Maybe, even, a total stranger.

Hometown Energy has five trucks and seven employees, and is run out of an old house next to the Ellis variety store and diner. Oil perfumes the place, thanks to the petroleum-stained truckers and mechanics clomping through. Janis Carlton, 35, tracks accounts in the back, while Diane Carlton, 64, works in the front, where, every now and then, she finds herself comforting walk-ins who fear the cold so much that they cry.

Their boss, Mr. Libby, 53, has rough hands and oil-stained dungarees. He has been delivering oil for most of his adult life — throwing the heavy hose over his shoulder, shoving the silver nozzle into the tank and listening for the whistle that blows when oil replaces air.

Eight years ago, he and another Dixfield local, Gene Ellis, who owns that variety store next door, created Hometown Energy, a company whose logo features a painting of a church-and-hillside scene from just down the road. They thought that with Ike’s oil sense and Gene’s business sense, they’d make money. But Mr. Libby says now that he’d sell the company in a heartbeat.

“You know what my dream is?” Mr. Libby asked. “To be a greeter at Walmart.”

This is because he sells heat — not lumber, or paper, or pastries — and around here, more than a few come too close to not having enough. Sure, some abuse the heating-assistance program, he says, but many others live in dire need, including people he has known all his life.

So Mr. Libby does what he can. Unlike many oil companies, he makes small deliveries and waves off most service fees. He sets up elaborate payment plans, hoping that obligations don’t melt away with the spring thaw. He accepts postdated checks. And he takes his medication.

When the customer named Robert Hartford called on the after-hours line that Saturday afternoon, asking for another delivery, Mr. Libby struggled to do what was right. He cannot bear the thought of people wanting for warmth, but his tendency to cut people a break is one reason Hometown Energy isn’t making much money, as his understanding partner keeps gently pointing out.

“I do have a heart,” Mr. Libby said. But he was already “on the hook” for the two earlier deliveries he had made to the couple’s home. What’s more, he didn’t know even know the Hartfords.

Robert and Wilma Hartford settled into the porous old house, just outside of Dixfield, a few months ago, in what was the latest of many moves in their 37-year marriage. Mr. Hartford was once a stonemason who traveled from the Pacific Northwest to New England, plying his trade.

Those wandering days are gone. Mr. Hartford, 68, has a bad shoulder, Mrs. Hartford, 71, needs a wheelchair, and the two survive on $1,200 a month (“Poverty,” Mrs. Hartford says). So far this year they have received $360 in heating assistance, he said, about a quarter of last year’s allocation.

Mr. Hartford said he used what extra money they had to repair broken pipes, install a cellar door, and seal various cracks with Styrofoam spray that he bought at Walmart. That wasn’t enough to block the cold, of course, and the two oil deliveries carried them only into early January.

There was no oil to burn, so the cold took up residence, beside the dog and the four cats, under the velvet painting of Jesus. The couple had no choice but to run up their electric bill. They turned on the Whirlpool stove’s burners and circulated the heat with a small fan. They ran the dryer’s hose back into the basement to keep pipes from freezing, even when there were no clothes to dry.

And, just about every day, Mr. Hartford drove to a gas station and filled up a five-gallon plastic container with $20 of kerosene. “It was the only way we had,” he said. Finally, seeing no other option, Mr. Hartford made the hard telephone call to Hometown Energy. Panic lurked behind his every word, and every word wounded the oil man on the other end.

“I had a hard time saying no,” Mr. Libby said. “But I had to say no.”

When Mr. Hartford heard that no, he also heard regret. “You could tell in his voice,” he said.

Two days later, Mr. Hartford drove up to Hometown Energy’s small office in his weathered gray Lincoln, walked inside, and made his desperate offer: The title to his car for some oil.

His offer stunned Janis Carlton, the only employee present. But she remembered that someone had offered, quietly, to donate 50 gallons of heating oil if an emergency case walked through the door. She called that person and explained the situation.

Her mother-in-law and office mate, Diane Carlton, answered without hesitation. Deliver the oil and I’ll pay for it, she said, which is one of the ways that Mainers make do in winter.

    In Fuel Oil Country, Cold That Cuts to the Heart, NYT, 3.2.2012,






A Fine for Not Using a Biofuel That Doesn’t Exist


January 9, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — When the companies that supply motor fuel close the books on 2011, they will pay about $6.8 million in penalties to the Treasury because they failed to mix a special type of biofuel into their gasoline and diesel as required by law.

But there was none to be had. Outside a handful of laboratories and workshops, the ingredient, cellulosic biofuel, does not exist.

In 2012, the oil companies expect to pay even higher penalties for failing to blend in the fuel, which is made from wood chips or the inedible parts of plants like corncobs. Refiners were required to blend 6.6 million gallons into gasoline and diesel in 2011 and face a quota of 8.65 million gallons this year.

“It belies logic,” Charles T. Drevna, the president of the National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association, said of the 2011 quota. And raising the quota for 2012 when there is no production makes even less sense, he said.

Penalizing the fuel suppliers demonstrates what happens when the federal government really, really wants something that technology is not ready to provide. In fact, while it may seem harsh that the Environmental Protection Agency is penalizing them for failing to do the impossible, the agency is being lenient by the standards of the law, the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.

The law, aimed at reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, its reliance on oil imported from hostile places and the export of dollars to pay for it, includes provisions to increase the efficiency of vehicles as well as incorporate renewable energy sources into gasoline and diesel.

It requires the use of three alternative fuels: car and truck fuel made from cellulose, diesel fuel made from biomass and fuel made from biological materials but with a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gases. Only the cellulosic fuel is commercially unavailable. As for meeting the quotas in the other categories, the refiners will not close their books until February and are not sure what will happen.

The goal set by the law for vehicle fuel from cellulose was 250 million gallons for 2011 and 500 million gallons for 2012. (These are small numbers relative to the American fuel market; the E.P.A. estimates that gasoline sales in 2012 will amount to about 135 billion gallons, and highway diesel, about 51 billion gallons.)

Even advocates of renewable fuel acknowledge that the refiners are at least partly correct in complaining about the penalties.

“From a taxpayer/consumer standpoint, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense that we would require blenders to pay fines or fees or whatever for stuff that literally isn’t available,” said Dennis V. McGinn, a retired vice admiral who serves on the American Council on Renewable Energy.

The standards for cellulosic fuel are part of an overall goal of having 36 billion gallons of biofuels incorporated annually by 2022. But substantial technical progress would be needed to meet that — and lately it has been hard to come by.

Michael J. McAdams, executive director of the Advanced Biofuels Association, said the state of the technology for turning biological material like wood chips or nonfood plants straight into hydrocarbons — instead of relying on conversion by nature over millions of years, which is how crude oil originates — was advancing but was not yet ready for commercial introduction.

Of the technologies that are being tried out, he added, “There are some that are closer to the beaker and some that are closer to the barrel.”

The Texas renewable fuels company KiOR, for example, has broken ground on a plant in Columbus, Miss., that is supposed to start turning Southern yellow pine chips into 11 million gallons a year of gasoline and diesel components in the fourth quarter of 2012, although Matthew Hargarten, a spokesman, said, “Obviously, timelines change.”

Mr. McGinn of the council on renewable energy, defends the overall energy statute. Even if the standards for 2011 and 2012 are not met, he said, “I am absolutely convinced from a national security perspective and an economic perspective that the renewable fuel standard, writ large, is the right thing to do.” With oil insecurity and climate change related to greenhouse gas emissions as worrisome as ever, advocates say, there is strong reason to press forward.

The oil industry does not agree.

Mr. Drevna of the refiners association argued that in contrast to 2007, when Congress passed the law, “all of a sudden we’re starting to find tremendous resources of our own, oil and natural gas, here in the United States, because of fracking,” referring to a drilling process that involves injecting chemicals and water into underground rock to release gas and oil.

What is more, the industry expects the 1,700-mile Keystone Pipeline, which would run from oil sands deposits in Canada to the Gulf Coast, to provide more fuel for refineries, he said.

But Cathy Milbourn, an E.P.A. spokeswoman, said that her agency still believed that the 8.65-million-gallon quota for cellulosic ethanol for 2012 was “reasonably attainable.” By setting a quota, she added, “we avoid a situation where real cellulosic biofuel production exceeds the mandated volume,” which would weaken demand.

The underlying problem is that Congress legislated changes that laboratories and factories have not succeeded in producing. This is not for want of trying, and efforts continue.

One possible early source is the energy company Poet, a large producer of ethanol from corn kernels. The company is doing early work now on a site in Emmetsburg, Iowa, that is supposed to produce up to 25 million gallons a year of fuel alcohol beginning in 2013 from corn cobs.

And Mascoma, a company partly owned by General Motors, announced last month that it would get up to $80 million from the Energy Department to help build a plant in Kinross, Mich., that is supposed to make fuel alcohol from wood waste. Valero Energy, the oil company, and the State of Michigan are also providing funds.

Yet other cellulosic fuel efforts have faltered. A year ago, after it was offered more than $150 million in government grants, Range Fuels closed a commercial factory in Soperton, Ga., where pine chips were to be turned into fuel alcohols, because it ran into technological problems.

Airlines have had marginally more success with renewable fuels, but mostly because they have been willing to pay huge sums for sample quantities. Alaska Airlines said recently it had paid $17 a gallon. Lufthansa plans to fly a Boeing 747 from Frankfurt to Dulles International Airport near Washington using 40 tons of a biofuel mix.

    A Fine for Not Using a Biofuel That Doesn’t Exist, NYT, 9.1.2012,






Police Inquiry Prompts New Speculation

on Who Leaked Climate-Change E-Mails


January 1, 2012
The New York Times


For two years, the mystery has endured: who set out to undercut climate scientists by publishing more than 1,000 of their private e-mails on the Internet?

The original e-mails, released in 2009 on the eve of a high-stakes United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, sowed doubts about the scientists’ research and integrity and galvanized skeptics who challenge the scientific consensus that global warming is under way. It set off six separate official inquiries, all of which cleared the researchers of scientific misconduct.

Then the controversy receded. Yet recently, speculation about the identity of the person who leaked the messages has surged with the release of new e-mails and signs that a police inquiry is under way in Britain.

In November, just before another major international climate conference opened, this time in Durban, South Africa, another round of e-mails between the scientists were distributed online. Like those released in 2009, they were part of a trove taken from a computer server at the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in England; as before, the e-mail hijacker alerted the public to the e-mails in comments posted on various blogs.

But November’s leaker left additional clues behind as well. Not much — an encrypted file and a note ending in what seemed to be a taunt — but enough to revive fervent speculation about what sort of person might be behind the stunt.

The note, somewhat cryptic, seemed to suggest that efforts to fight global warming siphoned money from worthy causes like fighting poverty. “Every day nearly 16,000 children die from hunger and related causes,” it said.

Then the note’s author seemed to dangle a challenge for hackers and programmers, saying that even though he was releasing 5,000 e-mails, “The rest, some 220,000, are encrypted for various reasons.”

“We are not planning to publicly release the pass phrase,” the note added coyly.

The stunt was enough to jump-start a police investigation that had long seemed dormant.

In December, citing a request from British law enforcement, the Justice Department asked that Automattic, the parent company of the blog host WordPress.com, preserve three days of digital logs for three blogs where the links to the latest e-mails first appeared. In a raid in Leeds, England, the police also confiscated laptops from the home of one blogger; he says the police have told him that he is not a suspect.

The note, the encrypted file and the fresh signs of police interest have inspired musings on both sides of the climate divide.

Kert Davies, the research director of the environmental group Greenpeace, suggested that the note was “a strong clue on the predisposition of the hacker.”

“It smells a lot like a certain quadrant of the denier community,” he said. “They pretend to be concerned that we are impeding development in poor countries. Only certain think tanks think that way and play that way” — mostly in Europe, he said.

Some have noted that in 2009, the online trickster used the initials R.C. and linked to a zip file named “FOI2009,” an apparent reference to Freedom of Information statutes in both Britain and the United States.

(Much of the criticism of climate scientists at the University of East Anglia centered on delays in responding to Freedom of Information requests, usually from climate skeptics, for access to all of their data and even their e-mails.)

This time, he signed his blog comments simply as “FOIA,” a common nickname for the leaker in online discussions of the e-mail affair.

Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington and a frequent spokesman for climate change skeptics, said the encryption of the file had challenged his thinking on FOIA’s identity.

Previously, he said, he had assumed the leaker was an employee of the University of East Anglia who had been troubled by the denial of requests for the prompt public release of scientists’ full data and e-mails under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act.

But a principled commitment to open information is not in keeping with an encrypted file, Mr. Ebell said. So he suspects a different kind of intelligence is at work.

“It is very suggestive of someone who has thought through how to cause the con men at the C.R.U. the maximum possible anxiety,” he said, referring to the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. “It is like knowing your building has a bomb in it that could be detonated at any time.”

Yet Brenden DeMelle, executive director of DeSmogBlog, a Web site devoted to debunking what it describes as misinformation campaigns by deniers of climate change, suggests that the encrypted file is merely a desperate attempt to distract people from the fact that the scientists were vindicated.

“It is sort of bait,” he said. “It raises questions on what else is out there. In the end, uncertainty is their product.”

The three blogs where comments were submitted alerting the online community to the new e-mails are all known for their critiques of the work of climate scientists.

Asked if he had any clues to the leaker’s identity, Steve McIntyre, the Canadian blogger who runs climateaudit.org, said, “I don’t know who it is and I can’t think of any reason why anyone would think I did.” He has not been contacted by any law enforcement entity, he said.

Roger Tattersall, a Web content manager at the University of Leeds who had two laptops confiscated by British police constables last month, did not shed light on the mystery, either. “I do not wish to issue a denial, because it invites the assumption that there is an accusation or suspicion,” said Mr. Tattersall, who authors a blog known as Tallbloke’s Talkshop. He added, “The police have stated that I am not a suspect.”

In an e-mail provided by Mr. Tattersall to The New York Times, his lawyer emphasized that his client would have cooperated with the police without their needing a search warrant. The Norfolk constabulary, which carried out the raids, refused to comment on the raid or any investigation.

Jeff Condon, the author of a blog called The Air Vent, said he had no idea who posted the links to the e-mails on his blog.

Yet he said he found it interesting that for the most part, the phantom posted links on blogs like his own, where many of those who commented seem conversant in technology.

“Most of my readers are college graduates, 50 percent have Ph.Ds,” he said. “This is the kind of people that the guy who dropped the links” sought to reach, he said.

Still, Mr. Condon said he did not believe that “FOIA” is a serious person. At times, he said, he has assumed that the leaker is a mischievous student.

“No adult with sensitive information would release it that way,” he said. “It’s pranklike behavior.”

Yet among scientists whose e-mails were released and whose research practices were then investigated, the signs that an investigation is afoot have revived hopes that the e-mail thief will ultimately be unmasked.

“It seems to me the authorities wouldn’t have acted without some actionable intelligence,” said Michael Mann, a scientist at Pennsylvania State University who specializes in climate modeling and whose messages came in for particular scrutiny in 2009. “They must know something that we don’t yet know.”

    Police Inquiry Prompts New Speculation on Who Leaked Climate-Change E-Mails, NYT, 1.1.2012,




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