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History > 2009 > USA > Nature, weather, climate (I)




Volunteers help place sandbags

outside the home of Jeremy Kuipers in Moorhead, Minn.,

Tuesday, March 24, 2009.


AP Photo/The Minneapolis Star Tribune, Richard Tsong-Taatarii


Boston Globe > Big Picture

Red River flooding        USA        2009
















2 Firefighters Killed

Amid Massive Calif. Wildfire


August 31, 2009
Filed at 2:27 a.m. ET
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Two Los Angeles County firefighters were killed Sunday when their vehicle rolled down a mountain side amid the intense flames of a wildfire that threatened 12,000 homes. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged those in the fire's path to get out as the blazes rained ash on cars as far away as downtown Los Angeles, spreading in all directions in dry conditions.

Firefighters fixed their attention on the blaze's fast-moving eastern side where flames lapped at the foot of the vital communications and astronomy center of Mount Wilson, and on the northwestern front, where the two firefighters were killed on Mount Gleason near the city of Acton.

''We ask for your understanding, for your patience as we move through this difficult time, and please, prayers for the families of our two brothers that we lost,'' county Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant said through tears at a Sunday night press conference.

Bryant said the men's families have been notified. He did not release their identities or give a cause for the crash, and officials at the press conference would take no questions on the deaths.

Television helicopter video on Sunday night showed an upside-down vehicle on the mountain side.

''Our hearts are heavy as we are tragically reminded of the sacrifices our firefighters and their families make daily to keep us safe,'' Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

The blaze was only about 5 percent contained and had scorched 71 square miles in the Angeles National Forest. Mandatory evacuations were in effect for neighborhoods in Glendale, Pasadena and other cities and towns north of Los Angeles. Officials said air quality in parts of the foothills bordered on hazardous.

The fire, which broke out Wednesday afternoon, was the largest of many burning around California, including a new blaze in Placer County northeast of Sacramento that destroyed 60 structures, many of them homes.

The Southern California fire was expected during the night Sunday to reach the top of Mount Wilson, where 22 television stations, many radio stations and cell phone providers have their transmitters, said U.S. Forest Service Capt. Mike Dietrich.

Firefighters were pulled from the top of the mountain after clearing brush and spraying retardant on antennas because it was too dangerous for them to remain.

''We've done all the preparation we can,'' county fire spokesman Mark Savage said.

Television stations said if the antennas burn broadcast signals will be affected but satellite and cable transmissions will not be.

Two giant telescopes and several multimillion-dollar university programs are housed in the century-old Mount Wilson Observatory. The complex of buildings is both a historic landmark and a thriving modern center for astronomy.

At least 18 homes were destroyed in the fire and firefighters expected to find many more, authorities said.

While thousands have fled, two people who tried to ride out the firestorm in a backyard hot tub were burned. The pair in Big Tujunga Canyon, on the southwestern edge of the fire, ''completely underestimated the fire'' and the hot tub provided ''no protection whatsoever,'' Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Sunday.

The pair made their way to firefighters and were airlifted out by a sheriff's rescue helicopter. They received adequate notification to evacuate from deputies but decided to stay, Whitmore said.

Whitmore described their condition as ''critical'' but fire officials said one of the two was treated and released and the other remained hospitalized in stable condition. A third person was burned Saturday in an evacuation area along Highway 2 near Mount Wilson, officials said. Details of that injury were not immediately known.

''There were people that did not listen, and there were three people that got burned and got critically injured because they did not listen,'' Schwarzenegger said at a news conference at the fire command post.

For the third straight day, humidity was very low and temperatures were expected in the high 90s. Nearly 3,000 firefighters were battling the blaze.

Mandatory evacuations were also in effect for neighborhoods in Altadena and for the communities of Acton, La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta and Big Tujunga Canyon.

There was some progress Sunday, as a small number of La Canada Flintridge residents living west of the Arroyo Seco were told they could go back to their homes.

But more evacuations were ordered in Acton in the Antelope Valley, and school districts in La Canada Flintridge and Glendale announced that classes were canceled Monday because of the fire.

Fixed-wing aircraft and a DC-10 jumbo jet were dropping water and flame retardant on the fire.

At the fire command post, Schwarzenegger praised firefighters for successfully protecting subdivisions in the foothills.

Rob Driscoll and his wife, Beth Halaas, said they lost their house in Big Tujunga Canyon. By Sunday they were desperate for more information and came to the command post to get answers.

''Our neighbors sent us photos of all the other houses that are lost,'' Halaas said, her voice breaking as her young son nestled his sunburned face in her arms. ''We've heard as many as 30 houses burned.''

At least 12 evacuation centers were set up at schools and community centers in the area.

The center at Crescenta Valley High School filled up, but by Sunday afternoon fewer than two dozen people remained. Residents trickled in to get information and snacks.

Debbie and Mercer Barrows said their house was saved but they lost their scenic view of a hillside to the flames.

''That'll grow back,'' said Mercer Barrows, a TV producer.

To the north, at least 60 structures -- many of them homes -- were destroyed in a fast-moving fire that broke out Sunday afternoon in the Sierra foothills town of Auburn northeast of Sacramento and the governor declared a state of emergency in the area.

The fire had consumed 275 acres amid high winds and was 50 percent contained Sunday night, CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

Berlant said it was not clear how many of the burned structures were homes and it was likely to remain uncertain until daylight.

About 30 people waited anxiously for news at an evacuation center in the Rock Creek Elementary School.

Pam and Stephen Incerty did not know the fate of their home on a beautiful 5-acre parcel in the rolling hills covered with trees.

Stephen Incerty wondered what the land looks like now after fire has ripped through it.

''If there's nothing there when we get back, we won't rebuild,'' he said. ''There'd be no trees, just dirt.''

In the state's coastal midsection, all evacuation orders were lifted Sunday after a 10-square-mile fire burned near the Monterey County town of Soledad. The blaze, 80 percent contained, was started by agricultural fireworks used to scare animals away from crops. The fire destroyed one home.

In Mariposa County, a nearly 7-square-mile fire burned in Yosemite National Park. The blaze was 50 percent contained Sunday, said park spokeswoman Vickie Mates. Two people sustained minor injuries, she said.

Park officials closed a campground and a portion of Highway 120, anticipating that the fire would spread north toward Tioga Road, the highest elevation route through the Sierra.

About 50 homes in the towns of El Portal and Foresta were under evacuation orders and roads in the area will remain closed through Monday, Mates said.


Williams reported from Auburn, Calif. Associated Press writers Christopher Weber and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

    2 Firefighters Killed Amid Massive Calif. Wildfire, NYT, 31.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/08/31/us/AP-US-California-Wildfires.html






Wildfire Bears Down on L.A. Suburb


August 28, 2009
The New York Times
Filed at 6:21 a.m. ET


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Wildfires chewed through tinder-dry brush up and down California on Friday, forcing hundreds to flee ritzy seaside neighborhoods, comfortable foothill suburbs and tiny farming communities.

Up to 1,500 people were ordered to evacuate from the wealthy seaside community of Rancho Palos Verdes, Fire Inspector Frederic Stowers said early Friday. He said the mandatory evacuations were ordered until 6 a.m. Friday.

Stowers said an unknown number of structures had been damaged in the blaze. The wealthy communities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula south of Los Angeles are in an area known for horse trails, spectacular Pacific Ocean views, pricey real estate and exclusive golf clubs, including the Trump National Golf Club owned by Donald Trump.

Helicopters dropped water on the 100-acre blaze, slowing its progression toward homes, but there was no containment early Friday, Stowers said.

The Terrenea Resort, a luxury hotel a couple miles from the fire, opened its door to locals who had to evacuate.

By midnight Friday, only two families took advantage of the offer but several others had called to inquire, said hotel spokeswoman Wendy Haase. The resort's usual weeknight rate is $264, but the rooms weren't fully booked so the managers decided to help out, she said.

''I talked to one mom and her child and a dog. They were pretty calm, all things considered,'' she said. ''It's pretty late so everyone's just exhausted and wanted to get some sleep.''

About 500 homes in La Canada Flintridge, a suburb just 12 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, were also evacuated late Thursday as flames made their way slowly down from the San Gabriel Mountains, said Forest Service fire spokeswoman Diane Cahir.

The fire kicked up late Thursday afternoon as the blaze scorched at least 500 acres of heavy brush in steep and narrow canyons about 12 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

Weather plagued fire crews across Southern California as temperatures in some areas rose toward triple digits and humidity levels headed downward. For a third day Friday, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for many of California's central and southern mountain ranges.

Three days of low humidity and temperatures that hit 99 before noon Thursday in downtown Los Angeles sapped the vegetation of moisture.

Another fire in the San Gabriel Mountains spread a lung-burning haze over much of metropolitan Los Angeles, and was 60 percent contained late Thursday after burning across 2,000 acres, or more than 3 square miles, said Capt. Jim Wilkins of the U.S. Forest Service.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters aided by bulldozers and a fleet of water- and fire retardant-dropping aircraft worked the fire's northeastern edge.

Wilkins said the area is so steep that ''it's almost to the point where you need ropes'' for firefighters to reach it.

The fire, believed caused by human action began Tuesday near a dam and reservoir in San Gabriel Canyon, a half-dozen miles above the city of Azusa.

Farther north in Monterey County, 100 homes were evacuated about four miles from the community of Soledad. The fire burned more than 2,000 acres of steep grasslands, or more than 3 square miles, since it started Thursday afternoon, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. James Dellamonica said. The blaze has not been contained.

To the west, in the San Bernardino National Forest in Riverside County, another fire had blackened 600 acres by Thursday evening and prompted authorities to issue a voluntary evacuation of 12 homes in the area near Hemet, said Forest Service fire spokeswoman Anabele Cornejo. She said about five people had left and that the fire was 5 percent contained.


Associated Press Writers Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and Tracie Cone in Fresno contributed to this report.

    Wildfire Bears Down on L.A. Suburb, NYT, 28.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/08/28/us/AP-US-California-Wildfires.html?hp






After Iowa Flood, Feeling Just a Bit Ignored


August 28, 2009
The New York Times


CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — It was more than a year ago that the core of this city was submerged to its rooftops, a result of record flooding on the Cedar River that caused an estimated $6 billion in damage — among the most costly natural disasters since Hurricane Katrina.

The outpouring of attention toward New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, ratcheting up again now as the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, has not been seen here. In fact, the people of Cedar Rapids are feeling neglected.

The recovery here is only limping along as waterlogged buildings are still being gutted, thousands of displaced families remain in temporary housing, and large-scale demolition to make way for a new downtown has just begun.

Federal financing for long-term recovery is trickling in, with the government having committed money for about half of what the city says it needs. And only a fraction of that has actually arrived.

“We really feel that we are the forgotten disaster,” said Greg Eyerly, the city’s flood recovery director. “We don’t make sexy products. We make starch that goes into paper, we make foodstuffs, ingredients in crackers and cereal. We make ethanol. The sexiest thing we make is Cap’n Crunch. We’re not a beachfront property. We make an anonymous contribution to our country, and people forget about us.”

To be sure, Hurricane Katrina’s huge reach and a botched emergency response devastated a far greater swath of the country than did the flooding in the Midwest, and no one here is trying to make tit-for-tat disaster comparisons. No lives were lost in the flooding in Cedar Rapids, and the government’s initial response to the crisis was generally considered a success.

But over the long term, the tone has changed, and the feeling of neglect amid devastation is palpable now. Five weeks of severe weather in the summer of 2008 made disaster areas out of 85 of the state’s 99 counties.

“We’re not making a lot of noise about it,” said Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, reflecting on a sense of Midwestern stoicism. “We’re going about our business. That’s a determination that’s impressive, but it doesn’t attract attention.”

The delays in recovery have multiple causes. The city cannot agree with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the level of damage to the public buildings, and more than a thousand families do not know yet whether they will be bought out of flooded homes or whether their neighborhoods are coming back. And the sources of much the long-term recovery money — like the Departments of Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development — are not crisis-response agencies, and therefore do not operate at an emergency pace.

“We’re extremely thankful for the money, but we also know the turnaround time it takes to get the dollars here creates a lot of anxiety for disaster victims,” said Tina Potthoff, a spokeswoman for the Rebuild Iowa Office.

So far, Iowa has been promised $3.1 billion in federal assistance for housing, infrastructure and business recovery, but only $689 million has been distributed, and local officials estimate its damage need at something more like $8 billion to $10 billion. The state suffered $1.6 billion in infrastructure damage alone.

In Cedar Rapids, city officials estimate that they need close to $6 billion.

The slow pace of the money flow for long-term recovery has held up crucial decisions about what is going to be rebuilt in the city of 120,000 people. Whole communities are waiting to hear about buyouts and demolitions, new levees and flood plains. Many are in limbo, and the frustration level is rising. Some residents are still living in FEMA mobile homes. Even City Hall remains displaced.

The economic recession has only made a bad situation worse, drawing attention and perhaps dollars away from Iowa.

Still, Mike Papich, the owner of a funeral home wrecked in the flood, has decided to start rebuilding his house and business in the New Bohemia section, a patchwork of recovery and abandonment not far from the river.

“We don’t know for sure what’s going to happen over here, whether it will be needed for a new levee or flood wall or what,” said Mr. Papich, 50. “I told someone with the city, ‘I assume that since you’re giving me a building permit, that’s an assurance you won’t be taking my property.’ They said, ‘Not necessarily.’ So then I thought, What am I doing?”

Mr. Papich is financing his rebuilding plans with a low-interest emergency disaster loan from the Small Business Association and a grant from the state, two flood-recovery measures that have helped spur rebuilding.

“You hear one thing, then another thing,” he said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions in Cedar Rapids.”

City and state officials say residents should prepare for a recovery that could span a decade.

Hundreds of houses in Cedar Rapids sit abandoned, similar to the way they were on June 13, 2008, when the Cedar River crested. Some have been gutted down to their stilts, awaiting repair but lending entire neighborhoods the feel of a ghost town.

Ms. Potthoff said state officials were creating a set of recommendations to suggest to the federal government how some agencies that do not normally respond to disasters might do so more quickly, as is generally the case now with the emergency management agency.

Kenneth Benning, 83, moved from an agency trailer to a new house on high ground last fall, but he is still waiting to hear what is to become of his flooded house — which he is maintaining and is expecting to pay taxes on — and its community.

“It’s so exasperating,” Mr. Benning said. “Every day you wonder what they’re going to come up with that you have to deal with. Here it is 14 months or better, and the city hasn’t made any move on the buyouts.”

The city says it is waiting for money that has already been approved to arrive from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the state, which will then distribute it. But those sorts of bureaucratic explanations do not go over well with flood victims.

“They’ve all got all kinds of excuses,” Mr. Benning said.

Meanwhile, people are getting to work. Shaun Hootman, 33, exemplifies the ambivalence that people here are experiencing. She has spent the last several days painting and refurnishing her mother’s flooded home, where she intends to live. Volunteers did some of the structural remodeling she could not afford.

“Things could come along faster,” Ms. Hootman said. “But over all, we can’t complain.”

    After Iowa Flood, Feeling Just a Bit Ignored, NYT, 28.8.2009,






Op-Ed Contributor

A Farm on Every Floor


August 24, 2009
The New York Times


IF climate change and population growth progress at their current pace, in roughly 50 years farming as we know it will no longer exist. This means that the majority of people could soon be without enough food or water. But there is a solution that is surprisingly within reach: Move most farming into cities, and grow crops in tall, specially constructed buildings. It’s called vertical farming.

The floods and droughts that have come with climate change are wreaking havoc on traditional farmland. Three recent floods (in 1993, 2007 and 2008) cost the United States billions of dollars in lost crops, with even more devastating losses in topsoil. Changes in rain patterns and temperature could diminish India’s agricultural output by 30 percent by the end of the century.

What’s more, population increases will soon cause our farmers to run out of land. The amount of arable land per person decreased from about an acre in 1970 to roughly half an acre in 2000 and is projected to decline to about a third of an acre by 2050, according to the United Nations. With billions more people on the way, before we know it the traditional soil-based farming model developed over the last 12,000 years will no longer be a sustainable option.

Irrigation now claims some 70 percent of the fresh water that we use. After applying this water to crops, the excess agricultural runoff, contaminated with silt, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, is unfit for reuse. The developed world must find new agricultural approaches before the world’s hungriest come knocking on its door for a glass of clean water and a plate of disease-free rice and beans.

Imagine a farm right in the middle of a major city. Food production would take advantage of hydroponic and aeroponic technologies. Both methods are soil-free. Hydroponics allows us to grow plants in a water-and-nutrient solution, while aeroponics grows them in a nutrient-laden mist. These methods use far less water than conventional cultivation techniques, in some cases as much as 90 percent less.

Now apply the vertical farm concept to countries that are water-challenged — the Middle East readily comes to mind — and suddenly things look less hopeless. For this reason the world’s very first vertical farm may be established there, although the idea has garnered considerable interest from architects and governments all over the world.

Vertical farms are now feasible, in large part because of a robust global greenhouse initiative that has enjoyed considerable commercial success over the last 10 years. (Disclosure: I’ve started a business to build vertical farms.) There is a rising consumer demand for locally grown vegetables and fruits, as well as intense urban-farming activity in cities throughout the United States. Vertical farms would not only revolutionize and improve urban life but also revitalize land that was damaged by traditional farming. For every indoor acre farmed, some 10 to 20 outdoor acres of farmland could be allowed to return to their original ecological state (mostly hardwood forest). Abandoned farms do this free of charge, with no human help required.

A vertical farm would behave like a functional ecosystem, in which waste was recycled and the water used in hydroponics and aeroponics was recaptured by dehumidification and used over and over again. The technologies needed to create a vertical farm are currently being used in controlled-environment agriculture facilities but have not been integrated into a seamless source of food production in urban high-rise buildings.

Such buildings, by the way, are not the only structures that could house vertical farms. Farms of various dimensions and crop yields could be built into a variety of urban settings — from schools, restaurants and hospitals to the upper floors of apartment complexes. By supplying a continuous quantity of fresh vegetables and fruits to city dwellers, these farms would help combat health problems, like Type II diabetes and obesity, that arise in part from the lack of quality produce in our diet.

The list of benefits is long. Vertical farms would produce crops year-round that contain no agro-chemicals. Fish and poultry could also be raised indoors. The farms would greatly reduce fossil-fuel use and greenhouse-gas emissions, since they would eliminate the need for heavy farm machinery and trucks that deliver food from farm to fork. (Wouldn’t it be great if everything on your plate came from around the corner, rather than from hundreds to thousands of miles away?)

Vertical farming could finally put an end to agricultural runoff, a major source of water pollution. Crops would never again be destroyed by floods or droughts. New employment opportunities for vertical farm managers and workers would abound, and abandoned city properties would become productive once again.

Vertical farms would also make cities more pleasant places to live. The structures themselves would be things of beauty and grace. In order to allow plants to capture passive sunlight, walls and ceilings would be completely transparent. So from a distance, it would look as if there were gardens suspended in space.

City dwellers would also be able to breathe easier — quite literally. Vertical farms would bring a great concentration of plants into cities. These plants would absorb carbon dioxide produced by automobile emissions and give off oxygen in return. So imagine you wanted to build the first vertical farm and put it in New York City. What would it take? We have the technology — now we need money, political will and, of course, proof that this concept can work. That’s why a prototype would be a good place to start. I estimate that constructing a five-story farm, taking up one-eighth of a square city block, would cost $20 million to $30 million. Part of the financing should come from the city government, as a vertical farm would go a long way toward achieving Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s goal of a green New York City by 2030. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has already expressed interest in having a vertical farm in the city. City officials should be interested. If a farm is located where the public can easily visit it, the iconic building could generate significant tourist dollars, on top of revenue from the sales of its produce.

But most of the financing should come from private sources, including groups controlling venture-capital funds. The real money would flow once entrepreneurs and clean-tech investors realize how much profit there is to be made in urban farming. Imagine a farm in which crop production is not limited by seasons or adverse weather events. Sales could be made in advance because crop-production levels could be guaranteed, thanks to the predictable nature of indoor agriculture. An actual indoor farm developed at Cornell University growing hydroponic lettuce was able to produce as many as 68 heads per square foot per year. At a retail price in New York of up to $2.50 a head for hydroponic lettuce, you can easily do the math and project profitability for other similar crops.

When people ask me why the world still does not have a single vertical farm, I just raise my eyebrows and shrug my shoulders. Perhaps people just need to see proof that farms can grow several stories high. As soon as the first city takes that leap of faith, the world’s first vertical farm could be less than a year away from coming to the aid of a hungry, thirsty world. Not a moment too soon.


Dickson D. Despommier, a professor of public health at Columbia University, is writing a book about vertical farms.

    A Farm on Every Floor, NYT, 24.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/24/opinion/24Despommier.html






It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado


June 29, 2009
The New York Times


DURANGO, Colo. — For the first time since territorial days, rain will be free for the catching here, as more and more thirsty states part ways with one of the most entrenched codes of the West.

Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment it fell in many Western states, making scofflaws of people who scooped rainfall from their own gutters. In some instances, the rights to that water were assigned a century or more ago.

Now two new laws in Colorado will allow many people to collect rainwater legally. The laws are the latest crack in the rainwater edifice, as other states, driven by population growth, drought, or declining groundwater in their aquifers, have already opened the skies or begun actively encouraging people to collect.

“I was so willing to go to jail for catching water on my roof and watering my garden,” said Tom Bartels, a video producer here in southwestern Colorado, who has been illegally watering his vegetables and fruit trees from tanks attached to his gutters. “But now I’m not a criminal.”

Who owns the sky, anyway? In most of the country, that is a question for philosophy class or bad poetry. In the West, lawyers parse it with straight faces and serious intent. The result, especially stark here in the Four Corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, is a crazy quilt of rules and regulations — and an entire subculture of people like Mr. Bartels who have been using the rain nature provided but laws forbade.

The two Colorado laws allow perhaps a quarter-million residents with private wells to begin rainwater harvesting, as well as the setting up of a pilot program for larger scale rain-catching.

Just 75 miles west of here, in Utah, collecting rainwater from the roof is still illegal unless the roof owner also owns water rights on the ground; the same rigid rules, with a few local exceptions, also apply in Washington State. Meanwhile, 20 miles south of here, in New Mexico, rainwater catchment, as the collecting is called, is mandatory for new dwellings in some places like Santa Fe.

And in Arizona, cities like Tucson are pioneering the practices of big-city rain capture. “All you need for a water harvesting system is rain, and a place to put it,” Tucson Water says on its Web site.

Here in Colorado, the old law created a kind of wink-and-nod shadow economy. Rain equipment could be legally sold, but retailers said they knew better than to ask what the buyer intended to do with the product.

“It’s like being able to sell things like smoking paraphernalia even though smoking pot is illegal,” said Laurie E. Dickson, who for years sold barrel-and-hose systems from a shop in downtown Durango.

State water officials acknowledged that they rarely enforced the old law. With the new laws, the state created a system of fines for rain catchers without a permit; previously the only option was to shut a collector down.

But Kevin Rein, Colorado’s assistant state engineer, said enforcement would focus on people who violated water rules on a large scale.

“It’s not going to be a situation where we’re sending out people to look in backyards,” Mr. Rein said.

Science has also stepped forward to underline how incorrect the old sweeping legal generalizations were.

A study in 2007 proved crucial to convincing Colorado lawmakers that rain catching would not rob water owners of their rights. It found that in an average year, 97 percent of the precipitation that fell in Douglas County, near Denver, never got anywhere near a stream. The water evaporated or was used by plants.

But the deeper questions about rain are what really gnawed at rain harvesters like Todd S. Anderson, a small-scale farmer just east of Durango. Mr. Anderson said catching rain was not just thrifty — he is so water conscious that he has not washed his truck in five years — but also morally correct because it used water that would otherwise be pumped from the ground.

Mr. Anderson, a former national park ranger who worked for years enforcing rules and laws, said: “I’m conflicted between what’s right and what’s legal. And I hate that.”

For the last year, Mr. Anderson has been catching rainwater that runs off his greenhouse but keeping the barrel hidden from view. When the new law passed, he put the barrel in plain sight, and he plans to set up a system for his house.

Dig a little deeper into the rain-catching world, and there are remnants of the 1970s back-to-land hippie culture, which went off the grid into aquatic self-sufficiency long ago.

“Our whole perspective on life is to try to use what is available, and to not be dependent on big systems,” said Janine Fitzgerald, whose parents bought land in southwest Colorado in 1970, miles from where the pavement ends.

Ms. Fitzgerald, an associate professor of sociology at Fort Lewis College in Durango, still lives the unwired life with her own family now, growing most of her own food and drinking and bathing in filtered rainwater.

Rain dependency has its ups and downs, Ms. Fitzgerald said. Her home is also completely solar-powered, which means that the pumps to push water from the rain tanks are solar-powered, too. A cloudy, rainy spring this year was good for tanks, bad for pumps.

The economy has turned on some early rainwater believers, too. Ms. Dickson’s company in Durango went out of business last December as the construction market faltered. The rain barrels she once sold will soon be perfectly legal, but the shop is shuttered.

“We were ahead of our time,” she said.

    It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado, NYT, 29.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/us/29rain.html?hp






Plan Won’t End Louisiana Erosion, Report Says


June 29, 2009
The New York Times


Desperate to halt the erosion of Louisiana’s coast, officials there are talking about breaking Mississippi River levees south of New Orleans to restore the nourishing flow of muddy water into the state’s marshes. But in a new analysis, scientists at Louisiana State University say that inland dams trap so much sediment that the river no longer carries enough to halt marsh loss — especially now that global warming is speeding a rise in sea levels.

As a result, the loss of thousands of additional square miles of marshland is inevitable, the scientists report in Monday’s issue of Nature Geoscience

The finding does not suggest it would be pointless to divert the muddy water into the marshes, one of the researchers, Harry H. Roberts, a coastal scientist, said in an interview. “Any meaningful restoration of our coast has to involve river sediment,” he said.

But he said that officials would have to choose which parts of the landscape can be saved and which must be abandoned and acknowledge that lives and businesses will be disrupted. Instead of breaking levees far south of New Orleans, where relatively few people live, Dr. Roberts said, officials should consider diversions much closer to New Orleans, where there are more people and infrastructure, possibly into the LaFourche, Terrebonne or St. Bernard basins closer to the city.

“It’s going to be an excruciating process to decide where that occurs,” he said of the levee breaking.

Sediment carried by the Mississippi built up Louisiana’s marshes over thousands of years, but today inland dams trap at least half of it, Dr. Roberts said, noting that there are now 8,000 dams in the drainage basin of the Mississippi.

Levees have turned the river into “a pipe” south of St. Louis, he added. Getting sediment into the marshes “is not happening, at least not very efficiently,” he said.

The impact of inland dams on sediment flow has been controversial. Although sediment in the river is only about half what it was in the 18th and 19th centuries, some scientists have argued that the flow back then was unusually high because of the advent of farming in the nation’s midsection.

But Dr. Roberts said that a new analysis of sediment data going back thousands of years challenges that idea. “There probably was a spike, but it was insignificant,” he said.

In theory, it might be possible to remove inland dams to increase the flow of sediment. But Dr. Roberts said the trapped sediment contains agricultural chemicals and other pollutants that might worsen the already deteriorating water quality at the mouth of the Mississippi.

On the other hand, he said, if nutrient-rich sediment made its way into Louisiana’s marshes, it might encourage the growth of plants that would contribute to marsh health.

    Plan Won’t End Louisiana Erosion, Report Says, NYT, 29.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/science/earth/29mississippi.html?hp






Op-Ed Contributor

Think Like a Fish


June 28, 2009
The New York Times


Provincetown, Mass.

UNLUCKY fishermen are all alike: We don’t know how to see. My friend Jud has outfished me in all but one or two of the hundred times we’ve gone to the ocean and bay beaches and kettle ponds on Cape Cod. By both study and exercise, he knows the culture of striped bass better than I know my own nose. But to call him “lucky” would begrudge him a talent that I have never seen in anyone else and that lives underneath skill or knowledge.

One July night, on a falling tide that sifted through the granite jetty in the west end of Provincetown, we fished the same 10-foot sluice, with the same tackle and the same flies (he ties them for me), and I watched in outrage as he caught 20 stripers to my two.

Another night, on Long Point, the finger of sand that curls into Provincetown harbor at the far end of Cape Cod, the stripers were chasing alewife, peanut bunker and other baitfish through the current that rips the point on a rising tide. I caught the first fish of the night, a 32-inch bass, enormous for me and for the lightweight rods we were using. It took 20 minutes to land. Jud yelped in amusement and then caught eight more just like it, while I stood cursing and changing flies by the light of the town, two miles across the dark harbor.

What he can do and I can’t is face a piece of water and so absorb himself in the place that he seems to share the consciousness of the fish in it. If you have seen a school of 10,000 sand eels swerving as one animal under a wharf, you have seen that individuals can integrate their senses into a collective mind. Without the benefit of language, they share all the most important news: where to find food, light, threat, rocks. Human beings usually experience this common mind only under the stress of love or panic.

My friend pulls his hat brim down to deflect the sun, as everybody does, and makes the double-haul cast — a move in which the non-dominant hand jerks down and up on the line, both on the forward and back casts. Think of a man doing the polka with his arms. It isn’t as hard as it sounds; it just helps him reach the fish, not find them.

For all I know, he may, more often than not, see only a confluence of light and current, and point his desire at that spot, so that he believes he sees the fish before his eyes detect the animal itself. But I can’t deny that wherever he puts the lure, the fish find it.

We’ve evolved a neocortex that presents us with an awareness of past and future at the cost of forgetting where we are right now. Jud seems to switch that faculty off in favor of an older, lower brain. Like a sand eel in the school, he sees with 10,000 pairs of eyes. Many times when he was catching fish and I wasn’t, I’ve asked, “How do you know where the fish are?” And he’s said, “I see them.”

I may have glimpsed for myself what he sees, but only once. On an early summer afternoon we were fishing for brook and rainbow trout in the mid-Cape, at Cliff Pond. In reality, except after heavy rains, it’s two ponds split by a narrow sand bar.

More than 300 of these kettle ponds perforate the Cape. They formed around 10,000 years ago. As the Laurentide ice sheet retreated into Canada, it left behind chunks of ice as thick as 60 feet that the force of the glacier had plowed into the earth. The sediment outflow from the melting Laurentide sheet covered the blocks of ice, so they lay hidden and insulated for 1,000 years or more beneath the soil. As the climate warmed further, the blocks melted, the sediment crusts collapsed, and the deep holes that the blocks had formed began to fill with ground water and rain. In general, streams neither feed nor drain the ponds, and in the absence of wind they lie as still as mirrors.

Oak and pine trees ring Cliff Pond so tightly that if a wading fisherman tries to cast much farther than 10 feet, he snags his fly in the heavy brush during the back cast.

I was having a miserable afternoon, yanking one errant fly after another from the pine boughs. Jud came around the corner, having caught half a dozen brook trout and let them go. He saw my irritation and suggested another spot.

We climbed around an oak grove and onto the sand bar that divides the water. Not much high vegetation grows on the bar, so if you face east you can back cast as far as you like without snagging a tree, and fish the smaller pond with ease. The sun was going down in the drizzle. A screeching racket erupted, from the nearby marsh it seemed, but also from everywhere at once.

“What are those?” I asked.

He said, “peepers,” a frog smaller than your thumbnail that can scream as loud as an air raid siren. They lived all over the marsh, he said; but wherever I looked, I couldn’t find them.

We knew the fish were roaming the inlet we faced; he’d seen them there, but he left me alone and fished from the other side of the marsh.

I cast long and short, played the surface with a caddis fly, switched to a nymph to fish the bottom, strategized to no end, but nothing doing. The sun behind me threw my long shadow on the water and shot through a billion droplets hovering over the pond. I kept on wading deeper, thinking harder, catching nothing.

Anyone who fishes is an animist, and anyone who is frustrated while fishing becomes an egoist. So when a rainbow appeared over the far woods, I believed the cornball god of the place was having a laugh at my expense. But who can look away from a rainbow?

I stopped awhile and took it in, backing out of the weeds into shallower water, shaking my sore arm. The bright arc rose from one flank of the distant forest and fell into another. Above the uppermost red band, a secondary arc emerged — thicker, the colors reversed, with red on the underside, purple on top — and disappeared. The low clouds rumbled.

And all at once, with no invitation, the place penetrated me. My mind coextended with the woods and the pond. All my senses sent their data not to the front office of the brain for analysis and criticism, but to a room far below, to the body’s mind. The squishy silt beneath my feet smelled of leaf rot, the wind of ozone. The hidden throng of peepers rang from all quarters. The cold sun struck me in the back of the neck.

My fly line lay coiled in the black water. I threw it behind me, threw it forward, letting a few yards out, then cast backward again.

I had no awareness of future or past. I had forgotten everything I knew. My pores were soaked with the place.

The fly shot out, settled on the pond, and sank beneath the stippled surface. Nothing emanated from me but one thing, a passion that rose from the bottom of my lungs and out my throat into the whistling air: it was the bottomless desire, in the bottomless present, to catch a fish. I stripped the line once between the fingers of my right hand.

The line jerked and went taut. And I yanked up on the rod. And the line dived. I stripped again and drew up the rod. The pond cracked.

And a trout pitched itself out of the water and screwed through the yellow air.


Salvatore Scibona is the author of “The End.”

    Think Like a Fish, NYT, 28.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/28/opinion/28scibona.html






House Passes Bill to Address Threat of Climate Change


June 27, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The House passed legislation on Friday intended to address global warming and transform the way the nation produces and uses energy.

The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

The bill’s passage, by 219 to 212, with 44 Democrats voting against it, also established a marker for the United States when international negotiations on a new climate change treaty begin later this year.

At the heart of the legislation is a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on overall emissions of heat-trapping gases while allowing utilities, manufacturers and other emitters to trade pollution permits, or allowances, among themselves. The cap would grow tighter over the years, pushing up the price of emissions and presumably driving industry to find cleaner ways of making energy.

President Obama hailed the House passage of the bill as “a bold and necessary step.” He said in a statement that he looked forward to Senate action that would send a bill to his desk “so that we can say, at long last, that this was the moment when we decided to confront America’s energy challenge and reclaim America’s future.”

Mr. Obama had lobbied wavering lawmakers in recent days, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore had made personal appeals to dozens of fence-sitters.

As difficult as House passage proved, it is just the beginning of the energy and climate debate in Congress. The issue now moves to the Senate, where political divisions and regional differences are even more stark.

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, a co-sponsor of the bill, called the vote a “decisive and historic action” that would position the United States as a leader in energy efficiency and technology.

But the legislation, a patchwork of compromises, falls far short of what many European governments and environmentalists have said is needed to avert the worst effects of global warming. And it pitted liberal Democrats from the East and West Coasts against more conservative Democrats from areas dependent on coal for electricity and on heavy manufacturing for jobs.

While some environmentalists enthusiastically supported the legislation, others, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, opposed it. Industry officials were split, with the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers opposing the bill and some of the nation’s biggest corporations, including Dow Chemical and Ford, backing it.

Republican leaders called the legislation a national energy tax and predicted that those who voted for the measure would pay a heavy price at the polls next year.

“No matter how you doctor it or tailor it,” said Representative Joe Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania, “it is a tax.”

Only eight Republicans voted for the bill, which runs to more than 1,300 pages.

Representative John Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, stalled the vote by using his privilege as a party leader to consume just over an hour by reading from a 300-page amendment added in the early hours of Friday.

Apart from its domestic implications, the legislation represents a first step toward measurable cuts in carbon dioxide emissions that administration officials can point to when the United States joins other nations in negotiating a new global climate change treaty later this year. For nearly 20 years, the United States has resisted mandatory limits on heat-trapping emissions.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who was in Washington on Friday to meet with Mr. Obama, strongly endorsed the bill even though it fell short of European goals for reducing the emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Mrs. Merkel, a longtime advocate of strong curbs on emissions, has been pushing the United States to take a leading role before the climate negotiations, set for December in Copenhagen.

After meeting with Mr. Obama, she said she had seen a “sea change” in the United States on climate policy that she could not have imagined a year ago when President George W. Bush was in office.

The House legislation reflects a series of concessions necessary to attract the support of Democrats from different regions and with different ideologies. In the months of horse-trading before the vote Friday, the bill’s targets for emissions of heat-trapping gases were weakened, its mandate for renewable electricity was scaled back, and incentives for industries were sweetened.

The bill’s sponsors were making deals on the House floor right up until the time of the vote. They set aside money for new energy research and a hurricane study center in Florida.

The final bill has a goal of reducing greenhouse gases in the United States to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by midcentury.

When the program is scheduled to begin, in 2012, the estimated price of a permit to emit a ton of carbon dioxide will be about $13. That is projected to rise steadily as emission limits come down, but the bill contains a provision to prevent costs from rising too quickly in any one year.

The bill would grant a majority of the permits free in the early years of the program, to keep costs low. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the average American household would pay an additional $175 a year in energy costs by 2020 as a result of the provision, while the poorest households would receive rebates that would lower their annual energy costs by $40.

Several House members expressed concern about the market to be created in carbon allowances, saying it posed the same risks as those in markets in other kinds of derivatives. Regulation of such markets would be divided among the Environmental Protection Agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The bill also sets a national standard of 20 percent for the production of renewable electricity by 2020, although a third of that could be met with efficiency measures rather than renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal power.

It also devotes billions of dollars to new energy projects and subsidies for low-carbon agricultural practices, research on cleaner coal and electric vehicle development.

Mr. Gore, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming, posted an appeal on his blog for passage of the legislation.

“This bill doesn’t solve every problem,” Mr. Gore said, “but passage today means that we build momentum for the debate coming up in the Senate and negotiations for the treaty talks in December which will put in place a global solution to the climate crisis. There is no backup plan.”

    House Passes Bill to Address Threat of Climate Change, NYT, 27.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/27/us/politics/27climate.html?hp







Ocean Rescue


June 22, 2009
The New York Times


Most of the world’s important commercial fish species have been declining for years. Nearly one-fourth are unable, essentially, to reproduce. The biggest cause of the deterioration in ocean health — bigger than climate change or pollution — is overfishing. American fisheries are in better shape than most but not by much.

The White House seems prepared to give this issue high priority. George W. Bush, though more sensitive to marine issues than other environmental problems, was slow to offer remedies, the most important being the establishment of three large protected marine reserves in the Pacific. President Obama has engaged the matter early in the game.

He recently ordered a new task force to develop a national oceans policy. He said he wants a more unified federal approach to ocean issues, now spread across 20 different agencies operating under 140 separate laws. He also wants a plan for allocating resources among competing interests like fishing and oil exploration.

A more immediate measure of the administration’s commitment is the steps it is taking to meet a 2006 Congressional mandate to end overfishing in America’s coastal waters by 2011. The most important of these is an effort led by Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist who runs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Her mission is to persuade America’s fishermen to broadly adopt a market-based approach known as “catch shares” to manage their fisheries sustainably.

Under the present system, America’s regional fishing councils, which are run largely by fishermen with federal oversight, set annual catch limits. To meet these quotas, most commercial fleets follow a detailed “days at sea” approach regulating the number of days they may fish, how many fish they may catch and what kind of equipment they may use. The system does not work well. Some people obey the rules, and others don’t. The days-at-sea restrictions often lead to a frantic race to catch as many fish as possible as quickly as possible, which in turn leads to indiscriminate and wasteful fishing.

Ms. Lubchenco’s alternative would give individual fishermen or groups of fishermen fixed shares — a guaranteed percentage — of the annual catch, then let them set the rules. The theory is that share-holding fishermen will have a vested interest in seeing their resource grow, much like shareholders in a company.

Fisheries that use this system — also known as “dedicated access” fisheries — have prospered in places like New Zealand. The dozen or so American fisheries with catch shares, accounting for about one-fifth of the total domestic catch, have also done well.

Ms. Lubchenco has lately been beating the drums for catch shares in New England, whose regional council will shortly take a preliminary vote on the issue. New England’s fishermen could use a change in direction; four-fifths of their commercially important stocks — including cod, pollock and flounder — are in trouble.

The truth is that fisheries almost everywhere could use a change in direction. A well-managed American system would be an example for the world.

    Ocean Rescue, NYT, 22.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/22/opinion/22mon1.html?hpw






The INFLUENCE GAME: Excuse Me! Lobby Wins on Burps


June 21, 2009
Filed at 4:03 a.m. ET
The ew York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- One contributor to global warming -- bigger than coal mines, landfills and sewage treatment plants -- is being left out of efforts by the Obama administration and House Democrats to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Cow burps.

Belching from the nation's 170 million cattle, sheep and pigs produces about one-quarter of the methane released in the U.S. each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That makes the hoofed critters the largest source of the heat-trapping gas.

In part because of an adept farm lobby campaign that equates government regulation with a cow tax, the gas that farm animals pass is exempt from legislation being considered by Congress to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA under President Barack Obama has said it has no plans to regulate the gas, even though the agency recently included methane among six greenhouse gases it believes are endangering human health and welfare.

The message circulating in Internet chat rooms, the halls of Congress and farm co-ops had America's farms facing financial ruin if the EPA required them to purchase air-pollution permits like power plants and factories do. The cost of those permits amounted to a cow tax, farm groups argued.

''It really has taken on a life of its own,'' said Rick Krause, a lobbyist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, which coined the term cow tax and spread it to farmers across the country. ''This is something that people understand. All that we have to say is that (cows) are the next step with these proposed permit fees. And people are still talking about it.''

Administration officials and House Democratic leaders have tried to assure farm groups that they have no intention of regulating cows. That effort, however, has done little to ease the concern of farmers and their advocates in Congress about the toll that regulating greenhouse gases will have on agriculture.

Lawmakers and farm groups are now pressing for the climate legislation to guarantee that farmers will be compensated for taking steps to reduce greenhouse gases. That could lead to farmers getting paid if their cows pass less gas.

Research has shown that changing cattle diet and boosting efficiency -- such as producing the same amount of milk and beef from a smaller herd -- can result in less gas, according Frank M. Mitloehner, an associate professor at the University of California at Davis, who has studied livestock gas for 15 years.

''I don't think livestock should be ignored. Every industry has to play their role,'' Mitloehner said. But laws designed to reduce emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes won't work with cattle, which can't be fitted with pollution control devices, Mitloehner said.

''The belching is very hard to collect,'' he said. ''You cannot capture these gases.''

The climate bill specifically excludes enteric fermentation -- the fancy term for the gas created by digestion and expelled largely by burping -- from the limit it would place on greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation directs the EPA not to include it among the various sources that could be subject to new performance standards.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has called rumors of the cow tax ''ridiculous notions'' and a ''distraction.''

House aides and EPA officials say that controlling such emissions is unworkable. Cow burps make up about 2 percent of all the climate-altering pollution in the U.S.

But allies of farmers in Congress say the reluctance to step in the cow tax debate has a lot to do with the outcry from the agriculture industry and moderate Democrats from rural states whose votes are needed to pass the bill.

''I think they realized that if you are a Democrat in an agricultural state, a red state, that this is radioactive and I think that is why they have tried scrupulously to reaffirm that they don't have any intention of doing this,'' said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. He is sponsoring a bill that would bar the EPA from requiring farmers to get permits for cattle burps.

Thune, whose state is home to a half-million cattle, first heard about the cow tax at a South Dakota Cattlemen Association's conference in early December. Within weeks he introduced his bill and recruited support from New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, whose state boasts three times more cows.

The origins of the cow tax can be traced to last July, when President George W. Bush's EPA released documents outlining how the Clean Air Act could regulate greenhouse gases.

Even though the Bush administration had no intention of using the law, farm groups seized on a single paragraph deep in the comments from various federal agencies. The Agriculture Department warned that if EPA decided to regulate agricultural sources of greenhouse gases, numerous farms would face costly and time-consuming process to acquire permits for barnyard burping.

The Farm Bureau quickly did the math and figured farms would have to pay about $175 for each dairy cow, $87.50 per head of beef cattle and $20 for each hog to purchase permits for emissions.

The cow tax was born.


On the Net:

Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/

Agriculture Department: http://www.usda.gov

American Farm Bureau Federation: http://www.fb.org/

Sen. Thune's release: http://tinyurl.com/n6z52s 

    The INFLUENCE GAME: Excuse Me! Lobby Wins on Burps, NYT, 21.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/21/us/politics/AP-US-Climate-Bill-Cow-Tax.html






San Francisco to Toughen a Strict Recycling Law


June 11, 2009
The New York Times


BERKELEY, Calif. — San Francisco, which already boasts one of the most aggressive recycling programs in the country, has raised the ante, vowing to levy fines of up to $1,000 on those unwilling to separate their Kung Pao chicken leftovers from their newspapers.

The Board of Supervisors passed new recycling and mandatory composting rules on Tuesday in a 9-to-2 vote. The city already diverts 72 percent of the 2.1 million tons of waste its residents produce each year away from landfills and into recycling and composting programs. The new ordinance will help the city toward its goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2020, said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city’s Department of the Environment.

Under the new ordinance, residents will be issued three mandatory garbage bins: a black one for trash, a blue one for recyclables and a green one for compost.

Garbage collectors who spot orange peels or aluminum soda cans in a black trash bin will leave a note reminding the owner how to separate his trash properly. Anyone found repeatedly flouting recycling protocol will be issued fines of $100 for small businesses and single-family homes and up to $1,000 for large businesses and multiunit buildings. The city has put a moratorium on all fines until 2011 while residents learn the ropes.

Reaction to the new rules was as mixed as, well, recyclables.

“This takes Big Brother to an extreme I’m not comfortable with,” said Sean R. Elsbernd, one of two supervisors who voted against the ordinance. “I don’t want the government going through my garbage cans.”

Garbage cops snooping through the curbside refuse is not the intent of the ordinance, said Nathan Ballard, spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“We are not going to throw you in the clink for putting your coffee grounds in the wrong bin,” Mr. Ballard said. “Fines will only be imposed in egregious cases.”

Mr. Newsom, who proposed the legislation last May and doggedly championed it, is expected to sign it into law within 30 days.

The city’s most notorious recycling laggards tend to be owners of apartment buildings, Mr. Blumenfeld said. “We’re mainly focusing this new law at multitenant buildings; only 25 percent of those building owners provide recycling for renters.”

But it is the mandatory composting that has city officials most excited.

“When the nation is looking at complex solutions for climate-change reduction,” Mr. Blumenfeld said, “we should not overlook the importance of simple things like increasing the recycling rate and composting.”

The city already composts 400 tons of food scraps a day, 90 percent of which goes to enriching the soil of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

“People will embrace composting just like they embraced recycling,” said Mr. Ballard, who himself began composting kitchen scraps six months ago. “Here in San Francisco people are crazy about recycling. Composting is the next frontier.”

    San Francisco to Toughen a Strict Recycling Law, NYT, 11.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/11/us/11recycle.html?hp






Pelosi Calls for US-Chinese Climate Cooperation


May 26, 2009
Filed at 5:22 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BEIJING (AP) -- U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a frequent, fierce critic of China, called for U.S.-Chinese cooperation to fight climate change in a speech Tuesday that skirted human rights and other contentious issues.

Pelosi's comments to an audience of Chinese and American officials and businesspeople stressed common environmental interests -- an approach that fits with President Barack Obama's emphasis on engagement with Beijing, rather than confrontation.

''We believe China and the United States can and must confront the challenge of climate change together,'' Pelosi said. Noting that the two countries are the world's biggest emitters of gases blamed for climate change, she said, ''we have a responsibility to ourselves, to our country, to our people and to the world to work together on this.''

The leading Democratic lawmaker's visit is part of a flurry of contacts between Washington and Beijing that highlight their wide-ranging cooperation on issues including North Korea's nuclear program and combatting the global economic slump. Next week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner travels to Beijing in part to ease Chinese concerns about the health of the dollar and thus the value of China's holdings of U.S. government debt.

Underscoring the shift in emphasis was Pelosi's change in tone. For nearly 20 years, the California Democrat has frequently criticized Beijing over human rights and opposed giving the authoritarian government normal trading rights and the Olympics.

Pelosi, who leaves Beijing on Thursday for Hong Kong, mentioned human rights glancingly, though she said in a speech in Shanghai on Monday that she would ''continue to speak out for human rights in China and around the world.''

Climate change is an issue the Obama administration has chosen as a new area for cooperation with China.

Pelosi told the business forum that working together on climate change could transform U.S.-Chinese relations.

''It is an opportunity that we cannot miss,'' Pelosi told the audience, which included a former Chinese foreign minister and China's ambassador to Washington. The event was organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in China and the U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum, an industry group.

Pelosi brought with her five members of a House committee on energy policy and global warming. She has promised to press for passage of climate legislation this year, and Obama has said that he wants a bill. A bill that would impose the first U.S. litmus test on greenhouse gas emissions was approved by a House committee last week, a step being considered by the full House later this year.

While welcoming calls for cooperation, the Chinese government has publicly said that global warming is largely the responsibility of rich nations, who should provide funds and technologies for developing countries to cut carbon emissions.

Pelosi's delegation included Rep. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and committee chairman; Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin and ranking committee member; Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon; Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington; and Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California.


On the Net:

U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum: cleanenergyforum.net

American Chamber of Commerce in China: www.amcham-china.org.cn

    Pelosi Calls for US-Chinese Climate Cooperation, NYT, 26.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/26/world/AP-AS-China-Pelosi.html







Leadership Long Delayed


May 23, 2009
The New York Times


For anyone eager to see the United States take a serious leadership role on the issue of global warming, this week was enormously encouraging.

It began with the White House’s announcement that it will impose the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. It ended with a House committee approving a comprehensive energy and global warming bill — an important first step on legislation that seeks to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, reverse emissions of carbon dioxide and create millions of clean energy jobs.

In fairly short order, President Obama and a Democratically controlled Congress have made the lassitude and indifference of the Bush years seem like ancient history. And they have greatly improved the prospects that American negotiators will arrive at the next round of global climate negotiations in Copenhagen with a credible strategy in hand and with the leverage to encourage other major emitters like China to get cracking.

The trick now will be to sustain the momentum — at home and internationally.

The legislation approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee must survive scrutiny by other committees and, of course, the whole House. Even after the strong endorsement of expert scientists, only one of the committee’s Republicans — Mary Bono Mack of California — voted for the bill. And then comes the Senate, where 60 votes are required to overcome a filibuster and where a climate change bill crashed to defeat last year.

The House bill’s main architect, Representative Henry Waxman of California, and his chief lieutenant, Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts, have politically tailored this bill to do better.

It calls for a 17 percent reduction in 2005 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 — and 83 percent by 2050. It would put a price on carbon through a cap-and-trade system that would impose a steadily declining ceiling on emissions while allowing polluters to trade permits, or allowances, to give them more flexibility in meeting their targets. It also mandates greater use of renewable power sources like wind and solar, sets tough new efficiency standards for buildings and invests in cleaner energy technologies, largely through the sale of carbon allowances.

To placate politicians from industrial states that rely heavily on coal, and whose energy costs are likely to rise, the bill includes a variety of mechanisms to help industries make the near-term transition to cleaner and more efficient ways of creating energy. The most prominent of these are “ offsets” that would allow polluters to satisfy their own emissions-reduction obligations by investing in carbon-reducing programs elsewhere, like preventing deforestation.

Critics says these and other provisions are too generous to polluters, and in truth the bill is not as strong as it should be. But anything more might well fail, as other bills have failed, and then the country would be back to Square 1. As it is, the bill represents an ambitious first step toward a solution too long delayed for a problem too long denied.

    Leadership Long Delayed, NYT, 23.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/23/opinion/23sat1.html?hpw






Earthquake Shakes Los Angeles Area


May 19, 2009
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — An earthquake measuring 4.7 in magnitude struck Sunday night on the southwest side of Los Angeles, announcing itself with a tremendous boom, sending pans and glasses tumbling and unnerving thousands of Angelenos. It was followed by a smaller aftershock.

There were no immediate reports of major injuries or damage stemming from the quake, which struck just after 8:30 p.m. just east of Los Angeles International Airport and could be felt as far south as San Diego. But seismologists described it as the largest quake to hit the area since a 5.4 magnitude earthquake in Chino Hills last year.

The shaking went on for roughly 10 seconds, centered in the suburb of Lennox, followed by an aftershock measuring 3.1.

The Los Angeles Fire Department made an initial assessment of "no major structural damage, no serious injuries," according to the Twitter feed of a spokesman, Brian Humphrey, one of nearly 1,000 people who quickly tweeted about the quake.

Although he characterized it as significant, Mr. Humphrey added that there were no reports of damage in or around the neighborhoods near the epicenter.

Victor Maldonado, 53, of the San Pedro neighborhood, said the quake shook his three story house up and down, as opposed to a lateral movement, bouncing a bulky metal baker’s rack and a heavy curio cabinet. “It looks like we have a few new cracks in the house,” he said, “but otherwise everything looks fine.”

Ken Hudnut, a geophysicist with the United States Geological Service, told The Associated Press that the quake, which hit 8.4 miles below the surface, appears consistent with movement on the Newport-Inglewood fault.


Russ Buettner contribued reporting for this article.

    Earthquake Shakes Los Angeles Area, NYT, 19.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/us/19quake.html






As Alaska Glaciers Melt, It’s Land That’s Rising


May 18, 2009
The New York Times


JUNEAU, Alaska — Global warming conjures images of rising seas that threaten coastal areas. But in Juneau, as almost nowhere else in the world, climate change is having the opposite effect: As the glaciers here melt, the land is rising, causing the sea to retreat.

Morgan DeBoer, a property owner, opened a nine-hole golf course at the mouth of Glacier Bay in 1998, on land that was underwater when his family first settled here 50 years ago.

“The highest tides of the year would come into what is now my driving range area,” Mr. DeBoer said.

Now, with the high-tide line receding even farther, he is contemplating adding another nine holes.

“It just keeps rising,” he said.

The geology is complex, but it boils down to this: Relieved of billions of tons of glacial weight, the land has risen much as a cushion regains its shape after someone gets up from a couch. The land is ascending so fast that the rising seas — a ubiquitous byproduct of global warming — cannot keep pace. As a result, the relative sea level is falling, at a rate “among the highest ever recorded,” according to a 2007 report by a panel of experts convened by Mayor Bruce Botelho of Juneau.

Greenland and a few other places have experienced similar effects from widespread glacial melting that began more than 200 years ago, geologists say. But, they say, the effects are more noticeable in and near Juneau, where most glaciers are retreating 30 feet a year or more.

As a result, the region faces unusual environmental challenges. As the sea level falls relative to the land, water tables fall, too, and streams and wetlands dry out. Land is emerging from the water to replace the lost wetlands, shifting property boundaries and causing people to argue about who owns the acreage and how it should be used. And meltwater carries the sediment scoured long ago by the glaciers to the coast, where it clouds the water and silts up once-navigable channels.

A few decades ago, large boats could sail regularly along Gastineau Channel between Downtown Juneau and Douglas Island, to Auke Bay, a port about 10 miles to the northwest. Today, much of the channel is exposed mudflat at low tide. “There is so much sediment coming in from the Mendenhall Glacier and the rivers — it has basically silted in,” said Bruce Molnia, a geologist at the United States Geological Survey who studies Alaskan glaciers.

Already, people can wade across the channel at low tide — or race across it, as they do in the Mendenhall Mud Run. At low tide, the navigation buoys rest on mud.

Eventually, as the land rises and the channel silts up, Douglas Island will be linked to the mainland by dry land, said Eran Hood, a hydrologist at the University of Alaska Southeast and an author of the 2007 report, “Climate Change: Predicted Impacts on Juneau.”

When that happens, Dr. Hood said, the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge, 4,000 acres of boggy habitat, will be lost. “That wetland will have nowhere else to go,” he said.

In some places along the coast, the change has been so rapid that kayakers whose charts are not up-to-the-minute can find themselves carrying their boats over shoals that are now so high and dry they now support grass or even small trees.

In and around Juneau, “you can walk around and see what was underwater is turning into grassland and eventually into forest,” Dr. Hood said.

The topographical changes have threatened crucial ecosystems and even locally vital species like salmon.

“The lifeblood of our region has been salmon species and their return — and what is the impact when they return and the streams are dry?” said Mayor Botelho, who was born and raised in Juneau. “The salmon is bound to our identity as a region, who we are.”

He said he did not think that any species were in imminent danger, but added, “Anyone who is following climate change has to see that there are risks, perhaps great ones.”

Dr. Hood said many people in Juneau had hoped to maintain a waterway called Duck Creek as a salmon stream. But small streams like that “appear to be drying out,” he said. “There are a lot of people in town saying, Let’s just let it return to a greenway.”

Relative to the sea, land here has risen as much as 10 feet in little more than 200 years, according to the 2007 report. As global warming accelerates, the land will continue to rise, perhaps three more feet by 2100, scientists say.

The rise is further fueled by the movement of the tectonic plates that form the earth’s crust. As the Pacific plate pushes under the North American plate, Juneau and its hilly Tongass National Forest environs rise still more.

“When you combine tectonics and glacial readjustment, you get rates that are incomprehensible,” Dr. Molnia said.

In Gustavus, where Mr. DeBoer’s property is, the land is rising almost three inches a year, Dr. Molnia said, making it “the fastest-rising place in North America.”

In addition to expanding the golf course, Mr. DeBoer is negotiating with the Nature Conservancy to preserve some of the newly emergent land. He can do both, he said, because the high tide line has pushed almost a mile out to sea since his family first homesteaded on the property.

Where the shoreline is relatively flat, “it doesn’t take much uplift to make quite a bit of difference,” Mr. DeBoer said.

Kristin White, a 28-year-old schoolteacher who grew up in Haines, a town north of here, is from another family in the area whose real estate grew as land rose. When her father tried to sell some property in Haines, she said, “he had to have it resurveyed.”

But for Ms. White, who has vivid memories of visiting the Mendenhall glacier as a child, the gain in acreage has been bittersweet. Seeing the glacier retreat, she said, is “as if you lived in the Smoky Mountains and you were used to seeing certain peaks — and they disappeared. It’s just totally, totally sad.”

    As Alaska Glaciers Melt, It’s Land That’s Rising, NYT, 18.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/18/science/earth/18juneau.html?hp






Easy Practices to Reduce Outdoor Water Waste


May 18, 2009
Filed at 11:50 a.m. ET
The New York Times


The average American homeowner uses about 89,100 gallons of water a year on the outside of the home.

As more people switch to eco-friendly and energy-efficient practices, they're discovering the problem isn't just leaky faucets and inefficient sprinklers. The part of their landscape that wastes the most water is often the greenest: their lawns.

''The English lawn has become the American expectation,'' says Chris Brown, executive director of the California Urban Water Conservation Council, ''but we're trying to reproduce a landscape that wouldn't grow here naturally.''

To dissuade wasteful habits, water providers in drought-prone areas like California and Nevada are offering incentives for homeowners to ''green'' their lawns by growing native plants as well as picking up other water conserving practices.

The San Diego County Water Authority gives rebates starting at $230 for weather-based irrigation systems and $4 rebates per rotating hose nozzle that acts like an on-off switch. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is paying homeowners $1 to $1.50 per square foot -- with a maximum of $300,000 -- to rip up their grass and replace it with water efficient plants.

''People's perception of water use and the reality are quite different,'' said Doug Bennett, conservation manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority. ''They don't know how much water their lawns use. They think, 'No, it's my shower.'''

The federal government is also interested in changing consumer water habits. The Environmental Protection Agency has launched a water conservation program, called WaterSense, to help consumers find water-saving products for inside and outside the home.

Here are some of the best ways to save water outside your home:

LANDSCAPING: Skip the grass and grow plants Mother Nature intended for your region and climate. A study done last year by the Southern Nevada Water Authority found the annual water bill for a lawn with grass was on average $2,600, almost 3.5 times more than the $770 bill for a lawn with native plants, such as Foxtail Fern and Pink Desert Hibiscus.

Another bonus? No more lawnmower.

In semiarid regions such as California and Arizona, try shrubs like Western Redbud or Toyon, which bloom pink flowers. In New England, plant the adaptable highbush blueberry shrub or the versatile American witch hazel. Deer fern, the red huckleberry shrub and the orange honeysuckle vine all grow well in the Pacific Northwest. Check your local water authority, nurseries or plant or flower society for native plant suggestions.

If you want grass, put it areas where you need it the most, such as areas where you kick the soccer ball or picnic. Plant it in shady areas instead of in direct sunlight. Shaded grass requires less water, up to half less depending on the grass type. And keep the blade length around three inches to slow evaporation and reduce heat stress.

WATERING: To reduce loss to evaporation, water in the morning or evening. Watering in the morning also cuts down on fungus growth. Don't water in the wind because the drops won't fall where you need them to.

Avoid watering the pavement. Make sure sprinklers and hose nozzles are watering the plants, not the driveway or sidewalk. Weed regularly so they don't compete with plants for water.

Resist the urge to over water. A study by Southern Nevada Water Authority found that residents watered up to three times too much during the fall.

One way to avoid over-watering is to group plants by water needs to make them easier to care for. Also, water when plants show signs of distress like wilting or discoloring. By holding off on watering, your plants respond by growing a deeper root system, making for healthier plants in the long run. If you're worried, check two inches below the soil surface to see if it's moist. If it's bone-dry, water.

Don't forget to pay attention to the weather.

''It's not useful to have sprinklers run during a rainstorm,'' says Greg Kail, spokesman for the American Water Works Association. And it's not efficient to water on Saturday if it already rained on Thursday.

To help you keep track of the weather, install automatic water timers ($15-$100), moisture or rain sensors ($25-$50) or weather-based timers ($150-$800) on irrigation systems. Weather-based systems are plugged into the Weather Channel or other data sources and alter the watering schedule based on the information it receives. The rain sensors will shut off watering valves when it gets wet.

You will need a trained professional to install these systems. Warns Brown: ''You can install a smart timer and it can be a dumb timer if it's not installed properly.''

Anywhere you have mulch, install drip irrigation hose system, which run between $11 and $35. These hoses snake through plant beds at or just above soil level and slowly release water directly into the soil. The loss to evaporation is minimal and it gets right to the root systems.

MULCH: Mulch is an easy way to prevent runoff and preserve moisture. Use it around plants and trees to reduce evaporation, to keep the soil and roots cool, to enrich the soil with organic material and to discourage weed growth. Also, line sidewalks and driveways with an eight-inch mulch buffer using wood chips, shredded wood, bark nuggets, landscaping stones or rocks. This will curb water runoff.

PLUMBING: Just like indoors, outdoor leaks are a major source of water loss. A dripping faucet wastes about 75 gallons of water a week. But outside leaks often go unnoticed. Check for leaks in hoses, pipes, faucets and hose connections to ensure they're in working order.

Buy automatic shut-off nozzles, which completely turn off the water when the hose isn't in use. Water pours out of an open hose about 10 gallons a minute, so the seconds count. Also, the nozzle will direct the stream better than your finger.

OTHER: Cover pools and spas to reduce evaporation. An uncovered pool can lose about 1,000 gallons of water each month. Cut out sprinklers and other water toys that use a constant stream of water. Instead, buy toys that use a finite amount of water like small wading pools.

Instead of hosing off the sidewalk and driveway, sweep leaves and dirt with a broom. And when you wash the car, remember to turn off the water when you're not using it. Otherwise, you waste about 100 gallons of water each car wash. During drought times, take your car to a professional car wash which typically recaptures and recycles water.

In the West and Midwest, evaporative air conditioners, or swamp coolers, can consume between 10,000 and 20,000 gallons of water each year. To reduce its consumption, turn on the cooler when it hits 85 degrees versus 79 degrees; you'll use 50 percent less water, according to the New Mexico Water Use and Conservation Bureau. Only run the fan during rainy or humid days or on cooler nights. And routinely check for leaks.

    Easy Practices to Reduce Outdoor Water Waste, NYT, 18.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/18/business/AP-Service-Package-Conserving-Water.html






Mansions, Humble Homes Burn in Coastal Calif. City


May 7, 2009
Filed at 12:41 p.m. ET
The New York Times


SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) -- Winds swirled and homes of all sizes burned as a wildfire descended on this scenic coastal city amid hot, dry conditions that resembled late summer more than the middle of spring.

Firefighters had a brief respite of moderate breezes early Thursday, but expected another day of heat, gusts and potential destruction as they took on a blaze that had swelled to 500 acres and forced the evacuation of more than 5,000 homes.

TV news helicopters showed at least a dozen homes ablaze as night fell, but authorities had no immediate estimate of how many had been destroyed.

Huge mansions and humble homes alike were reduced to rubble, leaving palm trees swaying over gutted ruins. Aerial footage showed five or more luxury homes burning along one crest-top road, and many flare-ups dotting the residential hills were apparently burning homes.

''The fire is very spotty and patchy and there's a lot of smoke,'' which makes it difficult to see the damage,'' Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Sadecki said. ''Because it involves people's homes, we don't want to speculate.''

The fire went from tame to explosive Wednesday afternoon as gusts up to 50 mph in triple-digit temperatures hurled the fire from north to south into neighborhoods, Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Sadecki said.

It remained out of control Thursday morning, though temperatures dropped to the 60s and winds had grown calm.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency, and the National Weather Service issued a ''Red Flag'' warning for fire danger, predicting strong wind danger through Friday morning.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department spokesman Drew Sugars said 5,430 homes were under mandatory evacuation. The estimated population of those homes was 13,575 people, he said.

Some of the evacuated were allowed to return to their homes early Thursday, the county said in a news release, but officials had no estimate of how many people were affected.

More than 900 firefighters were on the lines, and 20 more strike teams totaling about 1,300 firefighters were requested.

Crews from surrounding counties and inmates from the California Department of Corrections were arriving on the scene Thursday morning.

Firefighters who had worked through Wednesday's fierce flames dozed in sleeping bags on the lawn of the command center while others worked through the night in evacuated neighborhoods.

''The firefighters are picking houses and seeing if they can make a stand,'' Sadecki said.

The city has experienced a number of wildfires. Less than six months ago a fire destroyed more than 200 homes in Santa Barbara and neighboring Montecito. The new fire reached the area burned by that blaze Wednesday. And in 1990, a fire killed one and destroyed 641 homes, apartments and other structures in the county.

Santa Barbara, a city of 90,000 about 100 miles west of Los Angeles, rises rapidly from the coastline on the south to the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains to the north. It is subject to ''Sundowners'' -- strong winds that blow downslope through passes and canyons of the mountain range and offshore.

Elsewhere, firefighters were battling a blaze in rural southeastern Arizona that destroyed three houses near Sierra Vista on Tuesday and injured a man. The fire charred about 4,200 acres near Fort Huachuca, threatening about 50 homes in a subdivision. Containment was estimated at 15 percent Wednesday.

In southern New Mexico, a wildfire in the mountains near Timberon charred about 100 acres, burning at least three structures. State Forestry spokesman Dan Ware said firefighters hadn't been able to confirm what types of buildings they were.

Fifteen residents have been evacuated, and 70 structures were threatened, Ware said.

    Mansions, Humble Homes Burn in Coastal Calif. City, NYT, 7.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/07/us/AP-US-Wildfires.html






Wildfires Hit Myrtle Beach Area


April 24, 2009
The New York Times


Wildfires swept through a coastal region of South Carolina on Thursday and threatened North Myrtle Beach, destroying about 70 homes and forcing more than 2,500 people to evacuate, state officials said.

Gov. Mark Sanford declared a state of emergency in Horry County, which includes the Myrtle Beach area, and officials of North Myrtle Beach scrambled to get residents to pack up and flee.

No injuries have been reported since the fire began on Wednesday, but the blaze jumped a state highway and headed rapidly toward a heavily concentrated residential and tourist area, prompting the evacuations and the closing of schools and businesses in North Myrtle Beach. It also tore through a 10,000-acre nature preserve that is home to bald eagles, woodpeckers and many rare species of plants.

The blaze began along the coast just west of Myrtle Beach around noon on Wednesday and quickly spread, fueled by winds of 25 miles per hour and low humidity. The fire rapidly expanded overnight, but by early Thursday evening firefighters said they had managed to hold it at bay with the help of Blackhawk helicopters that dropped water and small bulldozers that created fire breaks along the perimeter.

But residents were still being urged to evacuate.

“Our public safety department went door to door and we asked everyone to leave,” Mayor Marilyn Hatley of North Myrtle Beach said at a news conference Thursday. “We tried our best to remove everyone as soon as possible.”

Although the blaze moved quickly along the coast, it stopped just short of the Intracoastal Waterway separating the mainland from the coastal area, which firefighters were hoping would act as a natural barrier. The cause of the fire was being investigated, and officials said it could take two or three days more to contain it fully.

“We realized right away that it had huge potential, that it was a very dangerous fire,” said Russell Hubright, a spokesman for the South Carolina Forestry Commission. “The other serious part is that there’s quite a lot of homes in that immediate area there.”

Todd Cartner, a spokesman for the Horry County Fire Rescue, told The Associated Press that the blaze was the worst to hit the area since 1976, when 30,000 acres, or 47 square miles, burned.

Typically, wildfires claim about 35 homes a year in South Carolina, Mr. Hubright said, adding that the wildfire that began on Wednesday destroyed about 70 homes and damaged 100 others in barely 24 hours.

Mr. Hubright said that fire and forestry officials responded quickly to the blaze, and contained about 25 percent of it by late Wednesday, but that the fire burned vigorously overnight, and by Thursday morning containment was below 10 percent.

By early Thursday evening, officials said, the blaze had engulfed about 15,000 acres.

Many tourists who had been vacationing in the area, known for its golf courses and beaches and which generates about $16 billion a year in business, were forced to flee.

Firefighters said they were concerned that the low humidity and strong winds would allow the fire to “spot,” or send out embers as far as a quarter mile away, causing the blaze to spread more quickly.

“When you’re out there trying to contain a fire and you’ve got fire jumping ahead of you, that makes it even more dangerous,” Mr. Hubright said.

    Wildfires Hit Myrtle Beach Area, NYT, 24.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/24/us/24blaze.html?hpw






Industry Ignored Its Scientists on Climate


April 24, 2009
The New York Times


For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.

“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

The coalition was financed by fees from large corporations and trade groups representing the oil, coal and auto industries, among others. In 1997, the year an international climate agreement that came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, its budget totaled $1.68 million, according to tax records obtained by environmental groups.

Throughout the 1990s, when the coalition conducted a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign challenging the merits of an international agreement, policy makers and pundits were fiercely debating whether humans could dangerously warm the planet. Today, with general agreement on the basics of warming, the debate has largely moved on to the question of how extensively to respond to rising temperatures.

Environmentalists have long maintained that industry knew early on that the scientific evidence supported a human influence on rising temperatures, but that the evidence was ignored for the sake of companies’ fight against curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. Some environmentalists have compared the tactic to that once used by tobacco companies, which for decades insisted that the science linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer was uncertain. By questioning the science on global warming, these environmentalists say, groups like the Global Climate Coalition were able to sow enough doubt to blunt public concern about a consequential issue and delay government action.

George Monbiot, a British environmental activist and writer, said that by promoting doubt, industry had taken advantage of news media norms requiring neutral coverage of issues, just as the tobacco industry once had.

“They didn’t have to win the argument to succeed,” Mr. Monbiot said, “only to cause as much confusion as possible.”

William O’Keefe, at the time a leader of the Global Climate Coalition, said in a telephone interview that the group’s leadership had not been aware of a gap between the public campaign and the advisers’ views. Mr. O’Keefe said the coalition’s leaders had felt that the scientific uncertainty justified a cautious approach to addressing cuts in greenhouse gases.

The coalition disbanded in 2002, but some members, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute, continue to lobby against any law or treaty that would sharply curb emissions. Others, like Exxon Mobil, now recognize a human contribution to global warming and have largely dropped financial support to groups challenging the science.

Documents drawn up by the coalition’s advisers were provided to lawyers by the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, a coalition member, during the discovery process in a lawsuit that the auto industry filed in 2007 against the State of California’s efforts to limit vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions. The documents included drafts of a primer written for the coalition by its technical advisory committee, as well as minutes of the advisers’ meetings.

The documents were recently sent to The New York Times by a lawyer for environmental groups that sided with the state. The lawyer, eager to maintain a cordial relationship with the court, insisted on anonymity because the litigation is continuing.

The advisory committee was led by Leonard S. Bernstein, a chemical engineer and climate expert then at the Mobil Corporation. At the time the committee’s primer was drawn up, policy makers in the United States and abroad were arguing over the scope of the international climate-change agreement that in 1997 became the Kyoto Protocol.

The primer rejected the idea that mounting evidence already suggested that human activities were warming the climate, as a 1995 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had concluded. (In a report in 2007, the panel concluded with near certainty that most recent warming had been caused by humans.)

Yet the primer also found unpersuasive the arguments being used by skeptics, including the possibility that temperatures were only appearing to rise because of flawed climate records.

“The contrarian theories raise interesting questions about our total understanding of climate processes, but they do not offer convincing arguments against the conventional model of greenhouse gas emission-induced climate change,” the advisory committee said in the 17-page primer.

According to the minutes of an advisory committee meeting that are among the disclosed documents, the primer was approved by the coalition’s operating committee early in 1996. But the approval came only after the operating committee had asked the advisers to omit the section that rebutted the contrarian arguments.

“This idea was accepted,” the minutes said, “and that portion of the paper will be dropped.”

The primer itself was never publicly distributed.

Mr. O’Keefe, who was then chairman of the Global Climate Coalition and a senior official of the American Petroleum Institute, the lobby for oil companies, said in the phone interview that he recalled seeing parts of the primer.

But he said he was not aware of the dropped sections when a copy of the approved final draft was sent to him. He said a change of that kind would have been made by the staff before the document was brought to the board for final consideration.

“I have no idea why the section on the contrarians would have been deleted,” said Mr. O’Keefe, now chief executive of the Marshall Institute, a nonprofit research group that opposes a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

“One thing I’m absolutely certain of,” he said, “is that no member of the board of the Global Climate Coalition said, ‘We have to suppress this.’ ”

Benjamin D. Santer, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory whose work for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was challenged by the Global Climate Coalition and allied groups, said the coalition was “engaging in a full-court press at the time, trying to cast doubt on the bottom-line conclusion of the I.P.C.C.” That panel concluded in 1995 that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”

“I’m amazed and astonished,” Dr. Santer said, “that the Global Climate Coalition had in their possession scientific information that substantiated our cautious findings and then chose to suppress that information.”

    Industry Ignored Its Scientists on Climate, NYT, 24.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/24/science/earth/24deny.html?hp






SC Wildfire Burns Homes Near Popular Beach Area


April 23, 2009
Filed at 10:53 a.m. ET
The New York Times


NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) -- A coastal wildfire spread early Thursday toward one of the busiest tourist stretches in South Carolina, burning dozens of homes and forcing hundreds to flee in the middle of the night. No injuries were reported.

Police banged on doors to awaken residents as strong winds helped the blaze cut a four-mile-wide swath through forests and scrub toward the Barefoot Landing development, a sprawling complex of houses, condominiums and golf courses separated from the main route through Myrtle Beach by the Intracoastal Waterway.

''It was like something out of a movie,'' said Danielle Prater, 25, of Charlotte, N.C., who woke her aunt and uncle at 1:30 a.m. after seeing flames several feet high racing through a neighbor's back yard. ''I ran and got them and we got out of there as fast as we could.''

Officials hoped the waterway would act as a natural firebreak to protect more populated areas closer to the beach. State officials said as many as 70 homes had been destroyed and Garry Alderman, the county fire chief, described some as left with only ''skeletal remains.''

''I've never seen anything this bad,'' he said.

The governor declared a state of emergency for the county.

About 2,500 people in a four-mile stretch on the western side of the waterway were told to leave their homes overnight, said North Myrtle Beach spokeswoman Nicole Aiello. Shelters were set up at North Myrtle Beach City Hall and the House of Blues, where about 50 people watched a television over the bar looking for news updates. More than 100 others milled about, some waiting in their cars outside, where a white haze settled over the parking lot and the acrid smell of smoke was pervasive.

''What we have on is what we got away with,'' said Sherlene Pinnix, 63.

A cause of the fire, which started a day earlier in a wooded area west of the beach, had not been determined. The governor's office said more than 15,000 acres, or about 23 square miles, had been scorched by early Thursday morning.

Flames jumped highways and walls of smoke engulfed tourist attractions as 30 mph gusts blew toward the ocean. Winds were expected to be weaker Thursday, but officials still feared the blaze could jump the waterway.

Besides the wind, Horry County Fire Rescue spokesman Todd Cartner said crews were having trouble getting to the flames because of the dense vegetation and were using plows and tractors to cut paths to it.

Adding to the problem were heavily vegetated patches called Carolina Bays that caught fire and fueled the blaze.

The shallow, egg-shaped depressions pockmark the coast and range in size from a few to thousands of acres. The bays are densely filled with plant life and often have boggy bottoms where peat, if it catches fire, can burn for days or weeks. Tropical downpours are often needed to extinguish such fires, said state Forestry Commission spokesman Scott Hawkins.

''Once you get a fire in a bay, it's very, very hard to put out,'' he said.

The area is the anchor of the state's $16 billion annual tourist industry, drawing college students for its low-cost spring break and families who fill miles of budget beachfront hotels along the coast from Memorial through Labor Day. Tens of thousands of golfers visit each year, and some of the region's courses are among the most highly regarded in the nation.

Just off the coast, subdivisons and golf courses have been carved from forest and swamps over decades and the area remain prone to wildfires that spring up in the woods and scrub. Cartner said it was the worst blaze since some 30,000 acres, or 47 square miles, burned in 1976.

On Wednesday, gray-white smoke engulfed the restaurant row between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. It looked like a winter fog, with car headlights and neon signs peeking through the haze. Several miles west of the tourist strip, 15 people gathered in a church shelter set up when their subdivision was threatened.

At a shelter set up Wednesday when the fire threatened a subdivision, Jo Hillman, 52, joined her husband, Chuck, and 13 other people at a shelter set up at the Tilly Swamp Baptist Church about midway between Conway and North Myrtle Beach.

As a prayer meeting went on inside, Jo Hillman and her husband recalled the tense moments as the fire started spreading.

''First they said 'You've got 15 minutes.' Then they said 'Get out now,''' said Jo Hillman, 52.


Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard in North Myrtle Beach, and Jeffrey Collins and Jack Jones in Columbia contributed to this report.

    SC Wildfire Burns Homes Near Popular Beach Area, NYT, 23.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/04/23/us/AP-US-SC-Wildfire.html






A River Prone to Flooding, and Misunderstanding


March 31, 2009
The New York Times


FARGO, N.D. — Predicting the weather has always been at least in part a gambler’s game — a matter of odds and percentages.

But over the last week, as the Red River in North Dakota has surged to potentially catastrophic flood levels, setting off waves of anxiety from here to Washington, forecasters seem to have been betting mostly on the wrong horse.

The flood surge rose much faster than expected in Fargo, the state’s largest city, then peaked sooner and at a lower level than forecast — to the city’s great relief and gratitude. In the last two days — surprise again — it has gone down more rapidly than foreseen.

But the uncertainty has taken a toll.

“It really stresses the city’s system,” said Donald P. Schwert, a professor of geology at North Dakota State University in Fargo, who has been a consultant on landslide and erosion issues to Cass County, which includes Fargo. “The city builds up temporary dikes on a forecast, then a new forecast comes and the city has to respond to that, and on it goes.”

Scientists say they have learned a tremendous amount about the Red River since its last major flood in 1997, using sophisticated modeling systems developed in the wake of disasters up and down the river that year.

But to the chagrin and frustration of emergency workers, one of the biggest lessons from all the new data is that the Red River — obscure to many Americans, but beloved in the world of river hydrology — has emerged as perhaps even more maddeningly complex, and thus in some ways harder to predict, than before.

“It’s like anything else in life — the more you know, the more you know you don’t know,” said Scott Dummer, the hydrologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service’s North Central River Forecast Center.

Mr. Dummer (pronounced DUE-mer) said the Red River, though fairly modest compared with some more famous rivers, was devilishly hard to predict, partly because of its shallow channel. The Colorado River has been carving out the Grand Canyon for millions of years. The Red, by contrast, dates back to perhaps only a few thousand years before the Pyramids. That means it has not had that long to cut deep channels that can contain water during floods.

On top of that, the river flows very slowly across a pancake-flat landscape. Imagine raising an eight-foot-long sheet of plywood just enough to slip a single sheet of paper under the raised end. The resulting minuscule tilt of the board represents the average slope of the Red River’s bed.

What that means is that the river, when it goes awry during a flood, spills every which way across the countryside. This makes predictions of flood levels contingent on thousands of data points, not just depth gauges here and there.

In the Weather Service’s defense, Mr. Dummer said the long-term predictions of this year’s flood — the first warnings went out in December — were right on the money, and justified the expense and work involved in the new computer models, which rely on 58 years of river data.

Other wrinkles of the river’s drainage basin, though, are just now being explored, like the odd legacy of homesteading. The land grant system of the 1800’s divided much of the nation into square-mile sections of 640 acres — a pattern still prevalent on the Great Plains, where many roads follow with geometric, if not downright boring, exactitude the old ruler-straight division lines.

Now comes the Red River question: How much water does each square hold? Nobody knows the exact amount, said Aaron W. Buesing, a hydraulic engineer with the United States Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul, but the next round of computer models aims to provide an answer.

Mr. Buesing said he thought that grid storage might explain why some flood surge predictions were off. The river’s quick rise, accompanied by a cold snap, may have trapped enough water in the grids to keep the worst predictions from materializing, he said.

Then there’s Canada to worry about. Squashed by glaciers for thousands of years, it has been slowly recovering from the compression. For the north-flowing Red River, that means its downhill slope, already barely perceptible, is getting even less pronounced with each passing year, adding to its complexity, and its propensity to flood.

    A River Prone to Flooding, and Misunderstanding, NYT, 31.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/us/31red.html






Fargo Neighborhood Evacuated as Waters Rise


March 28, 2009
The New York Times


FARGO, N.D. — Along the banks of this city, the Red River surpassed its highest level in history Friday morning, forcing the emergency evacuation of one neighborhood before dawn and leading city leaders here, once cheerfully upbeat, to sound far more dire.

“We do not want to give up yet,” Mayor Dennis Walaker of Fargo said late Thursday night after receiving yet another piece of gruesome news. Forecasters now believe the Red River will go right on rising, and by Saturday overtake the record set here more than a century ago by two feet or even more, much higher than anyone here had earlier believed possible.

“We want to go down swinging — if we go down,” the mayor said, as he urged his city to summon the energy to build the dikes that protect it yet another foot higher by Friday night.

“I’m going to be devastated if we lose,” said Mr. Walaker, who had, only a few days ago, expressed optimism, even certainty, that Fargo, a city of 90,000 and North Dakota’s most populous, would be fine.

By Friday morning, some hospitals here had transferred patients to other facilities miles away, and nursing homes had sent residents to relatives’ homes on high ground. Major roads here were closed, to allow trucks carrying more loads of sandbags to reach levees as fast as possible. And after about 100 people, including some residents of a nursing home, in one Fargo neighborhood and a large swath of neighboring Moorhead, Minn., were forced to evacuate Thursday night, officials on Friday ordered residents from about 150 more Fargo homes to leave just after 2 a.m. The authorities said they found a leak in a levee near those homes, and were racing to repair it. Residents, meanwhile, could be seen trudging out by foot, bearing belongings in bone-cold temperatures, local news reports said.

While flooding conditions have threatened much of North Dakota and parts of western Minnesota, and some rural communities are already under water, all eyes on Friday were on this city and on Moorhead, a city of 34,700 just across the Red River. More than a thousand members of the National Guard had been called in to add more sand to the area’s already enormous dikes, but even weather forecasters seemed at a loss to be sure what might come next.

“This is definitely ground zero right now,” said Patrick Slattery, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. “Once you get here, into predictions above the levels we have ever seen before, you’re taking about unbroken ground. Even we don’t know for certain what’s going to happen.”

People here found themselves facing added challenges given the singular dimensions of this flood. Once the river crests on Saturday, it is expected to stay at those swelled, highest levels for several days. Dikes that hold for a few hours may be in trouble in a matter of days, the authorities here say.

The temperature here, too — 10 degrees on Friday morning with a wind chill reported at 4 degree below zero — tested the stamina of thousands of volunteers. It also led some to worry about the condition of the piles sandbags. Would sandbags slide and give way on frozen ground? Would frigid sandbags allow water to flow through rather than holding it back?

In Fargo, a city where residents continued to offer applause at public meetings for their political leaders even as the news grew worse and worse this week, tempers were clearly tested by late Thursday. Kristy Fremstad, who owns rental property in Fargo, pleaded with city officials to add sandbags to the dike near her land.

“We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting,” she tearfully told city commissioners at an emergency meeting, (also attended by Gov. John Hoeven, Senator Byron L. Dorgan and Representative Earl Pomeroy). “I need some help.”

Schools and businesses were closed. And some people in between the city’s primary dike system and a second set of newly created emergency dikes were advised to evacuate. Volunteers, now days into their work, went right on filling sandbags at the Fargodome all through the night.

Across the bulging river, in Moorhead, residents who had been advised to evacuate found themselves on roads jammed with other cars, (and, in some cases, still covered in snow). The congested streets led some here, including Mayor Walaker, to worry about how a broader evacuation plan, if one were required, would play out here.

Adding to the complications of such a concept, local officials acknowledged, was the fact that no one could be sure where the dikes might break or what roads — given rising waters and falling snow — might be passable.

In some rural areas to the south of Fargo and elsewhere, water had already filled homes. White caps, one law enforcement officer said, could be seen around what had once been farm fields. Rescues were made with boats and helicopters, even as other residents, surrounded on all sides by water, insisted on staying put.

Around Bismarck, the state capital, flooded neighborhoods sat empty as demolition crews battled dangerous ice jams on the Missouri with explosives. Water levels had dropped some there, offering hope.

“Our biggest concern is an ice jam in the river just 10 miles north of Bismarck, which we’re hoping does not dislodge,” said Bill Wocken, that city’s administrator. “An ice jam is kind of like my teenage daughter. Sometimes there is just no way to predict what they’ll do next.”

In Grand Forks, which was devastated by flooding in 1997, two of the three bridges leading in and out of town were already closed. But city officials seemed hopeful that a $409 million Army Corps of Engineers flood protection project, completed two years ago, would save the city from the Red River this time.

“We remain cautious, vigilant and watchful,” said Kevin Dean, a city spokesman.


Karen Ann Culotta contributed reporting from Chicago.

    Fargo Neighborhood Evacuated as Waters Rise, NYT, 28.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/us/28flood.html?hp






Red River Tops Historic Marker, Undermines Dike


March 27, 2009
Filed at 8:53 a.m. ET
The New York Times


FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- The Red River rose to a 112-year high early Friday, breaching a dike south of downtown and forcing authorities to order the evacuations of about 150 homes.

The river had risen to 40.32 feet early Friday -- more than 22 feet above flood stage and inches more than the previous high water mark of 40.1 feet set April 7, 1897. It was expected to crest as high as 43 feet on Saturday.

Just after 2 a.m. Friday, residents in one neighborhood were roused from sleep and ordered to evacuate after authorities found a leak in a dike. The leak left the integrity of the dike in question, police Capt. Tod Dahle said.

''It's not like there's a wall of water going through,'' he said. ''It's just a significant leak.''

Fargo spokeswoman Karena Lunday said it was the only overnight breech and crews would start patching it Friday morning.

Officials vowed to build the dikes higher, but there was a growing sense the city's best efforts might not be enough.

''We do not want to give up yet. We want to go down swinging if we go down,'' Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said Thursday, just hours after the disheartening news that forecasters had -- yet again -- increased the projected crest.

Residents in this city of 92,000 had been scrambling in subfreezing temperatures to pile sandbags along the river and spent much of Thursday preparing for a crest of 41 feet, only to have forecasters late in the day add up to 2 feet to their estimate.

The National Weather Service said in its follow-up statement that the Red was expected to crest between 41 and 42 feet by Saturday, but could reach 43 feet. It said water levels could remain high for three days to a week -- a lengthy test of on-the-fly flood control.

The first estimate sparked urgency among thousands of volunteers in Fargo. The second shook their spirits.

''I've lived here 40 years and over a 30-minute span I've reached a point where I'm preparing to evacuate and expect never to sleep in my house again,'' said Tim Corwin, 55, whose south Fargo home was sheltered by sandbags to 43 feet.

Dick Bailly, 64, choked up as he looked out over his backyard dike.

''It was demoralizing this morning,'' Bailly said, his eyes welling. ''We got a lot of work to do. People have the will to respond, but you can only fight nature so much, and sometimes nature wins.''

But the sandbag-making operation at the Fargodome churned as furiously as ever, sending fresh bags out to an estimated 6,000 volunteers who endured temperatures below 20 degrees in the race to sandbag.

''I was skeptical as far as volunteers coming out today, but they're like mailmen,'' said Leon Schlafmann, Fargo's emergency management director. ''They come out rain, sleet or shine.''

Gov. John Hoeven called for 500 more National Guard members to join 900 already part of the effort.

Several unusual factors sent the Red River surging to historic heights this year. The winter was unusually cold and snowy, which left a large snowpack sitting on top of frozen ground that couldn't absorb it. Then a warm snap and heavy rain quickly melted the snow and sent it into toward the river.

And it all happened to a river that flows north. When most rivers in the United States melt, they send the extra water south toward warmer, open water. When the Red breaks up, it sends hunks of ice north into colder water that is often still frozen.

Officials ordered the evacuation of another Fargo neighborhood and a nursing home late Thursday after authorities found cracks in an earthen levee. Residents were not in immediate danger, and water wasn't flowing over the levee, Walaker said.

Still, officers went door to door to the roughly 40 homes in the River Vili neighborhood and were evacuating Riverview Estates nursing home. Authorities also asked the 1,000 residents who live between the main dikes and the backup dikes in various parts of the city to leave within 24 hours. That evacuation could become mandatory.

The city was also blocking off its main roadways Friday, so sandbag trucks could get to where they were needed most.

Authorities across the river in Moorhead, Minn., also stepped up evacuations Thursday. The city of about 35,000 recommended that residents leave the southwest corner of the city and a low-lying township to the north where some homes had already flooded.

Fargo's largest hospital and at least four nursing homes also moved residents.

''A few of them said they didn't want to go. I said I'm going where the crowd goes,'' said 98-year-old Margaret ''Dolly'' Beaucage, who clasped rosary beads as she waited to leave Elim Care Center.

''I'm a swimmer,'' she said, smiling, ''but not that good a swimmer.''

In rural areas south of Fargo, crews were rescuing stranded residents. Pat Connor of the Cass County sheriff's department said 70 people had been rescued by Thursday evening, and he expected that number to grow.

The federal government announced a disaster declaration Thursday for seven Minnesota counties. The entire state of North Dakota had received a disaster designation earlier in the week.

On the Canadian side of the northern-flowing Red River, ice-clogged culverts, ice jams and the rising river threatened Manitoba residents. Several homes were evacuated north of Winnipeg and several dozen houses were flooded.

''We're in for probably the worst two weeks that this community has ever seen in its entire existence,'' St. Clements Mayor Steve Strang said. The Red River crest threatening North Dakota isn't expected to arrive in Manitoba for another week.


On the Net:

Red River at Fargo water levels: http://sn.im/enwgc

    Red River Tops Historic Marker, Undermines Dike, NYT, 27.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/03/27/us/AP-Midwest-Flooding.html






ND Univ Cancels Classes to Help With Sandbagging


March 23, 2009
Filed at 1:03 p.m. ET
The New York Times


x FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- High school and college students were let out of class Monday to help with sandbagging as residents raced to hold off possible flooding on the rising Red River.

City officials planned to fill more than 1 million sandbags, but with more rain forecast they increased the need to nearly 2 million sandbags -- about 500,000 each day by the end of the week.

''We're confident that we can get the bags delivered,'' said Bruce Grubb, Fargo's enterprise director. ''Getting them made is a more daunting challenge.''

North Dakota State University canceled classes Monday and told students transportation would be provided to and from volunteer sites. Fargo high schools also excused busloads of students to help.

''The students are eager to help. We're ready to go,'' Fargo school spokesman Dan Huffman said.

Administrator Pat Zavoral estimated the city was about 40 percent protected as of Monday.

Officials in Fargo, with about 90,000 residents, and across the river in northwestern Minnesota issued urgent pleas Sunday for volunteers to help with sandbagging as a storm increased the flood threat in an area already expected to be swamped by a record crest.

''We need this help,'' Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said Sunday. ''We need to stay calm, we need to stay cool, but we need to get serious and get this done.''

Flood stage at Fargo is 18 feet, and the National Weather Service said the Red River had reached 25.3 feet Monday morning. The weather service said the river is expected to crest in Fargo early Friday at around 40 feet -- a record.

Officials said a dike protecting downtown Fargo was being raised to about 43 feet and an emergency levee south of the city was being completed.

The Minnesota National Guard said Sunday that more than 200 soldiers were being sent to the Red River Valley to help with the flood fight, and the North Dakota National Guard said about 250 members were ready.

Fargo is borrowing some expertise from Louisiana. The National Guard and the city plan to bring in seven miles of 4-feet high interlocking plastic containers that can be filled with sand to form temporary dikes, a system that was used during Hurricane Katrina.

''It's collapsable and easy to move,'' Zavoral said.

Flooding also forced people from their homes in small ranching and farming communities in south-central North Dakota.

North Dakota National Guard members used boats Monday morning to ferry about five rural residents from farms in Emmons County, said county spokeswoman Marlys Ohlhause.

Also in Emmons County, 50 to 75 homes were evacuated Sunday night in Linton, a town of about 1,300 south of Bismarck, said county emergency manager Shawna Paul.

About 40 families abandoned their homes in Beulah on Sunday and early Monday, said Mercer County emergency manager Richard Sorenson. County rescuers used a boat to pick up two people from their homes Monday, he said. Beulah is a coal country town of about 3,150 northwest of Bismarck.

''There are no injuries -- just a lot of people stressed out and worried,'' Sorenson said.


Associated Press writer James MacPherson in Bismarck contributed to this report.

    ND Univ Cancels Classes to Help With Sandbagging, NYT, 23.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/03/23/us/AP-Flooding-Fargo.html






Snowstorm Moves In, Causing Delays and Closing Schools


March 3, 2009
The New York Times


A heavy snowstorm continued to blanket the New York City region Monday morning, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights and closing most schools as region braced for as much as a foot of snow.

By 5:30 a.m. Monday morning, four to six inches of snow had fallen in and around New York City, and six to nine inches were reported across parts of Long Island and Connecticut, according to the National Weather Service. Lighter snowfall — between three and five inches — covered parts of northeastern New Jersey and the lower Hudson Valley. In addition to the flight cancellations, major bus carriers, including Greyhound and Peter Pan, canceled all trips after midnight.

Public schools in New York City were closed.

“We’re comfortable that today’s a day for a snow day,” Joel I. Klein, city schools chancellor, said in an early morning interview with WCBS-TV.

Most city subways were operating on or close to schedule, but there were significant delays on the A, G and L lines, and all New York City buses were delayed, the Metropolitan Transit Authority reported. New Jersey Transit commuter trains were running up to 25 minutes late, with some cancellations, and New Jersey Transit buses were running 20 minutes late. The Long Island Railroad also reported scattered delays.

At 7 a.m., the US Airways terminal at LaGuardia Airport was largely empty, with the vast majority of flights canceled, and a handful of people waiting at counters trying to reschedule their travel. A few flights were getting off the ground. It was much the same situation at Kennedy Airport, local television stations reported.

The National Weather Service predicted the heaviest snowfall through 7 or 8 a.m. on Monday. Periods of snow were likely to continue throughout Monday afternoon. Wind gusts were predicted to reach up to 35 miles per hour, which would classify the storm as a nor’easter, meteorologists said.

“It’s the first of March, which you know is the month that we say comes in like a lion and out like a lamb,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news conference on Sunday. “And while it is too soon to be counting sheep, it’s pretty clear that the lions are getting ready to roar, if you like that.”

The looming storm sent the city and Port Authority scurrying to prepare.

The Port Authority had planned to dispatch more than 300 pieces of heavy snow equipment, including melters and plows at the airports, and approximately 60 for bridges and tunnels, including 28 for the George Washington Bridge alone. More than 4,000 tons of salt and sand were available for airport roads and parking lots, bridges and tunnels.

Vito A. Turso, the Department of Sanitation’s deputy commissioner for public information and community affairs, estimated that 4,500 sanitation workers would be on duty over the next 24 hours, as well as more than 2,000 pieces of equipment, which included 365 salt spreaders and close to 1,600 plows attached to garbage vehicles.

Because salting the roads is the first defense in these scenarios, he said the city was prepared to dip into 130,000 tons of rock salt on reserve.

“I think the city is very, very prepared to deal with it, and if people cooperate, then it makes our job easier,” Mr. Turso said.

Earlier Sunday, the storm crept across several Southern states, making for a peculiar wintry sight in places like Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

Alabama got about four inches of snow that caused the cancellation of more than 210 church services in the central part of the Bible Belt state, according to The Associated Press. In Georgia, the snow caused flight cancellations and made roads treacherous.

As Wayne Letson drove through Alabama toward Florida on Sunday, the Michigan resident told The Associated Press that he had fretted about sharing the roads with Southerners unaccustomed to winter weather. The last time it snowed in Alabama was more than a year ago, in January 2008.

“This is nothing to me, but I’m worried about the other people who think they know what they’re doing,” Mr. Letson told The Associated Press as he filled up his car with gas south of Birmingham. Up to seven inches of snow was expected through Monday morning in areas of Maryland, northern Virginia and Washington, where Mayor Adrian Fenty declared a snow emergency.

In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg urged commuters to take public transportation and leave their cars at home.

“I will be taking the subway, as I do most days,” he said at the news conference on Sunday. “Particularly in a snowstorm, it’s the only way to get around.”

Mr. Bloomberg also asked residents to check in on older friends and neighbors.

As a safety measure for those who will be driving after the storm, the Port Authority has lowered the speed limit on all Staten Island bridges to 25 miles per hour, said Jennifer Friedberg, a Port Authority spokeswoman.

People needing information on school closures should call the city’s information hotline at 311 between 4 and 6 a.m.

New York City-area courts planned to remain open on Monday, but thousands of new jurors were told not to report for duty in New York, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange Counties, said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration. The jurors hearing pending cases may come to court if the judge so orders, he said.

Alternate-side parking has been suspended for Monday.

Nearly 300 flights were canceled at Newark Liberty International Airport by 10 p.m. Sunday, Ms. Friedberg said. La Guardia Airport experienced about 15 cancellations and Kennedy Airport had about 90.

“A foot of snow is significant and will cause significant travel problems late tonight and into tomorrow morning,” said Michael Silva, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, N.Y.

Winds could also be a factor. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were gusts of 35 m.p.h.,” he said. “We have to keep our eye out for blizzard conditions.” The weather service defines a blizzard not by the amount of snowfall — even though they tend to be accompanied by significant snow — but by three consecutive hours of winds blowing at 35 m.p.h. and visibility of less than a quarter-mile. Since October, New York has had only 19.3 inches of snow, as measured in Central Park, slightly higher than the normal of 18.7 inches for the entire winter.

“Last year we lucked out,” Mr. Silva said, alluding to the 11.7 inches of snow that fell last winter. “This will probably rank up there with some of the major events, but it won’t be like 2006,” Mr. Silva said.

On Feb. 13, 2006, Central Park was blanketed in 26.9 inches of snow in a matter of hours, the biggest snowstorm since record keeping began 1869.

Mr. Turso remembers the cleanup from that storm. “Every city street had been salted and plowed within 24 hours,” he said, “which is an incredible accomplishment.”

Emily Rueb, Eric Bisho, Mick Meenan and Jonathan Ellis contributed reporting for this article.

    Snowstorm Moves In, Causing Delays and Closing Schools, NYT, 3.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/03/nyregion/03storm.html






Tornado Kills 8 People in Oklahoma


February 11, 2009
Filed at 12:42 p.m. ET
The New York Times


LONE GROVE, Okla. (AP) -- Emergency crews on Wednesday searched for more victims amid the wreckage of homes and businesses smashed by a cluster of tornadoes that killed at least eight people.

One young woman was lifted into the air as a tornado pulled the roof off a house, but her mother and others held her down.

Firefighters moved aside bricks and fallen walls as they sought to ensure there were no additional victims in Lone Grove, where all of the eight victims died Tuesday and 14 people were seriously injured, said Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Michelann Ooten. Each building that had been searched was then marked with a large, spray-painted ''X.''

Rescuers found one woman injured but alive under an overturned mobile home.

Ooten said the National Guard was sent to help. ''We will do everything we can to get Oklahomans the assistance they need,'' Gov. Brad Henry said.

Buildings were damaged or destroyed throughout the town of about 4,600, some 100 miles south of Oklahoma City, said Chester Agan, assistant emergency manager for Carter County.

The eight confirmed deaths included seven people in Lone Grove and a truck driver who was driving through the area, said Robert Deaton, interim chief investigator for state Medical Examiner's office.

Most of the deaths were in an area of mobile homes that was virtually wiped out, said Paul Sund, a spokesman for the governor.

''Some were outside, some were inside,'' said Cherokee Ballard, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office. Most of the deaths appeared to be blunt force trauma to the head, some apparently hit by flying objects, she said.

''One victim was found underneath a pickup truck the tornado had lifted and dropped on him,'' Ballard said.

There was no storm shelter near the mobile home park.

Part of the roof blew off the house where Lana Hartman crowded into a small clothes closet with her two daughters, three grandchildren and two friends. The twister lifted one of her daughters into the air, but everyone grabbed the girl, she said.

''We held onto each other and did a lot of praying,'' said Hartman's friend Carole McFarland.

''I was in shock, I think I still am,'' Hartman said. ''We're alive, that's all that matters.''

Hartman, who had just moved into the rented house on Monday, said there wasn't much warning. ''We heard the sirens blow and it was here,'' she said.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning, meaning a tornado is imminent and residents should take shelter, at 6:50 p.m. Another was issued at 7:15 p.m. when the tornado was spotted, and the twister hit Lone Grove 10 minutes later.

Tears rolled down the cheeks of Trina Quinton as she stood next to a pile of rubble that used to be a furniture store owned by a cousin.

''This is where I was raised, this is where I grew up,'' she said.

The furniture store was closed when the tornado struck and her cousin's family wasn't there. ''This is how they make their living, rebuilding is probably not going to be an option,'' Quinton said.

Lone Grove resident Joe Hornback, 42, said he and his neighbors took shelter in the only cellar on their block. ''There were 30 of us in a 6 by 6 underground cellar,'' he said.

Shirley Mose was not home when the tornado struck but returned Wednesday morning with members of her family and found her home destroyed and her pickup truck wrecked.

''I had a little Chihuahua that stayed in there,'' Mose said. ''We found her bed, but not her. I guess she's gone.''

A twister also damaged homes and businesses in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, but only three minor injuries were reported. Another tornado was reported in north-central Oklahoma, six homes were destroyed near the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, and a separate tornado caused property damage but no injuries in Springfield, Mo.

The tornado in northwest Oklahoma City apparently developed near Wiley Post Airport and then headed northeast, damaging several shopping centers and restaurants at a major intersection.

That twister then hit the Boulder Ridge Apartments, a spread of two-story units surrounding a courtyard.

Shawn Tiesman, 33, moved to the complex from Iowa about four months ago and got his first taste of Oklahoma's notorious weather but without the same protection of his former home.

''Where I'm from, we've got basements,'' Tiesman said. ''I'm amazed that there's no basements here.''

He invited his upstairs neighbors into his apartment and then used his futon mattress to barricade them into a walk-in closet. While they were in the closet, a large section of roof was blown off one of the complex's buildings and part of a wall was blown off another.

Tornado sirens were sounded in the area but some residents said they were still caught off guard. ''I can't believe we didn't hear it,'' said Traci Keil, 37.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric reported about 8,900 customers without power, nearly 3,500 in Lone Grove, according to its Web site.

Tornadoes in Oklahoma are most frequent in the spring, but can occur at any time, weather service meteorologist Rick Smith said.

Since 1950 the state has been struck by 44 February tornadoes, said weather service meteorologist Doug Speheger in Norman. The most recent one before Tuesday's spurt occurred Feb. 25, 2000, damaging a barn and power lines in Ellis and Harper counties in western Oklahoma.

Outside Oklahoma, however, Speheger said an outbreak of twisters on Feb. 5, 2008, killed more than 50 people in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.

(This version CORRECTS the date of last February tornado in Oklahoma to Feb. 25, 2000.)

    Tornado Kills 8 People in Oklahoma, NYT, 11.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/02/11/us/AP-Severe-Weather.html






Man Dies and Scores Are Rescued From Ice Floe


February 8, 2009
The New York Times


One man died after more than 100 ice fisherman who ventured a mile onto the western Ohio shores of Lake Erie Saturday had to be rescued after an eight-mile long portion of ice they were on broke away amid warming conditions and starting drifting north.

The man, who has not yet been identified, fell into the water while looking for a path to the shore and died when he was being airlifted to the hospital, the Ottawa County sheriff said.

In a telephone interview the sheriff, Bob Bratton, said that the rescue operation took about five hours and more than 100 people were rescued by local authorities and United States Coast Guard agents.

By nightfall, a Coast Guard spokesman said that a total of 134 people were rescued.

“It’s very dangerous, but this has gone on for years,” Mr. Bratton said of the popular culture of ice fishing on the Great Lakes. “We had a death out there today, and that is so frustrating to me because common sense dictated it shouldn’t happen.”

Ice in western sections of Lake Erie can be up to two feet thick. But temperatures had risen above freezing on Saturday, and a brisk 35-mile an hour wind contributed to the cracking of the ice.

The fisherman, who were on the ice between Sandusky and Toledo became imperiled after they ventured farther onto the frozen lake .

According to Sheriff Bratton and the Coast Guard, the fishermen built a makeshift bridge with wooden planks and went out to farther. But Chief Petty Officer Robert Lanier of the Coast Guard said that soon afterward, the ice shifted and the planks fell into the water, stranding the fishermen.

Chief Lanier said his station had received a distress call around 10:45 a.m., and helicopters were dispatched from Detroit and Travers City, Mich. In addition, a C-130 plane used for surveying was flown in from Elizabeth City, N.C..

“Ice fishing is a culture here in the Great Lakes and the coast guard understands people in the community here have been doing it all their life and will continue to do it all their life,” he said.

Local authorities mobilized three helicopters and airboats, which eventually took the stranded fisherman to shore, assisted by personnel from 15 fire departments.. Sheriff Bratton said that some firemen had to convince people to leave the ice.

He said he was frustrated that so much manpower and money were being used to rescue people who knowingly put themselves in danger, adding that one fisherman who was rescued admitted that going out farther on the lake might not have been the best idea.

“You know,” Mr. Bratton recalled the man telling him, “we shouldn’t have been out there today.”

Chris Maag contributed reporting from Sandusky, Ohio.

    Man Dies and Scores Are Rescued From Ice Floe, NYT, 8.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/us/08ice.html?hp






Obama’s Order Is Likely to Tighten Auto Standards


January 26, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama will direct federal regulators on Monday to move swiftly on an application by California and 13 other states to set strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said Sunday.

The directive makes good on an Obama campaign pledge and signifies a sharp reversal of Bush administration policy. Granting California and the other states the right to regulate tailpipe emissions would be one of the most emphatic actions Mr. Obama could take to quickly put his stamp on environmental policy.

Mr. Obama’s presidential memorandum will order the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration’s past rejection of the California application. While it stops short of flatly ordering the Bush decision reversed, the agency’s regulators are now widely expected to do so after completing a formal review process.

Once they act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies have lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.

Mr. Obama will use the announcement to bolster the impression of a sharp break from the Bush era on all fronts, following his decisions last week to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; tighten limits on interrogation tactics by Central Intelligence Agency officers; order plans to withdraw combat forces from Iraq; and reverse President George W. Bush’s financing restrictions on groups that promote or provide abortion overseas, administration officials said.

Beyond acting on the California emissions law, officials said, Mr. Obama will direct the Transportation Department to quickly finalize interim nationwide regulations requiring the automobile industry to increase fuel efficiency standards to comply with a 2007 law, rules that the Bush administration decided at the last minute not to issue.

To avoid losing another year, Mr. Obama will order temporary regulations to be completed by March so automakers have enough time to retool for vehicles sold in 2011. Final standards for later years will be determined by a separate process that under Mr. Obama’s order must take into consideration legal, scientific and technological factors.

He will also order federal departments and agencies to find new ways to save energy and be more environmentally friendly. And he will highlight the elements in his $825 billion economic stimulus plan intended to create jobs around renewable energy.

The announcements, to be made in the East Room, will begin a week of efforts to get the stimulus plan through Congress. The White House hopes the Senate will confirm Timothy F. Geithner as Treasury secretary on Monday, and Mr. Obama plans to travel to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with both Senate and House Republican caucuses and lobby for his stimulus package. Mr. Obama’s aides expect the House to vote on its plan on Wednesday.

But the centerpiece of Monday’s anticipated announcement is Mr. Obama’s directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to begin work immediately on granting California a waiver, under the Clean Air Act, which allows the state, a longtime leader in air quality matters, to set standards for automobile emissions stricter than the national rules.

California has already won numerous waivers for controls on emissions that cause smog, as opposed to global warming.

The Bush administration denied the waiver in late 2007, saying that recently enacted federal mileage rules made the action unnecessary and that allowing California and the 13 other states the right to set their own pollution rules would result in an unenforceable patchwork of environmental law.

The auto companies had advocated a denial, saying a waiver would require them to produce two sets of vehicles, one to meet the strict California standard and another that could be sold in the remaining states.

The Bush administration’s environmental agency director, Stephen L. Johnson, echoed the automakers’ claims in denying California’s application, ignoring the near-unanimous advice of agency lawyers and scientists that the waiver be granted.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican, wrote to Mr. Obama last week asking him to swiftly reconsider Mr. Bush’s decision. The head of California’s Air Resources Board, Mary D. Nichols, also wrote to the new director of the environmental agency, Lisa P. Jackson, asking for a quick reversal of the Bush policy.

Ms. Nichols said Sunday night that she had not been formally notified that Mr. Obama intended to move toward granting the waiver. But she said, “Assuming that it is favorable to our request, we’re delighted that the president is acting so quickly to reverse one of the worst decisions by the Bush administration and to get the E.P.A. back on track.”

Ms. Jackson indicated in her confirmation hearing this month that she would “aggressively” review California’s application. The environmental agency has routinely granted California such waivers dozens of times over the past 40 years.

The California law, which was originally meant to take effect in the 2009 model year, requires automakers to cut emissions by nearly a third by 2016, four years ahead of the federal timetable. The result would be an increase in fuel efficiency in the American car and light truck fleet to roughly 35 miles per gallon from the current average of 27.

The emissions standards are part of an ambitious California plan to reduce emissions of the gases that are blamed for the heating of the atmosphere. Automotive emissions account for more than one-fifth of all such greenhouse gases.

California was joined in its plea by 13 other states, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Washington. Three other states have indicated they plan to adopt the California standard. Together they account for about half of the American market for cars and light trucks.

Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the car makers would prefer a single national standard and needed time to develop new fuel-sipping models. “Applying California standards to several different states would create a complex, confusing and very difficult situation for manufacturers,” he said last week in anticipation of the Obama administration’s announcement.

Mr. Obama wants to use the Monday event to promote the environmental and energy elements of his economic plan, aides said. According to a report released by the White House this weekend, the plan is intended to double renewable energy generating capacity over three years, which would be enough to power six million American homes.

It would also pay for 3,000 miles of new or modernized transmission lines as part of a new national electric grid as well as 40 million “smart meters,” which provide instant readouts of electricity uses, on American homes. The money would also help refurbish two million homes and 75 percent of federal building space to better guard against the weather and conserve enough energy to save low-income families $350 a year and the federal government $2 billion a year, according to the report.

The White House also said that Mr. Obama wanted to start a “clean energy finance initiative” to leverage $100 million in private sector investments over the next three years through loan guarantees and other financial support.

Environmentalists and California Democrats had pressed hard for the tougher automotive standards. Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress in Washington, plans to attend Monday’s announcement and said he was pleased by the quick action.

“This is a complete reversal of President Bush’s policy of censoring or ignoring global warming science,” Mr. Weiss said. “With the fuel economy measures and clean energy investments in the recovery package, President Obama has done more in one week to reduce oil dependence and global warming than George Bush did in eight years.”

The California rules would not take effect immediately, but would require several months of legal review and public comment. The auto companies could challenge them in court, but they have been unsuccessful in previous lawsuits.

The Clean Air Act allows California to seek a waiver from federal rules if it can demonstrate that its own regulations are more stringent, and needed to address its air pollution problems. California’s trend-setting air resources board has done this successfully more than 50 times. Other states can adhere to either the California or the federal standard.

Felicity Barringer contributed reporting from Palo Alto, Calif.

    Obama’s Order Is Likely to Tighten Auto Standards, NYT, 26.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/26/us/politics/26calif.html?hp






Big Chill: Blast of Arctic Air Stuns Eastern US


January 17, 2009
Filed at 4:43 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama briefly turned colder than Alaska, water fountains froze into ice sculptures in South Carolina and Florida shivered through its brush with the Arctic air blast that deadened car batteries in the Northeast and prompted scattered Midwest power outages.

As Southerners awaited an expected weekend thaw, the Northeast persisted under the bitterly cold air from Canada that sent temperatures plunging in some places below minus 30 degrees Friday and left even longtime residents reluctant to venture outdoors.

Quentin Masters braved the Big Chill, making a trip to a Syracuse, N.Y., post office to mail his sister a gift for her birthday Monday.

''It was almost too cold to come down,'' he said, but he added, ''I don't want to be late.''

Single-digit temperatures and subzero wind chills were expected in western New York through the weekend, with more seasonable conditions moving in early next week.

To Southerners, who rarely see temperatures so cold, the icebox-like weather was the most jarring. Construction worker Allen Johnson wore a gray beanie, flannel shirt, long johns and boots as he stopped for coffee in Montgomery, Ala., after an overnight low of 22 degrees Friday.

''No matter how bad it is, it could be worse -- we could be in Anchorage, Alaska,'' Johnson said. Actually, the temperature was about 20 degrees warmer in Anchorage for a while Friday.

Freezing temperatures threatened to kill picturesque Spanish moss hanging from Gulf Coast trees. In Spartanburg, S.C., a hard freeze coated a water fountain in shimmering icicles. And it was too cold to bet on dogs in West Virginia, ditto for Tennessee.

Heather Davis, of NashvillePAW Magazine, was watching as her photographer unsuccessfully tried to coax their cover model, a white poodle named Cotton, to pose outdoors for the animal publication in that city in Tennessee. Cotton, who is up for adoption, ran to the car and didn't want to leave.

''I don't think I realized how cold it was,'' Davis said, laughing.

But gusting winds were no laughing matter in Ohio, where temperatures pushed to their lowest this winter and forced scattered power outages. Lows ranged from minus 6 degrees in Cincinnati to minus 14 degrees in Dayton and Toledo -- just missing record lows for Friday's date.

Thousands in Ohio and Illinois lost power for several hours while Charleston, W.Va.-based Appalachian Power, which delivers electricity to more than 1 million customers Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, had record electricity demand as businesses and homes cranked up the heat.

In Columbus, Ohio, 45-year-old Brandon Champney beat the cold by visiting the orchid exhibit at the Franklin Park Conservatory -- a deliciously climate-controlled 72 degrees.

''It's beautiful, warm, great,'' Champney said.

The cold claimed at least six lives since Friday and contributed to dozens of traffic accidents. One death involved a man in a wheelchair who was found in subzero temperatures stuck in the snow, a shovel in his hand, outside his home in Des Moines, Iowa.

In central Pennsylvania, AAA fielded a spike in calls from motorists whose batteries went dead or door locks froze shut. Wind chills were as low as 25 degrees below zero in greater Pittsburgh.

In Michigan, a winter storm watch was in effect for parts of the Lower Peninsula, where up to 8 inches of snow could fall by Sunday morning, the weather service said.

And in Illinois, where a low of 32 degrees below zero was recorded in a north-central area Friday, the weather service predicted only modest weekend relief -- sort of. The mercury was expected to head Saturday into the 20s in northern Illinois and the 30s in southern Illinois.

''The heat wave begins,'' meteorologist Tim Halbach quipped.


Associated Press writers William Kates in Syracuse, Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tenn., and David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.

Big Chill: Blast of Arctic Air Stuns Eastern US, NYT, 17.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/17/us/AP-Winter-Weather.html