MIAMI — By the time Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order warning Floridians of the danger posed by the rapidly spreading coronavirus, 188 people already had died — considerably more than the 85 fatalities the state acknowledged at the time.Most of those who died from a coronavirus infection in March were elders, though the fatalities also included a 28-year-old woman who died at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and a 34-year-old Broward County man whose “flu-like symptoms” developed into pneumonia. A 39-year-old traveling disc jockey who had recently visited Miami died of the disease on Ma...
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Bad news for the 2022 hurricane season: The Loop Current, a fueler of monster storms, is looking a lot like it did in 2005, the year of Katrina
The Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1, and the Gulf of Mexico is already warmer than average. Even more worrying is a current of warm tropical water that is looping unusually far into the Gulf for this time of year, with the power to turn tropical storms into monster hurricanes.
It’s called the Loop Current, and it’s the 800-pound gorilla of Gulf hurricane risks.
When the Loop Current reaches this far north this early in the hurricane season – especially during what’s forecast to be a busy season – it can spell disaster for folks along the Northern Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida.
If you look at temperature maps of the Gulf of Mexico, you can easily spot the Loop Current. It curls up through the Yucatan Channel between Mexico and Cuba, into the Gulf of Mexico, and then swings back out through the Florida Strait south of Florida as the Florida Current, where it becomes the main contributor to the Gulf Stream.
The Loop Current was about as far north as Tampa, Florida, in mid May 2022. The scale, in meters, shows the maximum depth at which temperatures were 78 F (26 C) or greater.
Nick Shay/University of Miami, CC BY-ND
When a tropical storm passes over the Loop Current or one of its giant eddies – large rotating pools of warm water that spin off from the current – the storm can explode in strength as it draws energy from the warm water.
This year, the Loop Current looks remarkably similar to the way it did in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina crossed the Loop Current before devastating New Orleans. Of the 27 named storms that year, seven became major hurricanes. Wilma and Rita also crossed the Loop Current that year and became two of the most intense Atlantic hurricanes on record.
The Loop Current in May 2005 looked strikingly similar to May 2022.
Nick Shay/University of Miami, CC BY-ND
I have been monitoring ocean heat content for more than 30 years as a marine scientist. The conditions I’m seeing in the Gulf in May 2022 are cause for concern. One prominent forecast anticipates 19 tropical storms – 32% more than average – and nine hurricanes. The Loop Current has the potential to supercharge some of those storms.
Why the Loop Current worries forecasters
Warm ocean water doesn’t necessarily mean more tropical storms. But once tropical storms reach waters that are around 78 F (26 C) or warmer, they can strengthen into hurricanes.
Hurricanes draw most of their strength from the top 100 feet (30 meters) of the ocean. Normally, these upper ocean waters mix, allowing warm spots to cool quickly. But the Loop Current’s subtropical water is deeper and warmer, and also saltier, than Gulf common water. These effects inhibit ocean mixing and sea surface cooling, allowing the warm current and its eddies to retain heat to great depths.
In mid-May 2022, satellite data showed the Loop Current had water temperatures 78 F or warmer down to about 330 feet (100 meters). By summer, that heat could extend down to around 500 feet (about 150 meters).
The eddy that fueled Hurricane Ida in 2021 was over 86 F (30 C) at the surface and had heat down to about 590 feet (180 meters). With favorable atmospheric conditions, this deep reservoir of heat helped the storm explode almost overnight into a very powerful and dangerous Category 4 hurricane.
Hurricane Ida’s pressure dropped quickly as it crossed a warm, deep eddy boundary on Aug. 29, 2021.
Nick Shay/University of Miami, CC BY-ND
Within a storm, warm ocean water can create towering plumes of rising warm, moist air, providing high-octane fuel for hurricanes. Think about what happens when you boil a large pot of spaghetti on the stove and how the steam rises as the water gets hotter. As more moisture and heat rise within a hurricane, the pressure drops. The horizontal pressure difference from the center of the storm to its periphery subsequently causes the wind to speed up and the hurricane to become increasingly dangerous.
Since the Loop Current and its eddies have so much heat, they don’t significantly cool, and the pressure will continue to fall. In 2005, Hurricane Wilma had the lowest central pressure on record in the Atlantic, and Rita and Katrina weren’t far behind.
How hurricanes draw fuel from water water.
La Niña, wind shear and other drivers of a busy season
Forecasters have other clues to how the hurricane season might shape up. One is La Niña, the climate opposite of El Niño.
During La Niña, stronger trade winds in the Pacific Ocean bring colder water to the surface, creating conditions that help push the jet stream farther north. That tends to exacerbate drought in the southern U.S. and also weaken wind shear there. Wind shear involves the change in wind speeds and wind directions with height. Too much wind shear can tear tropical storms apart. But less wind shear, courtesy of La Niña, and more moisture in the atmosphere can mean more hurricanes.
How La Niña affects U.S.
La Niña has been unusually strong in spring 2022, though it’s possible that it could weaken later in the year, allowing more wind shear toward the end of the season. For now, the upper atmosphere is doing little that would stop a hurricane from intensifying.
It’s too soon to tell what will happen with the steering winds that guide tropical storms and affect where they go. Even before then, the conditions over West Africa are crucial to whether tropical storms form at all in the Atlantic. Dust from the Sahara and low humidity can both reduce the likelihood storms will form.
Climate change has a role
As global temperatures rise, the ocean’s temperature is increasing. Much of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases that are released by human activities is stored in the oceans, where it can provide additional fuel for hurricanes.
Studies suggest that the Atlantic is likely to see more storms intensify into major hurricanes as those temperatures rise, though there won’t necessarily be more storms overall. A study examined the 2020 hurricane season – which had a record 30 named storms, 12 of them hitting the U.S. – and found the storms produced more rain than they would have in a world without the effects of human-caused climate change.
Another trend we have been noticing is that the Loop Current’s warm eddies have more heat than we saw 10 to 15 years ago. Whether that’s related to global warming isn’t clear yet, but the impact of a warming trend could be devastating.
Ukrainian medic delivers hundreds of hours of harrowing body camera footage from war-torn city of Mariupol
The Associated Press has obtained hundreds of hours of body camera footage taken by a medic named Yuliia Paievska from the war-torn Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been under constant attack from Russian forces since February.
Paievska, who is better known in Ukraine by her internet moniker "Taira," filmed footage of herself treating wounded residents and soldiers in Mariupol before eventually being captured earlier this year by Russian military forces.
Nonetheless, she was able to leak her collected footage to the AP shortly before her capture, and it provides a harrowing portrait of the brutal realities facing Ukrainian citizens in Mariupol.
"The video is an intimate record from Feb. 6 to March 10 of a city under siege that has now become a worldwide symbol of the Russian invasion and Ukrainian resistance," writes the AP. "In it, Taira is a whirlwind of energy and grief, recording the death of a child and the treatment of wounded soldiers from both sides."
The footage also shows Taira treating both wounded Ukrainian and Russian soldiers, even though those same soldiers had been trying to violently occupy her city.
"On Feb. 24, the first day of the war, Taira chronicled efforts to bandage a Ukrainian soldier’s open head wound," writes the AP. "Two days later, she ordered colleagues to wrap an injured Russian soldier in a blanket."
See some clips of the videos obtained by the Associated Press at this link.
Democrats’ 'stranglehold' on once-red California is a warning sign for Trump Republicans nationally: conservative
California is so dominated by the Democratic Party these days that it’s easy to forget just how Republican it once was. Before the 1990s and the Bill Clinton era, California was a red state — from San Diego to Bakersfield to Glendale and Burbank. Orange County south of Los Angeles was a hotbed of right-wing Republican politics. But the GOP lost a lot of ground in California after the 1980s, and the American Enterprise Institute’s Brent Orrell — in an essay/think piece published by the conservative website The Bulwark on May 19 — argues that former President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement are creating a California-like effect in suburban swing districts all around the United States.
Orrell opens his article by noting that the “political outlook for Democrats” looks “grim” in the 2022 midterms and that between inflation, President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and a “sour public mood,” election forecasts are predicting a major red wave that will put Republicans back in the control of both houses of Congress. But Orrell quickly adds that the Trumpified GOP is “bent on alienating itself from the political center of the country” and that “the decline of conservative politics in the Golden State is very much the model for the decline of Republican politics nationally.”
According to Orrell, the “political tragedy of California Republicanism” serves as a warning to the GOP in suburban areas all over the U.S.
“There are still pockets of the state where the GOP is strong,” Orrell writes. “But in most heavily populated urban and suburban areas, Republicans have become a pariah party, settling for semi-permanent minority status in a state over which liberal Democrats now have basically unchallenged hegemony…. Donald Trump’s candidacy, election and presidency set off a reenactment of the slow-motion California GOP debacle at the national level.”
Thanks to the MAGA movement, Orrell stresses, the Republican Party has been alienating “moderate” suburban voters more and more. But even though Trump was voted out of office in 2020, the American Enterprise Institute senior fellow adds, his stranglehold on the GOP remains.
“The Trump presidency may have been a failure, but Trumpism has proven to have real and enduring appeal,” Orrell explains. “GOP elected officials, whatever their private doubts, have overwhelmingly acquiesced and become complicit in Trump’s 2020 election fabrications and toed the line on anti-immigration policy out of fear of facing a primary opponent endorsed by the former president. As the 2022 field of candidates comes into focus, the cost of allowing Trump’s election lies to fester is becoming clearer. In state after state and race after race, Republican primary voters are opting not just for Trump-endorsed candidates, but the Trumpiest candidates, the ones most closely tied to Trump’s Big Lie of 2020 voter fraud, whether they have Trump’s endorsement or not.”
Orrell points to far-right Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano’s victory in the 2022 Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial primary as a prime example of how extreme and Trumpified Republican primaries have become.
Orrell observes, “Mastriano is known for his frequent sharing of QAnon-related materials via Twitter and for speaking at a recent QAnon-heavy conference in Pennsylvania.... The pattern in Pennsylvania and elsewhere is clear: The GOP frontrunners or near-frontrunners are, in almost every case, not just Trump-endorsed or Trump-affiliated candidates; they are Trump-consumed candidates with bellies full of that hot, hot MAGA fire. As Steve Bannon recently noted, referring to the Pennsylvania races, the contest isn’t between old-line Republicans and MAGA candidates, ‘it’s MAGA vs. ultra-MAGA.’”
Orrell wraps up his essay/think piece by stressing that Democrats’ “stranglehold on state government” in California serves as a warning sign for the GOP nationally.
“In California, where the radicalization of the GOP has had the longest time to work its way into hearts and minds, the Republican Party has reduced itself to rump status,” Orrell writes. “Once solidly conservative congressional and state legislative districts in suburban communities along the Pacific Coast have mostly adopted various shades of blue, while Republicans have largely receded to the inland districts in the Central Valley and other more rural areas of the state…. Unless Republicans find the nerve to call a halt, they risk seeing their party’s long-term political prospects devoured by xenophobia and conspiracism.”