Arizona’s 2023 monsoon leaves us wanting more. Why some of us got rain and others didn’t

AZ Central – The Arizona Republic

Arizona’s 2023 monsoon leaves us wanting more. Why some of us got rain and others didn’t

Kye Graves, Arizona Republic – September 29, 2023

Arizona’s 2023 monsoon season left a lot to be desired, from below-average rainfall numbers across the state to record-setting heat streaks, and the spectacle that often provides widespread relief to the region was sorely missed.

The scope of the season’s impact, while minimal, was exacerbated by the scalding summer conditions and multiple heat records in a slew of categories.

Thunderstorms were hard to come by this year. Rainfall totals for the monsoon season, which ends Sept. 30, will likely result in the driest-ever summer season at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where the National Weather Service records the official figure. The rain gauge there posted just 0.15 of an inch, less than half the total of 1924, previously the driest with 0.35 of an inch.

Some areas did fare better, primarily in the East Valley and Cave Creek, where some gauges snagged upward of 4 inches, but the spotty season will still place Maricopa County on the infamous dry list behind 2020’s “Nonsoon.”

Ultimately, this lack of storms helped fuel the full effect of triple-digit temperatures and the sweltering sun to be felt across the state.

In fact, each of the three branches of the National Weather Service — Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson — recorded Julys that surpassed the month in years prior, posting their hottest-ever totals.

The sun silhouettes the air traffic control tower at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix on Sept. 6, 2023. An excessive heat watch for this weekend was issued by the National Weather Service.
Flagstaff sees hottest monsoon season on record; Tucson and Phoenix hottest-ever Julys

Climate summary data from the weather service’s website highlights the month’s ferocity. In the Phoenix area, for example, average high temperatures for July were 114.7 degrees, more than eight degrees above the recorded norm between the years 1991-2020.

The average mean temperature was 102.7 degrees, about seven degrees higher than the recorded norm. The most revealing stat was for warm-lows, as nights in Phoenix averaged 90.8 degrees, more than six degrees north of the month’s typical mean.

For Tucson and Flagstaff, climate reports echo a similar song. Tucson posted its hottest July, with an average monthly temperature of 94.2, six degrees hotter than normal. Flagstaff witnessed its warmest July, with a 4.7-degree temperature spike above its typical mark, bringing the overall average figure for the month to 71.4 degrees.

Flagstaff is on pace for its warmest monsoon season on record by just 0.2 degrees, surpassing the number one spot set in 1980.

Rainfall totals shallow compared to recent years

Total precipitation for 2023’s monsoon, recorded at Phoenix Sky Harbor, Flagstaff Pulliam and Tucson International airports, varied across the board:

  • Flagstaff: 4.24 inches
  • Tucson: 4.73 inches
  • Phoenix: 0.15 of an inch

As a whole, the deviation from the norm for Tucson is not that negative.

A typical season usually produces around 5.7 inches of rain for Tucson’s airport, coming mainly in July and August. This was mirrored in 2023, as the prime months brought 2 and 2.39 inches, respectively, making up for a zero in the June column and a lackluster September

Tucson held close to its 2022 mark as well, coming just 0.20 of an inch from eclipsing that year’s total.

In Flagstaff and Phoenix, things get a lot less pretty.

At the high country’s airport, 2023’s accumulation of 4.24 inches puts it well below its average of 7.68. The year was also dwarfed in comparison to 2022 (10.63 inches) and 2021 (10.90 inches).

In Phoenix, Sky Harbor caught an abysmal 0.15 of an inch of rain this season, easily placing it as the driest on record, pushing out 1924 at 0.35 of an inch. Usually, Sky Harbor gets around 2.43 inches of rain during the season.

When compared even to 2020’s “Nonsoon,” a total that both Tucson and Flagstaff handily exceeded, Phoenix’s 2023 comes nowhere close. Sky Harbor got exactly 1 inch of rain that year, according to NWS statistics.

Overall for Arizona, precipitation in 2023 was more in line with typical seasons than that of 2020 and 2021.

“I would say as far as precipitation patterns, it was more typical because of the variability,” NOAA Warning Coordination Meteorologist Kenneth Drozd told The Arizona Republic. “(In) 2022, there were more places that were above normal than below normal, but it was still pretty mixed. Kind of like this year, there are more places that are below normal than above normal, but it still varies quite a bit depending on where you’re at.”

In 2020 and 2021, Drozd said, conditions were “unique” because of their widespread consistencies, with 2020 being so dry and 2021 being much wetter.

Maricopa County on pace to be wetter than 2020

While Sky Habor couldn’t catch a break, Arizona’s most populous county as a whole is set to end the monsoon season in a better position.

According to data from the Maricopa County Flood Control District, the county posted wetter numbers than it did in 2020, in large part due to healthier amounts falling in Cave Creek, Wickenburg, Apache Junction and portions of the East Valley.

Throughout Maricopa County, totals from data stretching back 108 days from the season’s Saturday endpoint bounce around from lows in central Phoenix at 0.39 of an inch to upward of four inches in parts of Cave Creek.

A notable area that performed the best in the county was near rural Crown King north of the Valley, where there were spots receiving nearly eight inches during the storm span.

“In general, the closer to the mountains you are, the more rain you’re going to receive during monsoon because the storms form over them,” National Weather Service Phoenix office meteorologist Mark O’Malley told The Republic. “That just became exacerbated this year where the areas of south Phoenix through Laveen, down through Avondale and Goodyear, some areas didn’t even receive a tenth of an inch.”

According to O’Malley, the lack of storms this season was primarily due to the weather pattern setting up with strong high pressure over southern Arizona, bringing hotter temperatures and lackluster storms.

“The weather pattern was set up to where it favored the heat and the storms were more removed from the area, more frequently,” O’Malley said.

SRP: 3 monsoons touched down in the Valley in 2023

According to data from Salt River Project, three major monsoon storms hit metro Phoenix in 2023: on July 26Aug. 31 and Sept. 12.

These storms left their marks, too, with SRP reporting estimated outage numbers at the height of each storm:

  • July 26: 50,000 customers out of power
  • Aug. 31: 71,000 customers out of power
  • Sept. 12: 39,000 customers out of power

APS customers were affected as well, with the company reporting approximate outages during peak storm hours:

  • July 26: 7,750 customers without power
  • Aug. 31: 18,000 customers without power
  • Sept. 12: 11,000 customers without power

Each event brought its own force, bringing down power lines, overturning planes, destroying mobile homes and uprooting trees. While par for the course during the season, rainfall totals certainly weren’t.

The Maricopa County Flood Control District’s point rainfall data paints a clear picture of how dry the year was.

For July 26, chunks of the storm covered the greater Phoenix area into Scottsdale and swaths of the East Valley, with downtown Phoenix only registering 0.04 of an inch of rain. Paradise Valley and Apache Junction received as much as one full inch during the duration of the storm.

On Aug. 31, more portions of Maricopa County got involved but with far less rain. Only two areas throughout the metro saw upward of a half inch. Much of the rain that fell did so in the Cave Creek and New River areas, ranging from 1.45 to 3 inches through the course of the storm.

A storm on Sept. 12 produced the best results for the Valley, with multiple areas getting over the half-inch hump. Again, much of the wealth ended up in Cave Creek, with various areas tabulating over 1.5 inches.

We didn’t have a Pure Michigan summer. Pay attention to those climate warning signs.

Detroit Free Press – Opinion

We didn’t have a Pure Michigan summer. Pay attention to those climate warning signs.

Ali Abazeed – September 29, 2023

As summer draws to a close, it would be easy to forget the weather patterns and disruptions that took us about as far from a Pure Michigan summer as you can get. But we’re moving into an uncertain future, and we must pay attention to these warning signs.

Metro Detroit experienced unprecedented air quality alerts this summer, with over 23 days of air quality gauged unhealthy or worse, the first-ever air quality alert for the entire state, our own rash of fires due to unprecedented hot and dry conditions, and, thanks to Canadian wildfire smoke in early June, another air-quality alert first: a warning based on PM2.5, a form of fine particulate matter that wreaks havoc on the respiratory system.

Hospitals across the state reported increased admissions of patients suffering breathing problems due to poor air quality. For a region of the country that already ranks poorly in particle pollution, this summer’s alerts serve as a clarion call for action.

And it wasn’t just poor air quality. We’ve witnessed increases in extreme flooding, extreme heat, tornadoes and high winds, just this summer. If left unchecked, we are looking at scenarios that will lead to profound environmental degradation — and this for a state deemed a potential “climate haven” for its ability to weather the even more destructive effects of climate change.

Smoke from Canadian wildfires lingers in downtown Detroit skyline off of Woodward Avenue on Tuesday, June 27, 2023.
Beyond the ‘hottest summer ever’: How climate extremes impact us

Flooding and erosion will likely disrupt Michigan’s precious freshwater systems, and could contribute to harmful algal blooms that damage aquatic life and pose a risk to human health. Just last week, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources added two new invasive species to the state’s watch list, likely the result of alterations in habitat conditions due to climate change. These environmental flags have far-reaching consequences for the region, our state’s social fabric, and public health.

The consequences of climate extremes extend beyond just the environment and health. The stress and uncertainty generated by extreme weather events also corrode our built environment and social square.

Upheaval due to extreme weather is leading to significant changes in the fabric of society. Research shows that climate change is causing “social tipping points”: fast and fundamental changes in human values, behaviors, the nature of relationships, technologies and institutions that are just as intractable and hard to undo as climate change itself.

Lake Michigan shoreline in Ottawa County, Mich., is shown on Feb. 1, 2022. Despite its closeness to the lake, the county has areas where household and business wells are running short of water. That's because the aquifer beneath the county has dropped significantly in recent decades and it has no connection to the lake. Experts say Ottawa County is a cautionary tale for the state of Michigan, which is trying to leverage its water abundance to build a "blue economy" as climate change brings more drought and depleted aquifers to much of the U.S.

Constant worry about the next flood or extreme weather event takes a toll on interpersonal relationships, and has a deleterious effect on community bonds. Neighborhood squares, once the bedrock of local culture and interaction, face an existential crisis as people are forced to move, houses are abandoned and the pressures of climate change reshape communities. The ironclad law of climate change is this: Underserved communities and communities closest to the pain will always bear the brunt of displacement, insecurity and devastation due to extreme weather.

More from Freep opinion: I lead the Michigan AFL-CIO. Trump has never shown up for union workers. | Opinion

This is to say nothing of the already growing political tensions likely to rise due to extreme weather.

Research has repeatedly shown that more extreme weather contributes to many adverse outcomes, including violent crime, political instability and even the collapse of global regimes. Locally, we have diverging views on accepting the science of climate change, let alone addressing its disastrous effects. Politicizing what should be a shared concern for our state will make it harder to enact meaningful change.

Climate change is a public health crisis – and a social challenge

So, what can we do?

First, we must accept that extreme weather is not just an environmental issue, but a public health crisis and a social challenge. A public health approach centers on the health and well-being of communities near and far, but also emphasizes the importance of our built environment and its effect on our health. If our built environment is constantly reconfigured and disrupted by the ensuing floods, droughts, storms, or wildfires, the consequences on our health will continue to be disastrous.

We must adopt and enforce policies that limit emissions and promote sustainable practices now.

It’s important to expand our conception of community, and invest in regional efforts vital to increasing the resilience of communities, like long overdue investments in regional transit.

Downstream communities like Dearborn cannot solve flooding alone — we need cooperation and support from upstream communities to improve resiliency.

Though climate change is often globalized, seen as a concept far removed from our day-to-day, local actions can provide significant outcomes in the short term. For example, research shows that though most climate-related actions save money and provide benefits in the long run, the benefits of emission reductions for improved air quality provide immediate results regarding improved health outcomes, agricultural benefits, medical expenses and economic benefits.

Actions at the local level matter, and there are essential steps you can take now in your own community: Encourage investment in green infrastructure that makes our terrain more resilient to inevitable extreme weather, shift toward renewable energy sources, and educate yourself and others on climate adaptation. Ask your local government whether it has a sustainability plan. When new developments are proposed in your community, make sure those developments move us closer to a green future. Political leaders should incorporate public health concepts and terminology into their climate policies to engage communities that are facing the brunt of the devastation.

The summer of 2023 was a glaring preview of what’s at stake for Michigan’s future. Our health, communities and shared social bonds are on the line.

The time for more decisive action was yesterday.

Ali Abazeed is a Dearborn native, founding director of public health for the City of Dearborn, where is is currently the city’s chief public health officer, and is a faculty member at Wayne State University.

Whether You Prefer to Snap, Zap, or Catch and Release Them

Popular Mechanics

These Are the Best Mouse Traps, Whether You Prefer to Snap, Zap, or Catch and Release Them

Kevin Cortez, Alex Rennie – September 27, 2023

victor mouse trap
The Best Mouse Traps for Getting Rid of RodentsVictor

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Whether you think mice are pests to be eliminated by any means necessary or simply cute and cuddly guests to be relocated, one thing is true: They need to be removed. And you should know how to get rid of mice. Although serious infestations will require a professional pest control expert, there’s still a lot you can do to mitigate your rodent problem by employing mouse traps. These are designed to be easy to use, and since they’re available in a variety of types and sizes, you can choose exactly how you’d like to deal with captured mice.

Looking for more pest control solutions? Check out our guides for the best insect repellentstick repellents, and bug zappers.

The Best Mouse Traps
What to Consider
Catch and Release (No-Kill), Snap Traps (Kill), or Glue (Either/Or)

The most important thing to remember when choosing a mouse trap is whether or not you want to kill your mice or keep them alive after they’re caught. If you’d prefer not to kill the unwanted houseguests, choose a “catch and release” trap. These contraptions usually feature a mechanism that allows the mouse to enter then quarantines them inside until you can transport them to wherever you plan to release them. They’re also typically reusable and come in various sizes, from catching one mouse to up to 10. Catch and release is considered, naturally, a humane pest control tactic. When releasing, just be careful not to make contact with any urine or droppings to prevent exposure to hantaviruses.

Choose a snap-style or glue trap if you plan to kill your mice. Snapping traps do just that: snap their jaws onto the mouse once the animal steps on the trigger. These are usually disposable as, once a mouse has been killed in it, other mice will tend to avoid it.

Glue traps are another lethal option and use a strong adhesive to trap and immobilize the mouse when it steps on it, eventually killing it. Although we have been able to use glue traps without killing the mice they caught (we used olive oil to free them successfully), you should consider these traps lethal. Rats often get stuck and will rip off their skin and fur when trying to escape them, so be mindful of this if you consider the glue trap. All glue traps are made with nontoxic adhesive, so if a small child or pet accidentally touches one, they won’t be exposed to harmful chemicals or poisons. However, the CDC does not recommend glue traps as they can scare mice and rats, causing them to urinate, which can increase risk of rodent-related illnesses.

We don’t recommend using poisons. These baits and pellets cause rats and mice to die slowly over time, resulting in dead bodies scattered around the house—maybe inside your walls or in other hard-to-reach areas. That can also create an odor that’s difficult to locate and, therefore, clean up. Poisons also cause rodent bodies to become poisonous, thus poisoning any animal that may eat a carcass—pets included.


Regardless of what kind of trap you choose, you’ll need bait. Some traps include gel baits that attract mice to their scent, while others require you to use something that you may already have to invite mice, like food. Pest control companies often recommend loading traps with small bits of cheese, nut butter, chocolate, or seeds. Be careful not to overload a trap, as mice may easily be able to grab pieces without setting them off. Too much bait also risks attracting other pests like roaches and ants.

How We Selected

We’ve used nearly every mouse trap and took that experience, as well as several hours of research, to determine which are the best. We considered advice, guides, and explainers from various pest control services and publications to find what makes a mouse trap effective, and, importantly, only chose lures with nontoxic additives. No poisonous baits were considered, as they’re too dangerous for homes with animals and children. We did our best to include a range of trap sizes, so whether you’re in a studio apartment with minimal room or need help controlling an outdoor infestation, you’ll find a trap that best suits your living space. Because there isn’t much variation among traps of a certain type between brands, we selected only six as the best: two catch-and-release, two snap, and and one glue trap, plus an electric option for the quickest kill possible.

Press ’N Set Mouse Trap

This snap trap served us well during a particularly aggressive mouse infestation. It’s extremely simple to set up, so there’s minimal risk of pinched fingers. You just press the rear tab, the jaw opens, and the trap is ready to go.

Best of all, the top jaw has a handy cutout, so you can bait the trigger before you even expose the teeth. Despite this simple operation, the trap is stronger than you might think, and ours was even able to catch three mice in a single snap. Its white plastic body is also easier on the eyes than black or metal traps, which was a nice perk.

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Shop NowPress ’N Set Mouse$36.86More
M154 Mouse Trap

If you’re looking to trap several mice but don’t have the budget for more expensive disposable traps, this classic Victor snap trap is a great fit—given you’re okay with kill traps. You get a dozen with each purchase, making it ideal for placing along a runway or area that rodents frequently use, increasing chances of success.

This old-school, prototypical mouse trap isn’t as easy to set as newer traps—it has more tension when setting them. Relatedly, users find the trigger less sensitive than on other traps, and featherweight or younger mice may not be heavy enough to set it off. Others say it’s fragile and, while labeled reusable, is likely not. Still, most users say this classic trap is the way to go, as it instantly kills mice, thus, limiting exposure to potential rodent-related diseases via droppings or urine—no wait, and minor cleanup.

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Shop NowM154 Mouse$13.99More
M250S No Touch, No See Mouse Trap

This lethal trap features a unique system to destroy the mice it captures—using an electric current to quickly electrocute any rodents that walk inside its “kill chamber.”

The chamber is detachable, so it’s easy to empty and clean out and allows you to re-bait it before reattaching. A green indicator light also lets you know as soon as a mouse is caught and will stay lit for up to a week so that you won’t miss it.

Replacing batteries in any tool can be inconvenient, but since this model can kill 100 mice per charge, you won’t need to switch them out often.

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Shop NowM250S No Touch, No See Mouse$78.23More
Heavy Duty Glue Mouse Trap

This Catchmaster glue trap covers a large surface area—10 by 5 inches—which increases your chances of trapping your furry intruders. They’re simple to use—just pull the two boards apart and place them on the ground—and should last for up to a year under normal circumstances.

Plus, the integrated floor anchors (tabs of putty at each corner of the trap) keep them in place, even if your mouse tries to pull them away. The large size of these traps might not make them the most practical choice for heavy traffic areas like your kitchen, where pets or kids might accidentally get stuck.

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Shop NowHeavy Duty Glue Mouse$21.98More
Flip N Slide Mouse Trap

This RinneTrap bucket trap is designed to humanely capture multiple mice, making it well-suited for barns, warehouses, or anywhere else with large mice populations that need removing.

A simple ramp and tipping lid means no poisons or chemicals on your property. You simply attach this device to a standard 5- or 20-gallon bucket, load it with bait, check the trap, and release the rodents if full. It doesn’t include the required bucket, though you should be able to find one at your local hardware store. RinneTraps are quite pricey when compared to other traps here, however.

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Shop NowFlip N Slide Mouse$34.99More
M310SSR Tin Cat Multi-Catch Live Mouse Trap

The Victor Tin Cat mouse trap is large enough to catch up to 30 mice before reaching capacity, but its 1.9-inch height still makes it compact enough to use in your home without taking up too much space. Its cutout window lets you know when a mouse is inside, and the lid is simple to open, so you can quickly release them whenever ready.

Its metal construction ensures a mouse can’t simply open its list and slip out, plus it makes cleaning bait, like peanut butter and cheeses, off its surface. This trap is safe for kids and animals and can be reused or disposed of when finished.

Some users say it’s ineffective for catching small and baby mice, as they can slip through the trap’s openings. Others note that it works well when used outdoors and can withstand mild weather like rain and snow.

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Shop NowM310SSR Tin Cat Multi-Catch Live Mouse

Arizona’s monsoon will end as one of the hottest and driest on record. What happened?

AZ Central – The Arizona Republic

Arizona’s monsoon will end as one of the hottest and driest on record. What happened?

Hayleigh Evans, Arizona Republic – September 27, 2023

Summer 2023 ended as the hottest on record in Phoenix, and now the 2023 monsoon season will end as the driest.

During a summer of unprecedented and prolonged heat in metro Phoenix, many people had eagerly waited for the monsoon season to begin and fend off the scorching temperatures. But aside from a few storms that offered temporary reprieves, monsoon precipitation was weeks delayed and below average.

The monsoon season officially ends on Saturday having produced fewer storms overall than previous years, especially in central and southeastern Arizona.

Although parts of the state depend on the monsoon for much of their annual rainfall, lack of precipitation during this season will not endanger water supplies, especially following a wet winter and the strengthening of El Niño conditions.

Here’s some of what to know about the monsoon:

How much rainfall did Arizona get during the 2023 monsoon?

Phoenix posted its driest monsoon ever, with just 0.15 of an inch of rainfall at Sky Harbor International Airport, compared to a 2.28-inch average. While rain gauges in other parts of metro Phoenix recorded higher totals, the airport reports the official figure.

Statewide, the 2023 monsoon was hotter and drier than previous years. While season totals have not yet been released, based on figures from June, July and August, it was the 20th-warmest and 10th-driest season. (The monsoon season starts June 15 and ends Sept. 30, while meteorological summer covers June, July and August.)

Although residents of central and southeastern counties experienced an exceptionally arid monsoon, precipitation in the north and west offset the drier areas.

“Fortunately, this monsoon season was dry but not the driest. The 2020 ‘nonsoon’ season remains the precipitation loser,” said Erinanne Saffell, director of the Arizona State Climate Office and the state climatologist, regarding 2020’s status as the driest monsoon.

Tucson and Flagstaff also recorded below-average precipitation. As of Sept 26, Tucson fared the best with 4.73 inches of rain compared to a 5.39 average between 1991 and 2020. Flagstaff had 4.24 inches of precipitation compared to a 7.2-inch average.

The monsoon typically accounts for about half the yearly rainfall in the central and northern regions and roughly two-thirds to three-fourths of annual precipitation in southern Arizona.

Northern and western counties saw more rain than usual, particularly Yuma, Mohave and Coconino counties. Remnants of Tropical Storm Harold (which originated in the Atlantic Ocean) and Hurricane Hilary (which developed in the Pacific) played a role in bringing more precipitation to these areas.

Why was Arizona’s monsoon delayed?

It took weeks for monsoon thunderstorms to develop, which is a key reason why some areas saw less rain. The Arizona monsoon season begins on June 15, but storms did not arrive in central and southern counties until mid-to-late July.

Monsoon storms need two key elements to occur: a northward wind shift that brings in summertime moisture from the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, and high daytime temperatures. Together, intense surface heating and increased moisture produce monsoon thunderstorms during the summer.

The first storms generally require three consecutive days with a dew point higher than 55 degrees and temperatures between 100 and 108 degrees to develop. Typically, temperatures over 100 degrees in June help build a high pressure, subtropical ridge that summons moisture from the south. Arizona’s abnormally cool June delayed the onset of the monsoon by about six weeks.

This hot high-pressure ridge settled over central Arizona instead of the Four Corners, where it typically stays during the monsoon, bringing moisture through the state.

“When you’re underneath that bubble of heat, there’s really not much moisture, and the opportunity for thunderstorms is limited,” said Michael Crimmins, a climatologist from the University of Arizona. “When the monsoon doesn’t behave correctly, we can get into these really nasty heat spells.”

And yes, the lack of monsoon storms contributed to the 31-day streak of high temperatures at or over 110 degrees in Phoenix. Monsoon showers typically offset the heat in July, and the record-breaking heat wave finally came to an end on July 31 following storm activity.

Because the high-pressure system stalled over central Arizona, western and northern areas around the edges of the system saw some precipitation. Along with tropical storm activity, this subtropical system spurred more rainfall in the north and west.

Despite a lackluster monsoon, the state overall is on track for an average water year. The water year spans from October 1 to September 30, coinciding with the end of the monsoon, and tracks statewide precipitation during that time.

Based on data collected from 1896 to 2022, the average annual precipitation in Arizona is 12.26 inches. Between October 2022 and August 2023, the state had 11.43 inches of rainfall, and experts hope September’s precipitation will bring numbers even closer to the annual average.

Does below-average monsoon rainfall affect water levels?

While every drop counts during Arizona’s ongoing 23-year drought, the state does not rely on the monsoon to replenish its rivers and reservoirs. Watershed from snowmelt is the backbone of the Colorado, Salt and Verde river systems.

During the 2023 monsoon, Salt River Project’s watershed had its second-driest season. As of Sept. 17, SRP reported a combined watershed rainfall of 3.45 inches, 61% of the average precipitation.

SRP’s reserves are still high following winter storms that brought above-average snowmelt to Arizona. The SRP system is at 86% of capacity, compared to 65% during the same time last year.

“It’s not operationally something that we are concerned about, especially given that it was on the heels of an incredibly productive and wet winter, which completely filled our reservoir system,” SRP meteorologist Jesus Haro said.

Precipitation from the monsoon helps alleviate downstream demand from water sources and can affect releases from lakes and reservoirs. For example, the Bureau of Reclamation temporarily increased the minimum amount of water released hourly from Glen Canyon Dam on Sept. 14 to improve boater safety in the absence of monsoon showers.

You thought AZ’s summer was extreme? A ‘strong’ El Niño could supercharge winter

Did El Niño play a role in the monsoon?

In June, scientists from the National Weather Service declared an El Niño Advisory, saying they observed El Niño weather conditions and expected them to strengthen through 2023 and into 2024.

El Niño is a climate phenomenon that creates above-average sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. It usually occurs every three to five years and lasts for nine to 12 months. While it is difficult to predict the exact weather implications, El Niño events can impact weather patterns that trigger heavy rainfall and droughts around the world.

Experts say it is hard to determine El Niño’s impact on summer weather, but it may contribute to higher summer temperatures and delay the monsoon because it can weaken and reposition the subtropical ridge that summons moisture from the south.

While this summer was drier than normal, climatologists are hopeful for another wet winter. Out of the nine El Niño events since 1994, seven brought above-average precipitation in Arizona during the winter.

“Statistically, we tend to get more precipitation in the winter when we have an El Niño event,” Saffell said. “How much? We don’t know how much is going to come out of the sky, but we’re all crossing our fingers.”

Hayleigh Evans covers environmental issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Vanity Fair – Politics

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Vanity Fair hits the Kennedy family’s Cape Cod compound for a peek into the controversial 2024 candidate’s wet hot American summer.

By Joe Hagan – September 27, 2023

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.s Mad Mad Mad Mad World

On an overcast afternoon in mid-August, I find myself on a ferry to Nantucket with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—son of Bobby, nephew of John, Democratic candidate for president of the United States. Trapped between Kennedy on my left and a window facing the Atlantic Ocean to my right, it is no exaggeration to say this is the low point of my summer—a supposedly fun thing I wish I’d never done.

A couple weeks before, Kennedy had responded to an interview request by calling and expressing exasperation at various hatchet jobs in mainstream media and skepticism that a correspondent for Vanity Fair, a card-carrying member of the legacy media, might be fair to him. “Your editor won’t let you write anything positive,” he promised. 

Kennedy had had a rough ride since the summer started (he was virtually set ablaze by New York magazine) and so I proposed that instead of raking over his many controversial ideas—like his belief that the media has been infiltrated by the CIA, as he told the right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe in an interview this year; or his claim that pesticides in drinking water are causing “sexual dysphoria” in boys, as evidenced by a frog study—we meet up at the Kennedy compound and talk about his family history. Lean into his Kennedyness, have a little fun. I was scheduled to be on Cape Cod for vacation anyway and figured I’d go take the cut of his jib.

“So you’re saying this won’t be a hit piece?” he wrote back.

And so Kennedy agreed, reasoning that since we had a mutual friend in the late Peter Kaplan, his college roommate from Harvard and a mentor of mine in the journalism business, I would treat him fairly. The onetime editor of the weekly New York Observer taught me to give subjects a fair shake, though not to be afraid to have a point of view either. The first thing Peter used to ask when I returned from an interview was, “Did you like him/her?” 

“What do you think is a greater threat to the republic, censorship or January 6?” Kennedy asked, then clarified that the answer is censorship. “You could blow up the Capitol and we’d be okay if we have a First Amendment.”

When I arrive at the Hyannis Port compound, I’m told Kennedy is on a boat somewhere and running late. And so I idle in the dining room of his house, a white colonial with soccer balls on the lawn and bicycles piled against the siding. I peruse books on his shelf: Best American Crime Writing 2004; How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics; Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns. There’s a photograph of Kennedy with a falcon on his arm and a picture of him and his brothers as young men, posing shirtless in an outdoor bathtub together. Near the front door are two iconic photos, one of the late Bobby Sr., holding his son; the other of John and Jackie Kennedy on a boat, Jackie’s scarf blowing in the wind. 

A woman strolls in, barefoot and wearing hot pink sweatpants and a sleeveless T-shirt. It’s Kick Kennedy, RFK Jr.’s 35-year-old daughter. I tell her I’m waiting for her father, who by now is 45 minutes late. “Welcome to my life,” she says. She lives in Los Angeles and had planned to come out to the compound for a week but then one week became two which became three and, well, you know how summer on the Cape is. 

Word comes down that I’m to meet Kennedy at the boat dock and go directly to the ferry terminal—he has to catch the 4:15 to Nantucket for a fundraiser and our time at the compound is scotched. When I express disappointment, Kick offers to take me to the crow’s nest upstairs for a quick view of the compound. It’s the same view Kennedy Jr. used as a backdrop in a social media post this summer, meant to underscore his family legacy. We climb a nautically themed stairwell and pass by a room with a man face down on a bed (Kick asks me to whisper lest we wake her friend) and emerge on the roof to a sweeping view of the houses that make up the compound, each one tidy and separated by fences. Boats dot the harbor beyond.

An aerial view of the Kennedy compound on July 25 2008 in Hyannis Port Massachusetts.

She points to a grand mansion festooned with red, white, and blue bunting. “That’s the house that everyone thinks is ours and it’s actually John Wilson’s from the college-admissions scandals,” she says casually, referring to the chief executive of Hyannis Port Capital accused of bribing college administrators to help his kid get into the Ivy League. 

That house is a false flag, I joke.

That’s funny, she laughs, because she works at an art gallery called False Flag.

Kick surveys the surrounding property. “Grandma’s over there, and this was Jackie’s house, and now it’s Teddy Jr.’s house, and our house is new, meaning we’ve had it for 20 years,” she says. “Then over there, if you walk straight down, you’ll see the famous field where the touch football games happened.”

“I give famously good tours,” she adds. If I wasn’t presently scheduled to meet her father, she says, “I would have grabbed a golf cart and taken you to Squaw Island,” a scenic marshland nearby.

“Have fun with whatever they’re going to force you to do,” she says and wanders back to the living room.

Iwalk down the street toward the boat landing and soon see the unmistakable figure of Robert Francis Kennedy Jr., 69, barefoot in a T-shirt and faded neon-print swim trunks. I greet him and his entourage, which includes Maria Shriver and her brothers, Timothy and Mark. Everybody is jovial and relaxed, just back from a trip to Baxter’s, the famous fried-seafood shack near the Hyannis ferry terminal. “He’s going to do the first nice article about me,” Kennedy says by way of introduction. “The first one.”

“Oh, thank God!” says Maria, laughing. 

Then Kennedy is informed he has to leave in 10 minutes to catch the 4:15 ferry. 

“4:15? Fuck.” 


He still has to tie up his sister Kerry’s motorboat after their pleasure cruise and I join him as he jogs to the dock and motors back into the harbor. His piercing blue eyes stare straight ahead, jaw firm, face stony, the classical profile of a Kennedy. I’d recently read his memoir American Values: Lessons I Learned From My Family, and I ask where his maternal great-grandfather, John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, used to sunbathe nude. He gestures faintly to a beach along the southern shore but is distracted because he can’t find the mooring. 

I spy one with “Kennedy” printed on it and motion him toward it. There’s a pink buoy with a long stick for hauling the line up. “Grab the whip!” he yells hoarsely over the motor. “Haul it aboard super fast, get the whole rope on board.” 

I yank the wet rope on board and Kennedy ties up the boat. The motor is still running but Kennedy can’t figure out how to turn it off. A dock worker who comes to fetch us says he’ll do it for him and we race back to the house and jump into a black SUV with Kennedy’s hired security guards. “If we go fast,” says Kennedy, “we can make it in like seven minutes.”

We gun it to the terminal and are fast-walking to the gangway, the last to board the ferry, when we’re stopped by a guard in mirrored glasses. “Sir, you gotta put shoes on, please,” he says, motioning to Kennedy’s bare feet. 

An aide quickly digs his formal dress shoes out of a suitcase and Kennedy yanks them on, looking faintly ridiculous as he strides onto the ferry in neon trunks and black dress shoes. He heads to the upper deck, known as the Captain’s View, and we sit side by side in bucket seats. 

After the whole mad scramble, we now have an hour to talk. My original plan scuttled, I turn to my notebook, which is full of questions. 

Three days before my arrival, Peter Baker of The New York Times had published a story on the Kennedy family’s unhappy feelings about Robert’s campaign; his taking on their friend and ally Joe Biden; his claim that John, and possibly Bobby Kennedy, were assassinated by the CIA. “That’s the third story the Times has done,” Kennedy says grimly. “The same story, three times.”

“Well, I have a big family,” he says. “Some of them agree with me, some of them don’t agree with me. I think it’s like everybody’s family. People are entitled to their opinions. I can love people who disagree with me about the Ukraine war or about censorship, whatever.”

Gathering at the home of their grandfather to wish him a belated happy birthday 17 of the grandchildren of Joseph P....

He notes that sister Kerry, a critic of his campaign, loaned him her boat for the afternoon. No hard feelings. “She saw my boat didn’t have a key so she said, why don’t you take my boat?”

He crunches some numbers. “I think there’s 105 cousins now,” he explains. “So I think four or five of them made statements against me. And then a lot of other ones showed up for my announcement.”

Does it hurt his feelings?

“No,” he says. “We grew up in a milieu where we were taught to argue with each other passionately every night at the dinner table. There’s five or six members of my family who work with the Biden administration. And there’s a lot of other ones who have 501c3s that are doing business with the Biden administration.”

Kennedy finds President Biden “congenial” but disagrees vehemently with the war in Ukraine (he believes the US is partly responsible for starting it) and accuses the administration of censoring his views on COVID vaccines and lockdowns (in short, the former are dangerous, the latter unnecessary and dangerous). Indeed, he joined a lawsuit against a consortium of media and tech companies, including the BBC, The Washington Post, and Google, over alleged violations of his First Amendment rights. Among other things, it accuses the White House of leaning on Twitter to take down his posts or labeling them misinformation. (A week after I see Kennedy, a federal judge will deny Kennedy’s request for a temporary restraining order against Google and YouTube, citing “the public interest of preventing the spread of illness and medical misinformation”; later still, an appeals court will rule against the White House, saying it “coerced the [tech] platforms to make their moderation decisions by way of intimidating messages and threats of adverse consequences.”)

For Kennedy, the “legacy media” is corrupted by pharmaceutical companies and an implicit allegiance to the Democratic Party. The federal judge who ruled against him is an appointee of President Joe Biden and is therefore in bed with the whole gang too—as am I. I assure Kennedy I wasn’t given any marching orders from the DNC or Big Pharma, nor was I on the CIA payroll. “You wouldn’t be sitting there if you were willing to depart from official orthodoxy,” he tells me, “so there’s a self-censorship that goes on.” 

To be honest, it isn’t a great way to start off an interview. But for Kennedy, this is clearly personal. “I was the first person censored by the White House,” he says. “Thirty-seven hours after he took the oath of office, White House officials contacted Twitter and told them to take down my post.”

The post suggested baseball legend Hank Aaron’s death was related to his COVID vaccine. None other than Ohio Republican Jim Jordan would later defend Kennedy, saying “there was nothing there that was factually inaccurate. Hank Aaron, real person, great American, passed away after he got the vaccine. Pointing out, just pointing out facts.”

“Nobody has ever pointed to a single post that I made, ever, that was factually inaccurate,” Kennedy continues. “We have probably the most robust fact-checking operation of any news organization in the country.”   

He’s referring to his nonprofit, the Children’s Health Defense, which he says has 350 PhD scientists and medical doctors who make sure all his public statements are “vetted and super vetted.”

Kennedy says he lost a lot of followers after Twitter took down his anti-vax posts. “They lost me 800,000 followers,” he says. “They removed 268,000 people. People still, in this country, don’t know that the vaccine is killing kids. There’s what, 1,500 student athletes that have dropped dead on the field for myocarditis? Americans don’t know that…and none of it’s recorded. It’s all censored.”From the Archive: Far From the Tree

I’d actually read that claim before—Ron DeSantis’s controversial surgeon general in Florida, Joseph Ladapo, hyped the theory from a study that admitted in the fine print that it could not “provide a definitive functional proof or a direct causal link between vaccination and myocarditis”—so it couldn’t have been very successfully censored, no? 

“Well, you read little tiny bits, but you’re not reading about the kids that I read about every day,” he says. “New children dying. If an individual died of COVID, it’s front-page. If a guy dies of the COVID vaccine, you will not find it in a paper. That’s not right.”

Tonally, Kennedy’s raspy voice can make it hard to tell whether he’s pissed off or just struggling to make himself understood, but it’s ambiguous enough that I ask him if he’s pissed off. 

“Do I go around angry?” he says. “No.”

But as I question him, he gets increasingly tense. His arms are crossed tightly across his chest. He hasn’t laughed or smiled once since we started talking. Given all that he’s saying about Biden, plus his wholesale embrace of, and by, the conservative media, plus his appearance before the Republican-led, anti-Democrat Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, not to mention unlikely fans like Donald Trump, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, and Ron DeSantis (who said he would consider making Kennedy the head of the FDA in his administration), I can’t help but wonder who Kennedy would vote for in a general election matchup between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in 2024. 

“I wouldn’t answer that question,” he replies. “I think the Ukraine war is an existential war for us. I think we are walking along the edge in a completely unnecessary war.”

But as a Democrat, I press, wouldn’t Robert F. Kennedy Jr., of the vaunted Democratic Kennedy family, vote for the Democratic nominee? “You’re giving me a hypothetical situation,” he says. “It depends what their positions are on issues.”

The first issue he mentions, Ukraine, is one that aligns him with Trump’s pro-Putin position. “Well, maybe,” he says, pointing out that he’s also critical of Trump’s COVID policies from 2020. “Trump engineered a $16 trillion useless expenditure with the COVID lockdowns,” he says.

Of DeSantis’s idea, Kennedy says, “It’s nice for him to express confidence in me. I’m not going to express umbrage at that.” 

In liberal circles, these kinds of answers feed the suspicion that Kennedy, whose super PAC is largely financed by a Trump donor named Timothy Mellon, is a kind of Manchurian candidate set on spoiling Biden’s chances against Trump. Kennedy insists he won’t run as an independent (“Even if I was going to run as a third-party candidate, which I’m not, I would probably take more votes from Trump than I would from Democrats”), but feeling unloved by the press, he has embraced people like Joe Rogan, to whom he can fire off his theories without being fact-checked in real time, and Fox News, where Sean Hannity has given him free rein to espouse what Kennedy calls his “mal-information” (supposedly factually accurate information that Democrats don’t want you to hear). 

Then there’s former Fox host Tucker Carlson, with whom Kennedy seems to have a burgeoning bromance. “For years, I was trying to get Fox News to take endocrine disruptors seriously. It’s a toxin that affects sexuality in children. I’ve been fighting them for 40 years. So about a year ago, Tucker Carlson did a show, finally. He did a really detailed show on endocrine disruptors and the whole Democratic left came down against him. What is that about?”

As it happens, Kennedy had taped an interview with Carlson only the night before we meet and came away with fresh questions about the January 6 insurrection, which right-wing media theorizes was sparked by a Capitol rioter named Ray Epps, who they surmise was an FBI agent running a false flag operation to implicate Trump fans (Epps has since sued Fox News for spreading the lie and has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in connection with the January 6 attack). 

Given how aggrieved Kennedy seems, I ask whether some of this treatment in the press might not be his communication style—the hyperbolic language, a certain undisciplined (and paranoid) style.

“Like what?” he asks. 

Like his claim that the media, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, have been “compromised” by the CIA in a new version of the old 1960s CIA program, Operation Mockingbird. 

Nope, he actually believes that. 

“I had dinner about three weeks ago with Mike Pompeo,” Kennedy recounts, “and he said to me, ‘When I was at the CIA, I did not do a good job at reforming that agency.’ And he said, ‘I should have and I didn’t.’ And he said, ‘I failed.’  And he said to me, ‘The top echelon of that agency, all of the people who are in the top tier of that agency, are people who do not believe in the Democratic institutions of the United States of America.’” 

The strongest proof of corruption at the top levels of the government and media is how Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is being treated by the press. “Even Trump was not treated like this,” he says. “Tucker said it’s the worst treatment that he’s ever seen in his life, of any public figure.”

“And that’s why I initially said I wasn’t interested in talking to you,” he explains, “because I know that it would be very unusual for me to get fair treatment from a mainstream journal.”

He gives me an extended lecture about “what reporters are supposed to do” and how the media “did the opposite. They became propaganda vessels for a certain point of view. And they became manipulators of the public. And that is why you’re seeing the division in this country, because people know when they’re being lied to and when they’re being manipulated.”

For example, he says, the media keeps “censoring” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 

“It’s that the media will not report what I say,” he says. “They call me an anti-vaxxer. I’ve never been an anti-vaxxer on any vaccine. I was trying to get mercury out of fish for 40 years and nobody called me anti-fish. I want safe vaccines. I want good science. I want to have vaccines that are tested against placebos like every other medicine, prior [to] licensure. I think most people would agree with that. I tell it to every reporter like you and you won’t report it.”

For what it’s worth, Kennedy has said as recently as July that “there’s no vaccine that is safe and effective” and called the COVID vaccine “the deadliest vaccine ever made.” His presidential campaign is aligned with his nonprofit, which consistently espouses anti-vaccine opinion. One might argue that Kennedy is not so much censored as simply disbelieved, but censorship also happens to be the genesis and thrust of his campaign for president. “I thought if I ran for president, I’d actually get to talk to Americans instead of having the press be the dishonest intermediary.”

At this, Kennedy turns toward me with his whole body, muscles flexing, and grips the tray table between us. “You’re lying to me,” he says, furious.

In other words, people like me are actually the reason he’s running—so he can get around me, even though he’s right in front of me. 

And this is where the interview takes a sour turn.

The day before, I had listened to the sample chapter of his 2021 book, The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health, published by Skyhorse Publishing and his anti-vaccine nonprofit, and read the synopsis on Amazon, and a few reviews, the gist of which is this: Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, along with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and various “heads of state and leading media and social media institutions,” allegedly formed a “Pharma-Fauci-Gates alliance” that “exercises dominion over global health policy” with the intent of controlling the general populace. The process, Kennedy claims, began in early 2000 when “Fauci shook hands with Bill Gates in the library of Gates’ $147 million Seattle mansion, cementing a partnership that would aim to control an increasingly profitable $60 billion global vaccine enterprise with unlimited growth potential.”

Skeptical, I ask Kennedy about his claim that Fauci was somehow “corrupt” or “nefarious”—my words—and wonder if perhaps he wasn’t overstating Fauci’s motives given that we were, after all, in an unpredictable global pandemic in 2020 that was killing hundreds of thousands of people. 

At this, Kennedy turns toward me with his whole body, muscles flexing, and grips the tray table between us. 

“You’re lying to me,” he says, furious. 

Shocked, I ask what he means. People in nearby seats glance over nervously. 

“Because you didn’t read the book,” he says. “Because I don’t do that. I don’t look into [Fauci’s] head the whole book. What I do in that book, I document what happened. Not a single factual error has been found in that book. It’s 2,200 footnotes. Show me something I got wrong.”

He accuses me of not doing my “homework” and expresses regret at doing the interview.

“I thought this was going to be something different,” he says. “You said it was going to be lighthearted.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.s Mad Mad Mad Mad World

It’s worth pausing for a moment to describe what happened in the days following this interview. 

Later that night, and over the next three days, Kennedy texts me links to articles about alleged vaccine-related deaths among people 18 to 34 as well as a report, from a site called Slay News, that 92% of COVID deaths in England in 2022 were people who were vaccinated. He also mails me his 2022 book, A Letter to Liberals, also published by Skyhorse Publishing and his anti-vaccine nonprofit, wherein he rails against the modern Democratic Party and the media “cabal” supposedly collaborating in a cover-up of inconvenient truths about the COVID vaccine. 

I read the book. In Chapter 1, Kennedy publishes 12 pages of charts that allegedly illustrate how weekly COVID deaths around the world spiked in 2021 after the introduction of “mass vaccination.” Paraguay, Vietnam, Nepal, Ireland—in country after country, COVID deaths appear to go up after vaccinations are introduced, which is supposed to demonstrate that the vaccine had “negative efficacy”—indeed, that vaccinations tended to worsen illness and death. He goes on to claim the US death rate is “consistent” with “global patterns” and that more Americans died of COVID in 2022 than in 2020. “Because this truth has not been reported by corporate media,” he writes, “it’s understandable that you might find it surprising or unbelievable. And, nonetheless, it’s true.”

Kennedy’s analysis is wildly misleading and false. The first of his charts, for Ireland, depicts vaccinations starting in December 2020 and a spike in weekly deaths from COVID in February. According to Ireland’s own public health care data, less than 1% of the Irish population had been vaccinated in February. One might presume, from Kennedy’s supposition, that the rate of weekly COVID deaths would escalate as more people became vaccinated. It’s the opposite: Weekly COVID deaths declined as the percentage of the vaccinated population went up. By August of 2021, the Irish government reported that it had fully vaccinated 80% of the adult population. Weekly COVID death rates never returned anywhere near the February 2021 peak again.

The second chart is for Portugal. Kennedy’s chart shows vaccinations beginning in late December and a spike in weekly COVID deaths in late January 2021. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, 0.67% of the population had received full vaccination at the time. And again, if the vaccine had “negative efficacy,” as Kennedy claims, then the rate of weekly deaths should have gone up as the percent of the vaccinated population increased. It didn’t.

Again and again, Kennedy pulls this sleight of hand: A chart shows a spike in weekly COVID deaths as COVID-19 deaths were peaking globally but when only a fraction of the world’s population had been fully vaccinated. Kennedy also lumps Cambodia into this argument, showing a spike in weekly COVID deaths four months into the vaccination process. Cambodia had one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world (higher than the US) and by November of 2021 the government reopened the country after a period of lockdowns. As of 2023, the country has limited the number of COVID deaths to 3,056 in a population of 16.8 million, according to the World Health Organization.

Kennedy conspicuously does not show a US chart. But as with other countries, the first major spike in weekly COVID deaths in 2021 was in late January, about a month after vaccinations began, and weekly COVID death rates never returned to that peak again. And contrary to Kennedy’s claim, the number of COVID deaths in the US was less in 2022 (244,986) than in 2020 (350,831), according to Centers for Disease Control statistics. Those numbers might have been much better had states like Mississippi and Wyoming, hot beds of anti-vaccine sentiment, managed to get more than 55% of the population fully vaccinated. Instead, those states have had some of the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 mortality in the country. Indeed, data from the CDC shows that unvaccinated people between ages 65 and 79, among the most vulnerable populations, were nine times likelier to die from COVID as vaccinated people.

Kick Kennedy surveys the surrounding property. “Grandma’s over there, and this was Jackie’s house, and now it’s Teddy Jr.’s house, and our house is new, meaning we’ve had it for 20 years.”

I later wonder whether Kennedy had left out the context to hype his claim or whether he himself had been duped by his 350 scientists and medical physicians. Neither seemed particularly promising for a candidate for president of the United States—though, in these Trumpian times, neither did it seem particularly surprising. As his pal Tucker Carlson has illustrated, paranoia and innuendo sell. But if Kennedy can’t get his biggest claim correct in Chapter 1 of the “revised” edition of his book, why should we believe anything he says? 

We still have 20 minutes to Nantucket and Kennedy won’t even look at me. 

I try to smooth things over by promising to give the Fauci book a closer read. (When I do, later on, I’m convinced of one thing for sure: Kennedy would be terrific at writing thrillers.) I feel bullied by Kennedy, harangued and insulted into becoming a fact-checker for his many speculative and debunked theories. But my job is to keep asking him questions and so I do.

Does he think this focus on censorship is helping his campaign? 

“I don’t think it’s hurting me,” he says. “It’s hurting me among the people that I need to become nominated—so that 28%. And they’re the people that watch MSNBC, CNN.”

He means Democrats, who one presumes he’ll need to get to the White House as a Democrat. How does he propose to get through to them? “When polling starts to indicate that I can win and that President Biden can’t,” he ventures, “we’ll see. And then there’s also the possibility”—he stops short of saying what I think he’s about to say—“there’s all kinds of possibilities that could happen.”

He’s waiting for Biden to drop out—or, you know, off. He points to Cory Booker and Gavin Newsom, who he says are running shadow campaigns in case of the same eventuality. 

I gently suggest to Kennedy that Donald Trump is the existential threat that animates Democratic voters, not vaccines. When I ask for his view on the Trump indictments, he declines to talk about it but asks rhetorically, “What do you think is a greater threat to the republic, censorship or January 6?”

“I don’t have a way of measuring that,” I reply.

“To me, it’s obvious,” he says. “If the press is condoning censorship by the government or the media, that’s the end of democracy.”

He continues: “You could blow up the Capitol and we’d be okay if we have a First Amendment. Why are we hearing about the Capitol day after day after day after day and nobody’s talking about the First Amendment?”

The conversation once again morphs into a lecture on the failures of the press, about which he is an expert and I, a reporter for Vanity Fair, am implicated.  

By now it’s clear that Kennedy sees himself as the lone truth teller in a world of lies and deceit, crusading against a vast conspiracy of interlocking powers involving the Biden and Trump administrations, the tech companies, the pharmaceutical industry, the CIA, the FDA, and the mainstream media, who have coordinated to stifle the truth of a “three-year experiment performed on the American people.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., like his father and uncle before him, was born to slay dragons. “From my youngest days I always had the feeling that we were all involved in some great crusade,” he writes in his memoir, “that the world was a battleground for good and evil…It would be my good fortune if I could play an important or heroic role.” 

In a time when both the far left and far right find common ground in a paranoid distrust of power, when faith in institutions is at an all-time low, here stands Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to unite the people in their mutual distrust of everything—if only the damned reporters will report what he’s saying, or report what he means to say, or report what he’s decided to say on any particular day. I think of our mutual friend Peter Kaplan, onetime editor of the New York Observer. Kennedy says Peter would have been “depressed” by the state of the media if he were alive today. Sure—aren’t we all? But he, like many of Kennedy’s oldest and dearest friends, would have been downright heartbroken by the state of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

I see Nantucket on the horizon and breathe a sigh of relief. 

And I think of Peter Kaplan’s old query: Did I like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.? No, I did not. He is a humorless bully living in a paranoid fantasy in which reporters like me are cast as corrupt dupes whose only redemption is to follow Robert F. Kennedy Jr. into this miasma of overheated conspiracies. It’s a script that’s beneath Netflix, let alone the Kennedy legacy. 

At a loss for words, I note that Kennedy seems very passionate.

“I wouldn’t describe myself that way,” he says. 

How would he describe himself?

“Well, I don’t think I’m governed by passion,” he says. “I think I’m governed by evidence.”

A passion for the evidence perhaps? 

“Okay,” he says. “I’ll settle for that.”

If only. 

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to accurately reflect Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s middle name. It is Francis.

Joe Hagan is a special correspondent at Vanity Fair and a cohost of the podcast Inside the Hive. He’s the author of the critically acclaimed Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine (Knopf) and has profiled everybody from Beto O’Rourke and Stephen Colbert to Liz Cheney and Henry Kissinger. 

Can We Imagine Life Without Oil?

The Nation – Books & The Arts

Can We Imagine Life Without Oil?

Mobility, a novel by Lydia Kiesling, looks at the way fossil fuels defines life in public and private, shaping the very way we tell stories.

Jess Bergman – September 26, 2023 (October 2nd-9th, 2023 issue)

A businessman hitchhiking at a gas station in Oregon, 1973.(Photo by Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images)

Elizabeth “Bunny” Glenn, the protagonist of Lydia Kiesling’s new novel Mobility, may work for the Turnbridge Oil Company, but that doesn’t mean she’s in oil. As she’s quick to remind anyone who asks, “I work for the non-oil part of it, the part that is moving away from oil; we are targeting batteries and energy storage, not oil.” And as she rationalizes to herself, all she does in her capacity as a marketer and administrator is “relay information, tell stories, shape narratives, soft things, things that didn’t really matter.”

Despite these disavowals, the fact is that Bunny has spent years trying to better understand the oil industry. It turns out to be a Sisyphean task: The basic schema of the industry—where many companies are vertically and horizontally integrated, mergers are a constant, and financialization has spawned its own sprawling sub-industry—intentionally obscures the full picture. The oil landscape is a quicksand of “names and names and names.” Every time Bunny learned a new one, “the map she had constructed in her mind shifted.” Meanwhile, her brother John, a do-gooder Peace Corps veteran who teaches English in Ukraine, teases Bunny that she’ll wind up like their uncle Warren, a garden-variety reactionary with a desk job at Motiva that earns him “a seemingly huge amount of money.”

More than halfway through the novel, John’s partner, Sofie—a Swedish journalist who covers fossil fuels—provides Bunny with a term that describes the oil industry’s elusiveness: “hyperobject.” Coined by the philosopher Timothy Morton in 2010, a hyperobject is something so large and complex, so distributed across both space and time, that it evades our comprehensive understanding, even as we cannot escape its presence in our life. “The more data we have about hyperobjects, the less we know about them—the more we realize we can never truly know them,” Morton argues. Oil is a hyperobject par excellence: Not only is it the result of a geologic process that is millions of years old, but there are reserves of crude oil all over the world, and its byproducts are found in innumerable consumer items: artificial limbs and toilet seats, lipstick and trash bags, refrigerators and contact lenses. As Bunny herself puts it, “It does touch everything. Absolutely everything.”

Even before Bunny started working at Turnbridge, her life had been touched by oil more directly than others’. As a Foreign Service brat in Azerbaijan in the late 1990s, her adolescence unfolded alongside the development of a new international order, and commodities like oil played a starring role in this transition. Four years before her family’s arrival in Baku, and three years after the country restored its independence from the Soviet Union, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic and a consortium of 11 foreign oil companies signed what was called the “contract of the century”: an agreement to jointly develop—and share the profits from—oil fields in the Azeri sectors of the Caspian Sea. Several of those foreign companies, of course, were American. Bunny’s father is sent to Azerbaijan in part to protect his country’s investment.

In Baku, some of the consequences of the newly privatized oil economy are obvious even to a self-absorbed 15-year-old like Bunny: a sulfuric smell on the beach, or the “mansions with no context” piled up on cliffsides outside of the capital. But most of what she learns about the industry comes via a more sentimental education—namely, crushes on the young men who have flocked to Azerbaijan to witness the so-called end of history. There is Eddie, a mild-mannered Brit making a documentary about the Nagorno-Karabakh War, who rents a room in the apartment above the Glenns’; and then there is Charlie, a hedonistic, hirsute American who publishes a guerrilla newspaper called The Intercock (short for Inter-Caucasian Times) covering “foreign activity in the former Soviet Union.”

At one point, while attending a party at an oil prospector’s mansion in Baku’s ancient inner city, Bunny bumps into her crushes smoking cigars with a gray-haired Amoco bureaucrat. After frightening the oilman off with a veiled reference to his taste for sex workers, Charlie turns to Bunny. “Do you want to hear the story of oil in the former Soviet Union?” he asks. Following her noncommital “I guess,” Charlie proceeds to unspool a profane monologue about the scramble for the Caspian’s riches amid the breakup of the USSR, featuring cameos by Mikhail Gorbachev, Ilham Aliyev, “Condoleezza fucking Rice,” BP, Chevron, Exxon, and more.

This speech, which unfolds across four pages, is for Bunny’s benefit, but also our own. By embedding crucial context in naturalistic dialogue, Kiesling is able to establish the historical conjuncture in which her book is set without resorting to dull exposition. But this formal choice is more than just a canny bit of craft; it also hints at the novel’s true subject. Recognizing the epistemological impasse that Bunny runs up against in her quest to master the industry’s inner workings, Mobility is not really about oil qua oil, but the way it is narrativized—both for good and for ill.

Mobility teems with storytellers, from investigative reporters, podcasters, and filmmakers to spin doctors, government public information officers, and oil CEOs, dictating their memoirs to underpaid female assistants. When Bunny eventually joins their ranks, it’s due less to any conscious choice than to circumstance. Personally and professionally adrift after graduating from college in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, she moves in with her recently divorced mother in Texas and finds a job through a temp agency at Miles Engineering Consultants, a firm that provides “client satisfaction in the diverse fields of geophysics and seismology, hydrology, hydrogeology, and construction support.” Bunny is assigned to the admin pool, where she puts her English degree to work copy-editing inscrutable reports about prospective megaprojects, such as a nuclear power plant in the Persian Gulf. However tedious, it’s a task at which she excels.

Not long after Bunny is hired, she meets Frank Miles—son of the company’s founder, and son-in-law to oil magnate Frank Turnbridge—who recognizes in Bunny a potential asset to his own ambition. Before long, Frank convinces her to jump ship to Turnbridge, where he’ll be heading up a new arm of the business: one that “over time,” he promises, will begin investing in “renewables, batteries, clean energy.” As she’ll learn, it’s a future that’s always just on the verge of arriving.

Whatever “unease” Bunny feels as a reflexive liberal who believes in global warming but who is now working for an oil company is allayed in short order by the material comforts that the job enables her to obtain: a well-appointed apartment in Houston, Ted Baker dresses, Bare Minerals makeup, Jo Malone perfume (the novel is littered with brand names that increase in value in tandem with Bunny’s professional advancement). It’s a state of affairs that Sofie mocks during a visit to Texas: “I’m sorry, but this is such an American tragedy! You work for the oil complex so you can have health insurance and a place to live!” However much Bunny clings to these justifications, the truth is that she starts to find something magnetic about the industry after immersing herself in its literature.

While attempting to better understand her new workplace, Bunny spends many Saturdays at the Turnbridge Petroleum Library, donated by Frank to a local college, where she reads introductory textbooks (“useful but boring”) as well as “narrative histories, which she infinitely preferred.” The latter are seductive in both the cinematic quality of their imagery and in the sheer enormity of the feats of engineering and labor they describe—so monumental that they reduce the “dead people and filth strewn all over the pages of these books” to mere footnotes. “These tragedies were made small against the inexorability of a steel tube drilling down thousands of feet, drilling sideways a thousand feet more, seeming to subvert the laws of geology or physics,” Bunny thinks. “Literal pipelines laid under the ground and spanning two continents, traveling under the ocean itself, to bring them their standard of living.”

Her encounter with these texts is formative in more ways than one: Bunny will eventually stake her career on building a Lean In version of this emphatically masculine mythos. In 2016, she attends a women-in-energy luncheon in a frigid Texas conference room where the keynote speaker is “one of the first Black women special agents in the FBI.” Bunny, then unmarried and childless, is seated with a number of colleagues discussing the challenges of being a working mother in the oil industry. A geologist with twins who’s recently been let go from Exxon jokes—if you can call it that—that “they always lay the moms off first.” Then one of the only men present at the lunch drops by their table. “What are we talking about here?” he asks. “Shoes?” A less keen novel might leverage this interaction into an epiphany for Bunny, but Kiesling is working in an ultimately ironic register here. At the end of the scene, Bunny lifts a foot out of her “Tory Burch square-heeled croc pumps that didn’t have quite enough room in the toe box…before turning her attention back to the podium.” She, at least, had been thinking about shoes after all.

Over the course of Mobility, Kiesling develops a critique of the fossil fuel industry’s use of women as both a shield and a source of legitimacy. This applies to women on the outside: A recurring motif is the line, supplied by industry flacks like Bunny, that it’s thanks to oil and gas that mothers can give birth in brightly lit, temperature-regulated hospitals, full of high-tech devices made from petrochemical byproducts, rather than in unsanitary sheds, the United States’ high rate of maternal mortality be damned. But it’s women working on the inside who prove to be most useful to the industry. Of course, the benefits flow both ways: On the one hand, the industry’s embrace of corporate feminism allows individual women to recast their environmentally destructive and highly remunerative work as a radical riposte to the old boys’ club. More significantly, this PR strategy plays into the narrative that a lack of diversity, not a profit motive antithetical to life, is responsible for oil’s gravest ills. In this way, reforming the energy industry’s relationship to women and other minorities becomes a metonym for reforming the industry itself. At yet another conference, Bunny listens to a chipper blonde introduce a new professional network for women backed by companies like Shell and Halliburton. Her ambitions for the project are grand: It’s “something that will benefit not only us, but our entire oil and gas industry.” Notably, the woman is a special guest at an event titled “Storytelling Oil and Gas.”

By focusing primarily on the recent past and covering mostly real disasters, natural and otherwise—the Deepwater Horizon spill; Hurricane Harvey—Mobility sets itself apart from most so-called climate change novels, which tend to take place in an alternative present or near future menaced by mysterious adverse weather events. So when the book flashes forward to 2051 in a brief coda knowingly titled “Downstream”—referring to the refining of crude oil and all of its byproducts, as well as their marketing and sale—it comes as a somewhat deflating capitulation to the conventions of the genre. Kiesling depicts this future bluntly; its crises are represented in broad strokes, with minimal stylistic flourishes: “On the first 120-degree-Fahrenheit day [Bunny] ever felt, nearly everything shriveled and died and the crows fell out of the trees.”

Given the destructiveness of Mobility’s final act, it’s tempting to read it as an environmentalist parable, or even an intervention. But the novel is fundamentally ambivalent about the usefulness of stories in fighting climate change. Through Bunny’s occasional insecurities about the meaning of her work for Turnbridge, Kiesling breaks the fourth wall. “Sometimes Elizabeth marveled at how simultaneously irrelevant and critical the shaping of narrative was to reality,” she writes.

Decarbonization was more important than ever. The majors were pulling out of the Permian and Bakken right and left…. And yet Europe was preparing to freeze without Russian gas. The EU had signed a deal to double its supply of LNG from Azerbaijan, great news for Azerbaijan and BP.

In Mobility, the primary function of the stories told by fossil fuel companies is to approximate the feeling of change without actually changing anything—except, perhaps, their names.

For the industry, this proves to be a winning strategy: “Many of the people who got rich from oil put themselves directly atop the next generation of energy just in the nick of time.” For its opponents, the value of narrative is less clear. We learn little about the impact of Sofie’s journalism, other than that her career goes “gangbusters” after she becomes a household name during the Standing Rock protests. And when Bunny bumps into Charlie many years after their initial meeting in Baku, he’s traded in harassing fossil fuel executives for reporting on drone war, because, he explains, “There’s more people with a deep state paranoia who will subscribe to your podcast than there are people who want to hear about oil companies.” Stories, Kiesling suggests, can make us feel better about the path of least resistance, or they can prompt us to consider the cost of our familiar comforts. But given that they tend toward tidy resolution, stories are more likely to produce inertia than action on a mass scale. This makes them no match for the resources of an industry that scaffolds our geopolitical order and produces trillions of dollars in profits a year.

Rather than styling itself as a rallying cry, the closest thing that Mobility offers to a concrete solution is smuggled into a joke in a scene some years before the apocalyptic flash-forward. During a visit to the United States in 2014 from his posting in Tajikistan, Bunny’s diplomat father tells his grown children that the long-defunct oil field their grandparents owned a small interest in might soon become active again, thanks to a tertiary form of oil recovery in which pressurized carbon dioxide is blasted into old wells to loosen whatever remains. Any money it yields, he says, will be passed on to them. Bunny’s brother John is horrified by the prospect of profiting from oil. “Can you do something to shut down production?” he asks.

Bunny laughs. “He owns one-seventy-somethingth of it,” she tells her brother. “Is he supposed to throw a grenade down the well?

Jess Bergman is a senior editor at The Baffler and a contributing writer at Jewish Currents.

Toxic red tide algae, last seen in 2018, returns to Texas coast

The Texas Tribune

Toxic red tide algae, last seen in 2018, returns to Texas coast

Alejandra Martinez – September 25, 2023

Red tide cell concentrations are visible in the water near South Padre Island on Oct. 27, 2009.
Red tide visible in the water near South Padre Island in October 2009. The state has detected red tide in Texas coastal waters for the first time since 2018. Credit: Courtesy of TPWD

Toxic algae blooms known as red tide have been detected in multiple sections of the Texas Gulf Coast including the upper coast around Galveston Bay and the lower Laguna Madre in the Rio Grande Valley, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said.

It’s the first time Texas has seen a red tide since 2018, when it affected the upper and middle parts of the state’s coast.

Red tide typically starts in late summer or early fall. Parks and Wildlife officials first noticed it in Freeport, south of Houston, on Sept. 3.

The state agency estimates that at least two fish kills have been associated with red tide, one on Surfside-Quintana beaches near Freeport and another between Sargent Beach and Matagorda Beach last week.

Red tide is caused when colonies of microalgae rapidly grow and produce toxins that can make people, fish and other sea creatures sick. When red tide algae, which occur naturally in the Gulf’s waters, reproduce in mass quantities in one location, they form “blooms,” which are visible as discolored patches of water often reddish in color.

People who swim in water with a high concentration of red tide can experience eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The toxins can become airborne and people can breathe them in. Red tide also releases a toxin that can affect the central nervous system of fish, paralyzing them so they cannot breathe. This often leads to dead fish washing up on Gulf beaches — especially in Florida, where it happens nearly every summer.

Red tides in Texas happen less often and don’t last very long, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

TPWD said their staff is keeping an eye on the situation and working with other groups including NOAA to monitor beach conditions.

Lerrin Johnson, a TPWD spokesperson, said it’s difficult to predict how long the red tide will last in Texas, adding that long periods without rainfall, like most of Texas has experienced this year, can drive algal blooms and, specifically, red tide.

The agency suspects the red tide near Freeport and Galveston Bay might have caused fish to die in places like San Luis Pass and Surfside Beach and Quintana Beach.

The Brazoria County parks department said staff checking beach conditions reported respiratory symptoms caused by discolored water and scattered dead fish at Quintana Beach and Follet’s Island Beach. County officials are asking people to stay off beaches for safety.

Red tide has also been detected in the lower Laguna Madre area at Good Hope Circle Beach and the Gulf Beach in Cameron County.

Disclosure: Texas Parks And Wildlife Department has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Florida’s coastal homes may lose value as climate-fueled storms intensify insurance risk

USA Today

Florida’s coastal homes may lose value as climate-fueled storms intensify insurance risk

Kate Cimini, USA TODAY- Florida – September 25, 2023

Climate-fueled disasters like Hurricane Ian are wreaking havoc on home values across the nation, but Florida’s messy insurance market makes it one of the most stressed, new research out of a nonprofit climate modeling group indicates.

High insurance premiums and a state-backed requirement that homeowners covered by the state-backed insurer of last resort enroll in the National Flood Insurance Program over the next three years could drop home values up to 40% in Florida in the next 30 years, data provided by First Street Foundation shows. And climate and insurance experts say that may further gentrify Florida’s coastal regions and barrier islands.

Using what First Street representatives described as a typical institutional-investing calculation, First Street Foundation found some homes, adjusting for 2023 insurance costs, have already lost up to 19% of their value.

The News-Press reported earlier this month on middle-class families being forced off Fort Myers Beach due to the rising costs associated with living on a barrier island in a time of stronger storms, including more stringent, expensive building requirements and a high demand for Beach property.

Experts say this trend will likely continue in coastal communities as high-income buyers who can afford to go without insurance rebuild and repair out of pocket. They say it will take a concerted effort among state and federal officials, as well as insurance and reinsurance companies to avoid climate-spurred migration and subsequent gentrification of Florida’s coast.

Do property values go down after a hurricane in Florida?

Geographer Zac Taylor, a professor with the Delft University of Technology in Norway, studies the connection between climate change and the insurance industry in Florida. Taylor uses they/them pronouns.

They urged caution in reassessing home values but agreed that this was a possible outcome based on current climate models.

Some of Florida’s more vulnerable coastline may even see corporations purchasing homes with the intent to rent them out, Taylor said, though real estate investor purchases of single-family homes dropped 45% in the second quarter of 2023, compared to a year ago, per realty company Redfin.

Soon, “only wealthy people will be able to afford to remain in coastal areas,” said Taylor.

Graphic shows increases by percentage and number of state-created insurer Citizens Property Insurance Corporation's policies in force (PIF) between 2016 and 2023. Monroe and Collier counties had the largest increase in numbers while the percentage of households that turned to Citizens for homeowner's insurance grew the most in inland counties Seminole, Orange and Osceola.
What areas are being gentrified in Florida?

Gentrification of Florida’s coastline may have already begun in areas hardest-hit by Ian.

This is likely to continue as a number of factors drive up the costs associated with living along the Sunshine State’s coast thanks to sea level rise, a 2022 study out of Florida State University predicted.

“Eventually, people are likely to start moving inland from coastal areas as the costs of staying become too great,” the report reads. “Those that are further inland are more likely to be displaced by higher income residents who eventually move inland in the process of relocating to higher ground.”

On Pine Island, a community whose year-round residents are largely working-class, people are cutting back their monthly budgets and searching desperately for cheaper insurance after rates rose in response to Hurricane Ian’s devastation of the barrier island. Some are leaving the island after too many problems with insurance, said nonprofit civic group Matlacha Hookers president Joanne Correia.

Guylinda DeMyers and her husband have lived in Pine Island’s St. James City for 20 years, she estimates, but after this most recent hurricane, she said they plan to sell their home and leave for safer climes − once their insurance company pays their claim.

They’ve yet to see a penny of their claim from People’s Trust, she said, even though it’s been almost a year. In fact, it’s been so long, their policy has expired. They haven’t pursued a new one because “there’s nothing to insure,” DeMeyers said. “It’s broken.”

Nearly six months after Hurricane Ian devastated Southwest Florida, parts of Matlacha remain damaged. Photographed Monday, March 20, 2023.

She doesn’t think they’ll get what the home was worth before the storm, but says her realtor has told her the property itself – an ocean-front lot ‒ is valuable enough by itself.

But DeMeyers is determined to see her claim through – if not for her, then for her husband, who has Alzheimer’s. She’s lived through three major hurricanes and subsequent rising insurance costs.

“It’s not safe here anymore,” DeMeyers said.  “We need a stable place.”

On Fort Myers Beach, another one of Florida’s vulnerable barrier islands, coastal gentrification is already underway. Renters and low-income homeowners are finding there’s nothing in their budget on the island anymore. The island is home to just 5,700 residents year-round, and the loss of even a few is significant.

“I feel like I’ve lost my community,” former Fort Myers Beach resident Cheri Warren told Chad Gillis of The News-Press in early September. Warren’s one-story home was destroyed during Hurricane Ian; now, she and her husband found it was too costly to repair it and have left the barrier island for the mainland. They plan to sell their lot at a later date, when the market has stabilized.

Has home insurance gone up in Florida?

For its new study, released in September, First Street Foundation founder and CEO Matthew Eby said the nonprofit, like institutional investors, calculated home values by dividing the amount of what a property would rent for over the course of a year, minus operating costs (which includes insurance costs), by 5%, an average risk amount.

While most homeowners look at the prices their neighbors homes are selling for in order to figure out how much theirs could be worth, this approach can take a while to show fluctuations in real home value, said First Street Foundation’s head of climate implications Jeremy Porter. Institutional investors use a standard calculation that First Street Foundation employed to “take the uncertainty out of the equation,” he said.

But with the cost of insurance rising due to both inflation and natural disasters like hurricanes and fires, risks increase as well. That means that operating costs have increased, particularly for Floridians who have no option for insurance other than state-created nonprofit Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. Citizens was created to insure homes that all other carriers refused to insure − the riskiest properties.

Not only is Citizens often more expensive than other carriers, as state law allows them to charge an actuarially-sound amount, but Florida legislators recently passed a law requiring homeowners who get their insurance through Citizens also enroll their homes in the National Flood Insurance Program, a federal insurance program.

That increases a homeowner’s operating costs even further.

“When … you don’t have anywhere else to go and you are beholden to whatever increase in prices that they just decide to put on you, there’s no way out,” Eby said.

Since 2017, Citizens’ number of policies have increased 168%, while the average premium has also increased from roughly $2,000 to more than $3,000 annually.

Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier said Citizens is held to a policy premium increase of 12% annually, and increases are subject to state approval.

Although California and Louisiana are facing rocketing insurance costs as well, according to First Street Foundation’s data, Eby said, “Florida has the biggest problem.”

The nonprofit examined the number of policies Citizens holds in Florida going back to 2017, when Citizens held roughly 500,000 policies. Eby noted that increased over time, and dramatically grew in 2021 as private insurance companies began to pull out of the state. After Ian, it shot up once again.

Citizens currently holds 1.5 million policies in force, and, Peltier said, expects that to increase to 1.7 million by the end of 2023.

“The major insurance companies have all been pulling out of Florida, leaving Citizens the largest insurer in the state,” said Eby. “The insurance company of last resort, the very last one that you want to go to for your insurance, is now the insurer for the entire state.”

CountyCitizens Policies in Force (07/2023)Citizens Average Premium (07/2023)Average Homeowners Insurance Across County
Palm Beach132,811$851.61$1,514

‘Not all doom and gloom’: How this Florida Gen Z homebuyer bought in an uncertain market

Insurance and natural disasters: How billion-dollar hurricanes, other disasters are starting to reshape your insurance bill

Are Florida property values going up?
This photo taken Sept. 30, 2022 shows the heavy damage Hurricane Ian caused on Pine Island and Matlacha.

Rising homeowners’ insurance bill have yet to translate that to loss of equity, Porter said.

“When you go to sell it, that’s when the property devaluation becomes realized – at the closing table,” Porter said. But even those who hang on to their homes may feel it the next time Florida gets hit by another major weather event like Ian, he cautioned.

Then, he said, taxpayers will be the ones hurting.

“At some point, the amount of exposure on Citizens is too much, relative to its premiums,” said Porter. “If it’s not accounted for properly there has to be some kind of a subsidy from Florida taxpayers one way or another.”

Eventually, Porter predicted, “the state of Florida is going to have to ask the federal government for a bailout if they if they end up getting hit by a disaster that empties the coffers.”

According to Peltier, Citizens has a number of backstops to keep itself solvent. First, he said, if the state-created nonprofit goes through its premium-driven surplus, like all other insurers in the state it has access to the Florida hurricane catastrophe fund. It also purchases reinsurance to cover the possibility that the catastrophe fund is exhausted. Finally, Peltier said, Citizens is required by law to levy assessments on policyholders to make up any deficits.

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Florida home insurance risk intensified by climate-fueled storms

Not your grandfather’s black lung: Federal rule seeks to save coal miners from silica dust

USA Today

Not your grandfather’s black lung: Federal rule seeks to save coal miners from silica dust

Eduardo Cuevas, USA TODAY – September 25, 2023

Workers may get respite from breathing the toxic dust that remains omnipresent in U.S. mining operations, despite decades of evidence of its deadly consequences.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has proposed cutting by half the level at which miners may be exposed to silica dust stirred up during drilling for coal and other ores. The new regulations align with exposure limits already in place in other job sectors. The fine dust, crystalline silica, is a primary driver for harmful respiratory illnesses known as pneumoconioses, with symptoms that include scarring in the lungs and restricted lung capacity. There is no cure for these diseases.

Growing evidence indicates that silica dust contributes to black lung disease, or coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, as well as its more deadly form, progressive massive fibrosis.

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“Silica is actually quite toxic dust,” said Dr. Leonard Go, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Chicago’s School of Public Health, who has studied silica’s effects on miners. Despite silica being common in the earth’s crust, he said, “This is bad stuff, and it can cause quite severe disease. It’s clear that, in the case of coal mining, the current regulation is not effective in preventing disease.”

What the rule does

The federal rule would drastically limit silica dust permissible in mining to just 50 micrograms per cubic meter, with an action level at 25 micrograms, for an eight-hour workday. That’s the equivalent of a tiny, short strand of hair appearing once a day, in fine dust form, within the space of a cardboard box, Go estimated.

Coal mining in 2019 in Letcher County, Kentucky.

Notably, the rule would also require, for the first time, that workers mining metal, nonmetal, stone, sand and gravel receive early and ongoing health screenings at no cost. Coal miners have had mandatory on-site screenings, check ups and X-rays since Congress passed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which established the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program. The public comment period for the new rule ended in mid-September, and a final rule is expected to be issued later this fall.

For years, regulators and labor groups have kept an eye on breathing hazards for coal miners. The new rule will likely benefit coal miners in Central Appalachia, where more than a fifth of long-tenured workers are estimated to have pneumoconiosis. But coal workers now make up a declining share of the workforce, about 55,000 people nationwide, compared with nearly 200,0000 metal, nonmetal, stone, sand and gravel workers, who operate in what has been until now a far less regulated sector.

The harms of silica have been known since at least the 1930s, when the Department of Labor led a campaign to “Stop Silicosis,” a pneumoconiosis associated with inhaling silica dust.

Decades later, in the late ’60s, the federal government began regulating coal dust, prompted by concerns about the prevalence of black lung disease among coal miners. From that period through the 1990s, doctors saw a steep decline in the disease. Now a growing body of evidence shows an increase in silica dust across U.S. mining operations, which has contributed to miners becoming more ill and even exacerbating cases of black lung in recent decades.

A new federal rule limiting silica levels in mines aims to help U.S. miners from breathing in toxic dust that has contributed to upticks in black lung disease and progressive massive fibrosis in coal miners.

Academic experts and regulators attribute the increase in severe black lung in younger workers to thinner coal seams as workers drill through more layers of rock containing silica. At the same time, advances in technology mean workers handle heavier machinery that kicks up more dust than older miners, who often relied on hand tools.

‘Just about all of them did’ get black lung

Former coal miner Leonard Fleming, 81, of Whitesburg, Kentucky, has a severe form of black lung disease. He relies on a myriad of medical devices to help his breathing, including various portable oxygen tanks, a nebulizer that mists liquid and a vest to dislodge mucus. He no longer takes warm showers. He estimates he can take about 20 steps before he has to stop to huff for air.

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Fleming’s grandfather and father had black lung. After serving in the Army, Fleming saw its effects as a 24-year-old lab assistant in a coal miners’ hospital, wearing a white lab coat and dress pants, conducting pulmonary function tests. Eventually, he turned to the mines like his family members had before him, for the wages, which supported his late wife, Norma, and their two children, who never worked in the mines.

“Anybody that goes in the mines just assumes they’re not going to get it,” Fleming said, wheezing as he talked. “Just about all of them did.”

Now that he’s retired, Fleming said, he longs to watch the dirt track car racing or baseball games, but his body can’t handle the exertion.

What he’s lived through is now better understood.

Silica’s effects on the body

In a 2022 study in Annals of the American Thoracic, Go and other researchers viewed tissue samples from 85 deceased coal miners born before and after 1930, in many cases from people who lived through the implementation of federal regulations on coal dust levels. The samples indicated that people who’d mined in recent years had higher concentrations of silica in their lungs and endured severe lung disease, often at earlier ages than the previous generations of miners who showed severe disease that tended to be derived from coal dust.

These findings square with the 2020 review of the Coal Workers Health Surveillance Program by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which showed a resurgence in pneumoconiosis and progressive massive fibrosis, especially in Appalachia.

Dr. Noemi Hall, a research epidemiologist at NIOSH’s Respiratory Health Division in Morgantown, West Virginia, said miners are contracting more severe forms of disease in their 30s and 40s.

Dr. Brandon Crum points to the X-ray of a black lung patient at his office in Pikeville, Ky., on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. Crum has seen a wave of younger miners with black lung disease at his clinic since 2015. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan) ORG XMIT: RPDL102

Silica dust, she explained, can break down into even smaller pieces and lodge itself permanently in the lungs.

“These miners can’t get rid of it,” she said. “Once it goes in there, it stays in there.”

Inside the lungs, it causes inflammation and scarring that results in a limited capacity to take in oxygen. Symptoms include coughing, fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain. Workers who develop pneumoconiosis are also at greater risk of issues such as tuberculosis, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

Decades of inaction
Retired coal miners, many of whom are suffering from black lung disease, cheer while senators and United Mine Workers of America representatives speak at a protest for health benefits on Capitol Hill in 2019.

Concerns about silica dust arose long before the 21st century. In fact, in 1974, NIOSH recommended cutting silica dust levels, just five years after the federal law regulating coal and its effects on miners. Labor advocates attribute the delay in addressing the danger to the aggressive lobbying by coal companies and other industries, which centered on denying silica’s harm on the body.

The official consensus seems to have shifted across the industry. Christopher Williamson, assistant secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said the consensus is that miners should have the same protection as other workers with silica dust. Other occupations, such as construction, where workers are exposed to greater quantities of silica, are already covered under Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards implemented in 2016.

“The timing is right to move forward on it,” Williamson, whose West Virginia family members worked in coal mines and developed black lung, told USA TODAY. “We know that miners need greater levels of protection from exposure to this toxic dust, and that’s why we’ve proposed it.”

What does industry, labor say?

The National Mining Association, which represents mining companies, supports lower silica exposure levels, but it took issue with proposals that called for respirators, or personal protective equipment. The rule under consideration uses respirators as a temporary supplemental measure when silica levels are high.

Paul Krivokuca, vice president for health and safety at the National Mining Association, wrote in final comments there were some “times and places where use of PPE is the best way to protect miners when other measures have proven unable to reduce personal exposure.”

Go, of the University of Illinois Chicago, said he thinks masking against dust is the least effective means of protection, and it can cause communication problems in the workplace. Preventing dust from being in the atmosphere, whether by watering it down or through better ventilation, is safer, he said.

Officials from the United Mine Workers of America told federal regulators they were concerned about enforcement of the rule by mine operators, who are currently expected to conduct sampling of exposure levels but don’t always do so. The union told federal officials in final comment the rule is “vulnerable to being gamed.”

“This would be like each driver on a highway being responsible for reporting their own violations of law,” union President Cecil Roberts said.

“We know that would never work,” he said. “You need a number of things in order to protect miners. You need good laws. You need those laws to be obeyed and, if they’re not obeyed, you need good enforcement.”

At Temple University Medical Center, in Philadelphia, Dr. Jamie Garfield, a professor of thoracic medicine and surgery, sees miners who travel into the city for lung transplant evaluations, at late stages in the disease.

The new rule could reduce that risk, she said.

“Anytime that we can identify a condition that is completely avoidable with better surveillance, oversight and protection,” she said, “that is an opportunity for a major public health triumph.”

Eduardo Cuevas covers health and breaking news for USA TODAY. 

Another dust advisory starts tonight for Coachella Valley. What to know

The Desert Sun

Another dust advisory starts tonight for Coachella Valley. What to know

City News Service – September 25, 2023

A dust advisory will go into effect Monday and is expected to last until Wednesday for parts of Riverside County, mostly in the Coachella Valley.

The advisory will begin at 6 p.m. Monday and is expected to be in place until 8 a.m. Wednesday, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Forecasted gusty winds in the Coachella Valley, which can lift dust and soil, can result in air quality index levels that are unhealthy or worse, SCAQMD officials said. The highest levels are expected overnight when winds are expected to be the strongest.

“Elevated levels are resulting from much lower windspeeds than in the past,” SCAQMD officials wrote. “The public is encouraged to pay close attention to the current conditions reported.”

In areas directly impacted by high levels of windblown dust, people were advised to limit their exposure by remaining indoors with windows and doors closed, avoid vigorous physical activity, run their air conditioner or air purifier, and avoid using whole house fans or swamp coolers that bring in outside air.

Officials added that serious health problems can occur as a result of exposure to high-particle pollution levels.

The desert has been plagued with unusually dusty conditions since August when Tropical Storm Hilary caused major flooding that left residual dirt and dust cross the valley.

More information about air quality in the area can be found at