The Greatest Killer in New Orleans Wasn’t the Hurricane. It Was the Heat.

The Greatest Killer in New Orleans Wasn’t the Hurricane. It Was the Heat.

National Guard members distribute ice outside a community center in New Orleans on Sept. 1, 2021. The city was without power for days after Hurricane Ida made landfall. (Johnny Milano/The New York Times)
National Guard members distribute ice outside a community center in New Orleans on Sept. 1, 2021. The city was without power for days after Hurricane Ida made landfall. (Johnny Milano/The New York Times)


NEW ORLEANS — In many ways, Iley Joseph’s one-bedroom apartment was an ideal place to ride out a hurricane. It was on the third floor — much too high to flood — of a building that was sturdy and new, part of a sleek, gated community for older residents like him.

But in the days after Hurricane Ida, his home began to feel like a trap. The huge power failure that cut off electricity to New Orleans rendered Joseph’s air-conditioner useless and his refrigerator nothing more than a cupboard. Even worse, the outage froze the complex’s elevators in place, sealing him inside the building because his health problems prevented him from using the stairs.

Joseph, 73, insisted in telephone conversations with his sons that he was doing just fine. But in his apartment, No. 312, it kept getting hotter. On Sept. 2, the fourth day after the storm hit — the hottest yet — a friend found him lying still on the side of his bed.

“I call his name, he doesn’t respond,” said the friend, Jared Righteous. “I realized he was gone.”

Only in recent days, as the last lights flickered back on in New Orleans, have officials here discovered the true toll of Hurricane Ida. Unlike in the Northeast, where many who perished were taken by floodwaters and tornadoes, heat has emerged as the greatest killer in New Orleans.

Of 14 deaths caused by the storm in the city, Joseph’s and nine others are believed to be tied to the heat. Experts say there are probably more. And friends of those who died have begun to ask whether the government or apartment landlords could have done more to protect older residents before they died, often alone, in stiflingly hot homes.

“Heat is a hazard that we simply haven’t given sufficient attention to,” said David Hondula, a professor at Arizona State University who studies the effects of sweltering temperatures. “All cities are in the early stages of understanding what an effective heat response looks like.”

In New Orleans, officials set up air-conditioned cooling centers across the city and distributed food, water and ice around town. But for residents like Joseph who could not leave their buildings, the aid might as well have been worlds away.

All 10 people whose deaths have been tied to the heat were in their 60s and 70s, and they died over four broiling days, the last of which was Sept. 5, a full week after the storm.

Among the first was Corinne Labat-Hingle, a 70-year-old woman who had fled to Memphis during Hurricane Katrina but returned to New Orleans and was living at an apartment complex for older people near Saint Bernard Avenue, a short walk from the city’s largest park. She was found dead on Sept. 2, when the temperature reached 93 degrees outdoors and was most likely higher inside her apartment.

Two days later, another 93-degree day, four people were found dead, including Reginald Logan, 74, whose body was discovered after a neighbor saw flies in his window. On Sept. 5, the heat index reached 101, and one of the last victims of the heat was found dead: Keith Law, a 65-year-old man who lived in the Algiers neighborhood.

Heat most likely contributes to more deaths each year than are officially recorded, Hondula said. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports fewer than 700 heat-related deaths a year, some studies have estimated 5,000 to 12,000. Last month, The New York Times found that 600 more people died in Oregon and Washington in the last week of June, during a heat wave, than normally would have, a number three times the state officials’ estimates of heat-related deaths.

This comes as heat waves are growing more frequent, longer lasting and more dangerous. The 2018 National Climate Assessment, a major scientific report by 13 federal agencies, notes that the number of hot days is increasing, and the frequency of heat waves in the United States jumped from an average of two per year in the 1960s to six per year by the 2010s.

People who die from the heat may not recognize their symptoms as life-threatening, and heat-related deaths can also occur suddenly, with little warning. The most frequent cause is cardiovascular failure, when the heart cannot pump blood fast enough. Less frequent are deaths from heat stroke, when a person’s internal temperature rises by several degrees and the body cannot cool off, causing organs like the brain, heart or kidneys to fail.

Laura Bergerol, a 65-year-old New Orleans photographer, died on Sept. 5. She had planned to evacuate to Florida before the storm but told friends she had trouble finding a hotel room. By the time she arranged plans, it was too dangerous to leave. After the storm, an errant $400 charge on her bank account had left her without enough money to get out. She stocked up on candles and hunkered down in her second-floor apartment in an affordable complex built for artists in the Bywater neighborhood downriver from the French Quarter.

“Missed my window of opportunity,” she wrote on Twitter. “Curse you #HurricaneIda.”

Neighbors said Bergerol largely stayed in her apartment with the doors and windows closed. Still, she seemed to be surviving. On Sept. 3, she texted Josh Hailey, a neighbor, asking if she could visit his cat while he was out. “I have plenty of treats,” she wrote. The next day, she joined neighbors in the building’s courtyard for a showing of “Cinderella.”

On Sunday, Hailey let himself into her apartment when she did not answer the door. He found her lying on the floor and tried to resuscitate her, but it was too late. That evening, the neighbors played brass-band music in the courtyard and danced for Bergerol, recalling her vivid blue eyes and frequent, wide smile.

By then, city health officials had begun to realize the danger that older residents were facing. A day before Bergerol’s death, they evacuated eight apartments for older residents, including several where people had died. Now, city officials are considering mandating, during natural disasters, that subsidized apartments serving older or disabled residents have generators, conduct welfare checks or have a building manager on the property at all times, a spokesperson said.

The proposed measures are gaining momentum partly because of deaths like that of Joseph, the man stuck in apartment 312.

Joseph was well known at Village de Jardin, a relatively affordable complex in New Orleans East for people 55 and older. It is owned by the Louisiana Housing Corp., a state agency, and managed by Latter & Blum, a large real estate company that manages properties across several states. The housing agency said Latter & Blum had encouraged tenants to evacuate and then, after the storm, brought cooling buses to the property and supplies to tenants who chose to stay.

Joseph had retired years ago from a job selling car parts. He frequently chatted with neighbors, and his routine included grabbing coffee and beignets around town. He was known for his faith, his love of his family and, to some, his trademark reply, “Yes, indeed,” which led his grandchildren to call him Grandpa Yes Indeed. Many more people knew him for his humor, which is how he became friends with Righteous, 45, who was drawn to Joseph when he was cracking jokes at an event hosted by the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.

In the days after the hurricane, neighbors looked out for Joseph, who was subsisting on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One friend brought him a warm plate of food. A neighbor across the hall charged Joseph’s phone using a car battery and an inverter.

But Sept. 2 was the most grueling day yet. Around 1:45 p.m., the heat index was nearing 103, and Joseph’s phone had died again. He poked his head outside his door and motioned for a woman in the hallway to come closer. The woman, Rhonda Quinn, thought he looked unwell and asked if he needed some air. He brushed her off, joking that after days in the heat, he smelled too bad to go out, she said.

What he did need, he said, was to charge his phone to make a call. Quinn found someone to help, but when she tried to return the phone sometime before 3 p.m., he did not answer her repeated knocks. She assumed he had gone out, and she left.

Shortly after, Joseph’s friend from church, Righteous, pulled into the complex’s parking lot with a bag of oatmeal cream pies and other snacks. He, too, received no answer after knocking on Joseph’s door. When he opened it, he found Joseph slumped to the side of the bed, as if he had been sitting on its edge and looking out the window.

His death has left his two sons grief-stricken and stunned, unable to understand how their father could make it through the hurricane’s wrath without a scratch only to perish in the heat that followed.

“He didn’t die from flooding, he didn’t die from a lightning bolt,” said his oldest son, Iley Joseph Jr., 45. “It’s just, he’s gone.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

How many people are dying of COVID in your Florida county? New White House data releases details

How many people are dying of COVID in your Florida county? New White House data releases details


Nearly 1,900 people in six Central Florida counties died of COVID-19 since the Florida Department of Health stopped publishing county-by-county data in early June, a new White House report shows, revealing for the first time the detailed impact of the highly infectious delta variant that arrived with the start of summer.

The deaths in Orange, Seminole, Lake, Osceola, Brevard and Volusia counties account for nearly a sixth of the 11,799 deaths statewide between June 5 and Sept. 12 — an average of more than 119 lives lost each day.

While health officials in Orange County have continued to make public its COVID-19 cases, deaths and other metrics, many other counties and the state as a whole have not. The state discontinued detailed daily reports on June 5, switching to weekly reports that no longer included information on the race, gender, age and county of those infected and dying. Until now, federal websites reflected incomplete death information for Florida’s counties as well.

A spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at the time the information was no longer vital as case counts dropped and vaccination rates rose over the spring. But just as many Floridians began to return to a pre-pandemic normalcy — gathering in crowds without masks — the delta variant began its rapid spread across the state, bringing some of the highest hospitalization rates and death tolls since the pandemic began.

Florida Legislature sits on it’s hands during coronavirus crisis.

On Aug. 30, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, and the Florida Center for Government Accountability filed a lawsuit against the FDOH for not providing detailed, daily COVID-19 statistics. Smith reacted Tuesday to the newly released data on Twitter. ”Well, well, well. After withholding detailed COVID death data for months, #DeSantis suddenly releases the info after WE SUED THEM. Coincidence? Why not release all remaining data + resume daily dashboard reporting before Monday’s pre-trial hearing?” he wrote.

However, it’s not yet clear why the information was released nor whether it will continue to be made public each week.

FDOH did not immediately respond to a request for an explanation.

Of Central Florida counties, Brevard had the biggest summer increase — and highest rate of increase — with 532 cases. Orange had 453 more deaths, but because it has a larger population than surrounding counties, it had the lowest rate of additional deaths in Central Florida. Lake had 289 additional deaths, Volusia had 250, Seminole had 197 and Osceola had 176.

Jason Salemi, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, said he was shocked to see the numbers finally update on the latest White House report. But he also cautioned that some of the newest county data — that from Sept. 6 to Sept. 12 — should be interpreted with caution, given a large discrepancy between the 260 total deaths reported by the state and the sum of nearly 2,500 deaths obtained by adding up the counties.

”There’s clearly a disconnect between what that data element means on the county tab, and what it means on the state tab,” he said. “The difference should not be as dramatic as I’m seeing with the deaths.”

Texas recently overtook Florida in the number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths, surpassing Florida for two consecutive weeks, the latest report shows.

Although Florida fatalities from the virus plummeted 76% last week compared to a week earlier, the White House COVID-19 Team reports the state continues to have a high level of community transmission. The CDC recommends all residents, including those who are vaccinated, wear masks in indoor public spaces.

75% of the Young People Around the World are Frightened of the Future Because of Climate Change

75% of the Young People Around the World are Frightened of the Future Because of Climate Change

UK Students Strike Over Climate Change

UK Students Strike Over Climate Change. Students march on Westminster Bridge during the “Fridays for Future” climate change rally on February 14, 2020 in London, England. Credit – John Keeble—Getty Images

Growing up in the emerging reality of the climate crisis is taking its toll on young people’s mental health. According to a global survey and peer-reviewed study soon to be published in Lancet Planetary Health, a scientific journal, 75% of young people think the future is frightening and 45% say climate concern negatively impacts their day.

The study, which claims to be the largest investigation to date into youth climate anxiety, surveyed 10,000 people aged 16-25 across 10 countries. Four of the countries were in the Global South (Brazil, India, Nigeria and the Philippines) and the remaining six were in the Global North (Australia, France, Finland, Portugal, the U.K. and the U.S.)

Levels of concern varied from country to country, tending to be higher in the Global South nations surveyed than in those in the Global North. When asked if their own family’s security would be threatened by climate change, for example, on average 65.5% of those in the South said yes, compared to 42% in the North.

The looming threats of the climate crisis—which include increased extreme weather and economic instability—are affecting how young people plan for their future, the survey suggests, with 39% of respondents saying they are hesitant to have their own children. The proportion reporting that hesitancy varied relatively little between countries, standing between 36% and 48% for all those surveyed, except Nigeria, an outlier on 22%

Young people were also asked about how they see governments’ responses to the climate crisis. Broadly speaking, governments have failed to reassure young people through their actions, per the study, with 64% of those surveyed saying officials are lying about the impact of the measures they are taking and 58% saying governments are betraying future generations.

In almost every category, negative feelings about the government’s climate response were most prevalent in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has overseen a dismantling of environmental protections since 2019. Respondents in Finland were the least likely to have a negative perception of their government’s actions, though even there, 47% believed the government was failing young people.

UPDATE 1-Biden says in Colorado that extreme weather will cost U.S. over $100 bln this year

UPDATE 1-Biden says in Colorado that extreme weather will cost U.S. over $100 bln this year


GOLDEN, Colo., Sept 14 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that extreme weather events would cost the United States over $100 billion this year, as he visited Colorado to highlight drought conditions and raging wildfires in the U.S. West.

Colorado was his last stop on a three-state western swing in which he also visited California and Idaho to demonstrate how global warming has scorched the region’s landscape even as states in other parts of the country battle hurricanes and storms that have caused flash floods and killed dozens.

Tropical Storm Nicholas was battering the Texas and Louisiana coasts on Tuesday, flooding streets and leaving hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without power.

Biden has also used the trip to build support for his administration’s infrastructure spending plans aimed at fighting the growing threat of climate change.

“We have to make the investments that are going to slow our contributions to climate change, today, not tomorrow,” Biden said after touring the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

Recent extreme weather events will “come with more ferocity,” he added.

Biden estimated the economic damage caused by such events this year would come in at more than $100 billion, a day after saying they cost the United States $99 billion last year.

“Even if it’s not in your backyard, you feel the effects,” he said.

During the tour, Biden examined a windmill blade resting on the ground outside the laboratory and also looked at a giant solar battery, saying such batteries would be important in ensuring homeowners have seven days of reserve power.

Biden hopes to tap into voter concerns about the climate to gain popular support for a $3.5 trillion spending plan that is being negotiated in the U.S. Congress.

Republicans oppose the legislation due to its price tag and because taxes would be raised on the wealthy to pay for it.

Democrats who hold narrow majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate are hoping to pass the spending plan with only Democratic votes, a difficult balancing act in chambers rife with competing interests. (Reporting by Steve Holland in Golden, Colorado; Writing by Nandita Bose; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney)

World Faces Growing Risk of Food Shortages Due to Climate Change

World Faces Growing Risk of Food Shortages Due to Climate Change

Yields of staple crops could decline by almost a third by 2050 unless emissions are drastically reduced in the next decade, while farmers will need to grow nearly 50% more food to meet global demand, the think tank said. The Chatham House report was drawn up for heads of state before next month’s pivotal United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Food prices are already near a decade high, fueled by supply chain disruptions during the pandemic and extreme weather. Wheat prices surged over the summer due to crop losses in some of the biggest exporters. The Chatham House report suggests climate challenges could keep that trend intact.

“We can expect all basic food staples to significantly increase in price,” the report’s lead author Daniel Quiggin said in an interview. “We would also expect there to be shortages in some reaches of the world.”

Thе proportion of cropland affected by drought will more than triple to 32% a year, the report said. It also predicts nearly 50-50 odds of a loss of 10% or more of the corn crop across the top four producing countries during the 2040s.

Major crops from wheat to soy and rice “are likely to see big yield declines” due to drought, and shorter growing periods, Quiggin said. Severe climate impacts will be “locked in” by 2040 if countries do not reduce emissions, according to the report.

Report: Climate change could see 200 million move by 2050

Report: Climate change could see 200 million move by 2050


The second part of the Groundswell report published Monday examined how the impacts of slow-onset climate change such as water scarcity, decreasing crop productivity and rising sea levels could lead to millions of what it describes as “climate migrants” by 2050 under three different scenarios with varying degrees of climate action and development.

Under the most pessimistic scenario, with a high level of emissions and unequal development, the report forecasts up to 216 million people moving within their own countries across the six regions analyzed. Those regions are Latin America; North Africa; Sub-Saharan Africa; Eastern Europe and Central Asia; South Asia; and East Asia and the Pacific.

In the most climate-friendly scenario, with a low level of emissions and inclusive, sustainable development, the world could still see 44 million people being forced to leave their homes.

The findings “reaffirm the potency of climate to induce migration within countries,” said Viviane Wei Chen Clement, a senior climate change specialist at the World Bank and one of the report’s authors.

The report didn’t look at the short-term impacts of climate change, such as the effects of extreme weather events, and did not look at climate migration across borders.

In the worst-case scenario, Sub-Saharan Africa — the most vulnerable region due to desertification, fragile coastlines and the population’s dependence on agriculture — would see the most migrants, with up to 86 million people moving within national borders.

North Africa, however, is predicted to have the largest proportion of climate migrants, with 19 million people moving, equivalent to roughly 9% of its population, due mainly to increased water scarcity in northeastern Tunisia, northwestern Algeria, western and southern Morocco, and the central Atlas foothills, the report said.

In South Asia, Bangladesh is particularly affected by flooding and crop failures, accounting for almost half of the predicted climate migrants, with 19.9 million people, including an increasing number of women, moving by 2050 under the pessimistic scenario.

“This is our humanitarian reality right now and we are concerned this is going to be even worse, where vulnerability is more acute,” said Prof. Maarten van Aalst, director of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, who wasn’t involved with the report.

Many scientists say the world is no longer on track to the worst-case scenario for emissions. But even under a more moderate scenario, van Aalst said many impacts are now occurring faster than previously expected, “including the extremes we are already experiencing, as well as potential implications for migration and displacement.”

While climate change’s influence on migration is not new, it is often part of a combination of factors pushing people to move, and acts as a threat multiplier. People affected by conflicts and inequality are also more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as they have limited means to adapt.

“Globally we know that three out of four people that move stay within countries,” said Dr. Kanta Kumari Rigaud, a lead environmental specialist at the World Bank and co-author of the report.

The report also warns that migration hot spots could appear within the next decade and intensify by 2050. Planning is needed both in the areas where people will move to, and in the areas they leave to help those who remain.

Among the actions recommended were achieving “net zero emissions by mid-century to have a chance at limiting global warming to 1.5° degrees Celsius” and investing in development that is “green, resilient, and inclusive, in line with the Paris Agreement.”

Clement and Rigaud warned that the worst-case scenario is still plausible if collective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in development isn’t taken soon, especially in the next decade.

It’s not bull, scientists potty train cows to tackle climate change

It’s not bull, scientists potty train cows to tackle climate change

One of the calves entering the ‘MooLoo’ for the experiment - FBN
One of the calves entering the ‘MooLoo’ for the experiment – FBN


Potty training cows to use a bovine lavatory could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save the planet, scientists claimed.

Researchers from the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology attempted to potty train 16 calves using a “MooLoo” contraption of their own design.

They successfully trained 11 of them to regularly use a latrine which captures their waste and disposes of it before it turns into nitrous oxide, the third most important greenhouse gas behind methane and carbon dioxide.

Dr Jan Langbein, an animal psychologist at the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany, said: “It’s usually assumed that cattle are not capable of controlling defecation or urination.

“Cattle, like many other animals or farm animals, are quite clever and they can learn a lot. Why shouldn’t they be able to learn how to use a toilet?”

Cows are notorious for their gassy stomachs and their flatulence is a major source of global methane emissions.

However, the environmental impact of cattle farming goes beyond potent burps, as the amount of land and energy needed to produce both cattle feed and land for grazing creates huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

Researchers rewarded the cows when they urinated in a latrine, and then allowed them access to it even when they were grazing outside - FBN
Researchers rewarded the cows when they urinated in a latrine, and then allowed them access to it even when they were grazing outside – FBN


It has previously been estimated that cattle agriculture accounts for almost 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

But while methane and carbon dioxide are the two most troublesome gases, cows are also indirectly responsible for producing the third most troublesome gas: nitrous oxide.

Faeces and urine produced by cows mix together and turn into ammonia, and when this seeps into the soil, specialist bacteria turn it into nitrous oxide.

To potty train the calves, researchers started off by rewarding them when they urinated in a latrine, and then allowed them access to the latrine even when they were grazing outside.

Dr Langbein, said: “You have to try to include the animals in the process and train the animals to follow what they should learn. We guessed it should be possible to train the animals, but to what extent we didn’t know.”

To encourage latrine use, researchers wanted the animals to associate urination outside the latrine with an unpleasant experience.

Dr Langbein explained: “As a punishment, we first used in-ear headphones and we played a very nasty sound whenever they urinated outside. We thought this would punish the animals – not too aversively – but they didn’t care. Ultimately, a splash of water worked well as a gentle deterrent.”

Researchers said the calves showed a level of performance comparable to that of children and superior to that of very young children.

Researchers said the calves showed a level of performance comparable to that of children and superior to that of very young children - FBN
Researchers said the calves showed a level of performance comparable to that of children and superior to that of very young children – FBN


They hope that with more training, the success rate can be improved, and they want to transfer their results into real cattle housing and to outdoor systems.

Dr Langbein hopes that “in a few years, all cows will go to a toilet” and published the findings in the journal Current Biology.

This is not the first time scientists have tried to curb the gaseous production of cows, with previous studies focusing on their methane-filled flatulence.

A team of academics from the University of Kiel in Germany strapped methane harnesses to cows to monitor just how much methane they produced on a day-to-day basis; feeding cows seaweed to cut the amount of methane they make; and a tablet to curb methane emissions.

However, no novel methane-control methods have yet to crack the farming industry, and the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cattle is to cut down on our reliance on them for meat and cattle.

A study published on Monday in the journal Nature Food found animal-based foods produce twice as many greenhouse gases every year as plant-based food.

Global food production makes about 17 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year and 57 per cent comes from animal-based foods and 29 per cent from plant-based food.

Beef alone accounted for more than four billion tons, and cow milk more than 1.5 billion tons. Cow milk and beef combined make more greenhouse gas emissions than all plant-based food.

California fires are burning at higher elevations than ever, creating new dangers

California fires are burning at higher elevations than ever, creating new dangers

JANESVILLE, CALIF. - AUG. 18, 2021. The setting sun is obscured by burned trees and a pall of smoke from the Dixie Fire near Janesville, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. The wildfire has burned more than 1,100 square miles, destroyed 659 homes and is only about 30 percent contained. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
The setting sun is obscured by burned trees and a pall of smoke from the Dixie fire near Janesville. The blaze is the first wildfire in California history to burn from one side of the Sierra to the other. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)


Just hours before the Caldor fire threatened to level the resort town of South Lake Tahoe, the massive blaze performed a staggering feat: burning from one side of the Sierra to the other.

It seared through crests and valleys, over foothills and ridges — and also at elevations of 8,000 feet or higher.

Ash and smoke rained down on the Tahoe basin and sent thousands fleeing from its soot-darkened shores as the fire skirted a towering granite ridge many believed would be a buffer from the flames. But the fire kept climbing higher, jumping from tree to tree and spewing wind-whipped embers that landed, in some cases, more than a mile away.

Experts said the fire’s extreme behavior is part of a worrisome trend driven by the state’s warming climate, in which rapid snowmelt and critical dryness are propelling wildfires to ever-higher elevations, scorching terrain that previously was too wet to burn and threatening countless residents.

“What we’re seeing is that these fuels at high elevations that typically weren’t able to carry a fire now are able to carry fire,” said John Abatzoglou, an associate professor of climatology at UC Merced and coauthor of a recent study about wildfires at higher elevations. “That’s allowing these fires to effectively reach new heights.”

The study, published in June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that climate warming over the last few decades has exposed an additional 31,400 square miles of U.S. forests to fires at higher elevations.

It also found that between 1984 and 2017, fires in the Sierra Nevada advanced in elevation by more than 1,400 feet, surpassing some previously dependable moisture barriers.

Of the 15 ecological regions researchers studied, the Sierra Nevada was among three that saw the greatest upslope advances, along with the southern and middle Rockies.

“We do see in the Sierra Nevada that fires have increased in terms of their burned area over the past 40 years,” Abatzoglou said. “What’s novel here is that we’re documenting an additional shift in the elevational bands where those fires are occurring.”

Before the year 2000, it was rare for a forest in the Sierra Nevada to burn above 8,200 feet, Abatzoglou said. In the years since, there has been an eightfold increase in forested burned areas at that elevation. Both the Caldor fire and the Dixie fire — the state’s second-largest wildfire on record — passed that elevation threshold.

One of the most extreme examples, the 2020 Cameron Peak fire in Colorado, blazed at above 12,000 feet elevation and jumped the Continental Divide.

That extreme behavior may partially explain why the Caldor fire was able to jump the granite ridge overlooking the Tahoe basin, Abatzoglou said, noting that parched fuels and hot conditions are providing more “real estate” for fire to progress into higher elevations and reducing physical barriers, such as wetter forests that would resist burning.

It also helps explain how the Caldor and Dixie fires became the first two fires to burn clear through the Sierra.

“Two times in our history, and they’re both happening this month,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Thom Porter said. “We need to be really cognizant that there is fire activity happening in California that we have never seen before.”

Mark Schwartz, a professor emeritus at UC Davis, noted that the Dixie fire expanded rapidly as it crested and came down the east side of the Sierra. It also burned into Lassen Volcanic National Park, where it scaled some elevations of 8,500 feet or higher.

“As fire expands into higher elevations, we run a higher risk of fires going up and over the crest of mountain ranges, then back down the other side,” said Schwartz, who co-wrote a 2015 study about the increasing elevation of wildfires in the Sierra Nevada.

Some of the peaks and ridges near South Lake Tahoe are well over 8,000 feet and sparsely populated with fir trees. But dried vegetation is primed for ignition, enabling some fires to climb higher and send more embers aloft.

“This is dangerous,” Schwartz said, “because controlling wildfire has often relied on containment at lower elevations, letting fires run out of fuels and fire weather at higher elevations.”

There are several factors that could be contributing to this shift, but researchers said the primary cause is the warming trend that is exacerbating the drought and drying out vegetation across the state. The vast majority of high-elevation fires in California are being ignited by lightning — which is more apt to start a fire when it strikes arid vegetation.

“There’s a good relationship between how warm and dry the vegetation is across the broader Sierra, and just how high those fires can carry up into these montane systems,” Abatzoglou said.

Higher elevations generally have snowpacks that last into June. When those melt, they bring an additional burst of water that keeps the vegetation wet. But with warmer temperatures and an ongoing drought, much of that moisture has disappeared.

On April 1, the date when California’s snowpack is typically at its maximum, the California Department of Water Resources recorded only 59% of its average depth. Rain in the Northern and Central Sierra was even lower, at 50% of average, which tied 2021 for the third-driest water year on record.

Mojtaba Sadegh, an assistant professor of civil engineering at Boise State University and another of the fire study’s authors, said the region’s snowpack is entering into a dangerous cycle with higher-elevation fires.

“These high-elevation mountains are water towers for us,” Sadegh said. “Most of our water in the West is coming from that snowpack.”

When a fire burns high-elevation trees, it removes some of the canopy shading the snowpack and opens it to more melting sunlight, he explained. That same process also changes the reflectance of the surface, exposing more dark ground and evaporating more water.

It’s a cycle that can change both the quantity and the quality of water delivered to the state’s reservoirs, he said.

And while warming is the primary driver of the change, both the 2015 and 2021 studies noted that a century of fire suppression in California has allowed an accumulation of vegetation to build up in forests, particularly in lower and middle elevations. When fire does arrive, it has more fuel to carry flames up and potentially over the tops of ridges and mountains.

It’s something firefighters have observed as they battle the state’s increasingly unpredictable blazes, said Robert Foxworthy, a Cal Fire spokesman. Foxworthy said there’s been a “huge deficit” in the snowpack this year, along with massively desiccated vegetation.

The dried-out fuel conditions “are leading to these longer-duration fires, and burning at the higher elevations that we haven’t seen years in the past,” he said.

And while not every fire will soar to such altitudes, exceedingly high fires often are challenging to fight. Many high-elevation fires are in remote areas, and some of the small towns in those areas offer little infrastructure and few roads for access or evacuation. Firefighters are having to hike farther and higher, often with only the supplies they can carry.

“Very rarely do we have [8,000-] or 9,000-foot elevation and have it be nice and flat,” Foxworthy said. “It’s usually pretty rugged, steep terrain, so obviously that’s going to cause some challenges because that ground is harder to work in.”

And it’s not only firefighters who are affected by the shift toward more higher-elevation fires. The blazes are also dangerous for the people who live below them; the fires can remove trees that help anchor against avalanches, researchers said.

Experts are increasingly concerned about the implications of these elevation advances, particularly as officials warn that this year’s fire season — and those to come — could bring even more extreme behavior.

Schwartz, of UC Davis, said letting fires run uphill has been a sensible approach in the past and has helped protect people and houses at lower elevations. But it is becoming a less secure measure as the state gets hotter and drier, increasing the risk of fire “over-topping” the mountains.

“We may expect to see more of this sort of fire behavior in the future,” Schwartz said, “and it dramatically expands the workload of containing a remote wildfire, which is already difficult enough.”

GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger Takes A Favorite Conservative Insult, Fires It Right At Trump


GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger Takes A Favorite Conservative Insult, Fires It Right At Trump


Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) used an insult frequently hurled by the right at liberals to take a swipe at Donald Trump.

Kinzinger called the former president a “snowflake” and “one of the weakest men that I’ve ever seen” in an interview Monday with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

The comment came amid a discussion about Trump’s vitriolic response to predecessor George W. Bush’s speech on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Bush on Saturday said there is “little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home.” Trump hit back Monday, saying Bush “shouldn’t be lecturing anybody” because of his role in “getting us into the quicksand of the Middle East.”

Kinzinger, a frequent critic of the twice-impeached Trump, suggested the response demonstrated a lack of strength.

“I mean, If you think about it, what is strength? Strength isn’t somebody that just gets their dander up every time because they feel they have such a lack of self-esteem, they feel they have to out an attack,” said Kinzinger.

“Somebody with strength is someone who can take criticism, who can go out on a day like Sept. 11 and bring people together,” he continued. “Folks on my side like to use the term snowflake when talking about people that get offended really easy. Well, that’s Donald Trump.”

“I look at who he is as a person and the amount of offended he gets on anything and how he has to go out and punch down,” Kinzinger added. “He’ll attack a radio host, for goodness sakes, when he was president of the United States.”

See Kinzinger’s full interview on CNN here:

When Never Trumpers become Never Republicans

When Never Trumpers become Never Republicans

The GOP logo.
The GOP logo. Illustrated | iStock


Members of the Republican establishment who refused to throw their support to Donald Trump spent the four years of his presidency hoping first that he would lose his bid for re-election and then that things would return to something approaching the pre-2016 normal once he was gone. But the appalling events of Jan. 6 and its aftermath have shattered that hope. As David Frum points out in The Atlantic, most of these Never Trump Republicans have now become Never Republican Democrats.

This could be very good for the Democratic Party, which (unlike the GOP) can’t win national elections while pursuing a base-mobilization strategy. As Frum explains, the progressive Democratic “base is not cohesive or big enough, and does not live in the places favored by the rules of U.S. politics.” That means Democrats need to build broad coalitions to win, and voters fleeing the now-thoroughly Trumpified GOP can be a big part of that.

How might refugees from the “cultural core” of the GOP change the Democrats? Frum lists five ways: They will keep the party focused on preserving free and fair democratic elections, especially for the residents of deep-blue cities within deep-red states. They will ensure that Democrats proudly remain the party of expertise. They will bolster the Democratic commitment to championing the values and policies of globalism on immigration and trade. They will insist that the Democrats stake out moderate positions on the economy, social programs, and spending. And they will reward the party for deploying a political rhetoric of civility and inclusion (over and against the outright insults and demonization that now dominate on the right).

Most of that makes considerable political sense — though I wonder whether it’s really a good idea for Democrats to risk alienating rust-belt voters (and losing crucial Midwestern swing states) by doubling down on free trade and liberal immigration policies just to run up the margins in the already solidly blue suburbs where most former Republicans live. The same might be said, given demographic realities, of emphasizing deference to expertise. It’s college graduates who are most inclined to defer to experts, but most Americans are not college graduates. Yes, Democrats should consult experts in formulating policy, but they needn’t brag about it or condescend to those less inclined to trust the most highly educated and credentialed among us.

Democrats should welcome former Republicans with open arms. But precisely because the party is broad and diverse, it needs to strike a careful balance in appealing to any one member of the coalition. That very much includes those understandably seeking political asylum from a morally degraded GOP.