Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Florida prepares for Hurricane Ian’s wrath

DroneBase via AP
In this aerial image, the city of Tampa, Fla., is seen Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. Hurricane Ian was growing stronger as it barreled toward Cuba on a track to hit Florida’s west coast as a major hurricane as early as Wednesday. It’s been more than a century since a major storm like Ian has struck the Tampa Bay area, which blossomed from a few hundred thousand people in 1921 to more than 3 million today.

Forecasts of Hurricane Ian’s potentially devastating strength were growing increasingly grim on Tuesday, as western Floridians braced for the fury of a “life-threatening storm surge.”  

Hurricane Ian’s forecasted route shifted for the worse late Tuesday morning, increasing both the risk to Florida’s Gulf Coast and the likelihood of winds and flooding in the Southeast, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported. 

Ian emerged onto open water Tuesday morning, weakened from its trip across western Cuba. However, forecasters said they expected the system to gain power before making what the Sun Sentinel described as “a devastating landfall somewhere on Florida’s Gulf coast.” 

As local authorities began issuing evacuation orders, the National Hurricane Center warned that a “life-threatening storm surge looks increasingly likely along much of the Florida west coast.”  

The highest risk, according to officials, affects the Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region.

“We’re starting to run out of time,” Jamie Rhome, acting director of the National Hurricane Center, said in a Facebook presentation Tuesday morning reported by the Sun Sentinel.

“It’s really critical if you’re in the path of this storm, especially in an evacuation area, that you heed the local orders soon, today,” Rhome added. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Sharon Udasin and Saul Elbein. Have tips or feedback? Send us a note. If you like this newsletter, please share this link with a friend.

We’ll start today with more details on Hurricane Ian’s expected trajectory, and then head across the Atlantic where authorities are investigating a mysterious pipeline leak. Plus: New research on natural insect control.

Evacuations orders, closures across South Florida

Local officials in southwest Florida’s Lee County declared a state of local emergency and issued mandatory evacuation orders as Hurricane Ian barreled toward the state, our colleague Julia Mueller reported for The Hill.  

Evacuation orders expanding: The decision in Lee County came a day after local government officials ordered evacuations for counties in the Tampa area.

  • The new orders affect low-lying, flood-prone regions along the coast, officials said at a Tuesday press conference.
  • “We are going to feel this storm. How badly is still undetermined,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said, advising Floridians to prepare for the storm’s impact, which could mean several days without power.   

Final preparations in Tampa: With evacuation orders in place across the Tampa region, a variety of shelters were opened at elementary schools and other locations for those in need of housing, the Tampa Bay Times reported.  

Local public transportation routes and the Publix chain of grocery stores announced early closures for Tuesday evening, according to the Times.  

Electricity could be cut: Tampa Electric Co. was weighing the possibility of cutting off electricity in two areas in and around downtown Tampa, in an effort to avoid damage and restore power quicker after the storm, the Times reported.

DeSantis advises going south: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) urged Gulf coast residents to follow evacuation orders, advising them to “go south across Alligator Alley” toward South Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.  

“South Florida is doing better,” he said. 

But it won’t be great there, either: While Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast is expected to bear the brunt of the storm, forecasts now predict worse conditions than previously anticipated for the Southeast, according to the Sun Sentinel.

  • The chances have increased for sustained tropical force winds in southeast Florida.
  • These conditions expected to affect Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties on Wednesday and Thursday. 

Counties cancel schools: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach public schools have canceled classes on Wednesday, while Miami-Dade also closed down schools for Thursday, NBC Miami reported.  

As of Tuesday, Miami International Airport remained open, but warned that some flights might be delayed or canceled due to the hurricane. 

More from The Hill

HURRICANE FUELED BY CLIMATE CHANGE

Hurricane Ian was gaining what The Associated Press described as “monstrous strength” on Tuesday, as the storm spread over oceans partly heated by climate change.  

This trajectory speaks to a trend of storm “turbo-charging,” in which 30 other Atlantic tropical storms since 2017 gained strength in a similar manner, the AP reported.  

A surge in ‘rocket fuel’: Ian became 67 percent stronger in less than 22 hours from Monday to Tuesday and was heading into Florida likely as a Category 4 hurricane, according to the wire service. 

  • The system’s intensification occurred as it careened over Caribbean waters that were about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal.
  • Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach told the AP that warm water generates “a lot more rocket fuel for the storm.” 

More common due to climate change: Such “rapid intensification” — in which wind speeds increase at least 35 miles per hour in 24 hours or less — is “becoming more common thanks to climate change,” meteorologist Domenica Davis explained in a Weather Channel video.

More than 90 percent of all global warming in the past 50 years has occurred in the oceans, Davis reported.

  • “Much of that is in the top level of the water which fuels hurricanes,” she said.
  • Most such rapidly intensifying events have occurred along the Gulf of Mexico, which is the direction Ian is headed, Davis added.

Europe probes mystery pipeline leaks  

European officials are investigating unexplained leaks in two shuttered Russian gas pipelines, which some leaders have claimed without evidence to be acts of sabotage.

Sudden and mysterious: The leaks were detected following a sudden drop in pressure in both the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines, which served to convey Russia’s natural to Germany, according to The Wall Street Journal.

  • The ruptures have no effect on Europe’s gas supply because neither pipeline is in use.
  • Germany stopped Nord Stream 2 in February over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while Moscow halted flows via Nord Stream 1 several weeks ago.

So what’s the problem? There are several. Most acutely, experts are warning that the gas leaks could be damaging for the climate, the Journal reported.  

The pipelines are also at the center of an ongoing economic war between Russia and the West — causing gas prices to soar and jeopardizing European industry, according to the Journal.

Blame game, with little evidence: The leaks raised concerns on Tuesday across Europe about potential sabotage on these critical pieces of infrastructure, Reuters reported.  

Nonetheless, it remained unclear as to who, if anyone, might have been involved in such foul play, according to Reuters.

  • Poland’s prime minister attributed the leaks to sabotage, without citing evidence.
  • The Danish premier said that foul play could be ruled out. Russia also said that sabotage was a possibility.  

A senior Ukrainian official described the incident as a Russian attack aimed at destabilizing Europe, without providing proof.

DISCOVERING THE LEAKS

The Swedish National Seismic Network recorded two “massive releases of energy” just prior to the gas leaks off the coast of a nearby Danish island, Agence France-Presse reported.

“With energy releases this big there isn’t much else than a blast that could cause it,” Peter Schmidt, an Uppsala University seismologist, told AFP.  

Explosions and bubbles: Schmidt described the releases as “very sudden” and said that the events were “in all likelihood some type of blasts,” according to AFP.

  • The Norwegian Seismic Array likewise confirmed that it had registered “a smaller explosion” early Monday, followed by a more powerful incident on Monday evening.
  • Photos provided by the Danish military on Tuesday showed masses of bubbles on the surface of the water nearby.

Damage to the system: Nord Stream’s operator described “unprecedented” damage to the system on Tuesday, in a statement to Russian state news agencies citied by The Washington Post.

The company, Nord Stream AG, said that the damage affected three lines: two of which are part of Nord Stream 1 and one of which is part of Nord Stream 2, according to the Post.  

Environmental harm: The combustible gas leak also threatens both people and the surrounding environment, Henning Gloystein, an energy analyst with the Eurasia group, told the Post.

  • “A massive leak of gas is very methane heavy,” Gloystein said.
  • Such contamination is “bad for the ocean immediately and will rise into the atmosphere,” he added.

Natural solutions for pests — and drawing pollinators

Use of natural solutions can help farmers control populations of harmful insects — while encouraging the presence of beneficial pollinators, according to two studies released this week. 

One such solution lays the foundation to use a virulent pest’s own chemical tools against it — by reverse-engineering its own chemical attractants to draw it into traps. 

Follow the poo: A sticky substance secreted by spotted lanternflies — called “honeydew” — serves as a powerful chemical attractant to their fellows, according to a study published on Tuesday in Frontiers in Insect Science.

  • The insects excrete honeydew as they eat sap — and it releases airborne chemicals that attract other lanternflies.
  • Researchers isolated specific molecules in the honeydew that draw in lanternflies. 

Honeydew also degrades produce, encourages the formation of plant-killing molds and provides a sticky impediment to outdoor recreation. 

What’s wrong with lanternflies? Spotted lanternflies are an invasive species currently eating their way across the northeastern United States.

The discovery of powerful chemical attractants pulled from the insects’ own biology could help scientists develop more effective traps for the invasive insects. 

First things first: “The first step to managing any pest is to understand their biology and behavior,” Miriam Cooperband of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement.

“As we learn more about the behavior of the spotted lanternfly, we hope to find a vulnerability that we can use to develop pest management tools to reduce its population and spread,” Cooperband added. 

FOR BETTER FRUITS, ADD FLOWERS

For growers looking to entice — rather than entrap — a much more beneficial insect, planting hedges and strips of perennial flowers can boost an orchard’s bee population, a second study found. 

The addition of non-edible plants helps keep the insects well-fed and available to pollinate blooming fruit trees, according to the study, published on Monday in the Journal of Applied Ecology. 

Filling a gap: Hedges and especially perennial flowers help correct features of intensive agriculture — the form in which entire landscapes are dedicated to food production — that make it unwelcoming to wild bees.

  • Wild bees are rare in agricultural landscapes in large part because of the lack of wildflowers.
  • To attract bees, an area must have flowers need to bloom for an entire season — but the flowers of cultivated fruit trees bloom briefly and all at once. 

Best practices: Researchers said fruit growers could reap the most benefit by planting diverse collections of perennial flowers, providing bees with continuous access to nectar throughout the year.

  • “Perennial flower strips flower much earlier in the second year of establishment than in the year of sowing,” lead author Vivien von Königslöw of Freiburg University said in a statement.
  • That means more diversity, as different plans “attract different bee communities over the year,” von Königslöw added.


Transport Tuesday

Nationwide electric vehicle (EV) developments: States get funding for infrastructure networks, Hertz and BP partner on charging and Ford expands Ohio production plant.

Department of Transportation green-lights state EV charging network plans   

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation announced on Tuesday that it had approved EV infrastructure deployment plans for all 50 states, as well as for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. All states now have access to a total more than $1.5 billion to help build EV chargers across 75,000 miles of highway, according to the Transportation Department. 

Hertz teams up with BP to install EV chargers across the country

  • Rental car company Hertz is joining hands with oil giant BP to construct a network of EV charging stations across the U.S., CNBC reported. While many of the chargers will be used for Hertz’s fleet, others will be made available to taxi and ride-hailing services and to members of the public, according to CNBC.  

Ford gets $205 million in incentives to expand Ohio EV plant

  • Ford Motor Co. will be getting $205 million in incentives to expand its Ohio Assembly Plant, where the company plans to produce EVs, Ohio news site Cleveland.com reported. The automaker received approval for a 30-year tax credit worth $70 million, while the firm will be getting $135 million in grants from the state’s private economic development arm, according to Cleveland.com.


Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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