Heading for a national park? The ‘biggest season in the history of the Park Service’ predicted

Uh-oh, nearly two-thirds of N.C. is abnormally dry or in a drought

46 counties are in moderate drought conditions; another 34 are classified as abnormally dry. (Map: NCdrought.org)

Nearly half of North Carolina is experiencing a moderate drought and another 31% of the state is abnormally dry, according to the most recent NC Drought Monitor.

Over the past week moderate drought conditions have crept toward the Piedmont from the southeast, where Brunswick County and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority have advised their customers to conserve water.

Raleigh has reported its driest spring so far on record, with just 4.93 inches of rain; the
30-year average is 10.92 inches.

Most of eastern North Carolina is at least 4 inches below normal for the season.

The last time North Carolina experienced a drought was in November 2019, according to the NC State Climate Office. “The western part of the state hasn’t seen the widespread emergence of springtime drought conditions since 2007, but areas just west of Charlotte and the Triad did experience a fast-emerging drought in June 2015 during the hot, dry start to summer there,” according to the climate office.

The 2007 drought was the state’s worst since at least the Dust Bowl. Falls Lake, which is also a drinking water reservoir, was so low that the lakebed was exposed for hundreds of yards from the shore.

In addition to dry weather, the Piedmont has reported record heat. The temperature hit 94 degrees on Wednesday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, tying the record set in 2019.

The NC Forest Service has issued a burn ban for 26 counties. On Wednesday, an estimated 47 wildfires were reported statewide, burning 19 acres.

In May, there have been 536 fires, according to the Forest Service, accounting for nearly 3,100 acres burned. Those figures are well above May 2020 totals of 149 fires reported and 198 acres burned.

The 10-year average for May, according to the Forest Service, is 226 fires and 797 acres burned.

The USDA’s weather and crops report for North Carolina indicates tough conditions for agriculture:
“Vegetable crops are struggling, and farmers are watering what they can.” – Franklin, Nash, Halifax counties

“Very dry and the area needs rain. Crops at a tipping point. Tobacco is the worst hit by the dry conditions; soybeans are struggling to emerge. Corn growth is slowed and stunted.” – Person County

“Extremely dry conditions have halted soybean, cotton, and peanut planting. Corn is beginning to react to the dry conditions.” – Lenoir County

The western third of the U.S. is in a long-term “mega drought,” causing water shortages and wildfires.

Climate change is one of the factors driving the extremely dry weather. According to the EPA, average temperatures have risen because of climate change, speeding up the water cycle. Moisture is more quickly evaporating from soil, as well as leaving plants through their leaves, a process known as transpiration. Combined, this can make more water available in the air for precipitation, but contributes to drying over some land areas, leaving less moisture in the soil.

Biden allocates $1B to prepare for hurricane, wildfire season

Damage from Hurricane Florence (Photo: NC Emergency Management)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is doubling the amount of federal funding to help states prepare for natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, he announced Monday.

His administration is directing $1 billion to the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, which sends resources to communities, states, and tribal governments to prepare for extreme weather events.

Those federal dollars will be part of an effort to shift the focus from reactive disaster spending to proactive investments that boost community resilience against weather events, according to the White House.

“We’re going to spare no expense, no effort to keep Americans safe and respond to crises when they arise, and they certainly will,” Biden said Monday as he visited the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The announcement of additional federal aid for disaster preparation comes as the country is preparing for what Biden described as “the busiest time of year” for disasters on both sides of the nation: hurricanes along the Southern and Eastern coasts, and wildfire season in the West.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted another above-average season for hurricanes. The agency has forecast 13 to 20 named storms in the Atlantic Ocean during the current season, and six to 10 are projected to become hurricanes.

Those storms would follow a 2020 season that saw 30 storms that were sizable enough to be named — the most on record for a given year. Just seven of those storms claimed a combined 86 lives and caused $40 billion in damage, Biden said.

“This is not about red states and blue states, you all know that,” Biden told a room of emergency management officials during his FEMA visit. “It’s about having people’s backs in the toughest moments they face.”

The Biden administration also said Monday officials will be tapping NASA resources to better forecast and monitor natural disasters. The agency’s Earth System Observatory will use climate data systems to help understand and track how climate change is impacting communities.

Virtual public hearing tonight on Enviva wood pellet plant, major source of greenhouse gases, air pollutants

(Photo: Creative Commons)

An Enviva wood pellet plant would emit more than 380,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year under the terms of proposed changes to its air permit, the subject of a public hearing tonight.

The plant between Gaston and Garysburg, in Northampton County, has operated since 2013, and is allowed to produce up to 625,225 oven-dried tons of pellets per year. It is classified as a Title V facility, which applies to major air pollution sources. The permit has been amended several times to account for changes in equipment and processes.

The virtual meeting starts at 6 p.m. DEQ has published details of how to attend on its website. The public comment period ends Wednesday, May 26. DEQ has also included instructions on how to submit comments.

The industry frames wood pellets as “renewable” because trees can be replanted. However, that definition glosses over the myriad environmental harms resulting from the process. From cradle to grave, wood pellets release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, major drivers of climate change. Enviva uses trees logged from North Carolina forests — some of them hardwoods — which removes some of the valuable “carbon sinks” from the landscape. Trees are carbon sinks because they absorb and store carbon dioxide.

Obtaining the pellets also requires the deforestation of parts of eastern North Carolina, fragmenting wildlife habitats and removing natural flood control provided by large stands of trees. Once the trees arrive at an Enviva plant, they are ground into kibble-size pellets; that process also emits pollutants into the air, the amount of which is regulated by state air permits. The company then transports the pellets by truck or rail to the state ports — again, using carbon-emitting transportation — where they are loaded onto a carbon-emitting ship and hauled across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom. There, in lieu of coal, the UK burns the pellets, which emits carbon dioxide, to fire electricity-generating power plants.

In the governor’s Clean Energy Plan, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality rejected the idea that burning trees for fuel qualifies as low-carbon, renewable energy.

The Garysburg plant is one of four Enviva facilities in North Carolin; The others are in Ahoskie, Faison and Hamlet. All of the facilities are in environmental justice communities. In Garysburg, federal and state data show that of the 1,441 people living in the census block group, 71% are persons of color and 55.24% are low-income. Rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and child mortality are all well above the state average.

This table shows the pollutants the plant is expected to emit annually, based on NC DEQ documents. PM10 stands for “particulate matter” that is 10 microns in size. PM2.5 is the more harmful type of particulate matter. It is about 30 times smaller in diameter than a human hair and can burrow deeply into the lungs, causing or worsening heart and lung problems. Long-term exposure to
PM 2.5 also has been linked to more severe COVID-19 symptoms.

“Carbon dioxide equivalent” measures emissions from various greenhouse gases — methane, for example — on the basis of their global warming potential.

Estimated emissions per year, in tons

Carbon monoxide — 171
Nitrogen oxide — 213
PM10 — 89
PM2.5 — 75
Sulfur dioxide — 39
Volatile organic compounds — 120
Hazardous air pollutants — 18
Carbon dioxide equivalent — 383,222

 

This table, based on the company’s draft permit submitted to DEQ, shows the historical actual emissions from the plant. HAP stands for hazardous air pollutants. According to the EPA, chronic exposure to methanol, such as by inhaling the gas or drinking substances with high levels of it (moonshine, for example), can cause headache, dizziness, giddiness, insomnia, nausea, gastric disturbances, conjunctivitis, blurred vision, and blindness.

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