Stuff that matters

oh, crap

In Irma’s wake, Florida deals with a long-predicted apoocalypse.

According to more than 100 “Public Notice of Pollution” reports submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the hurricane caused at least 28 million gallons of treated and untreated sewage to flood streets, residences, and waterways in 22 counties.

A department spokesperson told the New Republic that it’ll take time before the sewage overflows are completely assessed. Many reports say that the leaks in the state’s aging infrastructure are spewing waste in quantities characterized as “ongoing,” “unknown,” or “waiting on volume determination.”

Residents will likely have to deal with a host of public health issues stemming from the various breaches. Exposure to raw sewage can result in salmonella poisoning or giardia, among other nasty bacteria and parasites. And stagnant floodwaters have been shown to act as breeding grounds for E. coli.

The Miami Herald pointed out Florida’s vulnerable sewage system last year, but city officials shrugged off the warning. Other outlets predicted that Irma would be the system’s reckoning. Now Floridians are, quite literally, in the shit.

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unhealth food

Veggies and grains are becoming more like junk food, thanks to rising CO2.

There’s been a long decline in the nutrition of our crops, often attributed to people breeding plants for higher yields rather than health benefits. But, as is often the case, climate change is making it worse.

An altered atmosphere means altered food, because plants suck up CO2 from the air and turn it into sugars, Helena Bottemiller Evich points out in a new piece for Politico. That means we’re getting more sugar per bite, and less protein, iron, and zinc. The global phenomenon puts hundreds of millions of people at risk for nutrient deficiencies.

It’s not just a problem for humans. Analysis of pollen samples going back to 1842 shows that protein concentration declined dramatically as atmospheric CO2 rose. That makes yet another suspect in the great bee-murder mystery.

“To say that it’s little known that key crops are getting less nutritious due to rising CO2 is an understatement,” Evich writes for Politico. “It is simply not discussed in the agriculture, public health, or nutrition communities. At all.”

The world is changing in so many ways that it’s nearly impossible to track them all — even when those changes happen right at the ends of our forks.

planet money

Harvey and Irma take a huge bite out of the U.S. economy.

America’s twin hurricane disasters inflicted around $190 billion in direct damages, with lingering economic impacts from lost business adding up to perhaps an additional $100 billion. That’s nearly one-quarter the total of all U.S. natural disasters since 1980.

Financial firms Moody’s and Goldman Sachs have already lowered their estimates of overall U.S. economic growth. Goldman Sachs added that as many as 100,000 jobs could be lost as businesses downsize in the wake of the storms.

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners in Texas and Florida are expected to fall behind on their mortgage payments, bringing fears of an uptick in foreclosures. About 10 percent of the U.S. population were directly impacted by the storms, according to Goldman Sachs.

The combined effect of the two hurricanes will leave an economic toll greater than Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Federal agencies have been warning for years of the increasing economic toll of climate-related disasters, and the recent storms fit a pattern of more frequent large-scale weather disasters.

look what the floodwaters dragged in

Irma dredges up snakes, alligators, and, of course, the ‘Florida Man.’

The Florida Department of Health warned that some wildlife would be popping up in strange places in Hurricane Irma’s aftermath. So far, gators have been spotted casually slithering across roads and snake bites have been on the rise.

But the hurricane turned out more than Florida’s wildlife — it also gave the state’s residents the opportunity to showcase their unique reputation.

Floridians have seen enough storms that “hurricane parties” are a regular practice. To that end, many decided to ride out the storm instead of evacuating, some on their boats. One man decided that the storm would provide the perfect kitesurfing opportunity, and another figured he’d tie himself to a post, as one does in the face of extreme wind and lightning.

As the reporter aptly puts it, “You have people out here, you know, um … doing stuff.”

To cap it off, you’ll be comforted to know that the state’s 54 six-toed cats are safe.


Irma has broken a mind-boggling number of records.

Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach is a weather savant. In the midst of a storm that’s put many experts at a loss for words, Klotzbach compiled a short document that serves as a testament to Hurricane Irma’s improbable existence.

Here are some of the more notable records Irma has already set, as of Friday afternoon:

  • 185 mph lifetime max winds — the strongest storm to exist in the Atlantic Ocean
  • 185 mph max winds for 37 hours — the longest any cyclone around the globe has maintained that intensity on record
  • Three consecutive days as a Category 5 hurricane — the longest in the satellite era (since 1966)
  • Generated the most Accumulated Cyclone Energy — a measure that combines a hurricane’s wind speed and size — on record in the tropical Atlantic
  • Generated more Accumulated Cyclone Energy than 14 entire Atlantic hurricane seasons in the satellite era

These statistics are even more impressive taken in context with Jose and Katia, two other powerful hurricanes currently spinning in the Atlantic. Collectively, these three hurricanes produced more total energy on Friday than any group of hurricanes ever has in the Atlantic on a single day, in history. And they’re all headed toward land.

flame on

Western wildfires could still be burning by Halloween.

While many are predicted to be contained by mid-September, some of the fires won’t be contained until late October or even Nov. 1, according to the Oregonian’s wildfires map.

And “contained” means that a fire line has been dug around the flame’s perimeter, not that it’s out. That’s why fires can be 95 percent contained and still burning.

More than 50 wildfires are burning in the West right now, and some have been aflame for months. Why are they taking so long to put out?

“There are so many homes in a lot of these areas that firefighters have to focus on protecting them,” Jessica Gardetto, a spokesperson for the National Interagency Fire Center, told Grist. “In some cases, while they’re doing that, they can’t be suppressing the fire line as well.”

Sometimes, large fires begin shooting sparks outside of the main fire. Gardetto says the Chetco Bar Fire in Oregon has been sending sparks miles away, helping it spread.

A wildfire burning for weeks in the wilderness isn’t too unusual, Gardetto says. She’s seen fires burn on until snow starts falling. While there are few fire season–ending rains or snows currently in sight, many hope that moisture will soon help suppression efforts.

three too many

Irma, Jose, Katia: We’ve never seen this kind of hurricane power in the Atlantic.

The three storms collectively represent the most hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean, in terms of strength and size, in recorded history. That’s just one of many milestones.

As National Hurricane Center scientist Eric Blake pointed out, the three hurricanes are all threatening land at the same time. Again, that’s never happened before.

Florida is bracing for monster storm Irma, which is expected to bring devastating winds and storm surges to the state on Saturday. And Jose just strengthened into a Category 4 storm on Saturday, marking the first time the Atlantic has seen two hurricanes this intense at once.

And though Jose hasn’t broken as many records as Irma, it’s forecast to hit some of the same Caribbean islands that Irma battered just a few days ago: Antigua, Barbuda and Anguilla, St. Martin, and St. Barthélemy.

Hurricane Katia is also heading toward a place just ravaged by disaster. An 8.1-magnitude earthquake, one of the strongest in Mexico’s history, shook the country’s western coast on Thursday night. The quake caused at least 32 deaths, toppled buildings, and cut power for more than 1.8 million. Now, the country braces for Katia, expected to hit Mexico’s Gulf coast on Saturday as a Category 3 storm and bring life-threatening floods.

It’s almost as if something is going on with the climate.

eye for an eye

Here’s why Irma is a monster hurricane, in one GIF.

The last Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the United States was Andrew, which lashed South Florida with wind gusts of up to 177 miles per hour in 1992. It caused immense devastation and forever changed Florida’s approach to hurricanes.

Twenty-five years later, we have Hurricane Irma — a storm that could be even worse.

Twitter / @JoelNihlean

The above GIF, assembled from GOES satellite data by Joel Nihlean, combines images of the two hurricanes to compare them side-by-side to scale. Not only is Irma more powerful, it’s also much larger: One recent estimate showed that Irma packs more than five times Andrew’s destructive potential. Its hurricane-force winds cover an area roughly the size of Massachusetts.

Irma’s sustained winds are now 175 mph, with gusts reaching 210 mph. Meteorologists expect very little weakening before it makes landfall in Florida on Sunday. In a briefing on Thursday, the National Weather Service in Miami said that Irma could leave parts of South Florida “uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

Governor Rick Scott urged Florida residents to take the storm seriously, pointing out that Irma is “wider than our entire state.” Let’s hope they take his advice.

this sucks

Climate change is threatening parasites — and unfortunately, that’s not a good thing.

One would think that the demise of ticks and tapeworms would be cause for celebration (especially if your introduction to parasites was, as in my case, an encounter with zombie snails at a mercilessly young age).

But hold the party, say researchers. After studying 457 species of parasites in the Smithsonian Museum’s collection, mapping their global distribution, and applying a range of climate models and future scenarios, scientists predict that at least 5 to 10 percent of those critters would be extinct by 2070 due to climate change–induced habitat loss.

This extinction won’t do any favors to wildlife or humans. If a mass die-off were to occur, surviving parasites would likely invade new areas unpredictably — and that could greatly damage ecosystems. One researcher says parasites facilitate up to 80 percent of the food-web links in ecosystems, thus helping to sustain life (even if they’re also sucking it away).

What could save the parasites and our ecosystems? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “Reduce carbon emissions.”

If emissions go unchecked, parasites could lose 37 percent of their habitats. If we cut carbon quickly, they’d reduce by only 20 percent — meaning the terrifying (but helpful!) parasites creating zombie snails will stay where they are.