Weather

The Blizzard Blackout

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Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

We’re all becoming accustomed to seeing the latest news images of a natural disaster touching the lives of our friends and family across the country. Then, one day, it’s your own community and family.

I live in one of the towns south of Boston hammered in last week’s blizzard that dumped feet of snow across a large swath of the Northeast. Hundreds of thousands of families in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts went into a blackout in the middle of February. No lights, no TV, and in many cases, no heat or warm food.

The first morning we awoke without power or heat, our home was already down to about 55 degrees. The second morning, it was 41 degrees and I couldn’t get my mind off the thought that, if it got 10 degrees colder, our pipes would freeze.

Even the cat seemed freaked out by our circumstances.

I work at EPA, and yes, I care deeply about the environmental impacts of my lifestyle. During our power depravation, I kept considering how much we rely on electricity so we can lead comfortable, healthy lives. And that generating electricity has impacts on clean air, clean water and greenhouse gases. But I wanted my heat and lights back on.

We were fairly well prepared, though not completely or as well as we should have been. The car had a full tank. We had flashlights and batteries, plus plenty of bottled water. We had food that wouldn’t go bad, if we needed it in a pinch. Like good New Englanders, we were dressed in many layers. A battery-powered radio was handy, so we could get local news (and have something to listen to once it was dark, but too early to fall asleep for the night). Cell phones were charged, but turned off except for occasional checks of the news.

Access to social media was a plus: following Twitter updates from state and local emergency responders, and the power company working around the clock to get power restored, helped us feel less isolated in our chilly abode.

In the midst of the continuing storm during the second day, my wife said to me, “A blizzard is much more fun when you can watch a movie and make popcorn.” Yes it is.

There are many good resources to keep in mind, especially seeking ways to be better prepared:

Ready

Connecticut
Maine
Massachusetts
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Vermont

About the author: Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not at work, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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How We Made It Through a Hot New England Summer

By Gina Snyder

It’s no wonder most of us find climate change confusing. The other day while driving to the store, I heard a radio meteorologist say that January to August in New England this year has been the hottest since 1895, when consistent record-keeping started. She went on to say that scientists don’t call this ‘climate change.’

Hmmm. But, she clarified that with an interview with a climate scientist from Cornell who said this is indeed what we can expect from climate change, but the actual weather isn’t necessarily because of climate change. “Oh dear,” I thought, “These scientists make it so hard to understand!”

Then a friend of mine told me about a sports analogy made by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist. It was the best description I have heard of how greenhouse gases lead to climate change: “It’s like weather on steroids.”

Think about how a home-run hitter is expected to have a certain number of home runs during the baseball season. Then think about the same hitter on steroids: you can expect even more home runs. Heat waves and extreme weather are similarly affected by greenhouse gases. More greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make it much more likely that we’ll have heat waves and big storms, and more thunder and lightning.

If we don’t like this picture of the future, we can take all kinds of actions.

Even though this summer has been so hot in Massachusetts that we’re using record amounts of electricity to feed our air conditioners, at least an ENERGYSTAR air conditioner uses less energy, and adding a fan to make the cool air move around will make it feel even cooler. And, when you can, using only a fan – without an air conditioner – will help.

In my home, where I have many shade trees over my house, I open the windows in the evening, and then close them in the morning when I leave. I pull the shades over windows that get afternoon sun, too. I only have a single (ENERGYSTAR) window air conditioner, and we only use that on the really hot and humid days.

One of the great benefits of living in New England – with its winter snows and spring drizzling – is that summer can be so pleasant. That means we can often get away without using AC … So on the beautiful summer days when the nights are 60-ish and the days are under 85, keep the energy bills down and the fresh air blowing. And know that you are doing a small favor to the earth.

About the author: Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental and Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and has been a volunteer river monitor on the Ipswich River, where she also picks up trash every time she monitors the water quality.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Be Ready For The Unexpected

By Lina Younes

This past Friday night I don’t think anybody truly anticipated the intensity of the storm that hit the Washington metropolitan area. The devastation caused by the strong winds still has many utilities working around the clock trying to restore power to many residents in the area.

While we had enough flashlights and batteries, basic necessities, battery powered radios and a generator on standby to weather the storm; there were two things that were lacking. We hadn’t had the foresight to fill up the car with gas and we didn’t have cash on hand! We hadn’t foreseen the impact of the power outage would have on gas stations and banks in our immediate area.

Last Saturday, we were literally running on fumes when we finally found a working gas station with gasoline for sale. With gas in the tank, then we were able to drive further to find a bank with power.

So, what did we learn from this experience? Basically, to prepare for the unexpected!

And some additional tips?

How was your experience during the storm? We would love to hear from you!

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hurricane Season: Better Get Ready

Have you ever listened to the weather report and wished that the weatherman missed the mark? Well, after learning that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s forecast projects a “busy Atlantic hurricane season” this year, we all hope these predictions don’t materialize. Given the situation of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the environmental repercussions of a major hurricane in that area could even be more devastating. Since we don’t have ways to control weather conditions, the best thing we can do with this forecast is to get ready before tropical storms approach our shores.

We are all aware of the madness at local supermarkets and hardware stores on the eve of a storm. Since we can anticipate the possibility of power outages during or right after a hurricane, why not make sure we have flashlights and batteries on hand well in advance of a hurricane? A battery-operated radio is another useful item to monitor storm developments. I remember that during one of the snowstorms this year, my small battery-operated radio was my lifeline to the outside world when my family and I were stuck home without electricity for 15 hours!

Speaking about electrical outages, never use a generator inside your home or an enclosed space like a basement or garage. The engine exhaust generates carbon monoxide, a toxic deadly toxic gas. Make sure these portable generators are used safely.

As a result of a hurricane or natural emergency, drinking water supplies may be contaminated. You can prepare by having bottled water at hand. Listen to local media reports during and after the storm for information on water safety.

While you are planning how to protect your family and home during a hurricane, don’t forget about your pets. If you live along the coastline or in an area prone to floods, there is the potential you might have to evacuate with short notice. Plan ahead where you can take your pet in such an emergency. And lastly, don’t forget about important papers like passports and insurance documents. It’s always best to prepare for the worse case scenario to be safe before the hurricane winds and rain come your way.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force.  Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Changing Climate Change

Growing up, I used to spend my winters in Chicago sledding, building snowmen, making snow angels, and having snowball fights in the park near my house. A fresh coat of snow meant that my neighbors and I would all come out to play, bundled up with hats, gloves, and bulky coats, leaving lopsided trails of footprints behind us as we explored what might be adequately described as a “winter wonderland”.

As a summer intern for the EPA, I still maintain a passion for snow forts and snowball fights, and I have developed a greater appreciation for activities such as skiing and ice skating (which had never been much of an interest to my younger self due to an extraordinary lack of coordination). Unfortunately, as I’ve grown up, I’ve had less time to enjoy these recreational activities, not just because my schedule has gotten busier, but because snow doesn’t fall as often as it did 15 years ago. Ice cover isn’t as thick, and even when a snowfall does occur, the snow just doesn’t last as long. With only a few short weeks for winter break, I’m disappointed when my chances to enjoy the snow are limited.

Winters are getting warmer due to the earth’s changing climate. Temperatures are increasing, and precipitation will get more inconsistent—either too much or too little. Ice on lakes will be thinner, making them unsafe to use for things like skating and ice fishing. Humans have to take some of the blame for this phenomenon. Pollution from factories, cars, and homes traps heat inside the atmosphere, which leads to climate change. There are plenty of things that people, and especially teens, can do to address climate change. The Marian Koshland Science Museum, and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) offer ways for teens to get involved in combating climate change. NWF even has a downloadable action guide with project ideas.

I enjoy warm weather as much as the next person-my summer days are full of soccer, Frisbee, and swimming. However, I will still do what I can and encourage others to combat climate change. Fortunately, this is not a problem that can only be addressed by business and government. Anybody, at any age, can contribute. It is my personal belief that everybody should do their part to slow climate change. The problem requires immediate action, and as today’s teens graduate, go to college, and enter the “real world”, we will be a very important part of the solution. We owe it ourselves, to the world, and to the thousands of children that enjoy frolicking in freshly fallen snow.

About the Author: Carmel Loch is an intern for the Air and Radiation Division working on Climate Change. She will be a junior at the University of Chicago.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Year of Science Question of the Month: How is climate change affecting the things you care about, and how do you think it will affect what you care about in the future?

For each month in 2009, the Year of Science—we will pose a question related to science. Please let us know your thoughts as comments, and feel free to respond to earlier comments, or post new ideas.

The Year of Science theme for August is Weather and Climate.

How is climate change affecting the things you care about, and how do you think it will affect what you care about in the future?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.