WASHINGTON – Deadly weather will hit the United States more often and America needs to improve to deal with it, experts said as Texas and other states battled winter storms that have exceeded worst-case planning. utilities, governments and millions of trembling residents. .
This week’s storms, with more still heading east, are part of a pattern of worsening extremes under climate change and demonstrate once again that local, state and federal officials haven’t done enough. to prepare for stronger and more dangerous weather conditions.
At least two dozen people have died this week, including from a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning as they struggled to find heat in their homes. In Oklahoma City, an explosion in the Arctic sent temperatures in the state capital plunge to 14 degrees below zero (-25 Celsius).
“It’s a different kind of storm,” said Kendra Clements, one of the many Oklahoma City businessmen who have opened their buildings to house the homeless, some with frostbite, hypothermia. and ice cubes in the hair. Service providers and governments say there will be an increase in the needs of the most vulnerable in society as climate and natural disasters worsen.
Other Americans are also in danger. Power supplies of all kinds failed in the extreme cold, including natural gas-fired power plants that were taken offline in freezing conditions and, to a lesser extent, wind turbines that froze and stopped working. More than 100 million people live in areas subject to winter weather warnings, watches or advisories, and power outages are expected to continue in parts of the country for days.
The crisis has sounded the alarm bells for electricity systems across the country: As climate change worsens, harsh conditions that go beyond historical standards are becoming increasingly common. Texas, for example, expects electricity demand to peak in the heat of summer, not in the depths of winter, as it has this week.
The terrible storms come as President Joe Biden aims to spend up to $ 2 trillion on infrastructure and clean energy investments over four years. Biden has pledged to update the U.S. electricity grid to be carbon pollution-free by 2035, alter buildings, repair roads, and build charging stations for electric vehicles.
“Building resilient and sustainable infrastructure able to withstand extreme weather and climate change will play a critical role” in creating jobs and achieving Biden’s goal of a “net emissions future draws, “White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.
Storms are big news this week, especially in light of their effect on COVID-19 vaccinations as well as freezing Americans, but that doesn’t mean they won’t become more common, experts say.
“It was definitely an anomaly,” but one that’s likely to happen more frequently due to climate change, said Sara Eftekharnejad, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Syracuse University.
“It probably needs better planning because we’re starting to see more extreme weather events across the country,” she said, whether it’s severe cold in Texas or the wave. intense heat in California last year that fueled deadly wildfires.
People collect firewood from a wood pile open to the public to heat their homes after widespread power outages left them in the cold in Dallas, Texas on February 17, 2021.
Better forecasting in the short and long term would help avoid catastrophic blackouts such as the current blackouts in Texas and other states, as well as large-scale storage systems that can provide electricity when demand increases and greater diversity of energy sources, Eftekharnejad and other experts said.
Climate change is also affecting military readiness. Damage from a 2018 hurricane at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and the 2019 flooding at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, for example, led the Pentagon to send military personnel as far as Britain for training. .
Another 2018 hurricane that hit Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, home to one-third of the U.S. Marine Corps’ capabilities, caused enough damage to degrade training as a whole, senior U.S. military officials concluded.
Reinforcing military installations against worsening natural disasters will cost trillions. But it needs to be done, said Joan VanDervort, a long-time Defense Department former climate expert at the Center for Climate and Security think tank. “We have eyes on the outside that watch our vulnerability and see how we react. … There are enemies out there who will certainly benefit.”
Michael Craig, assistant professor of energy systems at the University of Michigan, said events in California and Texas show that “what we have now will not deal with climate change. It will only get worse and worse. here. . ”
The disaster in Texas and other states “reminds us that our nation’s critical infrastructure is vulnerable to extreme weather events and we can no longer turn a blind eye to the resilience investments needed to protect it,” said Senator Tom Carper, D- Del., Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who met Biden at the White House last week.
“The cost associated with tackling climate change and improving the resilience of our infrastructure will always be less than the cost of reconstruction or inaction,” Carper said.
Meanwhile, federal regulators are looking at bulk supply system operations during the severe winter storm that affected states from Louisiana to Minnesota.
In Texas, where wind power is a growing source of electricity, wind turbines are generally not equipped to withstand prolonged low temperatures, as is the case in Iowa and other cold-weather states. . Modifying turbines slightly to withstand freezing temperatures is a necessary step in dealing with climate change, said Roy McCann, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Arkansas.
While some Republican politicians, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have attempted to blame wind and solar power for the outages, traditional thermal power plants, which rely primarily on natural gas, provide most of the electricity for state and were the largest. problem.
“The whole system was overwhelmed,” said Joshua Rhodes, associate researcher in energy issues at the University of Texas.
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