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California: Drought, record heat, fires and now maybe floods

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California: Drought, record heat, fires and now maybe floods

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Californians tried to weather the extremes of a changing climate Friday, as a punishing heat wave that has helped fuel deadly wildfires had the state teetering on the edge of blackouts for a 10th consecutive day while a tropical storm barreled ashore with the promise of cooler temperatures but also possible flooding.

The abrupt swing in conditions even whipsawed weather junkies.

“This is perhaps the singularly most unusual and extreme weather week in quite some time in California — and that is saying something. Whew,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote on his western weather blog.

While the rains may be welcome in the drought-plagued state and will bring relief with more normal temperatures, deluges and more brutal heat waves are forecast to become regular fixtures as climate change warms the planet and weather-related disasters become more extreme.

“We’ll see these heat waves continue to get hotter and hotter, longer and longer, more wildfire-plagued,” said Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. “The odds of really intense precipitation are going up. And so that’s why we are worried about flooding associated with this remnant hurricane.”

California is just the latest casualty in a year of sometimes deadly heat waves that began in Pakistan and India this spring and swept across parts of the Northern Hemisphere, including China, Europe and others areas of the U.S.

Climate change also has exacerbated droughts, dried up rivers, made wildfires more intense and — conversely — led to massive flooding around the globe as moisture evaporating from land and water is held in the atmosphere and then redeposited by intense rains.

Scientists are reluctant to attribute any specific weather event, such as Hurricane Kay, now downgraded to a tropical storm as it heads into California, to global warming. But they say heat waves are exactly the type of change that will become more common.

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The so-called heat dome that cooked California was stuck in place by an exceptional high pressure region over Greenland, of all places, that essentially created a meteorological traffic jam, said Paul Ullrich, a professor of regional climate modeling at the University of California, Davis. That prevented the high-pressure system that was forcing hot air over California from moving along.

A marquee outside a former theater in LA’s Chinatown said: “Satan called. He wants his weather back.”

Temperatures hit an all-time high in Sacramento of 116 degrees (46.7 C) on Tuesday. Many other locations hit record highs for September and even more set daily high marks.

The heat that colored weather maps dark red for more than a week in California is only a preview of coming attractions.

Sacramento, the state capital, has about 10 “extreme heat” days per year and that will double again by the middle of the century. In the 1970s, the city had five, Ullrich said.

“That’s pretty much going to be the story for much of the Central Valley and much of Southern California,” Ullrich said. “This kind of exponential growth in the number of extreme heat days. If you tie those all together, then you end up with heat waves like we’ve experienced.”

For nine days through Thursday, the vast energy network that includes power plants, solar farms and a web of transmission lines strained under record-setting demand driven by air conditioners.

“If we’re going to build a statue to anybody in the West, it will be a Willis Carrier,” said Bill Patzert, retired climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, about the inventor of the air conditioner. “Really large areas of Southern California would essentially be unlivable without air conditioning.”

Air conditioning puts the biggest strain on power sources during a heat wave and operators of the electrical grid called for conservation and warned of the threat of power outages as usage hit an all-time high Tuesday, surpassing a record set in 2006.

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The state may have averted a repeat of rolling outages two summers ago by sending a first-ever text alert that blared on 27 million phones urging Californians to “take action” and turn off nonessential power. Enough turned up thermostats, turned off lights or pulled the plug on appliances to avoid power cuts, though thousands of customers did lose power at various times for other reasons.

The West is in the throes of a 23-year megadrought that has nearly drained reservoirs and put water supplies in jeopardy. That, in turn, led to a sharp decrease in hydropower that California relies on when power is in peak demand.

“Part of the country that’s getting hit worst is the Southwest and Western United States,” Overpeck said. “It is a global poster child for the climate crisis. And this year, this summer, it’s really the Northern Hemisphere has been just an unusually hot and wildfire-plagued hemisphere.”

The extreme heat helped fuel deadly wildfires at both ends of the state as flames fed on grass, brush and timber already “preconditioned to burn” by drought and then pushed over the edge by the heatwave, Overpeck said.

Firefighters struggled to control major wildfires in Southern California and the Sierra Nevada that exploded in growth, forced thousands to evacuate and produced smoke that could interfere with solar power and further hamper electricity supplies.

Two people were killed in the fire that erupted last Friday in the Northern California community of Weed at the base of Mount Shasta. Two others died trying to flee in their car from a fire in Riverside County that was threatening 18,000 homes.

What remains of the hurricane is expected to bring heavy rains and even flash floods to Southern California from Friday night through Saturday. Strong winds could initially make it difficult and dangerous for firefighters trying to corral blazes, Patzert said.

Heavy downpours could also unleash mudslides on mountainsides charred by recent fires. While several inches of rain could fall, much of it will run off the arid landscape and will not make a dent in the drought.

“It comes at you like a firehose and you’re trying to fill your champagne glass,” Patzert said. “Everybody’s sort of excited, but on Saturday night a lot of people will be saying, ‘Yeah, we could have done without that.’”

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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