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Yosemite closes over flooding threat as huge snowpack melts

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Yosemite closes over flooding threat as huge snowpack melts

 

By AMY TAXIN and JAE C. HONG

April 25, 2023 GMT

LEMOORE, Calif. (AP) — Ron Caetano is packed and ready to go. His family photos and valuables are in the trailer and he’s put food in carry totes. He moved the rabbits and chickens and their automatic feeders to higher ground.

He and his family and dogs could get out in less than an hour, they figure, should more heavy rain or hot weather melt so much mountain snow that gushing water overwhelms the rivers and channel that surround their tight-knit, rural Central California community and give it its name, the Island District.

“The water is coming this way,” said Caetano, who started a Facebook group to help organize his neighbors. “I am preparing for the worst and praying for the best and that’s all we can do.”

After more than a dozen atmospheric rivers dumped epic rain and snowfall on California, a reservoir that stores water upstream is expected to receive three times its capacity in the coming months. Caetano and his neighbors in the tree-lined Island District, home to a school, pistachio orchards and horse ranches about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, could soon be marooned by rising rivers or flooded out.

Water managers are concerned that the spring snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada will be so massive that the north fork of the Kings River won’t be able to contain it and carry it toward the Pacific Ocean. Much of the water also is being channeled into the river’s south fork, which winds through the area near the small city of Lemoore to fill a vast basin.

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More than a century ago, that basin was an enormous body of freshwater known as Tulare Lake, the largest west of the Mississippi River. It would grow in winter as snowmelt streamed down from the mountains. But over time, settlers dammed and diverted waterways to irrigate crops, and the lake went dry. Now, Tulare Lake reappears only during the rainiest years, like this one, covering what is now a vast swath of farmland with water.

Today, paved roads vanish beneath the lake’s lapping waves and utility poles and trees jut out above the water, vestiges of land-living put on hold. Fields that typically grow wheat, tomatoes, and other crops lie underneath.

David Merritt, general manager for the Kings River Conservation District, said the Pine Flat Reservoir about 50 miles (80 kilometers) upstream can hold up to 1 million acre feet of water, but is expected to receive more than 3 million acre feet this spring from the melting snow. Officials have been forced to increase the flow of water out of the reservoir to make space for more, Merritt said.

“Once we’re at capacity, now you’re putting a lot of stress on those conveyance channels,” Merritt said. “It’s a very fast moving stream and it’s very deep right now.”

Island District residents have revived a decades-old network of neighbors for the first time since 1983 to assist each other in the event of a crisis. The last time the Island Property Protection Association activated, there was no such thing as text messages or even emails to quickly spread the word, said Tony Oliveira, a former county supervisor and the network’s administrator.

In a week, more than 200 people volunteered to help neighbors through the network, and the group’s website received more than 4,000 hits.

“It’s going to be four months of holding our breath,” Oliveira said.

The winter rains were welcomed by California’s parched cities and desperate growers, who have been grappling with intense drought for the past several years. The state has long tended toward wet and dry periods, but scientists at University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography have said they expect climate change will lead to drier dry years and wetter wet years.

What will determine how communities fare now is how quickly the weather heats up. If temperatures remain cool, snow will melt slowly, with water gradually flowing from the mountains. But a hot spell could send massive amounts of water churning through rivers that could potentially overflow, officials said. A beaver or a squirrel that tears a hole in a levee could also bring trouble.

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Rising temperatures this week have many residents on edge. Park officials announced plans to temporarily close part of Yosemite National Park starting Friday due to the threat of flooding. Reservations for campgrounds and lodging in eastern Yosemite Valley will automatically be canceled and refunded.

Michael Anderson, California’s state climatologist, said water inflows into some reservoirs are expected to double though he doesn’t expect the warming trend to cause immediate flooding in residential areas.

But in the coming weeks and months that could change. Gov. Gavin Newsom visited the reemerged lake Tuesday and said the worst is likely yet to come as more water reaches the basin.

“Where we’re standing likely will be underwater in a matter of weeks, if not months,” he said. “That’s very sobering.”

It isn’t the first time Kings County, home to 150,000 people in the fertile San Joaquin Valley, has faced these challenges.

Many longtime residents recall when Tulare Lake reappeared 40 years ago. Officials believe crops will remain under water much longer this time due to the massive snowpack, said Dusty Ference, executive director of the Kings County Farm Bureau. To date, more than 60,000 acres of farmland (242 square kilometers) have flooded, he said.

It also returned on a smaller scale in 1997, said Nicholas Pinter, associate director of the University of California, Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. He said the lake has always fluctuated in size due to California’s highly-variable water cycle, and farmers have long known there would be periods like this.

“It has been an engineering problem all along,” he said. “This is a bathtub with no drain.”

Near the lake, the city of Corcoran, which is home to 22,000 people including 8,000 state prisoners, began emergency construction to raise a levee that protects the community. The water behind the levee is already at 178 feet (54 meters), just 10 feet (3 meters) below the top. Officials want to raise the levee another 3.5 feet (1 meter), city officials said.

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“If that water rises above that amount, we will have water coming into our city and we will be in a critical situation,” said Greg Gatzka, Corcoran’s city manager.

In the Island District, residents don’t have a levee to protect them. They snap photos of wooden sticks placed near waterways to gauge water levels and banks and post them online to keep others informed. They’re helping place sandbags on elderly neighbors’ property and paying close attention to reports from water and county officials, and from each other.

Oliveira, whose family has lived in the area for generations, said he remembers moving cattle and horses when the rains came in 1983, and will do the same this time, if necessary.

“We’re farmers. We have bulldozers and backhoes, we have trailers. We can bring things to bear sometimes faster than the public agencies can,” Oliveira said. “The people who live in the Island are just kind of those neighbors taking care of neighbors.”

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Taxin reported from Orange County, California.

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

 

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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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