Reporting from Harrison NE, 4 PM.
I am on what was supposed to be a leisure trip: my first transcontinental drive from coast to coast, New York to Calfornia and back. It turns out that I got caught in super storm Ulmer, a monster winter storm.
This morning I started out in Chadron NE, against advice from the locals. I drove about 20 miles west to Harrison NE, within a few miles of the Wyoming border. I was driving 30 miles an hour. In Harrison the visibility was essentially zero. A complete white out. Fortunately I found an open motel with a room. By now all shops, gas stations, restaurants, etc. were closed. It’s now 3 hours later. There are 4-foot snow drifts accross highway 20. And no traffic at all. The winds are fierce. According to the TV Weather Channel, the wind gusts are over 90 miles per hour: hurricane force.
This storm is immense covering 7 states. In Nebraska’s panhandle all roads have been closed. The airport in Denver has been closed since 10AM, 1500 flights were canceled. In Denver hundreds of thousands of homes have lost power. The wind gusts have knocked a train off a bridge and cars/trucks off the highway. Take a look at this video:
Truck knocked over in Amarillo TX by 70 mph cross winds
Locally, one of the biggest concerns is major loss of cattle. I had noticed the many cattle ranches driving west through Nebraska. It is clearly a leading local industry. However the cattle herds are outside and unprotected. Moreover it is calving season. While adults can survive this kind of weather, newborn calves can not. Estimates on TV are that 16,000 – to 80,000 cattle may die. The Nebraska state governor has make Chinook helicopters available to drop off livestock feed in areas that the ranchers can’t get to. I found some more info (below) via google:
Blizzards take a terrible toll on livestock. For both humane and economic reasons, stockmen should take necessary precautions in advance of severe winter storms.
MOVE LIVESTOCK, ESPECIALLY YOUNG LIVESTOCK, INTO SHELTERED AREAS. Shelter belts, properly oriented and laid out, provide better protection for range cattle than shed-type shelters, which may cause cattle to overcrowd, leading to overheating and respiratory disorders.
HAUL EXTRA FEED TO FEEDING AREAS before the storm arrives. Storm duration is the largest determinant of livestock losses; if the storm lasts more than 48 hours, emergency feed methods are required. Range cattle are hardy and can survive extreme winter weather providing they have some nonconfining type of shelter from the wind and are able to feed at frequent intervals.
Autopsies of cattle killed by winter storms have shown the cause of death to be dehydration, not cold or suffocation. Because cattle cannot lick enough snow to satisfy their thirst, stockmen are advised to use heaters in water tanks to provide livestock with water and feed after prolonged exposure to winter storm conditions.
Surpisingly, no one on the weather chanel is talking about the cause of superstorms like Ulmer, in particular climate change. Here is what I found (but there is much more):
Monster storms more frequent, more severe, this from Australia!
The last reference is from NASA. They explain:
“Storms feed off of latent heat, which is why scientists think global warming is strengthening storms. Extra heat in the atmosphere or ocean nourishes storms; the more heat energy that goes in, the more vigorously a weather system can churn.”
“Already, there is evidence that the winds of some storms may be changing. A study based on more than two decades of satellite altimeter data (measuring sea surface height) showed that hurricanes intensify significantly faster now than they did 25 years ago.”
“There is also evidence that extra water vapor in the atmosphere is making storms wetter. During the past 25 years, satellites have measured a 4 percent rise in water vapor in the air column. In ground-based records, about 76 percent of weather stations in the United States have seen increases in extreme precipitation since 1948. One analysis found that extreme downpours are happening 30 percent more often. Another study found that the largest storms now produce 10 percent more precipitation.”
“William Lau, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, concluded in a 2012 paper that rainfall totals from tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic have risen at a rate of 24 percent per decade since 1988. The increase in precipitation doesn’t just apply to rain. NOAA scientists have examined 120 years of data and found that there were twice as many extreme regional snowstorms between 1961 and 2010 as there were from 1900 to 1960.”
“But measuring a storm’s maximum size, heaviest rains, or top winds does not capture the full scope of its power. Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed a method to measure the total energy expended by tropical cyclones over their lifetimes. In 2005, he showed that Atlantic hurricanes are about 60 percent more powerful than they were in the 1970s. Storms lasted longer and their top wind speeds had increased by 25 percent. (Subsequent research has shown that the intensification may be related to differences between the temperature of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.)”
Today I could have ended up in a roadside ditch blown off the road while driving on black ice. Whether over-worked police and rescue teams could have responded in time? Who knows. Climate change feels up close and threatening. Stay safe!
More on Ulmer now also reported by WaPo here.