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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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Late Night Round-Up: Vaccines Getting Their Shot

The Nightly Show examined the measles outbreak in Disneyland, with Larry Wilmore highlighting the ultimate “First World Problem”: Vaccine deniers.

The Daily Show looked at the lighter side of the Northeast snowstorm, and the fact that it didn’t quite measure up to the apocalyptic expectations that were set in the news media’s home base of New York.

David Letterman also got his jeers in at the panic in New York:

Conan O’Brien revealed a new Republican frontrunner for 2016 — someone who frequently tells President Obama that he’s wrong.

Alaska’s Record-Warm Year In 2014 Worries Observers

By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The biggest state in America, home to more ocean coastline than all others combined, has just set another record. This one, however, is nothing to cheer.

For the first time in recorded history, temperatures in Anchorage did not drop below zero once in an entire calendar year. In comparison, Alaska’s largest city had 14 days below zero in the 2013 calendar year and 32 days in 2012. The average is 29 days.

At midnight Dec. 31, Anchorage closed the book on its warmest year since 1926, according to the National Weather Service. The lowest temperature recorded in 2014 was zero degrees Fahrenheit on Feb. 11.

Sea ice has been disappearing. Polar bear populations have dropped. The state’s storied dog race was a musher’s mess, spurring headlines that fretted: “Warm weather, treacherous conditions — is the Iditarod in trouble?” The Bering Sea saw its warmest summer on record.

“I didn’t put my downhill skis on at all last winter, and at the moment I’m still hoping for this winter, but the prospects are not good so far,” said Henry Huntington, who lives in an Anchorage suburb and serves as senior officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ international Arctic program.

The Last Frontier didn’t exactly sweat through Death Valley-style temperatures. Anchorage’s 2014 annual average was a chilly 40.6 degrees or so Fahrenheit, said Richard Thoman, climate science and services manager with the weather service in Fairbanks. Still, that was well above last year’s annual average temperature of 37 degrees.

Environmentalists, policymakers and weather watchers are viewing the thermometer with concern.

“To me, the fact that Anchorage won’t dip below zero degrees in calendar year 2014 is just one more signal — as if we needed another one — of a rapidly changing climate,” said Andrew Hartsig, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Arctic program.

Hartsig said Anchorage’s comparatively balmy weather is consistent with other long-term trends, including diminishing summer sea ice and increasing sea surface temperatures.

“These are definitely red flags that are very consistent with climate change,” said Chris Krenz, senior scientist at Oceana, an international conservation group. “These are anomalies … that show our climate system is off-kilter.”

James E. Overland, a research oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, would agree with the off-kilter part. But he would add mysterious to the mix, too.

Overland argues that Alaska’s very cool heat wave is not evidence of climate change but rather the next stage in a long-term weather pattern that began with six years of warming in the Bering Sea and southern Alaska, followed by six cold years.

“This year, then, was the breakdown of the string of cold years,” Overland said. “What all the scientists are wondering now (is): Is this just one warm year? Could we flip back to a cold sequence again, or is this the start of a warm sequence? … We don’t know, and it makes a big difference.”

Especially to the Alaska pollock, which NOAA’s FishWatch website describes as “one of the largest, most valuable fisheries in the world.” Pollock don’t like really warm or really cold temperature extremes, and their food source, small shrimp, do not fare well in heat.

“We really don’t understand how these sequences occur, but they appear to be random and part of the chaotic climate system, rather than part of the global warming signal,” said Overland, co-author of NOAA’s 2014 Arctic Report Card. “We’ve had one warm year here. Is this a sucker punch or not?”

Climate change or chaos aside, the warm temperatures are both real and worrisome.

The weather service’s Thoman notes that a calendar year in the Northern Hemisphere contains chunks of two separate winter seasons: January, February and March, and November and December.

In the last few months, the lowest temperature in Anchorage was 13 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded on Dec. 13, Thoman said.

One record Anchorage has yet to break is the longest stretch of consecutive days above zero. That record was set over 683 days in 2000 and 2001.

Still, Thoman said, “Anchorage has never had a winter when the temperature remained warm through the end of December.”

Until now.

Just before Thanksgiving, Ned Rozell, a science writer for the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, penned an online column with the headline “Snow-starved Alaska not the normal state.”

Rozell worried that large swaths of Alaska remained “frozen, dusty and brown” through the first three weeks of November, threatening dozens of species that depend on snow cover.

“Each lovely flake joins spiked arms with others to create an air-trapping matrix above the ground surface,” he wrote.

“The ground beneath the white blanket remains a consistent 27 degrees Fahrenheit no matter the temperature above,” he continued.

“That relative warmth, the remnants of summer’s heat released as the ground freezes, allows billions of small bodies to survive winter.”

Among the species partial to snow are the bearberry shrub, yellow jackets and voles. Oil companies like it, too, said Larry Hinzman, director of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The massive 49th state has remarkably few roads, and most of the land is accessible only by air or water. When there is frozen ground and good snow cover, he said, parts of the state “are suddenly open for travel,” for hauling supplies and exploration.

“A good snow cover,” Hinzman said, “is very important to us.”

Photo: Todd Radenbaugh via Flickr

Blizzard-Weary Americans Brave More Snow As Eight Die

New York (AFP) – Americans smothered in mountains of snow after a stunning blizzard hit the northeast are in for more of the white stuff through the end of the week.

Tuesday’s monster storm in and around Buffalo, New York, dumped more than five feet of snow, stranding scores of motorists, canceling flights and killing at least eight people around Lake Erie in the northeastern United States.

A few more feet fell Wednesday, and the National Weather Service said in its latest update that “impressive lake effect snowfall continues across the eastern Great Lakes on Thursday and through Friday morning.

“Up to three feet of additional snowfall is forecast for some locations,” it added.

Areas east and southeast of Buffalo could receive a year’s snow or even more in just two days, Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz told reporters Wednesday.

The deadly burst, named Winter Storm Knife, may see as much as another three feet (one meter) of snowfall on Thursday, which could prompt a federal disaster declaration, Poloncarz said.

The Arctic blast will keep temperatures below normal until the weekend, with all 50 states recording below freezing temperatures on Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.

A state of emergency and travel bans are in effect across Buffalo’s Erie County and authorities ordered people to stay at home to allow crews to clear roads, repair power lines and provide emergency assistance to the most vulnerable.

County spokesman Peter Anderson said runways at Buffalo Niagara International Airport were open, but that “a lot of flights” were being canceled because people cannot get to the airport.

The National Guard was called in to assist with military Humvee vehicles after New York’s transportation department worked through the night to rescue stranded motorists and take people to shelters.

“This is something that we’re not going to be able to solve on our own. Many communities are still in a very difficult, in some ways paralyzed situation,” Poloncarz said.

“From a public health standpoint this has been a killer storm. We’ve had six deaths in the area, five of which have been preventable,” said Erie county health commissioner Gale Burstein.

Three of those who died suffered heart attacks while shoveling snow and another person died while using a snowplow.

U.S. media reported two other deaths in the states of New Hampshire and Michigan.

Dave Zaff, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service, said areas east and southeast of Buffalo city received upwards of five feet (1.5 meters) of snow.

“That is somewhat of an extreme event,” he told AFP. “From a forecast standpoint, it will be historic.

“The impact alone when you have hundreds of thousands of people stranded, roads closed everywhere, you start to get fatalities,” he said.

“It becomes a very memorable event that people will never forget.”

A university women’s basketball team was eventually rescued after spending more than 24 hours trapped in a bus on a highway.

And New York-based rock band Interpol was among those trapped in the snowstorm outside Buffalo overnight, forcing them to cancel a concert across the Canadian border in Toronto.

“Still trapped yo! Haven’t really moved in 30 hours and we’ve been on the bus for nearly 40 hours. Nutso. Never seen anything like it,” the band said on Twitter.

One young woman in Buffalo tweeting from @SpecialCassie said her father had finally made it home after spending nearly 40 hours stuck in a car.

“Snow to his shoulders, had to climb a tree to get out,” she wrote.

AFP Photo/John Normile

Winter Takes A Parting Shot At U.S. Northeast

Washington (AFP) – The unusually grim winter in the U.S. northeast showed no sign of relenting Monday, after Washington D.C. and nearby states were blanketed by some of the heaviest snows of the season.

Just three days before the arrival of spring, the US capital was hit by about a half-foot (more than 15 centimeters) of snow, which once again shut down schools and federal and local government.

Air transit tracker flightaware.com said that around 550 flights had been canceled and another 600 delayed.

The brutal winter is wreaking havoc with preparations for traditional warm weather rituals like the start of baseball season later this month and Washington’s cherry blossom festival.

It has also upended academic calendars, with some school districts planning to trim spring or summer holidays to make up a shortfall in instruction days.

While the latest snowfall hit part of the U.S. east coast, the particularly harsh winter weather has affected much of the United States.

The National Weather Service said for instance that the western town of Billings, Montana this year received the second-largest amount of snow since it began keeping records more than a century ago.

Melting snow there has created massive “ice jams” and is causing rivers to overflow their banks as the spring thaw begins.

Meanwhile, the northern city of Detroit, which also had near-record snowfall this year, is rushing to scrape away the effects of a wintry blast last week.

Officials there, and elsewhere around the United States, hope to clear away the snow in time to re-sod baseball diamonds in time for the professional sport’s season openers in about two weeks’ time.

AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov