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In the middle of a heat wave this month, Portland State University researchers Vivek Shandas and Jackson Voelkel drove across the city of Portland with a thermometer sticking out the window.

The thermometer was connected to a GPS unit. Together the two devices logged the temperature and location every second as the car moved along city streets. As they drove past the Portland International Airport, Shandas noted lots of asphalt and a near total lack of trees.

"This is one of the hottest places in the city," he said.

Unusually warm waters in the Columbia River Basin have prompted federal officials to invoke measures to help migrating fish survive the hostile conditions.

A federal plan to protect endangered salmon and steelhead, known as the BiOp (or biological opinion), has contingencies for drier, warmer years. That includes the release of cooler water from upstream reservoirs.

So far, extra water has been released from reservoirs in Canada, Montana, and Lake Roosevelt in Washington.

Seattle sunrise.
Flickr Photo/Michael B. (CC BY NC ND)

It’s fair to say that dire warnings about climate change have become the new normal. Consider these recent headlines from NASA’s Climate Change Blog: "Turkish Glaciers Shrink By Half," "A Third Of Big Groundwater Basins In Distress," "It's The Final Act For Larsen B Ice Shelf," and "Longer Melt Season A Game Changer For Arctic Mammals."

So we shouldn’t expect a great punch line when our bar scenario takes place, as it did recently at Columbia City’s Royal Room. 

A Central Washington Water Project Gets Senate Hearing

Jul 8, 2015

A warming climate is making water more scarce in places that rely on runoff from mountain snowpack -- places like the Yakima River basin in Central Washington.

That’s why a group of about 20 stakeholders have come together to develop a plan to help manage water in this agricultural center. Those stakeholders traditionally haven’t gotten along: environmentalists, farmers, the Yakama Nation tribal leaders, and government officials.

Canada is burning and America is choking on her smoke

Jul 7, 2015
Saskatchewan Ministry of Government Relations

I've lived and worked at PRI in Minneapolis for almost four years. Summers are usually the best time of year up here — temperatures are fairly moderate, days are long and the air is clear.

On Monday, though, the air was anything but. Canada is burning. Not all of Canada, but rather tens of thousands of acres of forest from Manitoba to Saskatchewan to British Columbia are on fire and all of that smoke is choking much of the western and central US.

The window of opportunity to prevent grave ecological damage to our oceans from climate change is closing. That's according to a paper appearing Friday in the journal Science.

Kim Malcolm speaks with Jessie Dye, outreach director for Earth Ministry, about what the Pope's message on climate change means to environmental activists of all faiths, including the "nones."

Travel up and down California farm country, the Central Valley, and you hardly hear people lamenting the lack of rain or how dry this past winter was. What you hear, from the agriculture industry and many local and national politicians, are sentiments like those expressed by Rep. Devin Nunes:

"Well, what I always like to say is that this is a man-made drought created by government," the Central Valley Republican says.

All signs are pointing to a strong El Niño developing by this fall according to an update from the National Weather Service Thursday.

It's May in Rocky Mountain National Park, but on a mountainside 10,829 feet above sea level, snow is falling. It's pelting Jim Cheatham, a biologist with the National Park Service. Shrugging off the cold, Cheatham seizes a teachable moment. This snow, he says, holds more than just water.

"Chances are it's carrying the excess nitrogen we're talking about," says Cheatham.

 A couple of unseasonably large wildfires in the Northwest are giving crews an early taste of fire season.

Water managers had hoped late snows or heavy spring rains would help fill reservoirs and streams after a largely snow-free winter in the Northwest.

But that’s not how things turned out. New data shows precipitation levels in the Northwest were 40 percent below normal last month, with snowpack pretty much disappeared.

Of the 98 sites in Washington monitored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, 66 are now snow-free.

America's biggest food production companies face a growing threat of water scarcity, according to a new report from Ceres, an environmental sustainability group.

Producing food, after all, requires more water than almost any other business on Earth. And the outlook isn't pretty: One-third of food is grown in areas of high or extremely high water stress, while pollution and climate change are further limiting supplies of clean water around the world.

Saying state officials and residents simply haven't done enough to curb water use, California regulators unanimously approved unprecedented water restrictions on Tuesday.

The AP reports:

Photographer Matt Black grew up in California's Central Valley. He has dedicated his life to documenting the area's small towns and farmers.

Last year, he says he realized what had been a mild drought was now severe. It had simply stopped raining.

"It was kind of a daily surreal thing to walk outside," Black says.

The Interagency Fire Center released an outlook for the upcoming fire season on Friday. 2015 could be a big year for major wildfires in the Northwest.

One important predictor of fires is the moisture level of dead wood, called the "fuel moisture value." The value is measured at several sites across the state.

All Tapped Out In A Tiny California Town

May 2, 2015

Around the tiny rural community of Fairmead, Calif., about an hour north of Fresno on Highway 99, hundreds of one-story houses on small ranches stretch out for miles.

The ground is mostly brown, parched by California's recent drought. But beneath the surface, this mostly African-American community in the San Joaquin Valley has been going dry for years.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee Friday significantly expanded a drought declaration due to dwindling snowpack.

The state of California is asking a basic question right now that people often fight over: What's a fair way to divide up something that's scarce and valuable? That "something," in this case, is water.

There's a lot at stake, including your very own nuts, fruits and vegetables, because most of the water that's up for grabs in California goes to farmers. This year, some farmers will get water, and others will not, simply based on when their land was first irrigated.

The daffodils and tulips are up and so are hungry black bears. Our unseasonably mild winter is bringing black bears out of hibernation earlier than usual.

Low snowpack this winter could lead to an earlier, and more extreme fire season in the Northwest.

In many parts of Oregon and Washington, the snowpack is just ten to twenty percent of the average. It's not that precipitation is low, it's just that it has fallen as rain rather than snow.

John Saltenberger is with the Interagency Coordination center in Portland. He says the low snowpack means fire season could come early. Normally, firefighters are brought on in June, in anticipation of fires starting in July or August.

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