Scientist argues warming climate caused coronavirus outbreak

Florida drought

How far in the hole will Florida be for March rainfall when the month ends tomorrow? Looks like there will be big deficits everywhere, and it’s likely that drought conditions will expand when the new report by the U.S. Drought Monitor comes out Thursday. This map, posted by the National Weather Service in Melbourne, shows that the driest conditions have been in South Florida and South-Central Florida. (Image credit: NWS-Melbourne)


MORE CLIMATE CHANGE CONSEQUENCES: Did climate change help trigger the coronavirus outbreak? A controversial professor in the United Kingdom says yes, that a warming climate caused bats to alter their movements and put them in closer contact with humans.

Jem Bendell, a social science professor at the University of Cumbria, believes if we don’t change course on climate change, there will be other pandemics and he told Bloomberg News that the idea of returning to normal after the coronavirus outbreak is a

Bailing out polluting industries like the airlines is a mistake, he said. “Keeping the most polluting industries afloat will increase the likelihood of future pandemics.”

Bendell believes that the first wave of climate change consequences have been more directly weather related — the wildfires in Australia, and super hurricanes in the Pacific and Atlantic. The next wave will be pandemics.

His theory, which he calls “deep adaptation,” was outlined in a 2018 paper called “A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy.”

To call Bendell a doom-and-gloomer might be an understatement. He says climate change will lead to war, famine, and disease — even the collapse of civilization — within the next decade.


RECORD WATCH: Jacksonville set another high temperature record Sunday with 91, beating the previous record for the date of 89 set in 1991.

Naples tied a record high with 90, matching the mark set in 1975; and Sanford busted a record high with 92. That beat the old record of 91 set in 1994. Leesburg set a record high with 91, beating the previous record of 90 set in 1991.

West Palm Beach and Key West tied record warm lows on Sunday with 75 and 78, respectively.

Scientists warming to coronavirus theory; Fort Myers hits record high of 91

My March 7 post explored the possibility that warmer temperatures and higher humidity — both of which are on the increase in Florida this time of the year — help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The speculation is based on the fact that spread of the influenza virus drops off drastically in warmer and more humid weather. But now a new study shows the virus that causes COVID-19 is also susceptible to these environmental factors.

The paper, published by researchers in China, High Temperature and High Humidity Reduce the Transmission of COVID-19, compared cases in 100 cities in China using a “R” factor representing the intensity of the transmission rate.

They concluded: “One degree Celsius increase in temperature and one percent increase in relative humidity lower R by 0.0383 and 0.0224, respectively. This result is consistent with the fact that the high temperature and high humidity significantly reduce the transmission of influenza. It indicates that the arrival of summer and rainy season in the northern hemisphere can effectively reduce the transmission of the COVID-19.”

The paper was reviewed by AccuWeather Meteorologist and Social Media Manager Jesse Ferrell, who reported:

“… the Northern Hemisphere will be in much better shape by July, just based on the weather. They even go so far as to say that Tokyo will experience a 48% drop in transmission of the virus by the time the Olympics start in July!

“I’ve reviewed the paper and it seems fairly comprehensive. Its existence on the SSRN website; however, does not mean that it was peer reviewed — any scientist can submit a paper there and the review process only requires a check for ‘completeness and relevance.’

“I’m sure its methodology isn’t perfect, but I don’t see any red flags that make me think that they didn’t do their due diligence.”


Tampa forecast

(Image credit: NWS-TampaBay)

RECORD WATCH: Wednesday’s high in Fort Myers, 91, broke a 59-year-old temperature record. The previous record high of 90 was set in 1961.

Tampa and St. Petersburg tied record highs with 89 and 87, respectively. Naples also tied a record high with 90.

Record warm minimum temperatures were set or tied in West Palm Beach (73) and Leesburg (68).


DROUGHT UPDATE: Abnormally Dry conditions, the precursor to drought, has spread into most areas of the Florida peninsula, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported in an analysis released this morning. Areas south of Tallahassee remained in Moderate or Severe Drought.

As of this week, the only areas not designated in drought, or Abnormally Dry, were coastal areas of southeastern Florida, several counties northwest of Lake Okeechobee, and the western panhandle.



First 90-degree day of the year in Fort Myers; a place where it rains iron


MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF IRON CHIPS: This is what precipitation looks like on WASP-76b. (Image credit: Alchemist-hp via Wikimedia CommonsAlchemist-hp via Wikimedia Commons). 

A HARD RAIN IS GONNA FALL: You’ve heard about places where it rains cats and dogs. Here’s another spot in the universe where an umbrella won’t do you much good — a planet where it rains iron.

Researchers at the European Southern Observatory have located the planet — via its powerful telescope in northern Chile — where daytime temperatures reach 2400 degrees Celsius, hot enough to vaporize metal. Winds carry iron vapor to the night side of the planet where it condenses into droplets of iron.

“One could say that this planet gets rainy in the evening, except it rains iron,” says David Ehrenreich, a professor who led the study at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. The planet, WASP-76b, is 640 light years from Earth in the constellation of Pisces.

The main feature controlling WASP-76b’s weather is that the planet spins so slowly that one side is always facing its sun. But the side in perpetual darkness is no cool haven either — temperatures hover around 1500 degrees.

María Rosa Zapatero Osorio, an astrophysicist at the Centre for Astrobiology in Madrid explains: “The observations show that iron vapor is abundant in the atmosphere of the hot day side of WASP-76b. A fraction of this iron is injected into the night side owing to the planet’s rotation and atmospheric winds. There, the iron encounters much cooler environments, condenses and rains down.”

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.


SFL fog

Fog took control of the South Florida interior once again on Sunday morning. The East Coast was clear. (Image credit: NWS-Miami)

RECORD WATCH: Fort Myers posted a record high on Saturday of 90, which beat the old record high of 88 set in 2003. It was also the first 90-degree temperature in Fort Myers since November 8.

It was also 90 in Brooksville.

Leesburg tied a record high with 88, matching a mark set in 1973.

Record warm minimum temperatures were tied in Fort Lauderdale (74) and West Palm Beach (75).

Will warmer weather zap the coronavirus?

Drought Monitor

(Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor/ NOAA)

THURSDAY UPDATE: Parts of South Florida are once again Abnormally Dry, a precursor to drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor said today.

Large areas of Palm Beach, Broward, Collier and Lee counties are under the Abnormally Dry (D0) designation. Almost all of North Florida and all of West-Central Florida remain Abnormally Dry, while parts of the panhandle in the Tallahassee area are dealing with Moderate to Severe Drought.

In the far western panhandle, Abnormally Dry conditions have edged into northern Escambia County.

Interestingly, Florida is the only state east of the Mississippi with drought conditions. South Texas is dealing with Severe and Extreme Drought, while parts of the Rocky Mountain States are in Moderate Drought, as is most of the West Coast.


ORIGINAL POST: It’s the Big Question for the northern hemisphere as countries battle the coronavirus this spring: Will rising temperatures and higher humidity affect transmission of the illness?

Experts are starting to debate the issue.

It comes up since influenza is known to be a seasonal illness that tends to wind down in spring and summer, returning in fall. According to an article published on Harvard University’s website, studies have shown that the flu virus is best transmitted under low humidity conditions.

“At high humidity, transmission occurred only at the lower temperature,” the Harvard article says of one prominent study.

Coronaviruses are not influenza viruses. They cause SARS, MERS and different varieties of the common cold.

Still, transmission of the coronavirus in warmer weather was a topic explored by blogger Bob Henson at Weather Underground on Tuesday. His conclusion: “The short answer is that a summertime lull in this coronavirus is possible – but it’s far from a sure thing, and any benefits might be limited.”

Henson was in touch with Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia University researcher on the relationship between the influenza virus and the weather. The common cold does have a seasonal cycle, he noted, but the question is whether the new virus will behave likewise.

“It may ultimately,” Shaman told Weather Underground. “But right now, given that it is a newly emerged virus to which most of the world is susceptible, I don’t think it will abate in April. Rather, it might ramp down in the U.S. in late May or June.”

Either way, look for a resurgence as early as September — this is what happened during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Researchers will undoubtedly try to put a summer lull to good use, but pharmaceutical companies say a vaccine is at least a year away, so the key will be coming up with new ways to contain the virus and get people treated early.

“Although other factors probably contribute as well, the main reason we have a flu season may simply be that the influenza virus is happier in cold, dry weather and thus better able to invade our bodies,” the Harvard blog concludes. “So, as the temperature and humidity keep dropping, your best bet for warding off this nasty bug is to get your flu shot ASAP, stay warm, and invest in a humidifier.”

It’s worth pointing out, on the other hand, that Australia — where it is currently summer — there have been 112 infections and three deaths.


WARMER SPRING DAYS AHEAD: Make sure your AC is ready to go — temperatures will climb into the mid- to upper-80s by the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecasters are talking about high pressure and a developing “heat bubble” over the Gulf of Mexico. Forecast highs on Sunday include 87 in Orlando, 88 in Sebring and near 90 in interior areas of South Florida. This morning’s long-term GFS model also suggests warm and dry weather through next week.

The Climate Prediction Center is calling for above normal temperatures through the third week of March, along with below normal precipitation.

Weather Service issues Wind Advisory for South Florida

Wind Advisory

(Image credits: NWS-Miami)

Peak gusts

HOLD ON TO YOUR HAT: There’s a Wind Advisory in effect for coastal areas of southeastern Florida through tonight, with gusts of up to 40 mph, the National Weather Service in Miami said.

“In addition, for the Palm Beaches, very minor and localized coastal flooding could occur starting tonight, especially around times of high tide,” forecasters warned.

In interior areas of southwest Florida, “the combination of breezy winds and a dry air mass may result in elevated fire-weather conditions,” forecasters said. “Near-critical fire-weather conditions will be possible across Coastal Collier County.”

The winds are being generated by a strong high pressure system to the north. Breezy weather is in the NWS forecast for South Florida through Monday.


CLOCK WATCH: Did you remember to set your clocks ahead? March 8 is the only day of the year with 23 hours, but we’ll get that hour back November 1 with a 25-hour day as we return to standard time.

That’s assuming Florida officials don’t get their way and institute Daylight Saving Time all year around. (The idea still needs congressional approval.)

The time changes in March and November have been sliced and diced many different ways over the years, but here’s one reason why business loves the change: Consumers spend more money.

I posted a blog on the Canadian study last March on my Headline Health site.

Consumers change their buying habits when they’re sleepy, which happens for a time after DST begins. When they’re shopping, people put a wider variety of products in their carts if they are suffering from sleep deficiency, according to a study released just before last year’s spring time change.

“The day after daylight savings people tend to be sleepier as they get less sleep, on average about 30 to 60 minutes,” said Charles Weinberg, a professor or marketing and behavioral science at the UBC Sauder School of Business in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“So, we wanted to see how this would play out in the real world, and through the study we’re seeing that you tend to buy more different types of candy bars, for example, on the day after daylight savings time than you would on other days of the week. That’s even after controlling for how many candy bars you choose.”

Daylight Saving Time ends this year on November 1.


KEVIN COSTNER HAD IT RIGHT: The Earth was once a water world, with oceans covering the entire planet, a new study says. We may be headed that way again in the future, if you believed the 1995 box office “Waterworld” bomb, but that scenario was definitely part of the past — 3.2 billion years ago, researchers at the Iowa State University say.

“An early Earth without emergent continents may have resembled a ‘water world,’ providing an important environmental constraint on the origin and evolution of life on Earth as well as its possible existence elsewhere,” geologists Benjamin Johnson and Boswell Wing wrote in a paper just published online by the journal Nature Geoscience.

Life began in the oceans and the same thing may be happening in some of the other far-away “waterworlds” that have been identified by NASA.

Low humidity and gusty winds combine for weekend fire threat

Leap Day records

Weather records for February 29 tend to stick around for a long time, since it’s a date that only occurs every four years. Record lows in Orlando and Fort Pierce go back to 1908. (Image credit: NWS-Melbourne)

SATURDAY UPDATE: A Red Flag Warning was posted for fire weather conditions in parts of East-Central Florida Saturday, due to strong winds and low humidity in the 25-30 percent range.

“Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” the National Weather Service in Melbourne said.

The warning was in effect from noon to 7 p.m. for Volusia, Orange, and Seminole counties.

Relative humidity in both Orlando and Miami bottomed out at 29 percent on Friday; 26 percent in Gainesville and 24 percent in Jacksonville. Midday humidity in Tampa was 47 percent.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, 18 wildfire “incidents” were reported around the state on Saturday covering 628.2 acres, but all of the fires were listed as contained.


Fire weather alert

FIRE ALERT: Very low humidity levels will produce “dangerous fire weather conditions” Friday and Saturday, the National Weather Service in Miami says. “Avoid outdoor burning and don’t throw cigarettes from vehicles,” forecasters said. (I would add, and don’t throw cigarettes from vehicles when it’s raining either.) (Image credit: NWS-Miami)

ORIGINAL POST: Temperatures that would be cool even for January slapped Florida residents this morning — just two days before the start of meteorological spring. Only the Lower Keys were clinging to the 60-degree mark; 40s were the rule inland around South Florida.

A Weather Underground observer in East Lehigh Acres outside of Fort Myers reported a wintry low of 35 degrees.

In Hendry County, LaBelle bottomed out at 37, but it was closer to 50 right along the Gulf Coast in the Naples-Fort Myers area.

The upper 30s to low 40s stretched all the way up into Central Florida, and north of Orlando there were some spots at or just above freezing, including 33 in Ocala. An observer in Georgetown northeast of Ocala reported a low of 31 degrees. The low was 29 in Alachua, north of Gainesville.

The cold spot was in the crossroads community of O’Brien, southwest of Lake City, where it was 27 degrees at 7 a.m. There were also a few upper 20s in the panhandle.

The low in Miami was officially 51, a far cry from the record low of 37 set in 1971.

Look for similar lows Saturday morning on that once-in-every-four-years day — February 29 — as well as chilly lows on Sunday before winds swing around to the east and a warm-up begins.

By Wednesday, temperatures should be back up into the 80s over much of the peninsula. Another cold front is forecast to roll through on Thursday, but forecasters said the air associated with it will be Pacific in origin, so not as cool as what we’re seeing this weekend.


HEAVY-DUTY DISCOVERY: Scientists at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have determined that a planet 124 light years away has water vapor in its atmosphere, raising the possibility that life exists. It’s orbit is in that sweet spot — not too far from its host star and not too close.

The only problem is that the planet, tagged K2-18B, has a mass 8.6 times the mass of Earth. That means if you weigh 150 pounds on Earth, you’d weigh 1,290 pounds on K2-18B.

So if life does in fact exist there, doctors are probably hounding their patients all the time to lose weight. On the other hand, observations have led researchers to believe that the planet could be “an ocean world, with liquid water below the atmosphere at pressures and temperatures similar to those found in Earth’s oceans.”

“Water vapor has been detected in the atmospheres of a number of exoplanets but, even if the planet is in the habitable zone, that doesn’t necessarily mean there are habitable conditions on the surface,” cautioned lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan, of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy.

Temps to tumble into the 40s by Thursday, forecasters say

COLD SNAP UPDATE: One of the strongest cold fronts of season is due to roll down the Florida peninsula on Wednesday and Thursday, delivering at least three mornings in the 40s even in some coastal areas of South Florida.

The coldest reading of the winter so far in Miami is 40 degrees on January 22; the low was 36 in Orlando and Tampa that day; 32 in Jacksonville and 31 in Gainesville.

Friday morning forecast lows (National Weather Service) aren’t quite as harsh: Miami, 51 (AccuWeather is predicting 49); Orlando, 41; Tampa, 43; Jacksonville, 36; and Gainesville, 33.

A warm-up begins on Monday with highs close to 80 in South and Central Florida by mid-week.



Healthy coral reefs are on their way out worldwide, scientists say. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

CORAL CATASTROPHE: Up to 90 percent of coral reefs will die out over the next 20 years, new research shows, and nearly all coral reef habitats will be eliminated by 2100 due to warming oceans and higher acidity.

Efforts by groups to grow new coral in the lab and then transplant them into damaged areas will likely fail, scientists at the University of Hawaii said at an Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego.

“By 2100, it’s looking quite grim,” Renee Setter, a biogeographer at the University of Hawaii Manoa who presented the new findings, said.

In fact, most areas of the ocean where coral reefs are today won’t support the habitat by 2045, with the situation deteriorating further by the end of the century. Restoration efforts may be doomed.

“Honestly, most sites are out,” Setter said. By 2100, only a few areas such as small portions of Baja California and the Red Sea could be viable for restoration, but even these areas are questionable due to their proximity to rivers.