Weather & National Disasters

This Week in State Politics: Storms and the Senate

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Tuesday, May 29, 2012
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May 29, 2012

BOSTON — This week in Massachusetts state politics, the casino oversight board meets, officials commemorate the Western Massachusetts tornadoes and Springfield hosts the Democratic state convention.
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts gaming commission holds its weekly meeting. The commission has been under pressure to move quickly and plans to start evaluating proposals for casinos in January. The meeting comes after two major casino operators — Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Wynn Resorts  — abandoned plans to build facilities in Massachusetts. Industry watchers say this could mean less competition for the Greater Boston license, leading to lower bids or less ambitious projects.
On May 30, the House of Representatives takes up a bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote. The bill would also authorize random audits of voting machines to make sure they work properly.
On Friday, the governor and lieutenant governor head to Western Massachusetts to commemorate the anniversary of the June 1, 2011 tornadoes. The storms destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Insurance claims topped $200 million and three people died.
> > WATCH: Tornado damage lingers
And on Saturday, Massachusetts Democrats travel to Springfield for the state convention. Consumer advocate and Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren is expected to easily win the party’s nomination to the U.S. Senate. But North Shore immigration lawyer Marisa DeFranco is also gathering steam. She will likely get the 15 percent of delegate votes needed to qualify for the primary ballot.
> >  READ:Marisa DeFranco isn't going away

Fires Flare in a Dry Forest

By Toni Waterman   |   Thursday, April 12, 2012
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April 12, 2012

Brimfield State Forest. View larger map.

BRIMFIELD, Mass. — Dry weather and high winds have firefighters battling brush fires throughout the Northeast. The about 4,000 residents of Brimfield, between Worcester and Springfield, have plenty to fear.
It’s the perfect combination of all the worst ingredients: toppled trees, dry gusts of wind, pine needles parched and brittle. Brimfield State Forest has become a forest-sized fireplace.
“In these conditions right now, it wouldn’t take much more than a cigarette butt and you could get this pile to start burning and burning rapidly,” said Dave Celino, chief fire warden of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
But it wasn’t a cigarette that set parts of the forest ablaze the week of April 2, threatening homes already ravaged by last year’s tornado. Celino said it was a legal, permitted fire pit. It’s something that wouldn’t have been such a problem a year ago when a dense forest kept winds weak and vegetation moist.
“Then June 1, 2011, the tornado hits and did this obvious damage,” said Celino. He looked out over acres and acres of downed, dried out trees. “We actually lost 100 percdent of the forest canopy. All of this fuel here that’s on the ground is now unshaded. We’re talking about fuels that are super, super dry." He snapped a twig to illustrate its aridity. "This is what we call very receptive to fire ignition.”
And the fire threat isn’t contained just to Brimfield. Edward Lambert is the commissioner of the Department of Recreation and Conservation. He said a nearly snowless winter and a moderate draught have left much of the state poised for a potentially fiery summer. Flames have already flared in Randolph, Saugus and Worcester.
With “that lack of snow pack and the dry season that started back in November, the winds now — the dry Canadian winds that are coming down — are really creating what is for us the highest fire hazard season in about 10 years," Lambert said.
Worse yet, the fire season started about 2 months earlier than usual.
To hedge the odds in Brimfield, state workers are taking the fuel for the fire away. Large machines chopped and ground the flammable tornado debris, creating a 100-foot fuel break off the road.
Lambert considered it the most practical solution to a 600-acre problem.
“We did take out about 9,000 dead trees out of Brimfield State Forest last year and in this particular phase we’re in, we’ll take about another 25 to 30 acres out,” said Lambert. By creating these fuel breaks, "if there was a burn it would only go to a certain level and protect the public.”
Lambert said it was also up to local residents to do their part to keeping the problem from getting worse.
“Folks in Brimfield and Munson and some other places really have to try to determine that to try to keep dry timber near your home in these conditions is probably not a good thing,” he said.
Still, no matter how careful people and state workers are, the threat of fire can’t be completely eliminated: The likelihood this year is just too high.
“If we flick 10 matches out there, six of them are going to start fires,” said Celino.
Not the best of odds when the season is just beginning.

After the Tornado, Recovery Is Slow

By Jared Bowen   |   Tuesday, March 13, 2012
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Mar. 13, 2012

MONSON, Mass. — It’s been over nine months since tornados ripped through Massachusetts, destroying lives, homes and communities in seconds. But for towns such as Monson, the passage of time has meant little. Homes still aren’t restored; debt is mounting, and so is the frustration.
Monson is literally scarred with buildings obliterated and acre upon acre of downed trees. Once lush with woods, a miles-long swath of the town is now a skeletal landscape. Town hall is shuttered, its police housed in trailers. The once grand church tower is capped and clad in plywood. Main Street’s most historic home is an anemic, haunting relic. And the community is exasperated.
“We ask that question constantly: When can we ever go back home. We want to be home,” said tornado victim Donna Gilman.
Directly in the tornado’s path, Donna and Tom Gilman’s stone home survived although the inside required complete gutting. Water damage is extensive with signs of mold. There are gaping holes in exterior walls. Work is at a standstill, though. The Gilmans said their insurance company cut them off.
“The roof had to come off," Donna Gilman said. "It’s much more extensive than they thought. We got some monies from the insurance company and now have to wait to see if they’re gong to give us any more money.”
In the interim, the couple and their two cats have crammed into temporary housing: a nearby condo.
“You feel helpless because you don’t know where the money is going to come from," Donna Gilman said. "You want to make sure that you know everything is going to be okay but you don’t feel like everything is okay. You have all these sleepless nights, health issues and everything else that goes along with the stress of a disaster.”
The Gilmans live just off Bethany Road where rebuilding is rampant. More than 20 homes had to be demolished in this neighborhood; another 20 were severely damaged. There is at once growth and gravity with reminders of what’s lost — possibly forever. A sign at the edge of a vacant lot reads Welcome to our home. Several hundred feet away is a large pile of rubble, with a child’s scooter jutting out of the bottom.
With a grim view of it all across town is Ken Bailey. What had been his home nestled in five acres of trees is now a vastly barren hilltop.


"You can get depressed if you let it get to you because it’s, you come home everyday and just look at it and you think all the work that still has to be done,” he said.
When you ask Bailey what happened to his house, the faster question might be what didn't happen.
"Basically, all the windows were blown out. Siding gone. Roof gone. Roof was torn off. The garage on the other end of the house, the doors were blown off, which blew out the back wall so structurally that was ruined. Everything in the garage was out on the front lawn blowing down the hill. The barn on the other end of the house was blown," he said.
Bailey has been able to rebuild his home without hassle from the insurance company. However, insurance hasn't covered his barns, the $75,000 he said it cost him to replace the trailers for his concession business and $60,000 to remove trees piled 8 feet high all around his yard.
"We’ve spent a fortune doing what we’ve done," he said. "We’re out of money. We're in debt up to our eyeballs just to get where we are." Bailey is in his 60s. With all his savings gone and new debt, the disaster has ruined his dreams of retiring.
Bailey said that like many in Monson, he’s received little assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies like the Small Business Administration. It can be a struggle to go on. After the first night he stayed in a motor home in his driveway, he saw his property and started to cry.
"What do you do? You know where do you go? And it was just — if it wasn’t for my friends coming up, excuse me, and starting, I don’t know what I’d do," he said. But "you’ve got to keep moving forward. And that’s the problem, a lot of people you’ll see around town stopped. And you can’t do that.”


A view of the destruction that remains in Western Mass. (Jared Bowen/WGBH)

Innovating in the Face of Climate Change

Saturday, March 10, 2012
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Plumes from smokestacks, like these, are a mix of water vapor and greenhouse gasses. (ribarnia/Flickr)

It seems like we’ve been talking about a changing climate for a long time. In 2006, Al Gore made a documentary called “An Inconvenient Truth,” which threw the issue further into the spotlight.

But while debate, discord, and discussions about the climate continued, from the Kyoto Summit to the Copenhagen Accord, the world kept right on industrializing.

Recent estimates show that America produces about 18 metric tons of carbon per person per year — compared to about 5 tons, for example, for Argentinians.

But, as a country, our aggregate pollution was overtaken years ago by China, where the middle class is hungry for TVs, washing machines, and refrigerators. And where, on average, a coal-fired power plant opens every week.

So, today, we look at the climate and how we are beginning to adapt to a new world. We start with a discussion of the changes we may face.


Adapting To The Future

Part 1:

Part 2:

We’re talking today about how our lives will change in response to climate change — and the steps we can take, through innovation, to adapt to these issues. Will we see shifts in the availability of certain foods? Changes in the way cities, towns, and farms are constructed?


A Local Perspective on Global Warming: Complete Series

By Heather Goldstone   |   Tuesday, February 28, 2012
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A Brookings study released this week found that the public's belief in global warming is on the rise. Scientists say it's clear: temperatures are increasing, weather is getting more erratic and sea levels are going up. The question is ... what should we do about it? WCAI's Heather Goldstone looked at the ramifications of environmental change for the Massachusetts coast in a four-part series.

Reporter Heather Goldstone talks about the series to host Bob Seay.

> > Are you concerned about climate change? Comment on this story, let us know on Facebook or tweet @wgbhnews with the hashtag #climatide.

Part One: Warm Winter, Big Questions

early daffodils

Scientists predict that Massachusetts could have the climate of the Carolinas by late this century if global warming continues unabated. With temperatures several degrees above average, this winter has brought a taste of what may be to come. And some wonder if that’s really such a bad thing. In the first installment of our four-part series, we explore the disparity between the scientific consensus and public opinion on climate change.

Web Extra: The psychological impacts of climate change

Part Two: Fisheries in Hot Water


Lobstermen in the Gulf of Maine have posted record harvests in recent years. But in the waters just south of Cape Cod, the situation is dramatically different. Lobster populations there crashed a decade ago and have not recovered, leaving lobstermen to face the potential closure of their fishery. We take a look at one of the most dramatic examples of how climate change is affecting New England’s fisheries.

Web Extra: A warming world? See for yourself

Part Three: The Rising Seas


In part three of this week's series on climate change, we look at the threat rising ocean levels pose to the state's coastline — and to the policymakers who will be forced to face tough questions. But does it have to be bad news?

Multimedia: A three-dimensional animation of sea level rise.
Web Extra: Cape Cod's disappearing dunes

Part Four: Mitigation and Adaptation — the Birds' Lessons for Us


In the final installment of our series, we take a look at state officials' attempts to find the right balance between stopping climate change and preparing for it, with guidance from the avian kingdom.

Web Extra: With global warming, new birds in our skies
Massachusetts' clean energy and climate plan for 2020 (pdf)

Winter's for Building

By Jordan Weinstein   |   Thursday, February 23, 2012
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Feb. 23, 2012

BOSTON — Though February's not over yet, all indicators are that this month will likely to go into the books as the fourth-mildest February on record. And while the season’s paltry snowfall has been lethal for New England ski resorts, it’s been a boon for commercial banks and builders. Sarah Coffey, financial services reporter at the Boston Business Journal, explained that beyond the balmy weather, banks are making loans to support the work.

About the Authors
Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 
Heather Goldstone Heather Goldstone
Heather Goldstone is the science editor at WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR Station. She holds a Ph.D. in ocean science from M.I.T. and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and spent a decade as an active researcher before leaving the lab to become a writer. In her nine years with the Cape and Islands NPR Station, Goldstone has reported on Woods Hole’s unique scientific community and key environmental issues on Cape Cod. Her reporting has appeared in venues ranging from NPR and PBS News Hour, to Cape Cod Times and Commercial Fishery News. Most recently, Goldstone hosted the blog Climatide – an exploration of how climate change is impacting coastal life in the region. 
Jordan Weinstein Jordan Weinstein
Jordan Weinstein is a news anchor for NPR's All Things Considered on WGBH, 89.7 FM in Boston.


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