Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and it is usually a time for feasts, fun, and family. As I come up for air after binge watching college basketball, I decided to have a little fun with some weather and climate science facts related to Thanksgiving. Here are six facts or musings that crossed my mind.
Thanksgiving at the White House
Carbon footprint of your turkey. Many people will eat the traditional thanksgiving turkey. Food and meat production are carbon intensive activities according to the Environmental Working Group report, The Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health. The graphic below illustrates that lamb and beef production account for the most significant carbon footprints. The University of Michigan's Carbon Footprint Factsheet defines carbon footprint as
the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product. It is calculated by summing the emissions resulting from every stage of a product or service’s lifetime (material production, manufacturing, use phase, and end-of-life disposal). Throughout a product’s lifetime, or lifecycle, different greenhouse gases (GHGs) may be emitted, such as methane and nitrous oxide, each with a greater or lesser ability to trap heat in the atmosphere. These differences are accounted for by calculating the global warming potential (GWP) of each gas in units of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e), giving carbon footprints a single unit for easy comparison.
CleanMetrics and EWG report online
Carbon footprint of various meats and foods
Many organizations remind the public that one of the easiest ways to reduce personal carbon footprints is to change their diet. The University of Michigan factsheet points out that shifting from beef to chicken for one year reduces annual carbon footprint by 882 pounds CO2e. Turkey is not as carbon intensive as beef or lamb but still ranks higher than most non-meat items on the list.
Hurricane Irma caused a pecan shortage in 2017. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was devastating and created a human tragedy for people in Texas, Florida, the Caribbean, and beyond. It also impacted the economy beyond those devastated regions. One example is the impact on the nation's pecans, a staple in many Thanksgiving recipes. According to Bloomberg News
(Hurricane Irma earlier this year) tore through pecan orchards in Georgia, the No. 1 U.S. grower (accounts for 30 to 40%), just a few weeks before the crop is usually harvested. As much as 30 percent of production may have been lost after high winds sent pods flying off branches and blew down trees that in some cases measure several stories high, said Lenny Wells, a professor and pecan specialist at University of Georgia in Tifton.
Hurricane Maria significantly harmed 80% of farming activity in Puerto Rico, and Harvey had impacts in Texas and Louisiana.
A White Thanksgiving? While people often dream of a white Christmas, a white Thanksgiving is possible in many parts of North America. Climatologist Brian Brettschneider (one of the best weather-climate follows on Twitter by the way) produced a climatological map of where a white Thanksgiving is most likely. This is a useful map as you travel north this week.
Brian Brettschneider on Twitter
Probability of a white Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving hurricanes are possible. The Atlantic Hurricane season officially ends November 30th. Hurricane activity typically subsides during the month of November. Atmospheric wind shear and ocean heat content become increasingly less supportive of tropical storm development. However, Thanksgiving hurricanes are possible. Even as recently as 2016, meteorologists like me were monitoring Tropical Storm Otto. When late November hurricanes do form, they are often in the western Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, or eastern Atlantic.