Withstanding This Week's Polar Vortex, The Coldest Temperatures In At Least 20 Years


From WB. You are Boston and NPR I'm Meghna chucker body. And this is on point tens of millions of Americans are enduring the coldest weather in a generation in Chicago today, a bone chilling, minus forty nine with wind chill that Matt yesterday, Illinois Governor, Jay Pritzker, ordered a state disaster proclamation. This storm poses a serious threat to the wellbeing of people all across our state. And for those reasons, I am issuing a disaster proclamation. So that the state of Illinois can use every tool at our disposal to provide relief to our residents and to keep them safe. Well, the entire midwest is facing dangerously low temperatures as a polar vortex freezes the region stopping male canceling school. Grounding flights even threatening lives this hour on point the house, the wise and how to endure the polar vortex, and you can join us if you're enduring those super cold temperatures today, how are you fair? How have you been preparing you looking after her helping to look after your less fortunate residents? What's it like to face this cold? Join us anytime at point radio dot org or Twitter and Facebook it on point radio and little later this hour, we're gonna take a look at the lasting effects of the government shutdown on America's national parks. That's later in the program. But first, let's talk right about that cold weather and joining us from Chicago is Tom skilling chief meteorologist at WGN TV where he's been forecasting the weather for the past forty years. Tom welcome to the program. Magna a pleasure to be with you. And it is cold up here. This morning magnet Twenty-three below is our current temperature and we have a wind chill of fifty one below. And you don't make good to put this in some sort of historical perspective there we have fifty four thousand and twenty temperatures on record here going back to eighteen seventy. And this is only the seventeenth time of all those temperatures that we've had to read. Twenty below zero. It will also be only the third time that we've had back to back nighttime lows of twenty below or colder 'cause we're expecting another subzero reading tonight. We broke a old record this morning will break a record for the coldest high temperature today, we're expecting only fourteen degrees below zero as a daytime high today, and then twenty six below tonight. It's it's unimaginable. I I'm looking out on Lake Michigan, which looks like a boiling cauldron is this Arctic air hits the open water scheme as rotating up buildings or creaking and popping. We're getting sun dogs these suspended ice crystals in the Arctic here produce halos around the sun. So there are optical affects with this as well. Oh my goodness. I mean, it sounds. I mean, it sounds like a cold Pakalitha. Honestly, Tom, the how long is Helen's this is expected to last. Well, you know what? Interesting. This is come on quickly. It will end quickly in fact by this weekend. We're expecting a sixty nine degree temperature increase between tomorrow's twenty six below and the forty three that we expect that's forty-three above with rain if you can believe on Sunday. So we're going to merge from this quite dramatically allow I mean, so that might be great for people. And of course, we are concerned about people's wellbeing across the midwest. But I can't imagine that that giant those giant temperature. Swings are good for infrastructure. I mean, how is the city of Chicago ready or dealing with the effects of the cold or on the city and the giant temperatures when you're talking about. That's all this on the way. So true. You know, it's amazing the resources of government every level of government are bare Mira manual. Our governor all have been on the air in media, and every way, shape and form they can to inform the public we have homeless in the city as we do in all cities. There's. An effort to get these folks into shelter. You know, Meg it. It's a it's a sad fact that people will die during this. They do during these cold waves. The hope here is to minimize loss of life. And of course, we got another issue. This cold air is hitting with wind. This is creating ground blizzard conditions in some of the Royal roads surrounding here, and that's been true for Minnesota through Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana open areas, so many many ways which was venting has been affecting us, but heating centers have been open. We have some experience with cold weather. We had two mornings in nineteen eighty two that went down to twenty six below and our coldest temperature in the cities record books was the twenty seven below on January twentieth. Nineteen eighty five. So it's been awhile since we've had anything that's called three and a half decades. But we have some. Experience dealing with this and loss of life and injury is an obvious risk. And we're trying to mitigate or officials out here. We don't want since you mentioned the the dangerous for a homeless Chicagoans. I just wanna play a little bit of tape here. Because Nancy powers of the Salvation Army is one of you know, many volunteers in Chicago who are trying to help the homeless there. She spoke to CBS reporter dean Reynolds just a couple of days ago. Are you concerned before going to die here? We are very concerned we offered them shelters. We offer them the warming centers and will drive from there. So that's Nancy powers of the Salvation Army WGN. Reporter Nancy Lou talked about how the cold has affected Chicago's most vulnerable populations. There are over four thousand beds for the homeless and last night they were at capacity, coincidentally, just as the deep free set in the city. So Tom skilling also at WGN TV. I mean, what are you I presume people are just being advised not to go outdoors at all. That's exactly right and further we're advising folks, not dry at drive in open areas because of this ground blizzard risk. Yeah. This is really brutal. I went outside just video the lake. I'm telling you my skin froze. And in literally a few seconds out there this brutal cold and very very dangerous. And you know, it's interesting when you look at this air mass relative to the rest of the planet. We are probably the coldest spot on earth in terms of being below our normal here. There's no other spot that's more below its normal temperature. There's another logo colder over eastern Siberia. So that area and here in the mid west are the coldest areas on the planet, and the interesting thing is much of the rest of the planet is above normal terms of temperature. So this is a fairly compact. Area, but it's a broad area. And there are some real issues with this. Well, Tom skilling chief meteorologist at WGN TV in Chicago. He's been forecasting the weather for forty years, Tom. Thank you so much. Stay safe. Okay. Thank your mic. Nice to to you. All right. Well, let's actually go to some calls here. So we got listeners across the midwest are experiencing this go to to Shaw who's calling from Dayton, Ohio to shar. How cold is it where you are. Hello. And just want to make a quick point to the rest of my brothers and sisters in the mid west to stay warm in Dayton, Ohio, right now, according to my phone, it is negative twenty seven degrees outside all of the schools, all the universities in my area and all the public schools in the state of Ohio are closed, but I want to bring attention to the last polar vortex came through in twenty fourteen. The Ohio State University was when I was attending there in twenty fourteen. It was not closed and temperature's were like negative thirty five and the president of our university was on a cruise and Florida making students walked the class and the emergency management, folks. We're sending out tweet saying, hey, there's chocolate in the union. You just got to walk to right to get to it. So I'd say currently by the numbers, it's not as cold. And I ran my own little experiment this morning. I put out a couple of water to see how quickly it would freeze and in twenty. Fourteen through a bottle of water outside in a pros instantly. This time around the bottle of water that throughout side frozen about five minutes. So I mean, it's still cold. But it's not as cold as it was last, and it's not as bad as Chicago restore well to Charlotte. Thank you for your call and for your warning there to to students to to stay indoors much appreciated. I mean since two shar mentioned the past Voeller polar vortex a couple years ago. Let's turn to an expert on this climate phenomenon. Joining us now from Boulder Colorado is Amy Butler. She's a research scientist at the university of Colorado's cooperative institute for research in environmental sciences. She works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration where she researches climate variability, Amy Butler, welcome to the program. Hi magna. I'm so glad to be here. Okay. So first of all, can you just give us a quick explainer about what the polar vortex is? And how it brings such profound cold down from northern latitudes. Sure the polar vortex is a regular feature of our wintertime atmospheric circulation it forms every year. So there's nothing unusual about it. It describes the winds that flow west to east around the polar cap in the stratosphere. Now, the stratosphere is a region six to thirty miles above the surface. And this polar vortex can influence the winds and weather patterns closer to the surface. It actually can cause the Jetstream to weaken and become wavier and that allows these cold air to be transported from the Arctic down into the middle attitudes. Okay. So the polar vortex influences the jet stream, I had been I guess I was wrong in thinking that it was the other way around that was changes in the debt Streep. We're allowing the cold air to come down south. Yeah. Well, it's an a coupling. So the troposphere weather can actually influence the polar vortex first, and then that can influence us later. But in general what's happened in? This case is that we had this polar vortex in the stratosphere, and it split apart at the beginning of January and this happens pretty regularly about once every other year. And when that happens it can essentially allow colder outbreaks at the surface to occur up to two months later. So it gives us an idea of when we're going to see these cold extremes. Okay. But maybe this is just sort of the limited view of individual human experience. It does seem as if we're we're seeing them more often at lower latitudes than perhaps we were before. I mean, you're saying that it's a it's a normal regular phenomenon. But you know, it's just been what three or four. Between between these giant polar vortex. That are that are really having an impact on tens of millions of people. Right. So what I want to make clear is that first of all there's really two features that I'm describing here one is in the stratosphere and that vortex is happens every year in it. It's always there. But then there's a tropospheric for text that is affected. And that has we've been seeing more people aware of these cold air events at the surface. Okay. So we're going to talk more. We'll let you talk tells more about why we come back from a quick break. That's Amy Butler. She's a research scientist at the university of Colorado's cooperative institute for research in environmental sciences. She's an expert on climate phenomenon such as the polar vortex, and we want to hear from you, are you enduring and suffering through these bone chilling record. Breaking cold temperatures across much of the midwest. This is on point. This is on point. I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. We're talking about the polar vortex, which is blanketing the midwest in record breaking cold temperatures, the coldest seen in a generation in some places with wind chill. We're seeing temperatures perhaps forecast to be mine around minus sixty minus sixty and we want to know if you're experiencing it and how you're enduring it. And if you feel if your town your city your region is ready for these cold temperatures here is a Michigan native who posted a YouTube video about her experience trying to brave the bitter cold wind. This is oppressive this circle boy that first shock of that cold that burns your face. And it hurts when you breathe you just can't you can't get used to that. So that's a Michigan native on a YouTube video here officials, of course, are are strongly encouraging people not to go outside if they if they can do anything to to to provide. That because the it's so cold we're seeing warnings of potential instant frostbite Sheila Collins a board. Join from Michigan sending us. This message on Facebook saying the governor has declared a state of emergency schools were closed including the university of Michigan and warming centers are open Cindy storm from Oakland. Wisconsin says it's going to be minus twenty seven tonight stock up on food and beverages and stay indoors and on our website on point radio dot org. Forecast is saying staying safe in these conditions goes beyond the moment wants things warm up bridges will need to be checked to ensure their structures are still able to handle what they were built for roads will weaken and potholes will quickly form. So the effect on critical infrastructure important point there as well. And Butler joins us today. She's a research scientists at the university of Colorado's cooperative institute for research in environmental sciences, an Amy Butler before the break, you were talking about sort of the differences between the polar vortices. Different levels of the of the atmosphere. Hope I got that close to being right? Yes. Or not you can tell if. That's okay. No. That's exactly right. So the point is that scientists in general have been referring to the polar vortex and the stratosphere, but because they caused these colder outbreaks in the troposphere the term polar vortex has been somewhat adopted to explain this cold weather outbreak. But it's really just a part of our weather system that we get sometimes we get these cold extremes due to these lobes of the jet stream that get separated from the main flow, and and bring down these very very cold air. Okay. So here's the here's the key question. Then. How related is the the phenomenon that we're experiencing now how related it is it to climate change. Yeah. So what's been interesting is that there is some agreement that over the past thirty years or so the polar vortex in the stratosphere has weakened somewhat. However, what's less clear is whether that's been caused by climate change in particular sea ice loss, or whether it's just some slogger term variability and one of the reasons that we wonder whether it's really forced by by increased greenhouse gases is because the climate models running into the future. Do not see significant or agreed upon changes in these cold air outbreaks occurring more often. In fact, they overwhelmingly see that will experience fewer and fewer colder outbreaks into the future. Fewer and fewer. Okay. Yes. Can you help explain that to be perfectly honest? I feel like I'm not quite caught up with you on on. Why that might be? So could you explain that? Yeah. So in general, the response to when you put more CO two into the atmosphere, you're going to warm the atmosphere, and that's going to be true in all seasons. And in winter as well. And what some people have proposed is that maybe because you're also melting sea ice that can weaken the Jetstream, and you get some more of these cold air outbreaks, but whether the models just don't have these processes modeled correctly, or whether this really isn't going to be a big influence. We generally don't see any weakening of the of that vortex in these climate models. Okay. 'cause like it's what I'm saying. What I'm saying is as you almost certainly know every time we have one of these extreme cold weather events of there are people out there, including the president of the United States who say, you know, like global warming or climate change. What gives? How can we have these extreme cold of events if we also have climate change? But but are you saying that there is some kind of relationship between the two? I'm saying it's possible. It's an interesting idea. I think it's a area of science where there's not a lot of consensus right now. In terms of what will happen in the future in with climate change in colder outbreaks in general. I think there's going to be less cold extremes than there are, but whether it's noisy, and so you're still going to have these very cold extremes occur on occasion. It's just going to be fewer and fewer of them interesting. All right. Well, let's go back to our callers. We are talking about the polar vortex and the record breaking cold temperatures that much of the midwest is experiencing today. And we want to hear from you about how you're handling it how you're experiencing it. What your concerns are? Maybe are you enjoying it? I I don't know. Let's go to Chris who's calling from Adams Wisconsin, Chris you're on the air. It's minus fifty with the wind chill. Just everybody knows. We actually had a little burst of this kind of weather five years ago, and I was living out on a farm, and we had a young Lama one would think a llama would be safe from this kind of stuff that had a shelter, but it froze to death overnight outside. So I was like to recommend everybody and remind them to not leave your pets outside and help take care of the wildlife have been feeding the birds furiously I have a bowl of cat food out in my garage, which has the door crack for the feral cats in the neighborhood, and you can also help feed the wildlife, I have a friend in Michigan that has wild turkeys. And she's been feeding them the you're gonna have a problem because we've got eighteen inches of snow on the ground and they're not going to be able to afford. So if you've got bills straw, throw it out for the deer and just try and be aware that all the creatures on the planet are having a hard time with. Us not just us. And what I did is. I'm a gourmet cook. So I went out and bought about two hundred dollars worth of wonderful, fabulous food, and I haven't hunkered down and cooking and having a fabulous time. So Well, Chris thank you so much for your call. And I appreciate your your positive outlook on this. And your great advice. Thank you, Chris. Let's go to Jim was calling from Springfield, Illinois. Jim you're on the air. Oh, they're mugging right weather. We're having isn't it? Hanging in there. Jim. Good time. I sit in my truck last night. I am I'm from Chicago. I'm down here. And he's not spend money on motels. In fact, I like, Chris I wanna go visiting in the hunkered down e gourmet food too. But I went through there. The the negative twenty seven degrees willnot back in eighty five years, and I'm a scout leader from way back and I taught inter camping survival skills. Eating a lot of camping and stuff like that. So most important thing I could say to anybody is layers and make sure you keep all experienced getting covered. I mean, if I really gloves like last night if something out of the back truck, they'd get a pickup truck, and I got the bed headed of the gate up and be having one glove on anything ten seconds. I could see the king. They say, we gotta stay hydrate. You gotta wear layers and just they want to truck five minutes every hour and mean good enough. But I was going to will leap of people had a speech that January twenty eighty five and it closed the mountain. Women up in this country. And and I had depends on long under a snowmobile in coat and key, hats and gloves mittens over those. And I walked around up on the hill, like eight o'clock at night night. They getting divided or stitches there like that. Yeah. It is. You just gotta with j you know, there's this is the people aren't prepared. Don't know they'll do people. You gotta worry about. Declare a state of emergency here too. So you know, that's all these state. I think Wisconsin and Illinois and Michigan. That's right. Well, Jim hanging hanging there. And I really appreciate again, your vice about trying to be positive out this enjoy it. But be smart as well. And I'm hoping you're not going to sleep in your truck again. So Jim thank you so much for your call Amy Butler stand by here for just a second. I want to introduce into the conversation. Rick garnett. He's joining us from Notre Dame, Indiana. He's a professor at Notre Dame law school and a native Alaskan though in normally we talked to Rick about safe supreme court nominees. But today, we are going to talk with him about the weather, Ricker Garnett. Welcome back to on point. Thank you very much. So what's it like where you are? Right now. It's clear and pretty in very cold. We're we're told it's about forty five below with the wind chill about twenty below air temperature. It's quiet and nobody's on the streets. We were told to stay off. And really only the second time. I can remember in my twenty years at the university. Even the university of Notre Dame shut down. So the the vortex got the better of the fighting Irish it looks like, and so I mean, as we mentioned since you're a native Alaskan how does what you're experiencing there in Indiana. Now compared to what you grew up with. Yeah. You don't childhood memories. I actually I looked it up to try to confirm the coldest that I remember as a kid, and I think it was thirty five below. So this is this is not quite getting to there. But, you know, one of the things you do learn in Alaska is that frostbite no joke, and and the layers work, and so I've been trying to tell that to my friends, and my children just to be sure. And take this kind of thing pretty seriously. It's the risk is people outside and the first thirty seconds or so they feel like it's no big deal. And they don't realize that exposed skin gets bit really quickly with these kind of temperatures. Yeah. So I mean, do you think that that people have been adequately prepared this time around? I think you know, the the local businesses in the university and the city are doing all they can to try to to educate people and keep them informed. There's at some point you can't stop people from doing silly things like going outside and their jammies. And throwing boiling water to watch it turned into crystals. But hopefully, the the students know that the fact that schools canceled doesn't mean they should party in the snow, and and hopefully people are are staying warm. I know the city's done a good job of trying to set up warming centers for for people who don't have any place to go. So I think we're pretty well prepared this has happened before. But I it's it's definitely serious business. We I've got a I've got to hairdryers going to try to unfreeze some pipes in the basement. Hopefully that'll work is to you're going to be enough. We'll see. Okay. Well, regarded best of luck to you is a professor at Notre Dame law school China. Unfreeze his pipes in the basement. Today's Notre Dame is closed down. Thanks so much for being with us. And good luck. Rick it Amy Butler. Let me turn back to you is there. I mean, we we were talking to Tom skilling the meteorologist at WGN in Chicago earlier about how long this polar vortex may last. And he said, you know, not that long that later this week, they expect a forty to sixty degrees. Swing to warmer temperatures is that normal for polar vortex like this because they can last quite a long time. Yes. So what's happening is that for the past month, a lobe of the polar vortex has been sitting over eastern, Canada, and that sort of pushed this cold air south over the middle of the United States. But starting this weekend that Loeb is sort of re joining with the other low that's currently over more Siberia. And so they're coming together, the Texas re strengthening and so the east coast will start to warm up a bit. But the cold is expected to at least have a chance of occurring all through February. Okay. Well, let's hear for more from people who are living. This right now area is joining us from is calling from Omaha Nebraska, you're on the air. Hello. I just you had questioned whether or not anybody was actually enjoying it. And while I don't mean to make light of the danger that it is a woman of a certain age approaching fifty. There are many moments throughout the day that I'm actually grateful to be able to step outside PU off. Oh, you know, what I you made me left their area to thank you. So so much because I, you know, I have to really I really really appreciate the positive attitude that people are taking even as we all acknowledge that these are dangerously cold temperatures. But Aaron thank you so much. Let's go to Richard who's calling from superior Wisconsin, Richard you're on the air. Yeah. Hi, I'm out using my car is a bird blind. And I'm actually watching a snowy all punch right now. And when it plunges to the snow I pop out of the car and take a few photographs, and how long have you able to stay out of the car, Richard? Oh, probably not much more than ten minutes. I've got lots of layers on. I'm, you know, live up here in the Northland. So I'm used to this cold but saw something even crazier yesterday. When it was just a little bit cooler. There's this race called the Arrowhead one thirty five that goes from international falls, Minnesota to lake for million, which is near easily and people bike hike ski a hundred and thirty five miles and they're still out there today take they have a limit of sixty hours. I watched that yesterday. Wow. Okay. So I mean, I they are hardier folk than I am. But I'm not that doesn't strike me as being terribly smart, though. I mean, like we're hearing about these temperatures like what if you're the could cost cause instant frostbite, you wouldn't even know that your you'd been hurt. They have every of skin covered up have very specialized equipment. And but let's just put it this way when they come into a checkpoint. They look like frosty the snowman. Wow. Well toughness there for sure Richard. Thank you so much for your call. Let's take one more here. Let's go to David who's calling from Goldsboro North Carolina. David you're on the air. Hi, I have a friend who's traveling to Minneapolis Saint Paul to visit his his son and his son's girlfriend on Thursday. And I'm wondering what are the chances? They may close the airport is it going to be really bad still on Thursday, or you know, how bad is it going to be for him? Well, David thank you so much for your call Amy Butler. Let me just turn back to you. Do we have a sense that that the the depth of this cold is gonna last all the way till tomorrow or perhaps even Friday? Well, I got to urologists. Give any given forecasts. But yeah, it might it's only supposed to last maybe forty eight hours. So it should be moving on pretty soon here. But I would say that this is just for me as a lay person that whenever weather interrupts travel, even if it's just for day, you probably ought to presume that there will be knock on affects from that interruption for a couple of days. So that's all the advice that I have to give to people, but just we have about forty five seconds left here in this segment. And when we come back, we're going to talk about national parks and the government shutdown, but I just wanted to ask you quickly sort of as an aside. I mean, you also work for Noah the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. You know in about thirty seconds. You want to talk about how did the government shutdown affect your research and the work that Noah's doing? Well, so I'm a I'm a cooperative institute employees. So I was still getting paid and studying this phenomenon, but a lot of my data is at stored at Noah, so that certainly impacted my ability to address the phenomenon, but now we're back, and we're at work, and we're going to be looking into this carefully. Roy we'll Amy Butler research scientists at the university of Colorado's cooperative institute for research in environmental sciences. And as I said, she also works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration where she studies climate variability of things like the polar vortex. Thank you so much for joining us today me. Thank you. And folks, if you're experiencing these truly sub sub sub zero temperatures just be smart and safe when we come back. We'll talk about the government shutdown and national parks. This is on point. This is on point a magnitude Roberti, America's national parks are an unrivalled gem. But the already fragile ecosystems were made even more vulnerable during the historic government shutdown. You might have already heard about the trash and the overflowing toilets, but the parks also lost critical income as well. And some observers are saying that the damage could be even worse than that. For example, at California's Joshua tree national park, damaged trees may take more than three hundred years to recover. So let's talk about what happened to the national parks during the shutdown and joining us I from Joshua tree. California is David Smith the superintendent for Joshua tree national park, David Smith. Thanks for joining us today. Good afternoon magma. Thanks so much for having me. Well, also with us from Washington is John Gardner, the senior director of budget and appropriations at the national parks conservation association. John gardner. Welcome to you who am I gonna thank you. And folks, we want to hear from you. Did you visit? A national park during the government shutdown. What did you see? What's your reaction to this idea that it could take some of the parks centuries to recover David Smith? Let me start with you for a couple of minutes here because you're the superintendent address, which we national park tell us. I mean, there's been a lot of coverage for the past day about the damage done there. But specifically what have you seen in terms of the condition of the park? Magna? It could have been a lot worse. I you know, we had I would say hundreds of people from the local community from Los Angeles from San Diego that we're coming up to volunteer to take care of the park. So they were the the stewards that, you know, cleaned out the toilets and put into the paper, and they advise people when they saw them doing things typically aren't allowed like having dogs off leash and driving off road just to not do things like that. So if not for the volunteers that we had in the local community, I think it would be much worse. We began seeing damage inside the park, probably, you know, few days into the shutdown, and we're able to bring back a number of our park scientists and Rangers to help documented and start mitigating some of the damage even during the shutdown, but I just got the final totals in yesterday from some of our scientists we had about twenty four miles of of OH VU you so. Off road vehicle use inside the park in a lot of it and wilderness areas as well. So that you know, for me is one of the biggest long-term damages to the park with the the creation of new roads. And the folks driving across the desert landscape. Luckily, because we were able to bring back some of our our trail crew and science staff we were out there. Raking those tracks doing something that we call vertical revegitate where we we take dead plant matter, and we kind of block off trail. So folks, don't see it. And they're not apt to drive down those roads again across the desert, and luckily, we had a big big rainstorm that happened just after Christmas, and so having wet soil and raking it out, you know, helps that that micro crust that that desert crust that helps kinda hold down the desert landscape, it helps it to rebuild much more rapidly. So that hopefully might my goal is that, you know, in a in a few months or a few years, you're not gonna see a lot. Of those those trails. We haven't gone to all of them yet. And I was out in the park yesterday with staff looking at some of the damage in some of these trails go on for miles into the desert, and we've just not been able to send folks out there to begin raking them out. So David Smith Kansas dumping here for a second because you keep saying trails, but to be clear these are tracks that weren't there before right that these are these are newly created tracks by vehicles that actually aren't allowed to drive where you see the tracks. Yeah. Correct. I didn't mean to imply that these were were trails or roads there, they become roads. The more people that go down these these sections of the desert, you know, we this this area of California was was used for desert training during World War Two. And you know, we still see some of those tracks from the nineteen forties down in the southern portion of the park because you know, they didn't go back and mitigate the damage, but luckily, like I said we were able to bring back a lot of our crews to do that. We've also been working a lot on legal campsites folks were. You know, they when they drove out into the desert, they would create their own campsite. So our crews went out there. You know, people created fire pits. They they, you know, cut down acacias, you know, junipers and things like that for for firewood. So we're we've been able to clean up most of those those campsites to make them look as if they're pristine once again, but you know, if you, you know, you cut down to juniper that's that takes two three hundred years for that plant to reach maturity, and we've we had we have three or four incidents of people damaging or destroying Joshua trees. Those those trees grow, you know, for two three hundred years before they die. I I don't want to imply that you know, there are large swaths of Joshua tree forests that have been cut down. It was truly just exceptional spots where you know, where they they were damaged. It's not it's not all over the place. And hopefully, you know, my goal today is you know, if you are able to make it out to California and visit the park it's gonna. Look it's gonna look pretty pristine like you'd expect your park Daloa. Okay. Well, that's good news. Then John Gardner. I'm gonna come to you in a second. But David Smith the superintendent at Joshua tree national park when one more question here for you. At least for now the park is what almost eight hundred thousand acres right at and so during normal operations is I presume it's adequately staffed to be sure to keep sort of visitors behavior in check could it just it seems to me that like what happened that that all of a sudden simply because you know, because of the government shutdown that a park is vast as Joshua tree national park. We we saw some some bad behavior. 'cause I can't imagine that there's a ranger, of course, on every square square mile of the park at all times. Anyway, oh, who I are visitors are tremendously wonderful stored of the landscape, generally, we don't we don't typically have problems like this. But I'm I was sitting around with some of my staff. Yesterday trying to figure out how we can deal with this in the teacher. And I think part of the problem was, you know, we we didn't have our visitor centers open. You know, that's where we do our initial education and interpretation, you know, most of our visitors come from, you know, outside this area. They come from Europe. They come from back east. They're not used to just how fragile the desert can be. So we really we educations one of the main things, we do, you know, our entrance stations weren't staffed. So you didn't have someone to contact you to remind you. Hey, you know, stay on the roads when you're here. Hey, you have a dog, please. Keep your dog on a leash inside of a national park where there's Bighorn sheep and Bob cats amount lines and things like that. So by not having those staff operating in the visitor centers by not having our entrance station staffed by not having you know, the the twenty guys and gals who work maintenance inside the park, you know, they're they're out there in the campgrounds everyday talking to people are trail crew, you know, they're building trails, but they're talking to people every day by removing our entire workforce from the park during that time. Time. There was there was no more education than terp relation going on yet. There are a few bad apples that showed up, and you know, luckily, we had enough Rangers on duty during the shutdown. We were able to issue a fair number of citations with mandatory appearances. So, you know, folks, they were educated that way, they're educated through the legal system. You know, not take your motorcycle and go cross country. But that's that's kinda my my summation. Right. Well, David Smith samba here for a second John Gardner, you've been very patient. Thank you for that. Let me just turn to you here as senior director of budget and appropriations at the national parks conservation association. Give us the big picture here. I mean, what do you think the long term effects of the the historic government shutdown are going to be on parts like Joshua tree? Sure. Well, we're concerned that Joshua tree is just one among a number of parks that have sustained damage some of which could last for a really long time in particular with situations where cultural sites have been vandalized where there are incidents of looting that the. Park service likely still doesn't know about as they go out. And do these damage assessments, certainly there are a lot of businesses that are suffering and other impacts that are deep concern during any shutdown scenario, but one of our concerns that really alarms us is that the administration is really really abdicated its authority to look out for the preservation of these places for current and future generations by creating a scenario that was predictable leaving resources at risk as David described. But in in many other parks as well. And then adding insult to injury by prolonging that situation by instructing parks to use fee revenue that is critically needed for addressing deferred maintenance. There's now an eleven point six billion dollar deferred maintenance in our national parks. Those dollars are critically needed for repairing visitors centers and trails and a lot of other projects that are important to visit. And resource protection. And they were instructed to vacate those accounts in order to prolong this damaging situation right over the coming days, superintendents and other park staff are going to be really assessing and finding other situations where there have been impacts to wildlife behaviour vandalism. Not just trash and waste that that that things that people see, but a lot of other damage that that is often invisible to visitors David Smith is superintendent Ajaj between national park. Let me ask you how how much money did you have to defer from entrance fees that I mean that you had already collected before the shutdown to help, you know, the those that maintenance that the John Gardner was talking about what make this kind of two issues during the shutdown. We we were unable to collect fees for the park. And we we kind of plan our budget out, you know, for the next year to deal with his prejudice, those projects that John was mentioning the deferred maintenance projects and. Infrastructure projects that you know, serve the visitor. So I I just got the tally from our fee office. We had expected to bring in a little bit over a million dollars. You know during that that time period, it's Christmas as a really busy time at the park here in southern California because it's so nice. So that's that's a million dollars that we didn't collect we're gonna have to really look at our our fund for the next for the next eight months and decide you know, what projects are we going to eliminate this year? And we know which ones can we go forward with the the the secretary gave us permission about, you know, a couple of weeks into the shutdown to go ahead and use some of our fun sources that we already have and use those to pay the staff that we were bringing back. We're able to bring back initially about sixty people to deal with the campgrounds. We were having a a health and safety issue because the the sewage was at the top of the toilets, and and things along that nature had to deal with that immediately. So I brought back the the whole maintenance division. You know to work on that. And they were all paid for out of out of our flurry a- are FIA count to to deal with that. We're still crunching the numbers. But I I'm guessing probably about two to three hundred thousand dollars we use to cover those wages during that time period. Okay. Well, let's go take a quick call here. Let's go to Spencer who's calling from New Orleans Spencer. You're on the air. Hi, I just wanted to say I had driven to Joshua tree about twelve days ago from New Zealand's, and we did get to go in and have a great time. There was a ranger there at the at the front gate hen maps, just like normal didn't take any fees or anything like that. But wanted to thank you to all the Rangers that are out there, keeping keeping maintenance of the parks and take care taking careful, we'll spend thank you for your call. And let's go to Tim who's calling from Detroit. Michigan Tim, you're on the air. Hi, I just wanna say, and certainly it's clear the damage the have been done to the national parks. But when you look at this entire government system is really like an ecosystem. And if some if something is missing out of that ecosystem people suffer you may not be able to see it. But it affects you down the line. And so I think not just the the park system, but all the people that miss money during this period. It's going gonna take them in way that we don't see. And I think it makes us appreciate the government more what's going on. Well, Tim, thank you for your call John Gardner. Let me turn back to you. Because we've got another comment. That's come in here on social media, Nina Brin says this is on the users not on the shutdown. Maybe we Americans lack of culture of the outdoors. We shouldn't need anyone there to tell us not to leave trash or feces lying around. What do you think? Well, here's the thing you really, they're obviously some bad actors, David outlined. People who have clearly done a purposeful damage, and that's extremely unfortunate near responsible behaviour. But they're also a lot of visitors who cause unintended damage where they are not educated by the park service staff that are needed to engage in the kinds of behaviors that ensure not just their own safety, but that of wildlife and the integrity of park resources, and some people who may know, they're doing things that they're not allowed to do. But don't realize the extent of the damage that's causing thrill situation is not so much pointing the finger at users which you know, it's it's it's really a matter of the an an approach to managing our national parks with only thirteen percent of the park service staff out there, you need those people those uniformed Rangers who are out there. Educating people ensuring that park resources are protected you just you can't operate our national parks with such small. Staffing level. We'll David Smith. You know, we have what maybe two and a half weeks before there's the possibility hopefully, it won't happen. But possibility of another government shutdown or are you folks at Joshua tree or the Rangers. They're trying to prepare for that possibility. Well, they're they're professionals. You know, they they they came to the National Park Service because they they love public service, and they love taking care of national parks. So they're doing everything they can right now to mitigate the damage that occurred during the shutdown and to educate the public and reaching out to our partners to help out as much as possible. If there if there were to be another shutdown or something like that are are park association that you know, they volunteered to operate. Our visitor centers, you know, during the shutdown, and, you know, just just having those those exhibits they're having them giving out safety warnings and things like that. That would be you know, that that's a godsend to have folks to be able to do things like that the businesses and the local community. I'm sure they are ready to jump to it again and start helping us with with toilets and things like that. I we're really trying to message to the public right now. Just how fragile the desert ecosystem is and just how important it is. For folks to stay on the road. You know? If there's a shutdown, you know, pick up your garbage, you know, don't don't don't expect that someone's going to be there to pick it up to use some of the common sense that to me is I know 'cause I've been working for the park service for almost thirty years. You know, you you don't run your dog, you know, through wildland his lots of wildlife, you don't operate a drone or it's going to harass. You know birds that are up there. We just have to get those messages out. Well, you know, David if I may say maybe based in Boston now, but I grew up on the west coast, and I'm going to shamefully admit to the nation that I have never been to Joshua tree national park. It's an oversight that I have to fix. So I'm gonna come out there soon sometime. Hopefully, you were you were my personal guests I will time, and I would love to show you the and just how magical and special Joshua the desert. There is absolutely as I said at the beginning of the conversation, part of our national parks system. Which is a gem a true, Jim that the United States has really distinguishes it from so much else in the rest of the world's David Smith superintendent at Joshua tree national park. Thank you so much for joining us today. My pleasure. You have a great day and John guard. Our senior director of budget and appropriations at the national parks and conservation association with us from Washington. John gardner. Thank you as well. Thank you, again, magnum Roberta this is on point.

Coming up next