Energy and Environment

An ominous smoke cloud fills the sky in Wyoming
Greg Sanders / InciWeb

Drought, wildfire and record-breaking heat are all part of the current climate landscape in the Mountain West. 

It’s a triple whammy that’s expected to continue into the coming months. 

A U.S. map with drought monitor readings from October 6, 2020. The map displays extreme and exceptional drought throughout the west, with the most notable readings in Utah, Nevada and New Mexico.
Brian Fuchs / National Drought Mitigation Center

A few weeks ago, rancher Noah Brooks said what was troubling him most was the weather.

“The fact that it didn’t rain, June, July, August but maybe three times, that this community runs around cattle and feed and if we don’t get some rain, we’re in big big trouble, and I think that we’re drying out,” he said.

Brooks lives in Clark, Colorado. But the conditions he describes are persistent throughout the region.

Truckee Meadows Fire and Rescue Truck
Scott King

This story was originally published to the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science's website on August 22, 2020.

California is blazing with three of the largest wildfires in the state’s history, with much of the state facing smoke-filled skies and evacuation orders. In just seven days, the fires have charred nearly a million acres, according to Cal Fire, which is more than triple the area burned during a typical fire season (a little over 300,000 acres). In the Tahoe region and the Great Basin, firefighters are already exhausted as they gear up for more potential fires during a dry fall.

A power bill with a balance of two-hundred eighty-two dollars sits on a table.
Brendan Wood / Flickr Creative Commons

Many states introduced moratoriums to protect residents from having their utilities shut off for non-payment during the early days of the pandemic. But those moratoriums are coming to an end.

William Perry Pendley’s nomination to lead the Bureau of Land Management may have been pulled, but he’s still effectively leading the organization. Two lawsuits are still trying to put that to an end. 


Photo of a lake with visible rocks under the water and a woman paddleboarding.
Isaac Hoops

The Annual Tahoe Summit was held virtually on Tuesday. This year, officials focused on climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the lake.

A tornado swirling inside of a wildfire.
Courtesy of Tasha Farrell

No, it's not a sci-fi movie. A fire tornado touched down near the Nevada-California border Saturday, during the Loyalton Fire about 25 miles west of Reno, Nev.

Grand Teton National Park is asking for the public's help in addressing its non-native mountain goat problem. The park announced Thursday, August 6, it is now accepting applications from qualified volunteers for a culling program. Culling is set to begin mid-September and wrap up by the middle of November.

The silhouette of a person standing outside on a hot day.
NOAA

There's an effort afoot to better identify heat waves – like the one gripping much of the American West right now.

Round Mountain mine in Nye County, Nevada.
Uncle Kick-Kick, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Any one of three joint resolutions passed during the recent special session of the Nevada Legislature could ultimately change the way and rate at which mines are taxed in Nevada, and rural counties and mining companies are worried. As a warning, this story contains language that some readers may find offensive.

A sunset at Whale Beach.
Bob Tregilus / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 (7/10/2020)

Researchers at the Desert Research Institute in Reno are teaming up with League to Save Lake Tahoe citizen scientists to find the source of microplastics in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The Sierra Nevada Ally reporter Brian Bahouth has the story.

Aerial shot of a desert mountain.
Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy

The landscape appears arid. Yet, water flows at the heart of the controversy about a federal plan to build a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in southwestern Nevada. A new scientific paper concludes water is moving through the mountain much faster than researchers previously had suspected. This may increase the possibility that groundwater in the region could become contaminated with radioactive elements.

Fire burns at dusk on a foothill
Luke Flynt / Unsplash

Reno saw one of its first major wildfire events of the dry season this past weekend with the Poeville Fire. And with the pandemic going on, agencies across the West are having to rethink how to fight fires while fighting the novel coronavirus.

A map of the Western U.S., showing varying levels of drought.
United States Drought Monitor

As the country turned its attention toward the pandemic, something else was creeping into the Mountain West: drought conditions.

Smoke casts a shadow on a sunset behind a stadium
Bree Zender / KUNR

KUNR is providing updates on the Poeville Fire. Click here for more information. For the most current information about the Poeville Fire, visit @TMPFD and @HumboldtToiyabe on Twitter.

Hundreds evacuated from neighborhoods north of Reno Saturday as the Poeville Fire burned multiple structures. 

Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District officials said on Sunday morning the fire had charred approximately 3,500 acres. As of Sunday morning, firefighters had built containment lines around 10 percent of the burn area. More high wind gusts and dry conditions are expected through late Sunday.

When I was little, my dad and I would walk behind our house in west-central Montana and stare at the ground. And then walk. Stare. Walk. Stare. We'd do this for hours, searching for that tasty, edible and highly prized morel mushroom.


Broken pavement on a path at Yellowstone National Park.
Jacob W. Frank / National Park Service

A bill to permanently fund conservation efforts and reduce maintenance backlogs across public lands will soon be up for a vote in the U.S. Senate.

Two men wearing hard hats are lifting a rectangular panel onto a roof outside.
Tessa Hartman / Simple Power Solar

After more than a decade of growth, Nevada’s fast-growing renewable energy sector faces storm clouds. Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has cost the sector thousands of jobs, is delaying projects large and small, and in many areas is killing sales. But Nevada enjoys the sunniest skies in the nation, the momentum of a decade-long boom in projects and a state government pushing for more. Officials said Nevada will weather the current turbulence and meet its new standard to source half its electricity from renewables by 2030. And already, some local solar panel installers report a rebound in activity.

Fourteen large wind turbines spin at the Spring Valley Wind facility near Ely, Nevada.
Jeff Moser / Creative Commons

Nevada is a big player in renewable energy. But while it ranks among the top five states for both solar and geothermal energy production, it lags well behind in wind energy production, where it falls 33rd. This fact surprised KUNR's Benjamin Payne, who last year moved to Reno from his native Illinois. Whereas that state boasts more than 50 wind farms, Nevada has only one. He decided to look into this gap, and figure out why wind makes up such a small sliver of Nevada’s energy mix.

A field of wind turbines.
Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management is charging back-due rent on renewable energy projects on public lands, as the Department of Interior simultaneously works to give oil and gas operators financial relief.

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