Climate change to bring North Texas longer droughts, heavy rains, 120-degree temps within 25 years

Tom Fox

The United States has just come off a record year for weather and climate disasters and, by most accounts, it’s only going to get worse.

Last year hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria; the wildfires and floods in California; and tornado outbreaks in the Midwest and the South delivered $306.2 billion in damages, more than any year in history when adjusted for inflation.

Texas is particularly vulnerable to a changing climate. It has had more costly weather-related disasters than any other state, and those events will happen more often as air and ocean temperatures climb, scientists say.

Category 4 hurricane made landfall near Rockport, Texas causing widespread damage.

Severe hail and high wind damage impacting numerous states including MN, WI, WY, TX, IA, IL, KS, MO, NE, NY, PA, VA.

Hail storm and wind damage impacting several states including CO, OK, TX, NM, MO.

A period of heavy rainfall up to 15 inches over a multi-state region in the Midwest caused historic levels of flooding along many rivers.

Large hail and high winds in Texas north of the Dallas metro region caused widespread damage to structures and vehicles.

High wind damage occurred across southern California near San Diego followed by 79 confirmed tornadoes during an outbreak across many southern states including AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC and TX.

Sustained period of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes affecting several states including Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Texas.

Tornadoes and severe storms cause widespread damage across the Plains and Central states (NE, MO, TX, OK, KS, CO, IL, KY, TN) over a multi-day period.

Large outbreak of tornadoes affects numerous states across the South and Southeast.

A period of extreme rainfall up to 17 inches created widespread urban flooding in Houston and surrounding suburbs.

Widespread severe hail damage across north and central Texas including the cities of Plano, Wylie, Frisco, Allen and San Antonio.

Large hail and strong winds caused considerable damage in heavily populated areas of north Texas.

Multiple days of heavy rainfall averaging 15 to 20 inches led to widespread flooding along the Sabine River basin on the Texas and Louisiana border.

Early outbreak of tornadoes and severe weather across many southern and eastern states including (AL, CT, FL, GA, LA, MA, MD, MS, NC, NJ, NY, PA, SC, TX, VA).

A powerful storm system packing unseasonably strong tornadoes caused widespread destruction in the Dallas metropolitan region, damaging well over 1,000 homes and businesses.

A slow-moving system caused tremendous rainfall and subsequent flooding to occur in Texas and Oklahoma.

Tornado outbreak across the Southern Plain states (IA, KS, NE, OK, CO, SD, TX) with 122 tornadoes.

Severe storms across the South and Southeastern states (AL, AR, FL, GA, KS, LA, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX).

Severe storms across the Midwest and Ohio Valley including the states (AR, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, MI, MO, NC, OH, OK, PA, TN, TX, WI, WV).

Historic drought conditions affected the majority of California for all of 2014 making it the worst drought on record for the state.

Severe storms across the Plains states (IL, KS, MO, TX) causing considerable hail and wind damage in Texas.

The 2013 drought slowly dissipated from the historic levels of the 2012 drought, as conditions improved across many Midwestern and Plains states.

Continued drought conditions and periods of extreme heat provided conditions favorable for a series of historic wildfires across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Drought and heat wave conditions created major impacts across Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, southern Kansas, and western Louisiana.

Dozens of tornadoes and severe storms affect the states AR, IL, IN, KY, MO, OH, TN, TX across the Ohio Valley and South.

An outbreak of tornadoes, hail, and severe thunderstorms occurred across Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas in mid-May.

Residual and sustained drought conditions across western and south-central states resulted in thousands of wildfires.

Complex of severe thunderstorms and high winds across the region (TN, KY, OK, OH, VA, WV, PA).

Outbreak of tornadoes over portions of the midwest and south during a week-long period-affecting the states of AL, AR, KY, MS, TN, TX, IN, KS, MO, and OK.

The persistent remnants of Tropical Storm Allison produce rainfall amounts of 30-40 inches in portions of coastal Texas and Louisiana, causing severe flooding especially in the Houston area, then moves slowly northeastward; fatalities and significant damage reported in TX, LA, MS, FL, VA, and PA.

Outbreak of F4-F5 tornadoes hit the states of Oklahoma and Kansas, along with Texas and Tennessee, Oklahoma City area hardest hit.

Very heavy snowstorm (1-4 feet) over Appalachians, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast; followed by severe flooding in parts of same area due to rain and snowmelt.

Torrential rains, hail, and tornadoes across Texas-Oklahoma and southeast Louisiana-southern Mississippi, with Dallas and New Orleans areas (10-25 inch rains in 5 days) hardest hit.

Tornadoes and severe storms cause damage in states across the South, Southeast and Midwest.

Intense ice storm with extensive damage in portions of TX, OK, AR, LA, MS, AL, TN, GA, SC, NC, and VA.

Torrential rains cause flooding along the Trinity, Red, and Arkansas Rivers in TX, OK, LA, and AR.

“Climate change is not just about polar bears,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University with an impressive YouTube following. “It will affect North Texas profoundly.”

Between 2041 and 2050, Dallas-Fort Worth may see August temperatures rise from a mean of 86 degrees Fahrenheit at the end of the 20th century to 94 degrees, with extremes rising above 120, reports one study by scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Longer droughts and more extreme rainstorms will pose a challenge for those who manage drinking water supplies, those who raise cattle, and those who oversee our roads and railways.

The changes may also have unexpected effects on people’s daily lives, including jobs. Intense heat can imperil cars and airplanes, evaporate drinking water supplies, and halt outdoor labor such as farm work and construction.

Adam Smith, a scientist with the federal government’s main climate agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calls Texas “the disaster capital of the United States.”

As Smith explains, Texas is susceptible to almost every kind of weather and climate hazard, from extreme cold to extreme heat, from severe drought and wildfires to torrential floods. Texas is also home to a booming population and critical infrastructure, including the petrochemical plants that were damaged in Hurricane Harvey.

“Texas is a hot-spot for a wide range of extreme natural events due to its geography,” said Smith. “We expect many of these extremes to become more frequent and intense as time moves forward.”

While uncertainty is built into climate models, scientists have a high degree of confidence in many of the changes they observe and predict.

The bigger, longer and more common an event is, the greater the accuracy with which scientists can project how climate change will impact it, said Hayhoe, a lead author of a November 2017 climate change report overseen by scientists at 13 federal agencies. Larger events have more data associated with them and can be easier to model.

Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe

Researchers are very confident that climate change will increase both average and extreme temperatures. They are also confident that climate change is likely to increase the risk of heavy precipitation in many areas and may bring stronger droughts to the south-central and southwestern parts of the U.S.

Projected impacts on smaller-scale events like tornadoes and hailstorms are less well understood.

One area of consensus is the cause of climate change. “It is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” note the authors of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a Congressionally mandated review that scientists conduct every four years. They add that there are no convincing alternative explanations.

Here is how these changes will affect our area, the evidence behind the projections, and how confident scientists are in each of these findings.

More record-setting heat in North Texas is a virtual certainty. Already, we are living through the warmest period in the history of modern civilization, the federal report found, and that warming will accelerate.

Climate science contrarians often attack the models on which climate projections are based. Myron Ebell, who led President Donald Trump’s transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency, accepts that humans are most likely responsible for warming, but he says models have exaggerated the outcome. Ebell is director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. He acknowledges that he is not a scientist.

In fact, researchers have used models to predict global temperature changes for more than 50 years, and the models’ projections have been fairly accurate over the long term. In the early 21st century, a discrepancy appeared between observed and modeled temperatures — a period dubbed the “global warming slowdown” or “hiatus.”

Scientists have published scores of studies on the mismatch and tied it to several factors that contributed to lower-than-expected observed temperatures. Those factors include a series of small volcanic eruptions, the cooling effects of which scientists had underestimated, and lower than expected solar output.

Findings from those studies are helping to improve climate model simulations and helping scientists better understand why there are differences between simulations and observations in the early 21st century, said Ben Santer, a climate scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Global average temperatures increased about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 115 years. In Dallas, they climbed from about 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the early part of the 20th century to 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the most recent decade. If nothing is done to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, average temperatures in the city may reach the low 70s by 2050 and surpass 75 degrees by the end of the century.

The Dallas area warmed twice as fast as the North Texas region as a whole due to urbanization combined with long-term warming, said John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas’ state climatologist and a professor at Texas A&M University.

Rapid development in Dallas accelerates the so-called “urban heat island” effect. Man-made building materials absorb and lock in more heat than soil and natural landscapes, so urban areas are generally warmer than rural areas, especially after sunset.

While some northern areas stand to benefit from warmer weather, that is not the case for Dallas-Fort Worth. “North Texas and a lot of the southern United States are quite close to thresholds where things get really bad,” said Amir Jina of the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

Earlier this year, he and colleagues published a study in the journal Science that estimated economic damage from climate change in each county of the U.S.

Once temperatures reach the high 90s, equal to or above body temperature, fatality rates go up.

And Jina’s study predicts 24 extra deaths per 100,000 people each year in Dallas County by the end of the century if global emissions increase at the same rate they have been. That would be 600 extra deaths per year at the county’s 2015 population level.

Heat also affects roads. A 2015 study by the University of Texas at Arlington that focused on the impact of climate change on transportation predicted “an increase in wildfires along paved highways, heat-induced stress on bridges and railroads, air-conditioning problems in public transport vehicles and heat-related accidents by failure of individual vehicles and heat-related stress.”

Some of these changes are already happening. In January, grass fires in Parker and Denton counties forced evacuations and road closures.

The study concluded, “These impacts can be translated into substantial mobility and economic loss.”

Drought

Along with heat will come stronger drought, which “has profound economic impacts,” said Hayhoe.

The prediction that North Texas will have longer and more severe droughts is based on multiple factors, including the relationship between high temperatures and soil dryness and the presence of more frequent and longer lasting high-pressure systems in summer that suppress rainfall and deflect storms away from our area.

Hayhoe points to Texas’ 2010-2013 drought as a probable sign of things to come. Although this drought occurred naturally, as a result of a strong La Niña event that typically brings dry conditions to our area, it was exacerbated by extreme heat. That event created severe hay shortages for cattle farmers and led some ranchers to prematurely slaughter their herds or export them out of state.

“Cotton can be drought-resistant, but not cattle,” said Hayhoe.

The 2015 UTA study predicts a reduction in soil moisture of 10 percent to 15 percent in all seasons by 2050, which can also lead to cracked pavement and the premature loss of roads, railways and other infrastructure.

Heat and drought also pose a problem for drinking water supplies, which North Texas sources from surface reservoirs that will be increasingly prone to evaporation. Hayhoe says some water managers are considering pumping the reservoirs underground during exceptionally hot and dry conditions, or covering them with polymer “blankets.”

The blankets are an invisible layer of organic molecules that can help reduce evaporation.

While it’s not likely that annual precipitation totals will change in North Texas, rainfall patterns likely will. Hayhoe and Nielsen-Gammon both say we will likely see enhanced “feast or famine” cycles with torrential rainstorms in the spring followed by longer than usual dry periods.

These predictions carry a high degree of certainty, because climatologists have already recorded this trend playing out.

“Rainfall becoming more extreme is something we expect because we’ve observed this not just in North Texas but throughout the U.S., and models consistently predict it will continue to happen,” said Nielsen-Gammon.

Warm air holds more water vapor, which feeds rainstorms. If annual rainfall totals do not increase, that translates to longer dry spells in between the downpours.

Severe rainstorms, the UTA scientists predict, will have the capacity to flood highway exit and service roads in the FEMA 100-year flood plain.

“While the state highway system was built above flooding levels, the connector roads may be easily flooded,” said Arne Winguth, a climate scientist at UTA who co-authored the report.

Two events climate scientists cannot reliably project are hailstorms and tornadoes. “A lot of the things we care about are too small-scale to predict with more confidence,” said Nielsen-Gammon. “The historical record is not large enough for longer-term forecasts.”

Arne Winguth, a climate scientist at UT Arlington studies the effects of climate change on North Texas’s infrastructure. (Nathan Hunsinger/The Dallas Morning News)

The same is true with hail. “One thing we expect to happen with a warming climate is that the average humidity in the lower atmosphere may decrease, and if that happens it’s easier for hail to stay frozen,” said Nielsen-Gammon. “That factor might increase hailstorms, but that’s just one of many factors that do affect hail.”

Jina of the University of Chicago predicted in his study that climate change would decrease Dallas County’s annual income by 10 percent to 20 percent in the coming decades unless emissions are reduced. “North Texas is one of the worst-affected places in the country,” he said. Much of the loss comes from higher mortality rates, soaring air-conditioning costs and reduced labor productivity.

To track labor productivity, Jina and his colleagues examined national time-use surveys — diaries kept by thousands of volunteers across the country — and compared them with local weather data. He found that on extremely hot days, people tended to stop working about 30 minutes early.

“There’s direct evidence that people concentrate less well, make more mistakes and their brain just functions less efficiently if it’s too hot,” he said. Heat also disrupts sleep. “The general lack of productivity leads to them saying, ‘No more work today.'”

The good news is that many climate-change effects are manageable. They do require local and federal authorities to plan ahead and take action, said Smith of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“It is important,” he said, “to address where we build, how we build and also to build protections for populations already exposed in vulnerable areas.”

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North Korea, US in tug of war over dialogue

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

North Korea and the United States are in a tug-of-war over whether to resume dialogue as South Korea seeks to boost peace momentum surrounding the Korean Peninsula by mediating their talks.

On Monday, Pyongyang criticized Washington for “standing in the way of Korean reunification” in what is viewed as an attempt to take the initiative in future talks. This is in contrast to its earlier dialogue overture.

“The U.S. is throwing a wet blanket on our will to improve inter-Korean relations and pursue independent reunification,” said Uriminzokkiri, the regime’s state-controlled website.

“Washington apparently doesn’t welcome the reunification of Seoul and Pyongyang, continuously bringing in nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula to prevent the two Koreas from improving their bilateral ties,” it said.

Despite the rare peace momentum taking shape across the peninsula, South Korea has remained cautious over whether to accept a recent proposal by the North to hold an inter-Korean summit, due to the longstanding Seoul-Washington alliance.

President Moon Jae-in said last week the government aims to take advantage of the North’s reconciliatory gesture to pave the way for a U.S.-North Korea dialogue.

This has weakened the anti-Pyongyang stance in Washington, with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday expressing willingness to have talks with the North.

But the North still shows little sign of coming to terms with the mood for dialogue with the U.S., calling the latter a major source of intensifying tension on the peninsula, according to a commentary released Monday from Rodong Sinmun, the propaganda newspaper of Pyongyang’s Workers’ Party of Korea.

“If the ongoing thaw in inter-Korean relations comes to a dead stop, the U.S. would have to take full responsibility for the aftermath,” it noted.

Under the title of “provocations from war fanatics,” the commentary also denounced the U.S. for planning to resume joint military drills after the closing of the PyeongChang Paralympic Games next month.

“A sense of danger is sweeping across the Korean Peninsula, with massive strategic weapons and troops continuously deployed in the South,” it said.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification remained careful over the planned resumption of the annual South-Korea-U.S. military exercises, as it will draw strong backlash from the regime. The ministry said the recent warming of inter-Korean relations is still like walking on eggshells, as Washington wishes to carry out the drills soon after the Olympics.

The exercise, which normally takes place around late February to early March every year, was postponed until after late March due to the ongoing PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

The decision came amid concerns over the North’s possible military provocations during the global sporting event. But the U.S. has in recent weeks reaffirmed its plan to resume the drill “right after” the closing of the Paralympics.

“The U.S. aims to put an end to the warming inter-Korean relations upon the closing of the Olympics by making a big noise over its plans to conduct the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military drills,” the commentary said.

It also noted the U.S. has had no intention to promote peace on the peninsula from the beginning, only showing wicked behavior to spoil the mood for easing inter-Korean tension.

Even if the U.S. remains open to holding dialogue with the North, the former has underlined there will be “no compromise” with the regime.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday in a speech in Dallas that the country would continue “standing up against” the North Korean nuclear and missile programs, pledging to toughen political and economic pressure under the goal of denuclearizing the regime.

mhlee@ktimes.com

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6 first-round trade targets for the Cowboys in the 2018 NFL draft

With an average of eight trades in the first round each year, the first night of the NFL draft is sure to include some wheeling and dealing — how aggressive will the Cowboys be?

The last time the Cowboys traded up in the first round? The 2012 draft, moving from No. 14 to No. 6 and drafting cornerback Morris Claiborne. Dallas surrendered a second-round pick (No. 45 overall) to the then-St. Louis Rams to complete the deal. Picks Nos. 45, 46 and 47 that year? Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and linebackers Mychal Kendricks and Bobby Wagner.

The last time the Cowboys traded back in the first round? The 2013 draft, moving from No. 18 to No. 31 and drafting future Pro Bowl center Travis Fredrick. Dallas received a third-round pick in the deal, which was below-average value according to most trade charts. However, the Cowboys turned that pick into wide receiver Terrance Williams (No. 74 overall), who has started 58 games in his five seasons as a pro.

Odds are, the Cowboys will stay at No. 19 and make a pick. However, the phone lines (and minds in the war room) will be open. It is too early in the draft process to have a firm understanding of where players will land on draft day. However, this is an early look at possible trade targets, both up and down.

Trade-up targets:
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

An impressive size/speed athlete, Edmunds has the frame of a defensive end and the athleticism of a safety. He uses his movement skills and instincts in unison to be a "cleaner" linebacker, tidying up the messes of his teammates. Edmunds is still very young in both mind and body, but his physical traits and impact potential are off the charts. He would be an ideal fit as the MIKE linebacker in the Cowboys’ scheme, but Dallas likely needs to trade into the top 12 to get him.

Vita Vea, DT, Washington

A prospect with freaky skills, Vea doesn’t have the production or consistency of a top-15 pick, but his high-upside traits are why Dallas will likely need to trade up for him. He has the unique ability to anchor/split double-teams on one play and then chase ballcarriers to the sideline on the next. Vea relies on brute strength over technical savvy, but his rare combination of athleticism and power at his size makes him an ideal 1-technique defensive tackle for the Cowboys.

Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

The top wide receiver prospect in the 2018 draft, Ridley would be an ideal fit as the "Z" receiver in the Cowboys’ offense. And his skill set is exactly what Dallas is missing. Ridley has above-average play speed and crafty route-running to create his own space, which would aid Dak Prescott immensely on downfield throws. A player with Ridley’s skills would also draw coverage away from Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley and help open sectors of the field for Ezekiel Elliott to run free.

Trade-down targets:
Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia

A possible Cowboys target at No. 19, Wynn is a first-round prospect, but Dallas may be able to trade back 6-10 spots and still land him. After starting all 15 games last season at left tackle, Wynn made the expected move inside to guard during Senior Bowl practices and was arguably the best player at the event. He is a plug-and-play lineman who would be an ideal fit at left guard for the Cowboys with the skills to kick outside to tackle in a pinch.

Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford

While Vita Vea is a trade-up option if the Cowboys are looking for an upgrade at the 1-tech, Phillips is a possibility if they trade back. The nose tackle in Stanford’s 3-4 base scheme, he pulled off the rare feat of leading the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks in 2017. Phillips is a bully on the interior with hammer hands and his wrestling background, also flashing the instincts to make plays.

Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

The Hall-of-Fame career of Jason Witten is winding down and the Cowboys need to groom his replacement. Arguably the top tight end in this class, Goedert has several similarities to vintage No. 82 with his versatility to stretch the seam, threaten the defense after the catch and stay home and block if needed.

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Here’s How U.S.-North Korea Crises Typically End

North and South Korean soldiers stare each other down in 1996, along the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.

How will the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons end? Will Kim Jong Un buckle under pressure and roll back his nuclear program, or will he press forward in completing an arsenal that can threaten the whole world? Will Donald Trump make good on his threats to take military action against the North, or will he focus on deterring Kim from ever using his nukes?

It’s impossible to answer these questions with certainty. But it’s possible to find clues in the historical record. And history suggests that the current crisis is unlikely to devolve into fighting—that the more probable outcome is one or both leaders backing down and reaching a compromise.

Long before North Korea was antagonizing America with missile and nuclear tests, it was seizing American spy ships, downing American planes, and hacking American soldiers to death. In 2007, the Congressional Research Service catalogued well over 100 North Korean provocations against the United States and its allies over the previous 57 years, ranging in severity from the digging of a cross-border tunnel to the invasion of South Korea in 1950. That invasion sparked a three-year war that left millions dead. Since then, however—from the bombing of a South Korean airplane in 1987 to the more recent sinking of a South Korean warship and shelling of a South Korean island in the same year—no North Korean provocation has resulted in a major military conflict.

There Is No Precedent for What America Wants From North Korea

There is reason to believe this time could be different. History is not destiny. North Korea is nearing a truly new frontier: possessing the capability to target the United States with the world’s deadliest weapons. Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s young, audacious leader, has exhibited a penchant for provocation and a distaste for negotiation, in just six years testing far more missiles than his father and grandfather combined. And Donald Trump is an exceptional president, who has said as much. “I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this very dangerous position,” Trump said regarding North Korea in his recent State of the Union address. “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation.” Neither leader appears inclined to back down from a confrontation.

Yet there is also a reason why the history is what it is. While American and North Korean leaders have risen and fallen, while the Cold War has come and gone, while North Korea’s arms have expanded from artillery to chemical and biological weapons to nuclear weapons, certain realities have not changed. “Structural forces,” such as the “formidable military capabilities” of the United States and North Korea, and the geographic proximity of South Korea and China to North Korea, constrain the decision-making even of seemingly singular leaders such as Trump and Kim, the political scientists Michael Horowitz and Elizabeth Saunders recently wrote. “And these factors reduce the likelihood of war.”

From the U.S. perspective, confronting North Korea has always been complicated by the North’s inscrutable leadership, ties to Russia and China, and capacity to lash out at Americans and America’s allies in one of the most vital and volatile regions on earth. As a result, the prospect of unleashing a second Korean war has repeatedly proved more daunting than the latest act of North Korean aggression. The United States has succeeded in avoiding a military conflagration, but often at the expense of signaling to the North Koreans that so long as the North doesn’t stage an unacceptably massive provocation, America will react with restraint—maybe even with concessions.

Below are the most prominent examples of these provocations and brief accounts of how each crisis played out. Since the pressing question at the moment is how the United States will respond to the direct threat of a long-range North Korean nuclear capability, the cases involve either North Korean attacks on the United States or demonstrations of military capabilities that pose grave dangers to the U.S. and its allies.

The Blue House Raid and Pueblo Seizure

Year: 1968

North Korean provocation: Thirty-one North Korean commandos snuck across the Korean Demilitarized Zone and attempted to kill South Korean President Park Chung Hee at his Blue House residence, sparking clashes that left numerous South Koreans and several American soldiers dead. Two days later, North Korean forces opened fire on a U.S. Navy spy ship called the USS Pueblo, seizing a literal boatload of U.S. intelligence secrets, killing one American sailor, and holding hostage 82 other crew members.

U.S. response: President Lyndon Johnson weighed a range of military responses to the seizure of the Pueblo, including snatching a North Korean vessel, implementing a naval blockade, launching air strikes, sending ground forces over the DMZ, and even using nuclear weapons in the event that the North invaded the South. And South Korean officials—including an incensed, nearly assassinated president—demanded that the United States take “punitive action” against North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and considered attacking the North themselves.

Johnson built up U.S. air and naval assets in the waters off the Korean peninsula. But he ultimately restrained American and South Korean hawks. Forceful U.S. retaliation would probably make it impossible to free the sailors, invite North Korean countermeasures, and “bring the Chinese and Soviets more directly into the situation”—risking military escalation that an America consumed by the Vietnam War had no interest in, U.S. officials reasoned.

The United States instead entered into protracted negotiations with the North Koreans, who released the crew 11 months after they were taken captive. The U.S. bizarrely issued an apology to North Korea that it simultaneously repudiated. The Pueblo itself was never returned, and is now a floating North Korean museum.

Resolution: The United States staged a display of military force but eventually chose diplomacy to free the sailors.

Who backed down first: The United States.

The EC-121 Shootdown

Year: 1969

North Korean provocation: North Korean fighter jets shot down an American EC-121 plane on a routine reconnaissance mission over international waters, in the country’s most aggressive act against the United States since the Korean War. All 31 Americans on board were killed.

U.S. response: Facing its first international crisis, the Nixon administration half-heartedly considered many of the military responses that Johnson studied. But Richard Nixon, who had campaigned against Johnson’s “weak” handling of the Pueblo affair, settled on a symbolic show of force: dispatching a couple aircraft carriers to the Sea of Japan and redeploying reconnaissance planes escorted by fighter jets to the region. “The weak can be rash,” Secretary of State William Rogers declared. “The powerful must be more restrained.”

Nevertheless, the administration subsequently elaborated dozens of contingency plans to respond to the next hostile act by North Korea—ranging from bombing North Korean airfields to limited or all-out nuclear attacks on North Korea’s military capabilities. Henry Kissinger, the national-security adviser at the time, captured the conundrum plaguing the exercise: The military options “that seemed safe were inadequate to the provocation, while those that seemed equal to the challenge appeared too risky.”

The United States could try to minimize the risk of North Korean retaliation by responding to another EC-121-like incident with a surprise strike on a single military target, officials reckoned. But the only way to eliminate that risk would be a massive campaign to destroy North Korea’s air power. Since there wouldn’t necessarily be a difference between the costs of a major or minor military operation, America might as well go big or do nothing at all. Nixon did the latter for the remainder of his presidency—despite telling Kissinger, after the EC-121 crisis petered out, that the North Koreans “got away with it this time, but they’ll never get away with it again.”

Resolution: The United States engaged in a show of military force but didn’t use actual force or extract any compensation from North Korea.

Who backed down first: The United States.

The Tree-Cutting Incident

Year: 1976

North Korean provocation: North Korean troops beat two American soldiers to death with axes and clubs in a shared truce area along the Demilitarized Zone, resulting in the first fatalities there since the end of the Korean War. The scuffle began when an American and South Korean crew attempted, over North Korean objections, to trim a poplar tree as a means of improving visibility at the border.

U.S. response: President Gerald Ford upgraded U.S. forces in Korea to the readiness level of DEFCON 3, moving nuclear and conventional weaponry to concrete bunkers and an aircraft carrier to Korean waters. North Korea, for its part, put the military on high alert, conducted civilian air-raid drills, and evacuated top North Korean officials to fortified tunnels. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who was a Pacific Command intelligence official at the time, has said that war felt more imminent during the tree-trimming crisis than it does today.

Kissinger, now secretary of state, recommended striking the barracks of the North Korean soldiers involved in the tree attack. But Ford was wary of thrusting the United States back into combat after it had just withdrawn from Vietnam. Instead, he selected a modest but still risky option called Operation Paul Bunyan; the chief of staff of U.S. Forces Korea estimated that it “stood a 50-50 chance of starting a war.” Three days after the axe murders, a convoy of 300 American and South Korean soldiers (including, incidentally, current South Korean President Moon Jae In) returned unannounced to the DMZ to cut down the poplar tree while helicopter gunships, B-52 bombers, and fighter jets hovered overhead and nearby.

Within minutes, North Korean troops stood down and the poplar was reduced to a stump. Within hours, a spooked Kim Il Sung expressed regret for the incident; he soon agreed to remove guard posts from the southern side of the shared truce area. The United States hadn’t made so dramatic a demonstration of military power to the North since the Korean War. Nor has it since.

Resolution: The United States stopped just short of military action, avoiding North Korean retaliation and receiving minor concessions from the North.

Who backed down first: North Korea.

The Pursuit of Weapons of Mass Destruction

Year: 1994 — present day

North Korean provocation: In the late 1960s and 1970s, North Korea’s direct provocations against the United States consisted of hostile actions. Since the 1990s, they’ve taken the form of advances in developing weapons of mass destruction. In 1994, U.S. officials believed the Kim government was on the verge of reprocessing fuel from its Yongbyon nuclear reactor for use in nuclear weapons, precipitating the first nuclear crisis with North Korea. Since 2006, North Korea has tested ever more powerful nuclear weapons and ever more sophisticated long-range missiles—to the point where, according to Trump’s CIA director, the North is now only months away from being able to place a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reliably strike the U.S. mainland. North Korea has for decades amassed chemical and biological weapons as well. But in 2017 it went much further: Agents of the North Korean government are suspected of assassinating Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in broad daylight in a bustling Malaysian airport using the chemical nerve agent VX.

U.S. response: Every presidential administration over the last couple of decades has explored military options for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program, most seriously in 1994 when that program was still rudimentary and the Clinton administration drew up plans and mobilized forces to strike the Yongbyon reactor. But each administration has instead chosen a mix of engagement (diplomatic dialogue, economic assistance, security assurances) and pressure (diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions, beefed-up military deterrence against North Korean aggression). The Trump administration is currently waging a campaign of “maximum pressure.”

“For whatever benefits we might accrue from the strike, and they might be substantial benefits, there is a very significant downside,” the Clinton-era Defense Secretary Bill Perry has noted in explaining why “coercive diplomacy” has again and again seemed more attractive than military action. “It could start as a relatively minor conflict, but it is all too likely to escalate into a bigger war and ultimately into a nuclear war.” The carrot-and-stick approach has at times succeeded in suspending or setting back North Korea’s quest for nuclear weapons, but so far the progress has unfailingly proved fleeting. Now, with negotiations nowhere in sight, North Korea is racing to complete its nuclear arsenal before the Trump administration’s pressure becomes too much to bear. Who wins the race, or whether it ends in some sort of draw, isn’t yet clear.

In killing off Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, North Korea showed that it was willing to use a sophisticated weapon of mass destruction outside its borders. But here too, the Trump administration responded not with a punitive military strike, as it did when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, but with increased pressure: redesignating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Resolution: To be determined.

Who backed down first: Sometimes the United States, sometimes North Korea.

Donald Trump has argued that episodes such as the Pueblo and EC-121 crises have led the Kim regime to interpret “America’s past restraint as weakness”—and that it “would be a fatal miscalculation” for Kim to draw the same conclusions this time around. But Trump nonetheless confronts the same conundrum that Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton all confronted well before North Korea had nuclear weapons. To paraphrase Henry Kissinger, the least-risky military options are insufficient to meet the challenge from North Korea and the sufficient military options are very risky. And even if the military plans are limited, the planners must be prepared for unlimited war on the Korean peninsula. Since the horror of the Korean War, no U.S. leader has been willing to assume those risks. Not yet, at least.

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Historic marker noting where, and why, Dallas became a big city has been stolen

Few noticed its disappearance, because, perhaps, few knew of its existence.

Exactly one decade ago, the Texas Historical Commission marked the spot where, in the early 1870s, “the city of Dallas secured its role as the economic, communication and transportation center of North Texas,” per the official plaque planted, until days ago, on the outskirts of the city’s center. The location hides in plain sight downtown — on the south side of Pacific Avenue, beneath the Interstate 345 overpass that links North Central Expressway with Interstates 30 and 45.

There, shortly after the end of the Civil War, the Houston & Texas Central and Texas & Pacific railroad lines intersected — the former coming from the south; the latter, from the east. And there, a forever ago, stood the train depot that now exists only in a 110-year-old photograph stored at the downtown library.

The train crossing, among the first in the state, took some finagling and much wheeling and dealing. Officials in the nascent city, given its official charter 162 years ago today, wanted the Houston & Texas Central, the first rail line to reach Dallas, to run near the courthouse. And they wanted the Texas & Pacific to pass close to the city’s sole water supply at Browder’s Springs — also near the courthouse.

But T&P officials opposed to alignment, nearly derailing Dallas’ hopes. Then the city’s great-great-grandfathers, practicing what their elected offspring would later deem “economic development,” bestowed unto both rail lines gifts they could not refuse. Right-of-way was given away, which is how Burleson Avenue became modern-day Pacific; so, too, was $100,000 in bond money and more land for the depot where the X marked the spot.

The arrival of the trail would forever alter this city. In 1870, Dallas was “a hamlet of hardly more than 1,000 people,” then-County Judge Tom McCullough said in May 1937 when commenting on the first train’s arrival here. Twenty years later, that number had grown to more than 38,000.

This is where the marker is supposed to be. But on Friday morning, it was long gone.

“The arrival of the Houston and Texas Central and Texas and Pacific Railroads brought large numbers of people to Dallas,” civil engineer Jerry Rogers wrote two years ago, “making North Texas the center of commerce for the Southwest, unprecedented without a major seaport or river.”

The story of the “Junction of the Texas & Pacific and Houston & Texas Central Railroads” was, until a few days ago, told on the marker lurking in the shadows of the underpass linking Deep Ellum and downtown. But sometime at January’s end — no one knows the specific date — the bronzed narrative was snapped off its pole and, more than likely, stolen.

The Dallas Police Department says it’s investigating the marker’s disappearance, which it learned about on Jan. 20 after former Texas Secretary of State David Dean sent an email to the department’s Central Patrol Division’s investigative unit. But a spokesperson said Friday morning the inquiry hasn’t gotten very far: Neighborhood patrol officers were dispatched to talk to the construction crews remaking the surrounding surface streets, as well as I-345. Detectives, too, were asked to investigate. But so far, police said Friday, no luck.

“I’m so very sad that it has happened,” said Kellie Murphy, the chief operating officer of the Museum of the American Railroad, which had been at Fair Park until the city forced its move to Frisco.

The Texas Historical Commission said this week it received word in August that the plaque had been “damaged,” but was sent no further details — no photos, no description of the damage done. The agency had no idea it had been yanked off the pole planted beneath I-345 during an official ceremony in the fall of 2009 led by then-Dallas County Judge Jim Foster.

On its website, on a page about “marker mayhem,” the state agency points out that theft of its markers — which cost $1,100 and are made in San Antonio — are usually considered felonies, since it clearly states, at the bottom of the text, that the plaque is state property. But Leah Brown, the agency’s spokesperson, said vandals and thieves are seldom caught, much less prosecuted.

Statewide, there are some 16,000 markers spread across 254 counties, many of which pre-date the establishment of the THC in 1953. The Dallas County Historical Commission says it has more than 300 of those, and in its documentation notes that a handful have been stolen over the years, among them, in 1996, one at Cedar Springs and Oak Lawn honoring Gov. Wilbert Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel. One marker commemorating Victor and Willie’s Bilbo Jitney Line at Sylvan Avenue at Seale Street in West Dallas was actually stolen and replaced twice.

It would be up to the Dallas County Historical Commission or a private donor to replace the marker. But commission members reached Friday said they weren’t even aware that the marker had gone missing.

This isn’t the first plaque memorializing Dallas’ first rail line to disappear, either. On May 17, 1936, officials from the Dallas Historical Society and all the major rail lines met at the intersection of Canton Street and Central Avenue to install a plaque paying tribute to “the railwaymen who helped build this city,” read a Dallas Morning News headline.

No one — not the historical society, knows where it went. Or how it got there.

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