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Southwest Airlines Cancels More Than 1,000 Weekend Flights

Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend, blaming the woes on air traffic control issues and weather.

The airline canceled more than 1,000 flights, or 28% of its schedule, as of 5 p.m. ET Sunday, according to flight tracker FlightAware. That was the highest rate by far of the major U.S. airlines. Next in line were Allegiant and Spirit, which had respectively canceled 5% and 4% of their flights on Sunday, according to the flight tracker. American Airlines canceled 2% of its flights.

Southwest Airlines said in an emailed statement that it had experienced weather challenges in its Florida airports at the beginning of the weekend, which were compounded by unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region. Those issues triggered delays and prompted significant cancellations for the airlines beginning Friday evening.

“We’ve continued diligent work throughout the weekend to reset our operation with a focus on getting aircraft and crews repositioned to take care of our customers,” said Southwest Airlines. “With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged.”

The company said that it’s allowing customers to explore self-service rebooking options on Southwest.com, where they can get updates on the status of their travel.

However, Henry H. Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst at The Atmosphere Research Group, based in San Francisco, points to other causes for the cancellations.

First, he says Southwest has scheduled more flights than it can handle, a problem that started in June. He also noted that Southwest operates what’s known as a point-to-point route network, and when a delay occurs, it “cascades” along the remaining flight segments. That’s because, for example, a Southwest flight departing Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the airline’s home base of Dallas may make multiple stops along the way.

But Harteveldt says the most troubling reason is the likelihood that some pilots who oppose Southwest’s decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations are participating in an illegal job action where they call in sick or are engaging in a “work slowdown.”

In a statement Saturday, the airline’s pilot union, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said that’s not the case.

“SWAPA is aware of operational difficulties affecting Southwest Airlines today due to a number of issues, but we can say with confidence that our pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions,” it said.

Harteveldt noted Southwest’s woes could linger and affect its fourth-quarter financial performance.

“All of this is happening as people are in the midst of booking their Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year holiday travel,” he said. “It’s very possible that some people who might normally book on Southwest may see this news and choose to fly other airlines.

One in six most critically ill patients are unvaccinated pregnant women with Covid

NHS England release statistics after evidence Covid can cause serious problems for mothers-to-be and their babies

One in six patients requiring the NHS’s highest form of life-saving care are unvaccinated pregnant women with Covid, new figures reveal.

Twenty of the 118 patients with Covid who received extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (Ecmo) between July and September were mothers-to-be, NHS England said.

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Hydropower Decline Adds Strain to Power Grids in Drought

After water levels at a California dam fell to historic lows this summer, the main hydropower plant it feeds was shut down. At the Hoover Dam in Nevada — one of the country’s biggest hydropower generators — production is down by 25%. If extreme drought persists, federal officials say a dam in Arizona could stop producing electricity in coming years. 

Severe drought across the West drained reservoirs this year, slashing hydropower production and further stressing the region’s power grids. And as extreme weather becomes more common with climate change, grid operators are adapting to swings in hydropower generation.

“The challenge is finding the right resource, or mix of resources, that can provide the same energy and power outputs as hydro,” said Lindsay Buckley, a spokesperson for the California Energy Commission. 

U.S. hydropower generation is expected to decline 14% this year compared with 2020, according to a recent federal forecast. The projected drops are concentrated in western states that rely more heavily on hydropower, with California’s production expected to fall by nearly half.

The reductions complicate grid operations since hydropower is a relatively flexible renewable energy source that can be easily turned up or down, experts say, such as in the evenings when the sun goes down and solar energy generation drops.

“Hydro is a big part of the plan for making the whole system work together,” said Severin Borenstein, a renewable energy expert at the University of California, Berkeley and board member of the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s electric grid. 

Borenstein noted that hydropower is important as the state works to build out its electricity storage options, including by installing batteries that can dispatch energy when it is needed.

Ben Kujala of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which handles power planning for the Columbia River Basin, also noted that grid operators have adapted how they deploy hydropower in recent years to ensure that it complements solar and wind energy. 

Power grids linking western regions also offer some relief. While California can face multi-year stretches of dry weather, the Pacific Northwest usually gets enough precipitation in the winter to recover and produce hydropower to export.

But this year, the Northwest was also hit by extreme heat and less precipitation, according to Crystal Raymond, a climate change researcher at the University of Washington. While energy planners account for drought years, Raymond said climate change over the long term may further reduce the amounts of melting snow in mountains that fill reservoirs in the spring.

In August, California officials shut down the Edward Hyatt hydropower plant for the first time in its 60-year history after water levels at Lake Oroville sank to historic lows. The plant can produce enough power for up to 750,000 homes, but typically operates at lower levels. 

At Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border, federal officials recently said there is a 34% chance that the Glen Canyon Dam won’t be able to produce power at some point in 2023, up from a 3% chance for next year, if extreme drought persists.  

Declines in hydropower production in California this summer coincided with heat waves, forcing the state to buy extra power. To prevent outages in late September, state officials said they were deploying temporary emergency generators.

“The drought did compound the difficulty of meeting demand,” said Jordan Kern, an energy and water systems expert at North Carolina State University.

In some northwestern states, hydropower production has reverted closer to normal levels after dipping just below their 10-year ranges earlier this year. California’s hydropower levels remained at the bottom of the state’s 10-year range through June. Federal forecasts say much of the West is likely to continue to see drought conditions through the end of the year.

Declines in hydropower production mean production bumps for other energy sources. Natural gas power is expected to rise 7% in California and 6% in the Northwest this year over last, according to federal forecasts. Coal generation is forecast to rise 12% in the Northwest.

The California Air Resources Board says the state has been able to continue reducing the electricity sector’s greenhouse gas emissions despite swings in hydropower generation in recent years.

Right-sizing the Force: Army Offers Armor for Smaller Troops

Army Capt. Kim Pierre-Zamora remembers the protective vest she was issued when she went to basic training a number of years ago. It was a size medium that hung down too far and made it difficult for her to even bend over to pick up something.

“Whenever I tried to move or tried to shoulder my weapon or shoot on a pop-up range really quickly, I would have to physically pick up the vest and move it in order to shoulder my weapon,” Pierre-Zamora said. 

It’s a common complaint from female soldiers and small-stature men who have struggled with the bulky armor they’ve worn over two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in recent weeks, the Army for the first time has begun handing out armor in three additional sizes: extra small short, small short and small long. The armor can be adjusted in multiple ways to fit better and allow soldiers to move faster and more freely.

The “modular scalable vest” was distributed to more than 4,500 soldiers so far in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, over the past few weeks. Female soldiers also will be able to get new versions of the combat shirt more tailored for a woman’s shape. Those shirts are given out only when soldiers deploy.

Army researchers have been working on the changes for years, trying to come up with combat gear that is lighter and fits better.

Initially, the effort to add more sizes was in response to complaints from female soldiers, who are increasingly moving into combat jobs previously open only to men. As more women deployed to a war zone, they often found that they were shorter and smaller than many of the men and needed armor that allows for narrower shoulders, a bust and hips.

Early on, however, the Army made the decision to make the vests unisex, The decision, said Lt. Col. Stephen Miller, was based on the belief that smaller male soldiers who might need a short or small-sized vest would refuse to take anything that was “stamped female.” He’s product manager for soldier protective equipment at PEO Soldier, an Army organization that coordinates the fielding of armor, weapons and other equipment. 

That move has proven to be a success. 

Nearly 25 percent or 1,200, of the 82nd Airborne soldiers so far have gotten armor in the three new sizes, said Pierre-Zamora, who works as an assistant product manager at PEO Soldier. Of those 1,200, about 100 have been women.

There are five other regular sizes that have been available previously — extra small, small, medium, large and extra large.

Pierre-Zamora said the new short and long versions fit many soldiers better. As an example, she said that she and another female soldier appear to be about the same size. But she said she wears an extra small, while the other soldier wears an extra small short.

“Outwardly we both look like we’re about the same size, but her torso is a little bit shorter than mine,” she said.

The vest, she said, also allows soldiers to move the ballistic armor plates that can be inserted for additional protection. The soft pockets that hold the plates can be shifted up, so they don’t rest on female soldiers’ hip bones, impeding quick and agile movement. The shoulder straps are also adjustable.

The small long version of the vest better fits some thinner men.

“There are a lot of small men who were probably wearing a vest that was too big for them,” Miller said.

Miller said he was one of them.

“I’ve always been given a large or a medium in the past,” he said. But he was given a size small in the new version “because someone who knew what they were doing fitted me for it, and said, ‘No, the way the MSV (modular scalable vest) fits, this is where it goes.'”

Another soldier he knows, he said, is more than 2 meters tall, but is also very thin. He’s usually gotten a medium or large based on his height and the length needed, but he now is using the small long — one of the new sizes just made available.

The new combat shirt, however, has a new version specifically for female soldiers, because the problem was the shape, not the sizes. Miller said it has shorter sleeves, a flare at the bottom, and added protection along the sides of the bust. 

The new one, he said, eliminated the problem that female soldiers had with the shirt riding up on their hips. But women who have more of a straight build can still get the unisex version.

Acknowledging that complaints about the Army’s body armor have been circulating for years, Miller said it took time to find vendors who could change the size and shape of the ballistic plates, while also making them lighter and effective in protecting soldiers from blasts.

“Stopping bullets is a complex problem,” Miller said. “It’s really taken a lot of deliberate effort to adapt the system to something that weighs less, gets after a better form factor, as well as to get after the soldiers who weren’t specifically accounted for in the previous systems.”

The major difficulty, he said, was cutting the weight of the plates. The new ones weigh about 0.5 kilograms less. So far, he said, just two vendors met the lesser weight goal without sacrificing protection.

Eventually, more than 6,000 soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division’s three brigades are expected to get the new armor. Miller said each soldier is individually fitted by trained personnel. Soldiers go through a 30-minute class to learn how the armor can be adjusted.

Turkish Fires Endanger World Pine Honey Supplies

Beekeepers Mustafa Alti and his son Fehmi were kept busy tending to their hives before wildfires tore through a bucolic region of Turkey that makes most of the world’s prized pine honey.

Now the Altis and generations of other honey farmers in Turkey’s Aegean province of Mugla are scrambling to find additional work and wondering how many decades it might take to get their old lives back on track.

“Our means of existence is from beekeeping, but when the forests burned, our source of income fell,” said Fehmi, 47, next to his mountainside beehives in the fire-ravaged village of Cokek. “I do side jobs, I do some tree felling, that way we manage to make do.”

Nearly 200,000 hectares of forests — more than five times the annual average — were scorched by fires across Turkey this year, turning luscious green coasts popular with tourists into ash.

The summer disaster and an accompanying series of deadly floods made the climate — already weighing heavily on the minds of younger voters — a major issue two years before the next scheduled election.

Signaling a political shift, Turkey’s parliament this week ended a five-year wait and ratified the Paris Agreement on cutting the greenhouse emissions that are blamed for global warming and abnormal weather events.

But the damage has already been done in Mugla, where 80 percent of Turkey’s pine honey is produced.

Turkey as a whole makes 92 percent of the world’s pine honey, meaning supplies of the thick, dark amber may be running low worldwide very soon.

Turkey’s pine honey harvests were already suffering from drought when the wildfires hit, destroying the delicate balance among bees, trees, and the little insects at the heart of the production process.

The honey is made by bees after they collect the sugary secretions of the tiny Basra beetle (Marchalina hellenica), which lives on the sap of pine trees. 

Fehmi hopes the beetles will adapt to younger trees after the fires. But he also accepts that “it will take at least five or 10 years to get our previous income back.”

His father Mustafa agrees, urging President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to expand forested areas and plant young trees.

“There’s no fixing a burned house. Can you fix the dead? No. But new trees might come, a new generation,” Mustafa said.

For now, though, the beekeepers are counting their losses and figuring out what comes next.

The president of the Mugla Beekeepers’ Association, Veli Turk, expects his region’s honey production to plunge by up to 95 percent this year.

“There is pretty much no Marmaris honey left,” he said.

“This honey won’t come for another 60 years,” he predicted. “It’s not just Turkey. This honey would go everywhere in the world. It was a blessing. This is really a huge loss.”

Beekeeper Yasar Karayigit, 45, is thinking of switching to a different type of honey to keep his passion — and sole source of income — alive.

“I love beekeeping, but to continue, I’ll have to pursue alternatives,” Karayigit said, mentioning royal jelly (or “bee milk”) and sunflower honey, which involves additional costs.

“But if we love the bees, we have to do this,” the father of three said.

Ismail Atici, head of the Milas district Chamber of Agriculture in Mugla, said the price of pine honey has doubled from last year, threatening to make the popular breakfast food unaffordable for many Turks.

He expects price rises to continue and supplies to become ever scarcer.

“We will get to a point where even if you have money, you won’t be able to find those medicinal plants and medicinal honey,” Atici said.

“It’s going to be very hard to find 100 percent pine honey,” beekeeper Karayigit agreed. “We have had so much loss.”

Looking ahead, the president of the Turkey Beekeepers’ Association, Ziya Sahin, suggests selectively introducing the Basra beetle to new areas of Mugla, expanding coverage from the current 7% to 25% of local pine forests.

“If we conduct transplantation of the beetle from one area to another and continue this for two successive years, we can protect the region’s dominance in the sector,” Sahin said.

“There will be a serious drop in honey production if we don’t do this,” he added, calling this year the “worst” of his 50-year career.

Yet despite the pain and the troubled road ahead, the younger Alti has no plans to quit.

“This is my father’s trade. Because this is passed down from the family, we must continue it,” Fehmi said.