Cicadas cause unusual disruptions, but experts say the insect swarms aren’t a major concern

Billions of brood x cicadas spread across parts of the East and Midwest have caused several unusual disruptions over the past week.

Billions of brood x cicada spread across parts of the East and Midwest have caused several unusual disruptions over the past week, including the grounding of a White House press plane, a car crash in Ohio and even an appearance on weather radar is included. But apart from a few scattered instances of cicadas wreaks havoc, the country is not seeing a widespread slowdown due to mating insects, experts said.

Journalists preparing to cover President Joe Biden’s first overseas trip were delayed by six hours at Dulles International Airport on Tuesday after his charter plane suffered mechanical problems caused by cicadas.

Delta Air Lines said in a statement that the charter flight was delayed Tuesday night due to the “periodic presence of cicadas” in the auxiliary power unit, or small turbine engine, which rendered the engine unusable. Delta teams dispatched a replacement aircraft and crew to operate the flight, which departed after 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, nearly six hours late, the statement said.

A spokesman said the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority was not aware of the cicadas, causing delays in any other commercial or charter flights into Dulles.

If such an incident could happen in Dulles, it could happen at other airports as well, Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial airline pilot who is communications strategist for flight tracking website FlightAware, said she still needs to travel with cicada on the fly. effect is expected. “Very little.”

But insects and other animals have been responsible for major accidents in the past, including the 1996 crash of a chartered plane in the Dominican Republic, which killed nearly 200 people on board after an insect nest blocked a pitot tube. Were gone, he said.

It is not unheard of for large swarms of insects to cause mechanical problems. In 2010, during a stink bug outbreak that affected several Mid-Atlantic states, a Maryland farmer reported that the invasive insects clogged part of a soybean harvester, causing it to overheat and catch fire. Doug Pfeiffer, a fruit entomologist at Virginia Tech.

Brood x cicada shell on a tree on the North Lawn of the White House on May 25.Carolyn Custer / AP

“That’s expected,” Pfeiffer said. “Sufficient numbers of insects can certainly cause mechanical issues.”

In some cases, it is not necessarily the insects that cause the disturbance, but rather, people’s reactions to them.

“Many people are unnecessarily afraid of insects, so if someone blows into a window, they may panic and not pay attention to driving,” Pfeiffer said. “Having a very high number of insects is an emotional overreaction in addition to some real problems.

For example, police in Cincinnati said Monday that a cicada flew through an open window and hit a driver’s face, causing the man to hit a pole.

It is estimated that billions of cicadas will emerge during their monthly mating ritual. In some areas, cicadas populations are so large that swarms have appeared – at least in part – on weather radar. Over the weekend, the National Weather Service office in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., tweeted a photo of radar imagery showing the Washington metro area looking like a fuzzy blanket.

National Weather Service officials said, “You may have noticed a lot of opacity (low reflectance values) on our radar recently. The Hydrometeor classification algorithm shows much of it to be organic in nature. Our guess? It’s probably #cicadas,” National Weather Service officer tweeted on saturday.

Chris Strong, a meteorologist with the Office of the National Weather Service in Baltimore and Washington, said: “It’s unusual, of course, to see low-end reflectance from a cicada on our radar. It’s especially been in the background because it’s really It got hot last week, so it’s an ever-present thing that we can see right now.”

And while the insects can “deceive the radar” sometimes indicating that there may be a little more rainfall than there actually is, overall their effect is “not very impressive,” he said.

“Had to be co-located with the radar site where the cicada is at one of the highest concentrations right now,” said Granthshala News meteorologist Kathryn Prosive.

She said site conditions, along with factors such as a hot and humid environment, may have contributed to the cicadas being picked up by radar.

“It’s like the perfect cicada storm,” she said.

Prosiv said it was important to note that what was shown on the radar was not all likely to be cicada — it could have included high-flying insects or a high moisture content in the air, among other things.

Prosive said the cicadas were “completely harmless” to the radar site and its ability to predict it.

“If storms and rain come, we can obviously pick it up despite the cicada chaos,” she said. “They won’t let us miss a storm on the radar.”

May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, suspected that cicadas could fly high enough and could be detected by radar in sufficiently large groups. Cicada are not known to fly long distances like migratory insects, and they usually stay relatively close to the ground.

And although cicadas emerge underground en masse, they don’t usually move around in giant packs, Berenbaum said.

“They don’t swarm in the same way that bees swarm,” she said. “And they’re not made for long-distance flight. They just have to get from tree to tree, so they don’t usually fly above 500 feet. At that distance, they’re literally under the radar.”

Joseph’s University in Cincinnati, said it’s possible that the stretch of cold, rainy days across much of the Midwest over Memorial Day weekend prompted cicada to become more active in tree canopy, where They were seeking shelter from the elements.

“Cicada have a tendency to be covered by rain—they will actually crawl under leaves and under branches,” he said. “But then, when the sun comes out again, they get active and get very hot. And it was a lot of heat that we had over the weekend.”

Kritsky said that because the National Weather Service’s radar images overlap with where the cicada is emerging, it’s reasonable to assume that the obscure patch contains brood x swarms.

While the rise of billions of insects may be a nightmare scenario for some, cicada researchers are overjoyed to note this year’s event, especially compared to 17 years ago, when Brood x cicadas last tunneled from underground.

“The last time Brood X emerged, we didn’t have iPhones,” said Kritsky, who released an app in 2019. cicada safaris, which allows citizen scientists to report cicada sightings. “Now we’re all walking around with little computers in our pockets, and we can share video and photos and audio. It’s really helping us fill in some of these missing pieces about science.”

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