@NASA, @U_Nebraska Release New Global Groundwater Maps and U.S. Drought Forecasts

Weekly maps of dry conditions in red and wet conditions in blue relative to the historic record are now available for the globe at three depths: surface soil moisture, root zone soil moisture, and groundwater, the latter shown in this global view. Credit: NASA / Scientific Visualization Studio

Here’s the release from NASA:

NASA researchers have developed new satellite-based, weekly global maps of soil moisture and groundwater wetness conditions and one to three-month U.S. forecasts of each product. While maps of current dry/wet conditions for the United States have been available since 2012, this is the first time they have been available globally.

“The global products are important because there are so few worldwide drought maps out there,” said hydrologist and project lead Matt Rodell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Droughts are usually well known when they happen in developed nations. But when there’s a drought in central Africa, for example, it may not be noticed until it causes a humanitarian crisis. So it’s valuable to have a product like this where people can say, wow, it’s really dry there and no one’s reporting it.”

These maps are distributed online by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) to support U.S. and global drought monitoring.

“Being able to see a weekly snapshot of both soil moisture and groundwater is important to get a complete picture of drought,” said professor Brian Wardlow, director for the Center for Advanced Land Management Information Technologies at UNL, who works closely with Rodell on developing remote sensing tools for operational drought monitoring.

Monitoring the wetness of the soil is essential for managing agricultural crops and predicting their yields, because soil moisture is the water available to plant roots. Groundwater is often the source of water for crop irrigation. It also sustains streams during dry periods and is a useful indicator of extended drought. But ground-based observations are too sparse to capture the full picture of wetness and dryness across the landscape like the combination of satellites and models can.

[Using measurements from two satellite missions assimilated into a computer model, researchers have created global maps of terrestrial water around the planet. In addition, they can forecast water availability in the United States up to three months out. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scientific Visualization Studio]

A Global Eye on Water
Both the global maps and the U.S. forecasts use data from NASA and German Research Center for Geosciences’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow On (GRACE-FO) satellites, a pair of spacecraft that detect the movement of water on Earth based on variations of Earth’s gravity field. GRACE-FO succeeds the highly successful GRACE satellites, which ended their mission in 2017 after 15 years of operation. With the global expansion of the product, and the addition of U.S. forecasts, the GRACE-FO data are filling in key gaps for understanding the full picture of wet and dry conditions that can lead to drought.

The satellite-based observations of changes in water distribution are integrated with other data within a computer model that simulates the water and energy cycles. The model then produces, among other outputs, time-varying maps of the distribution of water at three depths: surface soil moisture, root zone soil moisture (roughly the top three feet of soil), and shallow groundwater. The maps have a resolution of 1/8th degree of latitude, or about 8.5 miles, providing continuous data on moisture and groundwater conditions across the landscape.

The GRACE and GRACE-FO satellite-based maps are among the essential data sets used by the authors of the U.S. Drought Monitor, the premier weekly map of drought conditions for the United States that is used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others, to evaluate which areas may need financial assistance due to losses from drought.

“GRACE [provided and GRACE-FO now provides] a national scope of groundwater,” said climatologist and Drought Monitor author Brian Fuchs, at the drought center. He and the other authors use multiple data sets to see where the evidence shows conditions have gotten drier or wetter. For groundwater, that used to mean going to individual states’ groundwater well data to update the weekly map. “It’s saved a lot of time having that groundwater layer along with the soil moisture layers, all in one spot,” Fuchs said. “The high-resolution data that we’re able to bring in allows us to draw those contours of dryness or wetness right to the data itself.”

One of the goals of the new global maps is to make the same consistent product available in all parts of the world—especially in countries that do not have any groundwater-monitoring infrastructure.

“Drought is really a key [topic]… with a lot of the projections of climate and climate change,” Wardlow said. “The emphasis is on getting more relevant, more accurate and more timely drought information, whether it be soil moisture, crop health, groundwater, streamflow—[the GRACE missions are] central to this,” he said. “These types of tools are absolutely critical to helping us address and offset some of the impacts anticipated, whether it be from population growth, climate change or just increased water consumption in general.”

Both the Center for Advanced Land Management and the National Drought Mitigation Center are based in UNL’s School of Natural Resources, and they are working with international partners, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank, to develop and support drought monitoring using the GRACE-FO global maps and other tools in the Middle East, North Africa, South Africa, South East Asia, and India.

U.S. Forecasts Maps for the Lower 48

30, 60, and 90-day forecasts of dry and wet conditions relative to the historic record for the Lower 48 United States use groundwater data from the NASA/GFZ GRACE-FO satellites for the initial conditions. This comparison shows the groundwater forecast made for August 2019 compared to the output based on the satellite observations for the same month.
Credits: NASA / Scientific Visualization Studio

Droughts can be complex, both in timing and extent. At the surface, soil moisture changes rapidly with weather conditions. The moisture in the root zone changes a little slower but is still very responsive to weather. Lagging behind both is groundwater, since it is insulated from changes in the weather. But for longer-term outlooks on drought severity—or, conversely, flood risk in low-lying areas—groundwater is the metric to watch, said Rodell.

“The groundwater maps are like a slowed down, smoothed version of what you see at the surface,” Rodell said. “They represent the accumulation of months or years of weather events.” That smoothing provides a more complete picture of the overall drying or wetting trend going on in an area. Having an accurate accounting of groundwater levels is essential for accurately forecasting near-future conditions.

The new forecast product that projects dry and wet conditions 30, 60, and 90 days out for the lower 48 United States uses GRACE-FO data to help set the current conditions. Then the model runs forward in time using the Goddard Earth Observing System, Version 5 seasonal weather forecast model as input. The researchers found that including the GRACE-FO data made the resulting soil moisture and groundwater forecasts more accurate.

Since the product has just been rolled out, the user community is only just beginning to work with the forecasts, but Wardlow sees a huge potential.

“I think you’ll see the GRACE-FO monitoring products used in combination with the forecasts,” Wardlow said. “For example, the current U.S. product may show moderate drought conditions, and if you look at the forecast and the forecast shows next month that there’s a continued drying trend, then that may change the decision versus if it was a wet trend.”

The U.S. forecast and global maps are freely available to users through the drought center’s data portal.

To download the maps, visit: https://nasagrace.unl.edu/

To learn more about GRACE and GRACE-FO, visit: https://gracefo.jpl.nasa.gov/

GRACE-FO is a partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GeoForschungsZentrum [GFZ]). Both spacecraft are being operated from the German Space Operations Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, under a GFZ contract with the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt). The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA. The GRACE-FO mission was launched in early 2018.

GRACE was implemented as a joint mission of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory managed the mission’s implementation and operations. The GRACE mission was decommissioned in late 2017.

Development of the drought/wetness products was funded by NASA’s Applied Sciences–Water Resources, Terrestrial Hydrology, and GRACE-FO Science Team programs.

Cover image: Weekly maps of dry conditions in red and wet conditions in blue relative to the historic record are now available for the globe at three depths: surface soil moisture, root zone soil moisture, and groundwater, the latter shown in this global view. Credit: NASA / Scientific Visualization Studio

There’s too much nitrogen and phosphorus in U.S. waterways — Florida International University

Algae. Photo credit: Florida International University

Here’s the release from Florida International University (Chrystian Tejedor):

Even minor amounts of human activity can increase nutrient concentrations in fresh waters that can damage the environment, according to a new study.

These findings suggest most U.S. streams and rivers have higher levels of nitrogen and phosphorus than is recommended. Although nutrients are a natural part of aquatic ecosystems like streams and rivers, too much of either nutrient can have lasting impacts on the environment and public health.

In Florida, toxic blue-green algal blooms have been triggered by releases of phosphorus-laden waters from Lake Okeechobee. Algal blooms produce a foul odor along waterways, decrease dissolved oxygen, threaten insect and fish communities and can even produce toxins that are harmful to mammals and humans.

“Ecosystems are being loaded with legacy and current nitrogen and phosphorus, and their capacity to hold these nutrients in many cases is decreasing,” said FIU associate professor John Kominoski, an ecologist and co-author of the study. “Not only are they being overwhelmed by nutrients, but they also have and continue to undergo hydrological and land use alterations.”

As human populations and demands increasingly grow, more land – including wetlands – is converted to agricultural and urban uses. This can introduce more nitrogen and phosphorus onto the land, which eventually makes its way into bodies of water. To make matters worse, soil erosion and climate change are also impacting nutrient pollution, leading to nutrient export to coastal waters, Kominoski said.

Nitrogen is most likely to come from transportation, industry, agriculture and fertilizer application, while increased phosphorus is more commonly the result of sewage waste, amplified soil erosion and runoff from urban watersheds.

“High concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus in our waterways are concerning because they threaten both human and ecosystem health,” said David Manning, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and lead author on the paper. “Nutrients are essential for all life, but when they get too high in our waterways, they can fundamentally change the way a stream looks and operates.”

In addition to causing algal blooms, these elevated nutrient concentrations can lead to a lack of species diversity and oxygen depletion. High nutrient concentrations can also affect the purity of the water we drink.

Nutrient pollution is a complex problem. While there’s still a lot of work to be done to develop management tools and set thresholds for nutrient concentrations in streams and rivers, better understanding of how nutrients are transported through the interconnected network of waterways can help lead to solutions. Kominoski emphasized the importance of management solutions at local-to-global scales required to effectively manage various sources of nitrogen and phosphorus.

“Water is a shared resource that connects communities, landscapes, and continents across the globe,” Kominoski said. “We must increase the protection and rehabilitation of ecosystems and water resources throughout the world, especially as human populations increase and climate changes.”

The study was published in Ecological Applications.

#ColoradoSprings watering rules

Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Fredricka Bogardus):

Adoption of permanent water conservation principles prior to a drought crisis makes sense. We live in a semiarid climate and will have periodic droughts. Long-term planning is always less costly and painful than crisis response.

The new ordinance addresses the frequency and time of watering for those using automatic sprinkler systems.

1. You may operate sprinklers up to three times per week, your choice of days. This is adequate frequency for turf and almost all plants that will do well in our climate.

For more information on turf irrigation frequency check out Colorado State University fact sheet 7.199 Watering Established Lawns (https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/watering-established-lawns-7-199/).

2. Between May 1 and Oct. 15, sprinkler operation is prohibited from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the warm hours of the day, most water applied will be lost to evaporation. While it might seem to be a good idea to run the sprinklers mid-day when it is very warm, it will actually be less beneficial to the turf than watering at a cooler time of the day.

3. Drip irrigation, watering cans and hose watering with a shut-off nozzle are allowed at any time.

4. If you are establishing a new landscape or have other special circumstances, you can apply to Colorado Springs Utilities for a permit or allocation plan.

5. Broken or leaking sprinkler systems are required to be repaired within 10 days.

6. Water runoff across nonirrigated ground, street or sidewalks is prohibited.

Environmentalists Object to Broad @EPA Waivers for Polluters During #Coronavirus Crisis — @WildEarthGuard #COVID19

The air pollution that industrial plants will not have to monitor damages the respiratory system, which is especially dangerous for already at-risk populations who may also become infected with COVID-19, which attacks the lungs. Photo credit: Ryan Adams via The High Country News

Here’s the release from Wild Earth Guardians (Rebecca Sobel):

Response to Trump Administration’s Plan to Relax Public Health Protections for Oil Refineries and Other Industries

WildEarth Guardians joined a coalition of environmentalists objecting to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) new Trump administration policy that relaxes environmental compliance rules for petrochemical plants and other big polluters during the coronavirus crisis.

“Relaxing pollution controls in the midst of a deadly health crisis is an obscene new low for the Trump administration,” said Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “While the pandemic worsens, the administration is propping up polluters in poisoning clean air, instead of focusing on the health and safety of Americans.”

The environmental organizations voiced their concerns in response to an announcement yesterday that the Trump administration EPA will “provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions.”

“It is not clear why refineries, chemical plants, and other facilities that continue to operate and keep their employees on the production line will no longer have the staff or time they need to comply with environmental laws,” said the statement, which was written by Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project, former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA.

The Environmental Integrity Project released a report last year documenting the sharp drop in environmental enforcement during the Trump administration.

In February, WildEarth Guardians joined the Environmental Integrity Project in publishing a report documenting EPA air monitoring data at the fencelines of oil refineries which demonstrated excessive release of cancer-causing benzene into nearby communities at concentrations far above federal action levels. The second worst refinery in the U.S. was the Holly Frontier Navajo Artesia refinery in Artesia, New Mexico, where monitors at the plant’s fenceline detected benzene in amounts four times the EPA action level.

“Instead of reining in illegal polluters, this administration is propping them up, further endangering the health of New Mexicans and all Americans in the process,” continued Sobel. “We are all in this together, and now is the time to protect people, not polluters.”

The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the #coronavirus raged — The Washington Post #COVID19

Click on the image to go to the John Hopkins website for the latest data.

From The Washington Post (Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

By the time Donald Trump proclaimed himself a wartime president — and the coronavirus the enemy — the United States was already on course to see more of its people die than in the wars of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

The country has adopted an array of wartime measures never employed collectively in U.S. history — banning incoming travelers from two continents, bringing commerce to a near-halt, enlisting industry to make emergency medical gear, and confining 230 million Americans to their homes in a desperate bid to survive an attack by an unseen adversary.

Despite these and other extreme steps, the United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation.

It did not have to happen this way. Though not perfectly prepared, the United States had more expertise, resources, plans and epidemiological experience than dozens of countries that ultimately fared far better in fending off the virus.

The failure has echoes of the period leading up to 9/11: Warnings were sounded, including at the highest levels of government, but the president was deaf to them until the enemy had already struck.

The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief.The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief.

And yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered.

Trump’s baseless assertions in those weeks, including his claim that it would all just “miraculously” go away, sowed significant public confusion and contradicted the urgent messages of public health experts.

“While the media would rather speculate about outrageous claims of palace intrigue, President Trump and this Administration remain completely focused on the health and safety of the American people with around the clock work to slow the spread of the virus, expand testing, and expedite vaccine development,” said Judd Deere, a spokesman for the president. “Because of the President’s leadership we will emerge from this challenge healthy, stronger, and with a prosperous and growing economy.”

But the president’s behavior and combative statements were merely a visible layer on top of deeper levels of dysfunction.

The most consequential failure involved a breakdown in efforts to develop a diagnostic test that could be mass produced and distributed across the United States, enabling agencies to map early outbreaks of the disease, and impose quarantine measure to contain them. At one point, a Food and Drug Administration official tore into lab officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telling them their lapses in protocol, including concerns that the lab did not meet the criteria for sterile conditions, were so serious that the FDA would “shut you down” if the CDC were a commercial, rather than government, entity.

Other failures cascaded through the system. The administration often seemed weeks behind the curve in reacting to the viral spread, closing doors that were already contaminated. Protracted arguments between the White House and public health agencies over funding, combined with a meager existing stockpile of emergency supplies, left vast stretches of the country’s health-care system without protective gear until the outbreak had become a pandemic. Infighting, turf wars and abrupt leadership changes hobbled the work of the coronavirus task force…

Even the president’s base has begun to confront this reality. In mid-March, as Trump was rebranding himself a wartime president, and belatedly urging the public to help slow the spread of the virus, Republican leaders were poring over grim polling data that suggested Trump was lulling his followers into a false sense of security in the face of a lethal threat.

The poll showed that far more Republicans than Democrats were being influenced by Trump’s dismissive depictions of the virus and the comparably scornful coverage on Fox News and other conservative networks. As a result, Republicans were in distressingly large numbers refusing to change travel plans, follow “social distancing” guidelines, stock up on supplies or otherwise take the coronavirus threat seriously…

On Jan. 6, Redfield sent a letter to the Chinese offering to send help, including a team of CDC scientists. China rebuffed the offer for weeks, turning away assistance and depriving U.S. authorities of an early chance to get a sample of the virus, critical for developing diagnostic tests and any potential vaccine.

China impeded the U.S. response in other ways, including by withholding accurate information about the outbreak. Beijing had a long track record of downplaying illnesses that emerged within its borders, an impulse that U.S. officials attribute to a desire by the country’s leaders to avoid embarrassment and accountability with China’s 1.3 billion people and other countries that find themselves in the pathogen’s path.

China stuck to this costly script in the case of the coronavirus, reporting Jan. 14 that it had seen “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.” U.S. officials treated the claim with skepticism that intensified when the first case surfaced outside China with a reported infection in Thailand…

A week earlier, senior officials at HHS had begun convening an intra-agency task force including Redfield, Azar and Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The following week, there were also scattered meetings at the White House with officials from the National Security Council and State Department, focused mainly on when and whether to bring back government employees in China.

U.S. officials began taking preliminary steps to counter a potential outbreak. By mid-January, Robert Kadlec, an Air Force officer and physician who serves as assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, had instructed subordinates to draw up contingency plans for enforcing the Defense Production Act, a measure that enables the government to compel private companies to produce equipment or devices critical to the country’s security. Aides were bitterly divided over whether to implement the act, and nothing happened for many weeks…

Despite the flurry of activity at lower levels of his administration, Trump was not substantially briefed by health officials about the coronavirus until Jan.18, when, while spending the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, he took a call from Azar.

Even before the heath secretary could get a word in about the virus, Trump cut him off and began criticizing Azar for his handling of an aborted federal ban on vaping products, a matter that vexed the president…

But the secretary, who had a strained relationship with Trump and many others in the administration, assured the president that those responsible were working on and monitoring the issue. Azar told several associates that the president believed he was “alarmist” and Azar struggled to get Trump’s attention to focus on the issue, even asking one confidant for advice.

Within days, there were new causes for alarm…

On Jan. 21, a Seattle man who had recently traveled to Wuhan tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the first known infection on U.S. soil. Then, two days later, Chinese authorities took the drastic step of shutting down Wuhan, turning the teeming metropolis into a ghost city of empty highways and shuttered skyscrapers, with millions of people marooned in their homes.

“That was like, whoa!,” said a senior U.S. official involved in White House meetings on the crisis. “That was when the Richter scale hit 8.”

It was also when U.S. officials began to confront the failings of their own efforts to respond.

Azar, who had served in senior positions at HHS through crises including the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the outbreak of Bird Flu in 2005, was intimately familiar with the playbook for crisis management.

He instructed subordinates to move rapidly to establish a nationwide surveillance system to track the spread of the coronavirus — a stepped-up version of what the CDC does every year to monitor new strains of the ordinary flu.

But doing so would require assets that would elude U.S. officials for months — a diagnostic test that could accurately identify those infected with the new virus and be produced on a mass scale for rapid deployment across the United States, and money to implement the system.

Azar’s team also hit another obstacle. The Chinese were still refusing to share the viral samples they had collected and were using to develop their own tests. In frustration, U.S. officials looked for other possible routes…

But in other ways, the situation was already spinning out of control, with multiplying cases in Seattle, intransigence by the Chinese, mounting questions from the public, and nothing in place to stop infected travelers from arriving from abroad.

Trump was out of the country for this critical stretch, taking part in the annual global economic forum in Davos, Switzerland. He was accompanied by a contingent of top officials including national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who took an anxious trans-Atlantic call from Azar.

Azar told O’Brien that it was “mayhem” at the White House, with HHS officials being pressed to provide nearly identical briefings to three audiences on the same day.

Azar urged O’Brien to have the NSC assert control over a matter with potential implications for air travel, immigration authorities, the State Department and the Pentagon. O’Brien seemed to grasp the urgency, and put his deputy, Matthew Pottinger, who had worked in China as a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, in charge of coordinating the still-nascent U.S. response.

But the rising anxiety within the administration appeared not to register with the president. On Jan. 22, Trump received his first question about the coronavirus in an interview on CNBC while in Davos. Asked whether he was worried about a potential pandemic, Trump said, “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. . . . It’s going to be just fine.”

[…]

Trump has, with some justification, pointed to the China-related restriction as evidence that he had responded aggressively and early to the outbreak. It was among the few intervention options throughout the crisis that played to the instincts of the president, who often seems fixated on erecting borders and keeping foreigners out of the country.

But by that point, 300,000 people had come into the United States from China over the previous month. There were only 7,818 confirmed cases around the world at the end of January, according to figures released by the World Health Organization — but it is now clear that the virus was spreading uncontrollably.

Pottinger was by then pushing for another travel ban, this time restricting the flow of travelers from Italy and other nations in the European Union that were rapidly emerging as major new nodes of the outbreak. Pottinger’s proposal was endorsed by key health-care officials, including Fauci, who argued that it was critical to close off any path the virus might take into the country.

This time, the plan met with resistance from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and others who worried about the impact on the U.S. economy. It was an early sign of tension in an area that would split the administration, pitting those who prioritized public health against those determined to avoid any disruption in an election year to the run of expansion and employment growth.

Those backing the economy prevailed with the president. And it was more than a month before the administration issued a belated and confusing ban on flights into the United States from Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people crossed the Atlantic during that interval…

A national stockpile of N95 protective masks, gowns, gloves and other supplies was already woefully inadequate after years of underfunding. The prospects for replenishing that store were suddenly threatened by the unfolding crisis in China, which disrupted offshore supply chains.

Much of the manufacturing of such equipment had long since migrated to China, where factories were now shuttered because workers were on order to stay in their households. At the same time, China was buying up masks and other gear to gird for its own coronavirus outbreak, driving up costs and monopolizing supplies.

In late January and early February, leaders at HHS sent two letters to the White House Office of Management and Budget asking to use its transfer authority to shift $136 million of department funds into pools that could be tapped for combating the coronavirus. Azar and his aides also began raising the need for a multibillion-dollar supplemental budget request to send to Congress.

Yet White House budget hawks argued that appropriating too much money at once when there were only a few U.S. cases would be viewed as alarmist.

Joe Grogan, head of the Domestic Policy Council, clashed with health officials over preparedness. He mistrusted how the money would be used and questioned how health officials had used previous preparedness funds…

But again, delays proved costly. The disputes meant that the United States missed a narrow window to stockpile ventilators, masks and other protective gear before the administration was bidding against many other desperate nations, and state officials fed up with federal failures began scouring for supplies themselves.

In late March, the administration ordered 10,000 ventilators — far short of what public health officials and governors said was needed. And many will not arrive until the summer or fall, when models expect the pandemic to be receding…

Although viruses travel unseen, public health officials have developed elaborate ways of mapping and tracking their movements. Stemming an outbreak or slowing a pandemic in many ways comes down to the ability to quickly divide the population into those who are infected and those who are not.

Doing so, however, hinges on having an accurate test to diagnose patients and deploy it rapidly to labs across the country. The time it took to accomplish that in the United States may have been more costly to American efforts than any other failing.

“If you had the testing, you could say, ‘Oh my god, there’s circulating virus in Seattle, let’s jump on it. There’s circulating virus in Chicago, let’s jump on it,’ ” said a senior administration official involved in battling the outbreak. “We didn’t have that visibility.”

The first setback came when China refused to share samples of the virus, depriving U.S. researchers of supplies to bombard with drugs and therapies in a search for ways to defeat it. But even when samples had been procured, the U.S. effort was hampered by systemic problems and institutional hubris.

Among the costliest errors was a misplaced assessment by top health officials that the outbreak would probably be limited in scale inside the United States — as had been the case with every other infection for decades — and that the CDC could be trusted on its own to develop a coronavirus diagnostic test.

The CDC, launched in the 1940s to contain an outbreak of malaria in the southern United States, had taken the lead on the development of diagnostic tests in major outbreaks including Ebola, Zika and H1N1. But the CDC was not built to mass-produce tests.

The CDC’s success had fostered an institutional arrogance, a sense that even in the face of a potential crisis there was no pressing need to involve private labs, academic institutions, hospitals and global health organizations also capable of developing tests.

Yet some were concerned that the CDC test would not be enough. Stephen Hahn, the FDA commissioner, sought authority in early February to begin calling private diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies to enlist their help.

But when senior FDA officials consulted leaders at HHS, Hahn, who had led the agency for about two months, was told to stand down. There were concerns about him personally contacting companies regulated by his agency.

At that point, Azar, the HHS secretary, seemed committed to a plan he was pursuing that would keep his agency at the center of the response effort: securing a test from the CDC and then building a national coronavirus surveillance system by relying on an existing network of labs used to track the ordinary flu.

In task force meetings, Azar and Redfield pushed for $100 million to fund the plan, but were shot down because of the cost, according to a document outlining the testing strategy obtained by The Washington Post…

On Feb. 6, when the World Health Organization reported that it was shipping 250,000 test kits to labs around the world, the CDC began distributing 90 kits to a smattering of state-run health labs.

Almost immediately, the state facilities encountered problems. The results were inconclusive in trial runs at more than half the labs, meaning they couldn’t be relied upon to diagnose actual patients. The CDC issued a stopgap measure, instructing labs to send tests to its headquarters in Atlanta, a practice that would delay results for days.

The scarcity of effective tests led officials to impose constraints on when and how to use them, and delayed surveillance testing. Initial guidelines were so restrictive that states were discouraged from testing patients exhibiting symptoms unless they had traveled to China and come into contact with a confirmed case, when the pathogen had by that point almost certainly spread more broadly into the general population.

The limits left top officials largely blind to the true dimensions of the outbreak.

In a meeting in the Situation Room in mid-February, Fauci and Redfield told White House officials that there was no evidence yet of worrisome person-to-person transmission in the United States. In hindsight, it appears almost certain that the virus was taking hold in communities at that point. But even the country’s top experts had little meaningful data about the domestic dimensions of the threat. Fauci later conceded that as they learned more their views changed.

At the same time the president’s subordinates were growing increasingly alarmed, Trump continued to exhibit little concern. On Feb. 10, he held a political rally in New Hampshire attended by thousands where he declared that “by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”

The New Hampshire rally was one of eight that Trump held after he had been told by Azar about the coronavirus, a period when he also went to his golf courses six times

On Feb. 29, a Washington state man became the first American to die of a coronavirus infection. That same day, the FDA released guidance, signaling that private labs were free to proceed in developing their own diagnostics.

Another four-week stretch had been squandered…

One week later, on March 6, Trump toured the facilities at the CDC wearing a red “Keep America Great” hat. He boasted that the CDC tests were nearly perfect and that “anybody who wants a test will get a test,” a promise that nearly a month later remains unmet.

He also professed to have a keen medical mind. “I like this stuff. I really get it,” he said. “People here are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ ”

In reality, many of the failures to stem the coronavirus outbreak in the United States were either a result of, or exacerbated by, his leadership.

For weeks, he had barely uttered a word about the crisis that didn’t downplay its severity or propagate demonstrably false information. He dismissed the warnings of intelligence officials and top public health officials in his administration.

At times, he voiced far more authentic concern about the trajectory of the stock market than the spread of the virus in the United States, railing at the chairman of the Federal Reserve and others with an intensity that he never seemed to exhibit about the possible human toll of the outbreak.

In March, as state after state imposed sweeping new restrictions on their citizens’ daily lives to protect them — triggering severe shudders in the economy — Trump second-guessed the lockdowns…

Two days later, Trump finally ordered the halt to incoming travel from Europe that his deputy national security adviser had been advocating for weeks. But Trump botched the Oval Office announcement so badly that White House officials spent days trying to correct erroneous statements that triggered a stampede by U.S. citizens overseas to get home…

Trump spent many weeks shuffling responsibility for leading his administration’s response to the crisis, putting Azar in charge of the task force at first, relying on Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser, for brief periods, before finally putting Vice President Pence in the role toward the end of February.

Other officials have emerged during the crisis to help right the United States’ course, and at times the statements of the president. But even as Fauci, Azar and others sought to assert themselves, Trump was behind the scenes turning to others with no credentials, experience or discernible insight in navigating a pandemic.

Foremost among them was his adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. A team reporting to Kushner commandeered space on the seventh floor of the HHS building to pursue a series of inchoate initiatives.

One plan involved having Google create a website to direct those with symptoms to testing facilities that were supposed to spring up in Walmart parking lots across the country, but which never materialized. Another centered an idea advanced by Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison to use software to monitor the unproven use of anti-malaria drugs against the coronavirus pathogen.

So far, the plans have failed to come close to delivering on the promises made when they were touted in White House news conferences. The Kushner initiatives have, however, often interrupted the work of those under immense pressure to manage the U.S. response.

Current and former officials said that Kadlec, Fauci, Redfield and others have repeatedly had to divert their attentions from core operations to contend with ill-conceived requests from the White House they don’t believe they can ignore. And Azar, who once ran the response, has since been sidelined, with his agency disempowered in decision-making and his performance pilloried by a range of White House officials, including Kushner.If the coronavirus has exposed the country’s misplaced confidence in its ability to handle a crisis, it also has cast harsh light on the limits of Trump’s approach to the presidency — his disdain for facts, science and experience.

He has survived other challenges to his presidency — including the Russia investigation and impeachment — by fiercely contesting the facts arrayed against him and trying to control the public’s understanding of events with streams of falsehoods.

The coronavirus may be the first crisis Trump has faced in office where the facts — the thousands of mounting deaths and infections — are so devastatingly evident that they defy these tactics.

After months of dismissing the severity of the coronavirus, resisting calls for austere measures to contain it, and recasting himself as a wartime president, Trump seemed finally to succumb to the coronavirus reality. In a meeting with a Republican ally in the Oval Office last month, the president said his campaign no longer mattered because his reelection would hinge on his coronavirus response.