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Feb

02
2016

Dramatic January weather

Jodde     Blog     0

California may experience some relief from the crippling drought facing the state in recent years.  It turns out that there is a record high snowpack in the northernmost regions.  On the other hand, the powerful El Niño is causing serious problems with coastline erosion in Pacifica, California.  Heavy waves are causing landslides along the coast, and there are houses and infrastructure nearby.  Naturally, a lot of it is being damaged, resulting in a state of emergency for the city.  In South Africa, drought is having a devastating effect, and there are fears of impending famine.  They may have to import more than 5 million tons of maize, a crop that the country usually exports.  That amounts to roughly half the dietary requirements.  Farmers are also facing fire sales of their cattle, as there is no feed for them.  While maize is a staple for all South Africans, it is a particularly important food source for the poor, and prices are set to skyrocket.  This could lead to famine and civil unrest.  If and when it does rain normally in South Africa again, it will take the state up to three years to recover.

Meanwhile, near McBride, BC, five snowmobilers have been killed in a major avalanche.  While the trigger was the snowmobiling itself, unexpected rain set up the conditions for it to occur.  In Atlantic Canada, 11,000 homes were without power, as snow-laden branches toppled several power lines.  More than 50cm (1.5 ft) of snow blanketed Newfoundland.  Winds peaked at 108km/h (67mph) during the tremendous nor’easter.  In England, a powerful storm that has been wreaking havoc had high enough winds to push a tractor trailer off the road.  Wind gusts in parts of the UK were as strong as 90mph (144km/h).  The train service, ScotRail, suspended their services due to safety concerns around the extremely inclement weather.  Additionally, many roads are only partially open to traffic.  There is a serious risk of flooding, particularly in Scotland, and we will post an update when one is available.

One man is dead in Queensland, Australia after a powerful system caused a tree to fall on him.   Power was out for the majority of homes in the Hervey Bay region.   While the threat of flash flooding does not seem to have come to pass, Queensland is now enduring a heat wave, with temperatures soaring into the low 40sºC(mid 100sºF).  Denizens of Queensland were warned to check on their elderly neighbours and to watch children closely to ensure their safety in the searing temperatures.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our recent headlines, please click here.


Jan

20
2016

Bizarre worldwide weather

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About half of Thailand is in drought, although the rice belt has been largely spared.  Rice throughout Asia is usually grown using wet farming methods, which requires the fields to be flooded.  The central rice growing regions are expected to have enough water until May, but thereafter may face water shortages too.

Meanwhile, intense rains in California have given some residents hope that the historic drought may be ending, but as it stands, most of the rain in southern California drains right to the Pacific due to civil engineering.  This prevented the tremendous flooding that would have resulted were the storm drains not in place, but resulted in a missed opportunity for California to capture a great deal of water.  Nearly 3 inches (10cm) fell in this rain-starved state last week.  The government is now spending $200 million to capture water instead of draining it to the Pacific.  Such measures may control the drought or even eliminate it, but this seems to be a concession that it will take a man-made effort to eliminate drought and flooding together.  In other words, this reflects an improvement in ingenuity, not the natural forces causing the drought in the first place.

Meanwhile, a powerful storm walloped the Atlantic provinces of Canada.  12,000 people in Halifax lost power.  Many schools, businesses, and government offices were closed.  A number of flights were cancelled as well.  More storms are on the way, however, for the region, and there is a high risk of storm surges causing local flooding.   There was a severe flooding incident this week in Mississippi.  Many people are unable to return home, and the flood waters are receding, but there was extensive damage.    In Israel, massive dust storms have been covering the region in thick dust. They were until very recently facing  literally suffocating pollution because of the dust.  The pollution levels were up to nine times the average pollution in several regions.

In other news, Hurricane Pali just formed in the Atlantic.  That hasn’t happened in January since 1938.  The incredibly rare storm was able to form due to favorable conditions brought on by El Niño, which itself is shaping up to be the most powerful since 1950.  The storm is even heading due south, toward the equator, which is unusual as well.  Most storms move west or north, according to meteorologist Derrick Wroe.  El Niño is also being blamed for another bizarre event recently.  Thousands of squid suddenly died and washed up on the shores of Chile. Without being too specific, the oxygen levels suddenly dropped, resulting in the deaths.  This is of course bizarre and alarming in itself, but for Chileans there is the added threat of a sanitary emergency.  Officials claim that locals will suffer health problems resulting from the decomposition.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our recent headlines, please click here.


Jan

04
2016

Holiday Havoc

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2015 was the hottest year on record. We saw many record-shattering heat waves around the world. The year ended with temperatures in the geographic North Pole 50ºF (27ºC) above average. The temperature was so high, it actually briefly exceeded the freezing point of water. What is remarkable is that this is during the period known as “the long night” where because of the angle of the Earth to the sun in winter, the sun never rises. This has only happened twice since record-keeping. A monster storm system named Frank has wrought havoc over much of North America, where it caused two tornado systems and dangerous flooding, more on that later.   It has also brought flooding to parts of the United Kingdom, where it has been causing washed out roads and inundated vehicles. In fact, ten people had to be rescued after being stranded in a bus in Scotland.

 

While in many parts of the northern hemisphere, it was a white Christmas, for those in the Alps it was anything but white. They are in the midst of a snow drought, much like the one that plagued North America last year, and a vast majority of typically densely populated ski runs are closed. France, Germany, and Switzerland are currently experiencing unusually high temperatures. Many resorts have been able to make only thin strips of snow, opening one or two runs at best. Even in higher altitudes, where making snow is easier, snow off the runs, read backcountry, is sparse. While meteorologists are predicting snow, it may be too little too late for resorts in the lower Alps to attract skiers, and this comes with substantial risk to the economy. There was also spring-like weather in the US, with temperatures in New York hitting 60ºF(15.5ºC). Ski resorts in New England are also having difficulty staying open with abnormally warm temperatures.   While resorts in the Cascade Mountains and the Rockies in the US Pacific Northwest are open and doing well for now with a recent dumping of snow (up to 4ft(1.2m) in some places., they may struggle later in the season as El Niño is expected to bring drier than normal conditions. The warm temperatures across most of the US left many Americans feeling like it just wasn’t the holiday season, a sentiment echoed in Canada. The temperatures in Calgary, Alberta have been considerably milder than in average years. Temperatures frequently dip to lower than -20ºC, (-4ºF) but the coldest day recently was -17ºC(-1.4ºF), and those were extremes, with the temperature rarely getting colder than about -10ºC(14ºF).

Tragically, 14 people are dead after a rash of at least 20 tornados hit the southeastern US.  The tornados were sparked by the storm system mentioned earlier.  The devastation happened on Christmas Eve, so we should spare a thought for those whose holiday season suddenly became a nightmare.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our recent headlines, please click here.


Dec

18
2015

El Niños worldwide havoc

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Serious snow storms are have recently battered the East coast and the West coast of North America. Alaska saw its most powerful storm in over thirty years, with wind speeds matching a category 3 hurricane. In Fredericton, New Brunswick and surrounding areas, thousands of denizens are without power. The freezing temperatures there naturally make this a dangerous situation.

In Sydney, Australia, massive hail, some larger than golf balls caused serious damage to cars and roofs. The same storm also caused flash flooding and even a tornado. A tornado is a very rare event for Sydney. While no deaths have been reported, there were at least four injuries, including a head injury. In contrast, nine people have lost their lives and thousands more have lost their homes in the Philippines after devastating weather there.   Mindoro Governor, Alfonso Umali, described the typhoon as one of the most powerful that has ever hit the region. Many more may die due to the deluge’s effect on potable water and electricity. Disaster official Jonathan Baldo reported that thousands of homes were reduced to “matchsticks.”

California was hoping this year’s El Niño would bring enough rain to end their longstanding drought. While that is not expected to happen, at least it will be alleviated. However, it is not all good news. California will be at higher risk of landslides and flooding, as they are likely to experience intense rain. Queensland, Australia is also experiencing extreme drought conditions, and a number of farmers have had to de-stock, (sell all their cattle) because grass has not been growing (although rains in the winter kept it alive.) Now instead of cattle, at least one farm, Donald Brown’s, has kangaroos. The kangaroos are starving, and that is tragic as it is, but they are also damaging the land and eating whatever sparse grass is left. In Maharashtra, India, the crippling drought is decimating pulse harvests. Black lentil harvests are expected to decline by about 74%. Sorghum is also slated to decline 73%. Oilseeds (oil producing seeds like rape, cotton, etc.) are expected to decline 43%. Lentils and other pulses are the mainstay of the Indian diet, so the average price of food in the region would likely rise considerably. The shortfall is expected to amount to approximately $65 million US.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our recent headlines, please click here.


Dec

08
2015

Heat waves and floods

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Perhaps the only good news about the spate of heat waves in the northern hemisphere is that it is late fall and most people welcome them. That is certainly the case in Calgary, where the average high temperature has been 7.7ºC(45.8ºF). That may seem cold to some people, but it’s a lot warmer than 0ºC(32ºF), the average Calgary temperature this time of year. The heat wave is expected to last for another week. A heat wave happens any time the temperature exceeds the average by 5ºC(2.7ºF). In Macungie, Pennsylvania, while most people are enjoying warmer weather, the region’s ski hills may be forced to open late, as they are not getting any snow. Of course, when heat waves can make temperatures unbearable, as the ongoing heat waves in South Africa and Australia are relentless. Temperatures in Johannesburg recently hit 41ºC(105ºF). In addition to the scorching heat, they are dealing with their worst drought in over 30 years. Five of nine provinces are considered agricultural disaster zones. Many farmers are losing cattle to dehydration and malnourishment. The surviving herds are sometimes emaciated.   Some farmers are being forced to sell of their herds at what are no doubt fire sale prices to prevent further losses. Many farmers have planted their crops late, and some may not plant them at all. Alarmingly, the country may be forced to import corn, a staple food, which would result in increased prices.

Too much rain was also an issue this week, with Florida seeing severe crop damage and flooded streets.   In Miami-Dade county, flooding may have cost one farmer, John Alger of Alger farms up to $1 million. Alger fears the costs of these damages will be passed on to consumers, increasing the price of food over the winter. In addition to the farms that were flooded, dozens of cars in Kendall were stranded, and at least two people required rescue.   The Miami Zoo was also closed due to flooding, and it remains closed. This is largely because zoo patrons are kept safe from dangerous animals by large moats that are usually seven feet lower than they currently are. Meanwhile Chennai, India is experiencing severe flooding which killed at least 180 people in the most recent episode. The rainfall that caused the flooding is the most the city has seen in over a century. Chennai airport is shut down, and thousands of people are homeless as a result of the deluge, which is expected to continue for at least another two days.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our recent headlines, please click here.

 


Nov

30
2015

Massive El Niño and weather woes

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We’ve seen bizarre weather across the globe for a number of weeks, from record heat waves to longstanding droughts. A likely cause of this is another record that has recently been broken; warmest El Niño. This year’s El Niño was 3ºC (5.4ºF) above normal ocean temperatures over the last week. While records have only been kept since 1990, the previous record was 2.8­ºC* (5ºF). The record week could indicate an exceptionally strong El Niño year. The World Meteorological Organization already ranks this as the biggest in over 15 years, and it could get stronger yet.   One well documented effect of El Niño is heat waves in Australia, and Sydney, Australia is battling an intense heat wave with temperatures in excess of 43ºC(109ºF). These sweltering temperatures make it dangerous to exercise or work outside, and long term exposure without cooling can and frequently does result in death, especially for the elderly. Emergency responders treated two dozen people suffering from heat related illnesses. These temperatures are the hottest November temperatures in over three decades. On top of that, there were fires to contend with. One such fire occurred at an electrical substation, cutting power to thousands of homes. In Vitoria, Australia, crews are fighting massive wild fires. More than 85,000 hectares (210,000 acres) conflagration has killed at least two people and hospitalized at least a further 13. It has also gutted 16 homes so far. Wildfires have killed 173 people in Australia so far this year, and destroyed 2,000 homes.

We have also seen some extreme wet weather last week. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, heavy rains caused flooding that submerged numerous cars and closed schools.   The deluge was responsible for one death there. Neighboring Qatar got doused with 80mm (3.14”) of rain, more than they would typically get in a whole year. While there are no reports of death in Qatar, there was one fatality in the city or Rimah, to the northeast. In other news, while tropical storm Rick did not make landfall anywhere, and thus caused no damage, it was an incredibly rare storm that deserves mention. Rick was the fifth tropical storm since record keeping that has formed this late in the Pacific.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our recent headlines, please click here.

*The source did not note whether the temperature referred to was in Celsius or Fahrenheit, but the first listing of a temperature was in Celsius, and the source is from the UK, so we reasonably make that assumption.


Nov

18
2015

Scorching temperatures around the world and severe floods

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The winter months are coming in the northern hemisphere. While November temperatures in New York, New York are on average 41-54ºF (5-12ºC), this month so far has seen highs of 75ºF(24ºC).  While that may be welcome news to New Yorkers, it is dramatically higher than average.  Paul Walker, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, stated that there is a good possibility New York, NY will not see any snow until December. The uncharacteristic warmth could last through November 26. Meanwhile, a heat wave in Florida has caused record breaking temperatures as high as a muggy 92ºF (33.3ºC).  In Wisconsin, temperatures are around 60ºF (15ºC), 20ºF (11ºC) higher than normal. Meanwhile many cities in Africa are facing unusually hot conditions. South Africa reached temperatures of 33ºC (91.4ºF). The average temperature for this week is only 21ºC (69ºF.). South Africa is also experiencing its worst drought in over 20 years. Another heat wave in Botswana is blamed for killing 40 goats, although those goats did have foot and mouth disease, and it has been raising input prices for farmers. Farmers must buy more water and manure for growing vegetables when temperatures are high. Yesterday’s temperature in Botswana peaked at a blazing 41ºC (105ºF). Meanwhile, Cape Town has declared an emergency due to their extreme level of drought.  Western Australia recently suffered from a punishing heat wave with temperatures as high as 39ºC (102ºF), as well as fatal wildfires sparked by lightning.  So far the fires have killed four people.

In the US, rain is making a dent in the longstanding California drought, and it has also alleviated drought in Oklahoma. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, heavy rain triggered a landslide. The slide trapped four vehicles, but remarkably, their occupants all escaped unharmed. In Vancouver, BC, Canada, the iconic seawall in Stanley Park has closed indefinitely. The 28km (17.3 mile) unbroken waterfront path, (the longest such path in the world,) that offers picturesque views of English Bay was battered by high winds and heavy rain, causing a 9m (30 ft) section of it to collapse. An analysis concluded that it could not stand up to strong storms and it will have to be repaired and the whole path will have to be reinforced before it opens again.   Not far south, in Washington, water has inundated homes and roads. So far, there have been no reports of casualties in either incident, although in Washington, 160,000 people are without power. People in Chennai, India were not as fortunate. Floodwaters there killed at least 87 people on Wednesday. Floods also caused serious damage to  farms in North Carolina. The historic rains in October has caused more than $300 million in crop losses. The cotton harvest is particularly hard hit. According to one local farmer, it is the worst cotton season in over 20 years.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our recent headlines, please click here.

 


Nov

04
2015

Major floods and more

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Last week we have heard reports of flooding across the globe. In Saudi Arabia, a huge flash flood carrying golf ball sized hail claimed at least six lives. Meteorologists have predicted eight years worth of rain in only two days, which would certainly account for the devastating deluge. Meanwhile in Austin, Texas, three people lost their lives to raging flood waters. Atlanta, Georgia saw major flash flooding this week. We have no word of any injuries from that flooding, but parts of the city were under four feet of water. While there is no estimated damage at this time, it could easily be in the millions with many homes and businesses suffering water intrusion. “This is the most water I’ve ever seen in a 25-hour period,” said resident Scott Plageman. Meanwhile, Early last week, a Buda, Texas torrent seriously damaged a fire station, taking it out of commission for at least three months. The estimated damage to the fire station alone is $150,000. In Masai Mara, Kenya, no damages are reported, but a longstanding drought ended with flooding; downpours having lasted most of the week. A wildlife photographer and guide, Paul Goldstein commented “this was the most intense rain I have ever experienced in 25 years of guiding here. “

In other news, more records were broken this week. South Africa experienced the hottest October day in recorded history; a scorching 119ºF (48.4ºC). It is the third highest temperature ever recorded in South Africa. In Indonesia, the largest wild fire on record is burning out of control. It has already claimed the lives of 19 firefighters. Over 500,000 Indonesians (and according to comments, denizens of other nearby islands) are having breathing difficulties and respiratory inflammation due to the thick smoke. The wildfire has consumed thousands of square miles, and is spreading quickly. President Joko Widodo has declared a state of emergency. The firestorm has raged on since June and is showing no signs of slowing.. The fires have burned 7,700 square miles (20,000 square kilometers). These fires are not only affecting human health, but also the lives of endangered species inhabiting Indonesia.

In other news, China’s drought will result in a 6% decline in corn production.   Farmers had been optimistic before the drought hit, expecting a record harvest up 4.4% from the previous year. The situation would been a lot worse had they not switched to more pest and drought resistant crops. A price shock is unlikely, as China has stockpiled corn at above-market value to protect farmers, there is enough available to protect prices for awhile.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.


Oct

24
2015

Floods, hurricanes, and a record breaking year

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California might be in for severe floods in the coming year because of El Niño, according to a recent report. NOAA’s models predict severe flash flooding across California.  They recommend that Californians have three days of food and water in their homes and cars in addition to buying up flood insurance . Meanwhile, last week’s heat wave may have just been the tip of the iceberg, with another heat wave shaping up this week. “Valley and foothill locations will see an increased risk of heat- related illnesses, especially for the homeless, the elderly, infants, outdoor workers and those participating in outdoor activities” said a representative of the National Weather Service. While temperatures will be 10 – 15ºF (5.5 – 8.3ºC) above normal, they are not expected to exceed 100ºF (37.8ºC). The heat is caused by the Santa Ana winds, which usually comes with increased wildfire risks, but in this case there is no elevated risk.

 Hurricane Patricia was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the eastern Pacific and Atlantic basins. On Friday, it slammed into Mexico. Fortunately, it caused very little damage or loss of life, as it made landfall over an unpopulated area. The storm could have been completely devastating.   Patricia packed sustained wind speeds of 200mph (321kmh), high enough “to get a plane in the air and keep it flying,” according to Charlie Nullis of the National Weather Service. The worst might be yet to come, however, as the remnants of Patricia might hit Texas, where flooding is so severe that it has already derailed a train and caused other extensive damage. Meanwhile, in Greece, severe flash flooding has claimed the life of a 41 year old man, who was swept away in her car. The deluge has also wrought havoc on greenhouses and crops in the region. The weather was so inclement that it caused a three story building to collapse.

In other news, 2015 has been the most intense year in 136 years of record keeping. Not only did we have the hottest start to the year, the hottest consecutive twelve months, and the hottest summer ever recorded, but we also had the hottest September since record keeping began, and the highest deviation from normal temperatures in that month.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.


Oct

15
2015

Bleaching Heat

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This week would certainly not be the first time we’ve brought you news of a heat wave, but it is the first time we are reporting one over an ocean. The problem here is not harmful effects to health, clearly, rather harmful effects to reefs. Coral is the mainstay of reefs. Other zooplankton have an important role to play, but without a healthy supply of coral to deposit exoskeletons to make the rock-like structures of a reef, there is great harm to any reef. Some fish have evolved jaws to eat coral skeletons, but they leave the bulk of living colonies intact. Most of what we think of as coral is actually dead. Only the head of coral is living. The rest is the calcium carbonate skeletons they leave behind. Zooplanktons like corals are animals, so like all animals they need to eat. This is where bleaching becomes a problem.

 

Corals, loosely speaking, eat algae. Algae have what corals lack, the ability to photosynthesize. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that. Corals host these algae intracellularly. They derive energy from them non-destructively.  The algae in turn use the host corals’ carbon dioxide and nitrogenous waste for photosynthesis. In addition, integrating with a coral provides some measure of safety for the algae. When the corals suffer physiological stress, however, they eject the algae. The algae are colourful, but the coral is always white, clear, or brown. Therefore, the event is called bleaching.

 

Though the mechanism that causes bleaching is technically called ejection, the corals are less the agents than the algae. The coral effectively loses its symbiote. Corals lacking algae are liable to starve, because while they eat phytoplankton and other zooplankton, destructively, the corals rely mostly on the symbiotic relationship they maintain with algae.   Corals and reef organisms that are dependent on corals are used extensively in medicine. Many drugs used to treat various diseases, including arthritis, asthma, HIV and possibly even cancer. A loss of biodiversity could cost us lost opportunities for creating new drugs. Critically though, corals are the base of the ecosystems edible fish inhabit. Young fish spend their time in the relative safety of reefs before venturing out into open ocean. It is where they start their life cycle. About 30 million people, (which is just lower than the population of Canada,) depend on coral reefs for their survival, mostly because they consume a heavily fish based diet.

 

In other news, serious flooding has affected North and South Carolina, with a death toll of at least 19 people. The historic flooding caused over a billion dollars in damage. In South Carolina, 14 dams failed. The Columbia Canal also breached, prompting the National Guard to drop 3,000lb (1,136 kg) sand bags into the canal.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world.  If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.