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May

11
2016

Everything lost, two North American tragedies

Jodde     Blog     0

Up to 20 tornados ripped through Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado yesterday, obliterating several houses and tragically cutting short the lives of at least two people.  At least ten people were injured in the storm system which dropped large hail in addition to the tornados.

Meanwhile, an important town that houses people working on the oil rigs in northern Alberta is up in smoke.  Damage to the town, Fort McMurray.  Albertans know it as Fort Mac, they have all heard the name dozens of times as the place their friends and family go to make great money, or at least this was so during the boom oil times in Alberta, a province which is now reeling from low oil prices as it formed the backbone of the economy for years.  Fort Mac is all but destroyed in some regions.  News anchors said evacuation efforts looked like what one would see in apocalyptic movies, and it is hard to disagree.  Two people died in a fatal car accident trying to escape.  It is a virtual ghost town but for firefighters and military personnel.   90,000 people of the 125,000 people accounted for by the latest census were forced to evacuate.  That’s almost three-quarters of the population!   An additional 25,000 are awaiting evacuation from camps north of Fort Mac.  

The fire was expected to double in size, but thankfully that did not happen because it is already 85,000 hectares (328.19 square miles).  With a town all but lost, countless people have lost everything, and while there is a great deal of generosity to help those who have, one cannot help but feel some portion of their loss.  True, empathy is in part a function of proximity, and as an Albertan, this author has such proximity, but I hope we all can spare a thought for them as well as those in Oklahoma,Kansas and Colorado.  Like most fires, this one seems to have been human caused, but it is so severe because of tinderbox conditions.  It has been dry and hot, and there has been very little snow over the unusually mild winter.  It has been so hot in some places in Alberta that some cities, Calgary for instance, have broken heat records three days running.  


May

01
2016

Drought and storm tragedies

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While the families of farmers who committed suicide due to the horrendous drought are getting help,   the grip of drought in India is tightening.  At the time of writing, 540 million people are affected.  Meanwhile, in South America, drought is causing chaos for millions of people.  Many countries in South America rely on hydroelectric power, so low water means low power.  The governments of Venezuela, Brazil, and Columbia are rationing power with scheduled blackouts.  Earlier efforts at voluntary rationing failed.  Returning to drought-afflicted India, the city of Uttarakhand is facing a serious wild fire that has already killed five people.  So far over 2,269 hectares (8.76 mi2) have been scorched.  Wild fires are not a rare occurrence in India before the monsoons, but it is the dryness over the winter that is responsible for the massive scale.

Meanwhile, in Australia, Melbourne faced a massive blackout with 36,000 homes in the dark.  According to a spokesman with SPAusNet, (the local power company,) they “haven’t seen anything like it in several years.”  A massive powerline crashed into another powerline, resulting in the outage.  Wind gusts of over 100km/h (60 mph) tore tiles from roofs, uprooted trees, and  damaged fences.  Many people even had their garage doors blown in.  One woman’s garage door flew into her garage, hitting her car.  The violent storm only lasted about an hour.  While it caused extensive property damage, there is as yet no report of casualties.  One woman in Tomball, Texas was not quite so lucky.  She was killed in the severe storms walloping the central US when a tree fell on her mobile home.  There was grapefruit sized hail in Marshall County, Kansas, while high winds in Missouri knocked out power flipped empty grain train cars!  Heavy rains caused flash flooding in Evansville, Indiana.  Fortunately, nobody was injured or killed in those floods.   A flood in Ft. Worth, Texas has claimed the lives of at least six people.  Four of those people, sadly, were children.  As far as property damage, it is always difficult to estimate within the midst of a disaster, but there has been a lot of damage to roads, houses, and infrastructure.  It could easily total several billion dollars.


Apr

21
2016

Catastrophic floods and droughts

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Flood waters ravaged Saudi Arabia and Yemen this week, imperilling over nine-hundred people and killing at least 34. In Riyadh, schools were closed, and there was a great deal of traffic chaos. We have not heard reports of damage estimates at this point, but they could be in the billions. Major flooding also hit Texas recently. The flooding was so severe that it was called a one in two-hundred-year event. No person alive today has ever seen so much infrastructure damage or such high flood waters. Tragically, six people did not make it out of that deleterious torrent alive. Economic and insured losses are likely to top $7 billion. Possibly the most damaging flooding this week happened in central Chile, where deluges and landslides are decimating the region. While only one person is reported to have died, that number may grow significantly as four million people suddenly have very limited access to potable water. On top of that, a major copper mine had to be shut down for an indeterminate amount of time, which could lead to a loss of 5,000 tons of copper.

Meanwhile, the drought is worsening in India, with a third of the subcontinent in severe drought. Approximately 330 million people do not have enough water for daily needs. That number may even be a conservative figure.  The monsoons that usually douse India have been extremely weak for the last two years. Severe drought and punishing heat is a fatal combination, and it has killed many Indians recently, including an 11-year-old girl who was collecting water from a village pump. Hundreds of primarily poor people die every summer at the peak temperatures, but dramatically high temperatures have arrived early this year, and many more are expected to die. Anger is continuing to mount over the government’s alleged misuse of water. Protesters blocked traffic along a major artery over inadequate water supply. The volatile situation could well be made worse by the oppressive heat. The temperatures are expected to hit 45ºC(113ºF), and heat stroke is a significant danger in those temperatures, especially when compounded with inadequate water. While the next monsoon should be strong, for potentially hundreds of people, it will be too late.

The fire season has started early in British Columbia, Canada, with several blazes near the middle of the province. Temperatures of 28ºC(82.4ºF) are also arriving early. Relatively hot days like that are usually found in July. There was very little snow in BC this year, so some towns are so dry that officials are calling them tinder dry. 37 new fires started in Prince George in a single day due to the intense wind and these tinderbox conditions. It is s too early to tell whether this is simply an anomaly or if it portends a disastrous fire season for BC, but it is certainly a bad start.


Apr

09
2016

Water water everywhere … and nary a drop to drink

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Flash flooding killed two people in Oman this week.  They were in their cars at the time and couldn’t escape before being swept away in the raging torrent.  An additional three people required rescue.  

In Pakistan, heavier than normal rain has caused a deluge sending over a hundred people to their graves.  In the northern mountainous region of the country, a massive flood killed 92 people while a rain-triggered landslide killed up to 23 people.  There are reports or damage to 929 houses there so far, some of those being completely destroyed.  As severe as this sounds, remember that these events happened  the northern mountains.  More than 200 are confirmed dead throughout northern Pakistan.  All told, a total of 200 people have been injured, and 1,500 houses have taken flood damage.  Many roads leading to neighbouring China and Afghanistan are impassible after a spate of landslides.  Owing to many road closures and all around dangerous conditions, it is difficult to render rescue or aid.  Some experts have linked the dramatic, severe weather to climate change.

While Pakistan has had too much rain, India has not had enough.  They are currently in drought,   The Ramkund river, a holy site for Hindus, has run dry.  This has not happened for 130 years and is the result of an acute and devastating drought.   Pilgrims came to Ramkund in droves, as they have so done for years.  They were expecting to bathe in the river, as is extolled in Hinduism.  Hindus believe that such a bath along with its attendant rituals purges the bather of all sins.  Nashik, the city the Ramkund runs through, is considering drilling bore wells to feed the river, but this solution is both dubious and costly.

This drought is so severe that surgeons are limited in their ability to operate, farmers are in such dire straits that some are committing suicide, and the government is frantically trying to keep the accumulating thirsty, angry citizens calm so that the implicit threat of violence does not erupt into realized violence.  This is the case in Marathwada, another region of Maharashtra.  When surgeons in the region are operating, they are taking dangerous hygiene shortcuts, not out of negligence, but because they believe it is the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, experts fear that this will lead to an epidemic.  There is a trainload of water coming, but for many it is not soon enough, and it is only a stop-gap measure.  The critically low water table is not expected to recover much if at all until mid-July when it is usually rainy.


Mar

29
2016

Deadly spring weather

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Bad weather is anathema to planes.  Several planes had trouble landing at Rostov-on-Don airport, Russia, including the ill-fated flight FZ981, operated by FlyDubai.  That plane crashed, killing all 62 passengers and crew on board.  The pilots missed their approach when trying to land.  Then they executed a holding pattern and tried again, but it crashed 250 meters (820 ft) away from the runway.  While it is not certain how, it is believed that intense winds of over 80km/h (50mph) caused the disaster.  Of course, a detailed picture of what happened will not be available until authorities can analyze the black boxes, a process which will take several weeks, but storm wind is the prime suspect.*

Scorching temperatures as high as 40ºC(104ºF) hit several cities in India, particularly in the state of Tamil Nadu.  The heat is a result of patterns called westerlies, which are unusual for India this time of year.  Long range predictions suggest this is only the beginning.  While some respite is expected, the temperature in May is expectedo to top 42ºC(`107.6ºF).  Temperatures were three to five degrees above normal, so this was not a heat wave across the state, but it was in some cities, and vulnerable people such as the poor and elderly could face serious trouble as the temperatures soar.

Meanwhile, a brush fire near Douglas, Arizona scorched 150 acres last Monday.  The fire is not a threat to any homes, but it is likely the harbinger of a tremendous fire season.  Arizona’s winter was particularly dry toward the end.  This fire pales in comparison to the serious wildfire is burning out of control in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where over 400,000 acres have burned (161,874 hectares).  One house has been completely gutted.  The affected family barely had time to evacuate.  They tragically lost everything, including their beloved dog.  The fire has claimed the livelihoods of a number of farmers.  The number of cattle killed is inestimable, but farmlands that were once verdant are now char. 

Vero Beach, Florida experienced a bizarre cold spell.  Temperatures bottomed out at 62ºF(16.6ºC), which is an extraordinary 16ºF ( 8.8ºC) below the average.  That is one degree lower than the record low of 63ºF (17.2ºC).  Possibly the most pressing concern with the situation is not the relative cold, but rather the increased fire risk.  The cold snap has brought along strong winds which make fires difficult to control.  Fortunately, at the time of writing that threat has not been realized.

A spring storm left snow and freezing rain in southern Quebec and parts of Ontario.  Ice storms are more common in the spring than in the winter, because of the way freezing rain forms.  Brantford, Ontario and Ottawa were quite possibly the hardest hit.  Over 50cm of snow accumulated in Ottawa and power outages affecting around 3,500 customers in Brantford, a town with a population of less than 100,000.** Numerous trees fell under the weight of the ice, smashing houses, cars and power lines as they fell.  Some roads were impassable as they were blocked by fallen power lines and trees, but where they were passable, the police were dealing with accidents “all day, nonstop.”  Fortunately, none of those accidents caused severe injuries.

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.

 

*Tragedies of this sort usually do not come down to one action or event, and this one is no exception.  Unofficially, a cockpit voice recorder leak suggests human error during an attempt to land manually, after automatic landing failed twice due to intense wind.  Mechanical failure also likely played a significant role in the tragedy, but none of it would have happened were it not for the inclement weather.

**The last census, taken in 2011, reports a population was 93,650.


Mar

15
2016

Powerful storms, floods, and fire

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A powerful storm slammed into Vancouver, Washington, leaving 250,000 in the dark.  The storm also claimed the life of one man, who was in his car with his toddler when a tree fell on it.  North of the border, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the powerful storm ground ferry traffic to a halt.  The Vancouver ferry virtually the only way to travel between   An earlier storm this week killed one woman in Vancouver, British Columbia.  There were numerous power outages in Vancouver, BC due to the storm as well.  Meanwhile, punishing storms have hit Arkansas, US, wreaking havoc on infrastructure.  Two prisons ended up with broken windows, which presumably lead a guard to sprain his ankle.* A tornado tore the roof off a church, and another one blew two mobile homes off their foundation.  The system has spawned at least two tornadoes, responsible for much of the damage.  There was also the associated traffic chaos with huge storms.  There were six accidents directly linked to the severe weather.  Torrential rains in Winnipeg, Manitoba caused flooding which damaged homeowners’ basements and washed out streets.   South of the border, Mississippi was inundated, causing widespread problems with infrastructure and putting 18 people in severe peril.  Additionally, the flooding has killed four people.  The extent of the damage is not yet fully known, but at least 5,000 homes were damaged.

In Meelon, a town in Western Australia near Perth, a brush fire is raging out of control, and while at the time of writing we are unaware of any homes having been damaged, that is certainly a very real threat.  A nearby town lost its water supply after the fire damaged power infrastructure.**  While police believe the cause of the fire is arson, the dry conditions in Western Australia favor a massive fire like the one described.  Arson or negligence does cause most fires, but drought conditions can make them dramatically worse.    More than 1,000 hectares have burned so far.

The rain-soaked ground in Eugene, Oregon has triggered a massive landslide.  The debris along Highway 36 near Triangle Lake will take up to five days to clean up.  There may be longer delays as crews stabilize the slope as well.  There were no injuries associated with the landslide.  NOAA had warned about the possibility of landslides in southern Oregon due to heavy rainfall.

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 article does not make it explicitly clear that there is a causal relationship but implies it strongly.

**The source article does not make clear why this is so.


Mar

02
2016

Metoerological spring comes in like a lion

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A huge cyclone slammed into Fiji last week, leaving chaos in its wake.  The storm has claimed the lives of at least 42 people.  Record winds peaked at 296 km/h (184 mph).  The storm also decimated infrastructure and left thousands homeless.

In Idaho, a large landslide has cut off access to the town of Elk City.  The landslide, which seems to have been triggered by relentless rains will cost some $1.5 million to clean up.  Additionally, an avalanche in British Columbia, Canada injured seven snowmobilers.  While snowmobilers do cause avalanches, the conditions have to be right for them to do so.   The avalanche involved 13 people in total and killed one, a firefighter from Calgary, Canada.

The wind patterns in the US have changed dramatically recently.  Although the mechanism behind it is poorly understood, scientists believe it may be linked to a combination of the exceptionally powerful El Niño and the warm cycle of a phenomenon called the decadal oscillation.  The lack of wind is causing serious problems for communities across the great plains that rely on wind generated power.  In Virginia, 4 people are dead after a storm system battered the east coast of the US.  At least 45 homes were also damaged.  A Midwest snowstorm wreaked havoc on travel this week, with thousands of flights being grounded due to that same system.  Likely, a tornado from the system is responsible for the death of a Mississippi man.

A massive ice storm pummeled Montréal, Quebec recently, knocking out power to over 250,000 residents. The storm knocked over a number of trees.  Other than to power, there is no damage to infrastructure reported.  More recently, a winter thunderstorm struck Montréal.  There was no damage reported from this event, but the rarity of such an event is worth noting.  In Beauceville, the situation was more severe for infrastructure, where an ice-jam in the Chaudiére River caused major flooding.  The city declared a state of emergency, which has recently been lifted.  Damage estimates are not in yet, but it will likely be no small number.

In other news, Sydney has set a heat record at 41ºC(107ºF) this week.  It has also had temperatures higher than 26º (78.8ºF) for more than three weeks.  This is a clear record.  The Australian heat wave is threatening to have deleterious effects on the Great Barrier Reef, where scorching temperatures are contributing to coral bleaching.  Hyderabad, India is also in the grips of a heat wave, with temperatures there soaring past 40ºC(104ºF).

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.

 


Feb

19
2016

Late winter chaos in Canada

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Montréal, Quebec, Canada was covered in snow and ice two weeks ago.  Within a day, the temperature soared to (48ºF).  Temperatures in Toronto, Ontario soared as high as 16ºC (60ºF).  These temperatures are more in line with typical early and late summer temperatures than what should be expected for the middle of winter.  Shortly thereafter, the province was plunged right into the thick of winter temperatures.  Authorities issued an extreme cold weather alert in the following week, as temperatures plummeted to below -30ºC (-22ºF).

Such brutally cold temperatures can cause hypothermia and its harbinger frostbite, but perhaps less known is that extreme cold can be extremely dangerous for people with heart conditions.  Any activity in the cold can increase heart attack risk in those with preexisting risk factors.  Cold exposure causes blood vessels to constrict.  This stresses the heart and can temporarily spike blood pressure.  This is why an alarming number of people die shoveling snow.  Shoveling snow is particularly strenuous, but any activity in the extreme cold should be limited.  If you must shovel snow, there are important safety tips here.

Quebec started to warm up a few days ago, but on Tuesday, a major winter storm blew through Montreal, Quebec, and Toronto and Ottawa in Ontario, causing tremendous travel chaos.  Most flights into and out of Toronto were grounded, resulting in delays of several hours.  Later, freezing rain caused trouble for aviation and road travel.  The ice storm left 12,000 people in the province without power. Last week, several flights were cancelled throughout the maritime provinces of Canada, as a powerful storm blew in, blanketing parts of Nova Scotia with 43cm (16”) of snow.  Blowing snow in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island caused travel chaos as well.  In Newfoundland, flights were grounded, ferries were docked, and driving was extremely treacherous.  Police warned drivers to stay home, as they were reporting complete whiteout conditions.

Haiti is experiencing severe drought, and has been for over three years.  El Niño is being blamed for the disastrous situation.  In a nation that’s already mired in poverty, food prices are rising substantially in the face of repeatedly decimated harvests.  The poorest Haitians, many of whom are subsistence farmers cannot afford to buy food to feed themselves, and their farms have no or very low yields.  Rising food prices in wealthy nations, and make no mistake, they are rising, are mostly an inconvenience in developed nations with thriving economies.  However, when the majority of the population, 75% of it, lives on less than $2 a day, price increases from a few years of bad harvests are unutterably devastating.

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.


Feb

02
2016

Dramatic January weather

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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.