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Oct

31
2016

Hurricane and Drought

Jodde     Blog     0

Hurricane Matthew tore through the Caribbean, leaving destruction and pestilence in its wake. Over 1,000 people are dead in Haiti, and thousands are homeless after the strong category four storm slammed into the west of the country. It also hit the eastern tip of Cuba, causing some damage there, but that pales in comparison to Haiti. The Bahamas was also hit quite hard, with property damages that will no doubt tally in the $10s of millions. The economic losses for tourism alone is an estimated are $1.8 million. Matthew pick up strength before the outer bands made landfall in the US, slamming central and northern Florida and all the way up the coast to North Carolina. In Florida, four deaths are blamed on the storm. It likely would have been substantially worse if it were a direct hit, but the storm stayed about 40 miles (65km) out to sea. However, the bands and the storm surge still resulted in the deaths as mentioned earlier, along with serious flooding, and power loss for about a million people.
The one positive effect Hurricane Matthew had was bringing much needed rain to New Jersey. Fourteen counties in New Jersey are experiencing drought or under drought warning, but the more coastal regions of New Jersey received a lot of rain due to the remnants of Matthew. Many reservoirs are at least 25% less full than they should be. Overall, two-thirds of the state’s counties are facing a warning. When a drought warning is issued, residents are asked to take voluntary conservation measures, but such measures often don’t work. There is a well know parable in economics called The Tragedy of The Commons. In the story, what happens is that a group of villagers destroy a common grazing area for their sheep despite agreeing on limits to grazing that will certainly keep the area thriving. Each villager thinks that their slight excess usage will be fine because the other villagers are restricting their grazing. Unfortunately, when we change what needs to be changed to apply to drought, this situation plays out all too often.  The reservoirs are at unusually low levels, and they will likely get worse soon.
Meanwhile, northwestern Georgia and Alabama are deep in drought, and it is only getting worse. The drought is killing crops and causing cattle fire sales. In fact, the drought levels there are record-breaking. Parts of northwestern Georgia and Alabama already have the driest 60 days on record, and are close to having the most days without rainfall they have ever had. The drought they are dealing with now is a one in a hundred year event. We can see the worst case scenario for drought by looking at Madagascar. The drought there is so astonishingly bad that it is causing a grave humanitarian crisis, with 850,000 people unable to find food. While it will not get this bad in New Jersey, which needs weeks of sustained above normal rainfall levels to stave off the drought, the situation could be very costly, as it is in California, where the drought toll exceeded $2.7 billion.

Sep

30
2016

Record heat and horrific weather

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August was extraordinarily hot.  It was, in fact, the hottest August that has ever been recorded. September has had its share of heat waves too.  The UK has felt so much heat that power stations suffered unplanned blackouts due to unexpectedly high demands.  Prices were astronomical, at 160£ ($200 USD) per megawatt.  That is roughly quadruple the regular price.  Heat records are being smashed in the Bay Area of California.  Temperatures peaked at 101ºF (38ºC).  This is just ahead of the first day of fall in the northern hemisphere where temperatures should be getting lower.  With the beginning of fall, we should start to see a decline in wildfires with the decrease in heat. However, a few are burning with catastrophic results.  There is one that is burning in California which has become the costliest fire is US history.  A fire in Puerto Rico knocked out a power station causing an island-wide blackout.  In Alberta, a recent report concludes that wildfires there are largely responsible for a 1.6% decline in Canadian GDP growth.  Just to put that into perspective, Canada’s annual GDP is $1.8 trillion, so a quarterly decline of 1.6% is over $8 billion.  That $8 billion effect on the economy doesn’t even include insurable losses (an insurable loss causes a demand for and therefore production of what was lost). At least $1 billion of that loss happened because of deferred capital expenditures in Alberta following the massive wildfires near the oil sands.

Rainy weather has been extreme, unleashing serious flooding in several Australian states.  Some states in Australia are having their wettest spring since record-keeping began.  Deluges struck Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario recently as well.  The Detroit side experienced several crashes and submerged cars.  The floods are not as bad as the historic ones of 2014.  The flooding in Windsor resulted in traffic problems with flooded roads and inundated basements.    Further, flooding in and around North Carolina is causing chaos, with the nearly the whole downtown of Fayetteville affected.  There was no loss of life reported, but two dozen roads had to be closed, and a number of water rescues were required.  There were 80 calls for service overall.  North Korea could be in a lot of trouble, after deadly flooding hit there, leaving hundreds dead and thousands more homeless.  The closest country that could provide aid, South Korea, naturally is quite reluctant to.  This could not only contribute to ongoing flood-related issues in North Korea, but could be politically explosive. One man is dead in Java after a landslide obliterated his house.  This is dwarfed by recent news of a landslide in China, in which up to 26 people were killed (though only five people are confirmed dead at the time of writing.)    Excessive rain fuelled both the Java landslide and the Chinese landslide.


Aug

31
2016

Major floods and fires

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Louisiana has seen the worst deluge since Hurricane Katrina, and the worst weather-related disaster in the Continental US since Superstorm Sandy.  Of course, storm surge and poorly designed levees were the chief reasons for the tremendous devastation.  This inundation, in which at least 13 people were killed and over 100,000 people had to file for FEMA assistance because of damaged and destroyed homes is beyond extreme.  Up to 24 inches of rain were dumped over just two days, causing the lower Mississipi to overflow its banks.  This was a 1,000-year storm.  The thing is, there are an alarming number of incredibly rare storms that seem to be clustering together.  Super Storm Sandy itself is far from a distant memory.  The same is true of the 100-year flood in Calgary.  While there is no great flooding to speak of in Calgary, the month of July brought the entire average yearly precipitation, and August was also exceptionally stormy until recently.  The town of Westlock, near Edmonton, has not been spared the wrath of nature either, experiencing substantial flooding.  The damages in Westlock have not yet been tallied, but it is likely to be in the billions.  Residents there cannot remember any similar flooding in over 40 years.  Grand Prarie, an Alberta oil town, flooded twice this month.

Meanwhile, some firestorms are just now coming under control, after wreaking havoc on parts of France.  Eleven large wildfires were burning throughout California.  That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are also out of control fires in Idaho, and a conflagration in Chilliwack, BC, which 35 firefighters cannot contain at all.  That fire is still growing and is 17 hectares (42 acres).  While not so extreme in and of itself, it grew to that size in only one afternoon and is only one of 50 in BC, which is a tinderbox due to the hot, dry weather they have had this summer.  Meanwhile, a fire in Halifax, Nova Scotia is only 15% contained and has already spread to 350 hectares (864 acres).  A fire is raging in Grand Teton National Park and blocking access to One of Yellowstone’s entrances.  The monster fire is 12,500 acres (5,085 hectares).  There are naturally closures in both parks, but they are still open to the public for the time being.  Prevailing weather patterns make it likely that despite the heroic efforts of firefighters to contain it, it will grow even further.  At this time, no people near these parks are at risk. All of this, however, is dwarfed the previously mentioned fire burning in Idaho near the border of Oregon.  That fire is 50,000 acres (20,324 hectares).  It is only about 10% contained.


Jul

25
2016

Heat, Hail and Hard Times

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Severe thunderstorms hit the UK this week.  While there were, fortunately, no fatalities, there was significant damage that shut down two train lines indefinitely.  This is fairly unsurprising when there were over 40,000 lightning strikes produced by that storm.  The thunderstorms which may yet cause flooding as they are expected to drop 50mm (2 inches) of rain.  This comes on the heels of a heat wave throughout the UK, with temperatures almost as high as 36ºC (97ºF).  Several people were killed in an outbreak of violence believed to have been caused by the extremely high temperatures.Meanwhile, a phenomenon called a microburst dropped hail and damaging winds of 120km/h (75 mph) in Quebec.  This was powerful enough to rip the roofs off of some buildings.  Flash floods have hit St. John’s, Newfoundland earlier on Tuesday.  The intense rain dislodged two newly installed sewer pipes from a $3 million storm sewer an industrial company is installing.  The project is ahead of schedule which is likely the only reason it is not causing a significant economic setback.

Saskatchewan suffered a serious thunderstorm last week, receiving baseball sized hail.  Hail that size can weigh more than actual baseballs!   Hail rarely gets to be that size though, around 2.75 inches (6.89cm), although the largest ever recorded was 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter.  Damage reports have been pouring in, and there will likely be millions of dollars of insurable and uninsured losses. In Guzheng, China, torrential downpours created a river of mud that left homes destroyed in its wake.  Luckily there were no fatalities, but the cleanup effort could be a lengthy process and cost millions.   In Darjeeling, a family of three people was seriously injured when a landslide took place there.  Meanwhile, in Guwahati, India, six people have been killed in separate incidents from rain-fueled landslides. In Peterborough, Ontario, heat has topped 37ºC (98ºF).  The humidex may make it even more dangerous, especially for the elderly, who along with those who work outside are most vulnerable to heat-related incidents.  Officials are warning residents to drink plenty of water and avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, as these often contribute to dehydration.  The humidex has been as high as a sweltering 41ºC (105ºF).  The temperatures in many areas of the US, like Chicago and much of the northeast will experience temperatures that feel as high as 46ºC (115ºF).  In many Texas cities, like Fort Worth and Waco, temperatures are still in excess of 40ºC (100ºF).  While New York has avoided much of the extreme temperatures, they have certainly experienced a great degree of drought.  Nearly a quarter of the state is in extreme drought.


Jul

06
2016

Jodde     Blog     0

Golf ball sized hail has been pelting Alberta lately.  One storm south of Calgary destroyed a number of farms.  One such farm had just been certified organic.  The damage could have been substantially worse.  The storms were seeded to break up more massive hailstones.  Alberta is known to meteorologists as hailstone alley.  Flash floods are more rare, but that happened in in Edmonton.  There was no major damage from the flooding reported.

In France, the Beaujolais wine-growing region has been decimated by hail as well.   As though the hail weren’t bad enough, vintners in the region also had to deal with 80mm (3.5 in) of rain.  Officials are calling for the region to be declared a disaster area, as many vintners lost as much as 80% of their crops.  The region, along with Cognac and Chablis were also hit hard at the end of May.

In China, even more flooding, as much of the mainland was lashed by heavy rains.  In 1998, China lost 4,000 people to horrendous deluges, to say nothing of the crushing $30.17 billion in economic losses.  All in all, 240 million people were affected.  To put that in perspective, that’s nearly 85% of America’s population.  So far, this year is shaping up to be worse than 1998.  There has been more rain and more rainfall events.  This is blamed on record El Niño conditions.  The Yangtze is already dangerously high, but they are not yet as high as they were in 1998.  Mainland China has already seen some devastating landslides and floods this year, however.  That said, many of them are at their highest levels since 1998, and the flooding season in China is just beginning.  

Severe weather bringing hurricane force winds in Texas caused part of a parking structure to crumble, splitting a truck in half. Fortunately, the vehicle was unoccupied at the time.  In West Virginia, at least 20 people were killed in the torrential downpour. and thousands of people are now homeless.  In North Carolina’s Triangle, the region bounded by Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, hail as large as half-dollars (30.61 mm (1.205 in)).  In Durham, winds uprooted massive trees and slammed them into homes, causing immense damage.  Cars were also crushed under trees, but fortunately there were no fatalities reported in the Triangle.


Jun

20
2016

Fires, floods and a double whammy

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This week, Fort McMurray in Alberta was hit with a double whammy.  Residents had just started to rebuild after a massive fire that had been raging out of control for weeks.  Evacuees were just returning, many of them to find they had nothing to return to.  After dealing with fire, hornets, wasps and bears, the bears having moved in to feast on the bounty of waste product residents left behind in the mad dash to escape, they are now dealing with flooding. While it is not as bad as it was in 2013, it is one more headache to deal with for residents who are surely at the breaking point.  Damage reports are sparse, because compared to the scale of devastation wrought by the fire, it did virtually none.  There was basement flooding and sewage backup, however, meaning some of what precious little the returning residents were salvaging, those who had lost nearly everything, also sustained damage.

What happened with the flooding situation in Fort McMurray is considerably mild when compared to what happened in Texas.  55 people had to be rescued from the raging torrent there, but tragically six people could not be rescued. Additionally, an 11 year old boy is presumed dead.  Hundreds of people were forced to flee their homes to escape the path of the rising flood waters.  The Brazos River reached the 54 foot (16.4m) mark, a new record.

In British Columbia, the district of Chetwynd is completely cut off from the rest of the province due to flooding there.  Over 79mm of rain fell over Chetwynd, and there was even some snow, making an incredibly dangerous situation on the highway that connects it to the rest of province.  The route will be closed for an indefinite period of time.  In Dawson’s Creek, BC, flooding necessitated a dramatic water rescue, with three people trapped in a car teetering over the edge a waterfall that was once a road.  They received a record amount of rain that triggered the flooding that damaged large swathes of BC.  In Winnepeg, 44ml (1.73 in) fell in only a half hour.  The storm system that dumped that incredibly heavy rainfall also brought baseball sized hail.  There are not yet any damage reports from the hail, but we will update you with any we hear of next week.

In other news, a conflagration in southern California is out of control.  Over 1,200 firefirghters are required to fight it, and they have not had great success, The fire is currently larger than 4,000 acres.  Officials have ordered 400 houses near Santa Barbara to be evacuated.

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.


May

29
2016

Deadly droughts and floods.

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Drought is driving up the cost of staples and exports in several regions of the world. Maize is ballooning throughout Africa. Rice is in trouble in Thailand. Prices for two different species have risen around $20 per ton. Coffee is in trouble in Brazil. While the arabica strain is actually doing well, the robusta strain is down about 16%. A rash of fires and suicides in India has only recently been relieved with the very late but very deadly monsoon rains. The almost non-existent snowpack over the winter is part of the reason then Fort McMurray fire is raging out of control. The weather has been very wet in most of Alberta, but unfortunately, Fort McMurray didn’t get much of that rain.

Drought in Zimbabwe is heart-wrenchingly devastating, with millions of starving people and little to no rain expected for months. In fact, more than a quarter of their population is on the brink of starvation. The government there is seeking $1.5 billion in aid to feed those at risk. Damages in the billions tend to be in relation to infrastructure, not food.

Meanwhile, parts of the world are inundated with deadly flood waters. Recent flooding in Sri Lanka has left at least 37 dead, and 150 missing. A further 28 people were discovered buried in mud, wounded. Massive rains triggered flooding and horrific mudslides. The region affected received 100mm of rain in just one day. The death toll could have been a lot worse were it not for heroic troops using boats and helicopters to rescue 200 trapped people. The government has forced 137,000 people to evacuate, and many of those will have nowhere to return. The Red Cross was unable to access many people who needed rescue as roads were blocked by mud and trees. Meanwhile, in Bangkok, Thailand, a four-year-old girl is dead after a massive storm caused her home to collapse. A cupboard fell on her head. Two other people were seriously injured, and 62 homes were obliterated. This drastic amount of devastation happened in a mere two hours. In Indonesia, major flooding has killed at least 17 people, with another three possibly dead.  


May

11
2016

Everything lost, two North American tragedies

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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.