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Mar

26
2015

As Earth’s warmest winter on record ends, Spring starts with snow storms in North America

Mark     Blog     0

Just as Spring rolled around last week, we learned that Winter 2014 was the warmest winter on record. According to weather.com, “NOAA says that December through February … was 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average for all land and ocean areas. This tops the previous warmest winter of 2007 by 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit.” Despite the fact that eastern North America experienced a cold winter, western North America, Europe and Asia experienced widespread above-average temperatures.

This was little consolation to residents of the northeast United States, where the first day of Spring was greeted by snow storms. Some areas picked up 6 inches of snow, with temperatures dropping 10—15 degrees Fahrenheit (5.5—8.3 degrees Celsius) below normal temperatures for this time of year. Two people died in a car crash caused by poor driving conditions, and others were injured as cars were seen flipped on their heads in separate incidents. Nearly 600 flights were cancelled, and just as many were delayed, leaving passengers frustrated.

Meanwhile, in Northern Australia, Cyclone Nathan ripped through the coast causing residents to flee inland, and The Spanish city of Castellon experienced heavy rainfall which flooded the city, forcing emergency workers to rescue people from their homes and cars. The storm was expected to move to the Mediterranean Sea which meteorologists predicted would experience gale force winds. This warning became reality a few days later, with Italy, the Balkans, and Turkey bracing for a travel-disrupting storm. The heavy rainfall in Turkey may lead to flooding in several coastal cities.

Heavy rain in northern Brazil and Peru also caused flooding, creating giant sinkholes in Brazil, and landslides in Peru. An incredible video shows a bus full of Brazilian passengers being rescued from a sinkhole moments before the bus is swept away by the fierce river. The landslides in Peru claimed the lives of at least seven people, when an avalanche buried part of a town. Unfortunately, BBC News reported that torrential storm clouds would remain over Brazil and Peru, and that they would reach even the Atacama desert which on average receives only about 15 millimeters of rain per year.

A few days later there was finally some good news for the northeast United States, where at least 6 inches of snow finally began to melt in Boston, which had covered some parts of the city for months.

If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.


Mar

11
2015

Tanzania tragedy and the other south African states

Jodde     Blog     0

This week in Tanzania, at least 42 people have vanished from this mortal coil, their lives cut tragically short by the latest flooding.  Hundreds more are homeless and several people are injured.  Downpours that included hail and high winds caused a great deal of harm to buildings and roads, making rescue operations difficult.  Unfortunately, this might just be the tip of the iceberg for the state.  Most Tanzanians are subsistence farmers, and the deluge wreaked havoc on their crops.  We hear about flooding in the news all the time.  Sometimes it happens in our own backyards.  I for one remember the flooding in Calgary like it was yesterday.  Calgary is fine now though.  So is Toronto which was flooded just after it.  So what’s the difference?  Infrastructure.  Modern cities have superior infrastructure so that natural disasters do not become humanitarian disasters as well, but when these floods happen to people who build mud houses and are the poorest of the poor, the associated humanitarian crisis follows directly on the heels of the flood.

Southern Africa in general is not doing well, according to Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi.  The volatile weather southern countries in Africa have been experiencing lately are throwing these developing countries into further disarray. On top of recent flooding, the combined death toll in the most affected countries claiming 300 lives, the region is also experiencing prolonged dry spells since the year began, threatening drought in countries that are unprepared to deal with the scale of recent disasters.  You will recall that drought without critical infrastructure leads to famine, so Mozambique, Niger, Tanzania and other states may well experience a devastating famine.  Economic growth is heavily dependent on, among other things, human capital.  Human capital includes such factors as health and education. Unhealthy, uneducated, and underfed workers are the least productive.  Since the GDP is basically the sum of all labour, and the average GDP per person determines typical wealth levels, it is not hard to imagine the deleterious effect this unstable weather could easily have on some of the nations (Niger in particular) that are already at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index.  Zimbabwe is another state that already has great trouble with human capital mainly due to HIV/AIDS and alleged military corruption.  Famine is the last thing they need on top of that.  While Zimbabwe’s tourism industry has been declining, since the ’90s, it is still an important source of income for the country owing to its breathtaking Victoria Falls.  Famine is closely linked with exceptionally high levels of violence and such would naturally annihilate any tourism interest. Famine is the one disaster that has a tendency to turn people against each other, whereas all others offer at least the solace of communities coming together.

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.


Mar

06
2015

Frozen Florida and other anomalies

Jodde     Blog     0

Texas is not the first place you think of when you hear of severe winter storms.  However, Dallas made news this week with one such storm causing almost 20 vehicles to veer off the road.  Neither is South Beach, Florida what you would have in mind when you think of below freezing temperatures, but they were that low around the end of February.  Some Floridian crops have actually frozen solid!  Having said that, most of the crops were spared.  The frosty weather doesn’t just feel unpleasant, it’s downright dangerous.  So far at least 19 people have been killed, mainly due to hypothermia.  Where there is hypothermia death, there is also the threat of frostbite, which can require amputations to treat.  These threats, part of the class of exposure injuries, are particularly serious for people who live in climates where they are unprepared for such extremes.  Most Canadians own and routinely wear parkas, gloves, toques (knit hats usually wool,) scarves, wool socks and long underwear to combat the risk of exposure injuries.  Most people in South Beach, although they may get cold, as the sensation is relative, they are not likely to own all such protective gear, and that is among the affluent.  Homeless people are at an even greater risk from exposure.  Here are some safety tips for surviving cold weather.

  1. 1.) Stay in as much as possible.  If your car does not have heat, try to avoid driving.  Driving may become difficult as your windshields may fog.
  2. 2.) Wear multiple layers of clothing.
  3. 3.) Remove the layers when inside, and take it easy outside.  Sweating can be very dangerous.
  4. 4.) Carry an emergency blanket in your car.
  5. 5.) Drink plenty of hot liquids like tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.
  6. 6.) Recognize the signs and symptoms of hypothermia.
  7. 7.) If somebody has frostbite or frost nip, a mild case of frostbite, do not rub the area, but apply something warm.  Seek prompt medical attention.

If snow is dangerous for people and cars, it is all the more dangerous for planes.  Near Laguardia International Airport in New York, the latest dumping caused a 747 to skid off the runway, injuring six people.  The US is poised to break the seasonal snowfall record of 157″ (3.9m) One less obvious problem with the recent cold weather is that people are not buying cars.  The first tip in our list is intuitive, people stay in.  They put off buying a new car until warmer weather arrives.

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.


Feb

26
2015

From Clams to Cold

Jodde     Blog     0

If you have a bad case of heartburn, you might take something like Tums to alleviate it.  Tums and other brands like it, are acid neutralizers.  They are made of chalk, also known as calcium carbonate.  The acid in your stomach reacts with the chalk to make water and CO2.  You may be wondering at this point what this has to do with the price of tea in China.  Nothing at all, but it may well effect the price of shellfish there.  That’s because shellfish use chalk to build their shells, too.  Of course, the oceans are nowhere near as acidic as the acids the stomach produces, but it is still hard for any shellfish to build their shells.  Some CO2 that dissolves in the ocean becomes carbonic acid, which also reacts with chalk, albeit far less aggressively.  This breaking down makes shell building difficult.  While the extinction of oysters would pose an economic threat, there is a much larger threat from the most abundant shelled animals in the ocean; coral, but that is a story for another time.  This map illustrates the economic threat in the US, but makes no mention of Asian nations, like Japan, which produces thousands of metric tons of shellfish.  Continuing drought of course is an economic threat, but NASA may have a new tool to help mitigate it.  It is hoped that the satellite will be able to detect and evaluate moisture levels on the ground.  The satellite should be operational within the month, and knowing that a drought is starting could help mitigate some of its effects by allowing policy makers to regulate water usage in advance of a catastrophic shortage.

In other news, unseasonably cold temperatures in Raleigh, North Carolina hit many business owners hard, retailers in particular.  On cold days, people naturally try to avoid leaving their warm homes and offices as often as possible.  Unfortunately, unseasonable temperatures continue to plague large swaths of the US.  Furthermore, thousands of people are without power after a severe winter storm blanketed much of the east coast with snow.  Several roads from South Carolina to New York were covered in ice, making for treacherous driving conditions.

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.


Feb

18
2015

Deadly weather week

Jodde     Blog     0

While Colorado has been relatively balmy, Greece is covered in a blanket of snow.  Additionally, ships were prohibited from leaving port due to excessively windy conditions.  Winters in Greece are typically mild and rainy.  Historically, while Greece had a variety of climates throughout the Isle, snow was uncommon.  The myth that explains winter doesn’t even mention snow, nor was there a major deity associated with it.  Mumbai, India is also relatively cold.  They have experienced record low temperatures of 14.2ºC (57.6ºF.)  While this is not exactly cold for most people in North America, but perception of cold is relative.  The average winter temperature in Mumbai is 20.5ºC (68.9ºF.)  We can only guess at how subjectively cold it is, but objectively, we can say that it’s certainly unusual.

The other extreme we are seeing is perhaps more alarming.  We at TGWF have been reporting on the droughts lately, and most recently on the snow droughts.  With high temperatures in Colorado, the snow drought in that state is being exacerbated.  The snow that has fallen is evaporating and moving elsewhere, due to record high temperatures.  Water evaporates in any temperature, (or sublimates at temperatures below freezing,) because some molecules randomly escape the liquid or solid and float away as a gas.  Naturally, the higher the temperature, the more such random escapes occur because there is more overall molecular motion.  So higher temperatures are causing the already deficient snowpack to melt and evaporate.  Currently the snowpack is at 81% of what it should be.  The snowpack feeds the rivers, so anywhere downriver is going to have lower banks.  Furthermore, there is a high risk of wildfires in the near future.  With 174 records set in the state in just over two weeks, the situation may well get worse before it gets better.  In Macon, North Carolina, a fire burned out of control.  Heavy winds are whipping up the flames and now several hundred homes were under threat.  Two people were killed in the inferno, including a firefighter.

In South Korea, there are reports of a severe fog causing a massive 100 car pileup, with two of those collisions resulting in fatal injuries.  There were an additional 63 injuries reported, seven of them serious.  A similar incident took place once in 2006.

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.


Feb

11
2015

Drought and Fires

Jodde     Blog     0

Five hundred firefighters, several firetrucks, and even a helicopter are battling a massive 7,000 acre blaze in Sierra Nevada, California.  The fire, like so many in recent years is aggravated by drought.  Fire season usually occurs in summer, because lightning strikes and the attendant high winds cause prime conditions for spreading.  While the cause of the fire is not reported, and most likely not known, we do know that it was incredibly damaging.  At least 40 homes were gutted, and three people were injured.  The problem here is that drought makes good fuel.  Think about trying to light a campfire.  Obviously you would choose dry wood over wet wood for kindling.  Lightning is so hot that it will make short work of even wet wood, but wet ground and wet trees around it tend to limit the fire’s spread.  Ever since we humans have mastered fire, there are more human causes of fire than natural causes of it, and in fact up to 90% of wildfires are human caused.  Things that are not quite as hot as lightning of course preferentially ignite dry kindling.  A smoker who carelessly throws a cigarette into a patch of wet grass near a wooded area will not cause a fire if those leaves are wet, but very dry leaves in drought conditions, that’s a whole other story.

Brazil experiences frequent lightning strikes, and like all people, Brazilians make and control fire.  While we are not yet aware of any serious fires in the country, it would not be a surprise to see some devastating fires in the near future.  New Zealand has mounting concerns about droughts.  California, bone dry for several years now, does not even have enough water to keep its cows.  Many dairy farmers are moving away in part because of burdensome regulations, (though those have been in place for a long time,) but mostly because of drought.  Many other states in the US, particularly the western states are in a snow drought, which of course portends continuing drought.  The Thai government has declared eight provinces disaster zones due to severe water shortages in the country.  While they usually have a dry season, this level of drought is profound.

This summary in no way reflects all 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.


Feb

04
2015

Deadly Deluges

Jodde     Blog     0

The warm January days in Calgary came to a dramatic end, with temperatures plummeting almost 30ºC (54ºF) in a night, but temperatures are expected to be above seasonal next week.  So far this winter has been unusually mild for Calgary.  Though the city experiences the phenomenon of chinooks, which we will explain further on, there are usually stretches of -40ºC/ºF temperatures that last a week or two in between chinooks.  Temperatures have not been anywhere near that low this winter.  A chinook occurs when cold wind blows over the Rocky Mountains.  The air is heated as it gets pushed down to the ground in a process known as adiabatic heating.  The hot wind, because of its speed, has less pressure than the colder air above it, so it is continually pushed to ground level.  Unfortunately, the state of Massechussets does not experience this phenomenon.  Recently, a Noreaster dumped two feet of snow (66cm) on Boston, and left Scituate, a small town to the southeast entrenched in ice.  The ocean churned so violently that it breached the town’s seawall, resulting in massive flooding.  Waves were up to 9 feet high (2.74m) The cleanup effort will be massive, and warranted a state of emergency declaration.  In Marshfield, MA, the same storm punched through a 50 ft (15.24m) section of seawall, causing serious flooding there.  The deluge resulted in several homes in the area being condemned.  While New York City did not get the devastating three feet (1m) of snow they were expecting, Long Island, NY got more than its fair share.  Two people died in the blizzard there.

Elsewhere, there is severe drought.  Chocolate prices have risen substantially, because the chief input for chocolate, cacao, has risen 7.4%, (Japanese) driven mainly by drought in Africa.  Drought is not the only disruption to chocolate.  The recent ebola outbreak interfered with the cacao harvest this year.  One thing scientist predict could happen in the face of rising temperatures is an overall increase in the amount of disease.  The reason is twofold.  Waterborne microbes infect well where there is not much sanitation.  Even developed areas, where there is sanitation, suffer from a lack thereof with severe enough infrastructure damage.  Also, some changes may be favourable to insects, which can be vector species, or animals that host infectious agents.  For example, fleas are a vector species for plague.  In the worst case scenario, the coupling of disease with drought could lead to severe crop shortages and subsequent increases in food costs.  Credit Suisse Group is trying to mitigate the price increase by encouraging growth in the Amazon.  However, the campaign is based on Peru. The eastern part of Peru experienced heavy flooding and landslides.  Thirteen districts in the San Martine region have been affected.  The inundation and associated events left over 200 families homeless, and hundreds more displaced.

This summary in no way reflects all 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.


Jan

27
2015

Snow droughts? In a hot January!

Jodde     Blog     0

In Shakespeare’s, Much Ado About Nothing, Leonato tells Beatrice that she will never fall in love.  In agreement, she tells him that she will “in a hot January.” This fictional character did find love, and a hot January did occur, centuries later.  Shakespeare clearly meant the phrase to be akin to “when pigs fly.”  He viewed this situation as completely unimaginable in his hemisphere, as well he should have.  However, it is indeed a hot January in Calgary.  The last few days have seen people wearing shorts and t-shirts.  It has been a nice 17ºC (62ºF), which is certainly quite warm (for Canadians.)  In stark contrast, three eastern states have imposed a road travel ban due to a Noreaster.  New York had gone so far as to declare a state of emergency.  New York was expecting between two and three feet of snow (66-100cm.)  When Toronto was hit with such a massive snowstorm a number of years ago, they needed the help of the National Guard to clear all the snow, and like New York, they were well equipped to deal with it.  As it turns out, they are getting substantially less than what they expected, but it is still a major snowstorm.  Having said that, the travel bans imposed earlier today have been lifted.

Minneapolis, and St. Paul, Minnesota are not getting enough snow.  They have only received about a third of their usual snowfall for the year.  Snow is an important source of water for the watershed, so a snow drought portends drought in the coming seasons.  Snow typically melts and is carried into drainage basins.  These drainage basins often feed rivers, which cause drought conditions when they run low.  The lack of snow here would affect the east coast, so we should watch for drought conditions there to develop.  It will also likely cause problems with agriculture.  During the winter, farmers store snow in sheds, which later becomes precious water for their crops.

While in Calgary, we are enjoying record shattering temperatures, (the previous record for Sunday was 13ºC (55ºF), this is not the case in Australia.  Temperatures there have soared past 50ºC (over 120ºF).  For comparison, the government regulated holding temperature for hot food is only 10ºC (18ºF) more.  These record shattering high temperatures in the 50ºs (120ºs F)are often fatal for the elderly in particular, who do not feel symptoms of dehydration as easily as their younger counterparts.  However, even younger people who are exercising in such extreme heat have been known to fall victim to heat injuries like heat stroke and heat exhaustion, both of which can be fatal.  Those who take certain medications or use caffeine or alcohol are more vulnerable to heat stroke.

This summary in no way reflects all 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.


Jan

19
2015

Deepening drought, deadly floods

Jodde     Blog     0

Floods decimated Malawi this week.  With substandard infrastructure, even a relatively tame event could be deadly, and this was certainly not tame.  This is the worst flooding Malawi residents can seem to remember.  There are conflicting reports around just how deadly this inundation was, but Peter Mutharika, the country’s President, put the figure at 48.  Many more deaths may follow, however, due to the deadly infection cholera.  Around 200,000 people were also left homeless.  What’s worse,  numerous animals died in the flood, and the flood was deleterious for crops.  In a nation where so many of its residents are subsistence farmers, this is a significant blow.  The flooding is a result of heavy rain that has been falling for weeks, and more may be on the way with tropical cyclone Chedza closing in.  Several cities in northern Sumatra is dealing with a deluge this week also.  No lives were lost in that event, but over 10,000 homes were damaged.  A landslide also caused traffic chaos in an otherwise unaffected region.

Meanwhile, the opposite extreme in climate is going on in California, Sao Paolo, Brazil, and many other regions.  The snowfall in California has been woefully sparse so far this winter, and the crippling drought California faces is nowhere near over.  They need trillions of gallons of water to precipitate to have adequate reservoirs.  It seems that it is falling elsewhere.  Sao Paolo has not had a drought as bad as their current one in 80 years.  The Cantareira water system which supplies most of the country’s water needs is at only 6% capacity, and several others are running low.  The Sao Paolo government has yet to implement water usage restrictions, but such a refusal could prove disastrous, and they may have no choice but to impose water rations at this point.

In other news, a new study reports that wheat yields will decline 6% per degree of temperature increase.  This will, naturally, cause rising prices which will be felt chiefly in the developing world.  This could increase poverty in countries already struggling with it, or even cause famine in the worst case.

This summary in no way reflects all 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.

 


Dec

29
2014

Dismal December Week

Jodde     Blog     0

The end of the year is shaping up to be a dismal one for many people in the world.  Flooding has decimated Malaysia, which received record rainfall.  Malaysians are no strangers to flooding, and no stranger to tragedy (more on that later,) but even they see it as “epic.”  Cape Town was also inundated due to an unusually high tide and rough chop.  Sri Lanka also suffered from a heavy deluge, displacing approximately 46,000 residents.

California, on the other hand is welcoming any rain it gets.  The problem here is known in economics as the tragedy of the commons.  While drought conditions have not ended, and are in fact nowhere near ending, collectively Californians may feel that is okay for just them to momentarily increase their water use.  Since they are unaware of their neighbours’ increased use, they feel continued justification.  Therefore, the intense rain that many see as a boon, may have a net zero or even a net negative effect on reservoirs’ volumes.  The drought has already caused more than $2 billion in losses, mostly due to diminished crop yields.  Governor Jerry Brown renewed calls to for Californians to “treat it like the drought of our lives.”  The outlook seems grim.  She goes on to warn that another drought could be just around the corner.

AirAsia was trying to fly out of a severe thunderstorm when it disappeared over the Java Sea.  Planes are designed to be Faraday cages.  Lightning travels around the fuselage, not through it, so it is not usually damaging when it hits the plane, but what we know is that power seems to have been lost; the pilots never communicated with air traffic control again, and it happened suddenly.  Flying through a severe thunderstorm is very dangerous for planes, as their airspeed indicators can get clogged with ice, or they can lose them because of a power failure.  This loss makes it easy to critically stall in an already precarious situation.  There is no word on whether accident investigators believe this to be the cause, but pilots speculate that it is.  If the weather is indeed to blame, this would make two natural disasters for Malaysia within days of each other.

In the US, a massive tornado flattened an Moore, Oklahoma city school. killing at least 91 people and seriously injuring no less than 145 people.  The school itself is entirely decimated, as is a large swath, a 2 mile (1 km) tract, of the city.  Part of the reason for the extensive damage was the location of the tornado.  As a factor of probability, tornados are more likely to strike rural areas than urban ones, as urban areas are larger and more prevalent than urban areas.  Very few tornados hit cities, but the ones that do are devastating.

There is some good news this week.  It turns out that the extent of arctic sea ice is recovering in the fall and winter seasons.  The recovery is driven by thick ice being retained, making arctic ice more resilient than previously thought.  Sadly, it seems that in 2015, if 2014 is any indication, many of us will have to be more resilient than we ever thought we could be.

This is only a small sampling of what happened in the world this week.  To read the rest of the articles we’ve collected, click here.


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