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Jul

25
2016

Heat, Hail and Hard Times

Jodde     Blog     0

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

Jodde     Blog     0

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.

Jodde     Blog     0

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

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

Jodde     Blog     0

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

Jodde     Blog     0

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

Jodde     Blog     0

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

Jodde     Blog     0

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

Jodde     Blog     0

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.