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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.


Nov

06
2014

Wind and Water

Jodde     Blog     0

While fortunately no deaths or injuries due to weather events this week have come to our attention, property damage and the disruption of people’s lives and livelihoods most certainly has.  Due to flooding In Buenos Aires this week, over 5,000 people have been displaced, and the rain that has been causing that flooding is expected to continue. In Vancouver, BC, flooding and rockslides have caused the government to evacuate certain regions of the city.  The extent of the damage is unknown at this point.

Typhoon Nuri, possibly the largest storm ever recorded is expected to dissipate but have lasting effects on the jet stream, bringing with it unseasonably cold temperatures.  Meanwhile a rare tornado touched down in Catania, Italy.  This ripped the roof off at least one building, damaged houses and townhouses, and caused general infrastructure chaos.  Another tornado is suspected of causing a great deal of damage to Coalville, UK.  Some cars, roofs, and businesses were damaged, with the worst hit being the Belvoir Shopping Centre, with one business likely requiring extensive repairs before reopening.

 

To read all our articles in the last week, click here.


Oct

30
2014

Poking the bear, and other weather threats

Jodde     Blog     0

When black bears and humans cross paths, the result is not always good for either species.  Bears usually avoid humans, but over time do become habituated to human garbage. They have been known to break into homes and even, incredibly, cars for a morsel. They are usually curious, but their curiosity can decimate personal property, e.g. cars as just discussed. Bear encounters are usually the result of a lack of food, and this year berries and other staples of black bears’ diets, which mostly includes berries are sorely lacking. While they can find insects in logs and other places in their territories, these cannot sustain them. The berries are not growing in Yosemite this year, where there is a growing bear problem, due to drought.

Meanwhile, the drought in Moultrie, Georgia, US is responsible for increasing the production cost of cotton, and similarly pumpkin growers in California must pump in more water than during typical years due to the dry weather.

Across the ocean, Athens experienced torrential rain over the weekend, flooding the city. The knee-deep water flooded houses and shops, and swept away cars. According to one eye witness, Athens “[has] the same problem every year, but never before to this extent”.

For more articles from the past week, click here.


Oct

15
2014

Hottest September Ever, New Security Threats, And Devastating Cyclones

Jodde     Blog     0

This September has been the hottest the world has ever seen since record keeping began.  This is surprising because El Nino has not begun on its expected schedule, as El Nino often raises temperatures.  If the El Nino doesn’t come, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the western United States will fall into an even deeper drought, or at best receive no relief from its present drought conditions.

Another horrific typhoon has hit Japan, this time claiming the lives of two people and injuring about 100.  The fate of an additional person is unknown.  Again, hundreds of thousands of people were asked to evacuate, and several planes were grounded.  For the first time in the history of the sport, a Nippon Baseball playoff game was also suspended.  Fukushima, which literally means “lucky island”, bore the brunt of the impact, and let us not forget it was also the site of the deadly tsunami only three years ago that crippled the city and dumped radioactive waste into the ocean, which while not a weather disaster was a disaster nonetheless, and likely exacerbates the psychological if not the economic effects of this disaster.

In other news, the US Department of Defence has fingered the possibility of climate change as a major threat to national security.  Their report in no way expresses the position of The Global Warming Foundation.  The DoD, like we, are taking a neutral stance on the issue or at least they are for now, but they suggest that global warming if happening could cause resource wars, strain international relations over issues of refugees and food shortages, cause military equipment to malfunction and need repairs more frequently,  They also anticipate an increased need for humanitarian and peacekeeping missions as per the expected increase in intensity of weather disasters.  The full document can be found here.

 

For a full list of articles about recent weather events, please click here.


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