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Aug

10
2017

Ferocious Fires

Jodde     Blog     0

British Columbia, Canada, and parts of Alberta have been experiencing the most intense fire season in history.  California is having a horrendous fire season as well, with over 8,000 people fleeing in the scorching heat, although fortunately there have been no reported civilian casualties in any fire.  At least 10 structures were destroyed in that blaze.  Days later, 11,000 people were forced to flee in BC.   Both BC and Alberta have issued fire bans because of tinderbox conditions.  Campfires are only allowed in approved locations, and ATVs are banned altogether.  Humans have caused about half the fires in BC and Alberta, but the other half of almost 930 fires BC has seen since April was caused by lightning.  
One fire burning near Highway 93, a popular highway known for its wildlife and leading to hotspots like Radium Hot Springs and Invermere, has already scorched over 130 sq. km. (50.19 sq. mi).  Many livestock animals live in that region and are kept behind wooden fences, many of which are burning and replacing these fences and relocating live stock alone are costing the province over $6 million.  Firefighters from as far away as Australia are being called in to fight the raging infernos.  This all adds up to a massive bill for the BC and Alberta governments.  In Montana, a dozen homes were destroyed in a monstrous blaze that cost a volunteer inmate firefighter his life.  Whatever his debt to society was, it is fair to say it was decisively paid.
A heatwave has sprung up parts of Europe and has killed at least two people.  The heat is so intense that the heat wave has been named Lucifer.  The peak temperature was 39ºC (102.2ºF).  In Spain, there were punishing temperatures peaking 44ºC (112ºF).  In Serbia, train routes were delayed as the tracks buckled from the heat.  In BC last week, temperatures hit 37ºC(98.6ºF).  While not as extreme as Lucifer, its constancy is not only responsible for the out of control conflagrations, but also for extremely high health risks due to air quality.  Smoke from forest fires can cause or exacerbate heart and lung diseases.  Alberta, Calgary in particular, has not been much better, with the mercury rising as high as 30ºC more than 6 times.  That is three times the average, and some of those days hit 37ºC(i8.6ºF) too.  Keep in mind that these temperatures are without the humidex.  The heat is one reason the fire season in Western Canada and America is so intense.  Hot weather lowers the amount of heat that fuel needs to burn, so the fuel is ignited more easily which means it starts more easily and spreads more easily.  There has also been very little rain, leaving Alberta and BC in drought.  In fact, Kelowna, BC, the wine growing region is in its third longest drought in recorded history.  Overall, this has been a historic, tragic fire season.

Jun

12
2017

Miserable May

Jodde     Blog     0

Melting permafrost in Antarctica threatened the Global Seed Bank.  Meltwater found its way into the entrance and was discovered last month.  Fortunately, the water didn’t harm any seeds.  The Global Seed Bank is meant to serve as a reserve in case of a catastrophic event.  It contains thousands of seeds from important food crops in case those crops become otherwise extinct.  It was meant to operate without human interaction, but people now have to watch it 24 hours a day.

16 people have been killed after serious thunderstorms in Russia.  Additionally, 150 people were injured.  It was the deadliest storm Moscow had suffered in over a hundred years.  Severe flooding in Sri Lanka has left over 163 dead and 500,000 people displaced.  The death toll continues to rise and could rise as high as 223 as there are 97 people still unaccounted for.  This is the worst storm since May 2013, where a monsoon with similar power killed over 250 people and destroyed 10,000 homes.  Last month, Quebec and Ontario suffered over $1 billion estimated damage, as well as 14 deaths due to intense flooding.  That devastating total adds to the $4 billion estimated damages in the US this month, with huge, softball-sized hail stones in Denver, Colorado causing over $1.4 billion in damage.   There was also intense wind, thunderstorms that spawned tornados and deluges throughout the American Midwest in May.  In the Plains, a serious dust storm caused multiple car accidents including one fatal accident.  It’s hard to get a sense of how much damage might have occurred in those collisions as many serious non-fatal collisions result in lifelong soft-tissue injuries.  We often think of the human toll of these storms strictly in terms of loss of life, but we shouldn’t forget the many who lose the quality thereof.  We don’t think about how the lives of survivors are affected.  With $5 billion of damages across the US, there is undoubtedly serious impacts on peoples’ quality of lives.  Many people lost everything and will be paid out by insurance, but the trauma can be very real and very devastating. That’s at least $5 billion in North America alone, and the Sri Lanka flooding may just be a harbinger of what’s to come.

A serious wildfire scorched more than 2,000 acres (809 hectares) in May.  Strong winds and dry conditions helped it to spread quickly and force many people to leave their homes. Sometimes the size of the fire is not as significant as the damage it does.  A relatively small, 40 acre (16.19 hectare) wildfire near Leavenworth, Washington gutted 168 homes.  In Polk County, Florida, a massive wildfire burned over 8,000 acres  (3,237 hectares) in an area where there were unexploded ordinances.  Fortunately, there are no reports that any houses burned down or of any explosions.


May

07
2017

Jodde     Blog     0

Intense heat in Pakistan has killed 3 people in Odisha.  The Angul district reached temperatures of 44.7ºC (111.2 ºF.)  Nine towns reported temperatures almost as high, at a minimum 40º (104ºF).  That’s hotter than the average temperature for the month of June!  In California, high temperatures are the least of their worries.  Not only has this winter brought more snow than ever before since record keeping, the rising heat is melting it at a record rate.  This is expected to make the Merced River in Yosemite National Park overflow its banks by about a foot.  There is also a great deal of danger to people who use the river for recreation, as the water will be faster and colder than usual.  Meanwhile in Cuba, a million people are suffering from some level of drought, and a lot of it is severe to exceptional.  Numerous reservoirs are only 36.5% filled or less.  Several are under 25% filled.  All told, 71% of the island is affected by poor rainfall.  Meanwhile, wildfires raged across California, scorching over 1550 acres (627 hectares).

In Triangle, North Carolina, serious flooding has shut down several roads and buildings and stranded a number of cars.  In New Jersey, a severe thunderstorm caused flooding and caused cars to drive off the road.  In much of the American Midwest, including Indiana, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri, serious flooding has killed at least two people and washed out several roads.  Some communities are completely cut off from their neighbours.  In parts of India, farmers faced complete devastation.  A thunderstorm damaged an estimated 500 tonnes of mangoes. Because damaged mangoes sell for only a fifth of the price of pristine mangoes, which would have been harvested in the coming weeks, the economic impact of this amounts to something close to $4,000,000.  At the beginning of April in Columbia, over 254 people were killed after horrific flooding.  They were largely swept away in their sleep.  An additional 200 sustained injuries, some serious, and hundreds of homes were destroyed.  500 people were forced to stay in emergency shelters as their homes were inaccessible.  What caused the tragedy was 130mm of rain in less than two days.


Mar

31
2017

In Like a Lion

Jodde     Blog     0

Parts of New York, namely Niagara Falls received record snowfall that prompted Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul to declare a state of emergency.  Fortunately there have been few car accidents, which the lieutenant governor attributed to people complying with advisories to stay off the roads. Not everybody did though, so there were certainly car accidents and accompanying property damage.

In St. John’s, Newfoundland, Churchill Square, which is home to a 63 story apartment building sustained serious damage to it.  It will need to be stripped down to studs and rebuilt, which will take about nine months, leaving tenants to make other arrangements.  There are 14 businesses on the ground floor that now have to find a new place to operate on very short notice.  All of this destruction was from a massive wind storm.  Meanwhile, In Kansas City, severe weather decimated several hangars and the planes within.  All told, about 70 aircrafts were damaged in what was likely a tornado.  One airplane was even picked up out of a hangar and flipped over a second hangar before crashing upside down.

Two homes have been destroyed by a Florida forest fire after a man burned a pile of books on his property.  Twenty-five homes were also damaged.  Deleterious weather has walloped South Africa.  Intense winds fanned flames that have already gutted 3,500 homes.  Nine people have succumbed to three different fires.  An annual bicycle race, the Cape Town Cycle Tour also had to be cancelled due to the intense winds.  Beachgoers who braved winds were compelled to leave as high waves plowed into the beach and occasionally even the promenade.

By far the worst weather was in Peru, which has been completely devastated by flooding that is unimaginable to the vast majority of us.  For 75 people, we know for sure that this flooding was how they died.  Many more likely met a similar end.  The last thing they ever saw was the devastation unleashed on their homes.  Those who survived are facing food and water shortages; and some communities are completely isolated after mudslides and flooding decimated all road and rail connections.  Peru has deployed armed forces to help, but Peruvians are still in dire straits.  Those who are left behind to pick up the pieces might wonder why this happened, and scientists tell us it is the latest bout of El Niño.  Already the country is facing 10 times more rainfall than usual.   

In other news, a recent report shows that Australia has broken 205 heat record this summer, and they are in for more extreme weather as they enter fall.


Jan

18
2017

Rocky start to the New Year

Jodde     Blog     0

This month, we have been seeing a pattern of extreme precipitation in some regions and an extreme lack of precipitation in others.  The extreme rain is helping some areas, like California, out of drought, but the rain is a double edged sword as it comes immense flood risks.  Meanwhile, Chennai, India is deep in drought, with the entire state affected.  Chennai relies heavily on monsoons, but monsoon activity has been extremely weak, less than half of what it should be.

In California, huge amounts of rain wrought from the largest storm in a decade, which had the silver lining of reducing drought, toppled a giant sequoia called the Pioneer Cabin Tree.  This is certainly a cultural tragedy.  Thousands of people a year flocked to see the tree as well as other trees in the Calaveras Big Tree State Park.  Yours truly was hoping to be one of them some day.    At least 40 people are dead in Thailand after severe flooding inundated the country’s south.  One person is still missing.  More than 700,000 people were affected by the fatal weather.  What’s more, this heavy rain fell during the dry season in Thailand and neighbouring Malaysia.  Malaysia wasn’t quite as devastated, but still faced many closures and left thousands displaced.

In Colorado and Sierra, Nevada, some ski resorts have had to shut down because they have too much snow.  You read that right.  There has been a recent dump of over five ft (1.5 m), which brings with it a serious risk of avalanches.  Also, that much snow on the road is extremely dangerous even with winter tires, so one resort was forced to close because it could not be accessed.   Winter weather has proven incredibly dangerous throughout the Midwest, with slippery conditions causing hundreds of crashes including a 20 car pileup.  There have been at least six fatalities from traffic incidents.  Several states declared states of emergency.  There were also a number of injuries and near misses.  In Oklahoma, over 10,000 people were left without power after an inch (30 mm) of ice accumulated on trees.  In Texas, there were two tornados, which are rare in winter, and hail as large as teacups near Rockspring, and softball sized hail near Medina.  That softball sized hail was incredibly damaging to car bodies.  There were also damaging flash floods.

In other news, a wildfire in Chile near Santiago has scorched 19,000 hectares (73 square miles.)  Military officials and firefighters are still working to get that blaze under control.  At least 100 homes have burned and at least 400 people have been evacuated, including 160 inmates at a women’s prison in Santiago.  

Last year the sheer number of weather-related disasters caused $144 billion in damage.  That is an average of over $500 million being lost per day.  That is truly staggering!  Most of the damage, only a fraction of which was insured, was unleashed by floods last year.


Dec

09
2016

Drought disaster and winter wallops

Jodde     Blog     0

The drought situation in the US is getting worse.  Georgia, keeping in mind it got doused recently when Hurricane Matthew grazed it, is in a deep drought.  More than 20% of the state is experiencing an exceptional drought.  Most of the state is in extreme drought.  In related news, tragedy has struck in Tennessee, with several tourists and residents dying in a massive wildfire.  At the time of writing, the death toll is up to 13, and another 85 people have been treated for fire-related injuries.  That fire was the most destructive and deadly one in the Southeast, but it is only one of 19 that in total have scorched more than 15,000 acres (6,070 hectares) so far.  These fires are in the Great Smoky Mountains, which usually sees only two or so fires in a year.  Tennessee and the rest of the southeastern states are a tinderbox due to lingering exceptional drought there.  To make matters worse, the same rain they are counting on to douse the massive blaze is threatening flooding in the region.

In other news, not all heatwaves generate complaints, and not all are swelteringly hot.  While the winter in Calgary is expected to be harsh, it was until very recently conspicuous by its absence. It felt like an extended summer until we got pummelled by unseasonably low temperatures for this time of year, around -30ºC (-22ºF).  It is certainly winter in Kona, Hawaii as well, in particular, near the peaks of the enormous volcanos named Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, which received three feet (91 cm) of snow.  Believe it or not, it usually snows in Hawaii, as it is home to Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, the tallest volcanos from base to summit in the world.  With a maximum elevation of 13,802 ft (4,207 m) above sea level at Mauna Kea, it is hardly surprising that it regularly receives snow, and with Mauna Loa almost matching its height, snow there should not be surprising either.  To convey a sense of scale, higher than about 9,000 feet, (about 3km,) it becomes difficult to breathe due to a lack of oxygen.  At the summit, one may be so hypoxic they feel and move as though drunk, and walking even a short distance feels like intense exercise and leaves one gasping for breath.  At that height, the temperature plummets to near 0ºC (32ºF) in the midst of blazing summer heat at sea level.  With it easily dropping below freezing in the winter months, snow is to be expected, but deep snow, the three feet that fell, however, is rare.  

As if the Southeast wasn’t in dire straits enough, two serious storm systems hit the mainland US.  The storms caused 24 tornados in five southern states including Florida,  with Alabama receiving the brunt of it.  That storm system is blamed for at least nine deaths and innumerable levelled homes.  Elsewhere, much of North America was suddenly plunged into winter, with serious storms causing dangerous driving conditions and severe power outages.  Quebec, for example, lost power to 62,000 homes and businesses across the province in the wet, blustery cold typical of that region.  It is difficult to estimate the extent of the damages in the Southeast, but it seems likely to amount to billions of dollars.


Oct

31
2016

Hurricane and Drought

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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.