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May

06
2015

Strange landslide, tragedy, and new nuclear threat in Ukraine

Jodde     Blog     0

Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture has some of the oldest culture in the world.  Now, it has some of the newest land, due to a  bizarre landslide that thrust several tons of seabed to the surface.  The resulting land formation covers an area 12 sq. km (7.4 sq. mi).  The landslide is believed to have been caused by a large volume of melted snow.  Professor Hiroshi Fukuoka believes a further contributing factor to the landslide was “the ground has become fragile on some of the coasts that have become cliffs. That is because of exposure to waves.”

Meanwhile, Floridians were no doubt seeking exposure to waves as temperatures soared past 97ºF (36.1ºC) in Coral Gables.  The stifling heat was record breaking.  In Boca Raton, it was 99ºF (37.2º.)  Any temperature higher than 90ºF (32ºC) can be dangerous.  Outdoor work or exercise should be avoided in such conditions.

While cold can be dangerous, it can also be necessary for survival.  Ice roads that support the oil industry in Canada often shut down early, which forces drilling rigs to close.  Polar bears and Inuits depend on thick Arctic ice for food.  Scientists who study Arctic sea ice risk their lives to provide the world with vital information.  Now RCMP suspect that two of them, sadly, made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of knowledge.  Scientists that die for their work are often not labelled as heroes, but I submit that perhaps they should be.  A pilot spotted the missing team near an area of open water.  Their sled dog was found sitting nearby.  Their equipment was intact, and they had sent out an emergency distress message.

In other news, a wild fire is burning in possibly the worst place it could in the world: Chernobyl.  The nuclear danger is obvious, but what makes the problem especially bad is the amount of non-nuclear fuel around in the area.  Because of the high radiation levels, bacteria and fungi that break down dead plant matter, known as decomposers, cannot prosper.  In other words, there is limited decay.  Of course, the best fuel for fire is dead leaves and trees, but normally dead trees eventually decompose, making way for moss and eventually becoming soil, but this is not the case here, or more accurately, it hasn’t been yet.  There are living trees around also that contribute fuel for fires.  Furthermore, this fire is extremely serious as Ukraine is “catastrophically” ill-equipped to handle this sort of disaster.  Alarmingly, it is only 10 miles (16km) from the reactors, and only three miles from spent fuel repositories.  Damage to these structures could result in high doses of radiation in Ukraine.

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.

 


Apr

24
2015

Fires, Landslides and Drought

Jodde     Blog     0

In California this week, a cooking fire went wild, scorching 1.4 square miles (3.62 square km) and forcing the evacuation of 300 homes.  We have no word of any injury or property damage at this point, but the surprising thing about this fire is just how early it came.  Fire season does not typically arrive until June.  However, California is in crisis due to their prolonged drought.  State climatologist, Michael Anderson showed that conditions are similar to the Dust Bowl, as we argued last week.  The drought so far has cost farmers $1.5 billion in economic losses.  In the face of that, California’s fire season does not abate.  Fires do not usually happen in the spring, because vegetation is covered in moisture, making poor fuel.  Alberta, meanwhile, is off to an intense fire season start, with 15 currently burning in the province.  The situation could get worse in the summer, due to a low snowpack.  We will certainly be keeping an eye on that situation.

India recorded high temperatures this week, a scorching 43.7ºC (110.7ºF) the hottest so far.  The Ahmedabad Municipal Council shut down all outdoor labour in response to the heat.  The elderly are particularly vulnerable in the face of such high temperatures.  When it is that hot, drinking plenty of water and staying in air conditioning or government cooling enters is imperative.  Outdoor exercise should be avoided as heat stroke and heat exhaustion are real possibilities.  Heat stroke, if not treated properly can be fatal.

A landslide in Bangladesh has claimed the lives of two people.  The landslide was likely triggered by rain, as several districts in Bangladesh have received five times the expected rainfall for last week.  Two additional landslides blocked traffic in two different US states, although no injuries were reported with regards to either event.

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.

 


Apr

17
2015

Deepening Drought and Shallow Snowpacks

Jodde     Blog     0

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, this March has been the hottest worldwide on record.  For much of the United states, it is also a devastatingly dry year. Nine US states are reporting record low snowpacks.  To make matters worse, 72% of the Western US, bounded by Washington and New Mexico, is experiencing drought conditions, but these areas are not experiencing exceptional drought, the most severe.  Because snow melts slowly, it supplies reservoirs throughout the warm season, but what little snow there is has started melting earlier than usual.  Much of Nevada is under severe or exceptional drought, and while drought has not yet affected Montana, even this state has abnormally dry conditions, making fires more likely.

So far, these are conditions reminiscent of the Dust Bowl in the 1930′s.  Possibly the only difference is that we now have extensive irrigation and can farm dry land.  This is likely the sole reason California’s farmers are immune to water restrictions.  We need crops so that we don’t lose our topsoil, and with it the ability to produce more crops.  This is the problem that Haiti faces.  It has lost most of its topsoil, and soil is incredibly slow to regenerate.  In Haiti’s case, it was not drought that was the problem, but the fact that Haiti did not have enough trees, though it started out being very verdant.  Because the trees kept the soil from blowing away, the removal of the trees caused an irrecoverable loss of soil.  The states affected by the Dust Bowl lost up to 75% of their topsoil, and for all intents and purposes it’s gone forever.  If the water problems become so great that there is just no water for the farmers to use, the western states could be in similar trouble.  No crops mean nothing to anchor soil, and soil is only created at a rate of one inch every five hundred years.  Recently, a massive dust storm caused a massive pileup on I-80, killing one person and injuring 13 others.  The dust was kicked up by unusually high winds, and in addition to causing traffic chaos, it also greatly harms those with respiratory issues.

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.

 


Apr

13
2015

Californians look to Poseidon for help, and other drought news

Jodde     Blog     0

Drinking sea water is usually a desperate measure, a last resort, and typically a fatally wrong decision.  Installing a $1B desalinization plant may not be fatally wrong (at least for the species installing it,) but it is certainly a desperate measure.  Desalinization plants work kind of like a colander you would use for cooking spaghetti.  Water goes right through the mesh.  A colander has a pretty coarse mesh, so the water comes out easily with just the work of gravity.  If you want to do a good job though and leave your spaghetti bone dry, you will have to shake it because some of the water sticks to the pasta.  Of course, if you don’t care about its texture, you could just push on the spaghetti until the rest of the water came out.  The finer the mesh, the harder you’d have to push.  Now if you have an incredibly fine mesh, and salt instead of spaghetti, you could push really hard to separate the water from the salt.  The problem is, you have to push really hard, and that takes a tremendous amount of energy.  The whole process is called reverse osmosis.  This has historically not been something California has had in abundance.  While the mammoth plant alluded, which Poseidon Water is nearly finished constructing, is not a direct response to the record drought affecting the state.  That plant is to supply San Diego.  Santa Barbara, a thriving tourism community is considering reactivating their plant, as there is no relief in sight for the drought.

The government is currently imposing water restrictions from 25%-35%.  Anyone caught watering their lawn more than three days a week could face stiff fines.  The drought might even alter the urban landscape of California.  The government is also considering incentives to encourage people to use drought resistant plants instead of lawns.

California may have the worst of the drought in North America, but the snowpacks in Oregon and Washington are also dangerously low.  In Washington, the snowpack is only 7% of what’s expected.  Washington defines drought conditions as as the conditions in which a reservoir holds less than 75% of its usual amount.  All of Oregon meets the standard for Washington’s drought law, with the snowpack statewide being less than 50% of what it should be.

With all the drought, much of it going on for 4 years, we might be in for a horrendous fire season, especially in California.

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


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.


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