Friday, March 9, 2012

GREAT DELUGE: The Australian Weather Anomalies Continue - Flooding in New South Wales Equal Wettest Week Since Records Were First Kept; Damage Cost Exceeding $500 Million!

New South Wales has sloshed through its equal wettest week since records were first kept after "extraordinary" weather dumped unprecedented rain across the state, forcing thousands to flee their homes. New data from the Bureau of Meteorology released yesterday showed an average 123.9 millimetres of rain fell across the state last week - a deluge not seen since January 1974.

It was triggered by a slow-moving rain band and low pressure trough which brought tropical moisture from the north-west and north-east, toppling records at numerous rainfall stations and catchments. At Charlotte Pass, 186.5 mm fell in a day. Record weekly rain fell at stations with century-long data collection, such as Ivanhoe Post Office (294 mm), Wilcannia (239.8 mm) and Hay (189 mm). The bureau described the rain as "extraordinary''. "It is very rare to have such persistent, record-breaking rainfall over such large areas of NSW and Victoria," said the NSW Climate Manager, Aaron Coutts-Smith.  Residents of Sydney, the Illawarra, the Hunter and on the south coast were on high alert last night on predictions of more heavy rain, thunderstorms and flash flooding. Waves are expected to pound the coast this morning, causing erosion and dangerous beach conditions. Conditions are expected to ease in the afternoon. Meanwhile, the flood threat in Wagga Wagga eased yesterday, although water levels remained high in the northern part of the city, preventing residents from returning to their homes. The Lachlan River at Forbes is expected to peak tomorrow at 10.65 metres. Floodwaters split the town into three yesterday, cutting main roads and inundated the town centre. Matthew Duff, a Forbes wheat farmer, was staring down the barrel of a month of flooding on his property yesterday. He said he won't be able to sow a crop this year as the ground will remain too wet. - SMH.
Residents in parts of Sydney's northwest have been told to prepare for evacuation as the Hawkesbury River floods. The State Emergency Service (SES) issued evacuation warnings for people in Richmond Lowlands, Pitt Town and Gronos Point at 6.30am (AEDT) today. Several caravan parks on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, between Windsor and Sackville, were also put on high alert. "We are asking those people to start preparing themselves now for possible evacuations throughout the day," SES spokesman Erin Pogmore said. Communities in southwest Sydney have also been put on high alert, although no evacuation warnings were issued. The Nepean River at Menangle was expected to flood at 6am (AEDT) as spills from the Warragamba Dam filter downstream. The same spills are expected to cause flooding at Penrith, in the city's west. The Yarramundi Bridge at Richmond was closed at 4am (AEDT) and the Sackville Ferry, which crosses the Hawkesbury River at Sackville, was closed at 1am (AEDT). "Further ferry closures are likely as the river levels rise towards the predicted levels," the SES said. Meanwhile, thousands of people remain homeless in NSW's southwest and central west as the flood crisis continues. More than 1000 people are in evacuation centres at Griffith, in southwest NSW, with the Murrumbidgee River due to peak again today. The Bureau of Meteorology has warned of major flooding in Narrandera, southeast of Griffith and the neighbouring communities of Darlington Point, Carathool and Hay. - Herald Sun.
The damage bill from NSW's flood crisis is heading "way north'' of $500 million and April is set to heap even worse misery on the sodden state, Roads Minister Duncan Gay says. Communities remain on tenterhooks as a fresh wave of rain threatens homes and property in NSW's southwest, central west and suburban Sydney. "We have a damages bill at the moment that my guys are telling me is heading way north of $500 million,'' Mr Gay told ABC radio today. "And sadly we're in a La Nina and the weather forecasters are telling me that April will be the worst that we've faced yet.'' Mr Gay says he'll ask the Federal Government for additional funding and that he supports a special flood levy for NSW, similar to one set up in Queensland. "We certainly look with envy at special taxes that were put in place for Queensland, because NSW has been horrendously hurt,'' he said. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has ruled out a NSW flood levy. - Herald Sun.
WATCH: Deluge in Australia.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Government of Kiribati Plans to Relocate Entire Population to Fiji - The Remote Pacific Island is Sinking Into the Sea!

Fearing that climate change could wipe out their entire Pacific archipelago, the leaders of Kiribati are considering an unusual backup plan: moving the populace to Fiji.

Kiribati President Anote Tong told The Associated Press on Friday that his Cabinet this week endorsed a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. He said the fertile land, being sold by a church group for about $9.6 million, could provide an insurance policy for Kiribati's entire population of 103,000, though he hopes it will never be necessary for everyone to leave. "We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it," Tong said. "It wouldn't be for me, personally, but would apply more to a younger generation. For them, moving won't be a matter of choice. It's basically going to be a matter of survival." Kiribati, which straddles the equator near the international date line, has found itself at the leading edge of the debate on climate change because many of its atolls rise just a few feet above sea level.

Tong said some villages have already moved and there have been increasing instances of sea water contaminating the island's underground fresh water, which remains vital for trees and crops. He said changing rainfall, tidal and storm patterns pose as least as much threat as ocean levels, which so far have risen only slightly. Some scientists have estimated the current level of sea rise in the Pacific at about 2 millimeters (0.1 inches) per year. Many scientists expect that rate to accelerate due to climate change. Fiji, home to about 850,000 people, is about 1,400 miles south of Kiribati. But just what people there think about potentially providing a home for thousands of their neighbors remains unclear. Tong said he's awaiting full parliamentary approval for the land purchase, which he expects in April, before discussing the plan formally with Fijian officials. Sharon Smith-Johns, a spokeswoman for the Fijian government, said several agencies are studying Kiribati's plans and the government will release a formal statement next week. Kiribati, which was known as the Gilbert Islands when it was a British colony, has been an independent nation since 1979.

Tong has been considering other unusual options to combat climate change, including shoring up some Kiribati islands with sea walls and even building a floating island. He said this week that the latter option would likely prove too expensive, but that he hopes reinforcing some islands will ensure that Kiribati continues to exist in some form even in a worst-case scenario. "We're trying to secure the future of our people," he said. "The international community needs to be addressing this problem more." Tong said he hopes that the Fiji land will represent just one of several options for relocating people. He pointed out that the land is three times larger than the atoll of Tarawa, currently home to more than half of Kiribati's population. Although like much of the Pacific, Kiribati is poor — its annual GDP per person is just $1,600 — Tong said the country has plenty of foreign reserves to draw from for the land purchase. The money, he said, comes from phosphate mining on the archipelago in the 1970s. - MSNBC.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Global Seismic Disturbance - Moderate, but Notable Temblors Across the Earth!

Earthquake swarm rattles Scottish Whisky Island.
Since the beginning of February, a sequence of at least nine small earthquakes has struck the island of Islay on the west coast of Scotland, according to the British Geological Survey. The largest of the earthquakes had a magnitude of 2.8 ML (the ML scale is often called the Richter scale). The two others had magnitudes in excess of 2.0 ML. Eight of the earthquakes were felt by locals who reported that "the house trembled from side to side," the "tin sheeted roof shook" and that it felt like "a very large heavy track moving vehicle." These earthquake swarms can occur when moderate to large earthquakes are followed by aftershocks. Normally, the largest aftershock is about one magnitude unit smaller than the main shock. Another way that quake swarms occur is when sequences of earthquakes are clustered without a clear distinction of main shock and aftershocks. Such earthquake sequences or swarms are relatively common in Great Britain. The Islay earthquakes are relatively small, and no damage would be expected from events of this size, according to the British Geological Survey. Seismic activity in and around Islay is relatively low, although a number of magnitude 3 or greater events have occurred in recent times. The largest-known Scottish earthquake occurred near Loch Awe in 1880, with a magnitude of 5.2 ML. - Discovery News.
4.6 magnitude quake rattles Haiti.
A moderate earthquake has rattled southern Haiti, causing some people to run out of buildings in fear. There were no immediate reports of damage. The United States Geological Survey is reporting that the magnitude 4.6-quake was centered 24 miles (38 kilometers) southeast of the capital of Port-au-Prince and had a depth of 3 miles (4.9 kms). It struck at 9:51 p.m. EDT. Some residents of capital ran into the streets in fear, remembering the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the capital and surrounding area. That 7-magnitude quake killed 314,000 people and toppled thousands of crudely built homes. There were no immediate reports of death or serious damages from Wednesday's quake. - ABC News.
Minor earthquake felt in northern Israel.
A 3.7 magnitude earthquake was felt in northern Israel on Wednesday morning. The Geological Survey of Israel told Ynet that the quake's epicenter was in south Lebanon and that it was primarily felt north of Metula. Israelis reported feeling the quake in Kiryat Shmona, Shlomi and Safed as well. No injuries or damage were reported. "I suddenly felt the earth shaking below me," Bracha Cook from Kiryat Shmona told Ynet. "It wasn't scary, just odd. I sat and felt the earth moving, the whole office did but no one panicked." Safed Municipal engineer Rafi Graziani said he felt the earthquake at his office. "It lasted a few seconds and everything around me was shaking," he said. Last month, a 3.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Kinneret area. - YNET News.
Philippines rocked by 5.3 magnitude earthquake; no damage reported.

Officials say two moderately strong earthquakes have hit the northwestern Philippines with no damage reported so far. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology says the 5.3 magnitude temblor before dawn Friday was centered 10.5 miles (17 kilometers) southwest of Looc township on Lubang island in Mindoro Occidental province. It was felt in Manila, some 80 miles (130 kilometers) northeast. Hours earlier, a 5.1 earthquake struck the same area, causing no damage. A 5.2 earthquake Tuesday cracked buildings in the central Philippines, injuring 10 people. Last month, 58 people died in a quake on another Philippine island. The Philippines is in the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common. - Washington Post.
4.1 earthquake comes as scientists watch Alaska's Iliamna volcano.
On Wednesday, the Alaska Volcano Observatory issued an alert that they were closely monitoring Iliamna Volcano, 130 miles from Anchorage on the lower west side of Cook Inlet, following a period of increased seismic activity. That was before a moderate earthquake struck the upper Cook Inlet region in the wee hours of Thursday morning that many residents of Alaska's largest city may have woken up to. "Over the past three months, there have been several episodes of increased earthquake activity at Iliamna Volcano," the AVO said. "One of these episodes is currently ongoing, and is characterized by numerous small earthquakes. This increase in earthquake activity may be related to movement of magma at depth, and additional observations including an airborne gas sampling and observation flight are being planned."

Despite the warning, the alert level for the 10,016-foot volcano remained at "Green," meaning that no eruptive activity or potential for imminent eruption was evident. Iliamna has no record of eruptions, though it has gone through similar periods of increased seismicity in the past. The AVO notes that an incident in 1996-97 was similar, though it didn't result in an eruption. The alert was issued prior to a magnitude-4.1 earthquake Thursday morning that may have woken some Southcentral Alaska residents. It was located less than 40 miles from Kenai, Soldotna, and Anchorage. That earthquake was a fairly comfortable distance from Iliamna volcano -- about 100 miles -- but was the second earthquake in the past few days that set Southcentral Alaskans on edge.  A magnitude 3.6 temblor took place Monday under Prince William Sound and a mere 16 miles from the ski resort town of Girdwood. - Alaska Dispatch.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Kamchatka's Bezymianny Volcano Erupts - Expels Ash Cloud 8 km High!

Friday saw a new eruption of the Bezymianny volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East.

In Kamchatka, Russian far east, the Bezymianny Volcano has been
assigned the highest aviation danger of code "red".
Earlier in the day, the volcano spewed ash up to 8 kilometers high, seismologists said, adding that the eruption does not pose a threat to population centers in the area.

One of the most active volcanoes in the world, Bezymianny is located 350 kilometers northeast of the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

During its most powerful eruption in 1956, the 2,800-meter volcano ejected about three cubic kilometers of volcanic debris in a very short time. - Voice of Russia.

EXTREME WEATHER: From Texas to India to the Horn of Africa, Concern About Weather, Water, and Crops!

Hardly a week goes by without new reasons to be concerned about the impact of changing precipitation patterns and mounting water stress on food production. This past week, officials in Texas cut off irrigation water to rice farmers downstream of reservoirs depleted by the worst one-year drought in Texas history.   Even with recent rains, lakes Buchanan and Travis remain at 42 percent of capacity. Farmers, who pay the least for water, will be denied their liquid lifeline in order to prevent curtailments to urban and industrial water users.

It was the first time in its seventy-eight year history that the Austin-based Lower Colorado River Authority had cut off water to farmers. On February 29, United Nations officials announced that the crucial March through May rainy season in the Horn of Africa would likely fall short again this year.  The warning comes on the heels of last year’s drought, the worst in sixty years, and the devastating famine it triggered. Scientists analyzed data on rainfall, temperature, ocean currents and the strength of the La NiƱa before making their forecast at a climate outlook conference in Kigali, Rwanda. “This is not good news for farmers in areas which have been affected by agricultural drought in recent years,” said Youcef Ait-Chellouche, an official with the U.N.’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.  “We must plan for the probability that rainfall will be erratic and there will be long dry spells which will impact on crop production and food security.” The forecast comes just weeks after the United Nations downgraded Somalia’s food crisis from a famine to a “humanitarian emergency.”  Across the Horn of Africa, some 9.5 million people still require emergency assistance, according to U.N. officials.
And then from India comes perhaps the most worrisome news of the week. Researchers there have found that India’s monsoonal rainfall, upon which much of the nation’s agriculture depends, is becoming less frequent and more intense. Scientists with the agriculture division of the India Meteorological Department in Pune found that global climate change can cause departures from the historic monsoonal norm, which, on balance would lead to lower yields of rice, maize, cotton, soybeans, and other kharif (monsoonal) crops. During the rabi (dry) season, higher temperatures could cut yields of wheat, potatoes, and vegetables. The agriculture commissioner for Maharashtra, an important crop-producing state, told the Times of India that farmers in his state already are seeing yield impacts that he attributes to climatic change. Still another report from the last week casts a pall over California’s upcoming harvest.  State officials found that the water content of California’s mountain snowpack is only 30 percent of normal historic levels for this point in the season. Officials estimate they will deliver only 50 percent of the water requested from the State Water Project, a system of reservoirs and canals that distributes water to 25 million Californians and nearly one million acres of irrigated farmland. “Absolutely, we should be concerned,” Frank Gehrke, chief snow surveyor for the California Department of Water Resources, commented to the San Francisco Chronicle. These reports are snapshots of weather and climate-related warnings and in no way present a picture of the world’s food situation. But they are the kinds of warnings that now seem to routinely overlay already troubling global water trends – from widespread groundwater depletion to dried up rivers and lakes.
What’s emerging is an interconnected web of risks, with the threads of water stress, food insecurity and rising population and consumption now magnified by extreme weather and climatic change. - National Geographic.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Madagascar Cyclones to Harm Rainfall Levels in Kenya?!

The Meteorological Department has warned that the devastating cyclones in Madagascar are likely to reduce the amount of rainfall in Kenya between March to May. The Director of Meteorological Services Joseph Mukabana said on Tuesday that even though most parts of the country would experience near normal rainfall, the tendency will be a below normal pattern.

He stated that during the period, the long rains are also likely to exhibit poor distribution both in time and space over most parts of the country. "Our worries are the fact that over Malagasy we have tropical cyclones. These are systems where the radius off the centre is about 40 kilometres, so the low pressure inside it causes it to suck the air from countries around it," he said. "When we have tropical cyclones passing there, them we are denied moisture but we are going to keep track of them." Tropical Storm Irina has killed at least 65 people in Madagascar, before lashing the coasts of South Africa and Mozambique, where at least one person was killed. In the South African city of Durban, beaches were closed as waves reached a height of three metres (16 feet), municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said. Ships were ordered to remain in port. Irina was the second killer storm of the season. Last month, tropical cyclone Giovanna left 35 people dead and many more injured.

Madagascar's cyclone season normally runs from November through February and costs dozens of lives every year. Mukabana also pointed out that cool air blowing in the Indian Ocean is expected to contribute to low rainfall during the season. "When the Indian Ocean is very warm and we have South Eastern winds coming into the country, they pass over this warm ocean and collect moisture which they inject into the country and that causes rain," he said. "When the oceans are very cold, they do not give out moisture. In our forecast, we are seeing that the Indian Ocean is going to be a bit cool," he stated. He further issued an alert to planes flying to the Western part of the country to exercise caution during the long rains season expected to commence this month all the way to May. Mukabana said the region will experience lightning and thunderstorms which may air affect travel. "Lightning strikes may occur in Western Kenya especially between Gusii and Kakamega counties owing to strong convectional activities between Lake Victoria, the Mau escarpment and Mt Elgon. There is air circulation there during the rains that gives a lot of convection," he warned.

Mukabana stated that people living in the Western part of Kenya should properly utilise the rains through appropriate land use management. "In the agricultural counties of Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley where the rainfall is expected to be near normal with the tendency towards above normal, the farming communities should take advantage of the rains and maximize the crop yield through appropriate land use management," he said. "Farmers are advised to work closely with the Ministry of Agriculture on ways of taking advantage of expected good rains." He pointed out that those in regions that will experience low rainfall should liaise with the Ministry of Agriculture to find out which crops do well in dry regions. "The Central Highlands including Nairobi area are expected to receive depressed rainfall in March and April and near average rainfall in May. The North Eastern region is likely to experience depressed rainfall throughout the season." - All Africa.

EXTREME WEATHER: Above-Normal Temperatures - Portland, Maine, Hits Record-Breaking 60 Degrees!

The calendar still says winter, but Maine is experiencing spring-like weather.

The National Weather Service says the temperature climbed to 60 degrees Thursday afternoon in Portland. The high for the date was 56, set two years ago.

Meteorologist Tom Hawley says the forecast calls for above-normal temperatures for the next two weeks, meaning winter weather is effectively over for the season.

Portland stands at 49.8 inches of snow for the season. That's about 6 inches below normal, and it would've been lower without the early Halloween storm.

But winter weather remains a possibility after the balmy stretch. Portland saw 10 inches of snow during an April Fool's storm last year. - Fosters.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Bythaelurus Giddingsi - New Species of Shark Discovered Near the Galapagos Islands; Scientists Are Astonished at the Presence of the Catshark Specie Near the Eastern Pacific Archipelago in an Era of Disappearing Sharks?!

Scientists have announced the discovery of a new species of spotted, bottom-dwelling shark near the Galapagos Islands, where astonished researchers saw it from a submersible.

The newly named species, Bythaelurus giddingsi, is a kind of catshark. Such animals had never been seen near the famed Eastern Pacific archipelago until researchers descended some 1,600 feet (500 meters) to the ocean floor.   "We looked out the window and saw this spotted catshark and said, 'What the heck is that?'" recalled John McCosker, chairman of aquatic biology at the California Academy of Sciences, and lead author on a paper describing the shark. "It was very exciting because we didn't expect that that genus had a species of shark living in the Galapagos."  The species has a wide mouth good for grabbing passing fish and invertebrates.  The veteran ichthyologist and shark researcher said he turned to the sub's pilot and said, "We gotta get that shark."  A farcical chase ensued, McCosker said, with the shark scurrying out of reach every time the sub's vacuum-like collecting tool got within reach.  The sub finally sucked in the evasive shark, and researchers eventually captured six more specimens: dainty, chocolate-brown sharks, speckled with pale spots about the size of their large eyes. 

Unlike in many shark species, the spots appear to be distributed at random, with patterns unique to each animal, "which is quite remarkable," McCosker said. The species is found only near the Galapagos Islands, famed for their unique species both on land and in the sea, attributed to their extreme geographical isolation.  McCosker estimated that the largest catsharks he observed were about 2 feet (0.6 meters) long, about average for catsharks. Limited by the submersible's collecting instrument, the largest shark the team retrieved was only about 17 inches (45 centimeters).  Although researchers are only now publishing the new species description, the newly described specimens were collected on diving expeditions in 1995 and 1998.  They were stored in formaldehyde, which breaks down proteins and makes DNA sampling impossible; McCosker said that, with advances in DNA analysis, the team was hoping to get further shark specimens for genetic sampling before proceeding.  Unfortunately, he said, they weren't able to return to the region, and decided to publish.  The research is published in the March 5 issue of the journal Zootaxa.  McCosker said the announcement is bittersweet.  "There is great irony to be discovering new species of sharks, as sharks are disappearing worldwide," he said, many the victims of the lucrative trade in shark fins for shark fin soup.  "Ninety percent of the sharks that were in the ocean when I was born are gone," McCosker said. - First Coast News.

DELUGE: The Australian Weather Anomalies - Sydney Boats Are in Danger of Sinking From the Pounding of Torrential Rain!

Hundreds of boats on Sydney Harbour are in danger of sinking as the city is hammered by torrential rain.

"We've got boats filling up with water from all this heavy downpour," NSW Maritime spokesman Neil Patchett told ABC Radio today. "We've got a boating officer right now heading out to Iron Cove, just west of Iron Cove Bridge, to attend a nine-metre cruiser that's at risk of sinking." Mr Patchett said he expected there to be "a number" of other boats on the harbour - of which there are about 6000 - that could suffer the same fate.

"It's a message to people to keep an eye on their moored vessels on the harbour to make sure they're literally shipshape and ready for this kind of weather," he said. "A well-found boat, protected with covers, with good, solid ground tackle ... can withstand this sort of weather, but they need constant monitoring and maintenance." Mr Patchett also warned boat owners of debris such as logs floating down Sydney's rivers that could become tangled in the moorings of vessels. - News Australia.

EXTREME WEATHER: Unusual Weather Creating Angst Among Maine Maple Syrup Producers!

Today's record-breaking temperatures and the possibility of more warm weather over the next two weeks is great news for anyone rooting for an early start to spring. But too many days like today would not be such a welcome prospect for Maine's more than 300 licensed maple syrup producers and countless other tree-tapping hobbyists. For the sap to keep flowing, there must be a consistent cycle of frost at night and daytime temperatures in the 40s and low 50s. Sugar shack operators in Maine and beyond are watching the weather this year with a little more angst than usual.

Lee Kinney  "My wife and I were talking about this last night. What we feel we had was a false start," says Lee Kinney (left) of Kinney's Sugarhouse in Knox.  In a normal year, Kinney and his crew aren't making syrup shortly after Valentine's Day. But a few weeks ago, around the third week in February, it got really warm.  "The sap ran, and we were able to take advantege of it because we tapped out early," he says. "And we did have three or four days of a good run. We made about 240 gallons of syrup. And then we've had a week-and-a-half of absolutely nothing, where it right back to normal temperatures. This is the normal start of the season--for us is around the 7th or 8th of March. Kinney's Sugarhouse sits at the bottom of a hill, down a dirt road in the town Knox. It's one of the larger producers in the state. On average, Kinney's makes roughly 3,000 gallons of syrup that's bottled and used to make maple candy and cream. The company's stand of rock, red, sugar and silver maple trees sprawl 183 acres, interconnected by close to 73-miles of tubing that carry the sap to the evaporator where it's boiled down.  "This one's a sugar maple," Kinney says, walking right up to a black spigot sticking out of the trunk, about six feet off the ground. It's one of about 8,700 taps he puts in himself, eight hours-a-day, three weeks straight, just he and his dog in the woods.
"My worst nightmare would be temperatures up over 60 and have it stay there," he says. "They think the growing season has started and they're gonna stop letting me have the sap. It only takes, sometimes, one or two days of that and your season's over. And once the trees have shut you off, you're shut off. They don't turn back on.  Jay Field: "If tomorrow was like today, would that be a problem?"  Lee Kinney: "It might be. We're in a little cooler spot. I don't think it's going to break 60 here. I might be a little concerned in southern Maine, southern New England. They might be in real trouble."  In North Andover, Massachusetts, Turtle Lane Maple Farm usually taps about 500 trees. But a blog posting on the farm's website last week had bad news for customers: Turtle Lane would be making no maple syrup in 2012.  The early season sap, the posting explained, had too little sugar content due to warmer-than-average ground temperatures throughout the winter. So instead of needing 21 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup in late February, the farm would need 86 gallons---a ratio that only gets worse as the season goes on. - MPBN.

YO-YO WEATHER: Above-Normal Temperatures - Record-Breaking High 11.7 C in Ottawa!

Think of it as yo-yo weather. After Wednesday’s record-breaking 11.7 degrees C, it’s back to more normal seasonal temperatures later Thursday as a mass of cold Arctic air descends on the region.

To be sure, you can be forgiven for thinking — hoping? — spring had arrived with Wednesday’s record-breaker, which topped the previous record of 11.1 C in 1974. Indeed, after the -19.7 C temperature on Tuesday morning, it was hard not to think spring had sprung. But keep the scarf and toque handy, and even an umbrella. The predicted high Thursday is 7 C, but when the colder air arrives in the afternoon, temperatures will start to fall back to the 3 C range and then continue to drop overnight into the sub-zero zone on Friday. There’s also a 40-per-cent chance of showers throughout the day, which will end later in the evening. Environment Canada meteorologists are predicting a high for Friday of 0 C, with mostly sunshine. Overnight, though, the temperature will fall to -8 C. But then it will bounce back to 5 C on Saturday, only to plummet once again to -13 C over overnight. A mix of sun and cloud is expected for both days.

“What you’re getting is traditional March weather,” said Environment Canada meteorologists Geoff Coulson. “You’re seeing a struggle between two competing air masses — cold air coming down from the Arctic and warmer moist air coming up from the American Deep South. When these (air masses) collide you have to be prepared for extreme variations in temperature.” So it seems. The normal highs and lows for this time of year are in the range of 1 C and -10 C. However, next week — just in time for March break — the meteorologists forecast a bounty of that warm southern air will likely push temperatures to above average highs of 11 C, 8 C, and 8 C respectively on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. In other words, it’ll be spring time in Ottawa. Or, as Peter Kimball, another Environment Canada meteorologist, puts it: “Given that our seasonal forecast is indicating above-average temperatures, there is a good chance that we may have an early spring.” - Ottawa Citizen.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 7.1 Earthquake Strkies in the Pacific Ocean Off Vanuatu!

An earthquake measuring 7.1 in magnitude occurred in the Pacific Ocean off Vanuatu on Friday, the U.S. Geological Survey said, but there were no reports of damage.

The quake occurred at a depth of 22.9 miles (36.8 km), the USGS said, and was centered 128 miles (206 km) southeast of the capital Port Vila, or about 1,800 km (1,120 miles) east of the Australian coast. A police official in Port Vila reached by telephone said there had been no reports of damage. "We have had no reports of any damage here," the official said. Based on historical data, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no threat of a widespread destructive tsunami. - Yahoo.

A 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit in the South Pacific near Vanuatu and New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands on Friday, the US Geological Survey said. The quake struck at a depth of 36km, 60km northeast of Isangel in Vanuatu and 324km northeast of Tadine in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, according to USGS. There was no threat of a widespread tsunami, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said. "However earthquakes of this size sometimes generate local tsunamis that can be destructive along coasts located within a 100km of the earthquake epicentre," it said. The area lies on the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire", a zone of frequent seismic activity caused by friction between shifting tectonic plates. - News 24.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Tracking Developments at the Cleveland Volcano - Violent Blast Explodes and Shakes Restless Volcano in the Remote Aleutian Islands!

A restless Aleutian volcano exploded Wednesday night and may have blown off a slow-growing lava dome that was building for months in its summit crater, volcanologists say.

Smoke rises from Cleveland Volcano in the Aleutians on Aug. 8, 2011, in this aerial photo provided by
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Cleveland Volcano, 940 miles southwest of Anchorage, probably burped up a small amount of ash -- a potential hazard to trans-oceanic air travel -- but the ash did not appear to reach above 20,000 feet, said Steve McNutt, a researcher with the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Because of its remoteness, harsh weather in the area and budget constraints, Cleveland Volcano does not have instruments on its flanks. As a result, scientists cannot listen to its inner rumblings. But distant seismometers and specialized microphones detected the explosion about 7 p.m. Wednesday, according to the observatory. The explosion caused a displacement of air and an airwave traveled out from the volcano at the speed of sound, McNutt said. Instruments at volcanoes 60 and 90 miles away detected the explosion several minutes after it occurred, he said. Clouds on Wednesday and today prevented clear satellite views, so scientists are not sure exactly how much ash may have shot out of the 5,676-foot volcano, which makes up the western half of Chuginadak Island. "It is the Aleutians in winter, after all," McNutt said.
Either way, the researchers do not think the volcano poses an immediate threat to air travel. McNutt thinks the explosion blasted away a lava dome building inside the volcano's summit crater. As the thick, pasty molten rock flows slowly into the crater, it piles up and plugs gas vents, he explained. An explosion can occur when the gas builds up enough pressure, McNutt said. For now, the volcanologists are waiting for better views of the volcano to determine exactly what happened. Scheduled satellite passes in the near future should give them a better idea, McNutt said. If it's true that the dome was removed, he said, the risk is lower that a larger ash- producing explosion might affect air travel. That is, until another dome builds up. In December, a similar event cleared a lava dome that had been building up at Cleveland Volcano for two months. The brief explosion blasted volcanic ash up to about 15,000 feet, the observatory said. Meantime, volcanologists are monitoring another volcano closer to home, one that hasn't erupted for at least 500 or 1,000 years, McNutt said. A series of small earthquakes has been detected in recent months at Iliamna Volcano, in Lower Cook Inlet about 110 miles from Anchorage, according to the volcano observatory. Those earthquakes are typical for the ancient volcano and could be related to the movement of nearby glaciers, McNutt said. Still, more investigation, including a flight to measure gas emissions, is warranted, he said. "Another question, which always dogs us in these situations, is if molten rock is involved," he said. - ADN.

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ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Mass Stranding of Dolphins in Brazil - 30 Beached Mammals Rescued Off Rio Coast!

A dramatic video showing 30 beached dolphins being rescued by beachgoers in Brazil has become an internet sensation.

The video shows dolphins appearing out of nowhere and suddenly beaching en masse on the Rio de Janeiro state coastline. They were apparently caught in a strong ocean current.

Stunned beachgoers in swimming trunks at first look on as the dolphins high-pitched squeals are heard. But within seconds, people quickly race into the surf to help the dolphins.

Dozens of people are seen swimming into the ocean and dragging the mammals by their tails in an effort to them back into deeper waters. And the effort this past Monday was successful. After all the dolphins were rescued, the crowd of dolphin-savers and onlookers broke into cheers. - CBS News.
WATCH: Dolphin stranding in Brazil.

PLANETARY TREMORS: 5.8 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Southern Xinjiang in China!

An earthquake has struck the far west of China but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Friday that the 5.8 quake struck about 7 a.m. (2300 GMT) in the southern part of Xinjiang region. An official from the Communist Party Propaganda Department in Luopu county, where the earthquake hit about 175 miles (280 kilometers) northeast of Hotan, said the epicenter was in the desert and no reports of injuries had been made. The official refused to give his name. The USGS put the quake's depth at 22 miles (35.5 kilometers). - ABC.