Saturday, March 24, 2012

DELUGE: Torrential Rain and Flash Flooding Hits Sunshine Coast - Once Every 100 Years Flooding Pounded Homes!

Hundreds of abandoned cars are being recovered and businesses and residents are counting the cost today of a once-in-a-century weather event that hit the Sunshine Coast. Almost 400mm of rain pounded the region Thursday afternoon and evening with Kawana, Mooloolaba, Alexandra Headland and Maroochydore the worst hit. The tourist strip received 130mm of rain in an hour, which turned roads into rivers and inundated 200 homes and dozens of businesses.

The Bureau of Meteorology said almost 130mm of rain fell at Kawana in just an hour. "Those sort of rainfalls, when it occurs in one hour, we'd expect that to have a frequency of occurrence of once every 100 years or greater," a bureau spokesman told the ABC. At one point, emergency crews had to evacuate adults and children from a Mooloolaba child care centre after its bottom floor flooded. The deluge hampered SES efforts to respond to 594 requests for assistance. By Friday morning 397 jobs were completed with 197 outstanding. Queensland Fire and Rescue Service performed four swift water rescues from Mooloolaba and completed 110 requests for assistance. Queensland Police Service responded to 81 calls related to flooding, 31 due to traffic hazards and 15 crash-related. Tony Spinks was still scratching his head this morning as he inspected the damage to his IGA X-press store on  Alexandra Parade. ``I am 42 and have lived in Alexandra Headland all my life and have never seen a weather event like this,'' Mr Spinks said. ``The water came in from the front and back. It was a metre over the road in front of the shop ... the storm water drains just couldn't cope. It was radical.'' An estimated $8000 worth of stock was ruined and a $10,000 computer system destroyed. The IGA will be closed for at least a few days. Mr Spinks said a number of businesses along the tourist strip were badly affected. Sunshine Coast Council's Local Disaster Coordinator Andrew Ryan said the rain had a significant impact from Coolum to Caloundra. ``The highest rainfall totals over 12 hours were recorded at Parrearra Weir with 384mm, Bundilla with 359mm and Sugarbag Road with 325mm, and created havoc in many areas as flash flooding hit commuters, houses and businesses alike,'' Mr Ryan said.
``Flash flooding on the Nicklin Way ground traffic to a halt and rising water threatened vehicles, with some people trapped for up to four hours. ``Many vehicles were abandoned on roads across the affected areas and as weather conditions eased and flood waters receded last night, police were making arrangements for those vehicles to be moved clear of the roadways. ``A number of vehicles were left along the median strip of the Nicklin Way as people sought refuge from flood waters.'' Major roads have reopened, 32 roads remain closed and 112 are open with caution. Council staff and members of Queensland Fire and Rescue are helping assess the extent of damage to infrastructure and private property, and determining where people need help to dispose of damaged goods or other personal assistance. Only two schools in the North Coast Region - Goodwood State School and Alloway State School - were closed today. Mountain Creek Outside Hours School Care (OHSC) service is also closed this morning. All other schools on the Sunshine Coast and in the Wide Bay-Burnett are open. About 400 millimetres of rain fell across the coast in about six hours on Thursday evening, causing flash flooding and sparking swift water rescues. Motorists were forced to abandon their cars as flooding hit major roads, and water went through about 200 homes at Mooloolaba. Sunshine Coast businesses have also been flooded. The heaviest downpours were between Maroochydore and Caloundra. On Thursday, terrified motorists climbed on top of their cars, roads turned to rivers and hundreds of homes and businesses were swamped on the Sunshine Coast overnight. Emergency Services, council disaster management teams and SES volunteers were stretched to the limit as torrential rain and flash flooding wreaked havoc. Long-time locals said they had never seen a deluge like the one that dropped up to 385mm of rain in less than 24 hours. - Courier Mail.
WATCH: Scenes from the Sunshine Coast.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Continuous Burning Lava Lake at Mount Nyiragongo Volcano in Congo!

INVOLCAN has produced the following videos of the continuous burning lava lake  at the Mount Nyiragongo volcano in the Democrat Republic of the Congo.

Nyiragongo is a stratovolcano in the Virunga Mountains with a main crater of about kilometres wide that contains the lava lake. According to scientific data, the lake has been the most voluminous known lava lake in recent history.

WATCH: Burning Lava Lake at Mount Nyiragongo

EXTREME WEATHER: Chicago Hits Nine Record Highs in a Row!

Chicago has set nine record highs in a row with temperatures climbing above-normal for July 4th on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The high soared to 85 degrees on Tuesday, March 20, 2012, and 87 degrees on Wednesday, March 21, 2012, shattering previous records for these dates. The normal high for this time of year in Chicago is 48 degrees, while the normal high on July 4th is 84 degrees. The high of 87 degrees set on Wednesday ties for the second highest temperature ever recorded in Chicago during the month of March. The all-time record for March still stands as 88 degrees on March 29, 1986. On Thursday, March 22, 2012, the ninth record high in row was set in Chicago as the high rose to 83 degrees during the afternoon. High temperatures have been more than 15 degrees above normal in Chicago for 12 straight days, since March 10, 2012. The average temperature so far this month is 18 degrees above normal. "Until this year, Chicago had only 10 days reaching 80 in March," said Chief Forecaster Elliot Abrams. The total number of times the high reached 80 or higher for March 2012 is now eight.

What is Causing the Unusual Summerlike Warmth?
The jet stream has been located far to the north across central and eastern Canada, allowing mild air to surge into the eastern two thirds of the nation. A large dome of high pressure dominating over the western Atlantic off the East Coast has been acting as a pump of warm air. "At least two-thirds of the nation could wind up with above-normal temperatures [this spring]," Paul Pastelok, expert long-range meteorologist and leader of the Long-Range Forecasting Team, said late in February. He forecast that there could be the most widespread warmth this spring since 2004 - AccuWeather.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Unusually Warm Winter - Off-the-Charts Pollen Count Breaks Records, Spreads Allergy Misery!

Allergy season has come early and hit with a wheezing vengeance in parts of the South and Midwest this year, thanks largely to an unusually warm winter. Abundant pollen is causing watery eyes, sniffles and sneezing.

Doctors say the spring misery stretches from Mississippi to Ohio and from Georgia to Texas, where drought conditions have exacerbated the problem. Forecasters and allergists blame the unseasonably warm weather, and few cold snaps, for causing plants to bloom weeks early and release the allergy-causing particles. In some areas, allergists say pollen counts this week are as high as they’ve ever recorded. A clinic at Vanderbilt University in Nashville recorded 11,000 grains of pollen per cubic meter Tuesday, the worst in the 12 years they’ve tracked the number. The Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic has measured pollen since the 1980s and says this week’s counts have beaten a high mark recorded there in April 1999. Their count for Tuesday was almost 9,400. Fifteen-hundred is considered very high.
The medical director of the Vanderbilt Asthma, Sinus and Allergy Program says he’s been seeing more patients — even while feeling puny himself. “I’m kind of sniffly today,” Dr. David Hagaman said Tuesday.  The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says more than 40 million Americans have nasal allergies, popularly called hay fever. In severe cases, sufferers have difficulty breathing that can send them to the emergency room. Stephanie Baxter was walloped when she returned to Gallatin, Tenn., from a vacation in Florida last week. “We hit Tennessee and they started,” she said. “I have every possible symptom you can have. I’m trying to keep my energy because I have a 3-month-old and a 3-year-old. There’s no time for rest.” For three years, the foundation has ranked Knoxville, Tenn., as the worst city in the country for allergies — based on pollen counts, sales of allergy medications and the presence allergy specialists. The city has been up to 20 degrees warmer than normal the past few weeks. Spring arrived prematurely — along with sales of nose spray. “It’s blooming so early,” said Sam Roberts, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn. “Grass mowing has started early this year and stirred things up.” - Elizabethton Star.

EXTREME WEATHER: Drought Spreads From Argentina and Paraguay to Brazil - Causing Widespread Economic Dislocation!

Drought has spread from Argentina and Paraguay to Brazil and is hitting soy yields at a time of concerns that regional economic growth may suffer as pressures mount on commodity prices.  Argentine yields of soy were affected by drought and labor disputes in that country are making farmers and grain traders jittery.

Drought caused widespread economic dislocation in Paraguay, which was also hit by cattle disease.  Analysts said drought-related developments in Brazil had led to lower yield estimates, slicing about 2.8 million tons off an original estimate of 67.1 million tons for this year's harvest. The revised estimates are subject to further review, said the analysts.  Soy oil has gained importance in the energy market as a feedstock for the booming international biofuels sector.  Soy produced by Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay accounts for about half the world's soy exports. Although current worries have caused spikes in prices and buoyed futures trade in Chicago, Latin America and elsewhere, underlying worries over the eurozone crisis and an economic slowdown in China continue to cloud the outlook.  Some analysts predicted a 10 million ton shortfall in Brazil's soy crop when compared with last year.  Brazilian traders watched with anxiety the growing labor disputes at Argentina ports that idled grain export terminals and threatened to put further pressure on global prices for corn, soy and what.

The Latin America region is a major exporter to China, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.  Traders said lower crop yields would bring hardship to farmers and affect government tax revenue in Argentina and Paraguay.  The drought has caused political disruptions, more so in Argentina than in other Latin American countries. Relations between Argentina's government and importers soured after President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner slapped new taxes on traders and refused to budge in the face of furious demands for change.  Fernandez also upset farmers' groups after ignoring demands for more emergency aid to drought-stricken areas of the country.  The latest potential political flash point was caused when the government refused to defer new legislation that importers denounced as punitive, restrictive and wrapped in red tape.  Further complications arose after trade partner Brazil, increasingly under pressure over drought damage to its own crops, objected to new Argentine rules coming into place. Argentina and Brazil have $30 billion-a-year trade.  Critics say the new rules that came into effect in February introduce more bureaucratic delays. Manufacturers said the rules would inhibit industrial production and growth as they would likely impede the flow of components, raw materials and other industrial inputs.  The influential Sao Paulo Federation of Industries in Brazil said the new Argentine import rules could affect 80 percent of Brazilian exports to the country. Drought damage to agriculture will further worsen that outlook, analysts said. - Dalje.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Backyard Birders Spy Something New - Unusual Bird Counts?!

The United States and Canada just basked in an unusually mild winter. Temperatures ranked fourth warmest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and many spring flowers are already blooming. But did the birds notice? Definitely, according to the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an annual tally of bird sightings collected by amateur birders across the United States and Canada. The numbers reveal that the snowy owl population in particular boomed and that many other birds showed up in more northerly latitudes than usual.

Spotted. Amateur birders counted more than four times as many snowy owls in the
United States and southern Canada as last year.
GBBC, now in its 15th year, is a joint effort by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, and the National Audubon Society, headquartered in New York City. This year, birders, who were instructed to identify and record whatever birds they happened to see in their yards and neighborhoods between 17 and 20 February, tallied 17.4 million individual sightings. Pat Leonard, GBBC's director of communications, says that it's unclear how many individuals took part because each observer can submit more than one sighting checklist, but he estimates that between 65,000 and 70,000 volunteers participated.

Ornithologists working with GBBC analyzed the data and found a number of unexpected trends. One of the biggest surprises, says Marshall Iliff, an ornithologist at the Cornell lab who co-authored the report and leads a smaller, year-long project similar to GBBC called eBird, was an explosion in sightings of the snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus). In November, reports began trickling in to eBird that the snowy owl, which primarily lives north of the Arctic Circle, was showing up in unexpectedly large numbers in the United States and southern Canada, and GBBC's tally backs that up. Observers reported 428 sightings of the owl, which is four times the number from the same time last year. "This snowy owl thing is pretty surprising," Iliff says.

So what's driving the bird's southern influx? One possibility, Iliff says, might be that the owl's primary prey source, lemmings, could be sparser than normal in Arctic latitudes, which would lead more owls to seek food farther south. But that's unlikely because lemming populations have actually being doing quite well this year, writes Robert Ostrowski in an e-mail. Ostrowski is an experienced birdwatcher, a member of the Maryland Ornithological Society's records committee, and isn't involved with GBBC. "One possible explanation," he says, "is that the snowy owls had such an ample amount of food available that their reproduction success was higher than normal, causing an over-population of birds that were eventually forced south by competing individuals." - Science Now.

EXTREME WEATHER: Stubborn Drought Expected to Tax Mexico For Years - President Calderon Orders Government to Prepare For Tougher Times!

A severe drought in Mexico that has cost farmers more than a billion dollars in crop losses alone and set back the national cattle herd for years, is just a foretaste of the drier future facing Latin America's second largest economy.  As water tankers race across northern Mexico to reach far-flung towns, and crops wither in the fields, the government has allotted 34 billion pesos ($2.65 billion) in emergency aid to confront the worst drought ever recorded in the country.

The water shortage wiped out millions of acres of farmland this winter, caused 15 billion pesos ($1.18 billion) in lost harvests, killed 60,000 head of cattle and weakened 2 million more livestock, pushing food prices higher in Mexico.  The overall cost to the economy is still being gauged but Mexico's drought-stung winter has been evolving for years and is expected to worsen as the effect of global climate change takes hold, according to the government.  "Droughts are cyclical - we know that - but they are growing more frequent and severe due to climate change," said Elvira Quesada, the Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources.  According to Mexico's AMSDA agricultural association, poor weather destroyed some 7.5 million acres (3 million hectares) of cultivable land in 2011 - an area about the size of Belgium. The federal agriculture ministry puts the figure at about half that.  That helped push Mexico's food imports up 35 percent last year, a trend likely to persist through the 2012-13 crop cycle. 

"There was talk of drought when I got here sixteen years ago," said Ignacio Becerra, a priest working in the rugged town of Carichi in Chihuahua state, which has suffered massive water shortages. "This year, not even corn or beans came up."  "Watering holes that never ran dry are empty. Without rain this situation is going to get even more serious," he said.  Zacatecas state, the country's main bean producer, harvested only a quarter of the usual crop after months without rain.  Agriculture Minister Fransisco Mayorga said this week that Mexico will produce 21.8 million tonnes of corn in 2012 after a sharp drop in production in 2011 to 19.2 million tonnes due to the drought. The country may have to import white corn - used to make staple corn tortillas - on top of yellow corn imports from the United States for animal feed.  The water shortage has forced Mexican farmers to cut back cattle herds as pasture lands dry out and increased the risk of wildfires, which ravaged northern Mexico and the southern United States last spring.  Mexican President Felipe Calderon, an outspoken advocate for mitigating and adapting to climate change, has ordered his government to start getting ready for tougher times.  Experts believe Mexico will have to spend billions of dollars in the next two decades to maintain the water supply for irrigation and drinking water. - Reuters.