Sunday, December 22, 2013

ICE AGE NOW: Monumental Ice, Snow Storm Hits Central And Atlantic Canada - Toronto Hydro CEO Calls Situation "Highest Level Of Emergency"; Over 600,000 Without Power In Ontario And Toronto; Outages Could Last Until Christmas!

December 22, 2013 - CANADA - Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says the province is prepared to offer "our full support and our assistance" to municipalities pounded by a winter storm, causing extensive delays on the road and in the air in Central and Atlantic Canada, and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands, possibly until Christmas Day.

A snowplow clears the way for cars on a downtown Montreal street. (Radio-Canada)

"I want to assure everyone living in these areas that all available resources are working to keep you and your families safe and to restore power as quickly as possible," Wynne said Sunday afternoon.

Southern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes are all affected by the massive weather system, which is coating much of the landscape in ice.

The storm, which stretches from southern Ontario to the Atlantic Coast, is suspected to have played some factor in four fatal highway accidents in Quebec Friday to Saturday, and another in Ontario. The freezing rain warnings have been lifted in some areas including Toronto, but warnings still stretch from Belleville, Ont., all the way to the Atlantic Coast.

Wynne said she'd reached out to the mayors across the province to offer any support that is needed.

"Emergency Management Ontario has been in contact with affected municipalities and will remain in contact on a regular basis," Wynne said. "If communities need help, we will mobilize necessary ministries to provide it."

Toronto police closed a one kilometre stretch of Bay Street, in the heart of the financial district, due to ice falling from buildings.

The CIBC building was taped off, and police cars were parked outside the Deloitte office as well as the Toronto-Dominion Centre.

Mayor Rob Ford said earlier that Toronto is not in state of emergency but it's a possibility in the next 24 hours.

WATCH: Ice, snow storm hits Central and Atlantic Canada.

"We're not in that situation quite yet," Ford said Sunday afternoon, calling it "one of the worst storms in Toronto history."

 Wynne said she spoke with Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. The city had asked for assistance with tree removal as well as Ontario Provincial Police support at the on and off ramps of Highway 401.
Dark Christmas?

Outages affecting an estimated 380,000 hydro customers were reported in Ontario, including 264,000 in the Greater Toronto Area, as ice-coated tree branches snapped, pulling down power lines.

Ford said the city's top priority is restoring power to two hospitals, Sunnybrook and Toronto East General.

"We must take care of that first and foremost," he said.

Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said he considers it the "highest level of emergency" at the utility.

There are more than 90 "large-scale outages" throughout the city and it could take up to 72 hours to get everyone reconnected, the utility said in a series of tweets.

Haines said the top priority is restoring power to the two hospitals and the city's water system, all of which are running on back-up power. Crews will then focus on outages that are affecting a large number of customers before moving on to smaller outages.

Freezing rain warning over in Toronto, but warnings stretch from Ontario to Atlantic Coast.

Big branch down in front of a west Saint John home. Neighbour said he heard a loud crack as it went.
(Matt Bingley/CBC)

A single vehicle is off the road along Highway 101. No injuries. Road conditions deteriorating.
(Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Haines said it was difficult to pinpoint when power might be restored because the storm is still happening.

He said it's largely the middle of the city that is affected in a line that runs from Etobicoke to Scarborough.

Normally Toronto Hydro would ask for help from neighbouring utilities but they're all dealing with similar circumstances, Haines said.

The number of outages may rise as winds pick up mid-morning.
No streetcar service

Hour-long delays were reported Sunday along some GO Transit bus routes, subways were skipping some stations and all streetcar service in Toronto is suspended. Provincial police are strongly advising people not to drive unless it's absolutely necessary.

There were also reports of a Via Rail train stopped in Acton, Ont., that was scheduled to travel between Sarnia and Toronto. Approximately 400 passengers waited for buses to take them the remainder of their journey.

The weather also forced the closure of the Ontario Science Centre.

Hydro Quebec says about 45,000 customers are without power, mainly in the Estrie and Monteregie regions. There are about 1,500 customers affected in Montreal.

NB Power reports 3,800 customers without electricity, with more than 3,600 in St. Stephen.

CBC reporter Sherry Aske said from Macdonald-Cartier International Airport in Ottawa that there were substantial cancellations and delays in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. There are also delays and cancellations at the airports in Saint John, N.B., and St. John's, N.L.

A car travelling on Highway 40 near Anjou, Q.C., nearly ripped in two after a collision. No deaths
were reported in this crash. (Radio-Canada)

Snow was falling heavily on the roads in St. John's, Nlfd., on Saturday morning. (Anthony Germain/CBC)

CBC Meteorologist Jay Scotland commented on Twitter that Whitby, Ont., looked like a skating rink on Saturday.
(Jay Scotland/CBC)

"Basically no matter where you are in the [eastern half of the] country right now, if you’re travelling between Canadian cities there’s a very good chance you’re going to have some headaches this morning," she said.
Shorter runway

Aske said scheduled flights from Montreal and Toronto couldn't arrive in Ottawa Saturday night, causing a backlog on Sunday. The weather also means the usable part of the runway is shorter, forcing the airline to bump passengers from planes that are required to be lighter for safe takeoff.

Passengers are being advised to check their flights before heading to the airport.

CBC meteorologist Janine Baijnath said the storm is so large that the type of precipitation varies widely. Environment Canada's warnings include freezing rain, snowfall, rainfall and winter storm, depending on the area.

In Montreal, where there is a winter storm warning in effect, CBC reporter Mathieu Dion said Highway 40 was little used Sunday morning, and vehicles on it were moving slowly.

"The road conditions are really terrible right now," he said. - CBC.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Mystery "Bright Object" In The Skies Above Churchdown, England Was Fireball Meteor!

December 22, 2013 - ENGLAND - The mystery of the 'bright object' seen falling out of the sky over Churchdown has been solved - it seems that it was a fireball meteor.

A mocked up image of what the meteor is said to have looked like.

Scores of Gloucestershire people have reported seeing the object. The most recent sighting was at 8am yesterday but there have been reports of other meteor sighting earlier in the month.

It is also thought 2014 is going to a bumper year for meteor attacks.
Daytime fireball spotted over Sweden yesterday and another over the UK this morning! This can only mean one thing #omgwearallgoingtodie

- Virtual Astronomer (@VirtualAstro) December 19, 2013
One eyewitness Gill Brimfield said: "My husband and I were driving home from Evesham last Wednesday evening and spotted a really big bright light in the sky, which was not a star. It was not moving and by the time we got to Churchdown it was still there.

"For the next few days coming home from work, along the Tewkesbury Road and then Staverton, to Churchdown, the same light was there. We were wondering what it was but I haven't seen it since. It was definitely not an aeroplane, too big for that and it never moved and was all lit up, but not something I have seen before."

Another eyewitness Maggie Bell said: "I spotted this going home two weeks ago. This was near Churchdown Hill or that's what it looked like. It didn't move from its spot for the duration of my journey home, was too low for a star and too high for the Churchdown Hill light. I am really intrigued."
Very bright fireball/ meteor seen this morning by many in the UK

- Virtual Astronomer (@VirtualAstro) December 19, 2013

Gloucester Citizen.

EXTREME WEATHER: Severe And Strange Weather Sweeps The United States, Threatens Holiday Travelers - Ice Storms, Snow, Flooding, Thunderstorms, Tornadoes And Record-Setting Warmth Are All In Store!

December 22, 2013 - UNITED STATES - The weekend before Christmas, Mother Nature is gifting -- or, rather, clobbering -- the United States with a little bit of everything. Ice storms, snow, flooding, thunderstorms, tornadoes and record-setting warmth are all in store, and with this maddening mix comes a massive headache for more than 94 million expected holiday travelers.

Utility crews prepare to work on power lines at dusk in Litchfield, Maine. Many have been without electricity
since Monday's ice storm, up to 7 inches of snow is forecast, worrying utilities that the additional
weight on branches and transmission lines could cause setbacks
in the around-the-clock efforts to restore power.

Unless you're on the West Coast, odds are the weather outside is frightful and complex. To make sense of it all, let us take you on a national tour.

Southeast: Thunderstorms, tornadoes and torrential downpours

While ice storms and snow wreak havoc in parts of the country, the bigger story that's brewing is about rain and a severe storm event, says CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray.
Harsh weather continued Saturday evening, with a risk of thunderstorms in Louisiana, Mississippi, parts of Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee.

Isolated storms that form ahead of these bigger storms could become supercells, which means the possibility of tornadoes. One tornado hit Friday night in Mississippi.

By midday Saturday, there were two tornado watches in effect. Saturday night, the National Weather Service in Jackson, Mississippi, said damage in that area -- four semi trucks overturned, five houses heavily damaged and 15 others with minor damage -- was likely due to a tornado.

Saturday night, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency reported one death in Coahoma County, along the Mississippi River. There were no further details.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning late Saturday afternoon just west of Memphis, Tennessee, and there were reports of some semi trucks overturned on Interstate 40 in that area, according to CNN affiliate WREG.

Snow and ice cover Lake Michigan in Chicago.

Snow accumulates on trees in Bay City, Michigan.

An American Eagle plane waits to be de-iced at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on Sunday, December 22.
The Midwest was battling snowstorms and the South flooding over the weekend, while the Mid-Atlantic states
experienced record highs. More extreme weather is expected during the holiday week.

In Hughes, Arkansas, the St. Francis County sheriff told WREG a possible tornado touched down in that area. A spokesperson for the Arkansas Emergency Management Agency tells CNN the storm destroyed two homes and damaged three others. Three people were hurt in the storm, one of with serious injuries.

Heavy rain, damaging winds and lightning were forecast to continue Saturday night into Sunday morning. These storms will spread, bringing downpours to Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and up the East Coast on Sunday.

Some of the highest rain totals for Saturday occurred in Junction, Illinois, where six inches were reported, and Trumann, Arkansas, where residents had seven inches of rain by late Saturday evening.

The main trigger for the severe weather is the above-average temperatures farther north.

Midwest: A flood of wet worry

The warm air in this system means heavy rains across the majority of the Midwest and fears of flooding in the Ohio River Valley. Flash flood warnings and watches and flood advisories are in effect from Ohio up to eastern New York, all the way down through Indiana, parts of Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas. Anywhere from 3 to 5 inches of rain could fall in some of those areas.

On Saturday evening, some low-lying areas of Shelby County, Indiana. were evacuated as the rain continued to fall in central Indiana.

Where temperatures are lower, snow will come down across Iowa, Wisconsin and into northwest Michigan. Some areas will see up to 8-10 inches of snow, others around 4-7 inches. And an ice storm is predicted in southeast Michigan.

Central Plains: Slammed with ice and snow

Power outages, falling tree limbs -- if not trees -- and treacherous roads are in the forecast for a large part of Oklahoma. An ice warning has been issued for the northern and central parts of the state, including Oklahoma City. Residents there are being encouraged to hunker down at home, CNN affiliate KFOR reports. They're even being warned not to park their cars beneath trees.

In Kansas and southeast Nebraska, snowfalls will total 3-6 inches. And those cold temps will keep folks shivering.

CNN's Nick Valencia has been bundled up outside Kansas City International Airport in Missouri.

A tow truck prepares to pull a vehicle from a crash scene in Muskegon, Michigan, on December 22.

People walk along an ice-covered pier near the South Haven Lighthouse on December 21 in South Haven, Michigan.

"Just a few days ago people were outside in T-shirts and shorts grilling. Now this," he said. And while the roads are of serious concern, he said diehard Kansas City Chiefs fans are also worrying about Sunday's NFL game.

So far there have been no flight cancellations or delays at that airport, Valencia said. But Whitney Eichinger of Southwest Airlines told him the company is looking out for the safety of travelers.

"We are allowing customers to rebook their trip with no penalty through tomorrow," she said. "That has more to do with traveling to the airport, not flight cancellations."

The highest snow total of the day was in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, where 12.5 inches had fallen by late Saturday evening.

Mid-Atlantic/Northeast: Weirdly warm

If there is one present being handed out on this first day of winter, it is the well-above-average temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic, with record highs up to the 70s anticipated.

By Sunday, that warm weather will grace the Northeast, sending temperatures into the 60s. Already, in Boston Saturday, the temperature is in the mid-50s.

Farther north, however, the situation is less cozy. In Maine and across New Hampshire, Vermont and into New York, winter weather -- including ice storm warnings and freezing rain -- are in effect.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a winter ice emergency and activated the state's emergency operations center. The National Weather Service in Buffalo issued a winter storm watch for five counties in upstate New York and winter storm warnings for two others. The NWS in Buffalo said up to an inch of ice accumulation is expected, and areas near the St. Lawrence and Black rivers could see even more. - CNN.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Tokyo At Risk - Japan Government Estimates 23,000 Would Be Killed In Mega-Quake Beneath The Capital City!

December 22, 2013 - JAPAN - A massive magnitude-7 earthquake, expected to strike beneath Tokyo with a high probability within 30 years, could claim up to 23,000 lives, destroy more than 600,000 buildings and cause an estimated 95 trillion yen ($910 billion) loss to the economy, a government panel said Dec. 19.

Using the estimates, the government plans to work out a basic disaster management plan, including emergency response and measures to back up the operations of government ministries and agencies, before the current fiscal year ends in March.

The latest report for the first time also included damage estimates for a hypothetical magnitude-8 class event along the Sagami Trough, a depression on the seabed that extends from the Japan Trench east of Honshu to areas around the Sagami Bay off Kanagawa Prefecture.

The Dec. 19 report said the worst-case scenario would result in 70,000 deaths, including 11,000 from tsunami, and 1.33 million buildings destroyed. That is in addition to 160 trillion yen in economic damages, comprising 90 trillion yen in direct impact and 70 trillion yen in indirect impact.

However, critics say the panel did not go far enough in studying the possibility of an even greater tremor.

In August 2012 and March 2013, the government released damage estimates for a giant earthquake along the Nankai Trough, a depression on the seabed that extends from Suruga Bay off Shizuoka Prefecture to areas east of Kyushu. Those reports assumed a magnitude-9.1 event that could occur only once in 1,000 years.

The latest report, by contrast, mostly assumed a magnitude-7 class earthquake, which has a 70-percent likelihood of striking beneath Tokyo within 30 years, and is much more common. Consequently, it predicted only limited impact on the operations of central government ministries and financial districts.

"We focused on measures against events that are likely to occur in the near future," disaster management minister Keiji Furuya told a news conference on Dec. 19. "I hope you understand why we did not do quite the same thing as when we estimated damage from (a giant quake) along the Nankai Trough."

Yoshiaki Kawata, head of a government panel that produced the Nankai Trough damage estimates, remained unconvinced.

"A lesson from the Great East Japan Earthquake was that there should be no 'unforeseeable' event," said Kawata, a professor of disaster management at Kansai University. "That lesson has not been heeded. The report presupposes that most of the capital's core functions would survive, which is part of the 'foreseeable' damage in the event of a major earthquake."

One member on the panel that worked out the latest damage estimates defended the report.

"I doubt there is a need to evaluate an even greater 'unforeseeable' event hitting beneath Tokyo, which runs the risk of scaring off foreign firms," the panel member said. "The Nankai Trough is a different story. The most important thing is for the people to envision the damage in their minds on the basis of our estimates and to understand how it can impact them."

The panel's report marked the first time since fiscal 2004 that damage estimates have been produced for potential seismic events striking directly beneath Tokyo.

The panel was headed by Hiroya Masuda, a former internal affairs minister, and reports to the Central Disaster Management Council. Panel members evaluated quantitative damage expected from a magnitude-7.3 earthquake that hits beneath the southern part of Tokyo, purportedly the most devastating among the 19 magnitude-7 class seismic scenarios that were recommended for consideration by a separate panel of experts chaired by Katsuyuki Abe, a seismologist and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.

The Dec. 19 report said the hypothetical quake would send shock waves of at least 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 to areas covering 4,500 square kilometers, or 33 percent of the total landmass of Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures. It said such an event could destroy a maximum of 610,000 buildings, including 175,000 from shock waves and 412,000 from fires, if it occurred on a winter evening that had a wind velocity of 28.8 kph.

That worst-case scenario would involve 23,000 deaths across Tokyo and the three prefectures, including 16,000 from fires.

Direct economic impact from that scenario was estimated at 47.4 trillion yen, comprising 42.4 trillion yen in damage to buildings and other facilities and 4.9 trillion yen in damage to lifeline utilities and other public infrastructure. That is in addition to 47.9 trillion yen in indirect impact nationwide resulting from disruptions in the supply of goods and services, bringing the total economic damage to 95.3 trillion yen.

The previous damage estimate report in fiscal 2004 assumed a magnitude-7.3 quake striking beneath the northern part of Tokyo Bay. It said such an event would claim 11,000 lives, destroy 850,000 buildings and cause 112 trillion yen in economic damage. Progress in quake- and fireproofing technologies accounts for the lesser severity of estimates in the latest report, with regard to damage to buildings and the impact on the economy.

The estimated death toll, by contrast, rose sharply because deaths among people who try to flee the flames were revised upward on the basis of past fire disaster records, the panel said.

Yoshiteru Murosaki, vice president of the Hyogo Earthquake Memorial 21st Century Research Institute in Kobe, said he believes the latest report underestimated the death toll from fires. That is partly because conclusions were drawn from fire disasters that occurred 80-90 years ago, when population densities were lower, and partly because the assumed initial fire extinguishing rates appear to be set too high.

As for the hypothetical magnitude-8 class event along the Sagami Trough, the panel said such a quake is not likely to occur in the near future but should be considered for long-term preparedness, because scientists said they were not able to foresee the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake, which devastated the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.

Magnitude-8 class events along the Sagami Trough have recurred at intervals of 200-400 years, with the latest being the magnitude-7.9 Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

The panel did not discuss the possible impact of a quake striking the Sagami Trough on the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture or the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture. It produced estimates of seismic intensities and tsunami heights from a hypothetical magnitude-8.7 event, the largest that could hit along the Sagami Trough, but stopped short of producing damage estimates from such an event, which it said occurs only once in 2,000-3,000 years. - Asahi Shimbun.

ICE AGE NOW: Extreme Weather - December Snowfall Breaks 112-Year Record In Calgary, Canada!

December 22, 2013 - CANADA - December snowfall in Calgary has broken a 112-year record according to the city.

The city brought in some big machines to help clear snow out of some northeast communities. (CBC)

The City made the announcement in a tweet Saturday morning after weeks of on-and-off heavy snowfall left many residents complaining about the lack of snow removal in parts of Calgary.

"A total of 43.8 cm of snow has fallen in #yyc this month. We haven’t seen this much snow in 112 years!" tweeted the City.

Snow removal crews are currently focusing their efforts on Priority 2 routes, which include connector roadways, bus routes and roads that carry 5,000 to 19,999 vehicles per day.

As of 1 p.m. MT Friday, city officials said snow removal on those routes is 42 per cent complete.

Crews are also spreading salt to help melt snow and ice because of the relatively warmer temperatures.

As snow removal in the northeast moves along, the extra resources used in the area will be moved elsewhere to assist with road clearing.

  • In the northeast, crews have now completed snow removal in Saddleridge, Taradale and Marlborough. Crews have completed 80 per cent of snow removal in Coral Springs and Mayland Heights. In Falconridge, Whitehorn, Martindale, Castleridge and Temple, crews are still working on maintaining roads.
  • In the northwest, snow removal is complete in North Haven and Tuscany.
  • In the southwest and southeast, crews are continuing to flat blade residential routes.

- CBC.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: China Investigating New Deadly Bird Flu Strain H10N8 As Health Officials Confirm H5N2 Bird Flu Outbreak In Poultry In Hebei!

December 22, 2013 - CHINA - This week China reported the death of a woman it said was the first human to become infected with a new strain of bird flu. While researchers work to learn more about the H10N8 strain of the virus that she acquired, the World Health Organization said the quick notice about the case indicates China has made improvements in tracking deadly outbreaks.

FILE - A farmer walks past baskets of newly hatched ducklings in a hatch room at a poultry egg
trading market in Wuzhen town, Tongxiang, Zhejiang province.

Shortly after visiting a poultry market in Jiangxi Province, a 73-year-old woman died from a new strain of bird flu called H10N8.  She passed away on December 6, just six days after she contracted the disease. Dr. Bernhard Schwartlander, the WHO representative in China, says the quick diagnosis of the bird flu that killed her reflects the increased strength of the country’s surveillance systems. “The fact that Chinese authorities detected this case in a 73-year-old woman that had other medical conditions actually shows that the active surveillance system, the active alert system, is actually working quite well,” explained Schwartlander. 

Earlier this year, some 100 people were infected with the H7N9 strain of avian flu and China responded with increased testing and reporting of similar outbreaks. The H10N8 virus had previously been detected in Guangdong Province and lived in poultry for many years. The WHO’s Schwartlander said the first fatality from the virus is a worrisome development. “This the first case that we detected the virus in a human being,” he said. In 2002 and 2003, China came under international criticism for its slow public acknowledgement of the deadly epidemic called SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome that eventually killed more than 700 people.

As health authorities tracked the outbreak, officials discouraged the domestic media from reporting on the incident and held back information from WHO researchers. China’s health systems have improved since, but some experts say the country’s surveillance of laboratory-confirmed infections remains underdeveloped. The elderly woman who died this week frequently visited live poultry markets and was admitted to the hospital on November 30.  She suffered from high blood pressure and heart disease, which likely lowered her immunity.

Authorities have not provided information on whether she was quarantined but say no one who was close to her has become sick. Dr. Schwartlander said authorities need to keep a close watch to see whether the disease spreads. “Of course we are always concerned when we see that the virus has actually jumped from one species to another. And you have to be very careful watching this because every time this happens it has, of course in theory, the potential for a wider spread,” he said. Chinese authorities are also closely watching for outbreaks of the H5N1 virus, which has killed 384 people since 2003.  Scientists fear the virus could mutate and spread rapidly from person to person. - VOA.

China Confirms H5N2 Bird Flu Outbreak In Hebei
An outbreak of H5N2 bird flu in poultry has been reported in north China’s Hebei Province, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) announced on Saturday. The disease has killed 4,000 chickens raised by a farm in Baoding City after they showed symptoms of the suspected avian flu on Dec. 17, according to the MOA.

The National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory on Saturday confirmed the epidemic was H5N2 bird flu after testing samples collected at the farm. Local authorities have sealed off and sterilized the infected area, where a total of 125,700 chickens have been culled and safely disposed of to prevent the disease from spreading.

Bird flu, or avian influenza, is a contagious disease of animal origin caused by viruses that normally infect only birds and, less commonly, pigs. It can be fatal to humans. - Global Times.