Sunday, February 2, 2014

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: The Global Food Crisis - Severe Drought Has U.S. West Fearing The Worst And New Reports States That U.S. Cattle Herd At Lowest Number Since 1951!

February 02, 2014 - UNITED STATES - The punishing drought that has swept California is now threatening the state’s drinking water supply.

A once-submerged car at a California reservoir. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

With no sign of rain, 17 rural communities providing water to 40,000 people are in danger of running out within 60 to 120 days. State officials said that the number was likely to rise in the months ahead after the State Water Project, the main municipal water distribution system, announced on Friday that it did not have enough water to supplement the dwindling supplies of local agencies that provide water to an additional 25 million people. It is first time the project has turned off its spigot in its 54-year history.

State officials said they were moving to put emergency plans in place. In the worst case, they said drinking water would have to be brought by truck into parched communities and additional wells would have to be drilled to draw on groundwater. The deteriorating situation would likely mean imposing mandatory water conservation measures on homeowners and businesses, who have already been asked to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20 percent.
“Every day this drought goes on we are going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing” said Gov. Jerry Brown, who was governor during the last major drought here, in 1976-77.

During the past 7-days, an amplified ridge dominated weather conditions across the western third of the contiguous U.S. (CONUS), while a broad trough prevailed over the central and eastern thirds of the CONUS. Early in the period, two distinct low pressure centers and two cold fronts consolidated into one potent winter storm near the mid-Atlantic coast. This storm system brought significant snowfall to the northern mid-Atlantic region and the Northeast, with amounts generally ranging from 6-14 inches, though some areas had less accumulation, while others reported more. The remainder of the period was dominated by a series of fast-moving, clipper-type systems, which brought bitter cold arctic air to most of the central and eastern lower 48 states. Maximum temperatures during this period from the Upper Mississippi Valley eastward across the Great Lakes to interior portions of the northern and central Atlantic states climbed into the 30’s and 40’s, while minimum temperatures ranged from near zero to about 30 degrees below zero F. Precipitation was largely confined to the Great Lakes, the Northeast, and the Texas coast, though amounts were mostly in the 0.5-1.5 inch range (liquid equivalent). The West in general remained relatively mild and dry during the past 7-days.

This latest development has underscored the urgency of a drought that has already produced parched fields, starving livestock, and pockets of smog.

“We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years,” said B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.

Already the drought, technically in its third year, is forcing big shifts in behavior. Farmers in Nevada said they had given up on even planting, while ranchers in Northern California and New Mexico said they were being forced to sell off cattle as fields that should be four feet high with grass are a blanket of brown and stunted stalks.

Fishing and camping in much of California has been outlawed, to protect endangered salmon and guard against fires. Many people said they had already begun to cut back drastically on taking showers, washing their car and watering their lawns.

Rain and snow showers brought relief in parts of the state at the week’s end — people emerging from a movie theater in West Hollywood on Thursday evening broke into applause upon seeing rain splattering on the sidewalk — but they were nowhere near enough to make up for record-long dry stretches, officials said.

Anthony Moura, a rancher, ignited propane and pumped it into holes to kill the gophers that kill alfalfa on his ranch.
Mr. Moura usually floods his fields to irrigate and eliminate the pocket gophers. 
Max Whittaker for The New York Times

The dry Pitt Dam in Lovelock, Nev. Max Whittaker for The New York Times

A once-submerged car was visible at the bottom of the Almaden Reservoir in California. State officials said
that in the worst case, they would truck drinking water into parched communities and drill additional
wells to draw on groundwater.
Jim Wilson/The New York Times

“I have experienced a really long career in this area, and my worry meter has never been this high,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, a statewide coalition. “We are talking historical drought conditions, no supplies of water in many parts of the state. My industry’s job is to try to make sure that these kind of things never happen. And they are happening.”

Officials are girding for the kind of geographical, cultural and economic battles that have long plagued a part of the country that is defined by a lack of water: between farmers and environmentalists, urban and rural users, and the northern and southern regions of this state.

“We do have a politics of finger-pointing and blame whenever there is a problem,” said Mr. Brown. “And we have a problem, so there is going to be a tendency to blame people.” President Obama called him last week to check on the drought situation and express his concern.

Tom Vilsack, secretary of the federal Agriculture Department, said in an interview that his agency’s ability to help farmers absorb the shock, with subsidies to buy food for cattle, had been undercut by the long deadlock in Congress over extending the farm bill, which finally seemed to be resolved last week.

Mr. Vilsack called the drought in California a “deep concern,” and a warning sign of trouble ahead for much of the West.

“That’s why it’s important for us to take climate change seriously,” he said. “If we don’t do the research, if we don’t have the financial assistance, if we don’t have the conservation resources, there’s very little we can do to help these farmers.”

The crisis is unfolding in ways expected and unexpected. Near Sacramento, the low level of streams has brought out prospectors, sifting for flecks of gold in slow-running waters. To the west, the heavy water demand of growers of medical marijuana — six gallons per plant per day during a 150-day period — is drawing down streams where salmon and other endangered fish species spawn.

“Every pickup truck has a water tank in the back,” said Scott Bauer, a coho salmon recovery coordinator with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “There is a potential to lose whole runs of fish.”

Without rain to scrub the air, pollution in the Los Angeles basin, which has declined over the past decade, has returned to dangerous levels, as evident from the brown-tinged air. Homeowners have been instructed to stop burning wood in their fireplaces.

In the San Joaquin Valley, federal limits for particulate matter were breached for most of December and January. Schools used flags to signal when children should play indoors.

State park rangers burned weeds on the exposed lake bed of the Rye Patch Reservoir in Nevada, which was
at 3.5 percent capacity amid a drought that has caused the worst water shortage the region has faced
in more than a century. 
Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Darrell Pursel, whose family has owned a Nevada ranch since 1863, said he could not remember a drought so bad.
Unless it rained a lot, he added, he would not do any planting.
Max Whittaker for The New York Times

“One of the concerns is that as concentrations get higher, it affects not only the people who are most susceptible, but healthy people as well,” said Karen Magliano, assistant chief of the air quality planning division of the state’s Air Resources Board.

The impact has been particularly severe on farmers and ranchers. “I have friends with the ground torn out, all ready to go,” said Darrell Pursel, who farms just south of Yerington, Nev. “But what are you going to plant? At this moment, it looks like we’re not going to have any water. Unless we get a lot of rain, I know I won’t be planting anything.”

The University of California Cooperative Extension held a drought survival session last week in Browns Valley, about 60 miles north of Sacramento, drawing hundreds of ranchers in person and online. “We have people coming from six or seven hours away,” said Jeffrey James, who ran the session.

Dan Macon, 46, a rancher in Auburn, Calif., said the situation was “as bad as I have ever experienced. Most of our range lands are essentially out of feed.”

With each parched sunrise, a sense of alarm is rising amid signs that this is a drought that comes along only every few centuries. Sacramento had gone 52 days without water, and Albuquerque had gone 42 days without rain or snow as of Saturday.

The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which supplies much of California with water during the dry season, was at just 12 percent of normal last week, reflecting the lack of rain or snow in December and January.

“When we don’t have rainfall in our biggest two months, you really are starting off bad,” said Dar Mims, a meteorologist with the Air Resources Board.

Even as officials move into action, people who have lived through droughts before — albeit none as severe as this — said they were doing triage in their gardens (water the oak tree, not the lawn) and taking classic “stop-start-stop-start” shower.

Jacob Battersby, a producer in Oakland, said he began cutting back even before the voluntary restrictions were announced.

“My wife and I both enjoy gardening,” he wrote in an email. “ ‘Sorry, plants. You will be getting none to drink this winter.’ ” - NY Times.

Reports States That U.S. Cattle Herd At Lowest Number Since 1951.
The lingering effects of drought across the Great Plains in recent years have led to another decrease in the U.S. cattle herd.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that the U.S. inventory of cattle and calves totaled 87.7 million animals as of Jan. 1. That was down by about 1.6 million cattle, or 2 percent, compared with this time last year.

The agency says this is the lowest January inventory since 1951.

Dr. Nancy Martin, a veterinarian, spoke to ranchers about keeping their herds healthy, during a Cooperative Extension drought survival session in Browns Valley, Calif., last week. Jason Henry for The New York Times

At the drought workshop, cattle ranchers examined an alternative type of feed.  Jason Henry for The New York Times

The carcass of a wild horse in the Nevada desert.  Max Whittaker for The New York Times

The drought, technically in its third year, is forcing shifts in behavior. Ranchers said they were being forced
to sell cattle as fields, normally with four feet of grass, were blankets of brown and stunted stalks.

Max Whittaker for The New York Times

A bright spot was a 2 percent increase in young, female cattle retained for breeding. One expert says that factor could allow the herd's seven-year contraction to stabilize.

Totals in Texas, the nation's leading cattle producer, decreased 4 percent.

The January report had been anxiously awaited because the agency didn't issue a report in July due to sequestration. - AP.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: 6 More Bird Flu Cases In China Reported - One Of Them Fatal!

February 02, 2014 - CHINA - Six more cases of human infection with H7N9 bird flu have been reported in China, according to the World Health Organization. One of them was fatal, it said Friday in a news release.

Chickens roost at a poultry farm in Taizhou, China.

WHO cited reports it received Wednesday from the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) of China, and the Centre for Health Protection (CHP).

All of those infected were males, ages 2 to 75 years, and four were in critical or serious condition. Four of the six were reported to have been exposed to poultry or to a live poultry market.

The cases are from Fujian (1), Guangdong (1), Hong Kong (1) and Zhejiang (3). The fatality, a 75-year-old man who had traveled late last month to Shenzhen, where he became ill, died in Hong Kong, but did not appear to have been infected there, WHO said.

"So far, there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission," WHO said.

WHO recommends that travelers to countries with outbreaks of bird flu stay away from poultry farms and avoid contact with animals in live bird markets, entering slaughterhouses for poultry and contact with feces.

But the organization does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions.

From February to May last year, 133 human H7N9 cases were reported in a first wave, followed by just two reported cases in July and August and, since last October, 74 more in a second wave, WHO said.

Health authorities have strengthened H7N9 prevention and control measures, including the closure of live poultry markets in some affected cities.

This virus had not been seen in animals or people until February 2013, according to WHO.

Since then, infections in people and birds have been identified, with most of the people becoming severely ill, and most of them reporting recent exposure to live poultry or possibly contaminated environments.

As of January 28, 22% of people known to have been infected had died; two thirds of those infected were male, with a median age of 58 years.

The disease is marked by rapidly progressing pneumonia, fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Treatment typically includes administration of anti-flu drugs oseltamivir (brand name: Tamiflu) and zanamivir (brand name Relenza). Vaccines have not been shown to be effective.

There are many different strains of avian flu: 16 H subtypes and 9 N subtypes. Only those labeled H5, H7 and H10 have caused deaths in humans. - CNN.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Powerful 6.5 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Southeast Of L'Esperance Rock, New Zealand!

February 02, 2014 - NEW ZEALAND - A strong earthquake struck off the uninhabited Kermadec Islands in the South Pacific Ocean on late Sunday evening, seismologists said, but no tsunami warnings were issued. Damage or casualties in the New Zealand-governed region were not expected.

USGS earthquake location.

The 6.4-magnitude earthquake at 10:26 p.m. local time (0926 GMT) was centered about 188 kilometers (116 miles) southeast of L'Esperance Rock, which is located halfway between New Zealand's North Island and Tonga. It struck about 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to New Zealand's seismological agency GeoNet.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) put the magnitude of Sunday's earthquake at a stronger 6.5, but determined the depth to be slightly deeper at 40.4 kilometers (25.1 miles). It said it was unlikely to have been felt on Raoul Island, which is home to a government-run station.

Both the New Zealand government and the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center determined there was no tsunami threat to their coastlines. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also said there was no threat of a destructive widespread tsunami, although it initially cautioned about a very small risk of local tsunamis.

USGS earthquake shakemap location.

New Zealand's Kermadec Islands and the surrounding region as a whole are part of the so-called 'Pacific Ring of Fire,' an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent and large earthquakes. Volcanic eruptions also occur frequently in the region.

In October 2011, a powerful 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck about 169 kilometers (105 miles) east of Raoul Island, generating a small tsunami but causing no damage. The largest tsunami wave, approximately 0.17 meter (0.6 feet) above normal sea levels, was recorded at Fishing Rock on Raoul Island.

Three months earlier, in July 2011, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck about 163 kilometers (101 miles) east of Raoul Island. The powerful earthquake generated a 1-meter (3.2 feet) tsunami that hit the island, but no damage or casualties were reported. - Wire Update.

Tectonic Summary - Seismotectonics of the Eastern Margin of the Australia Plate.
The eastern margin of the Australia plate is one of the most sesimically active areas of the world due to high rates of convergence between the Australia and Pacific plates. In the region of New Zealand, the 3000 km long Australia-Pacific plate boundary extends from south of Macquarie Island to the southern Kermadec Island chain. It includes an oceanic transform (the Macquarie Ridge), two oppositely verging subduction zones (Puysegur and Hikurangi), and a transpressive continental transform, the Alpine Fault through South Island, New Zealand.

Since 1900 there have been 15 M7.5+ earthquakes recorded near New Zealand. Nine of these, and the four largest, occurred along or near the Macquarie Ridge, including the 1989 M8.2 event on the ridge itself, and the 2004 M8.1 event 200 km to the west of the plate boundary, reflecting intraplate deformation. The largest recorded earthquake in New Zealand itself was the 1931 M7.8 Hawke's Bay earthquake, which killed 256 people. The last M7.5+ earthquake along the Alpine Fault was 170 years ago; studies of the faults' strain accumulation suggest that similar events are likely to occur again.

USGS plate tectonics for the region.

North of New Zealand, the Australia-Pacific boundary stretches east of Tonga and Fiji to 250 km south of Samoa. For 2,200 km the trench is approximately linear, and includes two segments where old (greater than 120 Myr) Pacific oceanic lithosphere rapidly subducts westward (Kermadec and Tonga). At the northern end of the Tonga trench, the boundary curves sharply westward and changes along a 700 km-long segment from trench-normal subduction, to oblique subduction, to a left lateral transform-like structure.

Australia-Pacific convergence rates increase northward from 60 mm/yr at the southern Kermadec trench to 90 mm/yr at the northern Tonga trench; however, significant back arc extension (or equivalently, slab rollback) causes the consumption rate of subducting Pacific lithosphere to be much faster. The spreading rate in the Havre trough, west of the Kermadec trench, increases northward from 8 to 20 mm/yr. The southern tip of this spreading center is propagating into the North Island of New Zealand, rifting it apart. In the southern Lau Basin, west of the Tonga trench, the spreading rate increases northward from 60 to 90 mm/yr, and in the northern Lau Basin, multiple spreading centers result in an extension rate as high as 160 mm/yr. The overall subduction velocity of the Pacific plate is the vector sum of Australia-Pacific velocity and back arc spreading velocity: thus it increases northward along the Kermadec trench from 70 to 100 mm/yr, and along the Tonga trench from 150 to 240 mm/yr.

The Kermadec-Tonga subduction zone generates many large earthquakes on the interface between the descending Pacific and overriding Australia plates, within the two plates themselves and, less frequently, near the outer rise of the Pacific plate east of the trench. Since 1900, 40 M7.5+ earthquakes have been recorded, mostly north of 30°S. However, it is unclear whether any of the few historic M8+ events that have occurred close to the plate boundary were underthrusting events on the plate interface, or were intraplate earthquakes. On September 29, 2009, one of the largest normal fault (outer rise) earthquakes ever recorded (M8.1) occurred south of Samoa, 40 km east of the Tonga trench, generating a tsunami that killed at least 180 people.

Across the North Fiji Basin and to the west of the Vanuatu Islands, the Australia plate again subducts eastwards beneath the Pacific, at the North New Hebrides trench. At the southern end of this trench, east of the Loyalty Islands, the plate boundary curves east into an oceanic transform-like structure analogous to the one north of Tonga.

Australia-Pacific convergence rates increase northward from 80 to 90 mm/yr along the North New Hebrides trench, but the Australia plate consumption rate is increased by extension in the back arc and in the North Fiji Basin. Back arc spreading occurs at a rate of 50 mm/yr along most of the subduction zone, except near ~15°S, where the D'Entrecasteaux ridge intersects the trench and causes localized compression of 50 mm/yr in the back arc. Therefore, the Australia plate subduction velocity ranges from 120 mm/yr at the southern end of the North New Hebrides trench, to 40 mm/yr at the D'Entrecasteaux ridge-trench intersection, to 170 mm/yr at the northern end of the trench.

Large earthquakes are common along the North New Hebrides trench and have mechanisms associated with subduction tectonics, though occasional strike slip earthquakes occur near the subduction of the D'Entrecasteaux ridge. Within the subduction zone 34 M7.5+ earthquakes have been recorded since 1900. On October 7, 2009, a large interplate thrust fault earthquake (M7.6) in the northern North New Hebrides subduction zone was followed 15 minutes later by an even larger interplate event (M7.8) 60 km to the north. It is likely that the first event triggered the second of the so-called earthquake "doublet". - USGS.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Apocalyptic Scenes In Indonesia - Mount Sinabung Volcano Explodes; Killing 16; Leaving Villages And Towns Covered In Ash! [STUNNING VIDEO + PHOTOS]

February 02, 2014 - INDONESIA - An Indonesian volcano erupted on the island of Sumatra, leaving at least 16 people dead. Torrents of lava and pyroclastic flows gave neighboring villages an almost apocalyptic look.

A villager runs as Mount Sinabung erupts at Sigarang-Garang village in Indonesia's North Sumatra province
on Feb. 1. The eruptions came just a day after authorities allowed thousands of villagers who
had been evacuated to return to its slopes. S. Aditya / Reuters

The body of a victim is covered with hot volcanic ash. Sutanta Aditya / AFP - Getty Images

Mount Sinabung spews ash and lava during an eruption.

Mount Sinabung spews ash into the air on January 7.

2,460-meter-high Mount Sinabung erupted three times on Saturday, producing columns of ash about 2 kilometers tall and spreading hot rocks and ash over a 4.5 kilometer radius, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for National Agency For Disaster Management (BNPB).

WATCH:  Harrowing scenes in Indonesia as Mount Sinabung explodes, killing 16.

Four schoolchildren, a journalist and a school teacher are among those killed in the Saturday eruption, reports Indonesia’s Jakarta Globe newspaper. This is the first time the volcanic activity in the area is known to have resulted in deaths, Andi Arief, a presidential staff member, told Reuters.

Three people who suffered burns have been hospitalized locally, Karo district official, Johnson Tarigan, told AFP.

A woman flees as Mount Sinabung erupts near Bekerah village, in Karo district, North Sumatra, on February 1, 2014 (AFP Photo/Sutanta Aditya)

Villagers flee as Mount Sinabung erupts on February 1, in North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Crops were damaged and covered in ash.

Indonesian residents carry a victim on a motorcycle following the eruptions.
Sutanta Aditya / AFP - Getty Images

Though the volcanology agency recorded the “sagged” seismic activity of the volcano, a dangerous zone of 5 kilometers remained in place, officials said.

“A handful of villages, about 16, must be emptied,” Nugroho added.

“No evacuations could be made at this stage because of the potential for more eruptions," Arief said.

A mother holds her son as they watch the eruption of Mount Sinabung at Berastepu village in Karo district,
Indonesia's North Sumatra province, January 10, 2014. (Reuters)

An ash cloud from a Mount Sinabung eruption is seen from Kuta Tengah village in Karo district,
Indonesia's North Sumatra province, January 14, 2014. (Reuters)

Sinabung volcano spews hot ash and lava in Karo on January 14, 2014. (AFP Photo)

An Indonesian man wearing a mask stands against Sinabung volcano while it spews thick smoke and
hot ash in Karo on January 16, 2014. (AFP Photo)

In this photo taken of January 21, 2014 from Karo district, molten lava rolls down from the crater of
Mount Sinabung volcano during an eruption. (AFP Photo)

Mount Sinabung fills the sky over Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia, with smoke and ash as it erupts
on Saturday, February 1. The volcano has been erupting since September.

 On the eve of the eruption local authorities allowed nearly 14,000 villagers to return to the village situated next to the volcano. In early January, the government evacuated more than 20,000 of residents near the area.

Mount Sinabung had been quiet for around 400 years until it rumbled back to life in 2010, and then again in the fall of 2013. In recent months the volcano has become increasingly active, regularly spewing columns of ash several kilometers into the air.

Indonesian residents rescue a victim following eruptions of Mount Sinabung in Karo district,
North Sumatra province, on February 1, 2014. (AFP Photo)

Women evacuate with their children to a temporary evacuation center on January 8 after their village is hit by ash.

People watch as Mount Sinabung smokes.

Hot lava runs down Mount Sinabung, one of Indonesia's highest mountains, from a lava dome on January 5.

A village is covered in ash.

Villagers harvest tomatoes from fields covered in ash.

Mount Sinabung is one of 127 active volcanoes in Indonesia which is prone to seismic upheaval as it rests on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire encircling the Pacific Ocean.

The country’s most deadly volcanic catastrophe in recent years was the 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi. The eruption occurred near the densely populated city of Yogyakarta in central Java and killed more than 350 people. - RT.