Climate change, natural disasters

Written by  //  October 11, 2017  //  Climate Change, Natural Disasters  //  No comments

The Really Big One
An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.
Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.”
Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, it runs for seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, beginning near Cape Mendocino, California, continuing along Oregon and Washington, and terminating around Vancouver Island, Canada.
In the Pacific Northwest, the area of impact will cover some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. …  FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million.
… the science is robust, … we now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten. Even those numbers do not fully reflect the danger—or, more to the point, how unprepared the Pacific Northwest is to face it. (The New Yorker, 20 July 2015)

11 October
(Reuters) Fast-moving wildfires raging across Northern California’s wine country have killed 17 people, left about 150 missing and destroyed 1,500 homes, wineries and other structures, state fire officials said. The flames from 17 major blazes have blackened more than 115,000 acres since fires broke out on Sunday amid hot, dry conditions and high winds.

10 October
California fires: at least 10 killed in ‘unprecedented’ wine country blaze
Wildfires destroy 1,500 structures and large swaths of northern California wine country as powerful winds fuel ‘an inferno like you’ve never seen before’
California’s governor, Jerry Brown, has declared a state of emergency in eight mostly northern counties – Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sonoma and Yuba counties. The flames are barely contained and are threatening thousands of homes and vineyards in the wine country north of San Francisco.

6 October
Tropical storm Nate hits Mexico. The storm, which killed 20 people in Central America on Thursday, arrives in the Yucatan Peninsula today. If it undergoes “rapid intensification” in the Caribbean, it could turn it into a hurricane by Sunday, when it’s expected to reach the US Gulf Coast.

30 September

CODRINGTON, ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA – SEPTEMBER 24: (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Should they go back?
(WaPost) In this, the cruelest season of storms that anyone alive has known, entire islands, such as Barbuda, have been wiped clear. There’s no power across Puerto Rico, and it probably won’t fully return for months. Dominica is devastated, with no commerce and hardly any usable homes. St. John and St. Martin — playgrounds for the affluent and homelands for the descendants of slaves, adventurers and colonizers — have been boomeranged back to a time before luxury resorts and timeshare condos.
The storms pushed the islands back to the primitive, basic state that made the sandbars of the Caribbean so alluring to European empires, pirates and tourists for half a millennium.
The World Bank has encouraged island nations to build in resiliency — put much of the electrical network underground, invest in drainage systems, pass stricter building codes, rebuild hospitals so they can double as storm shelters. On islands that have taken such steps, recent storms have caused far fewer deaths than strong hurricanes did in the past, Sayed said.
“The whole thing is about cost-benefit analysis,” said Saurabh Dani, a disaster-risk-management specialist at the World Bank. “The social and economic cost of trying to recover from a devastating storm makes you realize that it might be worth the cost” to invest in expensive precautions such as moving electrical wires from overhead poles to underground trenches.
Major storms can paralyze production in agriculture and industry for years, Schwartz said, but “hurricanes bring benefits too — eliminating insects, renewing fields.” The difference between long-term devastation and quick recovery depends on “the willingness of the government to spend on preparation,” he said. “One dollar spent in preparation is worth four in recovery.”

26 September
America’s Natural Disaster Response Is Its Own Disaster
After three major hurricanes, FEMA is facing its costliest challenge ever. Congress can’t just throw money at the problem. It’s time for reform.

Three catastrophic — and catastrophically expensive — storms in a row prove that the federal government’s “current model for natural-disaster preparation is deeply flawed,” argues The New Republic’s Emily Atkin. As climate change worsens the impacts of severe weather, “the biggest short-term mistake Congress could make would be to delay approval of necessary funding,” she writes. “But the biggest long-term mistake would be to consider this year a fluke.”

Crisis in Puerto Rico: Most of the U.S. territory is without power and running water after Hurricanes Irma and Maria knocked out large portions of its infrastructure, leaving hospitals struggling to care for patients and families on the mainland waiting for news about their loved ones. The island’s wildlife are also in trouble, with researchers working to save a unique colony of rhesus macaques after the storms destroyed much of Puerto Rico’s vegetation. The devastation makes aid an urgent priority, and it’s too early to say whether the federal government’s response measures up.
US won’t waive shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico relief
(The Hill) The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declined the request to waive the Jones Act, which limits shipping between coasts to U.S.-flagged vessels, according to Reuters. DHS waived the act following hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hit the mainland U.S.
The agency has in the past waived the rule to allow cheaper and more readily-available foreign vessels to supply goods to devastated areas. But DHS said Tuesday that waiving the act for Puerto Rico would not help the U.S. island territory due to damaged ports preventing ships from docking.
‘People are starting to die’: Distribution chaos snarls effort to aid desperate Puerto Ricans

Thousands flee as Vanuatu volcano verges on eruption
Up to 70 percent of people on South Pacific islands moved to emergency shelters as Monaro becomes increasingly active.
The Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department warned of “flying rocks and volcanic gas”, which could affect villages up to 6.5km away, after raising the volcano alert level from three to four.
Schools on the island – which is more than 1,750km east of northern Australia – have been closed and up to 70 percent of its population will be evacuated, according to Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office.

24 September
2 new quakes shake southern Mexico, already coping with disasters
(CNN) A 6.1 magnitude earthquake Saturday morning was centered in Oaxaca state near Matias Romero, a town about 275 miles southeast of Mexico City, the US Geological Survey said. Roughly speaking, the epicenter was between the centers of this month’s two more violent earthquakes — the 7.1 magnitude temblor that hit Tuesday closer to the capital, and the 8.1 magnitude quake that struck September 8 off the southern Pacific coast, near Chiapas state.
A 6.1 magnitude quake can produce strong shaking and considerable damage to poorly built structures and slight to moderate damage in better-constructed buildings, the USGS says.
The earlier major quakes killed hundreds of people and turned buildings into dust and debris in parts of Mexico. More than 300 people have been reported killed in Tuesday’s quake; nearly 100 reportedly died in the September 8 temblor.

23 September
Fears of dam collapse add to Puerto Rico’s misery after hurricane
(Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s governor met with mayors from around the ravaged island on Saturday after surveying damage to an earthen dam in the northwestern part of the U.S. territory that was threatening to collapse from flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Some 70,000 people who live downstream from the compromised dam, forming a lake on the rain-swollen Guajataca River, were under order to evacuate, with the structure in danger of bursting at any time.

21 September
Entire towns in Mexico flattened as scale of earthquake damage emerges
Thousands of left homeless in towns and communities outside Mexico City as official rescue and relief efforts struggle to cope with the widespread destruction
Hopes that rescuers will find more survivors trapped beneath collapsed buildings in central Mexico were fading on Thursday, as the scale of the devastation wreaked by the country’s deadliest earthquake for a generation started to become clear.
At least 250 people died and 1,900 were injured in the 7.1 magnitude quake which struck Mexico on Tuesday – 32 years to the day after the country’s deadliest earthquake killed thousands and laid waste to the capital city. The death toll will certainly rise as rescue workers continue to search the precarious ruins amid the threat of aftershocks, collapsing rubble and gas leaks.
Parts of Mexico City – which is built on a drained lakebed – have been devastated, but details of the destruction outside the capital are only now starting to emerge, with reports of entire towns flattened and thousands of people left homeless.
Hurricane Maria churns through Caribbean as ravaged Puerto Rico takes stock of an ‘island destroyed’
Puerto Rico gets its first full look at staggering damage left by the strongest storm to hit the island in more than 80 years.
Search-and-rescue efforts on this storm-ravaged island redoubled Thursday as residents took stock of the devastation left by Hurricane Maria, which continued to plague the U.S. territory in the form of dangerous flash floods even as its core drifted northwest to deliver a weaker but still punishing blow to the Dominican Republic.
The powerful storm knocked out power to the entire island and felled cellphone towers, leaving many residents unable to call for help or communicate with family members. Downed trees blocked roadways, some of which were turned into fast-flowing, muddy rivers. The obstacles complicated efforts to assess the full scope of damage, though authorities are already estimating that the potential cost could to reach into the billions.
Puerto Rico battered by Hurricane Maria: ‘Devastation – it’s everywhere’
Worst storm to hit Puerto Rico in 80 years felled trees and smashed buildings
Governor’s spokesman describes scene of ‘total devastation’
After hours of hurricane-force winds and torrential rain, Puerto Ricans emerged from hurricane shelters on Thursday morning to find that their island was still under threat from landslides, flash floods and crippled water and electricity systems.
Where will the next earthquake strike? How a chain of frightening quakes in the ‘Ring of Fire’ is terrorising the Pacific – and leaves California on edge
Earthquakes struck NZ, Japan, Vanuatu, and Indonesia in less than 24 hours along the ‘Ring of Fire’
There was also a huge 7.1 magnitude quake in Mexico City on Tuesday – but experts ruled out a connection
Seismologists say they could be linked by seismic waves travelling along faults and spark a domino effect The
‘Ring of Fire’ stretches from New Zealand to Chile through Indonesia, Japan, and California

9 September
‘The ocean is missing!’ Rare phenomenon caused by Irma sucks the water from Bahamas beaches
Hurricane Irma is so strong that it is sucked water into itself and away from shorelines in the Bahamas
Video footage from Long Island, Bahamas shows a dry ocean floor after Hurricane Irma hit on Friday
A meteorologist explained low pressure in the center of the storm caused the water to be drawn upwards into itself and away from the beach
The water will not rush back like a tsunami and the shore will likely be back to normal Sunday afternoon

8 September
A Requiem for Florida, the Paradise That Should Never Have Been
As Hurricane Irma prepares to strike, it’s worth remembering that Mother Nature never intended us to live here.
(Politico) The thing is, it’s really nice here, except when it isn’t. Those Seminole War soldiers would be stunned to see how this worthless hellscape of swarming mosquitoes and sodden marshes has become a high-priced dreamscape of swimming pools and merengue and plastic surgery and Mar-a-Lago. It probably isn’t sustainable. But until it gets wiped out—and maybe even after—there’s still going to be a market for paradise. Most of us came here to escape reality, not to deal with it.

(The Atlantic) It’s still unclear what the impact of Hurricane Irma will be on Florida, but the National Hurricane Center in Miami is in its path and monitoring the situation. One difficulty comes in communicating warnings to those who don’t speak English. And by combining ship tracking images and wind tracking data, it’s possible to see how marine craft have been avoiding the storm. Also, despite EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s statement that it isn’t appropriate to talk about climate change in the midst of a natural disaster, James Hamblin argues the opposite.

Magnitude-8.1 earthquake strikes off southern Mexico
Dozens killed in southern provinces, as tsunami wave of up to one metre is measured off Salina Cruz coast.
A major earthquake off the southern coast of Mexico has killed at least 34 people, according to authorities, with the president saying it was the biggest hit the country in a century.
Some of the worst initial reports came from the town of Juchitan in Oaxaca state, where sections of the town hall, a hotel, a bar and other buildings were reduced to rubble.
“There have been half a dozen of magnitude five and four aftershocks reported already,” Randy Baldwin, a geophysicist with US Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center, told Al Jazeera. “There are possibilities that the aftershocks will probably continue for the next several months.”

Hurricane Irma tears through Caribbean islands and is on collision course with Florida
Irma moved toward Florida’s doorstep on track for landfall this weekend with potential once-in-a-generation wrath.
“It’s not a question of if Florida’s going to be impacted, it’s a question of how bad Florida’s going to be impacted and where the storm ends up,” William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said at a briefing on Friday.
Floridians are familiar with ominous forecasts and hurricane warnings, and many in the state have memories of the brutal impact left behind by Hurricane Andrew — which made landfall as a Category 5 monster in 1992. … “I can guarantee you that I don’t know anybody in Florida that’s ever experienced what’s about to hit South Florida,” Long said. “They need to get out and listen and heed the warnings.”

5 September
Building better defenses against rising floods and storms
By Vinod Thomas, Visiting Professor – National University of Singapore Author – Climate Change and Natural Disasters
(Brookings) … as climate change intensifies these hydro-meteorological events, the only lasting response is to step up risk management, which includes mitigation and prevention, prediction, and early warning.

The Houston Flooding Pushed the Earth’s Crust Down 2 Centimeters
The 275 trillion pounds of water from Hurricane Harvey deformed the ground in Texas.
(The Atlantic) GPS data from special stations around Houston detected that the whole area had been pushed down roughly two centimeters by the weight of the water that fell during Hurricane Harvey.
Why this would happen is simpler than you might think. A gallon of water weighs about 8.34 pounds. And by one estimate, Harvey dropped 33 trillion gallons of water across the area it hit. So that’s roughly 275 trillion pounds.

2 September

The Guardian: World weatherwatch

It’s human nature to care more about disasters closer to home, and our moral duty to overcome it
(Quartz) As some have pointed out, the Western media has focused intently on covering Houston’s disaster. Meanwhile, weather has been no less catastrophic in South Asia this summer, where monsoon rains caused floods that have killed more than 1,000 people in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.
Depending on where you are in the world, one of those natural disasters will probably evoke more viscerally disturbing images—of people you know, or could know, of city streets and infrastructure that you can easily picture—than the other. … The juxtaposition between our emotional and rational response to international crises was highlighted by the father of capitalism, Adam Smith, in one of his lesser-known works, “Theory of Moral Sentiments.” (2 September 2017)

What Climate Scientists Want You to See in the Floodwaters
(NYT op-ed) The answer, for scientists and everyone else who has been watching, is not to say definitively and dismissively, “This is the result of climate change” or “There’s nothing we can do.” It’s a chance to understand what is actually happening to the climate and all the ways human behavior leads to — and can mitigate — future disaster.
We start with two premises. Climate change doesn’t cause extreme events. It amplifies them. And in any weather-related calamity, our susceptibility to harm is, at its root, constructed by ourselves.
On the climate side of risk, we have unambiguous evidence that the hazards are changing. Our emissions of heat-trapping gases have already increased the likelihood and severity of heat waves, extreme rainfall and storm surges. Much of the world’s population occupies places susceptible to this kind of extreme weather that will increasingly be exacerbated by the changing climate.
Scientists can now even evaluate how much climate change has increased the odds of individual extreme events, including rainfall and flooding.
On the human side of risk, we should as a society embrace the fact that how and where we build our homes, plant our crops, construct our roads and bridges, and locate our schools and industries can provide resilience and safety rather than invite calamity. When rivers overtop their banks with floodwaters, for instance, does the water flow into wide-open flood plains and city streets with good drainage, or are those flood plains paved over and the drainage clogged? Consider that while the Texas Medical Center was able to maintain continuous care for its patients, thanks to dozens of floodgates and above-ground generators, the hospital became largely inaccessible when surrounding streets turned into rivers.

1 September
Rains lash southern Pakistan after causing havoc in India
(AP via The Hindu) Torrential monsoon rains are lashing Pakistan’s port city of Karachi following downpours in neighboring India that especially caused havoc in Mumbai.
TV footage showed streets were submerged already after the heavy rains began early on Thursday. Pakistan’s meteorological department says rains will continue for three days in various parts of Sindh province, where authorities closed schools as a precaution.

B.C. travelers warned about wildfires, with 2017 reaching historical worst levels
The B.C. government announced today (September 1) that it is extending the state of emergency to September 15.
There are currently 136 wildfires reported in the province (reported as of midnight on August 31).
There were 21 new fires (three of those were human-caused) that were discovered on August 30.
So far this year, there have been 1,176 fires since April, which have burned a whopping total of 1,080,941 hectares of the province, according to statistics from the B.C. Wildfire Service website.
This year’s amount has already surpassed the historical record from 1958 when a total of 856,000 hectares were burnt. (Records have been kept since 1912.)

31 August
A peculiarly western concern?
A growing army of animal lovers is on the ground in Houston, responding to owners’ pleas to find their lost dogs and cats
Animal rescue groups were worried even before the hurricane made landfall, because the long memory of Katrina still looms large in the minds of those who did rescue work in 2005, where tens of thousands of pets died.
Katrina changed a great deal about how animal evacuees are handled, not least because 44%of those who refused to evacuate did so because they were worried about their pets.

30 August
A Storm Forces Houston, the Limitless City, to Consider Its Limits
(NYT) “There could have been ways to have more green space and more green infrastructure over the years, and it just didn’t work that way, because it was fast and furious,” said Phil Bedient, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Rice University. Many developments were not built with enough open land or enough detention areas to take in floodwaters, Dr. Bedient said. “It’s been known for years how to do it,” he said, “it just costs the developers more money to do it that way.”
The post-Harvey rebuilding drama here is bound to unfold as a frontier nation increasingly faces up to limits — as southern and western cities mature, as resources are strained by a growing population, and as climate change, exacerbated by Houston’s signature industry, threatens bigger, wetter, ever-more-dangerous storms.
The city grew rapidly in the postwar years, and in an effort to control storm water and direct the runoff to the Gulf of Mexico, two key bayous through the city were channelized — essentially converted to concrete culverts — while a third was widened, Dr. Bedient said. A network of channels — 1,500 of them, today totaling 2,500 miles — were built to move storm runoff out of neighborhoods and down to the sea.
But in the end, they may have provided a false sense of security. “And so the building just went rampant, and there weren’t many controls,” Dr. Bedient said. “We had no zoning. It was like the Wild West, and you just built housing subdivision after housing subdivision up close to the bayous, up close to the channels.”
By the 1980s, Dr. Bedient said, officials came to realize that the system could not handle big rainfalls: the green space that could have absorbed much of the water from a big storm was now paved over with parking lots, houses, churches and malls.

Floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal kill 1,200 and leave millions homeless
Authorities say monsoon flooding is one of the worst in region in years
At least 1,200 people have been killed and millions have been left homeless following devastating floods that have hit India, Bangladesh and Nepal, in one of the worst flooding disasters to have affected the region in years.
International aid agencies said thousands of villages have been cut off by flooding with people being deprived of food and clean water for days.
South Asia suffers from frequent flooding during the monsoon season, which lasts from June to September, but authorities have said this year’s floods have been much worse.

17 August
Wildfires trap 2,000 people in town in central Portugal
Flames and smoke surround Mação, making it impossible to enter or leave – the latest in country’s deadliest year for fires
In mid-June, wildfires near Pedrógão Grande in central Portugal killed 64 people and injured more than 250 others. In once incident, flames spread so quickly that some people died after being trapped in their cars as they tried to drive to safety.
Fires have destroyed 141,000 hectares of land in Portugal this year, civil protection officials said on Wednesday, citing provisional figures.
Firefighters have tackled more than 10,000 separate fires this year – 2,500 more than at the same period in 2016.

10 August
Iraq sends workers home as ‘ungodly’ heat grips Middle East
Power networks struggle in Baghdad and building work halted in Riyadh, while high humidity affects coastal cities
the Middle East is enduring a summer so brutal that even those accustomed to Baghdad’s searing August weather are labelling it “ungodly”.
As temperatures rose towards 51C (124F) on Thursday, Iraq’s government declared a mandatory holiday, allowing civil servants to shelter at home.
In Kuwait, where birds have reportedly dropped from the skies, and Riyadh, where building work has ceased this week, locals have called for mercy from a hotter-than-normal air mass that has remained nearly stationary over central Arabia for more than three weeks, stretching the capacity of electricity networks beyond limits.
While the centre of the region is being scorched, on the Mediterranean coast Beirut and Istanbul have also been blighted by a cruel summer – in their cases, extreme humidity that has made comparatively modest daytime temperatures seem far higher.

4 August
Extreme heat warnings issued in Europe as temperatures pass 40C
Authorities in 11 countries warn residents and tourists to take precautions amid region’s most intense heatwave – nicknamed Lucifer – since 2003

30 July
Heavy rain brings flooding and loss of life
From New Zealand to India and North America, wet weather has brought misery to tens of thousands of people

26 March
Storms lash America and Australia, and chill returns to Spain
Thunderstorms caused damage in Georgia and in Sydney, and Spanish farmers face another cold snap
A line of severe thunderstorms ripped through parts of the US state of Georgia on Tuesday last week. There were powerful winds, gusting to around 60mph, which brought down trees across northern Georgia and the Atlanta area. Around 170,000 people were left without power at the height of the storm on Tuesday night, which also brought heavy rain and large hail. Meanwhile in Australia, Sydney was also battered by a severe thunderstorm last Wednesday which left tens of thousands of homes without power. The storm brought heavy rainfall and damaging winds, especially to western Sydney, felling trees, bringing down power lines and causing localised flooding. The clean-up operation was hindered on Thursday by further heavy rain, before conditions improved later in the week.

15 February
Weather bombed north-east US feels the chill
Explosive meteorology of Storm Orson sheds snow as pressure plummets
Storm Orson has made an impact on parts of the north-east US, leaving more than a metre (40in) of snow over the past week as it underwent explosive cyclogenesis, dropping 24 millibars in just 15 hours.
Following the worst drought Bolivia has seen in more than 25 years, severe thunderstorms plagued parts of central South America last week. Whilst rainfall helped alleviate drought conditions, more than 75mm of rain fell in just a few hours across parts of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, triggering severe flash floods as water inundated the dehydrated and impermeable ground. Other regions were hammered by crippling hailstorms, leaving at least two fatalities.
The Kashmir valley in northern India has also been buried by its heaviest bout of snowfall in 25 years, an event that initially coincided with the harsh weather period known as Chillai Kalan , when regional temperatures can drop as low as -20C (-4F).

13 February
Winter Storm Warnings Issued For The East Coast | 12-18″ of Additional Snowfall Today For Northern Maine

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