Sunday, January 16, 2011

Global food chain stretched to the limit - Soaring prices spark fears of social unrest in developing world. Strained by rising demand and battered by bad weather, the global food supply chain is stretched to the limit, sending prices soaring and sparking concerns about a repeat of food riots last seen three years ago. Signs of the strain can be found from Australia to Argentina, Canada to Russia. On Friday, Tunisia's president fled the country after trying to quell deadly riots in the North African country by slashing prices on food staples. "We are entering a danger territory," the chief economist at the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization said last week. Last month, Iran deployed squads of riot police to maintain order after slashing subsidies for food and gasoline. In September, 13 people were killed in street fighting in Mozambique after the government cut subsidies it could no longer afford, sparking a 30 percent rise in bread prices.
The U.N.'s fear is that the latest run-up in food prices could spark a repeat of the deadly food riots that broke out in 2008 in Haiti, Kenya and Somalia. That price spike was relatively short-lived. But the latest surge in food stuffs may be more sustained. "Situations have changed. The supply/demand structures have changed. Certainly the kind of weather developments we have seen makes us worry a little bit more that it may last much, much longer. Are we prepared for it? Really this is the question."
Price for grains and other farm products began rising last fall after poor harvests in Canada, Russia and Ukraine tightened global supplies. More recently, hot, dry weather in South America has cut production in Argentina, a major soybean exporter. This month's flooding in Australia wiped out much of that country's wheat crop. As supplies tighten, prices surge.
Prices rose again this week after the U.S. Department of Agriculture cut back its already-tight estimate of grain inventories. Estimated reserves of corn were cut to about half the level in storage at the start of the 2010 harvest; soybean reserves are at the LOWEST LEVELS IN THREE DECADES, in part because of heavy buying by China. The ratio of stocks to demand is expected to fall later this year to "LEVELS UNSEEN SINCE THE MID-1970s. "We are at RECORD LOW STOCKS. So if there any kind of glitch at all in the U.S. weather, supplies are going to remain tighter and we might see even higher prices."
Despite tightening supplies, the rise in food prices has been much tamer in the developed world. The reason for the modest price rise in the U.S.? People living in developed countries eat more processed foods, so raw materials make up a much smaller portion of the total retail cost. "In this country, a much higher proportion of your food dollar is spent on processing, advertising and promotion and marketing. There’s not really that margin built in between the farmer and the consumer in the developing countries." Food price spikes hit less-developed countries much harder because a greater share of per capita income - half or more - goes to pay for food. U.S. consumers, on the other hand, spend an average of about 13 percent of disposable income on food.

**No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.**
John Donne

This morning -
None 5.0 or higher.

Yesterday -
1/15/11 -

1/14/11 -


Volcano Triggers Yellow Alert in 3 Guatemalan Departments - Three Guatemalan departments are under yellow alert, as a preventive measure in the face of the sustained activity of Fuego Volcano. Sacatepequez, Chimaltenango, and Escuintla are keeping a wary eye on the evolution in the coming days of the colossal volcano. The volcano has recently registered weak and moderate explosions, with thick grey ashes spewing forth from the volcano, some as high as 500 to 800 meters. Such explosions are generating shock waves felt as far as seven kilometres (about 4.3 miles) from the crater, as well as constant moderate avalanches.

Indonesian authorities on the southeastern tip of Sumatra have prepared evacuation plans for tens of thousands of residents threatened by increased activity within Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatoa) volcano in the adjacent Sunda Strait. Fishermen in the waters between Java and Sumatra were warned to remain far from the rumbling volcanic island, which was spewing columns of ash and globs of lava. The greatest threat to people living in the South Lampung region would come from a tsunami should the volcano explode violently. Scientists said their monitoring equipment on the slopes of Anak Krakatau stop working periodically after ash covers the solar cells powering the units. Occasional rainfall washes off the ash, allowing the units to work for brief periods of time. Anak Krakatau has grown by an average of 22 feet per year, with nearly daily eruptions of lava occurring since its most current eruptive episode began in 1994.

Cyclone VANIA was 781 nmi NW of Auckland, New Zealand.
Cyclone VINCE was 527 nmi WNW of Broome, Australia.
Cyclone ZELIA was 587 nmi E of Townsville, Australia.

Tropical Storm Vince about to U-turn away from Australia. High pressure is about to make Tropical Storm Vince do a U-turn in the Southern Indian Ocean and take a westward track away from Western Australia. According to images, the low level circulation center is now exposed to outside winds, and the strongest convection and thunderstorms are limited to the southwestern quadrant of the storm.
At 1500 UTC (10 a.m. EST/11:00 p.m. Australia/Perth) on Jan. 14, Tropical Storm Vince's maximum sustained winds were down to 39 mph (35 knots/63 km/hr). It was located approximately 350 nautical miles north of Learmonth, Australia, near 16.3 South and 114.6 East. It was moving eastward at 10 mph (9 knots/16 km/hr) and is expected to turn west. A ridge (an elongated area) of high pressure that is building over Western Australia is expected to push Vince to the west and away from Australia this weekend.

New Zealand homes may be whipped by the remnants of two tropical cyclones which are expected to merge south of Vanuatu on Tuesday. Former tropical cyclone Vania has been downgraded to a tropical depression, but is moving south "packed with moisture. "The low is going to pull tropical moisture down to New Zealand early next week."
And if a tropical cyclone encounters an injection of cold air as it approaches New Zealand, then it may "feed" on the difference in density so that the cold air turns the tropical moisture to rain, and that rain-making process lowers the pressure, so that the system becomes "extra windy".
Forecasters were also closely watching the newly-developed tropical cyclone Zelia, classified as a Category 1 cyclone with winds averaging 65km/h and winds gusting up to 120km/h. Zelia is expected to quickly move across the warm waters of the Coral Sea this weekend which will transform it into a severe category 3 cyclone by Monday morning. Zelia will likely track south of New Caledonia on Monday and quickly catch up to the remnants of Vania by Tuesday. While it is RARE to see two tropical cyclones merging like this, it simply means more widespread rain and wind - more people will receive unsettled weather, as opposed to winds and rain being twice as bad. The main effect reaching New Zealand was likely to be rain, thought gales are possible in some main centres.
Computer models show the two weather systems merging on Tuesday and Wednesday and moving much further west of New Zealand than initially forecast, which could have a serious impact for the Nelson region. "We may see this tropical system feeding very heavy rain into the Nelson region during the week and following the flooding in December we advise locals to be prepared for possible flooding." The remnants of cyclone Vania are expected to pass near Norfolk Island on Sunday. "Although the exact future track is not certain, present guidance indicates that Vania will pass west of the North Island on Tuesday night and move southeast over the northern South Island on Wednesday morning followed by a trough and another smaller low."
Tropical Cyclone Zelia has been upgraded further overnight to a category 3 storm, making her now a "severe" tropical storm.
The storm is expected to maintain category 3 status for another 24 hours before dropping to category 1 again once she leaves the tropics and passes over cooler waters in the Tasman Sea. Zelia is still on track to reach New Zealand from Tuesday onwards. Zelia now has sustained hurricane force winds (120km/h) with gusts to 165km/h. Zelia is comparable to a category 1 hurricane using the better known Saffir-Simpson scale, used to measure hurricanes in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific.


BRAZIL flood, mudslides toll climbs to 610 with continued heavy rain - Brazil declared three days of national mourning for at least 610 people killed near Rio de Janeiro this week. More rain is expected today.

AUSTRALIA - Emergency services workers are sandbagging Culgoa to prepare for a devastating flood expected to be far worse than the waters that hit the Victorian town in September and December. The floodwaters from the Avoca River are expected to flood much of the town. "Last time (September) about three or four houses were flooded, this time it will be much bigger, a huge amount of water came through Charlton and I think it will be similar to that level of devastation in Culgoa. I am reasonably concerned about what's going to happen there, it's hard to convince people there is going to be a huge flood."
A high tide on the Brisbane River caused fresh flooding in one of the city's suburbs, bringing some streets under water again, bringing fresh misery for residents recovering from last week's devastating floods. The two streets were among hundreds across the city to be deluged on Wednesday, but had since dried out as the Brisbane River water level dropped. By yesterday the two streets were entirely dry. But the water was knee-deep in some sections of the roads today. Locals have also said they fear further flooding next week as a king tide peaks. The death toll in Queensland's flood crisis has risen to 17.

SRI LANKA - The UN is to launch an appeal for emergency flood aid for Sri Lanka, where at least 32 people have died and more than 300,000 have been displaced. Flood waters are now receding in the worst-hit areas in eastern and central Sri Lanka, but aid agencies are warning of the danger of water-borne diseases. Funds are urgently needed to help replant flooded rice fields and also compensate people affected. The floods have inflicted terrible destruction on the rice crop which was soon to be harvested. Much of the land in the worst-affected areas is still flooded, with crops and vegetation just peeping out. Some people have now begun returning from specially set-up displacement centres to their homes.

SOUTH AFRICA - The government of South Africa is set to declare parts of the country disaster areas, after 40 people died in floods in a month. Rains have hit the country from Kwa-Zulu Natal in the east to the Northern Cape in the west over the last month. Thousands of homes have been flooded and people living along the Orange River have been evacuated. Some bridges over the river have been closed, and the South African airforce have been helping in the evacuation.


MISSISSIPPI FIREBALL - Jan. 11, around 8:45 pm CST, many people in the southeastern USA saw something streak across the sky and explode. The blast produced infrasound waves detected as far away as Canada. "It was a meter-size meteor with more than a metric ton of mass, exploding like 40 to 80 tons of TNT. THIS WAS ONE BIG ROCK, and the odds are good that there are fragments on the ground." An analysis of sightings suggests the fall zone is in central Mississippi, possibly around Jackson.

Friday, for the second day in a row, an active region on the far side of the sun is exploding and hurling CMEs into space. Friday's eruption was almost as dramatic as Thursday's, and suggests that MORE ERUPTIONS ARE IN THE OFFING. These explosions are occuring almost directly beneath NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft. An onboard telescope has recorded bright flashes of extreme UV radiation and shadowy shock waves emanating from the blast site. The telescope has also pinpointed the source: It is located just over the sun's eastern limb. Solar rotation is turning the region toward Earth, so geoeffective solar activity could commence within days.