Friday, February 4, 2011

AUSTRALIA - Queensland left reeling in wake of tropical cyclone Yasi, which has left thousands homeless, destroyed crops and disrupted mining in Queensland as it swept across Australia bound for the Northern Territory. Those in the path of the cyclone, ONE OF THE MOST VIOLENT STORMS TO STRIKE THE MAINLAND IN A CENTURY, spent a terrifying night on Wednesday sheltering from its effects. The winds approached 300km/h and it dumped more than 500mm (20in) of rain. Houses were demolished, trees toppled, power was cut to 180,000 homes and debris was strewn across a wide stretch of Queensland’s coastline near Mission Beach, which bore the brunt of Yasi when it made landfall overnight. The marina at Port Hinchinbrook resembled a junk yard with dozens of yachts and boats piled on top of one another. Initial assessments were that more than 280 houses were damaged in the three hardest-hit towns, and crews were unable to reach at least four others, so the tally would rise.
Officials had issued days of increasingly dire warnings, and said lives were spared because people followed instructions to flee to evacuation centres or bunker themselves at home in dozens of cities and towns in Cyclone Yasi’s path. The destruction from the cyclone was severe but not catastrophic. No deaths or serious injuries have been recorded, but two men remain missing. As the extremely high rainfall across large parts of northeast Queensland continues, with a further 200mm expected in some centres in the next 24 hours, additional pressure will be placed on the state’s bloated river systems.
Yasi comes on the heels of months of devastating floods in the nation’s eastern states, particularly Queensland, that killed at least 35 people, ruined crops and shut down the mining industry. The bulk of the banana crop in Innisfail and Tully, accounting for close to 85 per cent of the state’s Aus$400 million industry, has been wiped out.
Ahead of the cyclone hitting land, concerns about the storm had helped push sugar prices to a 30-year high in New York. Australia is the world’s third-largest sugar exporter and the majority of this comes from Queensland.
The regional capital of Cairns, gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, escaped the worst of the storm and suffered little damage. The hardest hit communities were centred on Innisfail, Tully, Mission Beach and Cardwell. In Tully, an estimated one-in-three houses lost their roofs or were destroyed. Yasi has been downgraded from a most severe category five storm to a category one.

**Clothes make the man.
Naked people have little or no influence on society.**
Mark Twain

This morning -

Yesterday -
2/3/11 -

No current tropical cyclones.

AUSTRALIA - Much of Victoria has been put on alert for possible flooding as Queensland's cyclones begin to impact on the state's weather. The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting widespread rain in Victoria over the weekend, including a flood watch for the greater Melbourne catchments.
Isolated rainfall totals of 40mm are possible today and widespread rain totals of up to 50mm have been forecast for tomorrow in Melbourne. The BoM has also issued flood warnings for the Loddon and Avoca rivers which have already been impacted by floods in recent weeks. The remnants of ex-tropical cyclone Anthony moved over northern Victorian and southern NSW yesterday. Moisture from Cyclone Yasi was likely to impact Victoria late today, resulting in rain becoming more widespread tonight and tomorrow.
Animals have shown resilience in the floods. "The good news is most Victorian wildlife is well adapted to dealing with floods and will bounce back fast as the floodwaters recede. Because most floodwaters in the last few weeks did not rise rapidly, most animals were able to avoid the floods by moving to higher ground or climb higher up into trees in the case of possums."
Food and other shortages are looming in north Queensland, with the Premier on her way back to Brisbane to tackle the critical issue. "We have major cuts to the Bruce Highway, so we're working with retailers to get supplies, particularly north of Townsville. Many people in Cairns, alongside many people in north Queensland and the far north, will be seeing a lot of empty shelves. Resupply of groceries and other supplies is very critical at the moment." A ship carrying 2750 tonnes of essential supplies was due in Townsville today. "That's the equivalent of 110 trucks of food and equipment and supplies."


US and Canada dig out from deadly snow storm. Americans and Canadians are recovering from the monster winter storm that crippled air and road transport, closed schools and destroyed buildings. Authorities warned over conditions across the mid-west, where temperatures were set to fall below -34C. The storm, which passed over Canada's Maritime provinces early on Thursday, was blamed for at least 12 deaths. It dumped nearly 2ft (0.6m) of snow on Chicago, bringing the typically bustling city to a frozen halt. Chicago had to dig out from near record snow, even as temperatures hovered around -11C. In eastern Canada, schools and business were closed on Thursday morning after the storm, which originated in the US state of Texas 3,300km away, dumped some 40cm of snow in parts of Nova Scotia and brought 50km/h (31.1mph) winds to some areas. In the hard-hit US state of Oklahoma, three people were killed on Thursday when their vehicle ran off a snowy bridge into a river.
US air traffic remained hampered on Thursday as airports struggled to clear snow from runways and recover from widespread cancellations during Wednesday's storm. Across the north-east, buildings that collapsed under the weight of snow and ice piled on roofs included a school building in Connecticut, an aeroplane hanger near Boston and a gas station canopy on Long Island. In Massachusetts, at least 44 buildings collapsed, mostly flat-roofed commercial buildings. In upstate New York, a barn roof fell in, trapping cows inside.

ARIZONA - RECORD-BREAKING COLD left two Tucson residents dead and thousands without gas or water across Southern Arizona. Temperatures in Tucson fell to 18 degrees and dipped even lower in surrounding areas. The UNPRECEDENTED lows -- with wind chills that made the temperatures feel more like 3 or 4 degrees -- triggered a number of utility outages affecting thousands of residents across Southern Arizona. Increased demand left 14,000 Southwest Gas customers without gas and heat. Additionally, 2,000 Tucson Water customers are without water. The extreme cold caused electronic controls at various reservoir and booster sites to malfunction, automatically shutting down pumps.

TEXAS - Regulators will investigate why more than 50 power generating units in Texas failed due cold weather on Wednesday, forcing the state's grid operator to impose rolling blackouts as demand exceeded available supplies. "We understand that the RECORD-BREAKING WEATHER CONDITIONS exceeded the normal planning conditions but will look to determine what can be done better in the future to prevent unexpected unavailability of generation under such conditions." The plants in the northern parts of the United States are more weatherized than those in the South. In the North, plants have heaters and monitors on water pipes and other equipment outside in the cold that in the past may not have been needed on plants in the South. But in the South, where temperatures can top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius) for several days in a row, plants are designed to take the heat much better than units in the North.
High temperatures in Houston, the biggest city in Texas, plummeted from 70 degrees F (21.1 Celsius) Tuesday to 39 degrees Wednesday. In Dallas, which recorded a high of 18 degrees on Wednesday, the average temperature was 30 degrees below the normal. "The cold lasted longer and was more extreme than we are used to."


BRAZIL - Amazon drought 'severe' in 2010, raising warming fears. Last year's drought in the Amazon raises concerns about the region's capacity to continue absorbing carbon dioxide. The 2010 drought was more widespead than in 2005 - the last big one - with more trees probably lost. The 2005 drought had been termed a "one in a century" event. In drought years, the Amazon region changes from being a net absorber of carbon dioxide into a net emitter. The scientists suggest this is further evidence of the Amazon's vulnerability to rising global temperatures. They also suggest the days of the Amazon forest curbing the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions may be coming to an end. The 2010 drought saw the Amazon River at its lowest levels for half a century, with several tributaries completely dry and more than 20 municipalities declaring a state of emergency. "It's difficult to detect patterns from just two observed droughts, but to have them close together is concerning."
Both droughts were associated with UNUSUALLY warm seas in the Atlantic Ocean off the Brazilian coast. "If that turns out to be driven by escalating greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, it could imply that we'll see more drought years in the near future. If events like this do happen more often, the Amazon rainforest would reach a point where it shifts from being a valuable carbon sink slowing climate change to a major source of greenhouse gases." Whereas the 2005 drought covered an area of nearly two million sq km, in 2010 it stretched for three million sq km. Some Amazon rivers saw their lowest level for decades in 2010.


World food prices rose to A RECORD HIGH in January - The FAO Food Price Index, which measures the wholesale price of basic foods within a basket, averaged 231 points last month - its highest level since records began in 1990. It was up 3.4% from December, the seventh monthly rise for the index. "These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come." The index is now higher than June 2008 when the cost of food sparked violent protests in countries including Cameroon, Haiti and Egypt. The individual group components of the index, apart from meat, all registered rises in January.
The Cereal Price Index averaged 245 points in January reflecting rises in the price of wheat and grain. This was driven higher by flooding in Australia, which is a major wheat exporter. Rice prices fell slightly as the data coincided with harvests in many countries.
Rises were particularly high for dairy products, up 6.2% from December. Prices were driven higher by a combination of lower supply and increasing demand in emerging economies such as China and India. The Meat Price Index held steady at 166 points despite falling prices in Europe where a large amount of animal feed was found to have been contaminated with dioxin. This was offset by a small increase in meat prices in Brazil and the United States. Sugar prices also remained high due to tight supplies. Recently, white sugar futures hit a record high because of concerns about the damage Cyclone Yasi could cause to the Australian cane crop.
The high price of food is thought to have been a factor in recent political unrest in both Algeria and Tunisia in the form of anti-government demonstrations, protests which have spread to neighbouring Egypt and Jordan. The World Bank President has asked global leaders to "put food first" and tackle the problem of price volatility. "We are going to be facing a broader trend of increasing commodity prices, including food commodity prices." Commodities prices have been on the rise generally with copper hitting a record high of $10,000 a tonne. Oil was also up on Thursday with Brent crude rising to $103.37 a barrel.

Subzero temperatures threaten drought-stressed winter wheat crop in western Kansas. An arctic blast that brought subzero temperatures and punishing winds across the Kansas plains has raised new fears for the already drought-stressed crop.

Kenya Drought Cuts Coffee, Tea Output.

As drought threatens Somalia once more, humanitarians are becoming increasingly concerned about how they will reach food insecure communities living in areas controlled by armed groups. An estimated 2.4 million Somalis require emergency humanitarian assistance as a result of civil unrest and food insecurity. The failure of the short rains (October-December 2010) means over the coming months that that number could increase. "Somalia is teetering on the brink of a much larger crisis if the next rains, due in April, fail."
Somalia has now been without a functional government for 20 years; several parts of the south are controlled by armed groups, piracy and inter-clan violence have also hampered the delivery of aid. In 2005 and 2007, ships carrying WFP food aid were hijacked by pirates off the Somali coast, forcing the organization to use costly naval escorts for its food shipments. Another drought is also likely to increase the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), something aid agencies are keen to avoid; Somalia already has an estimated 1.4 million IDPs.

China's drought could have serious global impact - Wide swathes of northern China are suffering through their WORST DROUGHT IN 60 YEARS - a dry spell that could have a serious economic impact.

Australia Wheat Suffers From Drought - As Australia’s worst floods caused as much as $20 billion of damage to eastern states, 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) to the west a farmer is battling a Chinese mining company for water after a decades-long drought. “It’s ironic that they’re underwater and we can’t get enough of it. It’s noticeably getting worse. I’m worried this new mine is going to take the water that’s left.”
The A$1.8 billion ($1.8 billion) iron-ore project has applied to use water from the same underground supply that irrigates his 4,000-hectare wheat and sheep farm. At stake is the output of the country’s biggest wheat- growing state at a time when global food shortages have pushed prices to records. The mine is the first of at least eight magnetite iron ore projects planned for the state’s Mid West grain belt in the next decade. Mines need water to help dig out and process the ore, remove waste rock and to suppress dust to meet air quality rules. Competing with the state’s farmers are about A$170 billion of mining projects in the pipeline over the next five years.
“Western Australia is a very hot, hard and flat county on which it’s hard to store water. Processing these magnetite ores is going to be pretty greedy for water.” Figures from the government-run Bureau of Meteorology show a significant decrease in rainfall since the mid-1970s. Dams servicing the Perth area are less than 30 percent full. “The winter rains have become more unreliable and that seems to be a trend that will continue. Some areas where agricultural crops are marginal might soon tip over so they’re unsustainable.” In Perth, homeowners are allowed to water their gardens with automated irrigation systems for 20 minutes a week. “We’ve had OUR DRIEST YEAR EVER, so that’s created an acute problem.” “I’m worried that this is just the start and other projects that are planned in the area will take all the groundwater."