Friday, April 29, 2011

US tornadoes kill more than 300 - Whole neighbourhoods obliterated, trees snapped like toothpicks, huge billboards bent and twisted - southern US residents overnight battled scenes of utter devastation on their doorsteps. Tornadoes whirling across the southern United States tossed aside most obstacles in their path, and left at least 305 people dead in eight states in ONE OF THE WORST NATURAL DISASTERS IN YEARS. "Infrastructure has been absolutely devastated. When you look at this path of destruction, likely five to seven miles (eight to 11 kilometres) long and half a mile to a mile wide, I don't know how anyone survived."
As the long day dragged on, rescue workers battled to find missing people and to try to rescue survivors still trapped in the debris of their homes, as emergency services struggled to clear blocked roads. Houses looked like they had been blown inside out with the walls down and furniture spilling into the streets. In a parking lot at the University of Alabama, the tornado left behind 20 smashed cars, many of them piled on top of each other.
The towns of Hackleburg and Dadeville had taken direct hits. There were reports that 90 per cent of Hackleburg had been destroyed and whole neighbourhoods were barely recognisable. Birmingham also sustained major damage. "It looks like a war zone. All I want to do is get out." Some houses had been cleaved in half by toppled trees, others were completely levelled, leaving residents wandering the streets dazed and confused. Severed power lines dangled dangerously and sparked where they lay, cars overturned by the powerful winds littered the roads, mailboxes were uprooted, and fractured water lines gushed into the streets. Aluminum sidings hung off homes like frosting dribbling down the side of a cake in the densely populated Smithfield neighbourhood where some 40 homes were damaged or destroyed. "There are a lot of houses where the roofs are gone and houses that weren't there at all. A lot of porches gone. Trees cut in half. It was kinda crazy." The same community still has bitter memories of a major twister that struck in April 1977.
Wednesday's fierce storms scattered belongings as far as 80km away, caused a nuclear power plant to use back-up generators, and even forced the evacuation of a National Weather Service office. States of emergency have been declared in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia, and governors called out the National Guard to help with rescue and clean-up operations.
Alabama bore the brunt of the storm with more than 200 people killed but the storm system then veered north, laying waste to buildings in four north Georgia counties. Some 14 people were killed, and others were missing in Georgia. The usual street scenes of small American towns, complete with cafes, fast-food joints and stores, now resembled a wasteland. Several eastern states were still on tornado and severe thunderstorm alert on Thursday, while another major storm system was forecast to bring heavy rain and high winds on Saturday.

**Eagles may soar,
but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines.**
Bruce Graham

This morning -

Yesterday -
4/28/11 -

- For most of April 2010, a swarm of earthquakes has shaken the ground near Hawthorne, Nevada. The small- and medium-sized earthquakes are concentrated near Buller Mountain. Over 400 earthquakes above magnitude 1.0 have occurred in the area since April 10, up to a magnitude of 4.6.
Although the earthquake swarm has been adjacent to the Aurora-Bodie Volcanic Field, the earthquakes are tectonic in origin, not volcanic. Geologists distinguish between tectonic and volcanic earthquakes by looking at the waveforms recorded by seismographs. High-frequency events with a sharp onset — like a drum beat — are tectonic. Earthquakes that are long lasting and low- or medium-frequency — like a sustained note — are likely to be volcanic. The Hawthorne earthquake swarm occurred in the Basin and Range geologic province, an area of flat, low elevation valleys situated between linear mountain ranges. The Basin and Range stretches from the Sierra Nevada in the west to central Utah in the east, and the complex topography is caused by the uplift, stretching, and thinning of the North American crust. The stretching crust results in the frequent earthquakes and occasional volcanism in the area. (satellite photo of the locations)

No current tropical storms.

Ring around the hurricanes: Satellites can predict storm intensity - Meteorologists have seen large advances in forecasting technology to track the potential path of tropical storms and hurricanes, but they've had little success in predicting storm intensity. One of the biggest forecast problems facing the tropical meteorology community is determining rapid intensification, when storms suddenly transform into much stronger cyclones or hurricanes. "Rapid intensification means a moderate-strength tropical storm, something that may affect a region but not have a severe impact, blowing up in less than 24 hours to a category 2 or 3 hurricane. This big, strong storm appears that wasn't anticipated, and the effects are going to be very negative. If you don't have the evacuations in place, people can't prepare for something of the magnitude that's going to come ashore."
For example, Hurricane Charlie, which hit southern Florida in 2004, was initially forecast as a category 1 storm. However, when it made landfall less than 24 hours later, it had strengthened to a category 4, causing major damage. Rapid intensification is so hard to predict in part because it's driven by internal processes within the storm system, rather than the better-predicted, large-scale winds that determine the direction of the storms. The satellite imagery most commonly used for meteorology only looks at the clouds at the top of the storms, giving little insight as to what's going on inside the system.
The study revealed clear patterns in storm dynamics. They found that, consistently, low-shear storm systems formed a symmetrical ring of thunderstorms around the center of the system about six hours before intensification began. As the system strengthened into a hurricane, the thunderstorms deepened and the ring became even more well-defined. The study also looked at high-shear storms, a less common phenomenon involving atmospheric winds hanging with height.
Such storms showed a different structure when intensifying: They form a large, bull's-eye thunderstorm in the center of the system, rather than a ring around the center. "Now we have an observational tool that uses existing data that can set off a red flag for forecasters, so that when they see this convective ring feature, there's a high probability that a storm may undergo rapid intensification. This is really the first way that we can do this in real time rather than guessing with models or statistical predictions." Since passive microwave satellites orbit every three to six hours, meteorologists can use them to track tropical storms and watch for the telltale rings to give forecasters about a 30-hour window before a storm hits its maximum strength.

Storms unlikely to veer away from US coast again - Storms unlikely to follow last year's patterns. Count on a busy hurricane season, forecasters say, but not on the same fortunate weather that shunted last year's storms — including four extremely powerful hurricanes — away from the U.S. coast. Last year's hurricane season was UNUSUAL. It was one of the busiest on record, with 12 hurricanes — five of them major — and seven tropical storms, but none caused significant widespread damage in the U.S.
The story could have been much different had the hurricanes followed a more typical weather pattern. Instead, large high pressure areas formed over the middle of the U.S. and over the Atlantic, steering most of the season's storms — and all of the hurricanes — away from the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico states. That unusual pattern is unlikely to be repeated this year.
"In the peak of summer it's not unusual to get stuck in a pattern. But to have the same pattern back-to-back would be very unusual." In all, four major hurricanes, three lesser hurricanes and two tropical storms were steered away from the U.S. coast as they approached from the Atlantic in 2010. Two storms — Earl and Igor — struck Canada. Different weather patterns pushed the season's remaining 10 storms of the season, including one other major storm, into Mexico and the Caribbean. One tropical storm — Bonnie — passed briefly over Florida's southern tip. Hermine caused severe flooding in Texas and Oklahoma.
Several meteorologists have predicted a very active season this year. Forecasts range from 15 to 16 named storms, including eight to nine hurricanes, three to five of which produce winds higher than 110 mph. The forecasts are based on warmer-than-normal temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and weaker-than-normal upper level westerly winds, among several other factors. Warmer seas give storms more fuel and weaker upper level westerlies allow hurricanes an easier ride across the ocean.
Hurricane track forecasts are becoming more accurate, helping community leaders and residents to make better evacuation decisions. But this year, many of those decision-makers will be new to the job of evacuating the pubic and have no experience with hurricanes. Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Virginia all have new governors. Elected leaders need to participate in drills now, to get practice making difficult evacuation decisions. Evacuations, especially in tourist areas, cost communities money and sometimes put people in hospitals and nursing homes at risk. But wrong decisions can have tragic consequences. The six-month Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1.

Stormless stretch fuels complacency in Florida - On a slide showing the tracks of hundreds of tropical storms and hurricanes through the decades, Florida was nearly hidden. Last year was a blessing and a curse, the National Hurricane Center’s director said. Even though the season’s 19 named storms, tied for third-most of all time, marked up the 2010 map like strands of spaghetti, not one hurricane struck the U.S. mainland for the second consecutive year. Why? A strong trough on the East Coast helped create an alley in the central Atlantic into which one storm after another shot north and stayed harmlessly off the North American coast. Move things a little to the west, and “how much different the story would be." It’s too early — and well nigh impossible — to predict whether a similar high pressure system will sit in essentially the same place day after day, as it did for much of last year, or whether “somewhere in the middle of August, a slight weakening of it, will send a big hurricane right over Florida.”
Since Wilma struck in 2005, no hurricane has had a Florida landfall. In the same five years, no major hurricane of Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with top sustained winds of at least 180 km/h, has struck the United States. That streak’s never gone six years, according to records that date to 1851. After that long a stretch, surveys show one in three Floridians has no hurricane plan at all. And one state study said population turnover, short memories, contentedness and laziness all add up to potential “dire consequences” should a substantial hurricane threaten Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.
Colorado State University hurricane prognosticator William Gray noted there’s been a surge in major hurricanes, Category 3 or higher, in the past 16 years, but that, except for 2004-2005, no major storm has struck the East Coast. “We’ve been lucky." The hurricane region now is in a decades-long cycle of high hurricane activity. “If the future’s like the past, we probably have another 10, 15 years” of high numbers of major storms." For the hurricane centre director “my No. 1 concern is the same one I had last year: Haiti. Virtually nothing has changed from last year as far as the condition of the people devastated by the (January 2010) earthquake. They’re still living under tarps. If we have a major hurricane come at Haiti this year, that’s going to be my biggest gut check. I don’t know how that many people can be dealt with in a crisis of that magnitude."


U.S. - The Alabama city of Tuscaloosa has been among the hardest-hit by fierce storms which have battered the southern United States. A massive tornado - some estimates put it at a mile wide - tore through the city on Wednesday. Meteorologists say it could have been THE WORST IN THE STATE'S HISTORY. As the twister's approach was broadcast on local television, one presenter on WMBA told viewers: "That is something that you pray that you never, ever ever see."
The full scale of the destruction in Tuscaloosa is not yet clear, but more than 16 people are known to have been killed. The twister "cut a path of destruction deep into the heart of the city. What we faced today was massive damage on a scale we have not seen in Tuscaloosa in quite some time. We have hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed and hundreds more damaged."
The city's hospital is running on emergency generators after a nearby electricity substation was knocked out by the storm. There was relief when a child was found alive beneath one pile of debris and was carried away by firefighters. But officials have warned that with more storms forecast in the coming days, the danger is not yet over for the town.

April sets NEW RECORD FOR TORNADOES. - But experts say link to global warming tenuous. A day after a swarm of tornadoes tore across the South, killing hundreds, scientists who study the maddening, unpredictable storms were left with few answers Thursday - other than to say this deadly month will be one for the record books. Preliminary data from the National Weather Service show that more than 600 twisters have touched down in April, smashing the existing record of 267 set in 1974.
The outbreak — the DEALIEST IN NEARLY 40 YEARS — that devastated large swaths of north central Alabama and other southern states appears to follow a historic pattern. Over the decades, the annual number of tornadoes occurring in the U.S. has climbed — from a low of 201 in 1950 to a record high of 1,817 in 2004. Last year's total was 1,525. But the apparent increase in storm activity may be as difficult to explain as trying to determine the direction a twister will take as it races across the landscape, experts say. More tornadoes, particularly weaker versions, are being reported today than decades earlier. Urban development in the country's tornado belt and the spread of information technology are factors in the higher number, storm experts say. So is improved thunderstorm meteorology, including the use of Doppler radar to better pinpoint a severe storm and measure its velocity. The National Weather Service also has embarked on aggressive storm spotter training. At the same time, the numbers of hobbyists who chase twisters, laptops and cell phones in hand, have swelled along with trained local emergency management officials. "There's much better detection, basically. It's not that there are more tornadoes."
Four essential elements are necessary for twisters to develop: instability created by warm air at the surface and cold air at higher altitude, increasing wind speed at higher altitude, moisture at lower levels and, typically, a cold front. All those factors were abundant for the mayhem in Alabama. "If you were writing the book on what you were looking for, all those conditions (for tornadoes) were perfect, in a negative way." Particularly distinctive and devastating were the wind shears, the churning winds that kept the storms on the ground for hours. The most severe twisters carry winds of 250 miles per hour or more.
Some meteorologists suggest that La Nina, the unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, is playing a role in creating a stubborn blanket of cold air in the northern U.S. while warm air is pushing up from the south. The merging of those two systems through the mid-South and Midwest helps create a powerful jet stream where storms frequently can erupt, according to some meteorologists. But other experts dismissed that theory, contending that La Nina and its counterpart, El Nino, have little if any impact on stormy Midwestern and Southern springs. Still, April has been a particularly volatile month for tornadoes. "Nature kind of jumps around like that. Sometimes you get active periods and sometimes you don't. Things can turn around and change in two minutes." Any link between global warming and April's storms is tenuous at best. "Global warming is occurring, but this is not a manifestation of it."

VERMONT - Lake Champlain hits RECORD HIGH LEVEL; roads and ferries affected. On Thursday, county residents bordering on Lake Champlain watched with bated breath as lake levels climbed to record-breaking heights. As of 4:30 p.m. April 28, lake levels had topped out at 102.24 feet above sea level, then begun to slowly decline. The levels were far above flood stage, which is set at 100 feet, and they had already bested the previous record height of 102.1 feet, which was set in 1869.
Heavy rains on Wednesday and Thursday boosted river levels across the region, also raising the water level in Lake Champlain. As of Thursday afternoon, weather forecasters were predicting at least one more storm on the approach. On Thursday morning, as lake levels climbed, authorities shut down the ferry that runs between Charlotte and Essex, N.Y. Then, in the early afternoon, the state announced it had closed a low-lying stretch of Route 125. “It’s a mess. We have a pond and a creek, and now they’re combined.”
While National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration numbers reported three-day rainfall totals below 1.5 inches across the lower areas of Addison County, other areas of the Lake Champlain watershed reported upwards of four inches. The town had gotten at least enough rain to wash out five sections of road in the town. The damage was estimated at $105,000 so far.


BRITAIN - Crops hit by lack of rain. Farmers fear poor cereal and vegetable harvest Drought conditions could have a damaging effect on East Yorkshire's cereal and vegetable harvest. Worried farmers say the lack of rainfall in March and April has put crops such as beans and spring cereals under serious pressure. Farmers are now praying for rain amid fears the yields of all crops will be down and prices will rise in shops and supermarkets.
The food and farming industry is facing a double whammy – low global food stocks and extreme weather hitting growing crops. East Yorkshire farmers and growers HAVE NOT HAD TO COPE WITH SUCH A PROLONGED DRY SPELL SINCE THE DROUGHT OF SUMMER 1976.
Normally 50mm of rainfall a month is recorded in the Beverley area, but so far this April there has been just 4mm. "The food market is now international and dependent on the weather. A year ago cereal stocks were high, but a huge drought in Russia last summer has turned oversupply into undersupply, with soaring prices. Current extreme weather in the UK, US and Australia is hitting crops, so the food market could be facing a double whammy."
The drought has led to grass stopping growing, which is bad news for farmers who graze cattle and sheep and make fodder crops, such as hay and silage. "We are really concerned that it has become very dry so early. This is the time of the year when cattle are turned out to pastures and in a normal time there is plenty of grass for them to eat, but not this year. What has happened this spring shows how difficult it is for farmers to work with the weather. The real concern is over the supply and availability of vegetables and as every week goes by the need for rainfall becomes more critical."