Tuesday, May 24, 2011

[As the following two articles show, the truth about disaster risks is hard to find - The worry about low snowpack in the Rocky Mountains in the first article seems to be quite misplaced, if the second article about record snowpack in the Rocky Mountains is to be believed. Is the media just hyping everything??]

TEXAS - Drought record: El Paso hits 110 days without rain. The Greater El Paso area today will hit a RECORD-BREAKING 110 consecutive days without a trace of rain. The old record was 109 days in 2002. Effects from this year's drought are already being felt as farmers prepare for lower crop yields next year. The problem lies in a lack of precipitation that eventually streams through the Rio Grande and into the Elephant Butte Reservoir.
El Paso County farmers welcome water that flows down from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and northern New Mexico. Most of that water comes from melting snowpack. In the past couple of years, the Rockies' snowpack has been very poor, resulting in low lake levels farther south. At the moment, Elephant Butte Lake, which can hold up to 2.5 million acre-feet of water, is only 16 to 17 percent full.
When water levels are low, farmers turn to using wells and aquifers filled from unused water from previous years for help. At the moment, farmers are receiving full allocations from reserves that are 4 acre-feet of water per acre of land. An acre-foot of water can supply the household needs of two four-person families for one year. But if water doesn't trickle down from the Rocky Mountains soon, farmers are told to expect cutbacks of 3.5 acre-feet per acre this year.Today's conditions are reminiscent of the drought of the 1950s. During that time, area farmers struggled to grow crops and maintain their lifestyle for a decade. "It was one of the longest droughts we had had. Without any snowfall in the canals that flowed from the Rio Grande, everyone in the Lower Valley, Juárez Valley and Upper Valley suffered." To get through those harsh years, local farmers drilled wells and ran piping underground from one well to the next. Yet to repair a well or buy a new one can cost more than $6,000. Another downside to this solution: Water from the underground reservoirs is saltier. Too much salt in the water can kill the plants, cutting off the farmers' source of income. To offset this, farmers may have to add sulfuric acid to the irrigation water -- a dangerous practice. Too much sulfuric acid can ultimately burn and damage crops. Another option involves consolidating one crop for another. But if farmers consolidate their crops, then costs may go up at grocery stores.
One crop that some farmers may consolidate is alfalfa. If there is less alfalfa, then less hay will go to dairies. When there's less hay for feed, the price of hay is driven up and the cost of milk jumps. The domino effect continues at dairy farms which may, in turn, keep fewer cattle and thereby produce less dairy and meat products -- driving up demand and prices for consumers. "We just pray it snows in Colorado, and we need that snow to rush down. If it simply melts, then it can just get soaked into the ground."

Record Snowpacks Could Threaten Western States - For all the attention on epic flooding in the Mississippi Valley, a quiet threat has been growing in the West where winter snows have piled up on mountain ranges throughout the region. Thanks to a blizzard-filled winter and an UNUSUALLY COLD AND WET spring, more than 90 measuring sites from Montana to New Mexico and California to Colorado have RECORD SNOWPACK TOTALS ON THE GROUND for late May, according to a federal report released last week. Those giant and spectacularly beautiful snowpacks will now melt under the hotter, sunnier skies of June — mildly if weather conditions are just right, wildly and perhaps catastrophically if they are not. Fear of a sudden thaw, releasing millions of gallons of water through river channels and narrow canyons, has disaster experts on edge. “All we can do is watch and wait. This could be a year to remember."
No matter what happens, the snows of 2011, especially their persistence into late spring, have already made the record books. But the West has also changed significantly since 1983, when super-snows last produced widespread flooding. From the foothills west of Denver to the scenic, narrow canyons of northern Utah, flood plains that were once wide-open spaces have been built up. Many communities have improved their defenses, for example, by fortifying riverbanks to keep streams in place, but those antiflood bulwarks have for the most part not been tested by nature’s worst hits. And in sharp contrast to the floods on the Mississippi River — one mighty waterway, going where it will — the Western story is fragmented, with anxiety dispersed across dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of large and small waterways that could surge individually, collectively or not at all.
In California, the state’s aging levee system has long been a source of concern, with fears of large-scale failures that could leave Sacramento, the state capital, vulnerable to a Hurricane Katrina-scale flood. The anxieties are amplified this year by the deep snows in the Sierra Nevada, where some ski spots around Lake Tahoe saw more than 60 feet this season. At Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River in Utah, federal managers have begun spilling water downstream in preparation for the rising waters; the reservoir has 700,000 acre-feet of available space, but will have an expected inflow of 1.4 million acre-feet more through July, federal officials said. In the Wasatch Mountains outside Salt Lake City, where Alta Ski Resort still has about 200 inches of snow. Three more feet of snow piled on just last week. In sparsely populated Wyoming, emergency officials are worried about tiny communities that in many cases are far from help if rivers surge; almost every county is in a potential snow-melt flood zone, and relatively few residents have flood insurance. In Routt County, Colorado, the terrain itself has changed, with thousands of acres of dead lodgepole pine trees on high mountain slopes. The trees were killed by an infestation of beetles in recent years and no longer hold the soil as they once did, raising erosion concerns. Hydrologists, meanwhile, are cheering what they say will be a huge increase in water reservoir storage for tens of millions of people across the West. Lake Mead and Lake Powell, two huge dammed reservoirs on the Colorado River battered in recent years by drought, are projected to get 1.5 trillion gallons of new water between them from the mammoth melt.
Late spring is a volatile time in the mountains, when freezing temperatures can turn overnight to heat waves and thunderstorms. And every day that the snows do not go gently down the stream raises the possibility of melting into late June and even July, when sudden mountain downpours can set off flash floods, dangerous even without a freight of snow behind them. Floods kill more Americans than lightning, tornados or hurricanes in an average year, according to federal figures. And flash floods, usually associated with summer downpours, like the one that killed more than 140 people in Big Thompson Canyon in Colorado in 1976, can come as if from nowhere. “It just takes one really sunny hot spell to get things running. And that’s where our concern lies.”

**Analysing humour is like dissecting a frog -
few people are interested, and the frog dies.**
EB White

This morning -

Yesterday -
5/23/11 -
43 quakes in Turkey ranging from 2.4 to 3.6

Steep rise seen in false earthquake warnings in Japan - The Meteorological Agency said it issued 73 quake warnings in the two months following the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake — four times the amount issued since the system debuted in October 2007 — but 64 percent of them were false alarms triggered by aftershocks. The agency sends warnings when it detects P-waves traveling faster than the S-waves that humans can sense as tremors.
When a quake is expected to register lower 5 or higher on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, for example, warnings are sent to areas where the intensity is anticipated to be 4 or above. But 47 of the 73 warnings were issued to areas where the seismic intensity registered 2 or lower, making them false alarms. Before March 11, only 29 percent of all quake warnings were deemed false.
The reason for the false alarms is the agency's seismograph, which interprets a situation in which several quakes are occurring almost simultaneously as one big temblor — a factor that wasn't taken into consideration when the system was initially developed. Before March 11, if the distance between two seismographs that detected P-waves at the same time was within 350 km, the quakes were considered to be one, but the agency shortened the distance to 150 km after the Tohoku catastrophe. Still, inappropriate warnings have been issued since mid-April when aftershocks were felt in Fukushima Prefecture. In hopes of improving the system, the agency has earmarked $100 million for repairs and $240 million for 40 additional seismographs in the fiscal 2011 budget. However, no drastic solution is in sight and the warnings should still be taken seriously. "At the moment, there may be some false alarms, but if the warning is issued, it is almost certain an earthquake struck. So protect yourself for the first minute or two."

TURKEY - Quake rendersed 2000 homes uninhabitable. Last week's 5.9-magnitude earthquake has rendered more than 2000 homes uninhabitable, forcing nearly 7000 people to live in tents in a western town. The quake killed three people on May 19. Turkish authorities have been struggling to enforce stricter building codes since two devastating earthquakes killed about 18,000 people in northwestern Turkey in 1999. Most of the deaths were blamed on shoddy construction. Some residents of the tent city have complained of inadequate sanitary facilities and shortage of drinking water. (photo)


Ash turns day into night in Iceland - Ash from the volcanic eruption in Iceland is predicted to spread south, reaching parts of northern Europe within the next two days. In Iceland, ash from the Grimsvotn volcano has closed the main airport. Iceland's Foreign Minister said that the current eruption was not a major cause of concern for his country. (video)


Tropical storm Songda looms over the Philippines - The cyclone is growing stronger and could be become a destructive typhoon. The Philippine weather bureau issued a warning as tropical storm Songda threatens to batter the country on Tuesday. Songda was centered 1,070 kilometers (664.9 miles) east of Mindanao, with estimated sustained winds of 85 kph (52.8 mph) and gusts of up to 100 kph (62.1 mph). The storm will likely batter eastern Visayas or Cagayan Province on Tuesday, but may also affect Northeast and Central Luzon. The approaching storm was not connected with the rains that fell on parts of Metro Manila on Sunday afternoon, which were caused by localized thunderstorm clouds.


Trees down and power cuts as 100mph winds hit Scotland - Winds of up to 100mph have been causing travel disruption on Scotland's road, rail and ferry networks. Almost 30,000 homes across the country were without power as the severe weather brought down trees and electricity lines. Winds resulted in the death of one man when a tree fell and crushed his car.
Network Rail, which looks after the system's cabling and tracks, said the disruption would continue into Tuesday. The power company said hundreds of engineers were out working in "very difficult" conditions.
Extra staff have been drafted in from England to help restore supply to customers. Road users have faced delays and diversions across the country. In the Highlands, the A82 was particularly affected, with fallen branches and trees at various points. Winds of up to 80mph (129km/h) had been forecast for Monday.
The Met Office said winds should have eased by late evening.
High winds have also been causing disruption across Northern Ireland, where about 20,000 homes have been left without electricty. A gust of 100mph (161km/h) was recorded earlier at Glen Ogle in Stirlingshire. (video)

U.S. -
PENNSYLVANIA - Buildings collapse, people missing in storm. A number of buildings collapsed around the village of Richfield in central Pennsylvania today after a storm hit the area, with fears people were missing among the rubble. A tornado warning was issued for the area by the National Weather Service prior to the thunderstorm, but it was not confirmed if a tornado had caused the damage.

MISSOURI - Tornado toll at 116 as more storms expected. US midwest states are braced for more storms after a tornado in Missouri killed 116 people, putting it ON COURSE TO BE THE DEADLIEST SINGLE TWISTER TO STRIKE THE US IN MODERN HISTORY. Forecasters warned more potent storms were on the way in the area around Joplin, Missouri where the massive twister struck Sunday leading to 116 deaths, matching the deadliest tornado in modern US records. The last single twister to wreak such loss of life occurred on June 8, 1953 when 116 people were killed in Flint, Michigan.
"We are currently forecasting a major severe weather outbreak for Tuesday over the central United States with strong tornadoes likely over Oklahoma, Kansas, extreme northern Texas, southwest Missouri." Officials warned the death toll in Missouri was sure to rise after the massive twister cut a swath of destruction 6.4 kilometres long and more than a kilometre wide. "There are going to be some things out there that are going to be hard to see and stomach. We remain positive and optimistic that there are lives out there to be saved. We're going to go through every foot of this town and make sure that every person is accounted for." Some 1150 wounded people were treated in area hospitals after the twister. Flames and smoke from broken gas lines shot up through the wreckage as block after block of homes and businesses were reduced to rubble and cars were tossed so violently into the air that they turned into crumpled heaps of metal. Heavy rain, lightening and strong winds hampered relief efforts while hundreds of exhausted rescue workers carefully picked their way through the rubble with the help of sniffer dogs.
Disaster struck Sunday when, with just 24 minutes warning, the monster twister packing winds of up to 320km/h tore through the centre of town. More than 2000 buildings - or about a third of the city of 50,000 near the border with Kansas and Oklahoma - were damaged or destroyed. One man who was able to take shelter in a storm cellar was overwhelmed by what he saw when he emerged. "I've lived in this neighbourhood my entire life, and I didn't know where I was. Everything was unrecognisable, completely unrecognisable. It's like Armageddon." Caring for the injured was made more difficult because the main hospital, Saint John's Regional Medical Center, had to be evacuated after suffering a direct hit - the tornado ripped off its roof and smashed all its windows. A tangled medical helicopter lay in the rubble of crushed cars, broken glass and medical records strewn outside the hospital. The Governor declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to help out after ONE OF THE WORST DISASTERS IN THE STATE'S HISTORY.
It was the deadliest of 73 tornadoes reported to the National Weather Service in nine central states on Sunday and Monday and comes less than a month after a horrific tornado outbreak left 361 in April across several US states.

MONTANA - Flooding isolates Montana town as more rain forecast; 84-year-old woman killed after falling into ditch. More rain is on tap this week for Montana communities besieged with flooding that has isolated a town near the Wyoming border, claimed at least one life and left another person missing. The Governor declared a statewide emergency as broad areas of southeastern Montana remained underwater. Rural communities in southeastern Montana, including the Crow Reservation, were hardest hit.
In Yellowstone County, authorities were searching for a man reported missing after a roadway apparently washed out from underneath a backhoe he was operating near Pryor Creek. "We've got 21 jurisdictions — county, tribal and city — experiencing some type of flooding across the state. Citizens need to be aware and never drive a road that has water moving over it." Flooding and other problems also were reported in Cascade, Fergus and Judith Basin counties in the central part of the state and Valley and Custer counties to the east.
A 50-mile stretch of Interstate 90 remained closed Monday, leaving about 2,000 residents of Lodge Grass — part of the Crow Reservation — and surrounding areas largely cut off from the outside. The mountains outside Lodge Grass received 8.4 inches of rain over a four-day period ending Sunday. Other parts of the state received from almost 2 inches to more than 6 inches of rain. After a shelter at a church in Billings filled, authorities opened another shelter in a residence hall at Montana State University-Billings. As many as 240 people from the towns of Hardin and Crow Agency were expected to arrive at the university beginning Monday.
Several weather systems that could bring more rain were expected to pass through Montana over the next week. With the ground already saturated, any significant rainfall was likely to produce more flooding.
"We're stuck in this broken-record weather pattern. Everybody's concern now is to buy some time to let this water drain out of there and get things back to normal before the rain returns." A flood warning was in effect for eastern and southern Yellowstone county through Tuesday night. Flood watches were issued for 13 southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming counties.