Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The weather gods are in a foul mood. So feel the people of villages in north Sikkim, India. What else can explain the weather change three years back that hit their flourishing cardamom plantation, and then last month's earthquake which snatched away the vestiges of their livelihood. "We don't know what to do. We are getting food packets which have given us immediate relief...but what about the future? Who will take care of us in the days and months ahead?"
Cardamom farmers in north Sikkim led a comfortable life until five years back. "But three years back, things changed. Because of a change in the weather pattern, the crop failed us... and it continued." Left with little choice, a number of people started looking for alternate options of livelihood and decided to set up small businesses. "In north Sikkim, a number of dams, at least five of them, are being constructed on the Teesta river. Most of the workers on the dams are migrants. Less than 10 percent workers are locals. So the locals decided that petty businesses like eateries and shops are a viable option since a lot of outsiders live there. It had picked up and people had started to earn a decent living when this earthquake happened and the workers fled." The September 18, 6.8 magnitude quake caused utter devastation in Sikkim - especially in the north - killing at least 80 people and injuring many others. It also shook parts of neighbouring states like Assam, West Bengal, Bihar as well as Nepal, Tibet and Bangladesh. A number of those killed were labourers working on the dams. As fear and panic spread, a number of migrant workers fled the state, leaving locals in the lurch.
"Our businesses were heavily dependent on the outsiders. Now we are left facing an uncertain future once again. We don't know when they will return, if they return at all." Even three weeks after the quake, a number of places especially in north Sikkim are still cut off. "For example, Toong which is beyond Chungthang, is still cut off. Then again, many roads are still blocked and relief material to these places is stuck. As per our estimation, for the connectivity to be completely restored it will take at least four - five months." Nearly 90 percent houses were destroyed in the quake and some locals have started re-building their homes. "But we have advised them to wait for the government to intervene and construct the houses with technical support, so that they are more resistant to quakes and the rough weather."

**There is far more opportunity than there is ability.**
Thomas A. Edison

This morning -

Yesterday -
CANARY ISLANDS - (34 total) 2.5, 2.7, 2.5, 2.7, 2.7, 2.8, 2.9, 2.5, 2.9, 2.6, 2.8, 2.5, 3.1, 3.7, 2.8, 2.7, 3.4, 2.5, 2.5, 3.1, 2.8, 3.0, 2.9, 2.7, 2.5, 2.5, 2.6, 2.5, 3.1, 3.1, 2.6, 2.7, 3.4, 3.1, 2.5


NEW ZEALAND - Volcano alert level not raised despite sulphur smell. The volcanic alert level at Ruapehu remains at one, despite the temperature of the crater lake rising towards conditions typical for an eruption. Skiers on the Whakapapa ski field have reported smelling hydrogen sulphide gas in recent weeks. Volcanologists say this is because the temperature of the crater lake is cooler, which tends to produce more gas. The latest Volcanic Alert Bulletin says the lake's temperature on 29 September was 17.6 degrees Celsius. In March, the temperature peaked at 41 degrees Celsius. The lake is heading towards a temperature where volcanic activity typically occurs, but doesn't always. Ruapehu is an active volcano and future eruptions may occur with little or no warning. The eruption detection system on the mountain functioned well during a test last week.

In the Atlantic -
-Tropical storm Philippe was located about 755 mi (1220 km) SE of Bermuda.

In the Pacific -
-Tropical Storm 22w (Nalgae) was located 340 nm east-southeast of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Tropical Storm Philippe expected to take a sharp turn to northwest - Philippe is moving west-southwestward, and is expected to turn toward the west by late today. There are no coastal watches or warnings in effect. Philippe could become a hurricane by Wednesday. Philippe is then forecast to slow down significantly and turn sharply northwestward by late Wednesday. Maximum sustained winds are near 65 mph, with higher gusts. Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 105 miles from the center.

China braces for another powerful tropical storm - Thousands of fishing boats have been called back to port in southern China as authorities brace for the arrival of tropical storm Nalgae, which has already wreaked havoc in the Philippines. Some parts of southern China are still reeling from the damage caused by tropical storm Nesat, which forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents, triggered floods and toppled houses. Authorities in the island resort of Hainan said on Monday they had ordered more than 27,000 boats back to harbour. Nalgae, which has weakened from a typhoon to a tropical storm, was currently at sea and moving towards the island, packing winds of up to 108 kilometres (67 miles) an hour. The storm could make landfall in Hainantoday, just days after Nesat hit the island as a typhoon before weakening to a tropical storm. Nesat caused damage in Hainan, but wreaked more havoc in the southern region of Guangxi where it triggered widespread flooding, killing four people and causing direct economic losses of at least 1.6 billion yuan ($251 million). Both Nesat and Nalgae have devastated the Philippines, which deployed helicopters, inflatable boats and amphibious vehicles in attempts to evacuate tens of thousands stuck in rising flood waters. The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council in Manila has recorded three fatalities from Nalgae, and said Nesat left at least 55 people dead after it unleashed strong winds and devastating floods. Another 28 remain missing while 360,000 people are either in evacuation centres or stranded in the flooded areas and in need of relief.

PHILIPPINES - A low-pressure area that was expected to intensify into a cyclone this week dissipated on Tuesday but state weather forecasters said another weather disturbance looms.

FEMA payouts to weather-ravaged areas of the U. S. have surged in the last decade. - In the aftermath of Irene and Lee, a tide of federal generosity has washed across the Pennsylvania region. For the first time since 1965, residents of Philadelphia and the seven surrounding counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are eligible for disaster aid from Washington.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has worked diligently to encourage people to apply for the assistance, and more than 35,000 in the region have. FEMA is operating recovery centers seven days a week from West Chester to Philadelphia to Pennsauken. As of Friday, the agency had committed $350 million for the two storms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Delaware was added to the eligible list late Friday.
But in a year that already has SET A NATIONAL RECORD FOR PRESIDENTIAL DISASTER DECLARATIONS, whatever is spent around here will be just so many drops in a rapidly filling bucket.
Even though the national heart is in the right place, some economists and risk experts wonder whether the nation is spending its way toward a disaster of another type - financial. They wonder whether the nation is developing a FEMA dependency. The $80 billion in FEMA aid over the last decade is more than quadruple the amount doled out in the 1960s, adjusted for inflation. By the end of the century, the cumulative federal disaster price tag could spiral into the trillions.
Certainly all of this has something to do with the weather. Hurricanes remain the No. 1 driver of disaster costs, and the nation is still paying bills for the horrific 2004 and 2005 seasons. Recent extreme weather has hammered the country, including this year's record floods and devastating tornado season. Climate change could be a factor, at least in the flooding; various studies point to an increase in extreme precipitation on a warming planet. Long before FEMA, though, hurricanes were affecting the United States, and the weather was extreme somewhere almost every day. That's not surprising, as the nation is in the center of a battleground between polar and tropical air masses, which is why it has more tornadoes than anywhere else in the world.
It is whacked by storms from the Pacific, nor'easters that blow up near the Gulf Stream, and juice-laden storms from the Gulf of Mexico.
Yet before the disaster program began in the 1950s, communities were reluctant to turn to the federal government for help. Now disaster has evolved into a "stealth entitlement" and is viewed as a "protector of risk." Given the level of building nationwide in the last six decades - not all of it wise - that's particularly problematic. The anticipation of federal largesse has contributed to widespread under-insurance. That's bad for the Treasury and some of the disaster victims. "Today people may be expecting more disaster relief than they're going to receive." In the 1950s, FEMA averaged just 13 presidential disaster declarations a year. So far in 2011, a record 83 declarations have been issued. That beats the old record of 81, set last year.
"Our tendency to want to help people quickly recover and communities quickly rebuild does not often include the harder choices needed to reduce long-term risk. It's a conundrum that society is facing." Continued development in risky areas will mean continued risk of disasters. "We're digging ourselves a hole. Nobody should be surprised when disaster losses increase", along with the nation's disaster bills.


SOUTH AFRICA - Hundreds of Free State families have been left homeless, 42 people injured and a nine-year-old boy is dead after a tornado ripped through the north-eastern sections of the country on Sunday.
The storm – attributed to an extreme thunderstorm system – tore through the Free State town of Ficksburg on Sunday afternoon. In Springs, Gauteng, a similar wind system struck, terrifying residents, who inundated the South African Weather Service with alerts about the storm. By late on Sunday night the South African Weather Service website was still carrying storm warning “flashes” of severe thunderstorms in the North West Province, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the north-eastern sections of the Free State.
Within hours of the storm flattening Ficksburg’s Meqheleng informal settlement, the town’s disaster relief plan had been activated, with emergency personnel responding from across the province. The area looked like a disaster zone with “houses flattened as far as one could see. From reports we are receiving from our personnel on the ground it is a total disaster. Everywhere one looks there is debris...A massive overnight search and rescue operation was launched to find people who have been reported missing. Also, to look for residents who have been injured and may be trapped under the wreckage of their homes. The situation on the ground is really bad and is not being helped by the fact that the storm hit late in the day, which makes searching for people difficult. Reports we have received estimate that at least 1,000 homes have been destroyed.”
“Reports indicate that winds, which were part of a larger storm system, were in excess of 70km/h, which are very, very strong and associated with extremely severe thunderstorm systems...While these types of windy conditions are not unusual for this time of year, tornadoes are." Meanwhile 113 people were injured when a tornado hit Duduza outside Nigel, in Gauteng, on Sunday. "One hundred and eight people sustained minor injuries ranging from multiple scratches to bruises to even some fractures, and then five people, which is a total of 113, sustained more serious injuries."

THAILAND - Government should have tackled flood crisis earlier. Water and weather experts have expressed disappointment with the government's action in dealing with the flood situation - saying setting up sandbag walls and distributing flood relief bags to victims are not the way to overcome a flood crisis.
"We cannot handle this crisis situation with normal measures."
Signs of impending flood crisis had been seen since March when heavy rain began falling in the southern part of Thailand, while other regions faced cold weather even though March is the summer season. "This was a 60-YEAR EXTREME WEATHER EVENT which brought a large amount of rainfall over the country. Our agency told the Royal Irrigation Department in July, before tropical storm Nok-Ten hit the country, there would be abnormal weather this year, and the RID should treat this year's flood with crisis measures not just normal measures."
Since early this year, Thailand has been hit by two tropical storms - Hai Ma and Nok-Ten. As a result, a lot of dams - especially big dams such as Bhumibol and Sirikit - were almost full from rainwater and had insufficient capacity to collect water when further heavy rain fell. At the same time, heavy rain was falling outside the dam area and causing floods in many areas. "There was no place for the water to go." Thailand has three main rivers to drain water to the sea - the Ta Chin, Chao Phraya and Bang Prakong - but all were swollen to capacity by rainwater. "We have to rethink the way we handle flood crisis events - and we have many opportunities every year." Agencies should encourage members of the public, especially farmers, to change their behaviour on agricultural activities and respond to the changes in weather patterns. Urban areas, especially residential and those with infrastructure, should not be established in natural reservoirs and block waterways. "We have to accept that much damage from floods was not caused by heavy rainfall but by human activity."
TMD can now forecast weather only for 24 hours and with an accuracy of only 79 per cent. It relies on a super computer that was installed 10 years ago for these predictions. "If the government wants to achieve weather forecast accuracy, it must allocate more funds to our agency to get the latest weather forecasting with new technology. How can we fight this enemy in the war [against flooding] without a weapon?"
The government failed to gain the cooperation of all involved parties while dealing with the flood crisis. "Thailand's flood problem was not caused by natural disaster but by the failure of government management. If the government still blames just heavy rain, bad weather or even global warming, it will never know what are the real causes of flood crises." The Asian Institute of Technology conducted research 10 years ago which found that road structures were the major cause of the flood crisis in many areas across the country, as many roads blocked the natural flow of water. Additionally, residential areas, government buildings and educational institutes were built on natural channels, which originally drained water in flood seasons. "We spent over Bt1 billion to study and discover how to handle a flood crisis. We already have all the knowledge [we need] about the situation, but we have no-one to make a determination strong enough to solve the problem. All the government and local governments are doing now is to set up sandbags along rivers and distribute flood relief bags to victims. This is not the right way to deal with floods. It is just another way to create more problems in other areas."


Second Pacific isle in drought emergency- Drought is set to create food shortages in the South Pacific, officials in Wellington have warned after a second community declared a state of emergency due to lack of water. Tokelau, a New Zealand-administered territory of about 1400 people, had less than a week's drinking water after a long drought blamed on a La Nina weather pattern. Tokelau declared a state of emergency late yesteray, following a similar move in neighbouring Tuvalu, where a New Zealand air force plane landed on Monday carrying containers of water and desalination units.
"There's been a state of emergency declared in Tokelau as well, where there are three islands, (they are) New Zealand citizens and they're down to less than a week's drinking water there too." Other islands in the South Pacific are also reporting water shortages and New Zealand is carrying out a regional assessment amid fears the drought could lead to crop failures and food shortages. "We're now doing an assessment, not just in Tuvalu but also in other areas of the Pacific that are affected by the shortage of rainfall, making sure we deal with the drinking water issue most urgently. There are going to be some flow-on effects here, clearly this is having a severe impact on crops, so there's likely to be a food shortage as well." The situation was urgent in parts of Tuvalu. "There's less than a week's supply of drinking water on Funafuti, that's the main island in Tuvalu. I understand one of the other outlying islands, Nukulaelae, has a more urgent shortage and there is a desalination plant on the way there." New Zealand, a major aid donor in the Pacific "may yet be called upon to help in some other places".
Tuvalu, one of the world's smallest independent nations with less than 11,000 residents, lies about halfway between Australia and Hawaii. Tokelau is is about 500km to the east. A Red Cross situation report on Tuvalu released last week said the former British colony relied mostly on rainwater, which had been scarce this year because of the La Nina weather pattern. La Nina causes extreme weather, including both drought and floods, and was blamed for deluges in Australia, South-East Asia and South America over late 2010 and early 2011.