Wednesday, December 14, 2011

US sees MOST SEVERE PRECIPITATION EXTREMES ON RECORD - is it linked to “superjets”? Through November, 2011 has experienced THE MOST EXTENSIVE COVERAGE OF SEVERE DROUGHT AND ABNORMALLY WET CONDITIONS ON RECORD. This follows news that a record number of billion dollar weather disasters have occurred this year in the U.S.. NOAA’s Climate Extreme Index reveals that (for the period covering January through November) 56% of the U.S. is experiencing either severe drought or extremely wet conditions, way above the historical average of 22%. 1934, due almost exclusively to pervasive drought, is the only year which even comes close to 2011 in terms of the area affected by precipitation extremes. More than 50% of the country was afflicted by drought conditions in that Dust Bowl year.
2011 is somewhat unique in the historical record in that it ranks in the top 10 for both drought AND heavy precipitation coverage. In many of the other extreme years, it was either usually wet or unusually dry, not both.
The prevailing La Nina pattern has supported the presence of a powerful jet stream slicing through the middle of the country, bringing bout after bout of stormy weather. But to the south and southwest of that jet stream, the moisture abruptly shut off leading to historic drought. Global warming may have something to do with the contrasts in this pattern. Added heat to the atmosphere juices up the wet extremes by making more water vapor available, while speeding up evaporation and drying in drought areas.
And in a new twist, researchers have identified the development of “superjets” in the Pacific ocean that may have fueled some of this year’s severe weather and heavy rains. These superjets form in the western Pacific when the subtropical jet stream lifts north and combines with polar jet stream. These superjets can bring powerful storms to the Nation’s mid-section and Southeast 7-10 days after they form. “If the subtropical jet stream is rearranged and superposed on top of the polar jet stream, it might be the mechanism that allows for this very long delay, a disturbance that can have discernible effect on severe weather thousands of miles downstream, and a week or more later." UNUSUALLY strong jet stream winds were linked to some of the spring’s historic, deadly tornado outbreaks. An analysis of the frequency of these superjets has not been published, so it’s not clear if they were more common in 2011 or if there’s a global warming link. “Historic weather data should tell us whether there has been a change in the frequency of these overlapping events, and whether that might be linked to a change in high impact-weather events." (graphs)

**As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult,
but in fighting the difficulties
the inmost strength of the heart is developed.**
Vincent Van Gogh

This morning -

Yesterday -
12/13/11 -

A violent 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Papua New Guinea today, shaking buildings and swaying powerlines, but no immediate tsunami warning was issued.
The quake, initially rated at 7.3, struck at 3:04 pm (0504 GMT) at a depth of 121 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of the coastal city of Lae and 221 kilometres from the capital Port Moresby. Witnesses in Port Moresby said people came running out of buildings and parked cars rocked. "It was pretty strong, everybody felt it. I was siting in my car when it hit and it was rocking, rocking, rocking." Geoscience Australia said it was not expected to create a tsunami. "It's not tsunamigenic. That's the assessment on the basis that it's about 20 kilometres inshore and also it's about 120 kilometres deep and that's too deep really to cause any tsunami problems."
But the quake could cause other problems for the nearest largest town, Wau, about 20 kilometres from the epicentre, and Lae. "It's in a mountainous area so there may be issues of landslides and things like that, that's what's the main problem in that particular part of Papua New Guinea." Papua New Guinea is regularly hit by earthquakes due to its proximity to the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire".

Small earthquakes shake up central Maine - Four minor earthquakes jostled the earth under central Maine on Sunday. One quake, which measured 1.0 on the Richter scale, occurred at 4:42 p.m.; the second happened at 11:46 p.m. and measured 1.4. The quakes were detected near the small towns of Millinocket, Lincoln, and Howland. Two other weaker quakes of less than 1.0-magnitude were also recorded in the area. “If you were standing right over the epicenter, you might hear a low rumbling noise."
There is debate among scientists about what causes earthquakes of this size in the region, but it may be a result of movement in the Mid-Atlantic ridge, the area where two tectonic plates meet in the middle of the ocean. The earthquakes are “way too small to cause any sort of damage." The earthquakes were located in an extensive forest area in the Central Penobscot region.


IRELAND - The HIGHEST WAVE EVER RECORDED IN IRISH WATERS hit off the Donegal coast, measuring 20.4 metres in height. As it turned out, the most northerly tip of the country, Malin Head, experienced winds gusting at 140km/h (87mph). The result was a historic wave off the Donegal cast that came from a force ten storm. The wave itself was measured from a special buoy and was sent from 60 miles from the Irish coast. Amazingly, the buoy's recording, which was positioned 16km west of Rossan Point, trumped the previous wave record which was set just three hours earlier at 11am. “There was a record wave of 20.2 metres earlier but it didn’t last very long. The previous record was something like 16 metres so it’s a significant jump in magnitude.”
"The combination of tides, forecasted gale warnings for the next day or so, high sea conditions and swollen rivers may result in very dangerous conditions. I would ask each and every road user to use the roads safely over the coming week. With bad weather forecast, we need to be prepared for these severe weather conditions of stormy winds, patches of ice and snow showers." Although conditions are expected to ease up in the coming days, there is a possibility that a second storm, currently raging over the Atlantic, may hit the south and midlands of Ireland.

In the Western Pacific -
-Tropical depression 26w was located approximately 270 nm southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Final warning notice was issued.

-Tropical depression 27w was located approximately 365 nm east-southeast of Palau.

Australia weather bureau says above average cyclone risk through December - Australia's weather bureau warned on Tuesday that the country faced an above average risk of tropical cyclones through December due to weather conditions in the Indian Ocean. "The current MJO (Madden-Julian Oscillation) event spawned the first tropical cyclone for the Australian cyclone season, Severe Tropical Cyclone Alenga, which formed in the Indian Ocean last week," the bureau said in a regular climate note. "The risk of tropical cyclone formation in the Australian region is likely to remain above average for most of December, with increased rainfall across northern Australia during this period."

Tropical depression hitting central Vietnam - For the past few days, the tropical depression moving in the East Sea has been causing high tides and destroying many houses in central Vietnam. The depression, which was about 220 km from Truong Sa (Spratly) islands, was moving at 10 km with winds of 63-75 kph and can be upgraded into a storm. In the past few days, the depression has caused bad weather to many central provinces, including Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai and Phu Yen. The sea of Binh Dinh Province has been violently rough while its coastal areas have been suffering a northwest wind of 45-62 kph with gusts of 75 kph. Vessels of more than 447 fishing households in Nhon Chau Island Commune have failed to land on or leave Qui Nhon City for the last four days, causing a standstill of fishing activities in the area.
In Quang Ngai Province, violent sea waves have destroyed at least 48 houses in coastal areas and high tides have caused serious landslides in An Cuong Hamlet in Binh Son District. 17 families have been evacuated to safe places and 170 others might be evacuated in days to come. In Phu Yen Province, high tides have been threatening residents in Tuy Hoa City’s An Phu Commune and Tuy An District’s An Ninh Dong Commune for the past few days. Especially, sea waves of 2 to 3 m have submerged An Phu Commune’s Ro Hamlet yesterday. Authorities evacuated more than 40 families to safe places but a number of houses were destroyed. About 270 soldiers have also been mobilized to help locals set up embankments with bags of sand to prevent high tides.
In a separate development, northern Vietnam will suffer another cold snap as of December 15. The temperature will drop to 11 to 14 Celsius degree in daytime and 15 to 18 Celsius degree at night. In high mountainous areas like Mau Son, Sap, Sin Ho and O Quy Ho Pass, the temperature will plunge to 3-5 Celsius degree or lower.


ALASKA - Anchorage blown away by extreme weather. On the edge of what other city in North America can you get knocked flat by hurricane-force winds in a blizzard roaring up the suburban neighborhood street you've boldly started down in an effort to find out what caused the power outage? And where else in the country would they knock on the door of a neighbor to tell him the high-voltage lines carrying power across the valley have been torn completely off the pole next to his house, leading him to look at you and ask, "You'll do anything for a cheap thrill, won't you?'' And then laugh as another gust hit, and his house shook, and the adjacent power line whipped around like it was going to crack? But then they've been through this a few times before. Only a week earlier, the hurricane-force winds that rolled across the Anchorage Hillside tore a separate insulator loose from the same power pole and left the line bouncing and swaying in the wind. It was a different line from the one that tore an insulator out of the cross bar this time. That line then hit another, caused a whole lot of sparks, and kicked out a breaker.
Everyone in Anchorage should own a Coleman lantern or some equivalent, as this is a city vulnerable to power outages either by wind or earthquake. The semi-official report from the National Weather Service, recorded at a home in the neighborhood, was 97 mph. T)he interim director of Alaska Climate Science Center wondered if the big blows might be linked to the warming off the ocean. Storms generate significantly more energy over warm water than cold. .The warm water in the North Pacific was thought to be a significant player in what some called the "Arctic hurricane'' that ripped into the Bering Sea and Western Alaska last month. The storm pounded the coast with winds up to 90 mph and left widespread damage. The Governor later declared the region a disaster area. This year has produced more than its share of blasts (odd for a La Nina winter). The latest storm is still too fresh for anyone to get a full damage assessment. It began to die on Sunday night, sometime after the power came back on around supper time.

Snow and strong winds disrupt travel in Scotland - Snow and high winds have disrupted road and rail travel across Scotland. Gusts of up to 70mph swept across the central belt and forecasters warned of heavy snow on high ground. In the Highlands, seven vehicles were involved in a collision which closed the A9 at Dalwhinnie for almost seven hours. Rail services were severely disrupted, with one passenger being injured after a train travelling from Wick struck a fallen tree at Inverness. The Met Office upgraded its weather alert from yellow to amber for heavy snow across some parts of the country. Amber warnings cover Central, Tayside, Fife, Strathclyde, the south-west of Scotland, Lothian and Borders, Highlands and Western Isles. The Grampian area is on yellow, while southern and western Scotland could also experience very strong winds at times. The A83 at Rest And Be Thankful was closed for emergency repairs because of the severe weather and remained closed overnight. In the Shawlands area on the south side of Glasgow, the A77 Kilmarnock Road was closed in both directions because of an unsafe building. The fire service were dealing with a satellite dish which was hanging from a tenement.


A mysterious epidemic is sweeping Central America - it's the second biggest cause of death among men in El Salvador, and in Nicaragua it's a bigger killer of men than HIV and diabetes combined. It's unexplained but the latest theory is that the victims are literally working themselves to death. In the western lowlands of Nicaragua, in a region of vast sugar cane fields, sits the tiny community of La Isla. A pale man, his cheekbones protrude from his face, hunches over like an old man - but he is only 19 years old. "The way this sickness is - you see me now, but in a month I could be gone. It can take you down all of a sudden." His kidneys are failing. They do not perform the essential function of filtering waste from his body - he's being poisoned from the inside. When he got ill two years ago, he was already familiar with this disease and how it might end. "I thought about my father and grandfather." Both died of the same condition. Three of his brothers have it too. All of them worked in the sugar cane fields.
Kidney disease has killed so many men here that locals now call their community not simply La Isla - which means "The Island" - but La Isla de las Viudas - "The Island of the Widows." The epidemic extends far beyond Nicaragua. It's prevalent along the Pacific coast of Central America - across six countries. "It is important that the chronic kidney disease (CKD) afflicting thousands of rural workers in Central America be recognised as what it is - a major epidemic with a tremendous population impact." El Salvador's health minister recently called on the international community for help. She said the epidemic is "wasting away our populations".
At a health clinic in El Salvador, in the farming region of Bajo Lempa, a doctor recently found that a quarter of the men in his area suffered from it.
Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, is permanent or long-lasting kidney damage. CKD is often without any symptoms in the early stages, so many people don't know they have it until the later stages, when symptoms include anaemia (with weakness/breathlessness), bone disease, nausea and vomiting. Final-stage CKD patients may die without dialysis or a kidney transplant. In the developed world, the primary causes of CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure, which are becoming more common as a result of increasing obesity, lack of exercise, and high salt intake. In the developing world, the main causes are chronic infections like HIV, viral hepatitis, malaria, and tuberculosis. What's more, most of the men who are ill show no signs of high blood pressure or diabetes - the most common causes of CKD elsewhere in the world. "Most of the men we studied have CKD from unknown causes." What the men in his area have in common is they all work in farming. So the doctor thinks a major cause of their kidney damage is the toxic chemicals - pesticides and herbicides - that are routinely used here in agriculture. "These chemicals are banned in the United States, Europe and Canada, and they're used here, without any protection, and in large amounts that are very concerning." But he's not ready to rule out other possible causes. For instance, the overuse of painkillers can damage the kidneys, and so can drinking too much alcohol. Both are major problems here.
In Nicaragua, the disease has become a political issue. In 2006, the World Bank gave a loan to Nicaragua's largest sugar company to build an ethanol plant. Plantation workers filed a complaint, saying the company's working conditions and use of chemicals were fuelling the epidemic. They said the loan violated the bank's own standards for worker safety and environmental practices. In response, the bank agreed to fund a study to try to identify the cause of the epidemic. "The evidence points us most strongly to a hypothesis that heat stress might be a cause of this disease." A team has found it's not just sugar cane workers who are falling ill. Miners and port workers also suffer high rates of kidney disease, yet they're not exposed to farm chemicals. What these men have in common, is they all work long hours in extreme heat. "Day after day of hard manual labour in hot conditions - without sufficient replacement of fluids - could lead to effects on the kidney that are not obvious at first but over time accumulate to the point that it enters into a diseased state. This has never been so far shown to cause chronic kidney disease, so we would be talking about a new mechanism that has not so far been described in the scientific literature." But a new preliminary study bolsters this hypothesis. His team tested blood and urine from sugar cane workers who perform different jobs. The scientists found more evidence of kidney damage in the workers who have more strenuous jobs outside. This explanation makes sense. It's been long suspected that part of the problem is the way sugar cane workers are paid - receiving more money the more sugar cane they cut. "This way of working forces people to do more than they are able to do, and this is not good for their health."
"Working in the field made us feel dizzy and nauseous. We often had fevers." A worker who now has kidney disease heads an organisation of sugar cane workers in Nicaragua who are ill. He's convinced that something on the sugar plantations is causing the sickness. Whatever it is, he says, those who are ill need treatment with dialysis - which can keep them alive when their kidneys fail. But few can get it because dialysis is extremely expensive and rarely available. For their part, the sugar cane companies say they're not convinced that farm chemicals or working conditions on their plantations are to blame for the epidemic.