Cold, disease threaten more than half a million Syrians fleeing Idlib fighting

By Khalil Ashawi

AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) – Cold weather, disease and a lack of shelter and medicine threaten hundreds of thousands of civilians as they flee fighting in Idlib province, in one of the biggest upheavals of Syria’s nine-year civil war, aid groups and doctors said.

The migrants, their numbers swelling by the day, are trapped between advancing Syrian government forces, keen to crush the last significant opposition stronghold, and Turkey’s closed border.

Some are having to flee by foot, while many others are having to sleep in their cars, as Syrian and Russian warplanes bombard the highways leading north toward Turkey.

A U.N. official appealed for emergency financial assistance to help an estimated 800,000 people in northwest Syria to survive the coming months.

“People are facing a tragedy. For the last two weeks it’s been very, very cold. There is rain and mud, and influenza is spreading,” said Wassim Zakaria, a doctor who works in a clinic in Idlib city that closed on Monday due to heavy bombardment.

The numbers on the move have increased in recent days as the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad advanced to within 8 km (5 miles) of Idlib city, said Selim Tosun, the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation’s (IHH) media adviser in Syria.

“If the cold weather continues…there is a risk of epidemics as a large migrant flow is coming,” he said.

Since November, 692,000 people have abandoned towns south of Idlib city, Tosun said. The number “is rising every hour” and could reach 1 million, he added.

Zakaria said people had also started to flee from Idlib city but their options for shelter were limited, with people forced to sleep in cars or tents, many near the walled-off border which prevents Syrians taking refuge in Turkey.

“It’s like people are imprisoned here. Last week women and children demonstrated at the border, asking to be allowed across,” he said.

Turkey’s IHH is distributing urgent aid and blankets to those traveling on the highway from Idlib city and has set up 2,000 tents, with plans to put up another 1,500, Tosun said.

Some 700 breeze-block dwellings have also been built out of a total 10,000 which Turkey is planning to erect in the region south of its border, he said.

He added that many people were now seeking shelter beyond Idlib province, already home to waves of civilians displaced earlier in Syria’s civil war, and were heading toward Afrin and Azaz, areas just to the northeast under the control of Turkish-led Syrian rebel forces.


David Swanson, U.N. regional spokesperson for the Syria crisis, said $336 million was urgently needed to help those being displaced, with shelter a critical problem.

“This crisis continues to deteriorate by the minute. This is easily one of the largest waves of displacements since the (Syrian civil war) began in March 2011,” Swanson said.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are in now in urgent need of critical, life-saving assistance,” he said.

The United Nations has put the number of displaced from the Idlib fighting since Dec. 1 at 520,000, with a further 280,000 seen at “imminent risk of displacement”.

Many of the displaced are staying with host communities who themselves are struggling to cope, while others have sought shelter in schools or mosques, or are sleeping in their vehicles or in the open air, said Swanson.

“The humanitarian situation in Syria is more catastrophic than ever before. Who would have imagined that entire cities would be displaced in a single month?” said Atef Nanou, manager of Molham Volunteering Team, a relief group in northern Syria.

He said he had encountered families unable to get away from the bombing because they couldn’t afford fuel for their car or transportation costs.

“So they either stayed despite the bombing or went out on foot on the international road that the Syrian regime and Russian warplanes are bombing around the clock,” Nanou added.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Daren Butler in Istanbul and Eric Knecht in Beirut; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Land of the freeze: arctic wave hits U.S. Midwest, Northeast

Trees are seen after the record snowfall in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 26, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken December 26, 2017.

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Most of the U.S. Northeast and Midwest grappled with a post-Christmas deep freeze on Thursday, with temperatures expected to plunge as low as minus 20 degrees F (minus 29 C) in North Dakota as forecasters warned that the harsh winter weather could usher in the New Year.

Tioga, about 200 miles (322 km) north of Bismarck, took honors as the coldest spot in the continental United States, according to National Weather Service (NWS) spokesman Bob Oravec. The mercury dived to minus 15 F early on Thursday afternoon.

“By tomorrow morning, low temperatures will probably be 15 to 20 degrees below zero in the northern and northwestern areas of North Dakota, maybe even in north Minnesota,” Oravec said.

On Wednesday, International Falls, Minnesota, about 300 miles north of Minneapolis, lived up to its reputation as the “Icebox of the Nation.” The low temperature there dropped to 37 degrees F below zero, breaking the old record for the day of 32 degrees below, set in 1924. Temperatures moderated to minus 2 F on Thursday.

Mayor Bob Anderson told Reuters that a local paper mill had to reduce operations because of the cold. But he said mail was still being delivered, and the town’s roughly 6,000 weather-hardened residents were taking the cold in stride.

For most of the region encompassing New England, northern Pennsylvania and New York, the NWS issued wind chill advisories or warnings. Temperatures in the region ranged from highs in the teens and 20s F to lows in the single digits or below zero.

For upstate New York, east of Lake Ontario, the NWS warned of “dangerously” cold wind chills of minus 5 F to minus 30 F through Friday. In northern Vermont, conditions are even more brutal, with wind chills threatening to bottom out at minus 40 F.

On Twitter, the hashtag #ItsSoCold was the No. 1 trending topic in the United States on Thursday as social media users expressed their frustration with Old Man Winter.

“When your landlord doesn’t have the heat on during the workweek so the cat sitting in your lap isn’t just cute, but also practical. #ItsSoCold,” wrote user Walton Clark on Twitter.

Erie, a city of about 100,000 on the shores of Lake Erie in northwest Pennsylvania, was expecting a fresh round of winter storms that could bring as much as an additional 10 inches (25 cm) of “lake effect” snow, forecasters said. The area is already buried under more than 65 inches from a record-breaking storm earlier this week.

The accumulations, heavy even by the standards of the Great Lakes’ eastern shores, resulted from a wave of Arctic air moving across the relatively mild waters of the lake, forecasters said.

Light and heavy snow was also expected to fall this weekend in many other parts of the United States, from Montana to Maine, forecasters said.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Cold persists in U.S. Midwest as Pacific Northwest braces for snow

People walk by snow-covered statue

(Reuters) – Arctic air blowing through Chicago and other parts of the U.S. Midwest was expected to keep the region under a deep freeze on Wednesday, as residents of Oregon were blanketed with snow from a separate weather system, forecasters said.

Temperatures in Chicago, the nation’s third largest city, were expected to plunge to between 13 and 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 11 to minus 5 degrees Celsius) with a wind chill factor as low as minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit, the National Weather Service said in an advisory.

Arctic air spreading from Canada across much of the northern United States this week has led authorities to warn people against frostbite.

The Midwest was expected to experience colder weather than on Tuesday, at the outset of the arctic air blast, National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Orrison of the agency’s Weather Prediction Center said by telephone.

“People certainly, if they’re going to be out and about, need to dress warmly and wear multiple layers of clothes,” Orrison said.

A few inches of snow could fall on areas around the Great Lakes in Michigan and New York state, he said.

But snowfall from another storm coming to the Pacific Northwest and Northern California was likely to cause greater havoc for people’s travel plans than the snow around the Great Lakes, Orrison said.

The snowfall is due to a Pacific low pressure system and expanding moisture, National Weather Service officials said in a national advisory.

Between 4 and 8 inches (10 and 20 cm) of snow could fall in central and eastern Oregon, with the Cascade mountain range in the Pacific Northwest receiving up to 1 foot of snow, Orrison said.

The weather system that will cover parts of the Pacific Northwest with snow was expected to spread eastward later in the week.

Meanwhile, the blast of arctic air that has placed the Midwest under a deep chill will also blow eastward, bringing potentially record low temperatures to parts of the mid-Atlantic region on Thursday, Orrison said.

Cities from Boston to Washington will feel the chill beginning on Thursday and lasting at least until Friday, he said.

“For these areas it will be the coldest air of the season so far,” Orrison said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Alison Williams)

Extreme cold weather affects large portions of United States

Large portions of the United States were experiencing dangerously low temperatures on Monday morning, with wind chills poised to hit some 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero in certain areas.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories in parts of 16 states, warning that gusty winds and low temperatures could lead to frostbite in as little as 20 minutes in some areas.

The warnings covered portions of Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee. Temperatures were expected to remain below 20 degrees in almost all of the advisory areas, and large portions were expecting sub-zero or single-digit temperatures.

Wind gusts in the high teens drove the perceived temperature down further, the service said. People affected by the extreme cold were advised to dress warmly and cover all exposed skin.

The National Weather Service said the temperatures were “below-normal” and would shift further east over the next two days. Lake effect snow warnings were in effect for portions of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and the service said there was a chance of heavy snow before Tuesday night. Some parts of New York could receive up to 20 inches, forecasts say.

Winter Storm Cara Bringing Dangerous Mix

Winter Storm Cara will make traveling for Thanksgiving and for those returning home, slow going and in some places quite dangerous for a great deal of the middle of the country. According to the Weather Channel, this strong system will bring a mixture of flooding rain, heavy snow and treacherous icing conditions.  The possibility for black ice is a great concern as well as power outages from freezing rain.

Accuweather has reported that freezing rain has already been reported in the early morning hours of Thanksgiving in parts of northeast Colorado, eastern Wyoming and Nebraska.

The National Weather Service has issued an ice storm warning for portions of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, including the city of Amarillo, Texas, as well as parts of southern Kansas. These warnings are valid from Thursday night into Friday or Saturday.

Cities that could experience one or more periods of freezing rain and drizzle include Amarillo, Texas; Gage, Oklahoma; Dodge City, Kansas; Lamar, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; and Des Moines, Iowa.

According to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dave Bowers, “People traveling either a short or long distance from the eastern slopes of the Rockies to the Plains, Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes region are likely to encounter delays into Friday.”

Snow is expected from the central and eastern parts of Colorado and Wyoming to central Nebraska, northwestern Kansas, northwestern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota. The slushy snow will harden as the temperatures fall so caution is urged.

The most widespread impact on travel will be associated with drenching rain during Thanksgiving Day into Friday.

“Motorists will need to slow down due to patchy fog and blowing spray and to reduce the risk of hydroplaning,” Bowers said.

Enough rain can fall in some locations to cause flash flooding. The greatest risk of flooding  will extend from north-central Texas to southern Missouri.

For those traveling in these areas be sure to check weather conditions before heading out on the road.  

Latest Study Warns “Day After Tomorrow” Ice Age Closer Than We Think

When the apocalyptic film first released, critics from both the entertainment and science communities ridiculed the movie over the possibility of climate change having such an extreme affect on the world. However, a recent study by researchers from the University of Southampton has found that we are closer to a “Day After Tomorrow” scenario than we thought.

In the film, climate warming results in the collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) – a major current in the Atlantic Ocean that has a northward flow of warm, salty water in the upper layers of the Atlantic and a southward flow of colder water in the deep Atlantic. This leads to New York being flooded, tornadoes in Los Angeles, and finally the north hemisphere freezing and experiencing an Ice Age.

Researchers discovered that if global warming and the collapse of the AMOC occur at the same time, the Earth will cool for a period of 20 years. After the 20 years, global warming would continue as if the AMOC never collapsed and the global average temperature would offset by approximately 0.8 degrees Celsius. They used an advanced climate model at Germany’s Max-Planck Institute to simulate the conditions.

“The planet earth recovers from the AMOC collapse in about 40 years when global warming continues at present-day rates, but near the eastern boundary of the North Atlantic (including the British Isles) it takes more than a century before temperature is back to normal,” Professor Sybren Drijfhout, from Ocean and Earth Science Department at the University of Southampton, said in the release.

The AMOC depends on a connect of the warm north waters and the cool southern waters that flow deep in the North Atlantic. Due to global warming, the Greenland ice sheet has begun to melt into the AMOC, affecting the balance of the warm and cold waters. Currently, it is causing the AMOC to slow down, but it will eventually collapse.

While the climate sequence in the movie is sped up and exaggerated, the researchers still noted that the consequences from the AMOC collapse would be no less cause for worry.

The simulation showed that Western Europe would be hit the hardest by cold temperatures but America would have to contend with floods. Sea levels on the U.S. East Coast would rise more than three feet, and the UK, Denmark, and the Netherlands would see a 35-degree temperature drop.

“This would affect hundreds of millions of people,” Drijfhout said, “At least temporarily, Europe would suffer conditions that would look like the Little Ice Age of the Middle Ages.”

“When it comes to climate change, we are playing a dangerous game,” he added.

February Could Show Record Setting Cold

Meteorologists say that February 2015 could end up as one of the coldest months in Detroit history with an average temperature of just over 13 degrees.

“I’m doing some calculations but I think we are on track here to have the coldest month ever in Detroit, the way things are looking,” said AccuWeather’s Dean DeVore. “And it’s going to be brutally cold here today.”

“It’s like an open spigot from like Barrow, Alaska down to the Great Lakes. Meantime, they can’t buy a drop of rain on the west coast for the past month or so,” AccuWeather’s Dave Bowers added. “It’s been wicked. It really is quite a contrast. The western half of the country is having an extremely warm winter, and here it really is more like the Northwest Territories in our backyard.

“We’re running about almost 12 degrees below normal his month.”

Other cities across the U.S. have been setting records for cold temperatures.  Cleveland fell to -5 on Monday breaking a record set in 1873 and the first time since 1889 it was below zero on February 23rd.  The temperature hit -17 on Friday, shattering the previous low and was just 3 degrees short of the all time record for low temperature in the city.

Ann Arbor, Michigan hit -7 on Monday which broke the previous record for the date set in 1900.

Northeastern Blizzard Not As Strong As Feared

Some areas of the northeast are digging out from up to two feet of snow today but that total is far less than was anticipated from a massive winter storm.

Officials say that New York City was spared a large wave of the storm when less than a foot of snow fell on the city.  The bans on car travel were lifted early Tuesday and the New York City subway system returned to regular operation after being shut down 10 hours out of caution.

Snow is expected to fall into Wednesday morning through upper New England, leaving some towns in danger of tying or breaking record snowfall amounts for this time of year.  Snow drifts are the biggest issue, with Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker saying some drifts are over six feet in height.

Only one death has been reported from the storm so far.  A teenager died Monday when he was snow-tubing on Long Island and crashed into a lamppost.

While schools and other businesses remain closed throughout the region, the National Weather Service lifted the blizzard warning for all areas below Boston Tuesday.

New York’s governor defended his decision to issue a travel ban ahead of the storm.

“I would rather, if there is a lean one way or another, lean towards safety because I have seen the consequences the other way and it gets very frightening very quickly … we have had people die in storms,” Cuomo told reporters. “I would rather be in a situation where we say ‘We got lucky.'”

Mars Warmer Than 14 States

The current weather front in the northern part of the U.S. may have many residents signing up for a mission to Mars.

The high temperature on the red planet on Thursday was 17.6 degrees, warmer than the high temperatures in 14 northern U.S. states.

Residents of northern states have been fighting bitter cold and wind chills that have caused major outbreaks of frostbite.  Hospitals have been reporting people coming in for treatment who didn’t realize how bad the bitter cold would impact their bodies.

Winter Storm Gorgon is moving off the U.S. east coast this weekend and warmer temperatures are expected to cover the northern states.  However, the resulting front could bring massive amounts of snow to the Great Lakes  region with some models showing up to three feet of snow in some areas.

Wind chill readings of below zero were reported as far south as Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina.

Many school districts around the nation cancelled their classes Thursday because of the dangerous cold.  Detroit reported a high of 3 degrees.  Green Bay, Wisconsin, where the Packers are to play a playoff football game this weekend, had a high of 6 degrees.  International Falls, historically one of the coldest spots in the continental U.S., reached a high of -1.

Jerusalem Prepares For Massive Blizzard

Schools have been shut down for at least three days across Jerusalem and many government offices are closing ahead of a massive blizzard that is expected to blanket the city in snow and ice.

The Israel Defense Forces are also moving to a heightened state of alert because of the storm, sending tanks into parts of northern Israel that could face being cut off because of high snowfall on roadways.

At least 1,000 soldiers have been deployed to northern Israel and Jerusalem to assist residents during the storm.  The troops will make sure that all area hospitals will remain operational if doctors and nurses cannot make it into their offices because of the storm.

The front wave of the storm brought 45 mile per hour winds to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, downing trees across the region.

Last year a similar storm left wide areas with electricity, water or road access for days.  The government will be shutting down major roadways ahead of the storm to avoid having vehicles trapped on the highway as they were in December 2013.

Residents have been spending the week stocking up on basic food supplies.