Remnants of Hurricane Laura drench Arkansas as storm heads east

(Reuters) – The remnants of Hurricane Laura were dousing Arkansas on Friday morning and due to bring rain to the East Coast over the weekend.

Now a tropical depression, Laura had proved less damaging than feared, despite arriving in Louisiana this week as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the United States.

The storm killed at least six people in Louisiana, including four who were killed when trees fell into homes, damaged buildings in Louisiana and Texas and knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of residents.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to head to the Gulf Coast over the weekend to survey the damage.

The storm was forecast to drop heavy rain over Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky as it headed out to the East Coast, the National Weather Service said.

At its peak upon making landfall on Thursday morning, Laura had maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (241 km per hour), faster than even Hurricane Katrina, which sparked deadly levee breaches in New Orleans in 2005 after arriving with wind speeds of 125 mph.

What would have been a dangerous 20-foot (6-m) storm surge that forecasters had predicted could move 40 miles (64 km) inland was avoided when Laura tacked east just before landfall, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said. That meant a mighty gush of water was not fully pushed up the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which would have given the storm surge an easy path far inland.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

‘Everything’s gone’: Tornadoes rip U.S. South, kill at least 26

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – Rescue workers and homeowners across the U.S. South on Monday sifted through what remained of hundreds of structures destroyed by a series of tornadoes that killed at least 26 people, as the deadly weather system churned up the East Coast.

Nearly 51 million people from Florida to New England were in the path of the system, with National Weather Service forecasters warning of strong winds, torrential rain and possibly more tornadoes on Monday afternoon.

The system had already spawned about 60 reported tornadoes that left a path of destruction from Texas to the Carolinas on Sunday and Monday, the weather service reported.

Powerful winds in the upper atmosphere combined with a strong cold front to make the system particularly dangerous, said weather service meteorologist Aaron Tyburski.

“This was very typical of the spring season – definitely not something out of the ordinary – but it is very active,” he said.

Damaged buildings and vehicles are seen in the aftermath of a tornado in Monroe, Louisiana, U.S. April 12, 2020, in this still image obtained from social media. Courtesy of Peter Tuberville/Social Media via REUTERS

At least 11 people were killed in Mississippi, eight in South Carolina, six in Georgia and one in Arkansas in the storms, local media and state officials reported.

Five of the people who were killed in Georgia were in two Murray County mobile home parks that were leveled as tornadoes rolled through the area, Murray County Fire Chief Dewayne Bain told a Fox News affiliate in the region.

Among the dead in Mississippi were Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Robert Ainsworth and his wife, Paula.

“Robert left this world a hero, as he shielded Mrs. Paula during the tornado,” the sheriff’s department said on Facebook.

Local media across the region showed images and video clips of homeowners and rescue workers picking through piles of rubble as flattened homes, overturned vehicles and downed power lines covered the landscape.

“It just tore everything. Everything’s gone,” Latesha Dillon, whose brother was killed in Walthall County, Mississippi, told a local ABC affiliate.

Firefighters in Orangeburg County, South Carolina, found a handful of people trapped in two homes on Monday, the Times and Democrat, the local newspaper, reported.

In Upson County, Georgia, 65 miles (105 km) south of Atlanta, homeowner Paul McDaniel and his wife raced to an interior part of their home as a reported tornado rolled through their neighborhood early on Monday.

“I heard it and grabbed her and we ran into the hall and … it was something like I never heard before,” McDaniel told a Fox News affiliate in the region.

Nearly 580,000 million homes and businesses in North and South Carolina, Arkansas, New York and Virginia were without power on Monday, Poweroutage said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Thousands flee fires in Australia, navy helps evacuate the stranded

Thousands flee fires in Australia, navy helps evacuate the stranded
By Jill Gralow and Sonali Paul

BATEMANS BAY, Australia/MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of holiday makers fled seaside towns on Australia’s east coast on Thursday as bushfires approached, and military ships and helicopters began rescuing thousands more trapped by the blazes.

Fuelled by searing temperatures and high winds, more than 200 fires are burning across the southeastern states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, threatening several towns.

The NSW state government declared a state of emergency, beginning on Friday, giving authorities the power to forcibly evacuate people and take control of services.

“It is hell on earth. It is the worst anybody’s ever seen,” Michelle Roberts said by telephone from the Croajingolong Cafe she owns in Mallacoota, a southeastern coastal town where 4,000 residents and visitors have been stranded on the beach since Monday night.

Roberts hoped to get her 18-year-old daughter onto a naval ship, which arrived off the town on Thursday, in order to escape the fires and thick smoke engulfing the town.

The HMAS Choules is expected to make two or three voyages over the coming days, state authorities said.

Elsewhere, long queues formed outside supermarkets and petrol stations as residents and tourists sought supplies to either bunker down or escape the fires, emptying shelves of staples like bread and milk.

More than 50,000 people were without power and some towns had no access to drinking water.

“Everyone’s just on edge,” said Shane Flanagan, a resident of Batemans Bay on the NSW coast.

Authorities urged a mass exodus from several towns on the southeast coast, an area popular with tourists during the summer holiday season, warning that extreme heat forecast for the weekend will further stoke the fires.

“The priority today is fighting fires and evacuating, getting people to safety,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney. “There are parts of both Victoria and New South Wales which have been completely devastated, with a loss of power and communications.”

Eight people have been killed by wildfires in NSW and Victoria since Monday and 18 are missing, officials said on Thursday.

Temperatures are forecast to soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) along the south coast on Saturday, bringing the prospect of renewed firefronts to add to the around 200 current blazes.

“It is going to be a very dangerous day. It’s going to be a very difficult day,” NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

Following are highlights of what is happening across Australia:

* Naval officials said they would open registration forevacuation on Thursday afternoon, with the HMAS Choules able tocarry up to 1,000 people on the first trip. * “It’s 16-17 hours to the closest boat port, then we’ve gotto come back,” HMAS Choules Commander Scott Houlihan said onThursday afternoon. He said that leaving by boat was the onlyway out of the town. * Thousands of people had already been evacuated from theadjoining region of East Gippsland in Victoria, one of thelargest such operations in the country since the northern cityof Darwin evacuated over 35,000 people in the aftermath ofcyclone Tracy in 1974. * Five military helicopters were en route to the south coastto back up firefighters and bring in supplies like water anddiesel, the Australian Defence Force said. The aircraft willalso be used to evacuate injured, elderly and young people. * A contingent of 39 firefighters from North America landedin Melbourne, bringing the number of U.S. and Canadian expertswho have flown in to help deal with the crisis to almost 100. * Traffic on the main highway out of Batemans Bay on the NSWcoast was bumper-to-bumper after authorities called for the townto be evacuated. Residents of the town reported there was nofuel, power or phone service, while supermarket shelves had beenstripped bare of staples. * NSW’s Kosciuszko National Park, home to the SnowyMountains, was closed and visitors were ordered to leave due toan extreme danger of fire. * Morrison urged those waiting for help and those stuck intraffic jams “to be patient … help will arrive.” * Morrison, forced to defend his government’s limited actionon climate change, blamed a three-year drought and lack ofhazard reduction for the unprecedented extent and duration ofthis year’s bushfires. * Bushfires so far this season have razed more than 4million hectares (10 million acres) of bushland and destroyedmore than 1,000 homes, including 381 homes destroyed on thesouth coast this week.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Jill Gralow in Batemans Bay; Editing by Jane Wardell, Neil Fullick and Mike Collett-White)

Thousands trapped on Australian beaches by dangerous bushfires

By Sonali Paul and Swati Pandey

MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Thousands swarmed to beaches on Australia’s east coast on Tuesday to escape fierce wildfires bearing down on several seaside towns, as the government readied naval vessels and military helicopters to aid firefighting and evacuations.

Government officials called for Australian military support and assistance from U.S. and Canadian fire crews as authorities confirmed two people had died overnight, taking to 11 the total deaths in wildfires since the beginning of October.

The huge bushfires have destroyed more than 4 million hectares (10 million acres), with new blazes sparked into life almost daily by extremely hot and windy conditions in bushland left tinder dry after a three-year drought.

Fueled by searing temperatures and high winds, more than 200 fires are now burning across the southeastern states of New South Wales and Victoria, threatening several towns and snapping their power, mobile and internet links.

“This is absolutely one of the worst fire seasons we’ve seen,” Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, told a briefing in Sydney.

“It’s going to be a very long, difficult dangerous night still ahead. It’s going to be another difficult day again tomorrow.”

Authorities said the main firefront was moving up the coast and warned those in its path to seek shelter close to the beach.

About 4,000 people in the town of Mallacoota in Victoria headed to the waterfront after the main road was cut off. Those who could not make it there scrambled for shelter in a gymnasium and other public buildings, as emergency sirens wailed.

Some of those trapped in the town posted images of blood-red, smoke-filled skies on social media. One beachfront photograph showed people lying shoulder-to-shoulder on the sand, some wearing gas masks.

It looked “a lot like Armageddon,” said David Jeffrey, the owner of the Wave Oasis guesthouse, adding, “It’s terrifying.”

Fisherman Steve Casement said he had lost his house in Mallacoota to the fires.

“We are stuck here now,” he told Reuters by telephone. “Everyone is pretty shocked at the moment, most of my mates are in the same position.

“Right now, I am on a trailer watching the town burn down, listening to gas bottles explode at some poor bugger’s home and seeing smoke all around me.”

Authorities said that by late afternoon the worst danger had passed.

DARKNESS IN THE AFTERNOON

Several hundreds of kilometers north, the Jervis Bay tourist spot famed for having the whitest sand beach in the world, was shrouded in darkness in the afternoon as massive fires burned, with conditions expected to worsen.

The blazes were also generating their own weather patterns, with erratic winds, dry lightning and a significantly faster spread in different direction, fire authorities said.

Ellie Morello took refuge at a beachside motel with her mother, some neighbors, friends at pets as fires approached Batemans Bay, a town on the New South Wales coast.

“My throat’s hurting from the smoke,” she told Reuters by telephone. “Burned leaves and sparks were falling on me like rain.”

Another small fire was closing in behind her as she spoke, she added.

“Helicopters are flying right overhead and dropping ocean waters a couple of hundred meters from where I am. But we have nowhere to go so we are still here.”

Morello and others said they had run out of food and were unable to replenish supplies as shops had shut.

James Findlay, a Melbourne-based broadcaster, said his parents’ home in the town was gutted after palm trees on the lawn caught fire. The couple were vacationing in New Zealand.

“There were a lot of family heirlooms in there,” he told Reuters. “A lot of priceless memories.”

The fires have been spread across four states, with fronts stretching hundreds of kilometers in some cases, affecting many towns and rural areas.

The two people who died overnight were believed to have been a father and son protecting their property near the town of Cobargo in New South Wales, police said, with a third missing, feared dead, while in Victoria, four more were unaccounted for.

Bushfires burned on the outskirts of Sydney, cloaking the harbor city in smoke ahead of a fireworks display planned for New Year’s Eve.

Authorities said the fireworks would go ahead, despite some public calls for cancellation in solidarity with fire-hit areas in the state.

“Many of us have mixed feelings about this evening, but the important thing we take out of this is that we’re a resilient state,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne; additional reporting by Jonathan Barrett and Paulina Duran in Sydney; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Clarence Fernandez)

‘Leave now’: Australians urged to evacuate as ‘catastrophic’ fires loom

‘Leave now’: Australians urged to evacuate as ‘catastrophic’ fires loom
By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Authorities declared a state of emergency across a broad swath of Australia’s east coast on Monday, urging residents in high risk areas to evacuate ahead of looming “catastrophic” fire conditions.

Bushfires burning across New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland states have already killed three people and destroyed more than 150 homes. Officials expect adverse heat and wind conditions to peak at unprecedented levels on Tuesday.

Bushfires are a common and deadly threat in Australia’s hot, dry summers but the current severe outbreak, well before the summer peak, has caught many by surprise.

“Everybody has to be on alert no matter where you are and everybody has to be assume the worst and we cannot allow complacency to creep in,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

The country’s most populous city has been designated at “catastrophic fire danger” for Tuesday, when temperatures as high as 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) are forecast to combine with powerful winds for potentially deadly conditions. It is the first time Sydney has been rated at that level since new fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009.

Home to more than 5 million people, Sydney is ringed by large areas of bushland, much of which remains tinder dry following little rain across the country’s east coast in recent months.

“Tomorrow is about protecting life, protecting property and ensuring everybody is safe as possible,” Berejiklian said.

Lawmakers said the statewide state of emergency – giving firefighters broad powers to control government resources, force evacuations, close roads and shut down utilities – would remain in place for seven days.

On Monday afternoon, the fire service authorised use of the Standard Emergency Warning Signal, an alarm and verbal warning that will be played on radio and television stations every hour.

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons urged people to evacuate before conditions worsened, warning that new fires can begin up to 20km (12 miles) ahead of established fires.

“Relocate while things are calm without the pressure or anxiety of fires bearing down the back door,” he said.

Authorities stressed that even fireproofed homes will not be able to withstand catastrophic conditions, which Fitzsimmons described as “when lives are lost, it’s where people die”.

More than 100 schools will be closed on Tuesday.

On Monday afternoon, rescue services were moving large animals from high risk areas, while health officials warned that air quality across NSW will worsen as winds blow smoke from the current mid-north coast bushfires south.

The fires have already had a devastating impact on Australia’s wildlife, with about 350 koalas feared dead in a major habitat.

CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE

Australia’s worst bushfires on record destroyed thousands of homes in Victoria in February 2009, killing 173 people and injuring 414 on a day the media dubbed “Black Saturday”.

The current fires, however, come weeks ahead of the southern hemisphere summer, sharpening attention on the policies of Australia’s conservative government to address climate change.

Environmental activists and opposition lawmakers have used the fires to call on Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a supporter of the coal industry, to strengthen the country’s emissions targets.

Morrison declined to answer questions about whether the fires were linked to climate change when he visited fire-hit areas in the north of NSW over the weekend.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack on Monday accused climate activists of politicising a tragedy at the expense of people in the danger zones.

“What we are doing is taking real and meaningful action to reduce global emissions without shutting down all our industries,” McCormack told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

“They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time, when they’re trying to save their homes.”

(Reporting by Colin Packham. Editing by Lincoln Feast and Jane Wardell)

Deadly storms leave thousands without power in eastern U.S

A view of clouds, part of a weather system seen from near Franklin, Texas, U.S., in this still image from social media video dated April 13, 2019. TWITTER @DOC_SANGER/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Tornadoes, wind gusts of up to 70 mph and pounding hail remained threats early on Monday from eastern New York and into New England, as the remnants of a deadly storm push out to sea, the National Weather Service said.

More than 79,000 homes and businesses were without power in Virginia, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.US, with 89,000 more outages reported across Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Maryland and New York.

The affected areas will get heavy rains, winds with gusts of up to 70 mph (110 kph) and the possibility of hail, NWS Weather Prediction Center in Maryland said.

“This is an ongoing threat,” said Brian Hurley, from the center.

“There are short spin-ups, pockets of heavy rain and damaging winds that can still hit before this pushes off shore.”

The weekend’s storm brought tornadoes that killed at least five people, including three children, in the U.S. South, officials said.

The massive storm system sped from Texas eastward with dozens of twisters reported as touching down across the South from Texas through Georgia into Pennsylvania.

Nearly 2,300 U.S. flights were canceled by Sunday evening, more then 90 percent of them at airports in Chicago; Houston, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Pittsburgh; Columbus, Ohio and a dozen major airports on the Eastern Seaboard, according to FlightAware.com.

But no major flight delays were reported on the east coast before 6 a.m. Monday.

The storm’s cold front brought snow to Chicago on Sunday, with 1 to 3 inches (2.5-7.6 cm) reported in central Illinois.

Two children, siblings aged three and eight, were killed on Saturday when a tree fell on the car in which they were sitting in Pollok, Texas, said a spokeswoman for the Angelina County Sheriff’s Department.

A third child, Sebastian Omar Martinez, 13, drowned late on Saturday when he fell into a drainage ditch filled with flash floodwaters near Monroe, Louisiana, said Deputy Glenn Springfield of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office.

In another storm death nearby, an unidentified victim’s body was trapped in a vehicle submerged in floodwaters in Calhoun, Louisiana, Springfield said.

In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant said one person was killed and 11 injured over the weekend as tornadoes ripped through 17 counties and left 26,000 homes and businesses without electricity.

In addition, three people were killed when a private jet crashed in Mississippi on Saturday, although Bryant said it was unclear whether it was caused by the weather.

Soaking rains could snarl the Monday morning commute on the East Coast before the storm moves off to sea.

“The biggest impact rush hour-wise probably will be Boston, around 7 to 8 o’clock in the morning, and around New York City around 5 or 6 o’clock, before sunrise,” NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Barbara Goldberg and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)

Schools shut, flights canceled as storm sweeps U.S. Midwest, East Coast

A local resident removes snow from a car during a winter storm in Washington, U.S., February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Reuters) – A winter storm swept across much of the U.S. Midwest and East Coast on Wednesday, hampering air travel and prompting officials to close federal offices in Washington and several large public school systems.

The National Weather Service warned the storm could make travel very difficult, with snow, sleet and freezing rain potentially causing downed branches and power outages.

The storm reached from northern Minnesota down through Missouri and east into the Mid-Atlantic region and could bring as much as 6 inches (15 cm) of snow along with sleet and freezing rain, the National Weather Service said in an advisory.

The storm forced the closing of federal agencies in Washington as well as schools in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.

Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled in and out of major airports in Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago, according to Flightaware.com. Airports told passengers on social media to check their airlines for delays and cancellations.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Worst is over for winter storm that clobbered U.S. Midwest, D.C. and New England

Visitors make their way through snow left by Winter Storm Gia, which paralyzed much of the nation's midsection, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 13, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – The deadly winter storm that clobbered a swath of the U.S. Midwest and East Coast over the weekend is blowing out to sea but leaves as much as 13 inches of snow in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, and frigid arctic air parked over New England.

All Washington D.C. federal offices would be closed on Monday, but train and bus service in the metro D.C. area would resume after being shut down on Sunday, officials said.

“There’s some digging out to do,” Jim Hayes, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said early Monday.

“In Virginia, D.C. and Maryland, 6-to-12 inches of snow fell with some places getting 13 inches,” he said.

The good news is that around noon on Monday the clouds should start clearing and temperatures will rise into the low 40’s Fahrenheit, Hayes said.

The snowstorm is blamed for the deaths of at least eight people in road accidents across the U.S. Midwest and possibly also the death of an Illinois state police officer who was killed on Saturday during a traffic stop, officials said.

Air traffic at Ronald Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport was returning to normal. Early on Monday, fewer than 400 flights were canceled in affected areas and about 1,600 were delayed, according the online flight tracking site FlightAware.

At the height of the storm, more than 1,600 flights were canceled in and out of U.S. airports on Sunday, the bulk of them at Washington’s Reagan and Dulles, the website reported.

Winter storm warnings for millions of Americans in 10 states and Washington, D.C., were being lifted early Monday in a swath of the United States from Colorado to the East Coast, Hayes said.

“But up north it’s going to stay cold,” Hayes said.

Boston temperatures will creep up from the teens (Fahrenheit) into the low 20s. Temperatures in Portland, Maine will top-out at 11 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 12 Celsius) as a core of Arctic air stays parked over New England, Hayes said.

“The worst is in Big Black River, Maine,” said Hayes. “It hit minus 20 (minus 29 Celsius) overnight.”

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Peter Graff)

Retail U.S. gasoline prices surge as Harvey keeps refiners shut

A gas station submerged under flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey is seen in Rose City, Texas, U.S., on August 31, 2017.

By Erwin Seba and Devika Krishna Kumar

HOUSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Retail U.S. gasoline prices hit two-year highs and global shipping routes were scrambled as the nation’s largest refiners remained shut on Friday, even as Storm Harvey lost strength.

Major fuel pipelines feeding the U.S. Northeast and Midwest were either closed or severely curtailed, prompting shortages in some areas and dramatic spikes in wholesale prices.

The storm, which began as a hurricane a week ago, has roiled global fuel markets, and tankers carrying millions of barrels of fuel have been rerouted to the Americas to avert shortages. European refining margins hit a two-year high amid the surge in exports.

Indeed, the effects of the storm will continue for several weeks, if not months, after Harvey hammered the Gulf Coast for days and brought floods that buried Houston and the surrounding area in several feet of water. It knocked out about 4.4 million barrels of daily refining capacity, slightly more than Japan uses daily, and the signs of restarts were tentative.

The nation’s largest refiner, Motiva’s Port Arthur facility, which can handle 600,000 barrels of crude daily, will be shut for at least two weeks, according to sources familiar with plant operations.

Other plants in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area are expected to face similar challenges restarting as waters continued to rise, even as flooding receded in Houston, some 85 miles (137 km) west.

In Corpus Christi, where Harvey first made landfall, refiners Citgo Petroleum Corp, Flint Hills Resources and Valero Energy Corp were moving to restart their plants, along with the nearby Valero Three Rivers refinery, according to sources.

Benchmark U.S. gasoline prices  have surged more than 15 percent since the storm began, but in trading Friday, the contract for October delivery lost 1 percent, the first decline in five days. September’s contract had risen by 25 percent, but stopped trading Thursday.

U.S. crude prices continued to slump along with demand, with the futures contract falling 0.4 percent to $47.02 a barrel.

The national average for a regular gallon of gasoline rose to $2.519 as of Friday morning, according to motorists advocacy group AAA, with even gaudier increases in the U.S. Southeast, which relies heavily on Gulf supplies. South Carolina, for instance, has seen prices rise nearly 30 cents, and prices were up nearly 20 cents in Texas, where fuel shortages were already evident.

 

SHORTAGE WORRIES

Suppliers in the Chicago area were taking steps to prevent shortages, and banking on hope.

Dave Luchtman, owner and president of Lucky’s Energy Service Inc., a small distributor in Chicago, has rented two storage trailers that hold 8,000 gallons each, expected to be delivered Friday.

“So I have a little lifeline,” Luchtman said.

Refineries so far have not given any indication that there are fuel shortages, said Mario Orlandi, an operations manager at Olson Service Co, which supplies diesel and gasoline to the Chicago area.

“Cross our fingers, keep our tanks full,” Orlandi said.

The global impact of the storm was being felt in Venezuela, where financially strapped state-run PDVSA is facing the possibility that scheduled deliveries – tankers floating offshore for weeks due to non-payment – will make their way to other Latin American destinations.

At least two cargoes scheduled to deliver to Venezuela currently in the port of Curacao are now expected to be delivered to Ecuador.

Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and other countries want to tap some of the 7 million barrels of fuel sitting in the Caribbean sea, according to three traders and shippers.

European and Asian traders have diverted millions of barrels of fuel to the Americas. That included a rare opportunity for exports of jet fuel from Europe to the United States, reversing the usual flow of shipments.

Supplies from distant markets may not arrive soon enough to avert a crunch after the Colonial Pipeline, the biggest U.S. fuel system, said it would shut part of its main lines to the Northeast.

“We are going to have outages from Texas to Boston,” said one East Coast market source. The market is “way under-appreciating the magnitude of this.”

Several East Coast refineries have run out of gasoline for immediate delivery as they sent fuel elsewhere, and concerns over shortages ahead of the U.S. Labor Day extended weekend were mounting.

 

(Reporting by Erwin Seba and Devika Krishna Kumar; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw, Susannah Gonzales, Marianna Parraga, Karolin Schaps, Ron Bousso, Libby George and Seng Li Peng; Writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Susan Fenton and Bernadette Baum)

 

After weird winter, U.S. forecasters see warm, wet spring

A couple embraces in front of an ice-covered fountain in Bryant Park in New York City, U.S.

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – If you liked the balmy weather that dominated on the U.S. East Coast and much of the South this winter, you will probably enjoy the spring of 2017, too.

The new season, which officially begins on Monday, should bring more of the same in both regions, forecasters say, though for the East, a final twist of winter weirdness will have to play out before the region basks in the warmth again.

Spring, which starts with the vernal equinox at 6:28 a.m. EDT on Monday, will begin warmly but Wednesday’s temperatures are predicted to plunge into the 20s (-1 to -6 Celsius) and teens in the U.S. Northeast, with a snowstorm possible in the Midwest, according to Accuweather.com.

After the warmest February on record in New York City and other parts of the Northeast, winter returned with a vengeance last week with a paralyzing snowstorm and sustained stretch of sub-freezing temperatures.

“That was our three days of winter,” said Jon Gottschalck, chief forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In New York, where pedestrians are still navigating deep piles of snow and ice, the mercury was expected to dip below the freezing mark overnight and then climb to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) on the first day of spring.

“Hang tight, bear with it, because our forecast for spring is above-average temperatures,” Gottschalck said.

That may come as cold comfort for the nation’s capital. Last week’s cold snap annihilated half of the pink-and-white cherry blossoms that typically draw 1.5 million tourists to Washington in early April. Lured to an early bloom by historic warmth, they were dangerously exposed, said National Park Service officials, who soldiered on with a festival celebrating survivors expected to reach peak bloom around March 25.

While the East Coast luxuriated in the mild temperatures, and Texas and Louisiana had the warmest winter in more than a century, the West Coast enjoyed a welcome stretch of wet weather after years of drought.

Nevada and Wyoming set records for precipitation, while California had the second wettest winter in the 123 years of record-keeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

Temperatures for April, May and June were expected to be above normal in the Southern Plains, lower Mississippi Valley and the East Coast, said NOAA meteorologist Dan Petersen. For the West Coast, the long-range forecast was still unclear.

But NOAA is calling for a wetter-than-normal spring on the Gulf Coast and in the Northern Plains, where above-average snowfall in North Dakota and Idaho could trigger flooding.

On the final day of winter, almost 110,000 animal lovers worldwide remained glued to a YouTube streaming video of a pregnant giraffe named “April,” who is overdue to give birth at Animal Adventure Park in upstate New York.

Much more of a wait may mean a spring birth amid winter temperatures.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Frank McGurty and Sandra Maler)