After the floods, assessing Hurricane Sally’s damage

By Devika Krishna Kumar and Jennifer Hiller

GULF SHORES, Ala./HOUSTON (Reuters) – As an Alabama resident, Toby Wallace has seen his fair share of hurricane damage working for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where he handles flood insurance claims.

But that did not prepare him for Hurricane Sally, which flipped his camper and pushed it into his home, breaking off the front steps. High winds drove water through vents and roof, flooding a room.

“It’s gonna be a lot of cleaning,” said Wallace, 49.

Wallace and thousands of other residents along the U.S. Gulf Coast are just starting to tally the damage from Hurricane Sally, which could come in anywhere from $8 billion to $10 billion, well above earlier estimates of $2 billion to $3 billion, said Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which tracks tropical storms and models the cost of their damage.

Hurricanes are normally associated with massive wind gusts and rains on the coast, but inland rains causing floods over a vast region can make a storm even worse, as rivers and streams over spill, flooding communities along the way and causing the damage to as much as double.

The storm made landfall at Gulf Shores, Alabama on Wednesday morning as a Category 2 hurricane but continued carrying heavy rain inland as far north as Virginia on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Sally’s immediate impact likely caused around $5 billion in damage and cleanup costs, Watson said. The storm has moved away from the coast but will bring several more inches of rain to the U.S. Southeast before dissipating.

“If you’re sitting on a river five miles inland, you’ve got the wind and two feet of rain dumped on you, then four to six days later a few feet of water comes down the river,” Watson said. Inland rains also could affect cotton and peanut harvesting, as five counties in central Georgia had radar totals over 10 inches in 12 hours, Watson said.

Several rivers in Alabama and Florida have not yet crested and are not expected to reach “major flood” stages until Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

Evidence of water damage was rampant as the floods receded along the coast. The facade of an eight-floor apartment building in Gulf Shores was completely blown off, and damaged kitchens and bedrooms were visible, with furniture soaked from the torrential rains that pelted the area on Wednesday.

Wallace of FEMA said that more recently built homes were constructed with some elevation from the ground, so their damage is wind-related.

Numerous buildings had their roofs torn off, and rebuilding electrical, sewage and water systems will cost money.

In Gulf Shores, Paula Hendrickson, 70, evacuated her home near the water and came slightly more inland to her sister’s, thinking it would be safer.

But the wind ripped a fan off the front balcony of her sister’s home and damaged the roof, and Hendrickson’s car ended up flooded by saltwater and is likely a total loss.

“If you’ve been in an airplane that hits turbulence, that’s exactly how it felt. On and off, on and off. All night long,” Hendrickson said, adding, “I’ll never go through it again.”

(Reporting by Jennifer Hiller and Devika Krishna Kumar; editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Sally weakens to tropical depression, leaves massive floods on U.S. Gulf Coast

By Devika Krishna Kumar and Catherine Koppel

PENSACOLA, Fla. (Reuters) – Hurricane Sally moved northeast on Thursday, where it was expected to bring more than a foot of rain to some areas, one day after it flooded streets and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Sally made landfall early on Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama, with winds clocked at 105 mph (169 kph), making it a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity.

As of late Wednesday, it was moving north at 12 mph (19 km per hour) after being downgraded to a tropical depression, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said, with maximum winds of 30 mph (50 kmh).

The storm is believed to have killed one person in Alabama.

“We had a body wash up. We believe it was hurricane-related, but we have no definitive proof of that right now,” said Trent Johnson, a police lieutenant in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Some parts of the coast were inundated with more than two feet (60 cm) of rain, as the slow-moving storm flooded communities. The coastal city of Pensacola, Florida, experienced up to 5 feet (1.5 m) of flooding, and travel was cut by damaged roads and bridges. More than 570,000 homes and businesses across the area were without power.

Several residents along the Alabama and Florida coasts said damage from the storm caught them off guard. By late Wednesday, the floodwaters had started to recede in some areas, though the National Weather Service warned that extensive river flooding would be a concern through the weekend.

“It was just constant rain and wind,” said Preity Patel, 41, a resident of Pensacola for two years. “The water drained pretty quickly, thankfully. It’s just cleanup now.”

The Pensacola Bay Bridge, known also as the “Three Mile Bridge,” was missing a “significant section,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference.

Electrical crews from other states arrived in Pensacola as utilities began restoring power to Alabama and Florida, according to local utilities.

“This year we’ve just got hurricane after hurricane,” said Matt Lane, 23, a member of a crew from New Hampshire Electric Coop, who arrived late on Tuesday directly from Hurricane Laura recovery efforts in Texas.

Sally was the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and the eighth of tropical storm or hurricane strength to hit the United States. There are currently three other named storms in the Atlantic, making it one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record.

Hurricanes have increased in intensity and destructiveness since the 1980’s as the climate has warmed, according to researchers at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sally shut more than a quarter of U.S. Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas production.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna-Kumar and Catherine Koppel in Mobile, Alabama; Additional reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston and Stephanie Kelly and Scott DiSavino in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

‘Rare, dangerous’ heat wave to hit California, U.S. West

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – A record heat wave with temperatures of up to 125 Fahrenheit (49 Celsius) was set to punish California starting on Friday as another extreme weather event raised risks of more forest fires and rolling blackouts.

The “deadly heat wave” of “rare, dangerous and very possibly fatal” temperatures was forecast across Southern California for the U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend, the National Weather Service (NWS) in Los Angeles said.

Record or excessive heat was also expected in Nevada and western Arizona with “brutal” temperatures set to peak on Sunday and continue into Monday, the service said.

“There is a high risk for heat illness along with heightened fire weather concerns,” the NWS Los Angeles office reported, forecasting record high temperatures on Saturday and Sunday.

Climate scientists blame human activities for a two to three degree Fahrenheit rise in average temperatures in California since the early 20th century and say extreme wet-dry cycles are creating abundant parched vegetation to supercharge wildfires.

The long weekend’s heat event is expected to be hotter than the one in mid-August that helped trigger the second and third largest forest fires in California history that are still burning.

Death Valley in California’s Mojave desert recorded one of the hottest air temperatures ever on the planet of 130F on Aug. 17, and highs of around 124F were expected there on Sunday, the NWS said.

The California power grid asked power generators to delay any maintenance until after the weekend to prevent blackouts like the two nights of rolling outages seen in mid-August as residents cranked up their air conditioning.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Tom Brown)

California braces for more lightning as wildfires kill 7

By Adrees Latif

AETNA SPRINGS, Calif. (Reuters) – California braced for more lightning storms, which have sparked over 600 wildfires in the past week, but firefighters got some relief as temperatures eased off record highs.

The worst of the blazes, including the second and third largest in California history, burned in the San Francisco Bay Area with roughly 240,000 people under evacuation orders or warnings across the state.

Much of Northern California, including the Sierra Nevada Mountains and coast, was under a “red flag” alert for dry lightning and high winds, but the National Weather Service dropped its warning for the Bay Area.

Close to 300 lightning strikes sparked 10 new fires overnight and more “sleeper fires” were likely burning undiscovered in areas shrouded by dense smoke, Governor Gavin Newsom said.

One huge blaze burned in ancient coastal redwood forests south of San Francisco that have never seen fire due to usually high relative humidity levels, Newsom said.

“We are in a different climate and we are dealing with different climate conditions that are precipitating fires the likes of which we have not seen in modern recorded history,” Newsom told a news briefing.

The wildfires, ignited by over 13,000 lightning strikes from dry thunderstorms across Northern and Central California since Aug. 15, have killed at least seven people and destroyed over 1,200 homes and other structures.

Smoke from wildfires that have burned over 1.2 million acres (485,620 hectares), an area more than three times larger than Los Angeles, has created unhealthy conditions for much of Northern California and drifted as far as Kansas.

The LNU Complex, the second largest wildfire in state history, began as a string of smaller fires in wine country southwest of Sacramento but has merged into a single blaze that has burned around 350,000 acres of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano counties.

It was 22% contained as of Monday while to the south the SCU Lightning Complex was nearly as large, at 347,000 acres, and only 10% contained.

“I’m nervous, I don’t want to leave my house, but lives are more important,” Penny Furusho told CBS television affiliate KPIX5 after she was told to evacuate from the south flank of the SCU fire.

Over 14,000 firefighters are on the wildfires, with 91 fire crews traveling from seven states and National Guard troops arriving from four states, Newsom said.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif in Aetna Springs, California; Editing by Tom Brown)

New global temperature record set in California’s Death Valley

By Jonathan Allen and Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – The hottest air temperature recorded anywhere on the planet in at least a century, and possibly ever, was reached in Death Valley in California’s Mojave Desert on Sunday afternoon where it soared to 130 Fahrenheit (54.4 Celsius).

An automated observation system run by the U.S. National Weather Service at Furnace Creek reported the record at 3:41 p.m. local time.

It was a dry heat: humidity fell to 7%. But it felt “insanely hot” all the same, according to meteorologist Daniel Berc, who is based in the NWS Las Vegas bureau and forecast that the heat wave would continue all week.

“It’s literally like being in an oven,” he said in a telephone interview. “Today is another day we could take another run at 130F.”

A temperature of 134F (56.7C) was recorded in Death Valley in July 1913. Some meteorologists dispute the older record, however, with recent research pointing to the likelihood it was the result of observer error.

“That’s an official record until it’s debunked through the scientific process and accepted by the World Meteorological Organization,” Berc said.

The record comes as climate scientists warn of the dangers of a warming planet. Last month was the world’s third-hottest July on record, and three of the hottest ever Julys all occurred within the last five years.

Sunday’s temperature will undergo a formal review, Berc said. Technicians will check the thermometer out in Furnace Creek is working properly. The NWS will convene a so-called climate extremes committee to ensure there’s no reason to doubt Sunday’s data.

Only a couple of dozen people live in Furnace Creek, but the area is a popular tourist attraction.

Staff and guests at The Oasis hotel nearby were being urged to wear hats and sip water relentlessly while outside, according to general manager John Kukreja.

He tells guests that extreme heat does unexpected things to the body.

“You’re going to sweat and the sweat’s going to dry instantly and you’re never going to know you actually felt hot,” he said. “Your hair stands on end. It’s almost like you feel like you’re cold, like goosebumps.”

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Philippa Fletcher, Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Potter)

‘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)

Six killed as severe storms, tornadoes rip through U.S. South

(Reuters) – At least six people were killed on Sunday as a strong storm system swept across Mississippi and Louisiana, spinning off more than a dozen tornadoes and leaving behind a path of destruction, state and local authorities said.

The storms hit on Easter Sunday as residents across the U.S. South, like most Americans, were under strict “stay-at-home” orders by the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana due to the nationwide coronavirus pandemic.

Damaged planes and buildings 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.

All six fatalities were recorded in Mississippi, the state’s emergency management agency said on Twitter, and tornado warnings remained in place across several counties into the evening.

The National Weather Service said 13 tornadoes were believed to have touched down across the region.

Images on local media showed the devastation left behind by twisters, including destroyed homes, downed power lines, twisted billboards and overturned cars.

The city of Monroe, Louisiana, posted photos of wrecked buildings on social media and said that Monroe Regional Airport had canceled all flights until further notice due to debris on the runway and weather conditions.

“By the grace of God, early reports show only a few minor injuries. Pray for our city! Many neighbors & friends suffered catastrophic damage,” Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo said on Twitter.

Tornado warnings were also issued for parts of Texas into Sunday night.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Rumbling Alaska volcano sends ash plume 5 miles into the air

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – One of Alaska’s most active volcanoes, a towering ice-covered cone in the Aleutian Islands, shot a cloud of ash more than 5 miles high on Friday, triggering a warning to aviators and putting on a show that was captured in satellite imagery.

The ash burst from Shishaldin Volcano, about 670 miles southwest of Anchorage, was part of an on-and-off, mostly low-level series of eruptions that began in July with a stream of lava from the crater at the peak of the 9,373-foot-tall mountain.

The ash plume was spotted by a pilot and was visible in satellite images captured from space. It drifted over the sea at least 75 miles southeast of the volcano, the Alaska Volcano Observatory reported.

No communities were affected by ashfall or were otherwise in danger as of Friday morning, said David Fee of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, a coordinating scientist with the observatory.

“This is a remote volcano,” he said.

The National Weather Service issued an alert, and air traffic was advised to steer clear of Shishaldin, though aviators were already avoiding the volcano well before Friday because of earlier activity, Fee said.

While Friday’s cloud, the largest yet of the series, was considered moderate, conditions at Shishaldin could worsen quickly.

“Shishaldin remains at a heightened level of unrest, and explosions may occur with little warning,” the observatory warned in a public statement. Friday’s explosion lasted about an hour to 90 minutes, U.S. Geological Survey scientist Matt Haney said.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage; Editing by Steve Gorman & Kim Coghill)

Tornadoes sweep across southeastern U.S., killing at least three: officials

A tornado spins during stormy weather in Mangum, Oklahoma, U.S., May 20, 2019, in this still image taken from video from social media. Lorraine Matti via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Tornadoes swept across swaths of the southeastern United States killing at least two people in northern Alabama and one person in Louisiana, tearing roofs off buildings, splintering trees and downing powerlines, officials said.

Most of the tornado and storm damage was reported in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas starting early Monday, sheriff’s officials told local media.

Survey teams will be sent out at first light Tuesday to assess the extent of the damage, said Rich Thompson, a lead forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.

“Initial reports suggest first tornado was reported in Louisiana around 10:35 (a.m.) CST and first tornado fatality was somewhere around 11:18 a.m. CST,” said NWS meteorologist Jared Guyer.

More rain and wind is expected overnight and into Tuesday as the storms push off into southeastern Georgia, Florida’s panhandle and the Carolina coasts in the morning hours.

At least 28,300 people had power outages in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, according to the tracking site Poweroutage.Us.

(Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; additional reporting and writing by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Thanksgiving leftovers: Storm serves U.S. Northeast second helping of snow

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A vast wintry storm that has been raging across the United States since before Thanksgiving served a second helping of snow to the Northeast on Monday, closing offices and threatening to disrupt the evening rush-hour commute.

Alternating rain and snow showers were forecast to switch completely to snow, piling up by the workday’s end to 1 to 3 inches in New York and 4 to 6 inches in Boston, said meteorologist Bob Oravec of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

Heavier snow totals were expected in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, northwestern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire and Maine, with some areas already receiving 1 foot of snow, Oravec said.

“When it’s all said and done, some areas will have over 2 feet of snow from this storm, especially over parts of the Poconos and Catskills,” Oravec said of the mountain regions.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all non-essential state employees in the capital region to stay home on Monday. State offices in New Jersey opened as usual on Monday, but New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said all non-essential workers should head home at noon due to weather conditions.

Travel glitches on U.S. flights began mounting throughout the morning, with most of the 1,500 cancellations and delays posted by late morning at airports in San Francisco, Albany, Boston, Chicago and Newark.

The storm that started on the West Coast ahead of Thanksgiving, the busiest U.S. travel holiday, slowly rolled across the entire country, drenching some areas with rain, blanketing others with snow and blasting still others with winds. Three tornadoes were reported northwest of Phoenix.

“It’s uncommon to have a tornado in Phoenix, but it’s not uncommon to have multiple types of weather with a big winter storm like that,” Oravec said.

The storm was expected to linger in New York until just before sunrise on Tuesday, in Boston until early Tuesday afternoon and in Maine until Wednesday morning.

“There have been huge impacts from the storm since it occurred during the Thanksgiving week of travel and coming home from the holiday,” Oravec said.

“It hit about possibly the worst time it could hit, and it went right across the entire country.”

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)