U.S. forecasters expect above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season: NOAA

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – U.S. forecasters expect an above-normal 13-19 named storms during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center said on Thursday.

NOAA forecasters estimate three to six major hurricanes packing winds of at least 111 miles per hour (179 km/h) may form. The last two years have seen an above-average number of named storms with 18 last year and 15 in 2018.

Gerry Bell, lead forecaster with the Climate Prediction Center, said the Atlantic is in a warm cycle of a multi-decadal pattern that has dominated the ocean’s weather since 1995.

“We’re predicting this to be an above-normal season, possibly very active,” Bell said.

NOAA’s seasonal outlook is consistent with recent academic and private forecasts. Above-average ocean surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico and an absence of high-level El Nino winds that break up storms portend a more active season, researchers have said

About half of this year’s named storms may reach hurricane strength, with winds of at least 74 mph. The season formally begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

The 2020 season started early with Tropical Storm Arthur, bringing heavy rains to the southeastern U.S. coast this week before dissipating on Tuesday. No storms are currently brewing.

Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the COVID-19 pandemic would affect disaster plans.

“Social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more,” Castillo said.

Eighteen tropical storms developed in 2019 including six hurricanes, three of which were major. The average hurricane season produces 12 named storms and six hurricanes, three of which are major.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba, Editing by Tom Brown and Richard Pullin)

Alaska’s hottest month portends transformation into ‘unfrozen state’

Smoke shrouds Summit Lake with a thick blanket of smoke from the Swan Lake Fire on Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, U.S., July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Yereth Rosen

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – July 2019 now stands as Alaska’s hottest month on record, the latest benchmark in a long-term warming trend with ominous repercussions ranging from rapidly vanishing summer sea ice and melting glaciers to raging wildfires and deadly chaos for marine life.

July’s statewide average temperature rose to 58.1 degrees Fahrenheit (14.5 degrees Celsius), a level that for denizens of the Lower 48 states might seem cool enough but is actually 5.4 degrees above normal and nearly a full degree higher than Alaska’s previous record-hot month.

The new high was officially declared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in its monthly climate report, released on Wednesday.

More significantly, July was the 12th consecutive month in which average temperatures were above normal nearly every day, said Brian Brettschneider, a scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Of Alaska’s 10 warmest months on record, seven have now occurred since 2004.

“You can always have a random kind of warm month, season or even year,” Brettschneider said. “But when it happens year after year after year after year after year, then statistically it fails the test of randomness and it then becomes a trend.”

Alaska, like other parts of the far north, is warming at least twice as fast as the planet as a whole, research shows. And over the past 12 months, Brettschneder said, that warming has crossed a threshold – shifting Alaska from an environment with average temperatures below freezing to above freezing.

It used to be that Alaska was generally a frozen state, he said, adding, “Now we’re an unfrozen state.”

Runoff from accelerated melting of glaciers and high-altitude snowfields sent some rivers to near or above flood stage in early July, despite a drought gripping much of the state, including the world’s largest temperate rain forest in southeastern Alaska.

Sea ice, which has been running at record or near-record lows since spring across the Arctic, completely vanished from waters off Alaska by the start of August. The nearest stretch of ice this summer, said ACCAP climate scientist Rick Thoman, lies about 150 miles (240 km) north of Kaktovik, a village above the Arctic Circle on the northeastern edge of Alaska.

A sign reading "Sorry we are all out of ice" is posted on the door of a gas station in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S., July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Yereth Rosen

A sign reading “Sorry we are all out of ice” is posted on the door of a gas station in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S., July 7, 2019. REUTERS/Yereth Rosen

NO ICE FOR WALRUSES

The effect on Pacific walruses is particularly acute.

Walruses normally perch on floating ice to rest while diving for food and to take care of their newborn calves. Now, with no ice in sight, the walruses have crowded onto the Chukchi Sea shoreline earlier in the year than at any time on record, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Thousands of walruses – almost all adult females and their young calves – congregated by July 25 on a Chukchi Sea beach near the Inupiat village of Point Lay. Walruses have been coming ashore there almost every year since 2007, then a record-low Arctic ice year, but they have rarely been forced ashore before autumn.

Beach crowding can be dangerous for the large, tusked creatures. If they are spooked by noise or the appearance of a predator, they might stampede into the water, trampling younger and smaller animals to death.

They are not the only marine mammals suffering through the hot Alaska summer.

Thirty-two dead gray whales have been found in Alaska waters this year, six of them in the Bering Strait region or the Chukchi Sea off northwestern Alaska, said Julie Speegle, a NOAA spokeswoman in Juneau. As of mid-July, 137 dead seals had been found on Bering Strait-area beaches, Speegle said.

Seabird carcasses are littering beaches in what has shaped up as the fifth consecutive year of large bird die-offs in Alaska.

High numbers of salmon, apparently overcome by the heat before getting the chance to spawn, have been found floating dead in rivers and streams around western Alaska.

The warming trend has been uncomfortable for humans as well.

Fueled in part by the heat, wildfires across the state have burned more than 2.4 million acres (970,000 hectares) as of early August, spewing smoke and soot that has fouled the air quality of several cities and regions. The smoke pollution poses an unusual quandary for sweltering Alaskans, most of whom live without air conditioning.

“When it’s hot and smoky, Alaska doesn’t have a good way to cope with that,” said Thoman, the ACCP climate scientist whose hometown of Fairbanks was particularly hard hit by wildfire smoke. “Open your windows and you get smoked up. Keep your windows closed and you get hot.”

In Anchorage, where temperatures reached a record daytime high of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 degrees Celsius) last month, Brettschneider had a similar take.

“I tell people we’re not built for heat. Our houses are built to store heat,” he said.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Steve Gorman and Cynthia Osterman)

Amid U.S. Midwest flooding, residents in Missouri, Kansas rush to fill sandbags

Buildings are submereged in floodwater in Bellevue, Nebraska, U.S., March 20, 2019, in this still imgage taken from social media. Bellevue (Nebraska) Police Department via REUTERS

By Karen Dillon

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Reuters) – Floodwaters that devastated swaths of Nebraska and Iowa rolled downstream along America’s longest river on Thursday, swamping more Midwestern farmland as waterfront communities in Missouri and Kansas hurried to shore up strained levees.

Flooding of the Missouri River triggered by last week’s so-called “bomb cyclone” storm has already inflicted damage estimated at nearly $1.5 billion in Nebraska, killed at least four people in Nebraska and Iowa and left a man missing below Nebraska’s collapsed Spencer Dam.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson declared a state of emergency for his state as high water forced evacuations of several small farm communities. Larger towns from St. Joseph to Kansas City braced for additional flooding forecast through the weekend.

“The rising floodwaters are affecting more Missouri communities and farms, closing more roads and threatening levees, water treatment plants and other critical infrastructure,” Parson said in a statement.

A truck is submereged in floodwater in Bellevue, Nebraska, U.S., March 21, 2019, in this still imgage taken from social media. Bellevue (Nebraska) Police Department via REUTERS

A truck is submereged in floodwater in Bellevue, Nebraska, U.S., March 21, 2019, in this still imgage taken from social media. Bellevue (Nebraska) Police Department via REUTERS

The declaration allows state resources and assistance to be provided directly to counties and municipalities in need, said Mike O’Connell, spokesman for the Missouri Public Safety Department.

Authorities say continued flooding in the days ahead is unlikely to reach the widespread, catastrophic scale seen in Nebraska and Iowa – as excess flow dissipates along the length of the river and water breaches or flows over the tops of levees.

But the threat of extensive flooding lingers over the wider region through May and could grow dire in coming weeks with additional rainfall and melting snow runoff, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said on Thursday.

“This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk,” Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, said on Thursday in the agency’s spring outlook.

Scientists said on Thursday that climate change played a hand in the deadly floods, while a Trump administration official said more study was needed before making that link.

LEVEE BREACHES

Floodwaters have already swamped large stretches of Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa, drowning livestock and damaging crop land along the Missouri. A state of emergency has been declared in all or parts of the three Midwestern farm states.

The river’s next major flood crest is forecast to hit St. Joseph, Missouri, early Friday morning and a day later in Kansas City, Missouri, 55 miles (90 km) to the south.

With no more rain forecast until next weekend, authorities hope flood levels will abate. Still, the inundation has strained the system of dams and levees built and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the region.

More than 40 levee breaches have been confirmed in the agency’s Omaha district, encompassing the hardest-hit parts of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, officials told a news briefing.

A herd of cattle isolated by historic flooding across the state is seen in this aerial photo taken during Operation Prairie Hay Drop, where Nebraska Army National Guard Soldiers used a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to deliver hay to isolated group of cattle in Richland, Nebraska, U.S., March 20, 2019. Courtesy Lisa Crawford/Nebraska National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

A herd of cattle isolated by historic flooding across the state is seen in this aerial photo taken during Operation Prairie Hay Drop, where Nebraska Army National Guard Soldiers used a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to deliver hay to isolated group of cattle in Richland, Nebraska, U.S., March 20, 2019. Courtesy Lisa Crawford/Nebraska National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

Nine more instances of levee breaches and spillovers have occurred farther downstream in Missouri and Kansas, including one near St. Joseph that was last topped in 1993, said Jud Kneuvean, the Corps’ emergency management chief in Kansas City.

The disaster’s epicenter had shifted by Thursday to northwestern Missouri, where roughly 40,000 acres of farmland in Holt County alone was under water and a population of about 500 was at risk, Kneuvean said.

The Holt County farming town of Craig, home to about 250 people, was evacuated. So too were some 200 residents of Lewis and Clark Village in neighboring Buchanan County after a nearby levee failed, officials said.

In Forest City, downstream from Craig in Holt County, residents young and old hurried to fill sandbags to bolster their local levee, hoping to stave off disaster.

“This is our last line of defense,” South Holt County Assistant Fire Chief Bill Killin told area media.

TRUMP APPROVES FEDERAL FUNDING

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday approved a disaster declaration for Nebraska, making federal funding available in nine counties there that bore the brunt of last week’s floods.

More than 2,400 homes and businesses in Nebraska have been destroyed or damaged, with 200 miles (320 km) of roads unusable and 11 bridges wiped out, according to authorities.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts estimated the floods caused at least $439 million in damage to public infrastructure and other assets, and $85 million to private property. He put agricultural flood damage for the state at nearly $1 billion.

Mark Hamilton, 59, a retired military officer, has lived in a mobile home in Arlington, Nebraska, for the last 23 years but was forced to flee when it flooded. He said he lost his house, motorcycle and truck at a total cost of about $150,000.

“We’ve had floods nine, 10 years ago, but it was nothing like this,” Hamilton said. “That entire trailer park needs to be removed now; nobody can live there.”

(Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)

Tropical Depression Cindy still packs a punch after landfall on Thursday

Radar from the continued threat of Tropical Storm Cindy

By Kami Klein

In the wake of the landing of Tropical Depression Cindy, there is extensive flooding in many states, the death of a 10 year old boy from debris in Fort Morgan, Alabama  as well as the damage and injuries from an F2 tornado that plowed through Birmingham, Alabama on Thursday,  From reports by the National Weather Service, this was just the beginning of problems that will be arising from this intense storm system.   

The F2 Tornado that hit a heavily populated area in Birmingham, Alabama Thursday afternoon left extensive structural  damage and injured four people. The Weather Channel also reported that Mayor Tim Kerner of the town of Lafitte, Louisiana (located south of New Orleans) said the rising water may impact homes and vehicles, and he issued a voluntary evacuation for all residents.

The AP has reported that more than a foot of rain has fallen in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Residents are concerned with the damages and hazards brought by the immense amount of water, including the dangers of alligators that are prevalent in many ponds and will now move into more populated areas.  

Mississippi residents are not the only people concerned about frightening impacts in nature caused by the flooding. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System warned of floating colonies of fire ants in the flood waters.  In a statement, the agency said the fire ants may resemble ribbons, streamers or large balls of ants floating on the water and that residents should be on the lookout when maneuvering in or being near flooded areas.

So far the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Tennessee and even southern Arkansas have been affected by the torrential rains contained in Tropical Depression Cindy.  Officials in all states have warned that there is a strong possibility for more flash flooding and tornadoes.  

In a report by The Weather Channel, remnants of the storm moved into Tennessee on Friday, knocking down trees and prompting power outages. According to Memphis Light Gas and Water, nearly 10,000 customers were without power Friday morning. Kentucky and West Virginia are bracing themselves for Heavy rainfall and flooding and reports from the weather service show that portions of Michigan and Indiana are also being affected by this storm system as well.  

The National Weather Service says that the path of Tropical Storm Cindy will spread heavy rain into the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys today – and into the Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic tonight. Flash flooding is possible in these areas as well as strong to severe thunderstorms.  

 

 

 

 

U.S. wildfires ravage ranches in three states

Rancher Nancy Schwerzenbach walks with dogs through pasture burned by wildfires near Lipscomb, Texas, U.S., March 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Lucas Jackson

LIPSCOMB, Texas (Reuters) – When the Schwerzenbach family saw a wildfire racing toward their remote ranch in Lipscomb, Texas, there was no time to run.

“We had a minute or two and then it was over us,” said 56-year-old Nancy Schwerzenbach.

The fire, moving up to 70 miles per hour (112 kph), was one of several across more than 2 million acres (810,000 hectares) that hit the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Kansas last week, causing millions of dollars of damage and killing thousands of livestock.

Burning through nearly all 1,000 acres of the Schwerzenbach ranch, the fire killed some 40 cattle. A mile away, a young man in the rural community was killed.

“The fire was about two miles away before we knew what happened to us,” she said.

Numerous smaller fires burned in Colorado, Nebraska and the Florida Everglades, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas ranchers are returning home to survey the damage from the fires, fueled by tinder-dry vegetation and high winds. Local farmers from the Great Plains have helped those who have been affected by the wildfires by donating hay and fencing material.

In Oklahoma, the fires scorched a Smithfield Foods Inc. hog farm in Laverne, killing some 4,300 sows.

“When we drive down the road and look out on the pasture lands, there’s no grass. There’s dead deer, dead cows, dead wildlife, miles of fence gone away. It looks like a complete desert,” said Ashland Veterinary Center co-owner Dr. Randall Spare, who is helping in relief efforts in Clark County, Kansas.

Oklahoma Department of Agriculture State Veterinarian Rod Hall said bulldozers were being used to bury dead animals.

“They’re digging large pits and burying the animals in there,” he said.

In Texas, state government agencies estimate about 1,500 cattle were lost, according to Steve Amosson, an economist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

“When we value the deaths of cattle at market value, including disposal costs, we’re talking about $2.1 million at this point, and I expect that to go up,” he said. “We’re still dealing with chaos, they’re still trying to find cattle.”

Amosson estimates it could cost $6 million to recover 480,000 acres burned in Texas fires along with $4.3 million to replace and repair fences in the northern Texas Panhandle either destroyed by the fire or by cattle trampling them to escape the blaze.

Texas is the top U.S. cattle producing state with some 12.3 million head and Kansas is third at 6.4 million.

For Troy Bryant, 34, a rancher in Laverne, Oklahoma, the impact from the fires has been devastating. He lost livestock

worth about $35,000 and fencing worth about $40,000.

“We saw 4,000 acres burned here. Some places further west of here lost much more,” he said.

Click on http://reut.rs/2lXlAZK to see a photo related essay

(Reporting by Lucas Jackson in Lipscomb, Texas; Additional reporting by Renita D. Young and Theopolis Waters in Chicago; Writing and additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Melissa Fares and Diane Craft in New York)

U.S. weather service says hit by first-ever data system outage

residents dig out winter snow

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. National Weather Service said on Tuesday it suffered its first-ever outage of its data system during Monday’s blizzard in New England, keeping the agency from sending out forecasts and warnings for more than two hours.

The weather service’s Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System Network Control Facility failed Monday afternoon when the primary and backup routers lost power, the NWS said in a statement. The outage lasted two hours and 36 minutes.

“The AWIPS communications system is a very reliable configuration and this is the first time both routers failed simultaneously,” the weather service said.

The outage came as a blizzard was pummeling New England and engineers in Northern California were trying to repair problems at the United States’ tallest dam ahead of more rain.

The failure prevented the NWS from putting out forecasts, warnings, current conditions, satellite and radar imagery and updates to its main public site.

The director of the agency’s Office of Central Processing, David Michaud, called the impact “significant” in an email to weather service employees. The NWS’ Network Control Facility also was unable to connect with a backup system, he said.

During the outage, the weather service sent out forecasts, watches and warnings through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Radio and the social media accounts of local offices.

The routers at the main site were replaced and service restored. The cause of the outage is under investigation.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Paul Simao)

It’s official: NOAA, NASA confirm 2015 is warmest year on record

The average global temperatures last year were the warmest on record, two United States agencies announced on Wednesday, officially confirming what had long been anticipated.

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) both announced that Earth’s average temperatures in 2015 were the highest they’ve been since 1880, which is as far as records date back.

The agencies conducted separate analyses, but both reached the same conclusion.

The NOAA said global temperatures were 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average and beat last year’s record by .29 degrees.

It didn’t surprise the agency that 2015 set a new record, since it reported that record-high temperatures were recorded in 10 out of the 12 months of the year.

NASA calculated the temperatures in other ways, and had slightly different values than the NOAA, but agreed that 2015 was the warmest year since 1880.

The NOAA said an unseasonably warm December set some records of its own.

Average global temperatures during that month were 2 degrees above the 20th-century average. Not only was it the warmest December on record, but it was the only time since 1880 that any month has seen temperatures that far above its historic averages.

Though global temperatures reached new highs, not everywhere saw record warmth.

The United States, for example, experienced its second-warmest year on record, the NOAA said earlier this month. The nation’s average temperatures, while still well above average, were just shy of the all-time high established in 2012.

But record-high averages were recorded in parts of Russia, Europe, South America, and the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, the NOAA said Wednesday.

The latter is currently the site of one of the strongest El Nino weather patterns on record, which is known for producing extreme weather throughout the world. NASA officials said the phenomenon, paired with human-induced climate change, contributed to the new records.

“Last year’s temperatures had an assist from El Niño, but it is the cumulative effect of the long-term trend that has resulted in the record warming that we are seeing,” Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in a statement.

Despite the overall increases, the NOAA said some isolated areas witnessed cooler-than-average temperatures, including a swath of ocean near Greenland that posted record cold levels.

Current El Nino Already Second Strongest Ever Recorded for August

Federal meteorologists say the current El Nino is already the second strongest ever recorded for this time of year.

The officials with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say it could be one of the “most potent weather changers” in the last 65 years.

“There is a greater than 90% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, and around an 85% chance it will last into early spring 2016,” the NOAA said in a statement.

However, one NOAA official is warning that it might not bring the rain needed to end the drought in California and other western states.

“A big El Nino guarantees nothing,” said Mike Halper, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “At this point there’s no cause for rejoicing that El Nino is here to save the day.”

El Nino, created when the water in the Pacific Ocean is warmer than normal, usually brings large amounts of winter rain to California and snow to the Rocky Mountain range.

California’s state climatologist, Michael Anderson, told the New York Times that California would need one and half times the normal amount of rainfall to get out of their drought conditions and he found that unlikely to take place.

“The one important element is that El Niño events are associated with large variability of outcome,” he said. And while people tend to remember years with powerful El Niño effects, he said, “People don’t associate as strongly the years when an El Niño event didn’t lead to a big outcome.”

Major Hurricane Drought Reaches Record 117 Months

The continental United States has not been hit with a major hurricane in more than 117 months, a record according to the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA’s tracking of storms dates back to 1851.

A “major” hurricane is defined as a storm of Category 3 or higher.  The last major hurricane was Hurricane Wilma in 2005 which reached Category 5.

The scale does not mean smaller storms could not cause damage, but that major storms are most likely to cause catastrophic damage and significant loss of life.  The most recent storm to cause damage while not being considered a “major” hurricane was Hurricane Sandy, a category 1 storm that was downgraded by the time it made landfall in the northeastern United States.

The streak is not expected to end this Atlantic hurricane season as “El Nino” is especially hot and among the strongest in the last 50 years.  That warm current of air mixed with colder than normal Atlantic Ocean water decreases the possibility of major storms.

“Even if El Niño went away tomorrow, which it won’t do, we would still forecast a below normal season because the Atlantic is so cold,” Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University told the Miami Herald. “When you get that combination, it’s really lethal for storms.”

Category 4 Hurricane Dolores, currently raging in the Pacific Ocean, is so far off the coastline that forecasters do not believe it will make landfall in Mexico or the United States.

Substantial El Nino Predicted

Scientists say that the El Nino effect is under way in the tropical Pacific.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology says a “substantial” El Nino event could take place before the end of the year.  Forecasters say that the El Nino is in early stages but the potential for extreme weather is real.

U.S. scientists initially said that El Nino had arrived but characterized it as “weak.”  Australian officials countered their U.S. colleagues’ claims.

“This is a proper El Nino effect, it’s not a weak one,” David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology, told reporters. He said that El Nino could bring much lower than normal rainfall and enhance the country’s drought conditions.

“You know, there’s always a little bit of doubt when it comes to intensity forecasts, but across the models as a whole we’d suggest that this will be quite a substantial El Nino event.”

After the Australian model was released, U.S. forecasters on Thursday revised their statements and said that El Nino could bring much needed rain to California.

“We’ve seen continued evolution toward a stronger event,” NOAA official Mike Halpert told TIME. “Last month we were calling it weak, now we’re calling it borderline weak to moderate.”

“Stronger El Niños interrupt tropical rainfalls. That rain fall shifts and Indonesia and Austrailia become drier than average,” explained Halpert. “They’re not looking forward to El Niño shutting the tap off.”