U.S. weather forecasters predict above-normal hurricane season

A hurricane seen from space. Courtesy of Pixabay

By Laila Kearney

(Reuters) – U.S. weather forecasters on Thursday predicted more tropical storms in 2017 than normal for the Atlantic hurricane season, which last year brought one of the deadliest recorded storm systems that killed several hundred people.

Meteorologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center said there was a 70 percent chance of seeing between 11 and 17 named tropical storms this season, which begins on June 1 and runs for six months.

“There is a potential for a lot of storm activity this year,” Ben Friedman, acting NOAA administrator, said at a press conference in College Park, Maryland.

Five to nine of the storms could become hurricanes, with winds of 74 miles per hour or higher, including two to four major hurricanes, with winds of at least 111 miles per hour, Friedman said.

A normal season consists of an average of 12 tropical storms and six hurricanes, including three considered major.

U.S. residents along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast could be affected by the storms, as well as Mexico and the nations surrounding the Caribbean Sea.

The figures for 2017 are higher than last year’s prediction of 10 to 16 storms, with four to eight likely to become hurricanes.

A weak or non-existent El Nino, which typically suppresses the development of Atlantic hurricanes, and warmer sea surface temperatures factor into the predictions, said Gerry Bell, a NOAA hurricane climate specialist.

Forecasters will deploy more sophisticated tools this season to accurately track, image and predict the intensity of storms. They also will revise their model for communicating with the public, in part by sending alerts about storm surge, which is often the most dangerous element of tropical storms.

Despite forecasting advancements, Friedman warned residents, especially in coastal areas, to get ready ahead of time with evacuation plans and emergency supplies.

“We cannot stop hurricanes, but we can prepare for them,” Friedman said.

Last October, Hurricane Matthew killed hundreds of people when it hit Haiti and 34 more in the United States, and caused $10 billion in damage, making it one of the deadliest and most costly storms on record.

NOAA will update its outlook again in August, just before the peak storm season.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Diane Craft and Grant McCool)

At least one killed as tornado tears though dozens of Oklahoma homes: media

(Reuters) – A tornado tore through western Oklahoma on Tuesday evening, destroying or damaging dozens of homes and killing at least one person, media reported.

As many as 70 homes in Elk City, a town of about 12,000 people around 110 miles (180 km) west of Oklahoma City, were damaged or destroyed by the storm, CBS affiliate KWTV reported, citing officials.

One person in a car was killed, the station reported, citing an emergency response official. It was unclear how many people were injured, KWTV said.

The majority of damage occurred on the south side of the city, the Elk City Police Department said in a statement. The department told residents to stay home because power lines were down across the city. The department’s phone lines were also down, it added.

Elk City Public Schools were canceled for Wednesday, the school system said in a statement.

“My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tornado in Elk City tonight,” Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Heavy rain, wind disrupts travel for New Yorkers

A motorcycle is seen in water on the West Side Highway after heavy rain in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., May 5, 2017.REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Heavy, wind-driven rain soaked the New York City area on Friday afternoon, causing local flooding and an array of transportation delays across the heavily populated region.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for much of New York City and several suburban counties as a weather system that stretched across much of the Eastern Seaboard dumped three inches of rain on the metropolitan region in three hours.

The rain forced the closure of Manhattan’s West Side Highway, a major thoroughfare along the Hudson River, for at least 10 blocks, and caused extensive traffic delays citywide, New York City’s Office of Emergency Management said.

While the intensity of rainfall had diminished shortly before the evening rush hour, water in flood-affected areas was expected to take several hours to recede.

The weather service received reports of flooding across all five boroughs of New York City, prompting some vehicle rescues, spokesman Tim Morrin said.

“The problem was the rain came down so heavy and so fast that the drainage couldn’t keep up,” Morrin said. “Roads became quickly impassible.”

Many flights in and out of New York airports experienced long delays and there were many cancellations. Hardest hit was LaGuardia Airport, where more than 34 percent of departing flights were delayed and 14 percent canceled, according to FlightAware, a website that tracks air travel.

The PATH rail service that connects New Jersey to Manhattan suspended service on two lines on Friday, citing a power problem.

Flooding forced the temporary closure of the main entrance to Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station, according to local media. The reports could not be immediately confirmed by Reuters.

The weather-related disruption was especially aggravating for commuters from New Jersey and Long Island suburbs who have endured hours-long delays in recent weeks after derailments and other incidents at Penn Station.

Claire Jones, 19, who commutes from her home in New Jersey to New York, said her New Jersey Transit line running in and out of Penn Station was delayed at least six times this month.

“It’s difficult,” Jones said. “The main thing about time transit is that it’s convenient so you know if you get on this train at this time, you’ll get where you need to go, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s extremely inconvenient.”

Amtrak, which owns and operates New York’s Penn Station and leases tracks and space to NJ Transit and the Long Island Railroad, is planning to close some tracks for weeks and months at a time as it undertakes repairs

The station, with its decaying, century-old rail tunnels extending underneath the Hudson River, is a chokepoint on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which runs from Washington to Boston.

The storm also caused inconvenience at the New York’s Oculus transportation hub in lower Manhattan, which opened only last August. Its roof began leaking, scattering hundreds of travelers, a Twitter-posted picture showed.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the Oculus at the World Trade Center complex, could not immediately confirm the leak.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney, Gina Cherelus and Jonathan Allen; Writing by Peter Szekely; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Rain threatens U.S. Midwest as flooding force hundreds from homes

Long Creek Bridge on 86 highway, flooding Photo By Austin Metcalf

(Reuters) – Unrelenting rain will drench the already saturated U.S. Midwest on Thursday and Friday, forecasters said, after floods in the region killed at least five people and forced residents in vulnerable areas to evacuate their flooded communities.

Parts of Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Indiana and Oklahoma could see as much as an additional 4 inches (10 cm) of rain as a slow-moving system is expected to hover over the region for at least one more day, the National Weather Service said in flood warnings and watches.

“The flooding in the middle part of the county has been unbelievable over the last couple of days … and we have more rain on the way, if you can believe that,” Weather.com meteorologist Ari Sarsalari said during his forecast on Wednesday night.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings and watches along waterways from eastern Texas north through Indiana and into northwestern Ohio as forecasters expected most of the rivers across the U.S. Midwest to crest over the weekend.

Branson Landing in Branson, Missouri. Photo by Austin Metcalf

Branson Landing in Branson, Missouri.
Photo by Austin Metcalf

The rain comes after five people were killed in flooding in Missouri, the last two of them swept from their cars on Monday and Tuesday, after a storm dumped almost 12 inches (30 cm) of rain in the region over the weekend, the National Weather Service said.

Schools throughout the Midwest canceled classes on Thursday as dozens of roadways and parts of interstate highways remained under water. Amtrak also suspended service in Missouri until at least Saturday, it said in a statement.

The heavy rains have caused levees to fail or to be breached along the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio rivers and their tributaries over the last few days.

Hundreds of people in places like Eureka, Missouri and Pocahontas, Arkansas have heeded evacuation orders and advisories after building walls of sandbags to protect their homes and businesses from the rising waters.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Torrential rains, damaging winds on tap for U.S. midsection

Stormy weather Courtesy of Pixabay

(Reuters) – A dangerous storm front will thrash the U.S. midsection over the weekend with torrential rainfall, damaging winds and large hail that will leave behind the threat of flooding throughout the region, the National Weather Service warned.

On Friday night, thunderstorms had already clobbered several communities in the southern Midwest with winds that took down trees and power lines while a reported rain-wrapped tornado in Lawrence, Illinois damaged a house, destroyed a structure and caused power outages, the weather service said.

On Saturday, a large swath of the region – from northern Texas up through Michigan – can expect torrential downpours that will produce 7 inches (18 cm) of rain, large hail and damaging wind gusts of 60 miles (95 km) per hour, the weather service predicted.

“The widespread and very heavy rain may produce life threatening flash flooding,” the weather service said in an advisory.

Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma told travelers on Twitter to “expect delays” and to check their flight with their airline as severe weather moves through the area.

The region has already received about 400 percent or more of normal moisture in the last week and will be highly sensitive to additional rainfall, the service said.

Evacuations could be necessary as areas along swollen waterways could see widespread flooding as the weather service issued flood warnings and watches for the weekend and into next week.

“Be very careful if out in the flooding rain. Many road closures. Never drive through a flooded road,” tweeted Ben Pine, a meteorologist for an ABC affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky.

To the west, a winter storm was expected to dump as much as a foot of wet, heavy snow (30 cm) in parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Texas, the National Weather Service said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Colombia landslide kills at least 17 as rains lash Andes

View of a neighborhood destroyed after mudslides, caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Manizales, Colombia April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Santiago Osorio

BOGOTA (Reuters) – At least 17 people were killed and seven are missing after a landslide sent mud and rocks crashing into several neighborhoods in Manizales, Colombia, the government said on Wednesday, the second deadly landslide in the country this month.

Recent heavy rains have endangered residents in dozens of provincial towns, where makeshift construction on the slopes of the Andes mountains makes neighborhoods particularly susceptible to avalanches and flooding.

The landslide in Manizales, capital of coffee-growing Caldas province west of Bogota, followed a similar disaster in Mocoa, Putumayo earlier this month that killed more than 320 people and displaced thousands from their homes.

“We are helping to find the disappeared … and unfortunately the number will rise,” President Juan Manuel Santos said of the death toll after arriving in Manizales.

At least 57 houses have been affected, the government said. Local media reported that Manizales received a month’s average rainfall just overnight.

Rescuers from the Red Cross, civil defense, firefighters and armed forces are searching for the disappeared in the mud and debris of destroyed buildings.

Running water, electricity and gas services have been suspended in the areas affected by the landslides.

“The situation in Manizales is very worrying. The toll is saddening,” Transport Minister Jorge Eduardo Rojas said after meeting with the province’s governor and the mayor of the city.

The forecast is for at least another two days of rain in the area.

Even in a country where rains, a mountainous landscape and informal construction combine to make landslides a common occurrence, the scale of the Mocoa disaster far surpassed recent tragedies, including a 2015 landslide that killed nearly 100 people.

Colombia’s deadliest landslide, the 1985 Armero disaster, killed more than 20,000.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Helen Murphy; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Asylum seekers crossing into Canada increase with warmer weather

A family that says they are from Colombia walks down Roxham Road toward the U.S.-Canada border leading into Hemmingford, Quebec, Canada March 26, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

(Reuters) – Canadian authorities caught 887 asylum seekers crossing unlawfully into Canada from the United States in March, nearly triple the number in January, according to numbers released by the government Wednesday.

This brings the total number of asylum seekers caught walking across the border to 1,860 so far this year. The new statistics suggest those numbers could rise further as the weather warms.

Canada is on track to see the highest number of asylum claims in six years, given the pace of claims filed so far, as increasing numbers of people cross into Canada to make refugee claims in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s election and his crackdown on refugees and illegal immigrants.

Under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, Canada is required to turn asylum seekers away if they try to file refugee claims at land border crossings. But if people cross the border in between formal crossings, they are taken into custody and questioned by both police and border authorities, then allowed to file claims and stay in Canada while they await the outcome.

Refugee advocates have argued that were it not for the Safe Third Country Agreement, people would file claims at border crossings instead.

The people caught crossing unlawfully comprise a fifth of everyone who has filed asylum claims in Canada so far this year but they loom large in Canadian politics, with the federal government taking fire for its wait-and-see approach. Nearly half of the people surveyed in a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released in March wanted to deport people illegally crossing into Canada from its southern neighbor.

“The majority of irregular migrants are holders of visas for the United States,” according to a statement released Wednesday from the office of Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

“Canadian authorities are managing the increase in asylum seekers in a sound and measured way. … To be clear – trying to slip across the border in an irregular manner is not a ‘free’ ticket to Canada.”

Almost three-quarters of the asylum seekers caught crossing so far this year were taken into custody in Quebec, the government data showed. Roxham Road, which straddles Champlain, New York and Hemmingford, Quebec, has become such a common spot that photographers cluster there and would-be refugees refer to it by name.

Most of the others were taken into custody in Manitoba and British Columbia – 331 and 201, respectively.

Police said Wednesday they have charged 43-year-old Michelle Omoruyi with human smuggling and conspiracy to commit human smuggling. Police allege they found Omoruyi driving nine west African asylum seekers across the U.S. border into the prairie province of Saskatchewan Friday night. The nine asylum seekers have filed refugee claims and are not in custody.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; editing by Diane Craft)

U.S. Southeast, Midwest face threat of severe storms, potential tornadoes

Stock photo of a thunderstorm that could produce tornadoes. Courtesy of Pixabay

(Reuters) – A dangerous weather system packing severe thunderstorms was expected to roll through the U.S. Southeast and parts of the Midwest on Wednesday, bringing with it the threat of tornadoes, forecasters said.

The region faced the threat of supercells developing throughout the day as very large hail and damaging straight-line wind appear to be likely, the National Weather Service said in an advisory.

At about 5:30 a.m. local time, a thunderstorm was moving northeast of Anniston, Alabama, at 55 miles (89 km) per hour, bringing with it hail the size of golf balls and 60 mile (98 km) per hour wind gusts, the Weather Service reported.

“For your protection move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a building,” the National Weather Service warned in an advisory.

Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina faced a heightened chance of tornadoes and potential flash flooding during the day.

The 5.7 million people who live in the Atlanta metro area should expect as much as 2-1/2 inches (6 cm) of rain throughout the day and into the evening, the service said.

Dozens of school districts in Alabama and Georgia canceled classes while Alabama Governor Robert Bentley issued a state of emergency ahead of the storm front.

“Alabama is no stranger to the impact severe weather can have on communities and the devastation that can occur when the weather takes a turn for the worse,” Bentley said in a statement.

The severe weather comes days after a powerful storm system in the southeastern U.S. killed four people, including a woman who was swept away by flood waters while she called 911.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Four dead, about 200,000 without power after Texas, Oklahoma storms

Stock photo of a thunderstorm that could produce tornadoes. Courtesy of Pixabay

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Four people were killed and nearly 200,000 customers were without electric power on Wednesday morning after overnight storms pounded Texas and Oklahoma, bringing tornadoes, torrential rain and hail to large parts of the states.

Three of those killed were storm chasers trying to track tornadoes in the Texas Panhandle region. They died after their cars slammed into each other near Spur on Tuesday night, police said.

In Oklahoma, a truck driver was killed near El Reno in a roll-over crash likely caused by high winds, police said.

There were 15 reports of tornadoes from the storms in Texas, with most of the twisters in the Panhandle and western parts of the state, the National Weather Service said. Hail, some as large as baseballs, pounded Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas overnight causing damage to cars.

The storm system weakened on Wednesday and was forecast to hit the Houston area.

The system took a heavy toll on utilities in North Texas, where provider Oncor said about 150,000 of its customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were without power on Wednesday morning. There were also tens of thousands of other customers in Texas and Oklahoma without power, various utilities reported.

The storms did not cause any major delays in flights through Dallas and Houston, two of the nation’s busiest air hubs, tracking service FlightAware.com reported.

But it did cause a number of school closures in North Texas where schools were without electricity. Elementary schools in Dallas and Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth, were closed. This caused delays for students taking an annual achievement test in the state known as STAAR, or the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.

“Storms throughout Texas yesterday and today? Proof that God doesn’t like #STAAR either! #imateacher,” Twitter user @kekis26 wrote on the social media site.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Army assesses damage after storm ‘absolutely smashes’ north Australia

A damaged building is seen behind a boat that was pushed onto a bank due to Cyclone Debbie in the township of Airlie Beach, located south of the northern Australian city of Townsville, March 29, 2017. AAP/Dan Peled/via REUTERS

By Tom Westbrook and Benjamin Weir

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Cyclone Debbie wrought widespread but moderate damage in Australia’s northeast, authorities said on Wednesday, as flooding rain and fallen trees slowed troops and emergency workers reaching the worst-hit areas.

No deaths were reported a day after Debbie smashed tourist resorts, flattened canefields and shut down coal mines in tropical Queensland state as a category four storm, one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level.

“It’s looking promising in terms of being able to rebuild promptly with most of the major infrastructure intact,” Queensland state police deputy commissioner Steve Gollschewski told Australian Broadcasting Corporation television.

“We’re still struggling to get in there, however,” he said, adding planes and boats were being used to bring army personnel and emergency workers to places cut-off by road.

And as poor weather persisted and several Bowen Basin collieries stayed shut, analysts said Debbie could push coking coal prices higher – while tourism operators, even in unaffected regions, reported canceled bookings.

Resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef and coastal areas bore the brunt of the storm with wind gusts stronger than 260 kph (160 mph).

One family near Airlie Beach, over which the eye of the storm passed, had a particularly dramatic night. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the family welcomed a baby girl who was born inside the Whitsunday Ambulance Station as the storm raged outside.

Pictures from Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach showed streets stacked with snapped trees, roof tiles and furniture, with wrecked yachts washed ashore.

“Nature has flung her worst at the people of Queensland,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters at the Crisis Coordination Centre in Canberra.

Electricity was cut for more than 63,000 people, and Wilmar said its sugar mills were stilled at Proserpine and Sarina.

Hundreds of hectares of sugarcane crops had been flattened, Dan Galligan, chief executive of industry body Canegrowers, said in a statement.

In the Bowen Basin, the world’s single-largest source of coal used to make steel, BHP Billiton, Glencore, and Stanmore Coal all said work at mines there was halted until further notice.

But Glencore added its Collinsville and Newlands mines were not damaged and it anticipated production would resume within 48 hours, with no impact on annual targets. Prices lifted, but other factors also contributed.

Ports operator North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation also said it had no reports of significant damage.

Whitsunday Islands resorts were battered, running short on fresh water and closed to bookings until at least next week, but mostly intact.

Hoteliers hundreds of kilometers away at Cairns and Rockhampton were seeing cancellations for upcoming Easter holidays and operators worried that bad press would prolong the recovery, Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said.

“These are places that are entirely unaffected by these circumstances and that’s the kind of collateral damage we suffer sometimes in our industry,” he said.

Townsville Airport reopened, although airlines Qantas and Virgin said flights to Hamilton Island, Proserpine and Mackay were canceled.

Only two injuries were reported, police said.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Toni Reinhold, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)