Car overturned by the tornado near Adairsville, Georgia, on 30 January 2013. Photo: WSB-TV on http://pic.twitter.com/2lAL0Lmc

By Jeff Masters
30 January 2013

[…] Today's severe weather outbreak was helped by record levels of January moisture, as a flow of unusually moist air rode northwards from the Gulf of Mexico, where water temperatures were about 0.5°F above average. Meteorologists use a term called "precipitable water" to discuss how much water vapor is in the atmosphere. Precipitable water is defined as how much rain would fall on the ground if one took a vertical slice of the atmosphere above a given location and condensed all the water vapor into rain. Precipitable water levels tend to be highest in the summer, since warm air holds more waver vapor, and can exceed two inches in the Midwest U.S. In winter, though, it is rare to see precipitable water values higher than one inch.

However, Tuesday night, precipitable water was well over an inch well into Canada, and two upper air stations--Detroit, MI and Lincoln IL--set all-time records for January moisture. From the 00Z and 12Z Wednesday January 30, upper air balloon soundings taken at the 73 radiosonde stations in the contiguous U.S., we observed these record or near-record precipitable water values for January:

  • Detroit, MI: New Record: 1.21" Old record: 1.20" 1/11/75
  • Lincoln, IL: New record: 1.46" Old Record: 1.35" 1/12/60
  • Alpena, MI: 2nd place, 0.99". First place: 1.01", 1/5/97
  • Buffalo, NY: 2nd place, 1.21". First place: 1.34", 1/15/95
  • Wilmington, OH: 2nd place, 1.44" First place: 1.51", 1/12/2005

Green Bay (4th), Shreveport (6th), Little Rock (3rd), Nashville, TN (10th) and Maniwawi, Quebec (4th) all had top-ten January precipitable water values. Radiosonde data goes back to 1948.

The exceptional moisture led to record rains in many regions of the Midwest, with numerous locations setting daily precipitation records. Two airports recorded their wettest January day on record, including Madison, WI (1.84", previous record 1.80" on January 1, 1892) and Houghton Lake, MI (1.21", old record 1.08" on in 1938.) Top-five wettest January days in recorded history were also set at Muskegon, MI (2.48"), Marquette, MI (1.21"), and South Bend, IN (1.94".)

Here where I live, in Southeast Michigan, being outside yesterday was like walking through a surreal white soup. Rains like nothing I've ever seen in January fitfully poured from the sky throughout the day, ponding up on the frozen ground. Eerie white fog swirled over the sodden snow drifts as thunder rumbled overhead in temperatures 25°F above average. What planet was this? The heavy rains of 1.60" that fell in 26 hours at the nearby Flint airport made this month our wettest January in recorded history, with 3.66" of precipitation. [more]

First tornado death of 2013 ends record 220-day streak without a tornado death

An undated image showing plaintiff Nigerian farmer Eric Dooh showing his hand covered with oil from a creek near Goi, Ogoniland, Nigeria. Photo: Marten Van Dijl / EPA

By Fred Pals
30 January 2013

(Bloomberg) – Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Europe’s biggest oil company, isn’t liable in four out of five claims bought by Nigerian farmers for pollution, a Dutch court ruled. The company’s local venture must pay compensation in one case.

“Shell Nigeria has been sentenced to pay damages in one of the cases,” Henk Wien, judge of the District Court of The Hague, said today. “In the four cases as regards an oil spill in 2004 near the village of Goi and as regards an oil spill in 2005 near the village of Oruma, Shell Nigeria had taken sufficient precautions to prevent the sabotage from its underground pipelines.”

In October 2012, four Nigerian villagers took Shell’s Nigerian unit to court. The fishermen and farmers, together with environmental group Milieudefensie, accused the oil company of polluting land and waterways around their homes in the Niger Delta region.

“We will appeal this ruling,” Geert Ritsema, a spokesman for Milieudefensie, told reporters. “We’re flabbergasted and the people have not seen justice.”

Shell said in a statement before the judgment that the oil spills were caused by acts of sabotage and that the court lacks jurisdiction to rule on the liability of a unit that is based in Nigeria. Shell said it repaired and cleaned up the spills. […]

The district court ruled that in two oil spills near the village of Ikot Ada Udo Shell Nigeria violated a duty of care and shall be held liable for negligence, according to Wien. Shell Nigeria could and should have prevented this sabotage by installing a concrete plug before 2006. [more]

Shell Not Liable for Most Nigeria Spill Claims, Dutch Court Says


Oil spill in the Niger Delta. This spill was far worse than Shell previously admitted, it has been revealed. Photo: Amnesty International

THE HAGUE, 30 January 2013 (Reuters) – A Dutch court ruled on Wednesday that Royal Dutch Shell's Nigerian subsidiary was responsible for a case of oil pollution in the Niger Delta and ordered it to pay damages in a decision that could open the door to further litigation.

The district court in The Hague said Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd. (SPDC), a wholly-owned subsidiary, must compensate one farmer, but dismissed four other claims filed against the Dutch parent company.

Four Nigerians and campaign group Friends of the Earth filed suits in 2008 in The Hague, where Shell has its global headquarters, seeking reparations for lost income from contaminated land and waterways in the Niger Delta region, the heart of the Nigerian oil industry.

The case was seen by environmental activists as a test for holding multinationals responsible for offences at foreign subsidiaries, and legal experts said other Nigerians affected by pollution might now be able to sue in the Netherlands.

Shell said the case would not set a precedent because its parent company was not held responsible.

The farmer who won compensation, 52-year-old father of 12 Friday Akpan, said he was very happy with the judgment because it would allow him to repay his debts.

"I am not surprised at the decision because there was divine intervention in the court. The spill damaged 47 fishing ponds, killed all the fish and rendered the ponds useless," he told Reuters in the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt.

"Since then I have been living by God's grace and on the help of good Samaritans. I think this will be a lesson for Shell and they will know not to damage people's livelihoods."

A legal expert said the ruling could make it possible for other Nigerians who say they also suffered losses due to Shell's activities to file lawsuits in the Netherlands.

"The fact that a subsidiary has been held responsible by a Dutch court is new and opens new avenues," said Menno Kamminga, professor of international law at Maastricht University.

The court did not just examine the role of the parent company, but also looked "at abuses committed by Shell Nigeria, where the link with the Netherlands is extremely limited," he said. "That's a real breakthrough."    

Friends of the Earth spokesman Geert Ritsema said they would appeal against the acquittals "because there is still a lot of oil lying around. These sites need to be cleaned."  

Ritsema said hundreds of other Nigerians in the village of Icot Ada Udo, where farmer Friday Akpan lives, can now take similar legal action.

The court backed Shell's argument that the spills were caused by sabotage and not poor maintenance of its facilities, as had been argued by the Nigerians.

Ritsema said it was also new that an oil company was being held responsible for failing to prevent sabotage. [more]

Dutch court says Shell responsible for Nigeria spills

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has placed portions of Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma, Illinois, Indiana, and Mississippi in their 'Moderate Risk' region for severe weather on Tuesday, 29 January 2013. This is the first 'Moderate Risk' forecast issued during 2013. Graphic: Weather Underground

By Dr. Jeff Masters
29 January 2013

(Weather Underground) – The calendar says it’s January, but the atmosphere looks more like April over the Midwest U.S., where a spring-like surge of warm air is interacting with a strong low pressure system to create a dangerous severe weather situation. The warm air surging northwards has already broken high temperature records for the date in Chicago, where the mercury hit 61°F [16°C] at 7 am CST; a tornado watch is posted for portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas.

Golf-ball sized hail fell at three locations in Oklahoma already this morning, and a wind gust of 75 mph was reported in a thunderstorm near Omega, Oklahoma.

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has placed portions of Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma, Illinois, Indiana, and Mississippi in their "Moderate Risk" region for severe weather on Tuesday. This is the first "Moderate Risk" forecast issued during 2013.

The primary threat will be damaging thunderstorm winds, but we will also see tornadoes, with the potential for a few strong EF-2 and EF-3 twisters. The surge of warm moving northwards ahead of the cold front spawning today's severe weather is bringing in warmth unprecedented for January in some locations. Monday was the hottest January day on record in Topeka, Kansas, which hit 77°F [25°C]. That's 36°F above average. and 3° warmer than their previous highest January temperature.

Columbia, Missouri tied its all-time warmest January temperature, 77°F [25°C]. Kansas City (74°F [23.3°C]) and Wichita (74°F) both fell 1° short of tying their all-time January hottest temperature records.

Balloon soundings of the atmosphere taken last night showed moisture levels in the top 5% for a January day over much of the Midwest, and several stations may set all-time rainiest January day records today.

One candidate is Flint Michigan, where a heavy thunderstorm moved in at 7:30 am, dumping 0.75" of rain. With another round of thunderstorms expected tonight, Flint is poised to break its record for rainiest January day in its history--the 1.34" that fell on 18 January 1949.

Chicago's craziest January in memory got even stranger today, when a surge of warm air pushed the temperature to 61°F at 7 am, breaking the previous high temperature record of 59°F for the date. Spring-like thunderstorms, accompanied by temperatures in the mid-60s are expected this afternoon--just a week after the city recorded a high temperature of 11°F and a low of -1°F (on January 22nd.) Chicago has been above 65°F in January just once in its history--on January 25, 1950, when the mercury hit 67°F.  [more]

April in January: spring-like severe weather and record warmth in the Midwest

Fire storms over a hill at Maffra in Gippsland, Australia, Januray 2013. Photo: Simon Noble / Instagram

By Michael Slezak
29 January 2013

The east coast of Australia has been drenched by floods and torrential rains, even as recent bush fires affecting much of the country continued to burn. Four people are known to have died as Australians get a further taste of extreme weather that is predicted to become more common as the planet warms.

The deluge came as a storm that started as tropical cyclone Oswald just north of Australia was dragged south over most of the east coast by a low-pressure system extending all the way to New South Wales, says Richard Wardle of the Bureau of Meteorology in Queensland. As it hit land, Oswald lost its cyclone status but remained a "vigorous" storm, Wardle says.

With no low-pressure zone further east to pull Oswald out to sea, the storm stayed over land, moving slowly south and dumping huge amounts of rain on coastal communities. Bundaberg, a town in Queensland, experienced its worst-ever flood as the storm lingered nearby for nearly 24 hours, leading to the evacuation of 7500 people from their homes. In Brisbane, the floods were almost as bad as those that devastated the city two years ago.

In Queensland and New South Wales, the deluge arrived while the bush fires that broke out two weeks were still smouldering. At the time, the Bureau of Meteorology said that the exceptionally hot, dry weather that led to the fires was "consistent" with climate change. Experts are now drawing the same conclusions about the rains.

"The frequency of more intense events is going to increase. Droughts, heatwaves and – in northern Australia – rainfall events and tropical cyclones are going to be more intense," says Jon Nott of James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, who researches extreme weather events.

Nott says that more intense rainfall in the tropics and subtropics is one of the things we can expect with global warming. The connection between tropical cyclones and climate change is complicated: fewer cyclones are expected, but the ones that strike will be more severe. They could also become 20 per cent wetter. [more]

Climate change blamed for Australia's extreme weather

Mongabay.com's Global Forest Disturbance Alert System (GloF-DAS) alerts in Sumatra. NASA satellites picked up signals of extensive potential deforestation in Sumatra, Borneo, Central Africa, the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon, the Chocó in Colombia and Ecuador, and the Chaco region of Paraguay between 1 October 2012 and 31 December 2012. Graphic: mongabay.com

29 January 2013 (mongabay.com) – NASA satellites picked up signals of extensive potential deforestation in Sumatra, Borneo, Central Africa, the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon, the Chocó in Colombia and Ecuador, and the Chaco region of Paraguay between October 1 and December 31, 2012, according to the latest update on Mongabay.com's Global Forest Disturbance Alert System (GloF-DAS).

Deforestation signals were particularly strong on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where large areas of forest have been converted for palm oil and pulp and paper production in recent years. In Africa, Gabon was riddled with potential deforestation hotspots, as was the western part of the Republic of Congo. [more]

NASA data registers strong deforestation signals in Sumatra, Borneo, Brazil, Gabon

Example of a vulnerability assessment for shoreline change due to sea-level rise. Maps of the U.S. Atlantic coast show (a) the posterior probability of shoreline change < −1 meter/year and (b) the maximum posterior probability for each location. The probabilities are color-coded and labeled using IPCC likelihood terminology that is familiar to coastal managers. Source: Gutierrez, et al., 2011

28 January 2013 (NOAA) – According to a new technical report, the effects of climate change will continue to threaten the health and vitality of U.S. coastal communities’ social, economic and natural systems. The report, Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities: a technical input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment, authored by leading scientists and experts, emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change.

The recently-released report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes.

“Sandy showed us that coastal states and communities need effective strategies, tools, and resources to conserve, protect, and restore coastal habitats and economies at risk from current environmental stresses and a changing climate,” said Margaret A. Davidson of NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management and co-lead author of the report. “Easing the existing pressures on coastal environments to improve their resiliency is an essential method of coping with the adverse effects of climate change.”

A key finding in the report is that all U.S. coasts are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as sea-level rise, erosion, storms and flooding, especially in the more populated low-lying parts of the U.S. coast along the Gulf of Mexico, Mid-Atlantic, northern Alaska, Hawaii, and island territories. Another finding indicated the financial risks associated with both private and public hazard insurance are expected to increase dramatically.

“An increase in the intensity of extreme weather events such as storms like Sandy and Katrina, coupled with sea-level rise and the effects of increased human development along the coasts, could affect the sustainability of many existing coastal communities and natural resources,” said Virginia Burkett of the U.S. Geological Survey and co-lead author of the report.

The authors also emphasized that storm surge flooding and sea-level rise pose significant threats to public and private infrastructure that provides energy, sewage treatment, clean water and transportation of people and goods. These factors increase threats to public health, safety, and employment in the coastal zone.

The report’s authors noted that the population of the coastal watershed counties of the U.S. and territories, including the Great Lakes, makes up more than 50 percent of the nation’s population and contributed more than $8.3 trillion to the 2011 U.S. economy but depend on healthy coastal landforms, water resources, estuaries and other natural resources to sustain them. Climate changes, combined with human development activities, reduce the ability of coasts to provide numerous benefits, including food, clean water, jobs, recreation and protection of communities against storms.

Seventy-nine federal, academic and other scientists, including the lead authors from the NOAA and USGS, authored the report which is being used as a technical input to the third National Climate Assessment — an interagency report produced for Congress once every four years to summarize the science and impacts of climate change on the United States.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Expected public health impacts include a decline in seafood quality, shifts in disease patterns and increases in rates of heat-related morbidity.
  • Changes in the location and the time of year when storms form can lead to large changes in where storms land and the impacts of storms. Any sea-level rise is virtually certain to exacerbate storm-surge and flooding related hazards.
  • Because of changes in the hydrological cycle due to warming, precipitation events (rain, snow) will likely be heavier. Combined with sea-level rise and storm surge, this will increase flooding severity in some coastal areas, particularly in the Northeast.
  • Temperature is primarily driving environmental change in the Alaskan coastal zone. Sea ice and permafrost make northern regions particularly susceptible to temperature change. For example, an increase of two degrees Celsius during the summer could basically transform much of Alaska from frozen to unfrozen, with extensive implications.
  • As the physical environment changes, the range of a particular ecosystem will expand, contract or migrate in response. The combined influence of many stresses can cause unexpected ecological changes if species, populations or ecosystems are pushed beyond a tipping point.
  • Although adaptation planning activities in the coastal zone are increasing, they generally occur in an ad-hoc manner and are slow to be implemented. Efficiency of adaptation can be improved through more accurate and timely scientific information, tools, and resources, and by integrating adaptation plans into overall land use planning as well as ocean and coastal management.
  • An integrated scientific program will reduce uncertainty about the best ways coastal communities can to respond to sea-level rise and other kinds of coastal change. This, in turn, will allow communities to better assess their vulnerability and to identify and implement appropriate adaptation and preparedness options.

This report is available at: Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities: a technical input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment [pdf].

USGS provides science for a changing world. Visit USGS.gov, and follow us on Twitter @USGS and our other social media channels.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

NOAA, USGS: Climate change impacts to U.S. coasts threaten public health, safety and economy

Flooding in Queensland, Australia, 29 January 2013. Photo: 3aw.com.au

By Peter Hannam, Carbon economy editor
29 January 2013

(Sydney Morning Herald) – Update A slew of January rainfall records were broken as the remnants of ex-tropical cyclone Oswald heads south along the NSW coast.

Pine Ridge, south of Tamworth, copped 131 millimetres of rain in the 24 hours to 9am Tuesday, setting an annual record, according to Aaron Coutts-Smith, NSW manager of climate services at the weather bureau.

Other notable falls include Wyee, near Lake Macquarie, which received 171.8mm, its highest tally for January in 113 years of records. Grafton's Olympic site notched its highest January rainfall of 131mm in the 24 hours to 9am on Monday.

Also setting a new high for any month was Old Koreelah, inland from Byron Bay, which collected 205mm in its rain gauge in the 24 hours to 9am Monday - the most in a century of records.

Initial numbers point to Crystal Creek on the mid-north coast's Bellinger River as recording the highest rainfall total of 288 millimetres in the 24 hours to 9am Tuesday, as the storm system tracked south.

Sydney's Observatory Hill recorded 95 millimetres of rain for the period, the highest level since last March's severe rainstorms. In the Sydney region, the north shore's French's Forest and Castle Cove both saw 161 millimetres land in their rain gauges.

The Upper Rous River saw the state's heaviest falls from the storm, with 944 millimetres landing in the border zone site near Queensland in the past three days.

“It's not far short of a metre of rain,” said Dr Coutts-Smith. “When you think of those volumes, it's no wonder there has been flooding.” [more]

Rainfall records tumble as storm heads south


Record flood levels in Grafton, Australia at the Fry Street boat ramp, 29 January 2013. Authorities expect flood levels in Grafton to reach record heights after the Bureau of Meteorology issued major flood warnings for Clarence Valley. Photo: 10 News

By Megan Levy
29 January 2013

(Sydney Morning Herald) – More than 2100 residents in Grafton have been ordered to evacuate on Tuesday as authorities prepare for the Clarence River to hit a record peak at midday which authorities warn will cause major flooding.

The State Emergency Service issued a flood evacuation order for Dovedale and North Meadow at 8.30am, telling residents to leave their homes immediately. A further 7000 people in Grafton have been told to prepare to evacuate if conditions deteriorate further.

Authorities originally expected the Clarence River in Grafton to peak at 7.9 metres about 9am on Tuesday.

However, that later was revised up to an expected peak of 8.1 metres at midday, which was forecast to cause major flooding of downstream rural properties.

Caroline Ortel, SES regional controller, said Grafton was facing record flood levels, which could be even higher than predicted.

"What we're dealing with there is a flood of record," she said.

"There has never been a flood of this height in recorded history of Grafton, so for everybody who is trying to work on this and make all of the predictions, there isn't historical data to go on. The river is showing signs of dropping further upstream and that is what we have to work with at the moment."

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a major flood warning for the Clarence Valley, and a moderate flood warning for the Orara River. […]

The flooding was due to heavy rain from the past few days flowing into the Clarence River upstream. At nearby Lilydale, the Clarence River peaked at 20.94 metres at midnight on Monday. That was close to the 1954 flood peak of 21 metres. [more]

Hundreds evacuated as Grafton braces for record flood


Scorched landscape and a fire truck in Victoria's north-east, 29 January 2013.  Winds in the bushfire zone reached 70 kilometres an hour. Photo: Angela Wylie / Sydney Morning Herald

By Nino Bucci
29 January 2013

(Sydney Morning Herald) – Firefighters in Victoria's north-east are confident that containment lines will hold on Tuesday despite violent winds, but the bushfire near Violet Town could burn for weeks.

The fire at Boho has burned 1448 hectares; there are 130 firefighters on scene.

Winds are expected to reach 70 kilometres an hour on Tuesday, but a Country Fire Authority spokeswoman said firefighters in the area had spent much of Monday building containment lines and expected that the fire would be controlled.

She said the fire could burn for some time as it is in steep, dense terrain. […]

In Gippsland, a fire that started in Aberfeldy on January 17 is still burning, but is being controlled. [more]

Savage winds forecast as firies battle blazes

Logo for the documentary film, 'Koala Hospital', which highlights the many perils facing koalas, including climate change due to record fires across Australia, deforestation, dogs, and vehucular traffic. Graphic: koalahospital.comBy Jeremy Hance
28 January 2013

(mongabay.com) – According to Susan Kelly, koalas have become "urban refugees," under siege by expanding cities that bring with them deforestation, dogs, traffic, and other ills for native wildlife. Director of Global Briefing, and writer, producer and director of the new documentary Koala Hospital, Kelly has spent 3 years working to understand the rising threats to one of the world's most beloved marsupials.

While Koala Hospital highlights the many perils facing koalas, including climate change due to record fires across Australia, it also looks at the efforts of individuals who work to save koalas one—by—one at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, taking in patients who have been orphaned, hit by cars, scarred in fires, or attacked by dogs.

Koala Hospital is making its New York City premiere Saturday, February 2 at the 3rd Annual New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival. Ahead of its premiere, Kelly answered some questions from Mongabay.com about the film and her career. The film has already made waves in Australia where the government recently listed koalas as Vulnerable to extinction.

AN INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN KELLY

Mongabay.com: What is your background?

Susan Kelly: A degree in Communications led me to work in the news media as a journalist/producer, producing media for various organizations such as SkyNews, ABC, CNN, National Geographic, and the United Nations. I'm now an independent video journalist and producer with a focus on the environment and natural heritage—filming “urban frontlines” where the intersection between people and wildlife is the most problematic. [more]

Cute koalas have become 'urban refugees'

Smog blankets Beijing, 13 January 2013. Air pollution levels in the Chinese capital were at hazardous levels for days, with dense smog continuing to shroud the city amid freezing winter temperatures. Photo: AP via BBC

By Minxin Pei
28 January 2013

(FORTUNE) – For a long time, environmental activists, economists, and China scholars have warned about the coming environmental disaster in China. Such a catastrophe finally appeared in the most dramatic form in mid-January, when a thick layer of poisonous pollutants smothered much of northern China and made air in Beijing hazardous to breathe.

For the Chinese government, this was merely one of many wake-up calls. The question on everyone's mind is whether Beijing will finally muster the political will to implement policies to avert an ecological calamity that will almost certainly spell the end of the Chinese economic miracle and potentially lead to the fall of the Communist Party itself.

Judging by the numbers, the scope of China's environmental degradation is beyond shocking.  Consider:

  • The World Bank estimated, in a 2007 report, that pollution caused 5.8% of China's GDP in premature deaths, health care costs, and material damages. Air pollution alone is estimated to kill 700,000 people a year.
  • A 2012 MIT study estimated that air pollution in 2005 cost the Chinese economy $112 billion in lost labor and healthcare costs, roughly five times higher than it was in 1975.
  • In 2010, airborne microscopic pollutants caused an estimated 8,600 premature deaths in four major Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xian.
  • According to a Chinese vice minister of environmental protection, the water quality in five of the nine bays along China's coast was "extremely poor." Results from monitoring stations along 10 major river basins show that 40% of the water is polluted. And 55% of the underground water in 200 cities is polluted. On top of that, about 300 million rural residents do not have access to safe drinking water.
  • Soil pollution is endangering China's food chain. Roughly 10% of the country's arable land has been contaminated by heavy metal, based on scientific studies conducted in the late 1990s. In 2006, the Chinese government began a nationwide survey of soil pollution. However, it has not released the results, most probably because the findings are too alarming for the government to release.

Given decades of environmental neglect and China's heavy reliance on coal -- which produces 70% of the country's energy -- it would be difficult to produce a dramatic improvement quickly.  [more]

China's environment: An economic death sentence

A Swift Water Rescue officer saves a young boy from floodwaters in Rockhampton, Australia, 28 January 2013. Photo: Allan Reinikka / Sydney Morning Herald

By Ilya Gridneff, Nicole Hasham, and Amy Remeikis
29 January 2013

(Sydney Morning Herald) – A week after  some of the hottest temperatures on record, four Queenslanders are dead and two men remain missing as winds and torrential rain lash the east coast and flooding wreaks havoc in parts of northern NSW.

Ex-tropical cyclone Oswald has brought strong winds and constant rain that has isolated parts of Queensland and the northern rivers area of NSW, with 500 homes in Lismore evacuated on Monday night.

The SES also issued evacuation orders for Ulmarra, Cowper, and Brushgrove. […]

The storm front was expected to move south to the Sydney metropolitan area in the early hours of Tuesday, bringing more wild weather.

The Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, said the next 24 hours would see flood peaks in the Lockyer Valley, Ipswich and Brisbane.

‘‘We’re not going to forget people; there will be a very strong recovery effort,’’ he told ABC TV.

Sean Scott, of Ipswich, headed to an evacuation centre after police warned that his home could flood. “I don’t have much, but I made sure I moved my ute somewhere safe.  I’ve got no job without my ute,” he said. […]

Grafton has been hit by a major flood and a new warning was issued for Murwillumbah and Chinderah as the Tweed River catchment flooded on Monday.

Queensland was hit the hardest, with Bundaberg suffering its worst flood on record. Helicopters rescued residents trapped on their rooftops and it is believed 1200 homes were damaged by the flood. People living along the Logan and Albert rivers south of Brisbane were warned to prepare for flooding.

Senior Sergeant Grant Marcus, the executive officer of  Bundaberg District Disaster Management, said as many as 1000 people in north Bundaberg had been taken to safety by Black Hawk helicopter.  

West of Brisbane, in the Lockyer Valley, where floods took 19 lives in 2011, evacuations have been carried out as flood levels exceeded previous levels. [more]

Four dead, two missing as heavy rain ravages coast


The usually tranquil Wategos Beach in the wake of Cyclone Oswald, 28 January 2013. Photo: Heath Missen / Sydney Morning Herald

By Peter Hannam, Carbon economy editor
29 January 2013

(Sydney Morning Herald) – ONE of the biggest storm systems in decades was expected to hit the Sydney region overnight, potentially causing havoc for students and employees returning from their summer holidays.

Julie Evans, a senior meteorologist at the weather bureau, said 100-200 millimetres of rain was forecast to hit the city, much of it landing in the six hours to 6am on Tuesday.

"It could be pretty nasty in the morning peak hour," she said.

Ben McBurney, a meteorologist at Weatherzone, said the scale of the storm - the remnants of former tropical cyclone Oswald - was a "10- to 20-year event".

"It's been fed constantly by moist north-easterly winds off the Coral Sea," he said. "Certainly its longevity has been quite remarkable. Not many people picked that this was going to last all the way from north Queensland down to the NSW coast."

Ms Evans said climate experts calculated that three-day rainfall totals could challenge those of a big storm from tropical cyclone Zoe in March 1974.

"Our flood people are watching 13 different river catchments," she said. "It's that sort of system that we've had to monitor a huge area because of the likely breadth of it."

In Sydney, the Cooks River flowing into Botany Bay was one area under watch.

Wind gusts were also expected to lash more of the state as the deep low-pressure system moved south. For Sydney, though, the strongest winds were likely to be confined to the coastal fringe. Surf conditions were likely to remain dangerous, with waves reaching as high as 10 metres off Coffs Harbour.

The wetter conditions have brought some cheer, though, with at least 50 millimetres of rain at Coonabarabran, near large fires in the state's north-west.

"You go from one extreme to the other," said Weatherzone's Mr McBurney.

The next extreme, however, may be another heatwave, stretching from Adelaide to Sydney and Brisbane.

"Our indications are that mid- to late-February is going to be quite warm," he said.

Storm surge: summer holidays end with a bang


Aerial view of flooding at Bundaberg, Queensland, 28 January 2013. Photo: Channel 7

By Bridie Jabour and Ilya Gridneff
29 January 2013

(Sydney Morning Herald) – Emergency crews scrambled on Monday to rescue up to 1500 people feared trapped in Bundaberg as Queensland’s flood crisis grew.

A week after Australia had some of the hottest temperatures on record, four Queenslanders were confirmed dead and another two were missing after ex-tropical cyclone Oswald brought strong winds and constant rain that isolated parts of central and south-east Queensland and northern parts of New South Wales. 

About 250,000 customers were without power in Queensland.

Bundaberg, which faced record water levels, was the state’s hardest hit city.

Emergency teams backed by 14 helicopters, including two Black Hawks, worked into the evening to ensure everyone left North Bundaberg.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said the group of rescue helicopters, which were on standby throughout the night, could carry more than 80 people at a time.

Mr Newman said the government estimated about 1500 people were trapped after staying despite a mandatory evacuation order issued on Monday morning to 5000 people in the area.

Bundaberg was now in ‘‘uncharted territory’’, he said.

By Monday afternoon, more than 2000 properties had been affected by floodwaters moving at more than 70km/h.

Authorities said the Burnett River was at 9.2 metres and rising fast towards its expected peak of 9.5 metres on Tuesday. That would be well beyond the levels recorded in 2010-11 and in 1942, when the record was set.

Residents of the Queensland town of Warwick were anxiously watching the rising Condamine River on Monday night, with 30 homes flooded and more expected to go under.

A major flood crisis was developing in the state’s Lockyer Valley, where 19 lives were lost in the 2011 floods.  Gympie and Maryborough were also under water.

In Brisbane, a disaster declaration was made late on Monday ahead of the flood’s expected peak at noon on Tuesday. […]

‘‘Once again, sadly Queensland is facing a major disaster crisis,’’ the he said in Brisbane.
‘‘[But] this state and its people will rise to the challenge. Together we will get through this.’’

Hundreds of people were sheltering in an Ipswich evacuation centre as the swollen Bremer River continued to rise after breaking its banks.

‘‘It’s a sea of emotion here,’’ Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale, who spoke with anxious residents bunkered down in evacuation centres, said.

‘‘To have the same people go through this again after just rebuilding their homes is terrible. What they’re feeling, what the kids are feeling … it’s all bad.

‘‘It was supposed to be a one-in-100-year flood, not a one-in-two-year flood.’’ [more]

Disaster-hit north braces for worse

A barge moves through the shrunken Mississippi River. The Mississippi River's level dropped to historic lows in 2012, and barge industry trade groups warned that river commerce could essentially come to a halt in an area south of St. Louis. Photo: Derik Holtmann / Belleville News-Democrat / AP photo

By Sam Nelson, with additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe
28 January 2013

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Dry weather continues to plague the drought-stricken U.S. Plains and western Midwest with only light showers and snowfall expected this week, an agricultural meteorologist said on Monday.

"The Plains and the northwest Midwest will still struggle with drought, there's not a whole lot of relief seen," said John Dee, meteorologist for Global Weather Monitoring.

Dee said there would be some light rain in the eastern portions of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas late Monday and Tuesday, with heavier rainfall seen for the eastern and southeastern Midwest late Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Roughly east of a line from Kansas City to Chicago will receive 0.50 inch to 1.00 inch or more, but they aren't as affected by the drought at this time," Dee said.

Commodity Weather Group (CWG) said light showers fell over the weekend across the Central Plains and much of the Midwest and northern Delta. "Scattered amounts of 0.10 to 0.40 inch were noted for drought areas from Nebraska and northern Kansas into southern Minnesota and Iowa," said CWG meteorologist Joel Widenor.

"While very light showers are also possible in parts of Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota tonight and again next week, none of this will be significant enough to put much of a dent in the drought," he said.

Without rain or heavy snow before spring, millions of acres of wheat could be ruined while corn and soybean seedings could be threatened in the western Midwest, meteorologists and other crop experts have said.

A climatology report issued last Thursday said there were no signs of improvement for Kansas or neighboring farm states. [more]

Drought seen worsening in U.S. Plains and west Midwest

Dolphin slaughter in the Solomon Islands, 2009. fgregrereh / YouTube

By Suzanne Goldenberg
24 January 2013

(The Guardian) – Villagers in the Solomon Islands have slaughtered up to 900 dolphins in the course of a dispute with a conservation group, Earth Island Institute.

Accounts of the dispute vary. The islanders say the Berkeley-based conservation group failed to pay them, as agreed, for stopping the traditional hunt. Earth Island says the slaughter was the work of a "renegade group" trying to sabotage conservation work.

What is clear, however, is that a misunderstanding between the villagers and Earth Island has resulted in one of the worst cases of dolphin slaughter in the Solomon Islands for some time, and delivered a huge setback to conservation efforts in a world "hot spot" for the dolphin trade.

The Solomon Islands were notorious among conservationists as a source of live dolphins for sea aquariums in China and Dubai. A captive dolphin sells for up to $150,000.

"We are very, very disappointed," said David Phillips, who oversees international dolphin protection efforts for Earth Island. "This is a tragedy. It's bad for dolphins. It's bad for the community. It's bad for the Solomon Islands as a nation to have this blot on the record."

Earth Island had been working with islanders of Malaita for two years to try to stop the hunt. The islanders' account, which was aired by Australian broadcasting, accused the conservation group of failing to live up to a deal to pay up to $400,000 to people in the village of Fanalei, to stop the dolphin hunt. The villagers said they received barely a third of the promised funds before the money dried up.

Atkin Fakaia, a community leader now living in the capital, Honiara, told Radio Australia the disillusioned Fanalei villagers had gone back to hunting when the money did not come in.

"The issue of them going back fishing for and killing dolphins was on the understanding that Earth Island had been reluctant to pay the agreed amount that was due to the community," he said. "They were just disappointed and dissatisfied over the attitude of Earth Island."

Phillips said the causes of the dispute were far more complicated – although he did not dispute the charge villagers in Fanalei had not seen the money they were expecting. Under the agreement, funds were supposed to be paid out as small grants for community projects in the village, and for income generating efforts. However, Phillips said villagers living in the capital had seized control of the funds, and had not distributed the money.

"The renegade group grabbed funds that were supposed to go to the community and that resulted in a lot of the discord," he said. "In our view there are proper charges of corruption in what has happened in the community." [more]

Solomon Islands villagers kill 900 dolphins in conservation dispute via World Catastrophe Map

Mark Utzig paces through Tannenbaum Acres, a Janesville, Wisconsin, tree farm, during the fall of 2012. The high temperatures and record drought of summer 2012 wreaked havoc on the farm. 'Normally we lose 5 percent of the trees for various reasons. This year, it was 95 percent.' Photo: Mark Kauzlarich / The Janesville Gazette / AP

By Judy Keen
27 January 2013

(USA TODAY) – Thousands of trees died in the historic drought of 2012, and many more will succumb in the next few years. Communities that have lost trees are hesitant to replant now.

Hundreds of thousands of trees died in the historic drought of 2012, and many more will succumb in the next few years, scientists say.

"This is just beginning," says Janna Beckerman, a plant pathologist at Indiana's Purdue University. "I suspect we'll see trees still dying for the next two or three years."

Indiana's white cedar and Florida cypress trees began dying in late summer, she says, and Alberta and Colorado blue spruce are succumbing now.

Trees affected by a 2010-11 drought still are dying across Louisiana, says Keith Hawkins, a Louisiana State University AgCenter forester. Some trees "reached a threshold from which they can't recover — especially older, larger trees," he says.

About 301 million trees died in rural Texas because of that drought, the Texas A&M Forest Service says. […]

Ongoing damage to trees stressed by drought can be caused by insects and diseases that attack weakened trees, says Laurie Stepanek, a forest health specialist for the Nebraska Forest Service. She's helping conduct tree care workshops across the state this month and tells participants to water trees and use organic mulch to keep them hydrated.

"Even if conditions return to normal, the trees will still be suffering," she says. [more]

Drought is killing trees across the Midwest

Waves break over onlookers at Shorncliffe, a Brisbane suburb, 27 January 2013. The heavy rainfall following cyclone Oswald which caused widespread flooding in Queensland is hit Sydney on Monday, 28 January 2013. Photo: Michelle Smith / Sydney Morning Herald

By Sally Willoughby and Georgina Mitchell
28 January 2013

(Sydney Morning Herald) – The heavy rainfall following cyclone Oswald which has caused widespread flooding in Queensland is forecast to hit Sydney on Monday as long-weekend holidaymakers return to the city.

Experts describe the flooding and tornadoes battering the east coast as the worst they have seen in 30 years.

The weather bureau issued a severe weather warning for parts of the state with heavy rainfall and winds of up to 140 km/h expected. Up to 300 millimetres of rain could fall in areas of Sydney over 24 hours from Monday morning.

The Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, said central Brisbane was expected to flood on Tuesday and Wednesday but the levels will not be as devastating as they were in 2011.

If current projections play out, 3600 residential properties will be affected in Brisbane and of those, 2100 are unit dwellings where only ground floor flooding is expected. About 1250 businesses are also expected to be affected while about 50 homes are projected to be inundated in the Ipswich suburb of Goodna.

Mr Newman called in the army to help with the crisis, as Bundaberg prepared for the worst flooding in more than a century.

Two Black Hawk army helicopters were sent there from Townsville to assist with rescues.

In Queensland the State Emergency Services received more than 1050 calls for assistance on Sunday, and Queensland Fire and Rescue Service conducted 34 floodwater rescues. In NSW, the SES received more than 450 calls for assistance and four people had to be plucked from floodwaters. […]

Six tornadoes that hit the Mackay and Bundaberg regions caused damage to hundreds of homes. More than 100,000 homes and businesses lost power in Ipswich, Moreton Bay, Logan, parts of the Gold Coast and Brisbane. One man drowned at Burnett Heads near Bundaberg and two people are missing after being swept into Widgee Creek and Traveston Dam, both near Gympie. […]

Weatherzone's senior meteorologist, Brett Dutschke, said the extreme weather was unusual.

''The extent of the rainfall and how heavy it's been would only be seen once every few decades,'' he said. ''To have a system this intense moving over such a large area with this kind of impact is really unusual.'' [more]

Sydney braces for wild weather as cyclone system moves south

Percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence of global warming and that it is caused by human activity; percentage who say global warming is a very or somewhat serious problem, 4-7 October 2012. Graphic: The Wall Street Journal

By KEITH JOHNSON
25 January 2013

(The Wall Street Journal) – Climate change is back on the agenda in Washington after President Barack Obama's call to action in his second inaugural address. And while polls suggest that public belief that manmade causes are behind warmer temperatures isn't yet back to the levels seen in the middle of the last decade, concern about climate change is recovering from the economic collapse of 2008-09, which buried the issue under economic worries.

Among the significant divides in public attitudes is age. In an October poll by the Pew Research Center, younger respondents showed the highest agreement with the view that warming is manmade and that it is a "very serious" problem. Only 28% of respondents 65 and over thought there was solid evidence the earth was warming because of human activity, versus 42% overall.

For climate-change campaigners and politicians in Washington, those demographics could be significant. As more young people—even those who are conservative on other issues—side with those who believe in manmade global warming, it could be easier to find the votes for aggressive action on the climate in Congress, although immediate moves appear unlikely.

Ben Lowe, one of the founders of an activist network called Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, shows how the issue influences a traditional bastion of Republican support.

Mr. Lowe, 28 years old, came from a long line of Republicans. But rising temperatures have been especially hard to avoid for him and his peers. "No one under 28 has experienced a cooler-than-average month," he said. "Global warming is all we've ever known."

Wisconsin native Kelsie Wendelberger knocked on doors to help Republican Gov. Scott Walker in his recall fight, and she said she considers herself conservative. "But it's prudent to manage climate risk," said the 20-year old sophomore at Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois.

She said that from a cost-benefit standpoint, it pays to address climate change. "Look at the numbers," she said. "It would have been better not to have to spend so much on recovery" after superstorm Sandy and other recent events. [more]

On Climate Change, Some Arguments Shift

Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says that he underestimated the risks, and should have been more 'blunt' about the threat posed to the economy by global warming. Photo: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

By Heather Stewart and Larry Elliott
26 January 2013

(The Observer) – Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more "blunt" about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.

In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: "Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then."

The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are "on track for something like four ". Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, "I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise."

He said some countries, including China, had now started to grasp the seriousness of the risks, but governments should now act forcefully to shift their economies towards less energy-intensive, more environmentally sustainable technologies.

"This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential."

Stern said he backed the UK's Climate Change Act, which commits the government to ambitious carbon reduction targets. But he called for increased investment in greening the economy, saying: "It's a very exciting growth story." [more]

Nicholas Stern: 'I got it wrong on climate change – it's far, far worse' via Apocadocs

A poached red-ruffed lemur, a commonly hunted but critically endangered lemur species. Photo: Rhett A. Butler / mongabay.com

27 January 2013 (mongabay.com) – Britain has authorized the export of thousands of guns to Madagascar, according to TanaNews.com, sparking concerns that the firearms could be used for hunting endangered lemurs.

Data from the UK government’s Strategic Export Controls website shows that licenses for the export of 3,174 guns to Madagascar were granted between August 2011 and June 2012. Most of the weapons were for anti-piracy activities, but 190 sporting guns — guns specifically intended for hunting — and 200 combat shotguns were not designated for anti-piracy activities.

Lemurs are found naturally only on Madagascar. In 2012 the International Union for Conservation of Nature determined that over 90 percent of the more than 100 lemur species are threatened with extinction. "As a result, we now believe that lemurs are probably the most endangered of any group of vertebrates,” said Christoph Schwitzer, the Head of Research at Bristol Zoo Gardens and a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group, in a statement at the time of the announcement.

Gun ownership has been traditionally low in Madagascar, but a rise in recent years has been accompanied by a sharp increase in gun violence, especially in Southern Madagascar. Since the 2009 coup d’état hunting lemurs with guns for the commercial bushmeat trade has increased such that hunting now constitutes a major threat to lemurs’ continued survival. Researchers from Bangor University in Wales and the Malagasy NGO Madagasikara Voakajy found that “illegal hunting of protected species is becoming a major conservation issue” in Madagascar. Much of the hunting is being done with guns: the researchers report that “Evidence from our local monitors suggests that a large number of the Indri [the largest living species of lemur] were killed by a few individuals who own guns and kill lemurs to sell.” [more]

UK authorizes guns for Madagascar despite threat of lemur extinctions

Germany's forests have become an attractive target for thieves as energy prices has increased. Photo: DPA

By Renuka Rayasam
17 January 2013

(Der Spiegel) – With snow blanketing the ground, it's the perfect time of year to snuggle up in front of a fireplace. That, though, makes German foresters nervous. When the mercury falls, the theft of wood in the country's woodlands goes up as people turn to cheaper ways to heat their homes.

"The forest is open for everyone to enter and people just think they can help themselves, but they can't!" says Enno Rosenthal, head of the forest farmers association in the northeastern German state of Brandenburg. "Naturally, those log piles belong to someone and there is a lot of money and work that goes into them."

The problem has been compounded this winter by rising energy costs. The Germany's Renters Association estimates the heating costs will go up 22 percent this winter alone. A side effect is an increasing number of people turning to wood-burning stoves for warmth. Germans bought 400,000 such stoves in 2011, the German magazine FOCUS reported this week. It marks the continuation of a trend: The number of Germans buying heating devices that burn wood and coal has grown steadily since 2005, according to consumer research company GfK Group.

That increase in demand has now also boosted prices for wood, leading many to fuel their fires with theft.

Rosenthal said just last weekend someone stole an entire bundle of oak wood worth about €150 ($199) from a private forest in the town of Neuruppin outside of Berlin. "Many foresters come back to their wood piles and find them a little smaller or even gone," he says.

About 10 percent of the firewood that comes out of Brandenburg's forest every year is stolen, resulting in losses of about €500,000, Rosenthal estimates. In the southern German state of Bavaria some 5 percent is absconded with annually says Hans Bauer, head of the state's forest owners association.

"A gray zone has developed," says Rosenthal. "Normally if you sell sausages, you create a business and pay taxes, but with wood some people are laxer." He says many people steal wood and then resell it via ads in the newspaper. Such sales, needless to say, tend to be of the under-the-table variety.

Other thieves are more spontaneous, says Bauer. Often people will just drive by a pile of wood and see it as invitation to steal, he says. "Drivers just stop, open up their trunks and put the wood in and drive off," he says. "It's that easy."

Bauer says that a couple of years ago, a driver loaded up €2,000 worth of wood into a truck and drove off. He was eventually caught and paid a fine to the forest owner. But Bauer says such retribution is rare. [more]

Woodland Heists: Rising Energy Costs Drive Up Forest Thievery via The Oil Drum

The Yarrabin fire broke out on 6 January 2013, burning about 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Nimmatabel. By January 15, firefighters had contained the blaze, but it had charred more than 10,500 hectares (25,900 acres) of land near Wadbilliga National Forest. The Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite acquired this false-color image of the affected area on 15 January 2013. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon

By Adam Voiland
15 January 2013

The Yarrabin fire broke out in the Kybeyan Range on January 6, 2013, burning about 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Nimmatabel. By January 15, firefighters had contained the blaze, but it had charred more than 10,500 hectares (25,900 acres) of land near Wadbilliga National Forest.

The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite acquired this image of the affected area on January 15, 2013. Burned vegetation appears red in the false-color image; unburned areas are dark green. Grassland and agricultural land is light green and tan.

The fire was one of many that burned across Australia when a record-breaking heat wave struck the country in January. The heat wave, like all extreme weather events, had its direct cause in a complex set of atmospheric conditions that produce short-term weather. However, weather occurs within the broader context of the climate, and there’s a high level of agreement among scientists that global warming has made it more likely that heat waves of this magnitude will occur.

Burn Scar from the Yarrabin Fire in New South Wales


In January 2013, intense bushfires blazed in Tasmania, an island south of Australia. One of the hardest hit towns was Dunalley, a fishing village on the eastern coast. A blaze destroyed at least 80 homes—about 30 percent of the town— when it tore through the area on 4 January 2013. NASA’s Terra satellite captured this false-color image of the charred landscape on January 14. Graphic: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon

By Adam Voiland
14 January 2013

In January 2013, intense bushfires blazed in Tasmania, an island south of Australia. One of the hardest hit towns was Dunalley, a fishing village on the eastern coast. A blaze destroyed at least 80 homes—about 30 percent of the town— when it tore through the area on January 4, 2013. In the nearby village of Connellys Marsh, 40 percent of the buildings were destroyed. Primrose Sands lost several homes as well.

The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of the charred landscape on January 14. Vegetation-covered land is red in the false-color image, which includes both visible and infrared light. Patches of unburned forest are bright red, in contrast with areas where flecks of light brown indicate some burning. The darkest brown areas are the most severely burned. Buildings, roads, and other developed areas appear light gray. Clouds are white.

Extreme heat and strong winds fueled the fires. Temperatures in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, soared to a record high of 41.8 degrees Celsius (107.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on January 4. The heat wave, like all extreme weather events, had its direct cause in a complex set of atmospheric conditions that produce short-term weather. However, weather occurs within the broader context of the climate, and there’s a high level of agreement among scientists that global warming has made it more likely that heat waves and wildfires of this magnitude will occur.

Bushfire Burn Scar near Dunalley, Tasmania

This map depicts temperature anomalies, or changes, by region in 2012; it does not show absolute temperature. Reds and blues show how much warmer or cooler each area was in 2012 compared to an averaged base period from 1951–1980. The line plot shows yearly temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2011 as recorded by NASA GISS, NOAA, NCDC, JMA, and the Met Office Hadley Centre. Graphic: Robert Simmon

By Patrick Lynch and Mike Carlowicz
16 January 2013

(NASA Earth Observatory) – Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) say 2012 was the ninth warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. The ten warmest years in the 132-year record have all occurred since 1998. The last year that was cooler than average was 1976.

The map at the top depicts temperature anomalies, or changes, by region in 2012; it does not show absolute temperature. Reds and blues show how much warmer or cooler each area was in 2012 compared to an averaged base period from 1951–1980. For more explanation of how the analysis works, read World of Change: Global Temperatures.

The average temperature in 2012 was about 14.6 degrees Celsius (58.3 degrees Fahrenheit), which is 0.55°C (1.0°F) warmer than the mid-20th century base period. The average global temperature has increased 0.8°C (1.4°F) since 1880, and most of that change has occurred in the past four decades.

The line plot above shows yearly temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2011 as recorded by NASA GISS, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center, the Japanese Meteorological Agency, and the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom. All four institutions tally temperature data from stations around the world and make independent judgments about whether the year was warm or cool compared to other years. Though there are minor variations from year to year, all four records show peaks and valleys in sync with each other. All show rapid warming in the past few decades, and all show the last decade as the warmest.

Scientists emphasize that weather patterns cause fluctuations in average temperatures from year to year, but the continued increase in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere assures that there will be a long-term rise in global temperatures. Each individual year will not necessarily be warmer than the previous year, but scientists expect each decade to be warmer than the previous decade.

“One more year of numbers isn’t in itself significant,” GISS climatologist Gavin Schmidt said. “What matters is this decade is warmer than the last decade, and that decade was warmer than the decade before. The planet is warming. The reason it’s warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” […]

“The U.S. temperatures in the summer of 2012 are an example of a new trend of outlying seasonal extremes that are warmer than the hottest seasonal temperatures of the mid-20th century,” NASA GISS director James E. Hansen said. “The climate dice are now loaded. Some seasons still will be cooler than the long-term average, but the perceptive person should notice that the frequency of unusually warm extremes is increasing. It is the extremes that have the most impact on people and other life on the planet.” [more]

Long-Term Global Warming Trend Continues

Channel 9's Darren Curtis posted this photo of the devastation caused by a tornado that tore through Bargara, Australia, 26 January 2013. Photo: Channel 9

By Ellen Lutton and Anne Tarasov
27 January 2013

(Sydney Morning Herald) – Several areas of Queensland have been declared disaster zones after five tornadoes ripped through the Bundaberg region on Saturday afternoon.

The Premier, Campbell Newman, made the declarations as Gladstone began mass evacuations in the face of unprecedented rain expected over the next 24 hours.

All beaches from Tannum Sands, on the central Queensland coast, south to the NSW border are closed.

The tornadoes injured 17 people and damaged 150 properties.

Queensland Police warned of quick rising water in the Baffle Creek catchment, about 80 kilometres north of Bundaberg last night, with Mimdale identified as a major flooding risk. […]

In Gladstone, about 2000 were set to evacuate on Saturday afternoon. A major flood emergency warning was issued by the SES for Winfield, as Baffle Creek was expected to rise above the 1971 record. Warnings were also issued for the Calliope, Kolan, and Boyne rivers with the latter expected to swell to one-in-100-year levels.

Meanwhile, Brisbane was on standby on Saturday for its worst flooding since the disaster of 2011. [more]

Five tornadoes hit Queensland towns


Awoonga Dam, near Gladstone, in Central Queensland, Australia overflows during 'unprecedented' rainfall on 26 January 2013. Photo: Gladstone Region Local Disaster26 January 2013 (AAP) – Towns around the southeast Queensland city of Bundaberg could spend up to two days without power after five tornadoes wreaked havoc in the area on Australia Day.

Burnett Heads and nearby Bargara were declared disaster areas after twisters ripped through the coastal townships from 1pm AEST on Saturday, injuring a total of 17 people and damaging more than 150 homes.

Two people were critically injured when a giant pine fell on their parked car on the Esplanade at Bargara, while two homes were completely destroyed in the mini-cyclone that struck Burnett Heads.

Authorities said Burnett Heads was again struck by the latest in the series of twisters, which hit the area at 6pm AEST and 6.30pm.

Two people were believed to have been injured in the second onslaught, with powerlines down and at least one roof torn from a home.

And the Bureau of Meteorology says the worst may be yet to come.

It has forecast the ‘‘strong possibility’’ of further tornado activity around Burnett Heads, Wide Bay and at Maryborough, south of Bundaberg.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said powerlines were down in Burnett Heads and several buildings had lost their roofs.

Emergency services said the Bargara and Burnett Heads twisters had cut a ‘‘swathe of damage’’.

Power companies said it could take up to two days to restore electricity to the towns that were hit.

Bargara resident Judith McNamara, who witnessed the tornado through her kitchen window, said it left a car in her yard with a tree through it.

‘‘All of a sudden … I looked up and a tree went flying through the air … and the car went up,’’ she told ABC radio. […]

As of 7.30pm, residents in Bundaberg were being warned by Queensland police to stay indoors and shelter well clear of windows, doors and skylights as fierce storms continued to rage outside.

Meanwhile, residents in the small community of Winfield, north of Bundaberg, were issued an emergency notice and told to head to higher ground, with flooding imminent.

The State Emergency Service was warning that nearby Baffle Creek was expected to rise above record levels set in 1971.

Bundaberg district disaster co-ordinator superintendent Rowan Bond said the rain at Winfield was “unprecedented”.

“Baffle Creek is higher than virtually anyone can remember,” he told ABC TV. [more]

Tornadoes hit Queensland coastal towns

 

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