Global Hazards - August 2009
Please note: Material provided in this report is chosen subjectively and included at the discretion of the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). The ability to report on a given event is limited by the amount of information available to NCDC at the time of publication. Inclusion of a particular event does not constitute a greater importance in comparison with an event that has not been incorporated into the discussion. Data included in this report are preliminary unless otherwise stated. Links to supporting information are valid at the time of publication, but they are not maintained or changed after publication.
Updated 1 September 2009
As of August 20th, more than 40 percent of India's districts were declared to be "drought affected", according to India's farm minister (Source: BBC News). Rainfall was more than 80 percent below normal in the districts of Chitrakoot, Etah, and Rampur. Agriculture in the region was expected to be majorly affected, with less than 50-percent yields of rice and maize projected, compared with 2008 (Source: Thaindian News). In the Bunkelhand region of Uttar Pradesh, hundreds of locals were forced to migrate to other parts of the country in search of food. Overall, the drought affected about 700 million people, according to India's finance minister. On average, the entire country was experiencing 25-percent below-normal precipitation for the monsoon season, where deficits increased in all but small sections of the east and northeast (Source: The Telegraph). The poor monsoon season may be attributed to the El Niño phenomenon. Higher sea surface temperatures extending westward into the Central Pacific Ocean are thought to prevent monsoon weather systems from moving northward, making the area more prone to drought. An official at the India Meteorological Department expected that this year's monsoon rains could be the worst since 1972, a year when a strong El Niño was present (Source: Reuters India). For the most recent equatorial Pacific Ocean surface temperatures, please visit NOAA's Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) project.
In August, Iraq was in the midst of its fourth consecutive year of drought, according to a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization official. Wheat—the country's most important crop—was expected to produce harvests about 60 percent below normal, due in large part to 50-percent below-normal rainfall in the area (Source: Bloomberg). As reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, according to the Iraqi health ministry, once-fertile lands became semi-arid, which led to at least 20 sandstorms since the beginning of 2009, causing death and respiratory problems.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), South Central Texas remained in the tight grips of extreme to exceptional drought. By the end of August, 17 percent of the state was experiencing exceptional drought—the highest category of drought as determined by the USDM. According to the Texas state climatologist, at least nine counties were experiencing their driest conditions since records began in 1895 (Source: AP). Moderate to severe drought was present across large parts of California, Nevada, Hawaii, and central-to-northern Wisconsin, along with smaller areas of Washington state and Montana. Moderate drought was observed over almost half of Arizona. In southern New Mexico, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) declared seven counties disaster areas and seven counties contiguous disaster areas due to the combination of drought conditions and strong winds since October 2008. Farmers in all 14 counties were eligible to apply for financial assistance from the USDA Farm Service Agency (Source: AP).
In Southern California, bone dry conditions due to persisting severe drought, combined with high temperatures and low humidity, led to a massive wildfire that was responsible for the deaths of two firefighters and threatened thousands of homes. As of August 31st, the blaze was only five percent contained; it had already destroyed at least 53 homes and burned more than 105,000 acres (45,000 hectares) in the Angeles National Forest (Source: AP).
At the beginning of August, much of Mexico was in the midst of its worst drought in 70 years, particularly in the northwest and the central region surrounding Mexico City. In the countryside, drought affected about 3.5 million farmers. The nation's National Water Commission—Conagua—stated that more than 50,000 cattle died and there was the potential for 17 million acres (7 million hectares) of cropland to be wiped out. Additionally, about 80 of Mexico's largest reservoirs were less than half full. According to the Agriculture Secretariat, the worst-hit regions were the central and eastern central states of Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Veracruz, Tamaulipas, and Hidalgo (Source: Latin American Herald Tribune). Mexico typically experiences a rainy season from June to October, but experts indicate that El Niño contributed to the dry spell.
Worsening drought conditions in Kenya's northern and southern regions led to severe water shortages, which were likely to compromise safe water and sanitation services and produce low grain harvests. According to a Kenya Red Cross communications officer, the situation could lead to waterborne diseases, other disease outbreaks, and residents migrating to less affected areas (Source: The Standard).
As of August 31st, the northeastern province of Liaoning in China experienced its worst drought in 60 years, affecting about five million acres (two million hectares) of arable land in the region. With dwindling water supplies, 4.6 million people and 4.1 million head of livestock were impacted by the drought (Sources: CCTV-International; AFP). Moderate drought was present in southwestern Jilin, northern Hunan, northern Hebei, southeastern Mongolia, northwestern Guangxi, and southeastern Guizhou. Severe drought also developed in a small region of eastern Inner Mongolia (Source: Beijing Climate Center).
With the failure of its annual long rain season—period occurring from April to June—the number of Kenyans affected by the ongoing drought and associated rising food prices was estimated to be 3.8 million people. To date, three to four consecutive rainy seasons failed in many regions and these conditions were expected to continue in the coming months (Source: United Nations World Food Programme). As a result, authorities began rationing power to homes and businesses in the capital city of Nairobi three days per week (Source: AP). Maize, one of the country's primary harvests, was expected to be nearly 30 percent below the five-year average. Below-average rainfall also affected crops and millions of residents in several other nearby countries, including large parts of Ethiopia, northern Somalia, Djibouti, eastern Eritrea, southeastern Sudan, northern Tanzania, and northern Uganda (Source: USAID FEWS NET).
In eastern Syria, drought that began in 2006 continued into August. Worsening conditions forced many people to leave their residences in search of food. It was estimated that 40,000 to 60,000 families migrated from their villages.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology, this was Australia's warmest August on record. Average temperatures were 4.45°F (2.47°C) above the 1961–1990 average (Australia's standard reference period), breaking the previous record by 1.76°F (0.98°C). Maximum temperatures across the country averaged 5.76°F (3.20°C) above average, which was 2.05°F (1.14°C) higher than the previous record set in 2006. Some individual state records were also set. Monthly average maximum temperatures were 7.63°F (4.24°C) above average in Queensland and 7.15°F (3.97°C) above average in the Northern Territory. Overall, monthly average maximum temperature records were set over 49 percent of the country. New Zealand also experienced its warmest August on record. According to an Auckland climate scientist, the average temperature for the month was 3.1°F (1.7°C) above average (Source: Voxy). New Zealand temperature records extend back to the late 1860s.
In the U.S., strong storms with heavy rainfall led to flash floods in parts of Kentucky and Indiana on August 4th. Thousands of residents lost electricity and highways were closed in the area. A record six inches of rain that fell in a single hour flooded much of the Churchill Downs racetrack—home to the famous horse race—leading to the evacuation of nearly three dozen thoroughbred horses. No serious injuries were reported (Sources: AP, DVM Newsmagazine).
Monsoon downpours in the northern Philippines on August 6th caused flash floods and landslides, killing 12 people, including three Europeans and two tour guides who were swept away as they visited Mt. Pinatubo. In the foothills below the volcano, about 12,000 people were forced to flee their homes in the town of Botolan. According to a local tribal chief, three villages were under water and an air force helicopter rescued people from trees and rooftops (Source: AP).
Flash flooding due to heavy rains occurred in the Swabi and Mardan districts of North West Frontier Province in Pakistan. Twenty-seven people were killed and nine people were missing following the event. About 400 to 450 homes—primarily those with mud roofs—collapsed and were reponsible for most of the deaths.
A severe thunderstorm with winds reaching 80 mph (129 km/hr) tore down hundreds of 100-year old trees in New York City's Central Park on August 19th. Several cars parked nearby were crushed by fallen trees and limbs. The storm caused more damage in the park than seen in the last 30 years, according to the Parks Commissioner (Source: AP).
On August 20th, ferocious winds ripped through four states in the Midwest—Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois—shattering windows and downing power lines. In Minneapolis, winds tore off part of a metal church steeple; about 120 people were inside the church but no injuries were reported. Further to the east that same day, a tornado reportedly tore thorugh a day camp near Durham in southern Ontario, Canada, destroying buildings and killing an 11 year old boy who was struck by flying debris (Source: AP).
Typhoon Morakot formed on August 4th in the central Philippines Sea and made landfall in Taiwan on August 7th as a category 2 storm, bringing 90 mph (144 km/hr or 78 knots) winds, torrential rains, and the worst flooding in 50 years. As much as 83 inches (211 cm) of rain reportedly fell over southern parts of the island (Source: NASA). Tens of thousands were trapped after floods and landslides. The heavy rains, along with dense fog, strong river currents, and washed out roads and bridges in the mountainous regions over the next week made rescue efforts extremely difficult (Sources: CNN; China View). One mudslide buried the mountain village of Shiao Lin, with about 400 villagers thought to be trapped beneath five stories of mud and debris (Sources: Reuters, AP). The storm then moved toward China's southeast coast, slamming into Fujian Province on August 9th with 74 mph (119 km/hr or 64 knots) winds. Hundreds of villages and towns were flooded and more than 1.62 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes. Based on reports, as of August 31st the storm had killed 614 people total (including 22 in the Philippines) and left 92 missing. More than 10,000 homes were destroyed and over 8.4 million acres (3.4 million hectares) of crops were majorly damaged on the mainland alone. Direct economic losses were estimated to be about 5.3 billion U.S. dollars (Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).
On August 10th, Typhoon Etau hit western Japan, packing 67 mph (108 km/hr or 58 knots) winds, killing 14 people due to floods and landslides, and forcing 47,000 to evacuate their homes.
Hurricane Bill—the first Atlantic hurricane of the 2009 season—formed on August 15th and became a powerful category 4 storm far from land on the 19th. Bill slowly lost strength as it moved up the eastern Atlantic seaboard, skirting over southeastern Newfoundland as a category 1 storm, before dissipating in the cooler Atlantic waters to the northeast. The hurricane created a strong storm surge along the U.S. coast and two people were killed—a 54 year old swimmer in Florida and a seven year old in Maine who was swept into the sea by a wave at Acadia National Park (Source: AP).
Tropical Storm Claudette—the third named storm of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season—formed rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico on August 15th and made landfall early the next day near the Florida–Alabama border with sustained winds of 40 mph (65 km/hr, 35 knots). The storm quickly weakened to a depression as it dumped four to six inches of rain in areas along the Florida panhandle.
For basin tropical cyclone statistics, please visit the Tropical Cyclone Summaries by Basin page.