Global Hazards - September 2009
Please note: Material provided in this report is chosen subjectively and included at the discretion of the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). The ability to report on a given event is limited by the amount of information available to NCEI 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 5 October 2009
In September, continuing drought in East Africa affected millions of people across seven nations—Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti, and Tanzania. The drought led to massive food shortages, with 6.2 million people in Ethiopia and 3.8 million in Kenya in need of relief aid. The drought in Kenya, one of the worst in recent memory, was responsible for the loss of more than 150,000 livestock and a 40-percent decrease in maize harvests. According to the prime minister, 70 percent of the country's wells and water sources were dried up, leading to water and electricity rationing (Source: Africa News). In Tanzania, the rainy season produced an inadequate amount of rain, leading to reports of famine in the northern portion of the country. In Uganda, more than a million people were receiving food aid, as livestock started dying off (Source: AFP). Overall, the lives and livelihoods of 23 million people were believed to be affected (Source: BBC News).
In the United States, the two highest categories of drought as determined by the U.S. Drought Monitor—extreme and exceptional—were present but had decreased in south-central Texas since the previous month; these conditions encompassed just six percent of the entire state by the end of September. However, due to poor crop production, farmers were eligible to apply for federal farm aid, which would cover losses for both 2008 and 2009 (Source: KVUE News). Additionally, increasing numbers of native trees, such as live oak, hackberry, and cedar, were dying in the state due to the ongoing dry conditions coupled with intense heat during the summer, according to a Texas Forest Service employee (Source: AP). Extreme drought was present in small sections of the northeast and the south on Hawaii's Big Island. In addition, extreme drought developed in a very small section of eastern Minnesota and a larger section of northwestern Wisconsin, stretching into 11 counties, and comprising about 10 percent of the state. Severe drought also remained in almost all other areas across the northern portion of the state, nearly half of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, northern Washington state, and parts of western Nevada, along with a large section—46 percent—of California. A wildfire that had been raging in the Angeles National Forest since the end of August was 98 percent contained by the end of the month, but had already burned more than 250 sq miles (650 sq km), was responsible for the deaths of two firefighters, and destroyed 89 homes (Sources: AP, The Desert Sun). Officials stated that this was the 10th largest fire in California since 1933 (Source: KTLA News). For more information, please visit the NCDC U.S. Wildfire page. Also this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 50 of California's 58 counties as disaster areas because of crop losses, due in part to three years of below-average precipitation (Source: AP).
On September 9th, the president of Guatemala declared a "state of calamity" as an ongoing drought threatened 400,000 families in the country. The drought decreased harvests of primary staples, such as maize and beans, by up to 50 percent. Food aid was expected to be delivered to the impacted residents (Source: Reuters).
In Australia, a massive dust storm swept 725 miles (1,167 km) across the Outback to engulf Sydney in the state of New South Wales on September 23rd, producing a red hue across the region. Wind gusts topped 60 mph (100 km/hr) as the storm transported an estimated 5,000 metric tons of dust, spreading it into the southern region of Queensland. While Australia is one of the driest continents on Earth, dust storms typically do not reach coastal areas, only in instances of widespread drought (Source: Reuters). The Air Quality Index for particles with diameters less than 10 micrometers—which can cause respiratory problems in humans—reached 4,854, the highest on record for the city. A level above 200 is considered to be hazardous. More than 200 people reported breathing difficulties to emergency services (Source: Reuters).
The four-month monsoon season in India officially ended on September 30th. The India Meteorological Department labeled it the weakest monsoon since 1972, with 23-percent below normal rainfall on average across the nation for the season. Differences were noted across the country. The northwest reported 36-percent below normal rainfall while the south reported seven-percent below normal precipitation. Officials expected the weak monsoon to negatively impact India's overall economy (Source: BBC News).
Unusually heavy rains and flooding in Burkina Faso's capital city of Ouagadougou on September 1st affected 150,000 people and led to eight deaths. The city's primary hospital was inundated with water, forcing the evacuation of dozens of patients. According to the Burkina Faso Meteorological Department, 10.4 inches (26.3 cm) of rain fell in a 12-hour period, breaking a record last set 90 years ago (Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). An additional 159 deaths and 600,000 affected people were also reported in neighboring countries in the West African region.
Two full days of torrential rains in northwestern Turkey that began late on September 7th led to flash flooding that killed at least 36 people—including 24 in the capital city of Istanbul (Sources: Reuters; Times of India). According to reports, the area received its heaviest rainfall in 80 years (Source: Deutsche Welle). Dozens of homes and businesses were flooded as streams overflowed their banks. People were stranded on rooftops and the tops of their vehicles. Initial estimates placed damages between 70 and 80 million U.S. dollars, according to the state-run Anatolian news agency (Source: Reuters). Heavy rains in the northeastern section of the country on the 24th led to floods and a landslide that killed four people and left one missing (Source: AP).
In the United States, several days of heavy rain led to severe flooding on September 21st and 22nd in Georgia, Alabama, eastern Tennessee, and western North Carolina. Hundreds of roads and bridges were under water or washed away and some major interstates were closed around the metro Atlanta area. The Georgia State Climatologist said that many areas in northern Georgia exceeded the 100-year rainfall total for a 24-hour period—statistically, the amount of rain that would be expected one time in a 24-hour period every 100 years—which is about eight inches in this region. Total rainfall during the storm period at Lake Toxaway, North Carolina was 19.94 inches (506 mm). Eleven people were killed in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, primarily due to being swept away by floodwaters, and damages were estimated at more than 250 million dollars (Source: AP).
A violent storm that local meteorologists classified as a severe depression—an area of low atmospheric pressure usually accompanied by low clouds and precipitation—brought heavy rain, hail, mudslides, and strong winds of over 60 mph (100 km/hr) to central South America. Initial reports indicated that seven people were killed in southern Brazil and 10 people died in northern Argentina, with more than 50 injured. Trees and power lines were downed and homes and crops were destroyed in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. In Paraguay's capital city of Asuncion, the temperature reportedly dropped from 95°F (35°C) to 54°F (12°C) during the storm (Source: BBC News).
On September 17th, Koppu—the 15th typhoon to hit China this year, made landfall in the southern province of Guongdong. The storm brought torrential rains, affecting nearly 1.5 million residents, killing nine people—all swept away by flash floods—and causing mudslides and a 50 metric ton oil spill. Damages were estimated to be about 300 million U.S. dollars, according to the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs (Source: AFP).
Tropical Storm Ketsana—the second deadliest tropical cyclone in the world this year—struck the Philippines on September 26th, bringing strong winds of up to 60 mph (100 km/hr) and dumping copious amounts of rain to areas in and around the capital city of Manila. Approximately 80 percent of the city was submerged as it experienced its worst flooding in 40 years. The heaviest precipitation—16.7 inches (42.4 cm)—fell in a 12-hour period, breaking a 24-hour record (13.2 inches or 33.5 cm) previously set in 1967 and surpassing the average September monthly rainfall for the area (15.4 inches or 39.1 cm). Of that rainfall, 13.4 inches (34.0 cm) fell in a six-hour period. Almost four million people were affected by the storm and 375,000 were forced to flee their homes. At least 295 fatalities due to flash flooding were reported, with 39 others missing. The government declared "a state of calamity" in Manila and 27 provinces hit by the storm. Damage to crops and infrastructure was estimated to be about 100 million U.S. dollars. The storm moved over the island and regained strength as it headed across the South China Sea, slamming into central Vietnam on September 29th as a category 2 typhoon with winds of 105 mph (169 km/hr). Towns and villages were flooded and 162 people were reportedly killed. An estimated 170,000 were evacuated from their homes (Sources: AFP, Reuters, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). The storm then moved inland, causing 24 fatalities in Laos and 17 in Cambodia (Source: AP). Damages were intially estimated at at 168 million U.S. dollars in Vietnam (Source: Reuters).