Global Hazards - February 2010
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 09 March 2010
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of February 23rd less than eight percent of the U.S. (including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico) was experiencing moderate to extreme drought. Drought afflicted 82 percent of Hawaii's land cover, with 13 percent of the region in extreme drought, including northern and southeastern areas of the Big Island, and leeward portions of Maui and Moloka'i. According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, the El Niño phenomenon—anomalously warm ocean waters in the equatorial Pacific—is responsible for the continuing dry conditions over Hawaii.
By the end of February, the provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guizhou in southern China were reporting moderate to severe drought across much of the region, along with northwestern Guangxi, southern Gansu, eastern Qinghai, western Hunan, southwestern Hubei, south Shaanxi, southeastern Chongqing, and middle and southern Xizang (source: Beijing Climate Center). Extreme drought, the most dangerous category as listed by the Beijing Climate Center, also covered portions of Guizhou. China Daily Newspaper reported that the region was experiencing its worst drought in more than a half century. Rainfall in Hunan since July 2009 measured about 7.9 inches (200 mm)—a record low amount—while average temperatures were about 4°F (2°C) above normal. More than 7.5 million people in southern China lacked drinking water, with many villagers reporting that they had to walk several kilometers to fetch or purchase water in nearby towns (Source: Xinhua). Across southern China, an estimated 8.80 million acres (3.56 million hectares) of crops were affected by the drought. Direct economic agricultural losses due to the drought disaster have been estimated at 556 million U.S. dollars, according to the Ministry of Data Affairs (Source: Beijing Climate Center).
In Mongolia, extremely frigid winter weather has continued since December 2009, with temperatures dropping as low as -58°F (-50°C). According to the United Nations, 1.7 million livestock—vital to this poor, rural country—have been killed during this period. A summer drought in 2009 prevented farmers from stockpiling food for their livestock.
Polar air reached far into the deep southern U.S. during January and February. The unusually cold temperatures were caused by a strong negative Arctic Oscillation—where polar air shifts southward—which regularly brought temperatures below 35°F (2°C) in Miami, Florida. The record cold weather caused ocean temperatures in the Florida Keys to drop below 59°F (15°C), bleaching and killing coral reefs, which cannot survive the sustained cool water temperature. Area coral experts reported that they had not seen a bleaching of this magnitude due to cold temperatures since the winter of 1977/78 (Source: AFP).
In Santos, Brazil—a coastal city near Sao Paulo—32 people between the ages of 60 and 90 died during an unseasonably high heat wave. Temperatures soared above 102°F (39°C) on February 8th and remained well above 86°F (30°C) in the following days (Source: AP).
February 2010 was the third warmest February on record for Western Australia (85.2°F [29.6°C], average of daily maximum and minmum recorded temperatures). With below average rainfall, this month follows the third hottest December and second hottest January, making this summer season the hottest on record for the state—0.4°F (0.2°C) warmer than the previous record set during the summer of 1997/98 (Source: Bureau of Meteorology).
On February 6th, after days of torrential rains, a mudslide crushed several cars on a road leading to a popular weekend destination for residents in Mexico State, killing 11 people with 20 more reported missing. Earlier in the week, 16 people died in heavy rains and floods in the neighboring state of Michoacán and two children were killed in the state of Guanajuato (Source: Reuters). The rainstorms are unusual in central Mexico's dry winter season; rain falls in this region almost exclusively between May and October.
Sudden heavy rains led to mudslides on February 6th that damaged or destroyed dozens of residences in the foothills north of Los Angeles, an area that was ravaged by wildfires during the summer of 2009. Fortunately, no one was injured as mud, boulders, and debris crashed into homes and cars at 4 a.m. local time.
Nearly four inches (100 mm) of rain fell over Sydney, Australia on February 13th—the heaviest amount of rainfall recorded in that area in the last decade. The storm caused flash flooding and downed trees and power lines, causing widespread blackouts.
On February 20th, the worst natural disaster to hit the Portugese island of Madeira since at least the late nineteenth century—according to public records—led to flash floods and landslides that killed 42 people and injured more than 120 others. Many streets in the capital city of Funchal were filled with mud, water, and debris, overturning vehicles as many residents clung to railings to keep from being swept away (Source: BBC).
In Indonesia, a rain-triggered landslide killed at least 46 people at a tea plantation in a mountainous region on the island of Java on February 23rd (Source: AP). It was estimated that about 500 villagers lost their homes and were forced to evacuate to other nearby villages.
On February 26th, torrential rains brought more than five feet (1.5 m) of flood water into the streets in the coastal city of Les Cayes, Haiti, an area unscathed by the massive January 2010 earthquake. Eleven people were killed during this storm, with the rainy season still weeks away.
For the first time since reliable record keeping began in the 1960s, no tropical cyclones were reported in the Australian region during the month of February (Source: Bureau of Meteorology).
The northeastern U.S. got slammed with a major slow moving storm on February 26th. The nor'easter brought heavy snow, rain, and hurricane-force winds from Ohio to Maine, closing roads and causing more than 1,000 flight cancellations. More than one million residents and businesses lost power. This latest storm (see the Severe Winter Weather section for earlier February storms) brought New Brunswick, New Jersey its snowiest month on record, with more than 37 inches (94 cm) recorded while New York City also recorded it's snowiest month on record at 36.9 inches (93.7 cm). This storm was also the city's fourth largest snowstorm in history (20.9 inches [53.1 cm]). Winds as high as 91 mph (146 km/hr) were reported near Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
On February 27th, a strong Atlantic cyclonic depression named Xynthia tore northeastward across coastal western Europe with hurricane force winds and heavy rains. It was the worst storm in that region since 1999, killing at least 62 people—the majority in France, where sea walls broke in the town of L'Agillon and a national disaster was declared. More than one million people across France, Spain, Germany, Portugal, and Belgium lost power as winds reached nearly 100 mph (160 km/hr) along the coast. Wind speeds of 109 mph (175 km/hr) were recorded atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
A historic blizzard walloped the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. on February 5th-6th. Dubbed 'Snowmageddon' by local media, this was the second major snow storm to dump more than 16 inches (41 cm) on the region during the 2009/10 winter season. A very large North Atlantic extratropical cyclone created an upper-level low, which helped block the mid-Atlantic snowstorm from moving northward. Colesville, Maryland—a suburb of Washington D.C.—received the most snowfall, with 40 inches (102 cm) recorded. Several preliminary all-time records were reported, including a state record of 26.5 inches (65.3 cm) that fell in Wilmington, Delaware, breaking the old record of 25.0 inches (63.5 cm) set in 2003. It was the second snowiest storm in Philadelphia's history, with 28.5 inches (72.4 cm) reported, falling short of the 30.7 inches (78.0 cm) recorded January 7th-8th, 1996. Washington Dulles Airport received 32.4 inches (82.3 cm), its largest two-day snowfall total on record. The snow was so deep in some areas that bulldozers had to be used in place of traditional snowplows to clear roads. The storm effectively paralyzed a large portion of the mid-Atlantic region. Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland declared states of emergencies. Hundreds of thousands of people lost power; schools, airports, and bus systems closed; and roofs caved in from the weight of the heavy snow.
Just days later, on February 9th and 10th, the eastern U.S. was struck by yet another major winter storm. This event brought 19 inches (48 cm) of new snow to Baltimore, 16 inches (41 cm) to Philadelphia, 10 to 16 inches (25 to 41 cm) to New York City, 20 inches (51 cm) to New Jersey, and 10 inches (25 cm) to Washington, D.C. The storm helped to solidify the all-time seasonal snowfall record for three major cities (as of February 11th): Washington, D.C. (54.9 inches [139.4 cm], breaking the old record of 54.4 inches [138.2 cm] set during the winter of 1898/99), Baltimore (72.3 inches [183.6 cm], shattering the old record of 62.5 inches [158.8 cm] during the winter of 1995/96), and Philadelphia (70.3 inches [178.6 cm], breaking the old record of 65.5 inches [166.4 cm] also set during the winter of 1995/96). The storm affected an estimated 50 million people across the Southern Plains up through the East Coast. Two 50 car pile-ups—one on Interstate 64 near Williamsburg, Virginia and one on Interstate 80 in central Pennsylvania—were reported. Nine people were killed, including one person who died in the Interstate 80 pile-up. Preliminary estimates from a risk management firm placed total economic losses from both February storms at more than two billion U.S. dollars (Source: AFP).
Unusual snow storms continued to roll in the U.S. On February 12th, Dallas, Texas received 11.2 inches (28.4 cm) of snow, demolishing the old record of 7.8 inches (19.8 cm), set on January 15th-16th, 1964. It also brought Dallas its snowiest winter on record (14.4 inches [36.6 cm], breaking the previous record of 14.1 inches [35.8 cm] set during the winter of 1977/78). More than 180,000 people lost power in the area. The storm continued to move east, bringing snow to regions of the South that rarely experience this type of event, including Georgia, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle. On February 13th, snow was present in 49 of the 50 U.S. states—with Hawaii being the lone snow-free state (Note: Hawaii does occasionally receive snow at its high mountainous peaks, but none was found on this date).
In Afghanistan, 170 people were killed and dozens more were injured as a series of avalanches crashed onto the Salang Pass north of Kabul during a heavy blizzard on February 8th. Cars and buses were pushed off the mountain, crashing into the valley below. Local officials called the event one of the worst natural disasters to affect the country. Avalanches of this magnitude in the area are unusual during the winter, but occur more frequently when heavy snow melts in spring (Source: BBC).
In Indian-controlled Kashmir, a massive avalanche struck part of a high altitude army training camp on February 10th, killing 17 soldiers who were taking a ski test. According to an army spokesman, although avalanches are common in this region, it was one of the deadliest to occur in recent years (Source: AP).
Thirty-eight people died and 18 were missing when an avalanche hit a remote village in Kohistan district in northwestern Pakistan on February 18th. Landslides and deep snow blocked roads, presenting difficulties for rescue workers (Source: BBC).
In Moscow, a snowstorm February 20th-21st dumped a record 24.8 inches (63 cm), breaking the previous record of 24.4 inches (62 cm) set in 1966. Nearly 2,800 miles (4,500 km) of rail track had to be cleared of snow (Source: BBC News).