Global Hazards - January 2011
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 31 January 2011
East Africa Vegitation Stress
Image Credit: NASA
An ongoing drought across eastern Africa intensified during January. Seasonal weather patterns typically bring moisture and rain to Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia during November and December, referred to as the Deyr rainy season. Two thirds of Somalia received less than 75 percent of normal rainfall during December 2010 and some regions of the country received no rainfall, according to the United Nations-funded Somalia Water and Land Information Management program. Hot and dry conditions were observed in the central-south regions of Somalia while dry and windy conditions were observed in the northern region during January 2011, and combined with the lack of rainfall, this caused water and moisture stress on vegetation. River levels were reported to be below average for the Shabelle and Juba Rivers. Dry conditions over the headwaters of these rivers in the Ethiopian Highlands exacerbated the problem. The presence of La Niña was blamed for the limited rainfall this year. The largest impacts were on crop performance. The cereal harvest, including sorghum, was a complete failure, and pasture conditions were reported to be poor to very poor. Kenya was also impacted by the drought, and food shortages were reported in many regions of the country due to the poor crop conditions. In Kenya alone, there were reports of 113,000 children suffering from malnutrition due to the increased price of food. The lack of rain also caused a shortage of food for livestock, leading to a reported 5,000 cattle fatalities.
A cold snap during the first week of 2011 brought the coldest temperatures this winter to much of India. Temperatures as low as -10.5°F (-23.6°C) were reported across northern India. According to the India Meteorological Department, the daily maximum temperature in Delhi only reached 58.3°F (14.6°C), which is 11°F (6°C) below normal. During the entire winter season, Delhi has been experiencing below normal temperatures. Up to 9.8 feet (3 meters) of snow fell across the high mountain passes of Rohtang and Kunzam cut off access to portions of far northern India including the Kashmir province. The death toll due to the cold temperatures soared to 30 for the country, as many people do not have viable heating sources in their homes.
The cold air that impacted parts of India during the first week of January moved into Bangladesh during the second and third weeks of the month. Temperatures were 9°F-19°F (5°C-10°C) below normal. The entire country, from the northern higher elevations to the tropical coastal regions, was impacted. The cold temperatures hit agriculture the hardest and the impacts will likely have long-term effects on the economic situation in the farming and poorer communities of the country. Hundreds of people, especially children and the elderly, suffered from cold-related diseases including bronchial asthma, pneumonia, coughs and diarrhea.
Asian Temperature Anomalies
Image Credit: NOAA ESRL
A prolonged cold snap across the Korean peninsula the second half of January impacted energy prices and food production across North and South Korea. A news report out of North Korea stated the isolated nation was suffering its harshest winter in decades. A Japanese media outlet reported that temperatures across North Korea were below freezing for 40 consecutive days, marking the longest cold snap since 1945. In South Korea, fears of an increased energy demand prompted government officials to ask residents to wear long johns to work to allow thermostats to be set lower. The South Korean government also put in place energy saving plans that included banning decorative lighting and limiting elevator use in public buildings.
Australian Flooding Runoff
Image Credit: NASA
Heavy rains that began during the Austral spring season (September-November) continued into early summer causing severe flooding in the northeastern Australian state of Queensland. Australia as a whole had its wettest spring and third wettest year (2010) on record, partially attributable to La Niña. The flooding rains during the first half of January caused numerous towns to be submerged across Queensland, and the extent of flooding was nearly the size of France and Germany combined. Thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed as rivers breached their banks during the worst flooding in decades. The town of Rockhampton, which is home to 77,000 people, was particularly hard hit. The city was completely surrounded by floodwaters and was cut off from the outside world for several days. Australia’s third largest city, Brisbane, was also hard hit with flooding. On the 10th, six inches (152 mm) of rain fell in just 30 minutes near Toowoomba, which is upstream of Brisbane. The Brisbane River crested near 17 feet (5 meters) in the city, and inundated over 10,000 homes and businesses. Some sections of coastal Queensland received over 4 feet (1.2 meters) of rain over the past few months. A major concern was the dangerous wildlife which were displaced during the floods. Poisonous snakes and dangerous crocodiles were floating through cities and towns, endangering residents. The impacts of the flooding were far-reaching. Over 75 percent of coal producing operations were halted in the state, which supply just under half of the world's coking coal needed in steel manufacturing, driving up prices worldwide. It is estimated that the coal industry losses would top 2.3 billion Australian dollars. One of Australia’s most important environmental treasures was also impacted by the floods. Runoff from agricultural lands negatively impacted the delicate Great Barrier Reef, which is particularly sensitive to chemicals used in fertilizers and pesticides. It was estimated that total rebuilding costs across Queensland would top 30 billion Australian dollars — potentially the costliest natural disaster in Australian history. The death toll in Queensland reached 33 people, and another 40 were reported missing. Please see the December 2010 Global Hazards Report for additional information on this flooding event.
12-18 January Philippines Rainfall
Image Credit: NASA
Heavy rains that began on December 31st continued into early January in the Philippines led to heavy flooding in Bhutan City, which is home to 270,000 people. Mandatory evacuations were ordered and 453,000 people were forced to leave their homes. Over one and a half million people across 144 towns were affected by the flood waters. Cold air from northeast Asia coming into contact with warmer air in the tropical country helped cause the heavy rains. Leyte Island was also hard hit with flooding. In 2006, 1,000 people there were killed due to a massive landslide — one of the deadliest natural disasters in Filipino history. The death toll during the two weeks of flooding was 57 people according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, and 1,300 homes were destroyed. An initial government estimate put the damage to roads and bridges, homes, and farms at nearly 900 million pesos (20.29 million US dollars).
3-9 January Sri Lanka Rainfall
Image Credit: NASA
Heavy monsoonal rains in eastern Sri Lanka the first two weeks of 2011 were the heaviest to occur over such a short period of time, on record, causing widespread flooding across the island nation. The heavy rains began in December, with the city of Batticaloa, receiving 63 inches (1.6 meters) of rain between December 1st, 2010 and January 12th, 2011. Over one million people were displaced due to the flooding — more than during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Media reports claim that 40 were killed due to the flood waters.. The eastern regions were the worst affected by the deluge, which left some stretches of railway line under nearly 3.3 feet (1 meter) of water. Officials stated that the city of Ampara received the most rainfall ever recorded in such a short time period. The floods brought the risk of disease, including the mosquito-borne dengue fever, which, even in normal times, is a severe problem in the country. The floods sparked fears of food shortages, as 20 percent of the nation’s rice fields were flooded.
Brazil Flood Water
Image Credit: Brazil City-State Times
Heavy rainfall, which began on January 6th in southeast Brazil, caused the worst flooding and landslides to affect the nation in decades. The death toll soared to 830 people with another 540 were reported missing, marking the deadliest natural disaster in Brazil’s history. According to media reports, this catastrophe was the sixth most deadly in the last 12 months, globally. Estimates suggested that the death toll could top 1,000 people. The collapse of electricity and communications systems, combined with the destruction of many roads and bridges, severely hampered the rescue work. The hardest hit area was the mountainous area 40 miles (64 km) north of Rio de Janeiro. On January 11th and 12th, a foot (305 mm) of rain fell in just a few hours near Teresopolis and Nova Friburgo. Officials said that the first few days of January saw nearly as much rainfall as is typical the entire month. Hundreds of homes were completely destroyed in the region. The steep terrain caused the deluge of water to collect in the valleys and small streams became wide, deep, and violent rivers. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo were also impacted by the heavy rains, with 13 people reported killed by flood waters in Sao Paulo.
Heavy rain, which began in December, continued through January across southern Africa. South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi were all impacted. Forty one deaths were reported in South Africa, while ten people were reported killed in Mozambique’s central province of Manica, as well as more than 13,000 people forced to evacuate their homes. According to Zimbabwe's meteorological department, the nation experienced its heaviest rain in 30 years. Seven of South Africa’s nine provinces were declared disaster zones, and 85 lives were reported taken during the flooding event. Soybean and sunflower harvests were expected to take a hit due to the extremely wet conditions. Flood damages in South Africa alone were expected to top 280 million U.S. dollars.
Malaysia Rainfall 24-30 January
Image Credit: NASA
Heavy rains that impacted the Philippines during January also impacted Malaysia between the 24th and 30th. Rainfall amounts over 31 inches (800 mm) were reported across the northern regions of Borneo and three rivers breached their banks on the 31st — the Sungai Muar, Sungai Benut, and Sungai Mengkibol. Over 46,000 people were forced to evacuate in what is being referred to as the worst flooding in the country since 2006. Floodwaters cut off communication to several towns, including Johor, Negri Semibilan, Pahang, Malbacca, and Sabah. Three people were reported killed due to the floodwaters and another was missing.
Torrential flooding hit the western Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah on January 26th through 28th. At least 10 deaths were blamed on the flooding and another three people were reported missing. Jeddah received 4 inches (111 mm) of rain in just three hours. Nearly 2,000 people had to be rescued — ground teams rescued 1,451 people and another 498 were rescued by helicopters. Power was cut to 70,000 residents of the Jeddah province. These floods were reminiscent of extreme flooding which hit the city in November 2009.
A rare snowfall across the U.S. southwest on January 2nd and 3rd brought snow to Las Vegas, Nevada. Portions of Interstates 5 and 15 were closed through mountain passes in Southern California. Interstate 5 is a main transportation corridor between Los Angeles and San Francisco and Interstate 15 is the major corridor between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Traffic was backed up for miles on both highways for several hours as they were particularly busy due to the New Year’s Holiday. Several inches of snow were reported outside Las Vegas proper, while only snow flurries were reported on the Vegas Strip. The Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita also received snowfall, a rarity for the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
11 January U.S. Snow Cover
Image Credit: NOAA NOHRSC
A strong winter storm impacted the southern and eastern U.S. between January 9th and 13th, dropping several feet of snow in its path. Snow totaling between 8-11 inches (20-28 cm) was reported in eastern Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas during the first phase of the storm on the 9th and 10th. Freezing rain was also widespread, where up to an inch and a half (38 mm) of ice accumulated in Georgia and South Carolina. Six states declared states of emergency, and travel was extremely hazardous in the affected region, including Atlanta, where at least five closures of major interstates occurred. Atlanta is a major transportation hub for the Southeast and the entire U.S. and ripple effects were felt nationwide. In Huntsville, Alabama, 8.9 inches (23 cm) of snow fell, marking the third largest snow storm for the city on record. The storm caused snow to be on the ground in 49 of 50 of the U.S. states (Florida had no snow on the ground). The heaviest snow total was reported in Bakersville, North Carolina where 20 inches (51 cm) accumulated. The storm eventually moved up the Eastern Seaboard bringing wintry weather to the major cities of the Northeast and blizzard conditions to parts of New England. New York City received 9.1 inches (23 cm) of snow, while Boston, Massachusetts had 14.6 inches (37 cm). The 24 inches (61 cm) which fell at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut broke the previous all-time greatest storm record of 21.9 inches (56 cm), set on February 12th, 2006.
During the first three weeks of January, freezing temperatures and winter precipitation across southern China led to the evacuation of nearly 60,000 people according to the Chinese government. Ice and sleet collapsed the roofs of more than 1,200 homes. The provinces of Jiangxi, Hunan, Chongqing, Sichuan and Guizhou were the hardest hit. Thousands of travelers were forced to leave their cars on highways as icy weather paralyzed traffic while most were traveling to be with their families for the Lunar New Year Holiday. An estimated 230 million people typically travel for the month-long holiday, the largest annual human migration globally. Crops in the regions were also hard hit by the abnormally cool temperatures. Nearly 350,000 acres (141,650 hectares) of crops were destroyed including cabbage and rice. The ministry of Civil Affairs estimated economic losses of 200 million U.S. dollars.
27 January U.S. Snow Cover
Image Credit: NOAA NOHRSC
On January 25th – 27th, another large and powerful winter storm impacted parts of the eastern United States. Snowfall was reported from Arkansas to Maine as the storm moved along the Gulf Coast and then northward up the Atlantic seaboard. Snowfall amounts up to six inches (15 cm) were reported across western Kentucky and Tennessee on the 25th. The cold front associated with the extratropical cyclone brought severe weather to the Florida peninsula, with five tornadoes reported and 26 high wind reports on the 25th. No fatalities were reported. Once the storm moved over the warm Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean, it rapidly intensified and brought heavy snowfall to the densely populated Northeast corridor on the 26th and 27th. The snow began first in the Washington, D.C. area, where the federal government released 300,000 employees from work early. The Washington area received five to eight inches (13 to 20 cm) of snow accumulation. Philadelphia received 15.1 inches (38 cm) of snow from the event, while Central Park in New York City had 19.0 inches (48 cm) of snow. These snowfall amounts rank in the top ten largest snowstorms for both cities. Thundersnow was reported in New York City, with snowfall rates approaching three inches per hour. Public schools in the city were forced to close for only the ninth time since 1979 and over 180,000 households lost power in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. The nearly 10 inches (25 cm) that fell in Boston, Massachusetts forced the closure of Logan International Airport for half a day, causing air travel hassles across the country.