Global Hazards - February 2011
Updated 7 March 2011
Western Australia Fires 6 February
Image Credit: NOAA ESRL
In contrast to the eastern portions of Australia, Western Australia suffered from dry conditions and wildfires during the first part of February. Between February 6th and 8th a large wildfire burned on the outskirts of Perth, destroying 71 buildings and damaging another 32. Strong sustained winds of 20 mph (30 km/h) and gusts as high as 40 mph (64 km/h) fueled the fires and hampered the efforts of 150 firefighters. Two other nearby fires threatened homes and businesses in the towns of Brigadoon, Baskerville, Millendon and Red Hill. The fires were contained by the 8th, but not before burning nearly 3,707 acres (1,500 hectares).
Smog over Madrid, Spain 7 February
Image Credit: Reuters
On February 8th, dense smog settled over Madrid, Spain, causing air pollution concerns for the capital city for several days. Smog warnings were issued when the nitrogen dioxide levels in the city rose above 5 times the legal limit of 200 micrograms per cubic meter, set by the European Union. A strong high pressure system over the Iberian Peninsula prevented the dispersion of air pollution and limited rainfall which can act as a natural air purifier. The heavy automobile traffic in the city also contributed to the problem. Such a high level of nitrogen dioxide can cause stress on vulnerable populations such as senior citizens and young children.
A rare cold snap took place between February 3rd-4th across the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Temperatures dropped to 0°F (-18°C) in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. This is the lowest temperature recorded in the city since 1950. Six people were reported to have died due to the freezing temperatures. Power outages due to increased power demand closed factories and businesses across the state. Snow reported in the city closed the airport for several hours as officials did not have the infrastructure to handle the ankle deep snow. City shelters were filled to capacity as residents without electricity and heat searched for reprieve from the freezing temperatures. A zoo in the town of Aldama lost power, causing the failure of heating elements for the animals and 35 animals froze to death — 14 parrots, 13 serpents, five iguanas, two crocodiles and a capuchin monkey.
Sri Lanka Rainfall 1-6 February
Image Credit: NASA
Between February 1st and 6th, heavy rainfall impacted northern Sri Lanka for six consecutive days, following flooding which hit the region during January. Authorities confirmed 11 deaths and another two missing. Flood waters inundated roads cutting off several towns to aid, and reports claim that 1.25 million people were directly affected by the floods. More than 320,000 people were displaced and forced to move into government refugee camps. The Anuradhapura and Polonnaurwa districts were the hardest hit, located northeast of the capital city Colombo. Over 90 percent of the country’s rice crops were threatened, which is a staple food for those who live in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka cultivates 570,000 hectares (1.4 million acres) of rice paddies twice a year and another 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) had recently been added in the northern and eastern provinces, the government says.
Southeast Australia Flooding 8 February
Image Credit: NASA
The remnants of tropical cyclone Yasi quickly raced across Queensland and stalled out across the southeastern Australian state of Victoria, causing floods on February 4th-6th. Heavy rains impacted the region during January, and Yasi worsened the already soggy conditions. ABC Australia reported the worst flash floods occurred across northwestern Victoria. Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, was also hard hit with flooding. A state of emergency was issued to keep people from entering the streets of the city on inflatable toys and rafts. Moisture from the storm interacted with a cold front pushing across Victoria to cause the heavy rains. Southeast of Melbourne, damage to potato, cauliflower, and broccoli farms was widespread. Up to 7 inches (175 mm) of rain fell in the city over the course of a single day and wind gusts of 80 mph (130 km/hr) were reported. The State Emergency Service said 84 people were rescued from cars that stalled in flooded streets and from inundated properties.
Warm temperatures during the first half of February caused the snow pack over the high terrain of Afghanistan to melt, leading to flooding in the western regions of the country. TOLOnews reported that hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of agricultural land were destroyed due to the run-off water. Six people were reported killed in western Herat province, and in Herat and Shindand provinces combined, at least 2,000 households were affected by the high waters. Regions of the Zerko Valley were the hardest hit, where farm lands became lakes. The floodwater could be beneficial in the longer term, providing nutrients and moisture to crop lands for the upcoming growing season.
La Paz, Bolivia Landslide
Image Credit: AP
Heavy rains across Bolivia the last weekend of February caused landslides across several regions of the country. At least 45 people were reported to have been killed due to floods and mudslides, and another 10,000 people lost their homes. Particularly hard hit was the capital city of La Paz, where 2 inches (50.8 mm) of rain fell on the 25th and 26th — nearly half the February monthly average. Much of the city is built upon steep mountainsides, and the deluge of water caused the mountainsides to weaken. A bridge collapse near the Kupini II area of La Paz killed five people in a bus. The bridge collapse prompted evacuations of the area before a 91 hectare piece of the mountain slide away, destroying 400 homes in the neighborhood. Fortunately, the evacuations prevented any further deaths in the city. The densely populated neighborhood of Valle de Las Flores was also threatened by weakened hillsides. According to media reports, the landslides were the worst to ever affect La Paz. The worst of the flooding occurred in the northern Amazon lowlands, where dozens of rural communities were cut off by rivers that had burst their banks. The Bolivian government blamed the unusualness of this year's rainy season on La Niña.
Tropical Cyclone Yasi
Image Credit: Australian BOM
Severe tropical cyclone Yasi made landfall in northern Queensland near Mission Beach on February 3rd. When the storm made landfall, it produced wind gusts estimated as high as 177 mph (285 km/hr) and a central minimum pressure of 929 mb. Rainfall totals were generally between 7.9-11.8 inches (200-300 mm), but localized higher amounts were reported — 18.5 inches (471 mm) in South Mission Beach, 18.2 inches (464 mm) in Hawkins Creek, 16.0 inches (407 mm) in Zattas, and 14.7 inches (373 mm) at Bulgun Creek. A storm tide of 16.4 feet (5 meters) was measured during the astronomical low tide which helped to limit inland inundation due to the storm. Estimates by Tropical Storm Risk, Inc. placed damages near 3.5 billion U.S. dollars, which made Yasi the second most costly tropical cyclone to ever affect Australia. Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin on Christmas Day in 1974 and cost approximately 3.6 billion U.S. dollars (adjusted to 2011) in damage. Yasi missed the highly populated cities along the coast, which also limited the amount of damage. Media reports claim that up to 90 percent of structures in the towns where the eye of the storm made landfall were damaged or destroyed.
Satellite Image of Cyclone Bingiza
Image Credit: NASA
On February 14th, Tropical Cyclone Bingiza made landfall near Saranambana, along Madagascar’s northeastern coast, with maximum sustained winds estimated at 115 miles per hour (185 km/hr), according to the U.S. Navy. This ranked Bingiza as a Category three tropical cyclone. The storm caused six deaths in Madagascar, destroyed 8,500 buildings, and left 15,000 people homeless. Bingiza traversed the rugged terrain of Madagascar and re-emerged over the Mozambique Channel between Africa and Madagascar on the 15th as a tropical depression. Late in the day on the 15th, Bingiza re-intensified to a tropical storm over the warm waters and made a second landfall along Madagascar’s southeastern coast. Across the entire country, 14 people were killed, 64 were injured, and another 11 reported missing.
Satellite Estimate of Carlos Rainfall
Image Credit: NASA
Tropical Cyclone Carlos formed off the northern Australian coast on February 14th, and remained stationary for three days over Australia's Northern Territory coastal region. On the 16th, 13.4 inches (340 mm) of rain fell in Darwin, breaking the 24-hour rainfall record for the city. The three day total precipitation (14th–16th) for the city was 26.96 inches (684.8 mm), also a record. The rains caused heavy flooding in Darwin, and the city tied the record rainfall for the month by the 17th. The city dam on the outskirts of Darwin was overtopped by rising water, leaving Darwinians to watch as belongings were swept away in the resulting floods. The Darwin airport was forced to close for two days because of the deluge of water. City residents were warned to watch out for snakes and crocodiles, as the animals were disturbed by the heavy rains. As Carlos moved off to the Southwest, it brought heavy rain and strong winds to the northern regions of Western Australia on the 18th through 22nd, forcing the suspension of petroleum mining projects. Floodwaters in the town of Carnarvon peaked at 23 feet (7 meters) above flood stage on the 19th, causing minor damage to buildings in the town. Although flooding was widespread, total damage caused by the storm appeared to be minimal.
Central U.S. Snow Cover 2 February
Image Credit: NASA
A very large and strong winter storm hit the central and northeastern U.S. and southern Canada between February 1st and 3rd and was dubbed the 'Groundhog’s Day Blizzard of 2011'. Impacts were also felt from New Mexico northward to Wisconsin and eastward into Maine. Reports of snowfall over 20 inches (50.8 cm) were widespread. At one point, the storm stretched over 2,000 miles (3,200 km), and 22 states had snowfall accumulations greater than five inches (12.7 cm). Portions of southern Ontario, Canada, received 7.9 inches (20 cm) of snow. The storm also brought heavy amounts of freezing rain and ice to portions of the Ohio River Valley and Great Lakes, with some locations observing up to 1.0 inch of ice accumulations. The storm also brought strong winds and gusts as high as 70 mph (113 km/hr) were reported in Chicago. On the 2nd, an estimated 375,000 households in the U.S. and southern Canada were without power due to the snow, ice, and strong winds. Across the U.S., 6,300 flights were cancelled with 938 of those being at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. In the state of Missouri, all 250 miles of Interstate Highway 70 were closed. Highways and rail systems were also closed across much of Illinois. In Oklahoma, the Tulsa World newspaper was unable to publish because of the heavy snow — the first time in its 105-year history. Chicago observed 20.2 inches (51.3 cm) of snow for the event, which is the third largest snowfall accumulation ever recorded for the city. Media reports claim the combination of the heavy snowfall and the gusty winds made this the worst blizzard in Chicago’s history. The largest snow accumulation associated with the storm was in Antioch, Illinois, where 27 inches (68.6 cm) of snow was measured. The storm weakened somewhat as it moved into the Northeast on the 3rd, dropping around a foot (30.5 cm) of snow in New England. In total, at least 10 people died across the U.S. due to the storm.
Texas Snow Accumulation 4 February
Image Credit: NWS
On February 4th, a winter storm moved across northern Texas, dropping four to six inches (10-15 cm) of snow over the Dallas, Texas metropolitan area. The average annual snowfall for the city is 2.6 inches (6.6 cm). The snow caused the cancellation of more than 300 flights at Dallas airports, as fans were arriving for Super Bowl XLV. Media reports claimed that hotels catering to the influx of sports fans handed out ski hats and scarves alongside the regionally iconic cowboy hat. As crews prepared the stadium for the game, chunks of ice fell, sending seven workers to the hospital. By the time the game was played on the 6th, conditions had warmed and most of the snow had melted. The National Football League (NFL) was impacted by several weather events this season. The first Monday night game of the season started with a delay due to thunderstorms in a New York City suburb and the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota collapsed due to heavy snow on the roof on December 12th.
Satellite Image of Southern U.S. Snow
Image Credit: NASA
On February 8th and 9th, a winter storm brought heavy snow to the south-central U.S., breaking many local snowfall records. This storm was on the heels of the ‘Groundhogs Day’ major snow storm. Snowfall totals in parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas topped 20 inches (50 cm). The 5.5 inches (14 cm) of snow in Tulsa, Oklahoma brought the seasonal snowfall total to 26 inches (60 cm), marking the snowiest winter on record for the city. Oklahoma City observed 6 inches (15 cm) of snow, making February 2011 its second snowiest month (18 inches) on record, behind March 1923. The back-to-back snow storms caused numerous roofs to collapse and there were at least 80 reports of storm-related injuries. Tulsa spent 2 million U.S. dollars on 68 pieces of snow removal equipment and 600 tons of salt to help clear roads. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared a state of emergency in Oklahoma, making federal money available to reimburse municipalities for snow-related costs. In addition to the heavy snow, very cold temperatures moved into the region. On the 10th, the temperature in Nowata, Oklahoma dropped to -31 degrees F (-35 degrees C), breaking the all-time coldest temperature record for the state of Oklahoma.
Image of Korean Snow 14 February
Image Credit: NASA
Between February 11th and 14th, a strong storm grazed the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula, dropping over 3 feet (91 cm) of snow. Samcheok, South Korea measured 39 inches of snow (100 cm) during the course of the storm, the largest storm accumulation measured in South Korea since records began in 1911. It was reported that one rural town received 31.5 inches (80 cm) of snow in 24 hours — potentially a new South Korean record for snowfall in a single day. The South Korean military sent 12,000 soldiers to assist stranded motorists and trapped residents in the region, and officials in the Gangwon province mobilized 22,600 volunteers and 1,750 snow plows to clear highways. Property damages were estimated at 4.3 million U.S. dollars. There were 80 flights canceled and 40 delayed at Gimhae International Airport and roads were closed in and around the nearby port city of Busan. Officials said that 146 remote households in the Gangwon province were unreachable due to the deep snow. To the west, Seoul was spared the worst of the snow, but the Han River froze over for the first time in years, according to the BBC. The heavy snow arrived on the heels of South Korea’s coolest January since the 1960s.