Global Hazards - April 2011
Updated 9 May 2011
Location of German sand storm
Image Credit: BBC
On April 8th, a freak sandstorm swept across the town of Rostock in northern Germany. The sand and dust swept across a busy four-lane road near the Baltic Sea, causing an 80 car pileup. Twenty of the vehicles caught on fire after a truck carrying flammable material spilled. Eight people were reported killed and another 41 injured. Several of the injuries were serious, and there were fears the death toll could rise. The dust storm was driven by extremely dry conditions the past month across the country and strong winds blowing over recently ploughed fields. March 2011 was observed to be the driest March in 18 years and the seventh driest since 1881 for Germany.
During April, drought conditions persisted across eastern Africa, and particularly hard hit was Kenya and Somalia. The northern and central regions of Kenya were the most impacted, including Marsabit, Moyale, and Mandera. In those three regions alone, more than 17,000 heads of livestock died during 2011 to-date due to lack of water and malnutrition. Many of the water sources completely dried up by April, and most of the remaining water sources were contaminated by water-borne diseases. An assessment by the United Nations found that the drought in East Africa has left eight million people in need of food aid, including 1.2 million Kenyans. The rising cost of food also played a role in the shortages. The United Nations expected more people and livestock to perish due to the lack of potable water and food. The dry conditions also prompted migrations. Over 10,000 Kenyans migrated eastward into Uganda, while 10,000 Somalis migrated into Kenya. Meanwhile, more than 52,000 people have fled rural areas for the urban centers in search of water and food. The migration of people will continue to add strain to the fragile resources in the region.
Satellite Image of Kuwait Dust Storm 13 April
Image Credit: NASA
On April 13th, a strong dust storm moved across the Middle East, affecting several Persian Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq. The dust storm was driven by a strong cold front moving across the deserts of Turkey and Syria into the Persian Gulf region. In Basra, Iraq, visibility dropped to just 165 feet (50 meters). Kuwait was particularly hard hit, prompting the country to halt all oil exports. Kuwait is one of the world’s largest oil producers, pumping around 2.3 million barrels of crude oil into world markets daily. Schools and universities were also closed across the small nation, as the blowing dust reduced visibility to less than 350 feet (200 meters). According to media sources, this is the fourth dry winter in a row for the country, loosening desert sands. Dust storms are usually rare in winter, but become more common during the summer as hot temperatures return to the region.
Extremely dry conditions plagued the island nation of Cuba for several months, culminating in an extreme drought by mid April. Media sources claim that the drought was the worst to impact the nation in nearly half a century. Reservoirs in some regions were down to 20 percent of their normal level, prompting government officials to take emergency measures. The government provided water through water trucks to nearly a million citizens, with about 100,000 that received water aid living in the capital of Havana. Cuba's rainy season begins in May, but it will take much-above average rainfall to refill reservoirs. In addition to the lack of rainfall, the nation’s aging infrastructure and leaky pipes do not allow for an efficient means to transport water, causing additional problems.
Satellite Image of Mexico Fires 9 April
Image Credit: NASA
Large fires burned across northern Mexico during the early and middle part of April and prompted a huge response from the Mexican government. The fires began at the end of March due to lightening strikes. The location of the fires in mountainous terrain made fighting the flames along the steep slopes nearly impossible. Media reports claim the fires are among the largest in Mexico’s history. By the 18th, the fires had burned about 245,000 acres (99,000 hectares) across the state of Coahuila. No human causalities were reported due to the fires burning mostly in rural areas and grasslands, but a brown bear was trapped in a cave and died of smoke inhalation. The U.S. government sent helicopters and airplanes to help fight the wildfires as smoke from the fires was deteriorating air quality conditions across southern Texas. The state of Texas was also dealing with a large outbreak of wildfires; please see the U.S. Wildfire report for additional information. Mexican officials hoped to have the blazes contained by the end of April.
For information on the extreme wildfire activity across the Southern U.S., please see the April 2011 U.S. Wildfire Report.
Cooler-than-average temperatures during the 2010/11 winter and above normal precipitation put a strain on India’s Alphonso mango crops. The fruit, which is used in religious rituals and other drinks, increased sharply in price over the past few months due to crop shortages. State agencies said that production dropped to 30 percent below the normal seasonal yield, prompting prices to nearly double. Crops in the Konkan region were the most impacted. India produces nearly 13 million tons of mangos annually, accounting for about 40 percent of the world’s supply. Due to the crop shortages, many of the mangos have stayed in India, with exports to the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. dropping 10 percent of normal. Also impacted by the poor weather conditions were Indian’s onion crops, driving up food prices of a staple food in the country.
Flooded River in Cass County, North Dakota
Image Credit: NWS
Above-average snowfall and snowpack across the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains of the U.S. during the 2010/11 winter primed the region for another spring of near-record flooding. The Red River, which flows northward between the states of North Dakota and Minnesota into Canada, is particularly prone to spring flooding. These rivers and streams crested during the week of April 11th, causing the rivers to breach their banks. The first ten days of April brought particularly warm temperatures and rainfall to the region, causing an accelerated rise in the Red River, which rose more than seven feet (2.1 m) in 48 hours. In Fargo, North Dakota, the Red River crested at 38.6 feet (11.8 m), which is just shy of the record flooding which occurred in 2009 when the river crested at 40.8 feet (12.4 m). Thousands of volunteers and National Guard troops helped residents stack sandbags to keep the water out of towns. The governors of North Dakota and Minnesota declared states of emergency in the counties directly impacted by the flooding. Over 60 miles (97 km) of roads had to be closed due to flood water inundation. The flooding also impacted Winnipeg, Canada which is bisected by the Red River. Hundreds of volunteers helped sandbag Canada’s seventh largest city. Four people were reported to have died in flood waters in Minnesota. The death toll could have been higher, but communities in the region were well prepared for the floods, with this being the third consecutive spring with near-record flooding.
A strong cyclone, dubbed a Nor’wester, hit Bangladesh on April 4th and 5th, killing 13 people and injuring 121. Media outlets reported that eight districts in the northern region of the country were hard hit with flooding rains, resulting in mudslides leveling hundreds of houses, and leaving thousands homeless. Hail also accompanied the storm, causing property damage and damage to a vast tract of corn, wheat, mango, and lychee orchards.
Unseasonable heavy rains caused landslides across the Caribbean island of Grenada on April 12th. April is typically part of the dry season for the island, and the rain caught many residents off guard. Up to six inches (152.4 mm) of rain fell in 24 hours, causing landslides. More than 20 families lost their homes. The storm also caused 15 fishing boats to wreck along the island’s coast. Fortunately, there were no reports of fatalities, injuries, or missing persons.
Kuiseb River reaching the Atlantic Ocean 2 April
Image Credit: NASA
Flooding rains across extreme southwestern Africa continued into April. The rainy season for the region typically lasts from November to March, but this year it lasted longer than usual. The hardest hit nations were Namibia and Angola. Since the beginning of the year, 62 people have drowned in Namibia, and across both nations, the United Nations estimated more than 37,600 people have been displaced. On April 11th, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton promised aid to help the nation deal with the ongoing crisis. The heavy rains also completely filled the Kuiseb River, which flows through the very dry Namib Desert. On April 2nd, the Kuiseb River, which typically completely dries out before reaching the Atlantic Ocean, drained into the ocean for the first time since the 1960’s. The Swakop River, also reached the Atlantic Ocean on April 2nd, the first time in five years.
Heavy rains on April 13th and 14th caused a mudslide in the city of Manizales, Colombia. The mudslide swept away a bus near the central part of the city, killing 14 people and leaving another six missing. The bus was completely buried by mud and rock, making rescue efforts difficult. Other parts of the city were evacuated due to fears there would be more mudslides. This event was on the heels of one of the worst rainy seasons in Colombia’s history, which left more than 300 people dead and forced the evacuation of two million people.
Map of Kazakhstan flooding
Image Credit: Relief Web
Warm temperatures and heavy rains across Western Kazakhstan between April 9th-15th caused significant snow melt. The runoff caused rivers to swell and overflow their banks, flooding over 20 settlements and destroying 600 homes. According to Relief Web, nearly 9,000 people across the region were affected. Up to 185 miles (300 km) of roads and several thousand acres of farmland were also under water, and thousands of heads of livestock were killed. Damage was also reported to dams, bridges, power and telephone lines, and a gas pipeline.
Map of Brazil flooding
Image Credit: BBC
Torrential rains triggered landslides and floods across southern Brazil on April 22nd, leaving at least eleven people dead and two missing. The hardest hit region was the Rio Grande Del Sol state. Several regions of the state were evacuated due to fears of additional landslides. It was reported that about 100,000 residents were without power. Also impacted was Rio de Janeiro, to the north. Blackouts were widespread across the western portion of the city where power lines had fallen. Several downtown city streets were flooded as well as the Maracana stadium, home of the 2016 Olympic Games opening ceremony and the 2014 World Cup final.
Satellite rainfall estimates for central U.S.
Image Credit: NASA
Flood waters which impacted the upper Midwest of the U.S. during the first part of April slowly made their way down the Mississippi into the mid-Mississippi River Valley. Water from snowmelt from winter, in addition to heavy rainfall in the region, caused record flooding. On April 26th, 48 river gauges reported major flooding along rivers in the central United States. Most of the heavy rain across the region fell between April 22nd-26th, with several locations receiving over a foot of rain in that time period. Flooding is not new for the region, but the aging earthen levees, which have been built to protect population centers, succumbed to the high waters. The levee holding back the Black River in southern Missouri was overtopped and breached, threatening the 17,000 residents who live in Poplar Bluff. Also threatened was the town of Cairo, Illinois, located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Officials broke a levee in a rural downstream location, flooding hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in Missouri, to protect the town. Also hard hit was far western Kentucky, where the Ohio River was rising at a rate of 6 inches a day, threatening towns. The governor of the state declared a state of emergency and sent National Guard troops to the region to help flood victims. The flooding was expected to last well into May.
During late April, floods impacted northeastern Syria. According to the country’s state-run media, 26 villages were flooded and five children were killed. Satellite observations reveal that the flood waters apparently originated in northern Iraq and flowed into the Nahr al Khabur River, a major tributary of the Euphrates River.
4 April U.S. Storm Reports
Image Credit: SPC
A large complex of severe weather moved across the southeastern quadrant of the United States on April 4th, bringing reports of hail, severe winds, and tornadoes from Texas to Pennsylvania. Record warm temperatures ahead of a strong cold front primed the atmosphere for the severe weather outbreak. The fast moving complex traveled more than 800 miles (1290 km) in about 24 hours with an average speed of 30-40 mph (50-65 km/hr). At least nine people were reported to have been killed due to impacts of the storms. In Augusta, Georgia, a practice round of the Master’s golf tournament was delayed due to many of the famed magnolia trees along the course being destroyed. Strong winds tore the roof off an elementary school gymnasium in Tennessee, but fortunately no one was injured. Across Georgia and Tennessee, over 270,000 homes lost power. According to preliminary counts from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, there were 68 tornado reports, 90 hail reports, and 1,318 strong wind reports. After the local National Weather Service offices investigate these reports, it is likely that the number of strong wind reports within the 24-hour period will be a record breaker. The previous record for one-day severe wind reports was 455 on April 2nd, 2006.
On April 17th, violent thunderstorms moved across southern China, killing 18 people and injuring 150. Reports of strong winds, heavy rain, and hail were widespread across the Guangdong province, affecting the cities of Guangzhou, Foshan, Zhaoqing, and Dongguan. Winds were observed as high as 100 mph in one of the storms. The region is known as China’s manufacturing heartland, with thousands of factories. However, only minor damage was reported to those facilities. In all, the storms impacted more than 270,000 people and 45 homes were destroyed. According to state media, about 2,500 acres (1,000 hecatres) of crops were damaged or destroyed, and the civil affairs ministry estimated the total damages were going to cost about 15 million U.S. dollars.
For information on the active tornado month across the U.S., please see the April 2011 U.S. Tornado Report.
Alice Springs, Australia
Image Credit: BBC
Heavy rains over the past few months across northern Australia have taken their toll on wildlife populations. The abnormal rainfall prompted a mass migration of native rats from the Northern Territory and western Queensland into the interior desert of the continent. Scientists at the Northern Territory Biodiversity Conservation group said the phenomenon was a “huge wildlife event”. The rats were seen for the first time in over 25 years in the town of Alice Springs. The rodents typically are not found in Alice Springs due to the arid climate. It is likely the rats will not stay in Alice Springs for long, as they are just moving through the region.