Global Hazards - January 2013
Updated 01 March 2013
Drought and Wildfires
Intense heat and dry conditions in southeastern Australia produced devastating bushfires during January, particularly in Tasmania, an island off the coast of Victoria. On February 1st, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) estimated the insured losses topped $88 million U.S. dollars in value (nearly 1,800 claims) in Tasmania due to bushfires occurring since late December 2012. At least 270,000 acres burned and more than 200 structures were either destroyed or damaged in the Tasmanian blazes.
Tasmanian Fires in Australia
during January 2013
Extreme heat and strong winds fueled bushfires in southern Tasmania, where temperatures in the capital city of Hobart soared to a record daily maximum of 41.8°C (107.2°F) on January 4th, which was its hottest maximum temperature on record for any month since 1883. (Records from 1908–1917 were unavailable.) The city's previous record maximum temperature of 40.8°C (105.4°F) was set in January 1976. Over 130 homes were lost as fires swept through communities east of Hobart in southeast Tasmania and on the Forestier and Tasman Peninsulas. In early January, the Forcett fire, which jumped the Arthur Highway, consumed nearly 50,000 acres in nine days and resulted in the fatality of a firefighter, according to media reports. Dunalley, Boomer Bay, and Murdunna were especially hard hit. In Dunalley, some individuals escaped the flames by plunging into the sea, while some were trapped within a vehicle as the flames passed across. Beyond the destruction caused by fire, the residents faced the hazardous issues of asbestos and contaminated water. Fires isolated about 3,000 people on the Tasman Peninsula. More than 1,000 people were safely transported by sea from the Tasman Peninsula to Hobart overnight on January 4th–5th in the initial rescue effort. Emergency shelters were established in Port Arthur and Nubeena, where the Salvation Army provided meals and assistance to the evacuees. A fire near Nubeena burned over 960 acres. Fallen trees and power lines blocked roadways with as many as 300 power poles down. The Australian state of Queensland provided the equivalent of $200,000 U.S. dollars to the country's Red Cross appeal for Tasmania, which collected close to $3.5 million U.S. dollars by the end of January. A dozen of elite New Zealander firefighters arrived on January 9th to provide assistance in battling the fires in Tasmania's steep and remote terrain.
Elsewhere on the Tasmanian mainland, numerous bushfires flared. Along the state's eastern coast, a wind-driven bushfire in the Bicheno region burned nearly 10,000 acres and at least 12 properties, where road closures prevented access to the Freycinet Peninsula. After erupting on on January 3rd near Lake Repulse, a bushfire destroyed several homes, livestock, and farming equipment while burning close to 29,000 acres in the Derwent Valley to the northwest of Hobart. Ignited by lightning on January 3rd, a bushfire in the Southwest National Park scorched nearly 110,000 acres of wilderness around the Giblin River. Damage to some of the Park's track infrastructure forced a temporary closure in the area. Smoke from the blaze reached Hobart. Notably, the bushfire emulated the desired effects of a prescribed burn by reducing forest species that have encroached upon the buttongrass moorland ecosystem. Buttongrass moorland plants (cord rushes, sedges, shrubs) recover quickly from fires and re-sprout.
New South Wales Fires in
Australia during January 2013
Source: NASA Earth Observatory
On the Australian continent, stifling heat and strong winds bolstered New South Wales (NSW) bushfires in early January. Sydney's temperature peaked at 42.5°C (108.5°F) on January 7th. Southward of Sydney, the Yarrabin bushfire charred over 29,600 acres near the Wadbilliga National Park, after flaring on January 6th. Due to its proximity to a former military test range, the Dean's Gap fire created a challenge for firefighting efforts. Dropping water from aircraft presented an unacceptable risk of detonating unexploded ordnance located on the site. Containment lines were formed through bulldozing and the placement of special gel to prevent the fire's spread onto the range. The fire burned around 15,000 acres in the Morton National Park. Devastating livestock losses occurred in the Cobbler Road fire, which scorched more than 42,000 acres near Yass. Nearly 10,000 sheep valued at about $1 million U.S. dollars perished in the state due to bushfires in 2013, while severe damage of pasturelands resulted in fodder shortages, according to media accounts.
In northwestern NSW, lightning likely sparked a fire in the Warrumbungle National Park on January 12th, which scorched around 100,000 acres to the west of Coonabarabran. The ferocious blaze destroyed more than 30 homes and 50 sheds as well as caused extensive losses of farm machinery and livestock. Over 100 residents were evacuated. The inferno damaged at least five structures at the Siding Spring Observatory, but the domed state-of the-art optical telescope remained intact. On-site sensors at the facility recorded temperatures in excess of 100°C (212°F). The Australian National University's precautionary measures of outfitting all buildings with ember filter screens and keeping undergrowth cleared were credited as factors to the survival of the astronomy facility. The ICA estimated insured losses due to the catastrophic fire as about $10.2 million U.S. dollars in value.
In Victoria, bushfires resulted in one fatality and the loss of at least eight homes during January. A fire sparking in the Alpine State Park on January 17th near Gippsland scorched at least 118,000 acres. Temperatures in Sydney reached 45.8°C (114.4°F) on January 18th. Earlier in the month, a blaze at Kentbruck consumed over 17,000 acres including a large area of blue gum and pines.
North Asian land surface temperature
anomalies during early January 2013
Areas across the Eurasian continent — spanning from Greece to China — continued to experience extreme cold during January. A cold snap in early January lowered temperatures to 5.0°C (41.0°F) in Athens and -13.0°C (8.6°F) in the northern parts of Greece, where blankets and food were distributed as relief to the growing homeless population. In northern India, at least 23 fatalities resulted from exposure to the near-freezing cold, raising the winter death toll to at least 249 in the country. The coldest temperatures in four decades occurred in easternmost India and Bangladesh, according to media reports. India's Agartala observed a minimum temperature of 3.3°C (37.9°F) on January 10th, which was 6.3°C (11.3°F) below normal. Nearly 80 deaths occurred in northern Bangladesh where the town of Syedpur recorded 3.0°C (37.4°F), the lowest value since February 1968. Reports by the Red Crescent Society indicated numerous people were hospitalized with respiratory illnesses, pneumonia, and cough. In northern China, two people perished in Inner Mongolia where blizzard conditions affected nearly 770,000 residents. Northeastern China saw temperatures dip to -15.3°C (4.5°F) and a loss of nearly 180,000 cattle occurred. Meanwhile, freezing temperatures with rain and snow across China's southwest impacted over 425,000 people, where efforts to distribute food and clothing were made. Agricultural losses in the southwest region due to the extreme cold were estimated at a value of $11.8 million U.S. dollars.
Later in the month, northern India saw temperatures drop to -11.4°C (+11.4°F) in Pahalgam in the Kashmir state, with 2.0°C (35.6°F) reported in Lucknow in the Uttar Pradesh state. Northern China experienced its lowest temperatures in 42 years at -28.2°C (-18.7°F), while in the western province of Xinjiang temperatures hit -40.0°C (-40.0°F), according to media reports. China's national average temperature was the lowest in 28 years at -3.8°C (25.0°F). Ice and snow disrupted travel on roads and airlines, and led to power outages.
Heatwave across Australia
during January 2013
Source: NASA Earth Observatory
From late December to mid-January, the Australian continent sizzled under a dome of extreme summer heat. The wide expanse and persistence of the heatwave underscored its unusualness, which followed the country's abnormally hot spring. January 2013 marked Australia's hottest of any month in its 103-year period of record for both mean and maximum temperatures. Notably, eight days of January 2013 exceeded a daily national area-averaged temperature of 39.0°C (102.2°F). The monthly mean temperature (average of maximum and minimum) for Australia was 29.7°C (85.4°F) for January 2013, surpassing the previous two record hottest months of 29.4°C (84.9°F) set in January 1932 and 29.3°C (84.7°F) set in February 1983, respectively. Although a previous lengthy heatwave occurred in late 1972–early 1973, that event spanned a lesser spatial extent. The nation's hottest day occurred on January 7th with a value of 40.3°C (104.5°F), surpassing the previous record of 40.2°C (104.3°F) set on December 21th, 1972. Australia marked a new record for its monthly maximum temperature with a value of 36.9°C (98.4°F) for January 2013, which topped the previous records of 36.8°C (98.2°F) set in January 1932 and 36.5°C (97.7°F) set in December 1972, respectively. During the extreme heat Australian health agencies enacted heat health warning systems. Heatwaves in Australia harm more people than any other natural disaster. Australia's Climate Commission found in 2011 that the heatwaves of recent years have resulted in not only in deaths across the country, but increased hospital admissions for kidney disease, acute renal failure and heart attacks. During January, researchers at Victoria's Monash University prepared location-specific information regarding populations that are vulnerable to heat-related illnesses (elderly, young children, chronically ill, urban areas, and ethnically diverse) to assist government and community service providers in managing emergency response.
The severe heat resulted in the death of numerous birds in Australia. In NSW, flying foxes, a threatened species of bat having a wingspan of more than 1 meter (39 inches), dropped from the skies due to dehydration. An estimated 3,000 bats perished, according to media reports. The mammals, whose feeding behavior facilitates pollination and seed dispersal of native plants, subsist on fruit and flowers.
The continuing heat poses a threat to Australia's wheat crop, especially in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and New South Wales, as soil moisture became increasingly depleted. Dryness and heat impacted Australia's wheat production in 2012, which fell by almost a quarter from an all-time high of nearly 30 million metric tons in 2011, according to media reports. Australia is the world's second largest wheat exporter.
Southeast Asian Rainfall Totals
from Dec 24, 2012 – Jan 6, 2013
Source: NASA Earth Observatory
Monsoonal rains inundated parts of northeastern Peninsular Malaysia in late December 2012 and early January 2013. As much as 300 millimeters (12 inches) of precipitation fell over a two-week period. Over 23,000 residents evacuated and hundreds of homes were lost across the three states of Terengganu, Pahang, and Kelantan. Bottled water and bags of rice were distributed as part of the emergency response efforts. At least seven fatalities resulted from flash flooding in the country where the heavy rains coincided with high tide, according to media reports. Fast-rising waters stranded large numbers of motorists and submerged hundreds of parked vehicles. About 1,000 of the evacuees sought refuge due to the release of water at an irrigation dam construction site, necessitated by mounting pressure on an unfinished wall.
Torrential rains across Indonesia resulted in up to 3 meters (10 feet) of standing water in the capital city of Jakarta. The city's West Canal dike collapsed on January 17th, flooding the central business district. Train services were cancelled when 40 meters (131 feet) of track were destroyed and repairs could not be made until the waters receded. At least 10 million residents were impacted by the monsoonal flooding, where as much as 40 percent of the city is below sea-level. At least 41 people died and over 100,000 people were left homeless as a result of the flooding.
During early January, South American countries experienced flooding. Torrential rains lashed central Peru, where up to 3.0 m (9.8 ft) of water flooded the streets. The homes of nearly 5,000 residents were lost or damaged in the Pasco region. The rain's intensity prevented relief efforts to deliver aid by helicopter, thus 25 tons of humanitarian aid (food, clothing, construction materials) were transported over land. The Pachitea River in the Huanuco region flooded at least 110 homes and submerged crop fields, while displacing 550 people. Mudslides blocked roadways around Cuzco. Fifty towns in the Ancash region were isolated due to mudslides. Meanwhile in eastern Brazil, intense rains produced flooding in the three states of Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and Espirito Santo. At least 12 fatalities occurred, with two people left missing and nearly 12,000 residents evacuated from their homes. More than half of a month's worth of rain fell upon the single day of January 3rd, while temperatures exceeded 40°C (104°F). In Xerem, a northern district of the Rio de Janeiro state, precipitation in the amount of 21.2 cm (8.3 in) was observed, according to media reports.
Flooding of Limpopo River in
Mozambique on 25 January 2013
Source: NASA Earth Observatory
Two weeks of torrential rains over southeastern Africa resulted in severe flooding and loss of life. At least 68 fatalities occurred in Mozambique where the overflowing Limpopo River flooded the cities of Chokwe and Xai-Xai. Up to 250,000 residents were displaced and camping along roadsides. Many people awaited rescue from rooftops by military helicopters. Humanitarian relief efforts to supply food, water, medicine, and shelter began.
In adjacent Malawi, at least four persons died as heavy rains and strong winds battered the country since late December. Flash floods damaged homes and crops while causing losses of livestock and contaminated water in a country already enduring an acute food shortage. Poor harvests resulted from prolonged dry spells during the past three years. The Government of Malawi cooperated with the United Nations World Food Programme to provide maize from the country's strategic grain reserve in relief efforts to nearly 2 million residents. Ireland and Norway subsidized the cost of the maize.
Flooding extended to Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa, where a release of about 15,000 crocodiles occurred from a reptile farm in South Africa.
Tropical Storm Sonamu lashed the
Philippines on 04 January 2013
Tropical Storm Sonamu (a.k.a. Auring; Jan 1th–10th) formed as a depression to the southwest of Guam and moved across Mindanao in the southern Philippines before attaining distinction on January 3rd as the earliest tropical storm to form in the Northwest Pacific in the last 34 years, since Typhoon Alice in 1979. After crossing the Sulu Sea, Sonamu's landfall in Palawan on January 4th caused two fatalities, injured 12 persons, destroyed at least 57 homes, and forced the evacuation of over 1,160 residents in the western Philippines. The storm lingered over the South China Sea, turning southwest and dissipating off the Malaysian coast of Borneo.
Tropical Cyclone Narelle off western
Australia on 11 January 2013
Tropical Cyclone Narelle (Jan 5th–15th) originated in the Timor Sea in early January. Narelle produced flooding and landslides in Indonesia, which caused at least 14 fatalities, injured eight persons, and damaged over 900 homes. High winds and heavy rain associated with the storm impacted fishing and fuel industries in southern Indonesia. Ocean swells of up to 5.0 m (16.4 ft) prompted a sailing ban for the Java Sea and delayed coal transport, resulting in financial losses estimated at about $6 million U.S. dollars in value, according to media reports. Australia's iron ore ports along the Pilbara coast were temporarily closed and Barrow Island evacuated. The storm tracked to the southwest and skirted along the western coast of Australia, bringing tidal surges. On January 11th, Narelle reached the equivalent strength of Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The peak surge of 1.1 m (3.6 ft) occurred on January 13th at Onslow, where four days earlier a local thunderstorm triggered an immense haboob, which slammed the city with a wall of dust storm.
Tropical Cyclone Oswald inundated
northern Australia on 22 January 2013
Tropical Cyclone Oswald (Jan 17th–22nd), which originated in the Australian Gulf of Carpentaria, made an initial landfall in the Northwest Territory near Borroloola on January 19th, then re-emerged to the Gulf, quickly gaining strength in warm, moist air. Heavy rain, wind, and a storm tide impacted the adjacent coastal areas. Oswald made landfall on January 22nd near Kowanyama along the coast of Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland. Post-tropical cyclone Oswald brought heavy rainfall across the Peninsula, coastal Queensland, and the coast of NSW as far south as Sydney, which resulted in significant flooding. Daily precipitation totals in excess of 400.0 mm (15.7 in) were reported in numerous locations from January 24th to 28th. Lengthy power outages ensued after as many as six tornadoes ripped through Bundaberg and nearby towns on January 26th and 27th, leaving at least 24 persons injured and 150 homes damaged. Extensive flooding of the Mackenzie-Fitzroy River system occurred near Rockhampton. The flooding caused six fatalities and the evacuation of 7,500 residents, while water inundated 2,000 homes and 200 businesses. Pollutants swept into the Fitzroy River during the flooding, which contributed to a depletion of oxygen in the water and led to the subsequent death of thousands of fish near South Yaamba, according to media reports. As of February 8th, the ICA estimated insured losses (53,711 claims) due to the storm damages topped the equivalent of $560 million U.S. dollars.
Tropical Cyclone Felleng neared
Madagascar on 29 January 2013
Source: NASA Earth Observatory
Tropical Cyclone Felleng (Jan 26th–Feb 3rd) developed along the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) to the southwest of Diego Garcia from the remnants of Tropical Storm Emang. Felleng tracked to westward, then turned southwest, skirting along Madagascar's eastern coast. Felleng's outer bands induced heavy rainfall over the island nation. At least nine persons perished in the subsequent flooding, which damaged close to 150 homes and forced an interim evacuation of nearly 1,300 residents, according to media reports.
Severe Winter Weather
A winter storm lashed the eastern Mediterranean coast with snow, high winds, and heavy rains in early January. A heavy snowfall across Turkey, which began on January 6th, resulted in widespread transportation disruptions for several days, according to media reports. Over 75 airline flights were canceled, while Anatolian schools and businesses were closed. Traffic in the Bosphorus Strait — a vital shipping route of oil and grain from Russia — was suspended due to poor visibility the morning of January 8th. Cold temperatures preceded the snow, and dipped to -22.0 C (-7.6F) in the eastern provinces of Agri and Ardahan overnight on Jan 4th-5th. At mid-month, roads were blocked throughout villages of the Bitlis and Van provinces where snow exceeded 2.0 meters (6.6 feet). In late January, the country experienced more snow and heavy rain accompanied by the Lodos (a strong south wind) along the Aegean coast. In western Turkey, the snow depth reached 2.2 m (7.1 ft) at the popular skiing destination of Uludag in the Bursa province on January 27th.
Bitter conditions spanned several Mideast countries over January 9th–10th. The influx of cold polar air lowered temperatures from 5 to 10°C (9– 18°F) below average across Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. Strong winds in excess of 70 kph (43 mph) exacerbated the wind's chilling effect. At least eight fatalities ensued from weather-related causes in the region, according to media reports. Ten fishermen were missing after being capsized into the Mediterranean Sea off the Egyptian coast. Strong winds, rain, and poor visibility led to the closure of several ports while sea-faring traffic through the Suez Canal dropped to half of its usual rate. Central Jerusalem received a rare snowfall ranging from 10 to 15 cm (4–6 in) with 10 to 20 cm (4–8 in) in the city's eastside and across areas north of the city, while up to 30 cm (1 ft) fell to the city's south, marking the region's greatest snowfall since 1992. Flash floods amid thunderstorms and hail resulted in over 400 homes being damaged in the West Bank and at least 500 residents being injured. Lebanon experienced flooding and power outages as winds and heavy rain battered its coastal areas, while deep snow in the mountains blocked roadways. Syria received heavy rains, then snow where many people suffered without heat and adequate shelter in the brutal cold. Torrential rains in Jordan's northern desert caused flooding in the tent camps occupied by as many as 50,000 Syrian refugees, whereas around 30 cm (1 ft) of snow impacted many parts of the country — closing schools, stranding motorists, and delaying airline flights.
Polar Events and Sea Ice
Sea Ice in China's Laizhou Bay
on 31 December 2012
Sea ice began forming in the Laizhou Bay during early December, which was about 20 days sooner than normal. On January 4th, the ice trapped nearly 1,000 fishing boats along eastern China's Shandong province. The ice's thickness of up to 15 cm (6 in) forced Chinese aquafarmers to ventilate for sea cucumbers and other aquatic organisms as well as accelerated the local scallop harvesting. According to media accounts, local fisherman lost one-third of their scallops due to sea ice last winter. The area's scallop industry annual revenues typically exceed a value of $48 million U.S. dollars. The ice created hazard for vessels navigating in deeper waters of the nearby Bohai and Yellow Seas. In the Bohai Sea, the country's largest offshore oil and gas production base, the sea ice covered about 24,700 sq km (9,537 sq mi) on January 9th, marking 2.5 times its average ice extent in the area, based on 25 years of Chinese satellite record.