Global Hazards - February 2013
Updated 20 March 2013
Drought and Wildfires
Middle East Water Storage
Anomalies during July 2008
Drought in the Middle East contributed to the significant loss of freshwater reserve in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins. According to a NASA study released in mid-February, the amount of lost water nearly equaled the size of the Dead Sea with as much as 144 cubic kilometers (117 million acre feet) being depleted since 2003. Increased demands from industrialization and irrigation also strained the semi-arid region's inherently limited water resources, already the lowest amount of freshwater in the world. NASA scientists examined seven years of satellite records as part of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) to detect the water reductions across parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. A 2012 report from the World Bank encouraged improved water conservation in the Arab countries and adaptation techniques such as desalination as methods to mitigate a worsening of the water crises.
Victoria Fires in Australia
during February 2013
Lightning sparked a wildfire complex near Australia's Grampians National Park in mid-February. The blaze consumed 35,875 hectares (88,649 acres) in rocky, steep terrain to the north of Dunkeld in southwestern Victoria. Very dry conditions and wind fostered the fire, which burned for three weeks. Its smoke plume stretched southward reaching over the Bass Strait. Nearly 380 wildfires erupted across the state at mid-month, most ignited by lightning.
Heavy rainfall inundated parts of Greece and southern Italy during late February. An intense thunderstorm — deemed the worst in over 50 years — barraged the city of Athens with up to 60 mm (2.3 in) of rain within a few hours on February 22nd, according to media reports. The city's monthly average precipitation is 50 mm (2 in) for Februrary. Torrents of water carried away vehicles, while flooding streets and homes. One fatality occurred during the deluge. The flooding disrupted transportation systems (subway, tram, and train) and caused power outages. The storm produced flooding and delayed airline travel in the Sicilian city of Catania. Severe weather struck northwestern Greece on February 25th-26th, resulting in more flooding of homes and agricultural land.
Torrential rains in central Indonesia triggered floods and landslides, which claimed the lives of as many as 17 people in mid-February, according to media reports. Up to four m (13 ft) of water flooded around 5,000 homes in the city of Manado on the island of Sulawesi.
A hailstorm in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh dropped enormous chunks of ice — likened in size of boulders — on January 29th, according to media reports. During a span of about 20 minutes, the falling hail killed at least nine persons and numerous cattle. Homes and crops in several villages were damaged under a blanket of ice, which did not melt until the following day. The hailstorm's occurrence in the southern portion of the country was considered unusual, although areas along northern India and Bangladesh often experience violent thunderstorms, which produce large hail.
Tropical Cyclone Rusty spun
off the shore of Western
Australia on 26 February 2013
Tropical Cyclone Rusty (Feb 18th–28th) formed along the northern Australia coast and spent several days intensifying off-shore, before making landfall near Pardoo in Pilbara on February 27th. The storm's torrential rains inundated Western Australia, accompanied by intense winds. The country's coastal areas received over 500 mm (19.7 in) and 200 mm (7.9 in) at inland locations, which represented 200 percent of normal and 400 percent of normal in terms of February precipitation (based on 1961-1990 records), respectively. Subsequently, inland rivers carried significant amounts of sediment into the Southern Indian Ocean that combined with seabed sediments stirred by turbulance as a result of Rusty's strong winds, to produce an algal bloom approximately the size of Tasmania in its expanse. The storm flooded buildings and ripped roofing from sheds, while some cattle died from hypothermia, according to media reports. Schools and mining operations were temporary closed.
In the western Pacific Ocean, Tropical Storm Shanshan (a.k.a Crising; Feb 18th–23rd) originated to the southeast of the Philippines on February 18th. Moving westward, Shanshan made landfall in the southern Davao del Sur province the next day and brought heavy rains across Mindanao. At least four fatalities resulted in the Philippines. Over 15,200 family food packs were distributed in relief efforts. About 10,000 residents of the North Cotabato province were evacuated due to flash flooding. The storm, which crossed the Sula Sea, skirting the island of Palawan, then entered the South China Sea. Shanshan tracked southward, producing heavy rains in Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia. In Thailand, the downpours flooded over 2,000 homes and 4,000 acres of farmland, including orchards and rubber plantations. Several districts closed schools and many roads were impassable due to standing water, while more than 1,000 small fishing boats remained docked until the rough seas abated.
Tropical Storm Haruna lashed
Madagascar on 22 February 2013
Source: NASA Earth Observatory
Tropical Storm Haruna (Feb 18th–25th) originated in the Mozambique Channel on February 19th and made landfall on Madagascar on February 22nd. Haruna resulted in at least 26 deaths and 127 peopled being injured, while 16 people were left missing. At least 4,000 households were impacted when a dyke burst near Fiherenana, which caused widespread flooding in Morombe and Toliary, according to media reports. Adverse weather hindered the humanitarian efforts to deliver food (biscuits, rice), with rain keeping helicopters grounded and roads inaccessible. Boats were used to rescue residents from rooftops and trees. Furthermore, the storm stuck the island's southwest, rather than its east coast where cyclones typically hit, compounding the logistics for distribution of the country's emergency supplies, which were stored at eastside locations. Floods significantly damaged fields nearing harvest of corn and rice crops, renewing concerns over Madagascar's food instability.
Polar Events and Sea Ice
Arctic Sea Ice Fracture near
Alaska during February 2013
An extensive ice fracture in the Canadian Arctic appeared in mid-February following the passage of a storm over the North Pole. The crack was located in predominantly first-year ice, which can fracture more readily than thicker, multi-year ice. During February, the Arctic sea ice extent neared its winter maximum and remained below-average in extent. Winter temperatures in the Arctic were warmer than average, contributing to the decline in sea ice extent. The average monthly Arctic sea ice extent for February has reduced by more than 1.57 million square kilometers (606,000 square miles) from 1979 to 2013, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Meanwhile, an Arctic Sea Ice study released in Geophysical Research Letters at mid-month, indicated that the decline in sea ice coverage in the polar region has been accompanied by a substantial decline in ice volume over the last decade. An international team of scientists used a combination of measurements from NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), the European Space Agency's CryoSat 2 satellite, airborne surveys, and ocean-based sensors to obtain and validate the ice thickness data.
Antarctic Ice Formed in Weddell Sea
during February 2013
In early February, the Antarctic ice edged its way up to 300 kilometers (200 miles) farther north than is usual for austral summer. At this time of year the Weddell Sea typically has no ice. In addition to the unusual location, the sea ice's condition was irregular, varying from closely packed with little open water to diffuse, broken, and thin. A high pressure system to the west of the Weddell Sea drove southerly winds that carried frigid air into the north and pushed the ice into the middle latitudes. Notably, the annual minimum sea ice extent for Antarctic occurred on February 20th, marking the second largest annual minimum in the 35-year period of satellite records, in part due the presence of this increased ice. Please visit NOAA's Global Snow and Ice page and the NSIDC News page for detailed information.
Composite image of Nitrogen
Dioxide levels from 2005–2012
Measurements from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument, which is carried on-board NASA's Aura satellite, detected an elevated level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) along the shipping routes through the Indian Ocean and other coastal areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The dark red areas on the composite image (using 2005-2012 data) indicate heavy NO2 pollution created from ship emissions as well as cities, off-shore drilling activities, and agricultural burning. In addition to contributing to the formation of ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter, NO2 is linked with a number of adverse effects on the respiratory system.