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Americas Nuclear Nightmare
The News - Current Events
April 28, 2011
americas nuclear nightmare

Five days after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, triggering the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, America's leading nuclear regulator came before Congress bearing good news: Don't worry, it can't happen here.

In the aftermath of the Japanese catastrophe, officials in Germany moved swiftly to shut down old plants for inspection, and China put licensing of new plants on hold. But Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, reassured lawmakers that nothing at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors warranted any immediate changes at U.S. nuclear plants. Indeed, 10 days after the earthquake in Japan, the NRC extended the license of the 40-year-old Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor - a virtual twin of Fukushima - for another two decades. The license renewal was granted even though the reactor's cooling tower had literally fallen down, and the plant had repeatedly leaked radioactive fluid. [ rollingstone ]

 
Tornadoes devastate South, killing at least 281
The News - Natural Disasters
April 28, 2011
tornado outbreak 2011

Firefighters searched one splintered pile after another for survivors Thursday, combing the remains of houses and neighborhoods pulverized by the nation's deadliest tornado outbreak in almost four decades. At least 281 people were killed across six states - more than two-thirds of them in Alabama, where large cities bore the half-mile-wide scars the twisters left behind.

The death toll from Wednesday's storms seems out of a bygone era, before Doppler radar and pinpoint satellite forecasts were around to warn communities of severe weather. Residents were told the tornadoes were coming up to 24 minutes ahead of time, but they were just too wide, too powerful and too locked onto populated areas to avoid a horrifying body count.

"These were the most intense super-cell thunderstorms that I think anybody who was out there forecasting has ever seen," said meteorologist Greg Carbin at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. "If you experienced a direct hit from one of these, you'd have to be in a reinforced room, storm shelter or underground" to survive, Carbin said.

 
"Massive crop losses" feared from South drought
The News - Climate-Environment
April 28, 2011

The worst drought in more than 40 years intensified across Texas over the last week, with high winds and heat causing "massive crop losses," with little relief in sight, according to weather experts Thursday.

A report released Thursday from a consortium of national climate experts, dubbed the Drought Monitor, said drought worsened along the Texas border with Oklahoma, and in western, central and southern Texas.

Ranchers were struggling to feed and water cattle, and farmers were left to watch their crops shrivel into the dusty soil. Some experts estimated that producers were giving up on as much as 70 percent of the state's wheat acreage.

"There are some scary things going on in Texas," said Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, which released its weekly drought analysis Thursday morning. [ yahoo ]

 
Historic Flooding Unfolding Along Mississippi, Ohio Rivers
The News - Natural Disasters
April 28, 2011
flooding floods

As if tornadoes and damaging thunderstorms were not enough, historic flooding is also threatening the Mississippi River, below St. Louis, as well as the lower part of the Ohio River.

The rising waters are expected to top levels set during February 1937. This mark is the middle Mississippi Valley's equivalent to the 1993 event farther north along Old Man River.

Even if rain were to fall at a normal rate for the remainder of the spring, the consequences of what has already happened in the Midwest will affect way of live, property, agriculture and travel/shipping/navigation for weeks in the region. While the amount of evacuees currently numbers in the hundreds, it could soon number in the tens of thousands as levees are topped or breached and rivers expand their girth into more farming communities, towns and cities. [ accu ]

 
South storm death toll climbs to 178; 128 in Ala.
The News - Natural Disasters
April 28, 2011
southern storms 2011 tornado tornadoes

The death toll from severe storms that punished five Southern U.S. states jumped to a staggering 178 Thursday after Alabama canvassed its hard-hit counties for a new tally of lives lost.

Alabama's state emergency management agency said it had confirmed 128 deaths, up from at least 61 earlier.

"We expect that toll, unfortunately, to rise," Gov. Robert Bentley told ABC's "Good Morning America."

Mississippi officials reported 32 dead in that state and Tennessee raised its report to six from one. Another 11 have been killed in Georgia and one in Virginia.

The fierce storms Wednesday spawned tornadoes and winds that wiped out homes and businesses, forced a nuclear power plant to use backup generators and prompted the evacuation of a National Weather Service office. [ AP ]

 
Record Tornadoes April 2011 - More to Come?
The News - Natural Disasters
April 25, 2011
record tornadoes april 2011

April 2011 has been a horrific month for severe weather so far with more than 550 reports of tornadoes, at least 39 tornado-related deaths and unimaginable destruction.

As the wild weather pattern continues this week, the month's total number of tornadoes will continue to rise. There is a good chance that April 2011 will end up being the most active April on record for tornadoes.

With May and June typically being the most active months of the year for severe weather, people are wondering if the trend will continue and make 2011 a record-setting year. [ accuweather ]

 
Dangerous Tornado Situation from Texas to Kentucky
The News - Natural Disasters
April 25, 2011
tornado outbreak april 2011

Yet another nasty tornado outbreak is getting under way across the south-central U.S., with tornadoes already sighted in northern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas.

This is a particularly dangerous situation with a risk of large, long-track tornadoes, especially from far northeastern Texas and northwestern Louisiana into Arkansas, northwestern Mississippi, western Tennessee, western Kentucky, southern Illinois and southern Missouri tonight.

Little Rock, Ark., Paducah, Ky., Carbondale, Ill., Cape Girardeau, Mo., Memphis, Tenn., Batesville, Miss., Shreveport, La., and Mt. Pleasant, Texas are included. The thunderstorms will be moving west to east across these areas this evening and overnight. As AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski pointed out, another major tornado outbreak is expected to erupt in many of these same areas late Tuesday into Tuesday night. [ accuweather ]

 
Texas Inferno - Wildfires, Drought could continue in southern U.S.
The News - Climate-Environment
April 25, 2011
texas wildfire drought continues
Hot, dry weather returns to Texas this week, whisking away the limited relief scattered thunderstorms brought to firefighters in parts of the Lone Star state over the weekend.

In a trifecta of potentially bad news for fire crews, the Texas Forest Service said a low-pressure system will push temperatures into the 90s, humidity to 10% or less and winds up to 45 mph on Monday and Tuesday. The conditions have prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning for a large portion of west Texas, urging residents to avoid the use of open flames and to avoid activities that may generate sparks. Because of the hot temperatures, bone-dry conditions and high winds, "accidental ignitions will have the potential to grow quickly into dangerous wind-driven wildfires," the weather service said.

Drought could continue in southern U.S.

The extreme drought that has gripped parts of nine states — most of them in the South — is expected to drag on for several months or intensify, posing a risk for more wildfires, agriculture problems and water restrictions, national weather experts said Monday.

Portions of Texas and a small part of eastern Louisiana are the only parts of the nation that rank in the National Weather Service's worst drought condition category, said Victor Murphy, the climate service program manager for the National Weather Service's southern region, based in Fort Worth. The "exceptional" drought level happens once every 50 to 100 years, he said.

 
Colombia launches major emergency ops after floods
The News - Natural Disasters
April 25, 2011
columbia flood rescue operation

Some 160,000 Colombian police officers and 52 aircraft are participating in emergency operations following deadly floods that killed 67 people and caused widespread damage, officials said Monday.

The police are focusing on rescue, evacuation, food distribution, security at shelters, manning state roads and other emergencies, according to a statement from the police directorate.

The aircraft, which include helicopters, are ready to "respond immediately to any contingency, to the extent that weather conditions permit the movement of equipment," it added. [ yahoo ]

 
Japan Nuke Scientist - No One Knows What Will Happen Next
The News - Current Events
April 25, 2011
japan fukushima disaster chernobyl

Radiation leaks remain a health threat for areas around Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, officials said. The crisis at the plant resulted from an earthquake and tsunami March 11.

Some experts believe the Fukushima crisis is more serious than that resulting from an explosion at Ukraine's Chernobyl power plant 25 years ago, the Mainichi Daily News reported Monday."It's graver than Chernobyl in that no one can predict how the situation will develop," said Atsushi Kasai, a former senior researcher with the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute. [ upi ]

 
Allen Telescope Array (ATA) lacks funding
The News - Current Events
April 25, 2011
allen telescope array ata
The hunt for extraterrestrial life just lost one of its best tools. The Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a field of radio dishes in rural northern California built to seek out transmissions from distant alien civilizations, has been shuttered - at least temporarily, as its operators scramble to find a way to continue to fund it.

In an April 22 letter to donors, Tom Pierson, CEO of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., explained that the ATA has been put into "hibernation," meaning that "starting this week, the equipment is unavailable for normal observations and is being maintained in a safe state by a significantly reduced staff." The ATA is a partnership between the SETI Institute, which is responsible for building the telescope array, and the University of California, Berkeley, which is responsible for operating it. Astronomer Franck Marchis, who is affiliated with both institutions, broke the news on his blog April 22. [ sciam ]
 
Volcanic ash air shutdown the 'right' decision
The News - Climate-Environment
April 25, 2011
volcanic ash shutdown eruption

Concerns about aircraft safety during the eruption of an Icelandic volcano in 2010 were well founded, according to a new scientific study.

Ash particles from the early phase of the eruption were small and abundant, posing a potential threat to aircraft flying through the cloud.

Such particles could have melted inside jet engines, potentially causing them to fail mid-flight. The work by an Icelandic-Danish team is published in PNAS journal.

The analysis also reveals that ash particles from early in the eruption were particularly sharp and abrasive. The outpour of ash from Eyjafjallajokull caused the largest closure of European airspace since World War II, with losses estimated at between 1.5bn and 2.5bn euros. Some 10 million travellers were affected by the shutdown. [ bbc ]

 
Japan to dispatch new major tsunami body search
The News - Natural Disasters
April 24, 2011
japan tsunami body search death toll
Nearly 25,000 Japanese troops will Monday start a massive new search for bodies along the Pacific coast where some 12,000 people are still missing after the earthquake and tsunami , the military said.

Some US forces will join the 24,800 soldiers and members of Japan's Coast Guard and police for the third search since the disaster struck on March 11, devastating towns along the northeast.

"They will broadly cover the Pacific coast, areas around major river mouths and other tsunami-hit places," said a spokesman for Japan's Joint Staff. In the past two major operations they found total 438 bodies, the defence ministry said. More than 14,000 people were killed in the disaster and some 12,000 are still missing. [ yahoo ]

 
Overdue 'megathrust' earthquake for US West Coast?
The News - Natural Disasters
April 24, 2011
mmegathrust earthquake

The northwest coast of the U.S. could be devastated by a huge movement of undersea plates known as a ‘megathrust’ earthquake & follwing tsunami, scientists say.

A review of the dangers posed by the Juan de Fuca plate released in the wake of the Japanese quake has raised fears that the Pacific seaboard could be similarly ravaged.

The horrifying possibilities have been brought to light by data researched by the Active Tectonics and Seafloor Mapping Laboratory at Oregon State University. And the results are shown in a documentary, Megaquake: The Hour That Shook Japan, which is set to go out on the Discovery Channel in the UK this weekend.

The huge March 11 earthquake that sparked the tsunami off the coast of Japan may have been a ‘megathrust’ quake and now researchers fear the Cascadia fault line 50 miles off the U.S. coast could rupture and cause a quake and subsequent tsunami.

The average time along that fault between massive quakes above magnitude 8 is 240 years, said The Times, and the last 'megaquake' was just over 300 years ago.

 
Warnings of nuclear disaster not heeded
The News - Current Events
April 24, 2011
nuclear warning fukushima

The former governor of Fukushima province has spoken of his frustration at the failure of the Japanese authorities to heed his warnings over the safety of the power plant that was stricken by the country's recent earthquake.

The story of Japan's epic disaster comes with a generous cast of Cassandra figures, the seismologists, conservationists and whistle-blowers ignored by the national nuclear planners. But 71-year-old Eisako Sato may be pre-eminent among them.

As governor of Fukushima Prefecture from 1988-2006 – "roughly half the life of the plant", he told journalists at Tokyo's Foreign Correspondents' Club earlier this week – he was initially an enthusiastic supporter of nuclear power, swayed like his predecessors after the government and utility giant Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) brought his prefecture jobs, subsidies and a chance to contribute to the national good. [ ind ]

 
Earthquake research mission to 'ring of fire'
The News - Natural Disasters
April 23, 2011
earthquake ring of fire research

An expedition is getting under way in the South Pacific to investigate one of the most seismically-active fault lines in the world.

Researchers are planning to study the Tonga Trench - a deep feature where the Pacific tectonic plate is being forced under the Indo-Australian plate.

The island nation of Tonga is regularly hit by tremors - most recently a 6.4 magnitude quake offshore last month.

The research expedition will last about one month. mThe focus of the study will be an unusual zone on the seabed where undersea volcanoes are being dragged into the fault. Scientists want a better understanding of how the submarine mountains affect the likelihood of earthquakes. [ bbc ]

 
Killer Combo of High Gas, Food Prices at Key Tipping Point
The News - Economy
April 23, 2011
gas and food prices tipping point

The combination of rising gasoline prices and the steepest increase in the cost of food in a generation is threatening to push the US economy into a recession, according to Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners.

Johnson looks at the percentage of income consumers are spending on gasoline and food as a way of gauging how consumers will fare when energy prices spike.

With gas prices now standing at about $3.90 a gallon, energy costs have now passed 6 percent of spending—a level that Johnson says is a "tipping point" for consumers. [ cnbc ]

 
ĎUS Shake Outí to prepare citizens for earthquakes
The News - Current Events
April 21, 2011
earthquake earthquakes preparation shake out

The Departments of Homeland Security and Education are reaching out to millions of people in central U.S. states to get them to participate in an earthquake preparedness drill.

In an event called the “Great Central U.S. Shake Out,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are reaching out to areas in the Midwest that could be impacted by an earthquake along the New Madrid fault line.

According to the event’s website, more than 2.5 million people have committed to taking part in Thursday’s drill in which participants will be told how to react in the event of an earthquake. [ thehill ]

 
Ozone hole and it's current effects on climate
The News - Climate-Environment
April 21, 2011

The Antarctic ozone hole is about one-third to blame for Australia's recent series of droughts, scientists say.

Writing in the journal Science, they conclude that the hole has shifted wind and rainfall patterns right across the Southern Hemisphere, even the tropics. Their climate models suggest the effect has been notably strong over Australia. Many parts of the country have seen drought in recent years, with cities forced to invest in technologies such as desalination, and farms closing. [ bbc ]

Antarctic ozone hole 'creating rainfall in subtropical region'

The ozone "hole" over Antarctica could be increasing the amount of rainfall as far away as the subtropical regions of the southern hemisphere, according to a study that highlights the global nature of climate changes.

For the first time scientists have found evidence to suggest the depletion of the thin ozone layer high above the South Pole can alter the wind patterns thousands of miles away that bring rain to the subtropics. [ ind ]

 
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