Where villages once stood, Africa now has an inland ocean
By FARAI MUTSAKA
Thursday, March 21
CHIMANIMANI, Zimbabwe (AP) — A week after Cyclone Idai hit coastal Mozambique and swept across the country to Zimbabwe, the death, damage and flooding continues in southern Africa, making it one of the most destructive natural disasters in the region’s recent history.
Floodwaters are rushing across the plains of central Mozambique, submerging homes, villages and entire towns. The flooding has created a muddy inland ocean 50 kilometers (31 miles) wide where there used to be farms and villages, giving credence to Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi’s estimate that 1,000 people may have been killed.
Torrential rains lifted — at least temporarily — Thursday, and floodwaters began to recede in Beira, the worst-hit city, and in the countryside, according to a Mozambican government report. Aid groups were working non-stop to rescue families clinging to tree branches and rooftops for safety from the surging waters.
“Yesterday, 910 people were rescued by the humanitarian community,” said Caroline Haga of the International Federation of the Red Cross in Beira. She said 210 were rescued by five helicopters and 700 were saved by boats.
“We’re hoping to rescue as many as we can today as it is not raining,” she said. “Rescue activities will continue until everyone is brought to safety.”
Aid organizations are trying to get food, water and clothing. It will be days before Mozambique’s inundated plains drain toward the Indian Ocean and even longer before the full scale of the devastation is known.
Zimbabwe’s eastern mountains have been deluged and the rain is continuing.
Aid has been slow to reach affected villagers due to collapsed infrastructure, although the military has been handing out small packets of cooking oil, maize meal and beans.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa received a somber welcome in the eastern town of Chimanimani Wednesday. Zimbabwean officials have said some 350 people may have died in their country. The force of the flood waters swept some victims from Zimbabwe down the mountainside into Mozambique, officials said.
With the search for survivors finished, Philemon Dada is has begun rebuilding his life in Chimanimani, once a picturesque town.
With a machete and a hoe, he began salvaging poles from the mud to construct a hut to shelter his small family, a first step in what he sees as a long and backbreaking journey to rebuild a life shattered by Cyclone Idai.
He is one of many villagers trying to pick up the pieces in Chimanimani after losing homes, livestock and, in many instances, family members. Some have been taken in by neighbors and others are sheltering with church pastors.
“I can say I am a bit lucky, my wife and son are still here with me but for everything else, I have to start from scratch,” he said.
Dada has a few food items handed out by the Zimbabwe military, but he knows that like most aid it is unlikely to last long, and he is eager to start growing crops again. Like many people here, he survives on agriculture.
“My bean crop was ready for harvesting before the cyclone, the maize was close. I am back to zero,” he said.
He is particularly pained by his two prized bulls that did the heavy work of drawing the plow for his field. They were killed in the floods.
“It may take a year, maybe even more years just to get back on my feet,” he said.
Associated Press writer Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg contributed to this report.
Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa
Mozambique’s president says cyclone death toll may be 1,000
By ANDREW MELDRUM
Monday, March 18
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi says that more than 1,000 may have by killed by Cyclone Idai, which many say is the worst in more than 20 years.
Speaking to state Radio Mozambique, Nyusi said Monday that although the official death count is currently 84, he believes the toll will be more than 1,000.
“It appears that we can register more than 1000 deaths,” said the PR, adding that more than 100,000 people are at risk of life.
“The waters of the Pungue and Buzi rivers overflowed, making whole villages disappear and isolating communities, and bodies are floating,” said Nyusi. “It is a real disaster of great proportions.”
Nyusi spoke after flying by helicopter over the central port city of Beira and the rural Manica and Sofala provinces in which he saw widespread flooding and devastation.
Other officials in emergency services cautioned that while they expect the death toll to rise significantly, they have no way of knowing if it will reach the president’s estimate of 1,000.
The Red Cross said that 90 percent of Beira, a city of 500,000, had been damaged or destroyed.
Beira has been severely battered by the cyclone which cut off electricity, forced the airport to shut down and cut off road access to the rest of the country. Cyclone Idai first hit Beira last week and then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Beira has been severely battered by the cyclone which cut off electricity, forced the airport to shut down and closed road access to the city, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on Monday.
Cyclone Idai first hit Beira last week and then moved inland spreading heavy winds and rainfall to Zimbabwe and Malawi. More than 215 people have been killed by the storm according to official figures in the three countries, hundreds more are missing and more than 1.5 million people have been affected, according to the Red Cross and government officials.
The scale of the damage to Beira is “massive and horrifying,” said Jamie LeSueur, who led a Red Cross aerial assessment of the city. The team had to view the city by helicopter because roads were flooded, he said.
“The situation is terrible. The scale of devastation is enormous. It seems that 90 percent of the area is completely destroyed,” said LeSueur.
With Beira’s airport closed, the team drove from Mozambique’s capital Maputo before taking a helicopter for the last part of the journey because roads into Beira have been flooded.
While the physical impact of Idai is beginning to emerge, the human impact is unclear.
“Almost everything is destroyed. Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. Some affected communities are not accessible,” said LeSueur.
“Beira has been severely battered. But we are also hearing that the situation outside the city could be even worse. Yesterday (Sunday), a large dam burst and cut off the last road to the city.”
The storm hit Beira late Thursday and moved westward into Zimbabwe and Malawi, affecting thousands more, particularly in areas bordering Mozambique.
At least 126 people had died in Mozambique and Malawi, according to the Red Cross. In Zimbabwe, 89 people have died from the floods, the country’s information ministry said Monday.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa both returned from foreign trips to attend to the emergencies caused by the storm.
Zimbabwe’s president returned home from the United Arab Emirates “to make sure he is involved directly with the national response by way of relief to victims of Cyclone Idai,” the information ministry said. The Zimbabwean government declared a state of national disaster.
U.N. agencies and the Red Cross are helping with rescue efforts that include delivering food supplies and medicines by helicopter in the impoverished countries.
Cyclone cuts communications, power in central Mozambique
Friday, March 15
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The United Nations humanitarian office says a tropical cyclone has cut communications and electricity in a major city in central Mozambique after making landfall overnight.
A statement on Friday says Tropical Cyclone Idai brought torrential rains to Beira and nearby provinces.
It warns that destruction of health centers, schools and crops in the low-lying region is “highly likely.”
An assessment team is expected to arrive in Beira later Friday.
The World Vision aid group says more than 500,000 people in Sofala province, where Beira is located, have no electricity. It says the cyclone tore off some roofs and caused part of the Munhava municipal stadium to collapse.
Neighboring Zimbabwe is bracing for the cyclone’s effects even as its power is expected to dim while it continues inland.
When does a winter storm become a bomb cyclone?
March 13, 2019
Author: Russ Schumacher, Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science and Colorado State Climatologist, Colorado State University
Disclosure statement: Russ Schumacher receives funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station to conduct research on high-impact weather and the weather and climate of Colorado.
Partners: Colorado State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Blizzards in March, when our thoughts start turning to spring, are never good news. But warnings of “bomb cyclones” take the intensity to a new level. What does this ominous term, and related jargon like “bombogenesis,” tell us about the storm pounding states from Texas to Minnesota this week?
Let’s begin with the easy part: A cyclone – specifically, an extratropical cyclone, to distinguish from its tropical counterpart – is a large weather system with low pressure at the center and precipitation along cold and warm fronts. These storms are very common in autumn, winter and spring in the middle latitudes. The central and eastern United States typically see several over the course of a cool season.
What, then, distinguishes a “bomb” from a run-of-the-mill cyclone? The term was coined by famed meteorologists Fred Sanders and John Gyakum in a 1980 paper, and was inspired by the work of the Swedish meteorological pioneer Tor Bergeron. It describes a cyclone in which the central pressure drops very rapidly – an average of 24 millibars in 24 hours, at Bergeron’s latitude of 60 degrees north (the value becomes a bit smaller at lower latitudes). This is a lot when considering that variations of 10 or 15 millibars are typical over the course of any given week.
“Given their explosive development, it was an easy path to take to just call these systems ‘bombs,’ Gyakum said in an interview last year.
Wind speed is a function of the “pressure gradient” – the magnitude of the change from higher atmospheric pressure outside the cyclone to low pressure at its center, as well as how quickly the pressure changes over time. This means that a storm that rapidly develops an intense low-pressure region will have persistent strong winds.
Bomb cyclones are quite common over warm ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream off the east coast of North America or the Kuroshio east of Japan. In both regions they draw energy from both the typical north-to-south variation in temperature and the warm water. Over land, although cyclones are common, it is very unusual to see them intensify so rapidly.
This week’s storm over the central U.S. appears likely to approach or even exceed the criterion for a “bomb.” It may also be among the lowest pressures on record for the Great Plains. But whether or not these specific standards end up being met is really only relevant for meteorological studies.
What is important is that the storm will develop quickly, and that it will produce a powerful combination of snow and wind over the Plains of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and the Dakotas – a true blizzard. Conditions will change rapidly from warm and calm to heavy snow with intense wind gusts In the southern Plains, rain and thunderstorms – also with strong winds – are the main threat.
People in the storm’s path can expect major travel disruptions, potential power outages and risks to livestock. On the positive side, the attention that storms like this now receive, several days before they even develop, shows how much progress has been made in weather forecasting in recent decades, and how people can now be much better prepared for their impacts.
Wesley Boyer, logged in via Google: as this storm one of the named storms of 2019? What was this Bomb Cyclone’s name?
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot: A 300-year-old cyclone persists but is shrinking
March 19, 2019
Author: Donna Pierce, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Mississippi State University
Disclosure statement: Donna Pierce does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Mississippi State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The Great Red Spot, a storm larger than the Earth and powerful enough to tear apart smaller storms that get drawn into it, is one of the most recognizable features in Jupiter’s atmosphere and the entire solar system. The counterclockwise-moving storm, an anticyclone, boasts wind speeds as high as 300 miles per hour. This prominent feature, observed since 1830, and possibly as far back as the 1660s, has long been a source of great fascination and scientific study.
Much about the Great Red Spot is still unknown, including exactly when and how it formed, what gives it its striking red color and why it has persisted for so much longer than other storms that have been observed in the atmosphere of Jupiter. However, astronomers think that its position in latitude, consistently observed to be 22 degrees south of Jupiter’s equator, is connected to the prominent cloud bands in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
As a planetary astronomer who studies the atmospheres of comets, I’m normally not investigating massive storms. But I still want to know about the features seen in the atmosphere of other bodies in the solar system, including Jupiter. Studying atmospheres of all kinds deepens our understanding of how they form and work.
Unlike Jupiter, the Earth has land masses that cause major storms to lose energy due to friction with a solid surface. Without this feature, Jupiter’s storms are more long-lasting. However, the Great Red Spot is long-lived, even by Jupiter standards. Researchers don’t quite understand why, but we do know that Jupiter’s storms that are located in cloud bands with the same direction of rotation tend to be longer lasting.
These colorful alternating bands, called belts (dark bands) and zones (light bands), run parallel to Jupiter’s equator. Researchers aren’t sure what causes the coloration of the bands and zones, but differences in their chemical composition, temperature and transparency of the atmosphere to light have all been suggested as contributing factors. These bands are also counter-rotating, meaning that they move in opposite directions with respect to their neighbors. The boundaries between the bands and zones are marked by strong winds called zonal jets.
The Great Red Spot is confined by an eastward jet to its north and a westward jet to its south, confining the storm to a constant latitude. However, the Great Red Spot has undergone considerable changes in longitude over time, and recent evidence suggests that its rate of westward longitudinal motion is increasing.
Like the Great Red Spot, the bands have undergone little change in latitude over the time during which they have been observed. Researchers don’t entirely understand the banded structure, but we do have evidence suggesting that the light colored zones are regions of rising material, and the dark belts are regions of material sinking into the atmosphere.
On Earth, there is a well-defined boundary between the atmosphere and the surface of the planet, which is largely covered by liquid water. However, there are no known large oceans of water under Jupiter’s clouds. Based on what researchers do know, the atmosphere smoothly transitions to a liquid hydrogen interior within the planet. There may be a solid core to Jupiter, but it is most likely buried very deep under a thick layer of liquid metallic hydrogen, a form of hydrogen that acts as an electrical conductor.
What else do we know about the Great Red Spot that is changing dramatically? Its size, shape and color. An analysis of historical and recently obtained data on the Great Red Spot has shown that it is shrinking and becoming both rounder and taller, and its color has also varied over time. What is driving these changes, and what do they mean for the future of the Great Red Spot? Researchers aren’t sure.
However, NASA’s Juno spacecraft, currently orbiting Jupiter, is gathering more data on the cloud bands and the Great Red Spot. These new data will likely provide insights into many of the features in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
More evacuations in Midwest as floodwaters head downstream
By JIM SALTER
Monday, March 18
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Residents in parts of southwestern Iowa were forced out of their homes Sunday as a torrent of Missouri River water flowed over and through levees, putting them in a situation similar to hundreds of people in neighboring Nebraska who have been displaced by the late-winter flood.
Heavy rainfall and snowmelt have led to dangerously high water in creeks and rivers across several Midwestern states, with the Missouri River hitting record-high levels in many areas. At least two deaths were blamed on flooding, and two other men have been missing for days.
While river depths were starting to level off in parts of Nebraska on Sunday, the water is so high in many places that serious flooding is expected to remain for several days. And downstream communities in Kansas and Missouri were bracing for likely flooding.
In Iowa, the Missouri River reached 30.2 feet (9.2 meters) Sunday in Fremont County in the state’s far southwestern corner, 2 feet (0.6 meter) above the record set in 2011. People in the towns of Bartlett and Thurman were being evacuated as levees were breached and overtopped.
County Emergency Management Director Mike Crecelius said it wasn’t just the amount of the water, it was the swiftness of the current that created a danger.
“This wasn’t a gradual rise,” Crecelius said. “It’s flowing fast and it’s open country — there’s nothing there to slow it down.”
Thurman has about 200 residents. About 50 people live in Bartlett.
Lucinda Parker of Iowa Homeland Security & Emergency Management said nearly 2,000 people have been evacuated at eight Iowa locations since flooding began late last week. Most were staying with friends or family. Seven shelters set up for flood victims held just a couple dozen people Saturday night.
In Nebraska, the Missouri River flooded Offutt Air Force Base, with about one-third of it under water on Sunday. Spokeswoman Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake told the Omaha World-Herald that 60 buildings, mostly on the south end of the base, have been damaged, including about 30 completely inundated with as much as 8 feet (2.4 meters) of water.
Hundreds of people remained out of their homes in Nebraska, where floodwaters reached record levels at 17 locations. The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency highlighted some remarkably high crests. The Missouri River was expected to reach 41 feet (12.5 meters) in Plattsmouth on Sunday — 4 feet (1.22 meters) above the record set in 2011. The Elkhorn River got to 24.6 feet (7.5 meters) Saturday in Waterloo, breaking the 1962 record by 5 1/2 feet (1.68 meters).
In hard-hit Sarpy County, Nebraska, up to 500 homes have been damaged, including some cabins along a lake, said Greg London of the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office. The damage followed breaches of levees along the Platte River on Thursday and Saturday, and a Missouri River levee break on Thursday. The two rivers converge there.
London said many of the damaged homes are wet up to the roof line and likely ruined.
“This area’s had flooding before but not of this magnitude,” London said. “This is unprecedented.”
Nearly 300 people have been rescued from high water across the state.
At least two people have died in the floodwaters. Aleido Rojas Galan, 52, of Norfolk, Nebraska, was swept away Friday night in southwestern Iowa, when the vehicle he was in went around a barricade. Two others in the vehicle survived — one by clinging to a tree. On Thursday, Columbus, Nebraska, farmer James Wilke, 50, died when a bridge collapsed as he used a tractor to try and reach stranded motorists.
Two men remain missing. A Norfolk man was seen on top of his flooded car late Thursday before being swept away. Water also swept away a man after a dam collapse.
Downstream in St. Joseph, Missouri, home to 76,000 people, volunteers were helping to fill sandbags to help secure a levee protecting an industrial area. Calls were out for even more volunteers in hopes of filling 150,000 sandbags by Tuesday, when the Missouri River is expected to climb to 27 feet (8.2 meters) — 10 feet (3 meters) above technical flood stage.
Flooding was causing problems for passenger train service between Kansas City, Missouri, and St. Louis. Amtrak said Sunday that its Missouri River Runner service between the state’s two largest cities was experiencing delays up to five hours because of flooding and rail congestion. All Missouri River Runner trains will be canceled Monday. The service typically travels twice daily between the two metropolitan areas.
The rising Mississippi River also was creating concern. The Mississippi was already at major flood level along the Iowa-Illinois border, closing roads and highways and swamping thousands of acres of farmland. Moderate Mississippi River flooding was expected at several Missouri cities, including St. Louis.
Flooding has also been reported in Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, officials said residents who evacuated their homes could return now that floodwaters have receded there.
AP reporter Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis contributed to this report.