Tag Archives: blizzard

Tragedy unfolding in Europe – Is U.S. media trying to ignore it?

Tragedy unfolding in Europe – Is U.S. media trying to ignore it?

By Robert

“The cold snap in Europe, which began in late January, has killed hundreds and brought deep snow where it hasn’t been seen in decades,” says this article in the Seattle Times.

This should be front page news. Instead, the article doesn’t appear until page eight. And the title, “At least 3 killed in avalanche in Kosovo,” belies the seriousness of the situation. (The print version carries a different headline: “Cold snap, snow lock down Europe.”)

How about a headline that tells it like it is?

140,000 trapped by snow – Death toll rises past 550.

That headline would give readers a glimpse of what’s really happening in Europe, where snow drifts reaching above the rooftops have kept tens of thousands of villagers prisoners in their own homes.

Now, I’ll admit that once you get past the ho-hum headline and down to the third paragraph, the Seattle Times article gets to the harsh truth.

You learn that in Montenegro, “the heaviest snow in 63 years sealed off hundreds of villages, shut down roads and railways and closed the main airport.” And you learn that “It was the biggest snowfall in the capital since 1949.”

You also learn that “boat traffic on the frozen Danube river — one of Europe’s key waterways — has been unable to move for the longest time in recent memory.” (Italics added.)

The rest of the article is quite informative, and I appreciate that.

But it’s that “cold snap” thing that bugs me.

Did all of the world’s journalists go to “cold snap” school?

If temperatures go up by a hundredth of a degree they scream “global warming.” But if, heaven forbid, it’s record cold and record snow? “Well, let’s just call it a cold snap.”

Would you call it a “cold snap” when more than 100 vessels become trapped in icy waters of the Sea of Azov? That’s what Reuters called it. “A fierce cold snap with temperatures of about -25C (-13 F) caused large parts of the Azov Sea to freeze,” said Reuters.

Would you call it a “cold snap” when more than 2,000 roads in Turkey are blocked by heavy snows? That’s what the Google News headline announced. The article itself was very good, speaking of brutal cold and record low temperatures, but – “cold snap”?

Would you call it a “cold snap” when people have to cut tunnels through 15 feet of snow to get out of their homes? “Eastern Europe has been pummeled by a record-breaking cold snap,” says this otherwise great AP article.

Look at these headlines. Are these the result of a “cold snap”?

Serbia cuts power in desperate bid to prevent collapse of national grid
The country’s entire electric distribution system could collapse…
Hundreds of barns collapse in Italy
At least one million farm animals in danger of running out of food.
Villages buried under 4-5 meters of snow – Video
“23.000 people are isolated, how many people and animals have died we don’t know since nobody can reach there.”
Italian villages trapped in more than 9 feet of snow
With the death toll already at 43, another blast of freezing weather…
Danube freezes over – One of the greatest rivers in Europe
Danube wholly or partially blocked in six countries.
Most winter grain destroyed in southern and eastern Ukraine
With temperatures 12 to 17C below average, the situation in Ukraine has became serious.
European death toll rises to 480 – and counting
150 cattle killed when roofs collapse. “It seems more like a war in Europe.”
Code red for agriculture in Tuscany
“Blizzard comes and farmers tremble” – Loss rates up to 50%.
Turkey quake survivors fighting the snow
Walking 300 feet through the snow to reach the nearest toilets.

No, this is no mere cold snap. There’s a tragedy unfolding in Europe, and the world needs to know.

Please forward this article to everyone you can.

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I’ll Drink to That!

Stranded Nome man survives 3 days in cold

By KYLE HOPKINS

Clifton Vial, 52, climbed into the cab of his Toyota Tacoma Monday night in Nome to see how far a road winding to the north would take him.

More than 40 miles out of town, at about 9:30 that night, he found out. As Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” played on the stereo and temperature dipped well below zero in the darkness, Vial’s pickup plunged into a snowdrift.

“I made an attempt at digging myself out and realized how badly I was stuck,” said Vial. He was wearing tennis shoes, jeans and a $30 jacket from Sears. “I would have been frostbit before I ever got the thing out of there.”

Vial found himself alone near Salmon Lake, on a road that doubles as a snowmachine trail in the winter and stretches inland from the Bering Sea city. Far beyond the reach of his cellphone, Vial slipped into a fleece sleeping bag liner and wrapped a bath towel around his feet. He occasionally started the truck to run the heater and listen to the radio.

Was anybody talking about him? Did they know he was missing?

By the third day, Vial said, the truck was nearly out of gas.


WIDE-RANGING SEARCH


“I felt really pissed at myself,”
Vial said. “I shouldn’t have been out there by myself unprepared for what I knew was possible.”

Normally Vial carries a sleeping bag, extra gasoline and other survival gear in the 2000 Toyota, he said. But on this trip he had few supplies, no food and no water. Even his dogs, a pair of labs that usually accompany him on drives, stayed home.

Vial kept busy trying to think of ways to stay warm. His family was out of town, searchers said. No one would know he was gone until he failed to show up for work at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“He’s a very punctual employee,”
said John Handeland, general manager for Nome Joint Utility System, where Vial works as an operator mechanic. “By 4 o’clock we figured something was wrong,”

No one could reach Vial on the phone. Co-workers patrolling the town that night found no sign of his pickup.

Handeland called police on Wednesday when Vial missed work for a second day.

The Nome Volunteer Fire Department was alerted and Vial’s co-workers and volunteer rescuers drove surrounding roads in search of the Toyota.

One searcher drove 41 miles along Kougarok Road — just a few miles from where Vial sat shivering and stranded in his pickup — but saw no tracks. The searcher turned back as daylight disappeared and the road conditions worsened, Handeland said.

Troopers joined the search. Rescuers looked for Vial on the ground and from the air, in planes and from a helicopter.

“When we get called on situations like this, it’s a needle in a haystack,”
said Jim West Jr., a Nome fire department captain and search and rescue coordinator.

For Vial, the cold was worse than the hunger, he said. Still he scoured the pickup in vain for food.

His only provisions: Snow, and a few cans of Coors Light that had frozen solid in the cab.

Vial ate the beers like cans of beans. “I cut the lids off and dug it out with a knife,” he said.


FIGHTING FOR WARMTH

The overnight low temperature in Nome dropped from about 12 below Monday night — not counting windchill — to 17 below on Wednesday morning, said National Weather Service meteorologist Charles Aldrich.

Battling for warmth, Vial wrapped a bath towel around his feet and placed another over his knees and thighs. He shook his ankles and knees to keep moving. He stuffed rags in his clothes and unraveled tissue paper, jamming it down around his feet.

“When I was just sitting there in my coat in the sleeping bag liner I would pull my arms inside my T-shirt to try and utilize my body heat as much as I could,”
Vial said. “That worked fine for some time, as far as keeping my torso warm and my arms. But my legs and feet where getting pretty cold.”

The wind rumbled like airplane engines, Vial said. He thought about his daughter, and about what would happen if no one found him in time.

“I tried to sleep when I could,”
Vial said, “but I knew that I might not wake up.”

When he did close his eyes, Vial said, strange and vivid images appeared. “Saw my daughter. Saw my job. Saw some things that didn’t look like people.”

He would picture himself driving around Nome, saying hello to friends, only to snap awake and find himself back in the truck, freezing.

At one point Vial decided he would only fire up the pickup’s engine once a day. “(The gas tank) was on ‘E’ and the gas light was coming on,” he said.

Vial never heard the rescuers arrive. It was early Thursday afternoon, three days after he first became stranded in the snow, when they pulled up behind his pickup. A co-worker and another volunteer opened the door to the truck, he said.

They gave him a Snickers bar — it seemed too dry to eat, he said — and an orange soda.

Vial described the more than 60-hour ordeal in a short phone interview Friday from Nome. His daughter was home from Anchorage. He planned to visit a doctor Friday afternoon, then return to work.

Vial’s legs felt as if they’d been beaten, he said, but he found no signs of frostbite. “I weighed myself last night,” he said. “I lost approximately 16 pounds.”

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Declaration Of Storms

Obama Has Declared Record-Breaking 89 Disasters So Far in 2011

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From Hurricane Irene, which soaked the entire East Coast in August, to the Midwest tornadoes, which wrought havoc from Wisconsin to Texas, 2011 has seen more billion-dollar natural disasters than any year on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

And as America’s hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires set records this year, so too has President Obama in his response to them.

During the first 10 months of this year President Obama declared 89 major disasters, more than the record 81 declarations that he made in all of 2010.

And Obama has declared more disasters — 229 — in the first three years of his presidency than almost any other president signed in their full four-year terms. Only President George W. Bush declared more, having signed 238 disaster declarations in his second term, from 2005 to 2009.

But while the sheer number of bad weather events played a big role in the uptick in presidential disaster declarations, Obama’s record-setting year may have something to do with politics as well.

“There’s no question about it that the increase in the number of disaster declarations is outstripping what we would expect to see, given what we observe in terms of weather,” said Robert Hartwig, the president and economist at the Insurance Information Institute. “There’s a lot of political pressure on the president and Congress to show they are responsive to these sorts of disasters that occur.”

While the president aimed to authorize swift and sweeping aid to disaster victims, Congress was entrenched in partisan battles over how to foot the bill. When Republicans demanded that additional appropriations for a cash-strapped FEMA be offset by spending cuts, the government was almost shut down over disaster relief funding.

Such budget showdowns have become commonplace in Congress, but a similarly slow response to natural disasters by the president has been met with far more pointed and politically damaging criticism. Former President Bush learned that the hard way after what was seen as a botched initial response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Ever since that time we’ve seen FEMA try to act more responsively and we’ve seen presidents more engaged in the issues going on with respect to disasters,” Hartwig said.

Mark Merritt, who served as deputy chief of staff at FEMA during the Clinton Administration, said Obama’s record-breaking number of declarations has less to do with politics and more to do with demographics.

People are moving to high-risk areas like beaches and flood plains, more bad weather events are occurring and the country’s infrastructure is “crumbling,” he said.

“It’s not being used any more as a political tool today than it has over the past 18 years,”
said Merritt, who is now the president of the crisis management consulting firm Witt Associates. “Everybody can say there’s a little bit of politics involved, and I won’t deny that, but I don’t think it’s a political tool that politicians use to win reelections.”

Politics aside, Obama’s higher-than-ever number of disaster declarations may also have a lot to do with the broad scale of this year’s disasters, which led to more declarations of catastrophes because each state affected by the disaster gets its own declaration.

For example, Hurricane Andrew, which hit Florida in 1992, cost upwards of $40 billion in damage, but resulted in only one disaster declaration because the damage was almost entirely confined to one state.

Hurricane Irene, on the other hand, pummeled much of the East Coast this summer, causing the president to make 9 disaster declarations, one for each state affected. Although there were 8 more declarations for Irene than for Andrew, the Irene caused about $7 billion in damage, a fraction of the damage caused by Andrew (up to $42 billion in today’s dollars).

Each presidential disaster declaration makes the federal government — specifically FEMA — responsible for at least 75 percent of the recovery costs, relieving cash-strapped state and local governments of the billions in damages caused by this year’s hurricanes, floods and tornadoes.

Richard Salkowe, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Florida who studies federal disaster declarations and denials, argued that the trend toward more declarations stems from local governments becoming more aware of the availability of federal funds.

“The local governments and state governments have become more aware of the process and more efficient in using it,” Salkowe said. “I’d say yeah, there are more states that have overwhelming needs, and that may have lead to the Obama administration declaring more disaster areas.”

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Unprecendented Weather Disasters Plague America

US counts the cost of nine months of unprecedented weather extremes

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, there have been 10 major disasters this year

John Vidal, environment editor

As deadly fires continue to burn across bone-dry Texas and eight inches of rain from tropical storm Lee falls on New Orleans, the US is beginning to count the cost of nine months of unprecedented weather extremes.

Ever since a massive blizzard causing $2bn of damage paralysed cities from Chicago to the north-east in January, nearly every month has been marked by a $1b+-weather catastrophe. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (Noaa), there have been 10 major disasters already this year, leaving more than 700 people dead and property damage of over $35bn (£22bn).

In the past 31 years the mainland states have suffered 99 weather-related disasters where overall damages and economic costs were over $1bn. This year has seen three times as many than as usual.

Noaa will release its August data next week but Summer 2011 is expected to be the warmest on record. Chris Burt, author and leading weather historian, has complied a list of more than 40 cities and towns that have experienced record temperatures this year.

“So many heat records of various types have been shattered this past summer that it is impossible to quantify them,” he said. “Not since the great heat waves of 1934 and 1936 has the US seen so many heat-related records broken as occurred this summer. The back-to-back nature of the intensity of the past two summers should raise some interesting questions, questions I am not qualified to address.”

This year, the UN World Meteorological Organisation said 2010 was the warmest year on record, confirming a “significant” long-term trend of global warming and producing exceptional weather variations.

The insurance company Munich Re said in the first six months of the year there were 98 natural disasters in the US, about double the average of the 1990s.

“The increasing impacts of natural disasters, as seen this year, are a stark reminder of the lives and livelihoods at risk. Severe weather represents a very real threat to public safety,” said Jack Hayes, director of Noaa’s National Weather Service.

But the US is not alone. 2011 has seen the deepest drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa which has contributed to a famine in Somalia and 10 million people affected in Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda. Southern Africa, however, experienced unusually heavy rainfall.

Latin America has suffered a series of disasters. More than 500 people died in some of Brazil’s worst rainstorms and mudslides in January, and Columbia faced what it called its worst-ever natural disaster when months of rain and floods devastated the north of the country. Meanwhile Mexico and much of central America experienced one of their deepest droughts in many years.

Korea, the Philippines, parts of China have been racked with some of the worst storms in a century, with flash floods and landslides triggered by torrential rain .

2011 has also seen a series of major non-weather-related natural disasters. The worst, by some way, was the Japanese tsunami which killed at least 12,000 people and devastated the country. However, 6.2 or above earthquakes have hit New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, the Fox Islands, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Indonesia, Fiji, Thailand, Burma, Vanuatu, Argentina, Chile and Iran in the first six months of 2011. Smaller ones have hit Pakistan, Tajikistan, Tonga, and the Solomon Islands.

In addition the Arctic ice melt this year hit a record in July and is expected to the second or third greatest ever recorded, says the US national snow and ice data centre.

• This article was amended on 05 September 2011. The original stated the death toll for the Japanese tsunami was 1,200,000 instead of 12,000. This has been corrected

A year of US disasters – 2011 so far

• Hurricane Irene, August 20-29. Over $7bn and around 50 deaths.

• Upper Midwest flooding. The Missouri and Souris rivers overflowed in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. Damages: $2bn.

• Mississippi river flooding, spring and summer. Damages neared $4bn.

• Drought and heatwave in Texas, Oklahoma. Over $5bn.

• Tornadoes in midwest and south-east in May kill 177 and cost more than $7bn in losses.

• Tornadoes in the Ohio Valley, south-east and midwest on April devastate the city of Tuscaloosa, kill 32 and cause more than $9bn in damages.

• Tornadoes hit from Oklahoma to Pennsylvania 14–16 April. Toll: $2bn in damages.

• 59 tornadoes in midwest and north-east April 8-11. Damages: $2.2bn.

• 46 tornadoes in central and southern states 4 and 5 April. Toll: $2.3bn in damages.

• Blizzard late January paralyse cities from Chicago to the north-east. Toll: 36 deaths and more than $2bn in damages.

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