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  • Drought Buster: Atmospheric Rivers Bring Drought Relief - and Disaster - to California

    Look at these two pictures from the United States Drought Monitor. This first is from a year ago. The entire state was in some level of drought, and almost half was in the highest level (exceptional drought – rust colored).


    California Drought 2016 atmospheric river California Drought as of January 12, 2016
    California Drought 2017 atmospheric river California Drought as of January 10, 2017










    Compare this year’s map. Everywhere north of Sacramento is drought-free. Only 2 percent of the state is in exceptional drought.  Since January 1, Lake Tahoe’s water level has risen almost a foot – 33.6 billion gallons, according to the National Weather Service.

    The January storms that brought this remarkable turnaround also wreaked havoc. They:

    Caused at least five deaths.

    atmospheric river Pioneer Cabin Tree toppled in storm - image via Mercury News

    Toppled the "Pioneer Cabin" tree in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Calif. The still-living giant sequoia had a tunnel, cut in the 1880s, that tourists could walk through.

    Caused the Truckee River to overflow its banks, flooding Reno, Nev. suburbs and polluting drinking water in Storey County, Nev.

    Closed ski resorts in California, Nevada, and Colorado when too much snow created hazardous driving and avalanche conditions.

    Dumped 35 inches of rain on California’s central coast. San Francisco has already seen more precipitation in 2017 than it did in all of 2013.

    Caused blizzard wind measuring 174 mph at Squaw Valley in the Sierra Nevada mountains on Jan. 8.

    Forced evacuation of several northern California towns because of flooding.

    Forced managers of the Yuba River to manually open a dam’s floodgates for the first time in 10 years to prevent flooding in downtown Sacramento.

    All of these events are is the product of a common weather phenomenon that drives between a third and a half of the precipitation in the western United States: atmospheric rivers.

    Imagine a high-altitude fire hose. It’s not constant, but once it forms, it can stretch thousands of miles long (and tens to hundreds of miles wide). It can carry water vapor equivalent to 15 times the flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    As this flow interacts with a low-pressure storm system or runs into a mountain range, it brings a blast of precipitation that can last for days. Frequently, these systems follow each other.

    One NOAA author called atmospheric rivers “drought busters,” because just a few such storms can break up droughts.

    So this year’s series of atmospheric rivers have been a great boon to bone-dry California. Yet they haven’t brought as much rain to the southern part of the state. And they bring devastating flooding.

    In 1861, rain started falling on Sacramento, Calif., on Christmas day, and stopped 43 days later, according to a story from a NBC Bay Area affiliate. The state legislature had to move for six months because the city was submerged under 10 feet of water. California’s Central Valley – its bread basket – flooded, and the San Francisco Bay filled with so much fresh rainwater that its wildlife struggled, according to the story.

    It was an extreme version of the most common atmospheric river to affect the western United States: the Pineapple Express (no relation to the movie), nicknamed such because it often forms in the Pacific near Hawaii.

    Another atmospheric river storm that began December 29, 1996, dumped more than two feet of water in many northern California locations, killed two people and caused $1.6 billion in damages.

    They’re not just confined to the west. An atmospheric river was behind massive flooding in March 2016 in Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma.

    And two more are forecast to hit California this week.

    Atmospheric rivers can bring all kinds of wild weather. So look around, think about what one might do to your area, and plan accordingly.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner Atmospheric River

  • 2016: A Year in Review

    2016_amatrice_earthquake A Year In Review Amatrice, a town in Italy, destroyed by the earthquake. Photo: Leggi il Firenzepost

    Raise your hand if you’re glad 2016 is about over. The year was so tumultuous that a magnitude 6.2 earthquake that killed at least 299 people in central Italy didn’t even make most U.S. news organizations’ lists of important events. (Neither did a magnitude-6.6  earthquake on October 30 that destroyed more towns in the same area.) In this Year in Review, we look at some of the more devastating events that happened in 2016.

    Disaster declarations began early in the year.

    On January 5, the governor of Michigan declared a state of emergency in Flint, Mich., because of lead-contaminated water. It was a man-made disaster. In 2014, the city manager decided to switch the city’s water supply to the Flint River. The more-corrosive water was not correctly treated and caused lead to leach out of thousands of miles of old pipes. After a year of cleanup, many Flint residents still can’t use tap water.

    A massive winter storm hit eleven eastern states beginning January 22. It dumped more than 30 inches of snow on seven states, caused six tornadoes, affected 103 million people and killed 55. Damage estimates range from $500 million to $3 billion.

    A seemingly-mild virus carried by a tiny mosquito next took over global headlines. The World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on February 1. In most people, Zika causes few to no symptoms – maybe a mild rash or fever. However, in pregnant women, Zika can cause microcephaly other brain defects in their unborn children.  The first U.S. death from Zika was announced April 1, and the virus spread to Florida in July.

    March brought the first of many terrorist attacks this year in a reminder to be vigilant even in seemingly safe places. On the 22nd, two suicide bombers attacked the Brussels, Belgium airport and a third attacked a Brussels Metro station. Thirty-five people were killed, including the three bombers, and at least 300 were injured. More terror attacks brought violence to France, Germany and many other nations.

    On April 3, the Panama Papers were released. More than 11 million documents showed, first, how the wealthy hide their money from taxes, and second, sent a reminder to protect your own information. Yahoo in July and December announced two more security breaches of 500 million and a billion accounts.

    Leaving Fort McMurray A Year In Review Wildfires raged in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

    In May, 88,000 people fled a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. The fire caused the largest evacuation in Alberta history and destroyed about 2,400 buildings. It might be Canada’s costliest disaster.

    In June, voters in the United Kingdom surprised everyone by voting to leave the European Union. Brexit roiled financial markets and served as a reminder that individual financial preparation is especially vital in a global economy.

    Even last year’s El Nino was not enough to break California’s staggering drought. Wildfires raged through the parched state in June and July. The Erskine fire alone killed two people and destroyed 285 homes. In all, the 2016 fire season saw almost 7,000 fires in California burn more than 565,000 acres and kill seven people.

    A July 30 flash flood in Maryland was only a harbinger of flooding to come. Massive storms across southern Louisiana in early August dumped more rain than Hurricane Katrina. Floods killed 13 people and caused $10-15 billion in damage. It was the worst disaster since Hurricane Sandy.

    And, oh, yes, there was a pretty big earthquake in Italy. In certain parts of the world, you expect certain things. You expect earthquakes in Italy and California. You expect tornadoes in Oklahoma. You expect hurricanes in Florida. Oh, wait. Hurricane Hermine, which made landfall in Florida September 2, was the first hurricane to hit the state in 11 years. It was a spitball compared with Hurricane Matthew, a category 5 monster that, in October, killed up to 1,600 people in Haiti and more throughout the Caribbean before making its final landfall in South Carolina. Damage is estimated at more than $10.5 billion.

    In November, some tiny country somewhere rejected a divisive mainstream candidate for a divisive outsider in its presidential election. Who knows what effect President-elect Donald Trump will have? Best be prepared for anything.

    Finally, December. And a Christmas winter storm that blasted through the central U.S.

    And don’t forget Super Typhoon Nock-ten, which slammed the Philippines the same day. Or the magnitude 7.6 earthquake in southern Chile that threatened a tsunami.

    May next year be a bit more peaceful for you, your family, and the world.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner A Year In Reveiw

  • Natural Disaster Seasons are Scheduled Year-Round

    When isn’t there a warning of some imminent natural disaster? It seems like some sort of devastation or disaster is scheduled each month, ready to knock us off our feet. Knowing when each disaster is more likely to strike can help us be better prepared, and with better preparedness comes greater safety.

    The following is a list of natural disasters the United States can expect on a yearly basis, along with applicable dates in which they are “scheduled.”


    Tornado season disaster seasonTornado Season: March – July

    Technically, tornado season differs for various regions. For example, the Southern States are in peak tornado season from March to May, whereas the Northern Plains and Midwest experience their tornado season around June and July. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that tornadoes can occur during any time and any month.

    To learn more about tornadoes, click here.


    Hurricane season disaster seasonHurricane Season: June – November

    Half the year is taken up with the Atlantic hurricane season, beginning June 1 and continuing through November 30, according to NOAA. Just like any of these scheduled disasters, some may arrive earlier than June or even after hurricane season has long since ended.

    To learn more about hurricanes, click here.


    Fire Season: October – January

    Fire Approaching House (NY Times) disaster season fire seasonFire season is a fickle thing. It depends on outside factors, such as recent precipitation and heat. But, October is generally the start of fire season and, depending on which part of the country you reside, could last through January.

    California, while still following these same guidelines, tends to be in the danger zone year round. “Where there’s drought, there’s fire,” says Slate. California has been in a state of drought for many years, making fires a likely threat.


    Earthquake Season: January – December

    Christchurch, New Zealand - March 12, 2011 disaster season earthquake season

    If you thought you had at least February off from any imminent disaster, this will come as bad news. Earthquakes happen every month of the year, in every state, and can happen at any time of the day or night. As of yet, earthquakes are unable to be predicted.


    There is no day or month that is immune from natural disasters. Because of this, being constantly prepared is vital. Sure, some natural disasters can be better predicted during certain seasons, making it easier to prepare, but remember, these disaster seasons aren’t always followed exactly. Hurricanes can come before or after hurricane season, tornadoes can form outside of tornado season, and fires can certainly happen year round. Also, there are other disasters, such as earthquakes, that simply can’t be predicted. Combined with blizzards and severe thunderstorms, there’s a full year of scheduled disasters waiting to strike.

    Fortunately, getting the basics can be quick and easy. Make sure you have what you need before disaster strikes. Prepare today for tomorrow’s emergencies.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner disaster season

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