Storms and Floods

Windstorm “Xaver”

For the first time since 2007, the massive flood gates that protect the Netherlands from the North Sea have been closed, as a mighty North Sea storm hurls a huge storm surge propelled by near-hurricane force winds against the coast of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark.

A squall line with severe thunderstorms has developed along a cold front that is sweeping across Northern Europe Thursday afternoon, and these thunderstorms are bringing intense lightning, heavy rains, and damaging winds. The European Storm Forecast Experiment is warning of the risk of tornadoes with this squall line, and damaging wind gusts of up to 90 mph (145 kph) in the severe thunderstorms.

The storm has killed pone person in Scotland and left at least four people dead or missing in Europe, causing transport chaos and threatening the biggest tidal surge in decades. Dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed in the Netherlands, Germany and Scotland, while rail services were shut down in several countries.

One of Europe’s longest bridges – connecting Sweden to Denmark – closed. Tens of thousands of homes were also left without power as the storm hit. Winds of up to 228 km/h (142 mph) battered Scotland, where a lorry driver was killed when his vehicle was blown over near Edinburgh. At least two other people were injured by falling trees.

Two sailors were reportedly swept overboard from a ship 22 km (14 miles) off the southern Swedish coast, and air-sea rescue services failed to find them. A storm surge was due later on Thursday, coinciding with high tides in many areas. Britain’s Environment Agency said tidal surges could bring significant coastal flooding, and the Thames Barrier was being closed to protect London. British authorities said they had evacuated homes in Great Yarmouth, eastern England, adding that it could be the biggest storm surge for 60 years.

In the low-lying Netherlands, the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier has been closed off for the first time in six years. Dutch authorities said they had issued the highest possible flood warning for four areas in the north and north-west of the country. There are heavy winds in the Netherlands.

Germany reinforced emergency services in and around the northern port of Hamburg and cancelled lessons at several schools. The storm was causing transport chaos throughout northern Europe.

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Thousands of people have been left homeless following continued flooding in parts of Somalia’s Middle Shabelle region. The floods began in August and have continued over the past couple of months, with large tracts of farmland being inundated, raising fears of livelihood losses and disease.


Chimp ‘Human’ Rights Argued in U.S. Court

Using a legal strategy once employed to fight human slavery, an animal rights group is asking a New York court to declare that chimpanzees are almost human enough to deserve some of the same rights as people.

The Nonhuman Rights Project filed a classic writ of habeas corpus, demanding that a chimp named Tommy be released from a cage in a Gloversville used-trailer lot.

It asks that the primate be the beneficiary of a trust that would house him in one of the eight facilities of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance.

“This petition asks this court to issue a writ recognising that Tommy is not a legal thing to be possessed by respondents, but rather is a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned,” the court filing says.

Tommy’s owner argues the chimp is well cared for and has many toys. He says he rescued Tommy from a home where was badly treated.

“If they were to see where this chimp lived for the first 30 years of his life, they would jump up and down for joy about where he is now,” Patrick C. Lavery told The New York Times.

A ruling in favour of the writ would set chimps apart from other animals and could possibly trigger moves to confer similar rights to other non-human creatures.

The Spanish Parliament in 2008 granted chimps certain legal rights, and countries like India have had sporadic success in similar efforts.



Global Warming-Related Rainfall Killing off Canadian Peregrine Falcon Chicks

Excess rain in the Arctic has been deadly for adolescent Canadian peregrine falcons.

The rain is believed to have been brought on by climate change, and may be posing as much of a threat to the birds as the chemical DDT did before it was banned, a University of Alberta news release reported.

The rain is believed to interfere with the falcons’ reproductive success. The team looked at breeding records dating back to the 1980s. They also monitored falcon nests using motion-sensitive cameras. The cameras showed one third of the nestling deaths could be attributed to rain.

The nestlings died from hypothermia and in some cases from drowning in their flooded nests. Without constant parental care, they are most vulnerable to cold and wet conditions in the first three weeks of life.

The population of peregrine falcons in Canada have been steadily declining over the past 30 years.

A mother peregrine falcon tries to brood two chicks that have died from exposure to cool wet conditions caused by heavier rainfall in the arctic


Global Temperature Extremes

The week’s hottest temperature was 113.0 degrees Fahrenheit (45.0 degrees Celsius) at Oodnadatta, South Australia.

The week’s coldest temperature was minus 49.7 degrees Fahrehneit (minus 45.4 degrees Celsius) at Russia’s Siberian community of Verkhoyansk.

Temperatures were tabulated from the more than 10,000 worldwide synoptic weather stations. The United Nations World Meteorological Organization sets the standards for weather observations, and provides a global telecommunications circuit for data distribution.


Drought contributes to cholera outbreak in southern Angola

A protracted drought followed by the onset of the rainy season in southern Angola has triggered a sharp increase in cholera cases, mainly concentrated in Cunene province, where over 1,000 infections and 48 deaths were recorded during a two-week period in November, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.

Cholera is a highly contagious disease associated with poor sanitation and access to safe drinking water. It is endemic in Angola, where nearly half of the population live in conditions conducive to the spread of the illness, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A year-long outbreak that started in the slums of the capital, Luanda, in February 2006 and spread to 16 out of 18 provinces, resulted in over 80,000 reported cases and 3,000 deaths.

So far, the current outbreak has remained almost entirely confined to Cunene, although neighbouring Huila province has also recorded some cases. Since January 2013, the country as a whole has recorded just over 5,600 cholera cases and 190 deaths, about 70 percent of them in Cunene.

Kenya: Foot and Mouth Disease

Mombasa county government has begun vaccinating livestock following an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Likoni district. County executive for livestock Binti Omar said a quarantine notice has been enforced to curb the spread of the disease.

She said the disease has affected hundreds of livestock in the district.

Omar attributed the disease to an influx of pastoralists from neighbouring districts of Kwale, bordering Tanzania seeking pastures and water for their livestock.

Karachi heading for explosive polio outbreak

Pakistan’s biggest city Karachi could be headed for a “explosive polio outbreak”, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned today after two more cases of the crippling disease were reported within 24 hours.

Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio is endemic. Immunisation campaigns have been affected by a ban imposed by the Taliban, who have killed several vaccinators in attacks in Karachi and the restive northwest.


Bushfire threatens properties north of Dongara – Western Australia

Firefighters have contained one of two bushfires burning in the state’s Mid West.

The blazes were triggered by lightning north of Dongara this morning and have burned through about 900 hectares of land.

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Roundup of Global Volcanic Activity:

Etna (Sicily, Italy): No significant news from Etna so far. The brilliant weather shows the fiery lady in all her glory today. The latest lava flow towards Valle del Bove from Monday’s paroxysm stands out as a dark black tongue against the white snow. Volcanic tremor has increased a bit, showing that the NSEC remains (mostly internally) agitated.

Pacaya (Guatemala): Strombolian activity has started to increase last evening, INSIVUMEH reports in its latest special bulletin, and might lead up to another phase of lava flow emission. Accompanied by continuous tremor, explosions from the Mackenney crater have become more frequent and eject abundant incandescent material that rapidly accumulates around the new cone. A small ash plume was rising about 150 m. According to the observatory, it is likely that this activity continues to increase and leads to the emission of a new lava flow, which would be expected to likely descend the western flank.