Strong winds push Quebec river to new record – Montreal – CBC News

Strong winds push Quebec river to new record – Montreal – CBC News.

Towns and cities along the Richelieu River are on high alert as strong winds force water from Lake Champlain to spill into the river southeast of Montreal.

Southerly winds reaching speeds of up to 80 km/h on Monday pushed water levels higher than the all-time record set on May 6.

Rain and wind have been causing the river to rise steadily since Sunday with some areas along the shoreline going up four centimetres, while others have seen the water rise as much as 10 centimetres.

At 10 a.m. ET Monday, France-Sylvie Loiselle, a civil security spokesperson for the Montérégie region, said the river was just seven centimetres shy of the record.

She added the levels would come down quickly as winds died down. But water could rise another 20 centimetres overnight.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who was in the region again Monday, said the number of soldiers helping with the relief effort will double to about 500.

As many as 3,000 homes have been flooded and nearly 1,000 people have been forced out since the flooding began five weeks ago.

Charles Leblanc said he’s worried about losing his house as he stands in rainboots watching catfish swimming in his front yard in the town of Saint-Blaise-sur-Richelieu.

“Our terrain has been submerged with water for like a month now,” he said. “The more we are flooded, the more we have damage to our house.”

Upriver in the town of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, the only way to get to Nadine Galipeau’s house on O’Cain Street is to walk through knee-high water. Her front door is blocked by sandbags.

Galipeau has been watching water from the river stream into her now-gutted basement for weeks and she’s taken a leave from her job as a teacher to properly monitor her house.

“It’s never ending, we’re fed up and we’re feeling helpless,” she said.

Mayors ask that flood law be revised

During a tour of the region on Saturday, Charest said that, so far, the provincial government has spent about $4 million to help flood victims.

Charest also said the government is considering increasing the compensation amount it gives to flood victims, which is currently capped at $150,000.

Local mayors want Quebec to consider revising something else: its law on flood zones.

In 2007, Quebec adopted a law preventing people from rebuilding if they live in a 0/20 flood zone said Sylvain Latour, head of the mayor’s cabinet in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

It means the house is at risk of flooding within 20 years, explains Latour.

He confirms 2,200 homes in his municipality have been inspected, so far, and about 100 are so badly damaged they may have to be torn down.

Some of those homes are in the 0/20 zone.

“The mayors are asking to sit down with the government this week … to allow people to rebuild with restrictions,” he said.

“For example, elevated homes or no basement,” said Latour.

Gerard Dutil, mayor of St-Paul-de-l’Île-aux-Noix, said half his town’s homes have been damaged by water and some 200 houses have had to be evacuated.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “They travel by boat to get to work, they travel by boat to send their kids to school and to get the groceries.”

Dutil also hopes any homes that have to be torn down can be rebuilt.

“Whatever decision [is] taken [I hope] it is not going to have the effect of those people moving out of our municipality,” he said.

“We need those people… and we should take a decision that will allow them to stay there.”

The regional director of Quebec’s civil security service, Yvan Leroux, said there is concern now about the mental health of flood victims.

“We know the situation has been difficult and that it can lead to stress and exhaustion,” he told reporters.

Leroux said health officials and counselling services are in place to help residents cope.

Posted: May 26, 2011 11:03 AM ET

Last Updated: May 26, 2011 9:51 PM ET

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Residents of St-Blaise-sur-Richelieu gather to talk after a visit by Defence Minister Peter MacKay to the flood zone Wednesday. Residents of St-Blaise-sur-Richelieu gather to talk after a visit by Defence Minister Peter MacKay to the flood zone Wednesday. (Peter McCabe/Canadian Press)

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People living along the Richelieu River in the Montérégie region, south of Montreal, were on high alert again Thursday, as heavy rain and winds swept through the area’s vast flood zone.

After a few days’ respite, southerly winds were pushing water levels on Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River up by two to five centimetres, civil protection officials said.

Yvan Leroux said 50 millimetres of rain were expected in the next 24 hours and the showers would continue, meaning 75 millimetres could fall by Sunday.

“By Sunday we could reach levels comparable to those we had on May 6 and May 23,” he said, referring to days when flooding was at its worst.

Officials said water levels in the rivercould rise by as much as 25 centimetres on Thursday.

More than 3,000 homes are flooded, and 1,000 people displaced as high water levels have persisted throughout most of May, with water levels fluctuating over the four weeks.

Floods wearing people down

Although continually under siege, residents of the area aren’t giving up, health officials say.

The head of psychological services at the Haut-Richelieu-Rouville health and social services centre acknowledged the situation is weighing heavily on residents.

“People are increasingly sad,” said Ruth Sanscoucy. “They have less and less hope. But at the same time, people are telling us that everyone has a lot of resilience.”

Past experiences contribute to that, she noted. “The people of St-Jean have already experienced the ice storm [in 1998],” she said.

“This is the second disaster they’re facing and despite some serious difficulties for some people, people are saying we’re not giving up, we know that people are supporting us and we will get past this.

“People have extraordinary inner strength,” she said. The centre’s 12 to 18 counsellors meet an average 100 to 150 victims per day.

Soldiers to stay for a few days

Defence Minister Peter MacKay visited some of the hardest hit towns in the Richelieu Valley flood zone Wednesday afternoon.

He promised that some 500 soldiers on site would not be withdrawn for at least a few days.

The minister would not however commit to soldiers staying on in the region to help with the cleanup.

MacKay said the federal role is limited to protecting people during the emergency phase of disasters.

Residents critical of Ottawa’s response

Local residents and mayors have criticized the timing of federal help during the flood crisis.

A Léger Marketing poll, commissioned by Agence QMI, asked 756 adults over the Internet to rate how both the provincial and federal governments have dealt with the flooding.

Seventy per cent of those polled said the federal government’s help was insufficient, while 56 per cent said the Quebec government has not done enough to help residents.

The margin of error on the poll done Wednesday is plus or minus 3.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

‘I think it’s important enough that the military stay here to help people through.’—Jacques Desmarais, mayor of Saint-Blaise-sur-Richelieu

The most common complaint from residents is an alleged comedy of errors involving the military: they say the Canadian Forces arrived too late, appeared unprepared once they arrived, began withdrawing too early and, now, are failing to help with the cleanup.

Some have even suggested the reason that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has visited other disaster sites, in Manitoba and Alberta, and bypassed this one is because Quebec voted overwhelmingly for the NDP in the last election, and not Harper’s Conservatives.

One local mayor said residents had been struggling for weeks and were tired. He said he couldn’t understand why the federal government wouldn’t let soldiers stay to help cleanup.

“It’s been a month,” said Mayor Jacques Desmarais of Saint-Blaise-sur-Richelieu. “People are exhausted and there’s still work to do: cleaning, inspections and different types of activities.

“I think it’s important enough that the military stay here to help people through.”

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae also criticized Ottawa’s response.

“You’ve got to respond in as effective a way as possible and not be drawing these pretty artificial lines about when does the crisis begin and when does it end,” Rae said Thursday.

Deadly tornado kills 124, leaves 'twilight zone' in its wake

Deadly tornado kills 124, leaves ‘twilight zone’ in its wake – CNN.

May 24, 2011|By the CNN Wire Staff

The tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, Sunday killed 124 people, authorities said Tuesday, in what was the deadliest single U.S. tornado since modern record-keeping began 61 years ago.

An estimated 750 people have been treated at area hospitals, said Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr, who told residents of the tornado-ravaged town to be prepared in case a new wave of destructive storms strikes.

A tornado warning was issued, then canceled, Tuesday night for Joplin. The storm involved likely will pass well north of the city, said forecasters. They predicted Joplin could still get hit by strong wind gusts of more than 70 miles per hour.

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On a brighter note, rescue workers pulled two more people alive from the rubble within the last 24 hours, Rohr said.

Also Tuesday, forecasters raised their assessment of the Sunday storm, ranking it at the top of the scale used to rate tornadoes.

The National Weather Service has determined the twister packed top winds of more than 200 mph, making it a 5 on the enhanced Fujita scale, said Bill Davis, the meteorologist who reviewed the damage.

Davis said the tornado left “about six miles of total destruction” in its wake. Examinations of some of the buildings destroyed or damaged convinced forecasters to raise the designation, he said.

Roughly 8,000 structures within the city of Joplin were damaged, Rohr said, citing a Federal Emergency Management Agency report. A previous estimate had put the number of buildings damaged or destroyed at 2,000.

Among the dead in Joplin were 10 residents and a staff member at a nursing home, a company official said.

Two other staffers at Greenbriar Nursing Home are in critical condition at a hospital, said the home’s vice president, Bill Mitchell.

Of the other 79 residents of the home, all but one are accounted for, he said. Only rubble remains and survivors have been moved to temporary housing or are with family members.

“It just looks like a war zone,” said Eddie Atwood in a CNN iReport from the scene. From where he stood, Atwood said, “You could see all the way to the horizon because all the houses and all the trees were just leveled.”

“I was walking down Main Street. Everything was so razed over, it was disorienting because some of the streets — you couldn’t even tell where you were at. After living in Joplin all my life it was like living in the twilight zone.”

Joplin is not in the clear yet as far as weather goes: The National Weather Service warned there is a chance of another tornado outbreak — with the peak time ending at midnight Tuesday — over a wide swath including parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

Already Tuesday evening, at least four people were killed and many more injured when a deadly string of tornadoes and thunderstorms cut through central Oklahoma, officials said.

Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts said the city was imposing a curfew Tuesday night in areas struck by the tornado to head off the threat of looting.

“The sole function is to reduce the opportunity for people to loot and steal, and we’re hoping the folks who live in that area will cooperate with us,” he said.

President Barack Obama announced he will visit the region on Sunday. “We are going to do absolutely everything we can to make sure they recover,” he said during a visit to London. Obama added that he will let people know “the whole country is going to be behind them.”

“We are here for you. We’re going to stay by you,” Obama said.

Richard Serino, the second-highest-ranking official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Monday that Obama had issued a disaster declaration — expediting the dispersal of federal resources to the area — while vowing that “we are going to be here for the long haul.”

City Manager Rohr told reporters Tuesday that more than 40 agencies were on the ground in the southwest Missouri city, and two first responders were struck by lightning Monday as they braved relentless rain and high wind searching for survivors.

“One, fortunately, walked away from it; the other one’s still in the hospital, last I heard,” Joplin Emergency Management Director Keith Stammer said on CNN’s “American Morning.”

About 1,500 people are still unaccounted for. But “when we open up the area and start letting them come back in … that number of unaccounted for will start to dwindle,” Stammer said.

Many of those 1,500 have scattered because of tornado damage and communication problems.

Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles said the second search and rescue effort basically follows the tornado’s path. “We’re searching every structure that’s been damaged or destroyed in a more in-depth manner,” he said. “The third search is going to be similar to that. And then the fourth search through will be with the search-and-rescue dogs.”

Authorities encouraged people to use the website safeandwell.org, operated by the Red Cross, for updates on loved ones.

Some residents said the tornado struck suddenly.

“It all happened so fast,” Rachael Neff said on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday. “It seemed like forever but it happened very fast.”

“We had a few minutes’ warning. I’ve never taken any of the warnings seriously but something snapped in me and I put blankets and pillows in the bathroom. We were running to the bathroom. You could hear the home shaking, everything busting out.”

Neff, her fiance, Zac Bronson, and her toddler prayed, screamed and survived.

“We’ve had a tremendous support system. Our employers, friends and family have been more than helpful and we move on and rebuild. We just start another life. We started a new life,” Bronson said.

By Monday night, officials found 17 people alive. But many, including Will Norton, remain missing.

The 18-year-old was driving home from his high school graduation Sunday when the tornado destroyed the Hummer H3 he and his father were in.

“We were in a separate car. We were about 30 seconds in front of them, one block,” Norton’s sister, Sara, told CNN. “My dad called and he said, ‘Open the garage door.’ … And then I just heard him say, ‘Pull over, Will. Pull over.’ And then they started flipping.”

“My dad said — when my dad gained consciousness, he said that he saw my brother — his seat belt snapped and he was ejected through the sunroof,” she added.

The family has been tracking a “Help Find Will Norton” Facebook page and pursuing leads on his whereabouts.

Norton’s aunt, Tracey, said the family received a tip that the teen was listed on a local hospital’s emergency room roster — but she’s not sure where he is now.

“They transferred him, but we’re not sure where he was transferred,” the aunt said. “When he was transferred, he was alive. We don’t know anything other than that.”

The tornado that carved through the city of about 50,000 on Sunday is the deadliest to hit American soil since the National Weather Service began keeping records 61 years ago. The National Weather Service notes seven deadlier twisters, but says those took place “before the years of comprehensive damage surveys,” so they may have been the result of multiple tornadoes.

But the Weather Service does say that the Great Tri-State Tornado of 1925, which tore across southeast Missouri, southern Illinois and southwest Indiana, killed 695 people — “a record for a single tornado.”

A 1953 twister in Flint, Michigan, killed 116 people, according to the Weather Service.

Last month, two fatal twisters struck Alabama. One hit Hackleburg and the town of Phil Campbell, killing 78 people, and another struck Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, killing 61.

With crews still sifting through rubble, the death toll could continue to climb.

“I think the more time that goes by, the more I feel sick about it,” Sarah Hale, a lifelong Joplin resident, said Tuesday. “These people are cold and sick and stuck. As the days go on, and the death toll goes up, how many funerals are we going to go to?”

Joplin Mayor Mike Woolston said Monday night that his community hasn’t given up.

“We hope that there are people alive. We have a number of apartment buildings, complexes that are almost completely flattened. So we anticipate finding more people, and hopefully we’ll get there in time to find them alive,” he said.

The tornado chewed through a densely populated area of the city, eliminating a high school and making a direct hit on one of the two hospitals in the city.

Woolston pledged not to let the tornado ruin his city.

“This is just not the type of community that’s going to let a little F-4 tornado kick our ass. So we will rebuild, and we will recover.”

Europe on Alert for Icelandic Volcano Ash Cloud

Europe on Alert for Icelandic Volcano Ash Cloud: Scientific American.

By Omar Valdimarsson and Ingolfur Juliusson

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) – Britain said flights could be disrupted from parts of the country on Tuesday by an ash cloud billowing from an Icelandic volcano, but said it did not expect a repeat of last year’s travel chaos.

Britain’s Met Office is predicting the plume of ash from the Grimsvotn volcano would cover the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland, Scotland and parts of northern Britain by 2 a.m. ET

U.S. President Barack Obama is due to fly into Britain on Tuesday from Ireland for a state visit.

The Irish Aviation Authority said flights to and from Ireland could be disrupted later in the week but did not expect problems in the next 48 hours. Other parts of Europe were on alert.

Last year, ash from an Icelandic volcano caused 100,000 flights to be canceled, disrupting 10 million passengers and costing the industry an estimated $1.7 billion in lost revenues.

Asked if the ash cloud would cause some disruption to flights this time, a spokesman for Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said: “That’s the way it’s looking certainly at the moment.”

Europe’s air traffic control organization said if volcanic emissions continued at the same rate the cloud could reach western French and northern Spanish airspace on Thursday.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to host Obama and other G8 leaders in France later this week.

Authorities have backed more relaxed rules on flying through ash after being criticized for being too strict last time.

“I think the regulators are a bit more sensible than they were last year,” Michael O’Leary, chief of budget airline Ryanair, told a conference call. “We would be cautiously optimistic that they won’t balls it up again this year.”

Nevertheless, airline shares fell between 3 to 5 percent.

German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer said he did not expect the eruption to disrupt air traffic to the same degree as last year, adding however there would be a flight ban for jet planes should particles from the ash cloud reach a higher concentration than 2 milligrammes per cubic meter.

Speaking to Sky News, British Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said authorities could work with airlines to “enable them to fly around concentrations of ash rather than having to impose a blanket closure.”

Grimsvotn erupted on Saturday, with plumes of smoke shooting as high as 20 km (12 miles) into the sky. The eruption is the volcano’s most powerful since 1873 and stronger than the volcano which caused trouble last year, but scientists say the type of ash being spat out is less easily dispersed and winds have so far been more favorable.

“The difference in impact on aviation comes down to three factors: the ash being produced by the eruption, the weather patterns blowing the ash around and new rules about planes flying into ash,” University of Edinburgh volcanologist John Stevenson wrote on his blog.

SMOTHERED IN ASH

But some were expecting problems. “It’s too early to tell if Europe will be affected. What’s certain is that when it is affected, there will be flight cancellations,” French Transport Minister Thierry Marianai told Europe 1radio.

Airlines as far away as Australia were monitoring the cloud. Norway’s civil aviation body said the one or two flights a day to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard would shut tonight. A small part of Greenland’s eastern airspace was also closed.

Iceland’s aviation authority said it hoped it might be able to re-open the island’s main airport by the evening as the tower of smoke above the volcano appeared to have fallen.

The Icelandic met office said the plume from Grimsvotn, which last exploded in 2004, had fallen to just below 10 km (6 miles).

The volcano lies under the Vatnajokull glacier in southeast Iceland, the largest glacier in Europe. People living in districts close by have been smothered in ash.

“Yesterday between 2 and 3 (in the afternoon) it brightened up a bit until 8 in the evening, then it became black again,” said Sigurlaugur Gislasson, 23, whose family owns a hotel near the town of Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

“It is like being in a sandstorm,” he said. All the tourists who were staying at the hotel have gone, he added.

(Writing by Patrick Lannin; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher, Niklas Pollard, Kate Kelland, Christopher Le Coq, Ingolfur Juliusson, Michael Smith, Harry Suhartono, Alison Leung, Michael Holden; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Fukushima update: TEPCO admits more meltdowns

Short Sharp Science: Fukushima update: TEPCO admits more meltdowns.

Andy Coghlan, reporter

Owners of the nuclear plant at Fukushima crippled by the earthquake and tsunami admitted today that two more of the six reactor units at the facility probably underwent meltdowns soon after the disaster on 11 March.

TEPCO acknowledged last week that fuel rods in reactor unit 1 probably melted down within as little as 16 hours of the quake.

Today, the company said that there were probably meltdowns in reactor units 2 and 3 as well, after the tsunami destroyed cooling systems needed to prevent meltdown through overheating of fuel rods.

Unit 3 probably melted down first, on 13 March, followed next day by Unit 2, after water levels fell below those needed to keep fuel cool enough to avoid meltdown. A day later, on 15 March, faulty valve systems led to an explosion in unit 2 which led to leakage of radioactive water into the sea.

Despite the meltdowns, there is no further danger because the melted cores are now safely covered by at least 3 metres of water, TEPCO officials told journalists today.

The company also challenged stories from last week suggesting that the quake alone had damaged reactor number 1 leading to the meltdown, not the tsunami. TEPCO says that further investigations in a report released on Monday revealed that the quake “inflicted no damage on main equipment”.

But problems are mounting elsewhere, with storage space rapidly running out for the tens of thousands of tonnes of radioactive water that have collected in reactor buildings. A TEPCO spokesman is quoted in UK newspaper The Guardian as saying that dealing with the contaminated water could take till the end of the year, and rise to as much as 200,000 tonnes. TEPCO is collaborating with the French firm, Areva, in a plan to recycle the tainted water through the reactors as a coolant.

Measures are also under way to improve cooling of spent reactor fuel being stored in the reactor buildings. Rods in reactor unit 4 caused problems early on when they caught fire through lack of cooling water, spreading clouds of radiation into the environment.

According to the Japanese Asahi Shimbun newspaper, TEPCO issued a plan on Saturday to install external heat exchangers for cooling storage ponds at units 1, 2 and 3. The exchangers will use cold “secondary” water to cool “primary” water continuously circulating through the rods. Air cooling equipment will be used to re-cool down the secondary water as it circulates.

The newspaper reveals that currently, the temperature is 70 to 80ºC in unit 2’s storage pond, but should be half that. But with the exchanger installed, the company is confident the temperature can be lowered to 41ºC within a month. Exchangers will be fitted in June to the ponds in reactor units 1 and 3, and in July to the pond in unit 4.

With the nuclear industry under such a cloud, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan is pressing on with plans to expand Japan’s reliance on renewable power. According to the Nikkei newspaper, he is considering plans to make installation of solar panels mandatory in all new buildings by 2030, and will make them public later this week at the G8 summit in Deauville, France.

Earlier this month, Kan signalled a move to renewables, especially wind power, but stressed that nuclear power would still be needed to meet the country’s energy needs.

Powerful storms pound several central US states

Powerful storms pound several central US states – Yahoo! News.

People make their way through the wreckage of a home damaged by a tornado in Sedalia, Mo., on Wednesday, May 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Dan Gill) AP – People make their way through the wreckage of a home damaged by a tornado in Sedalia, Mo., on Wednesday, …

PIEDMONT, Okla. – In storm-weary middle America, many people counted themselves lucky Thursday after powerful storms swept through the region for the third time in four days but apparently claimed no lives.

Dozens of people were injured, mobile homes were flipped and roofs were torn off houses when tornadoes and thunderstorms hit Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and other states Wednesday evening.

Early Thursday, forecasters withdrew a slew of tornado watches in the South and said the heavy weather that pounded the Midwest in recent days had finally receded. Nevertheless, violent storms could not be ruled out elsewhere.

In southern Indiana, residents used flashlights to check on their homes, barns and neighbors near Bloomington after powerful winds overturned two mobile homes. Crews worked overnight to clear uprooted trees and downed power lines after a tornado touched down in a mostly rural area about 25 miles south, near Bedford.

Authorities began assessing the storm damage after daybreak, tallying up the number of homes damaged and destroyed. More than a dozen people were injured, including several children, but those living in the most affected areas said they were relieved no one was killed.

Brad Taylor, who lives in a mobile home park near Bloomington where one trailer was toppled and another was destroyed, said he, his wife and their two children rode out the storm by hiding in a closet. The trailer lost some siding and a window was blown out, but it was still standing.

“I’m just thankful everybody’s alive,” Taylor said.

A neighbor, 19-year-old Brandon Arthur, said he has never been so scared.

“All I know is the power went out, the trailer started shaking and I looked out the window and there was green lightning,” said Arthur, whose trailer survived except for its wooden deck.

Marie Mason, who owns the trailer park with her ex-husband, Sam Mason, looked bewildered as she sifted through the debris of his trailer for a cell phone. She wanted to call him in the Philippines to tell him what happened. Moments later, neighbors found his dog dead in a nearby field, and she knelt over the animal and cried.

Her son was bruised and bloodied by the storm, but was treated at a hospital and would be all right, she said.

“The good thing is everybody’s here to talk about it,” Marie Mason said. “I’ve got a lot to be grateful for. Things can be replaced. People can’t.”

Wednesday’s storms followed a deadly outbreak of violent weather a day earlier in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas that killed at least 16 people, including a 3-year-old Oklahoma boy whose body was found along a lakeshore near his home Thursday. On Sunday, the nation’s deadliest single tornado since the National Weather Service started keeping records in 1950 killed 125 in the southwest Missouri city of Joplin.

The weather service canceled tornado watches and warnings for most of Mississippi, northwestern Alabama and central Kentucky on Thursday. Jared Guyer, a forecaster at the NOAA National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, in Norman, Okla., said the situation had calmed to a “relative lull.”

“We don’t have any existing watches,” Guyer said Thursday. “There is a severe threat, but not on the magnitude of the last few days.”

He said the Appalachians, parts of the Southeastern U.S., and the upper Ohio Valley into the northeastern U.S. remained at “severe risk.”

A tornado damaged several homes and businesses Wednesday afternoon in the central Missouri city of Sedalia, causing minor injuries to as many as 25 people. Officials said most of the injured were able to get themselves to the hospital for treatment.

“Considering the destruction that occurred in Joplin — being that we’re in tornado alley and Sedalia has historically been hit by tornadoes in the past — I think people heeded that warning,” Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said. “And so, I think that helped tremendously.”

Sedalia ended its school year several days early because the school buses were damaged.

Sean McCabe was rushing to the basement of his mother’s home in Sedalia when the tornado struck and shoved him down the final flight of steps. The 30-year-old suffered scrapes and cuts on his hands, wrists, back and feet. He said neighbors and firefighters helped him get out.

Most of the roof was ripped off the house, which was among the more heavily damaged homes in the area. McCabe, who has a service dog for epilepsy, said both his family’s dogs survived, including one found muddy and wet about a block away.

Elsewhere in the hard-hit neighborhood, law officers stood on corners and electrical crews worked on power lines. Numerous trees were down, and tarps were covering some houses while others were missing chunks of their roofs. People were cleaning debris and sifting through belongings.

Heavy rain, hail and lightning pounded Memphis on Wednesday night as a tornado warning sounded. There were no confirmed reports of tornadoes touching down.

Elsewhere in Tennessee, strong winds from thunderstorms damage homes and wrecked a convenience store in Smithville, about 55 miles east of Nashville. The Rutherford County emergency management director reported a possible tornado southeast of Murfreesboro just before midnight.

In Illinois, strong winds, rain and at least four possible tornadoes knocked down power lines and damaged at least one home and a number of farm buildings across the central and eastern parts of the state.

“Mostly it was shingles off roofs and garages,” said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson.

The climate change threat to nuclear power

The climate change threat to nuclear power – tech – 24 May 2011 – New Scientist.

Far from solving the climate problem, nuclear power may be highly vulnerable to it

THE accident at the Fukushima power plant in Japan has led to much discussion about the future of nuclear power. I believe one important lesson of the accident has been overlooked. Nuclear power is often touted as a solution to climate change, but Fukushima serves as a warning that far from solving the climate problem, nuclear power may be highly vulnerable to it.

Of course, the emergency in Japan was caused by an earthquake and tsunami. But the effects of climate change could cause very similar problems.

Two facts that everyone should now know about nuclear power are that it needs access to large volumes of water to cool the reactor and a supply of energy to move the water. For this reason nuclear power plants are typically sited near large bodies of water, often seas or estuaries. It is this attachment to water that makes nuclear power vulnerable to climate change (Energy Policy, vol 39, p 318).

First of all, coastal areas are highly dynamic: storms batter, sea levels rise, and land shifts. This already poses problems for the safety of nuclear plants, and is only going to get worse. Secondly, nuclear power can be disrupted by water scarcity and rising water temperatures.

Nuclear regulators are already well aware of several safety issues, including flooding, loss of power, loss of communications, blockage of evacuation routes and equipment malfunction. Hurricanes pose the greatest threat.

Many climate models predict an increase in hurricane intensity. Even if they are wrong, existing reactors were built (along with most coastal developments) during a period of historically low hurricane activity and a return to baseline seems likely.

This is not to say an accident will happen every time a hurricane passes by a nuclear power plant. Unlike earthquakes, hurricanes can be predicted, allowing time for preparation. Still, preventative measures are not always taken. For instance, during hurricane Francis in 2004 doors designed to protect safety equipment from flying debris at the St Lucie nuclear power plant in Florida were left open.

Another cause for concern is floods. All nuclear power plants are designed to withstand a certain level of flooding based on historical data, but these figures do not take climate change into account. Floods due to sea-level rise, storm surges and heavy rain will increase in frequency.

This isn’t a hypothetical future scenario. In 1999 the Blayais nuclear power plant on the Gironde estuary in France flooded due to a high tide and strong winds that exceeded anything it was designed to withstand. Two of the reactor units on site were severely affected by flooding.

Heat waves are another serious concern, for two reasons. One, the colder the cooling water entering a reactor, the more efficient the production of electricity. And two, once the cooling water has passed through the system it is often discharged back where it came from in a much warmer state.

During the 2003 heat wave in Europe, reactors at inland sites in France were shut down or had their power output reduced because the water receiving the discharge was already warmer than environmental regulations allowed. Citing “exceptional circumstances”, the French government relaxed the regulations to maintain the supply of electricity. After subsequent heat waves it became a permanent measure during the summer months.

The relaxing of the regulations causes thermal pollution that reduces the ability of aquatic ecosystems to adapt to warmer temperatures. Some may argue these regional impacts are insignificant compared to the global ramifications of climate change, but they illustrate that nuclear power can actually worsen its impact.

There is a human cost too. As the heat wave wore on, French consumers were asked to conserve energy, and exports to some countries, especially Italy, were reduced. While France, which generates over 75 per cent of its electricity from nuclear sources, avoided blackouts, Italy did not. The heat wave caused an estimated 40,000 deaths, around half of them in Italy. These deaths cannot be attributed directly to the failure of nuclear power but energy conservation and blackouts surely made people more vulnerable.

The final problem is droughts, which climate models predict will become longer and larger. Legal battles have already been fought in the US over scarce water resources in regions with nuclear power plants, including the Catawba river basin in the Carolinas and the Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint river basin in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. These battles show us that adapting our systems – including nuclear power – to a reduced supply of water will not be easy.

The International Atomic Energy Agency advises the nuclear industry to build power plants to last for 100 years. Given that climate models don’t agree on what to expect within this time period, it is not at all clear how this can be achieved.

New reactors could use dry or hybrid systems with lower water requirements, but the costs of running these systems are likely to be prohibitive. Considering nuclear power plants already have problems with construction cost overruns, any additional costs are likely to meet resistance.

What is to be done? Most forms of energy generation are vulnerable in some way to the effects of climate change, and the fact that nuclear power is among them is yet another argument against a wholesale shift towards this source of energy.

The bottom line is that if nuclear power is to be used to mitigate the effects of climate change, it must also be capable of adapting to them. There are serious doubts that it can.

Natalie Kopytko is in the environment department at the University of York, UK

Plankton May Hold Up Well to Ocean Acidification

Plankton May Hold Up Well to Ocean Acidification | Wired Science | Wired.com.

By Scott Johnson, Ars Technica

England’s White Cliffs of Dover are certainly an impressive sight. The sheer cliffs, made of bright white chalk, rise as high as 350 feet above the shoreline.

Despite the fact that the chalk is over 65 million years old, it may have something to tell us about how the ocean will react to the continued use of fossil fuels.

Chalk is composed of tiny calcite (calcium carbonate) plates called coccoliths. These are sections of the intricate spherical housing secreted by a type of phytoplankton smaller than the width of a hair, known as coccolithophores. The coccoliths in ancient chalk deposits like Dover’s cliffs have maintained their microscopic size, resisting the natural tendency of calcite to partially dissolve over time and recrystallize into larger clumps. This left researchers at the University of Copenhagen pondering if there might be something special about the calcite secreted by coccolithophores.

If that’s the case, understanding the details could help us predict how these phytoplankton will respond to ocean acidification — global warming’s oft-overlooked (but equally ugly) twin. The rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doesn’t just change the climate; it also lowers the pH of ocean water, and that’s bad news for things made of calcite, which may dissolve as the pH drops.

To answer their question, the researchers had to develop a new method to monitor the dissolution of individual coccoliths, requiring a degree of precision far beyond existing techniques. They glued single coccoliths to the tip of a tiny cantilever that oscillated. Imagine a ruler held over the edge of a table and plucked — it will vibrate, but if you attached a marble or a golf ball to the end, it would waggle more slowly. In the experiment, as the coccolith dissolved away, its mass decreased and the frequency of cantilever oscillation (waggling speed) increased. This allowed the researchers to measure mass to within a remarkable one-trillionth of a gram.

The results showed that coccoliths are indeed resistant to dissolution. Inorganic calcite crystals begin dissolving around pH 8.2, but the coccoliths remained intact until about pH 7.8. That’s not a trivial difference when you consider that pH is measured in logarithmic units. For example, a pH of 8 is 10 times as basic as a pH of 7. The research team attributes this resistance to the presence of organic material (from the single-celled phytoplankton that lived inside) which protects the calcite from dissolution.

What does this information tell us? For starters, it explains the microscopic characteristics of chalk. But, more importantly, it helps us predict the effects of ocean acidification more accurately. Some marine plankton and invertebrates build shells from aragonite—a form of calcium carbonate which dissolves more easily than calcite — and these organisms will be the first to feel the effect of increasing ocean acidity. Calcite-secreting organisms which aren’t as resistant as coccolithophores will be next. Near pH 7.8, coccolithophores (and any other groups that stabilize calcite similarly) will be in trouble as well.

Projections vary with scenarios of future emissions, but most put the average ocean pH at 7.8 before the end of this century. Average pH has already decreased by about 0.1 units since preindustrial times to roughly 8.1 — a nearly 30 percent increase in acidity. With regional and seasonal variation, some areas will experience a pH of 7.8 or lower much sooner, most notably the Southern Ocean.

Consideration of this scenario is not just an academic exercise. Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food web, and coccolithophores are one of the most abundant groups. Most plankton groups will be impacted by ocean acidification, which could result in serious ecosystem changes. Like burning the grass in a cow pasture, knocking out phytoplankton ultimately means nobody eats.

On a timescale of millennia, another story becomes significant. Phytoplankton like coccolithophores represent a key piece of the carbon cycle. After taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they eventually die and sink to the ocean bottom, where many accumulate and are buried as carbonate sediment, locking up that carbon in long-term storage. Disrupting phytoplankton growth inhibits the planet’s natural regulation of greenhouse gases by decreasing its ability to lock up excess carbon in sediment.

Coccolithophores may have a couple tricks up their (microscopic) sleeves that will help them hold out a little longer than some other marine organisms, but chemistry can only be kept at bay for so long. Awareness of just where the danger lies allows for effective monitoring and an accurate appraisal of our proximity to it.

Image: A species of coccolithophore phytoplankton called Emiliania huxleyi. (University of Georgia)

Citation: “Tracking single coccolith dissolution with picogram resolution and implications for CO2 sequestration and ocean acidification.” T. Hassenkam, A. Johnsson, K. Bechgaard, and S. L. S. Stipp. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 108, No. 21, Pg. 8571-8576. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009447108

African land grab could lead to future water conflicts

African land grab could lead to future water conflicts – environment – 26 May 2011 – New Scientist.

IS THIS the face of future water conflicts? China, India and Saudi Arabia have lately leased vast tracts of land in sub-Saharan Africa at knockdown prices. Their primary aim is to grow food abroad using the water that African countries don’t have the infrastructure to exploit. Doing so is cheaper and easier than using water resources back home. But it is a plan that could well backfire.

“There is no doubt that this is not just about land, this is about water,” says Philip Woodhouse of the University of Manchester, UK.

Take Saudi Arabia, for instance. Between 2004 and 2009, it leased 376,000 hectares of land in Sudan to grow wheat and rice. At the same time the country cut back on wheat production on home soil, which is irrigated with water from aquifers that are no longer replenished – a finite resource.

Meanwhile, firms from China and India have leased hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland in Ethiopia. Both China and India have well-developed irrigation systems, but Woodhouse says their further development – moving water from the water-rich south to northern China, for instance – is likely to be more costly than leasing land in Africa, making the land-grab a tempting option.

But why bother leasing land instead of simply importing food? Such imports are equivalent to importing “virtual water”, since food production accounts for nearly 80 per cent of annual freshwater usage. A new study into how this virtual water moves around the world offers an explanation for the leasing strategy. Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe of Princeton University and Samir Suweis of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have built the first mathematical model of the global virtual water trade network, using the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s data on trade in barley, corn, rice, soya beans, wheat, beef, pork, and poultry in 2000. They combined this with a fine-grained hydrological model (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2011GL046837).

The model shows that a small number of countries have a large number of connections to other countries, offering them a steady and cheap supply of virtual water even if some connections are compromised by drought or political upheaval. A much larger number of countries have very few connections and so are vulnerable to market forces.

Most importantly, the model shows that about 80 per cent of the water flows over only about 4 per cent of the links, which Rodriguez-Iturbe calls the “rich club phenomenon”. In total, the model shows that in 2000, there were 6033 links between 166 nations. Yet 5 per cent of worldwide water flow was channelled through just one link between two “rich club” members – the US and Japan.

The power of the rich club may yet increase. The model allows the team to forecast future scenarios – for example, how the network will change as droughts and spells of violent precipitation intensify due to climate change. Predictably, this will only intensify the monopoly, says Suweis. “The rich get richer.”

China and India are not currently major players in the virtual water network on a per capita basis, and as the network evolves they could find themselves increasingly vulnerable to market forces and end up paying more for the food they import. Leasing land elsewhere is an attempt to secure their food and water supply in a changing world. But it could be a short-sighted move.

Last year, Paolo D’Odorico of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville showed that a rise in the virtual water trade makes societies less resilient to severe droughts (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2010GL043167). “[It] causes a disconnect between societies and the water they use,” says D’Odorico. The net effect is that populations in nations that import water can grow without restraint since they are not limited by water scarcity at home.

Although this could be seen as a good thing, it will lead to greater exploitation of the world’s fresh water. The unused supplies in some areas that are crucial in case of major droughts in other areas will dry up. “In case of major droughts we [will] have less resources available to cope with the water crisis,” says D’Odorico.

In the end, then, the hunt for water that is driving emerging economies to rent African land to grow their crops could come back to haunt them.

Essential 'green' metals are being thrown away

Essential ‘green’ metals are being thrown away – environment – 31 May 2011 – New Scientist.

That old cellphone gathering dust in your cupboard could help the economy go green, if only you could get round to recycling it. A UN report published last week says that too many of the rare metals that are essential for green technologies are locked up in old gadgets we throw away or forget about.

The report, from the United Nations Environment Programme, examined the recycling rates of 60 metals. Globally, 34 of them have recycling rates below 1 per cent, while only 18 have rates above 50 per cent. Among the least-recycled metals are tellurium and gallium – which are used in solar cells – and lithium, a key component of the batteries in electric carsMovie Camera – which is also found in cellphone batteries.

These metals are not yet in heavy use, but will be crucial over the next few decades. While we are unlikely to run out of them in the near future, recycling those already in use is less energy-intensive than mining, offering a way to make the green technologies that rely on the metals even greener.

“Most metals can be used over and over again,” says lead author Thomas Graedel of Yale University. But this doesn’t happen, partly because electronic devices are not designed with recycling in mind, and partly because people hang onto their old gadgets for years. This hoarding mentality may be influenced by privacy concerns associated with selling or recycling old electronics that store personal information.

Part of the solution is to collect more metals for recycling, but Graedel says we also need to update our recycling technology. At the moment, about 70 per cent of the metal sent for recycling gets lost during the process.

Climate Change Increases Threat of Fire to U.S. West: Scientific American

Climate Change Increases Threat of Fire to U.S. West: Scientific American.

“If climate change drives temperature up a degree or two,” goes the common dismissal, “how bad could that be?”

Here’s an example: Higher temperatures draw moisture out of live and dead trees and brush, making them more flammable. The heat also can alter precipitation, as well as shift spring thaw earlier, lengthening the fire season. A one degree Celsius climb in average global temperature could cause the median area burned annually by wildfires in parts of the American West to increase up to sixfold. “A one-degree rise could occur well before 2050,” notes Jeremy Littell, a climate and fire researcher at the University of Washington, who created the projections with the U.S. Forest Service and other institutions.

Scientists in Canada have reached similar conclusions about their western region. The U.S. prediction applies to area burned during median fire years; extreme fire years would consume still more area. Unfortunately, as temperature goes up, Littell predicts, “what were historically big fire years may become more frequent.”