Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Two Bad Storms: One In Peru, One In Australia

Devastating mudslides and floods have been htting Peru
in recent weeks. Photo by Ernesto Benavides/Getty Images
Every once in awhile, I like to take you on a tour of weather elsewhere in the world, so here we go.

Last week, Peru was hit by one of the worst storms on record to hit that South American nation.

According to the always reliable and informative Weather Underground blog by Bob Hanson and Jeff Masters, the world's costliest disaster so far in 2017 has been going on or the past several days in Peru.

Torrential rain has fallen on normally dry terrain in Peru in recent weeks, causing flooding that has killed at least 80 people and displaced about 110,000 others.

Reuters reports large swaths of Peru, including the capital cit of Lima, schools have suspended classes and running water has been restricted because treatment plants are all screwed up by mudslides. Food shortages are developing in some towns because roads are so damaged by floods and mudslides that trucks can't move goods around.

The trouble in Lima, Henson and Masters say, developed despite the fact that little rain has fallen in most  of the lower elevation parts of the city.

The climate there is normally such that the city gets high humidity and fog fairly frequently, but the cool Pacific Ocean water just off the coast of South America helps prevent the kinds of updrafts that can trigger storms and heavy rain.

The flooding this year is in elevations above Lima, but even there, it is normally very dry, so what happened in the past couple of months to change that?

It's complicated and a bit weird, climatologically, but here we go. El Nino, that periodic warming of eastern Pacific waters, messes up weather patterns all around the world. It can really cause problems in Peru, which of course is right next to the eastern Pacific.

The water in the eastern Pacific gets warm, so you get more of those updrafts and storms that can cause heavy rain in Peru. That situation caused severe flooding in Peru in 1997 and 1998.

There was another very strong El Nino in 2014 through early 2016, but oddly, there wasn't all that much flooding in Peru then.  That puzzled scientists.

Now, El Nino is gone, so you'd think Peru would be safe from any big floods caused by this oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon. However, for some reason, the water temperature just off the coast of Peru skyrocketed in the past few months.

Scientists are even more puzzled by that.

This warm patch off the coast of Peru could lead to a more widepread El Nino, but so far that hasn't happened.

But the warm water lingers in the waters off Peru, so more flooding is a threat.


Meanwhile, in Australia, Cyclone Debbie has hit the northeast part of the nation with devastating force.

Cyclones in that part of the world are another name for hurricanes.
Satellite view of Cyclone Debbie in northeastern Australia.

And Debbie is a biggie. It just hit land overnight our time on the U.S. East Coast, which is during the day Tuesday in Australia.  Winds were reported as high as 165 mph.

Since the storm was ongoing as I write this, details from the disaster zone are sketchy.

Early reports and video emerging from near where the cyclone made landfall indicate major damage, with roofs blown from homes, storm surges and other damage. We don't know yet if there have been any deaths, but injuries have been reported, according to The Guardian. 

Debbie made landfall at a series of very nice islands and coastal locations popular with tourists.

One tourist stuck there during the cyclone said the streets are littered with metal roofing and golf carts that have been flung around by the winds. In hotels, people stayed away from windows as the panes flexed in and out amid the destructive winds, The Guardian said. 

The tourist, named Peter Langtree, said the noise from Debbie was incredibly loud and scary. "The noise is like nothing I've ever heard before I guess if you had to explain it, it would be similar to standing next to a 747 at take off."

Cyclones hit Australia from time to time, almost always on the northern coasts of the nation, but this one was much stronger than usual. It was the worst cycline since at least 2007. It might turn out to be one of the worst cyclones in Australian history.

Some videos:

This video shows damage and strong winds from Debbie in Airlie, Australia:

This rather loud video shows Debbie at peak force. Looks scary to me!

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