Thursday, January 13, 2011

Climate chaos across world as La Nina makes her mark

Megan Levy 
The Age, January 14, 2011

As Queenslanders battle the state's worst flooding disaster in decades, countries around the world are also grappling with climatic chaos that has killed hundreds and affected millions more.
In Brazil, more than 440 people were killed overnight when freakish storms in the mountainous area just north of Rio de Janeiro dumped the equivalent of a month's rain in just a few hours.
Flooding was so fierce in Sri Lanka that a dead elephant calf was discovered hanging high in a tree when waters receded.
Villagers discovered the calf near the Gal Oya river in northern Sri Lanka, which rose 5.5 metres above its normal height.
Thousands of animals, including elephants, water buffaloes and livestock are thought to have perished in the floods.
Parts of Sri Lanka and the Philippines are also currently underwater, with scores killed in flash floods and mudslides and hundreds of thousands more displaced.
Dr David Jones, climate analyst with the Bureau of Meteorology, said Australia and Brazil's weather patterns were being affected by La Niña, which results in the cooling of the sea temperatures of the tropical Pacific Ocean.
This La Niña was the strongest in decades and one of the strongest of the past century, he said.
"There is definitely a link between our weather and eastern Brazil's," Dr Jones said.
"La Niña sets the atmosphere up for floods. It doesn't mean you get them, but certainly it makes the floods more likely, both in eastern Australia and in the north-east of Brazil where we do see usually above average rainfall during La Niña events."
New research released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US also showed 2010 was the wettest ever recorded on the planet, he said.
"That tells you the hydrological cycle is very, very active at the moment," Dr Jones said.
"We've seen a lot of evaporation, we've seen a lot of rainfall around the planet and as best as we can tell, the highest rainfall on record. It was also the hottest year on record, 2010.
"At a whole range of different levels there's certainly drivers which would support this view that the world is seeing a lot of extreme weather at the moment."
Entire villages were flooded and hillside neighbourhoods collapsed overnight in Brazil's worst natural disaster in decades.
At least 448 people died and about 2,700 lost houses in the mountainous cities of Nova Friburgo, Teresopolis and Petropolis, about 65 kilometres north of Rio.
Mudslides sliced through towns and hamlets, destroying homes, roads and bridges and knocking out telephone and power lines.
The death toll was expected to rise further as rescuers arrived in remote hamlets, many cut off to all but helicopter access.
The death toll from a fortnight of heavy monsoon rains in central and southern Philippines has risen to 42, with an estimated 400,000 people displaced and more than one million affected by the sustained downpour.
Most of the dead either drowned or were buried by mudslides, Benito Ramos, head of the government's disaster agency, said.
Five people are still missing, including three fisherman.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said the rains - which became heavy at the start of the year - have affected 1.29 million people across 144 towns
About a third of the country's 80 provinces had been affected by the rains, which have destroyed roads and bridges, small rice and corn farms and houses made of light materials, Ramos said.
Sri Lanka
In eastern Sri Lanka, those displaced by the decades-long civil war and living in camps have now been made homeless for a second time by floods caused by days of heavy rain.
The death toll stands at 23 while an estimated 325,000 people have been forced out of their homes, with the torrential rain on the east coast forecast to continue.
The death toll is tipped to rise, as doctors brace for outbreaks of typhoid and diarrhoea as water supplies become contaminated.
Villages remain cut off from supplies despite a huge relief effort involving tens of thousands of troops.
Many villagers remain in their flooded homes despite a danger from snakes and crocodiles, while at least two people have been electrocuted.

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