Monster Pacific cyclone Harold batters Fiji
Damage caused by Harold near Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila is shown on April 7. The storm is now moving towards Fiji
A deadly Pacific storm slammed into Fiji on Wednesday, tearing off roofs and flooding towns, after leaving a trail of destruction in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Tropical Cyclone Harold weakened slightly overnight from a scale-topping Category Five to a Four, but was still lashing Fiji with winds of up to 240 kilometres per hour (150 miles per hour), forecasters said.
The official NaDraki weather service said the cyclone was offshore south of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, but passing closer to land than initially expected.
Despite the downgrade, it said Harold remained „extremely dangerous” and advised residents in the island’s south to shelter in churches, schools or other substantial buildings.
Images on social media showed extensive damage at Nausori, just outside Suva, with corrugated iron roofs peeled back by the ferocious winds.
The main street of Ba, in the island’s north, was submerged after the local river burst its banks.
The National Disaster Management Office said residents along much of the south coast, home to many of the country’s major tourist resorts, should evacuate.
„We are expecting a significant storm surge to be very dangerous for those living in coastal areas, we urge you to move to higher ground,” it said.
NDMO director Vasiti Soko said evacuation centres had been set up and officials were attempting to maintain social distancing to ensure COVID-19 did not spread among those fleeing the cyclone.
Fiji has 15 cases of the coronavirus, with all known sufferers in quarantine before the cyclone hit.
– Town ‘obliterated’ –
Harold claimed 27 lives in the Solomon Islands last week, and on Tuesday tore through Vanuatu, destroying much of the country’s second-largest town Luganville.
World Vision’s Vanuatu director Kendra Gates Derousseau said an aerial survey carried out by disaster officials late Tuesday showed the town of Melsisi on Pentecost island had also been devastated.
„We’ve done some programming there in the past, so I can recognise the landmarks — you can see that 90 percent of all buildings are obliterated, is the term I’d use,” she told AFP.
A massive international aid effort was launched after the last Category Five storm to hit Vanuatu, Cyclone Pam in 2015, flattened the capital Port Vila.
But Vanuatu’s international borders are currently closed as the impoverished Pacific nation bids to remain one of the world’s few places with no confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The government has revoked a domestic travel ban imposed as part of its virus response, which will allow disaster relief to flow from Port Vila to the worst-hit islands in the north.
New Zealand said it had deployed a P-3 Orion aircraft to help with damage assessments and allocated NZ$500,000 (US$300,000) in aid funding for essential supplies.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Wellington would provide further assistance if requested by Vanuatu.
„We are aware that the Government of Vanuatu is running a ‘keep it out’ strategy, and we will give serious consideration to ensure that any response to the Cyclone does not lead to the spread of COVID-19 to Vanuatu,” he said.
The cyclone formed off the Solomons last week, where it washed dozens of passengers from an inter-island ferry into the sea.
It was initially expected to only reach Category Three.
Latest forecasts say it will brush past Tonga early Thursday, still at Category Four strength, before petering out over the sea by the weekend.
Climate change has made California’s fire seasons worse: Study
While the world wrestles with the immediate impacts of the coronavirus crisis, the more gradual climate crisis continues to accelerate in the background. New research released by a team of scientists at Stanford University shows human-caused warming is playing a considerable inflammatory role in California fire seasons.
The study finds that since the 1980s, the frequency of autumn days with extreme fire weather conditions has more than doubled. By examining both historical weather observations and computer model simulations, the team finds this increase in ripe fire conditions is being fueled by a combination of less rainfall and warmer temperatures.
In recent years, fire seasons in California have grown more catastrophic. Of the 20 largest fires that have occurred since the 1930s, 15 have come in the past 20 years; the Mendicino Complex fire in 2018 and the Thomas fire in 2017 were the largest.
A timeline of the 20 largest wildfires in California since the 1930s. Fifteen of them have occurred in the last 20 years. Climate Signals
Rainfall during fire season has dropped off by 30%, while temperatures have increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1980s. While the decrease in rain is meaningful, the bigger factor is warmer air, which powers increased evaporation. That creates a moisture deficit and dries out the brush and soil, making for tinder box conditions.
The most pronounced warming has occurred in the late summer and early autumn, which coincides with both the dry season and „Diablo” and „Santa Ana” wind events in California. These strong, dry wind events fan the flames, leading to out of control wildfires.
The research team used climate model simulations in order to determine if the changes observed in the past few decades are due to human-caused climate change. They found a significant connection.
„It’s striking just how strong of an influence climate change has already had on extreme fire weather conditions throughout the state,” said study co-author Daniel Swain, a research fellow at UCLA. „It represents yet another piece of evidence that climate change is already having a discernible influence on day-to-day life in California.”
Spring snowpack is another known indicator that helps determine fire conditions in the forthcoming fire season. Less snow tends to melt off faster, leading to drier conditions earlier.
This year, snowpack has been running far below normal, but this past weekend’s heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada has helped narrow the deficit some.
Nearly 3 feet of snow over the weekend helped boost the Sierra snowpack to 61% of average. 66% North, 64% Central, 49% South respectively. That’s a decent jump from the 40% statewide one month ago. #CAwx @nbcbayarea pic.twitter.com/WzAqSS55oY
— Rob Mayeda (@RobMayeda) April 6, 2020
„The recent storm has taken us from a very precarious position to a less precarious position,” says study senior author Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.
But, „global warming, over the long term, means that these conditions are more likely to be followed by a hot summer and autumn,” Diffenbaugh warned.
If that weather transpires as Diffenbaugh predicts, extreme fire conditions will become more likely this upcoming fire season. With emergency resources already strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are concerned the crisis will hamper efforts to both prepare and respond.
The complexity of dealing with multiple crises at the same time is a common concern among scientists, and why climate change is known as a threat multiplier. „The system is designed for historical conditions, but with climate change, fire seasons intensify, expand and intersect with other emergencies, forcing us to fight multiple overlapping disasters at the same time,” explains Diffenbaugh.
The team’s climate model analyses suggest that climate change will continue to amplify the number of days with extreme fire weather through the end of this century. But they stress that adherence to the U.N. Paris Agreement commitments, through reduction of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, can substantially curb that increase.
Is the US electric grid ready for changes brought on by coronavirus pandemic? — Jurnalist John Roach•Manhattan office buildings are shells of the bustling centers they were just a month ago now that the new coronavirus has led to social distancing and isolation to limit the spread of COVID-19. Whether working at home – or not working because of a job loss – more people in the U.S. are in their residences just as higher temperatures are set to kick in. Is the electric grid ready as Americans collectively reach for their air conditioners?The answer is some combination of yes and we’ll see. The fact is, the current situation is a whole new world for energy providers.”I can’t conceive of anything that’s comparable in this way,” Con Edison spokesperson Michael Clendenin told AccuWeather. „You have major storms … pass through and you might have outages that last a few days, but this is different. This is a continued thing for a month or more.”Con Edison supplies power to New York City and Westchester County, a suburb just north of New York City — a region that includes 10 million customers, according to the company, and is smack in the middle of the outbreak‘s epicenter. „People are working from home, commercial properties are not in full gear, there’s a shift in demand [to private residences] – we’ll have to see what it means,” Clendenin said.
AccuWeather is predicting higher-than-normal temperatures almost everywhere – from Orlando to Dallas-Fort Worth and out to Burbank, California – over the next three months, based on the exclusive AccuWeather 90-day forecast, which is available at AccuWeather.com (search your city to view the monthly outlook).The higher temperature departures — the actual temperature compared to the average temperature — do not mean it will be warm all the time; if that were the case, the numbers would be even higher, according to AccuWeather meteorologists. For example, cooler air will be in place through mid-April from the southern Plains to the Southwest, then turning milder. Longer, cooler spells or periods will hold back overall temperatures in parts of the Northeast, northern Plains and northern and central Rockies.
However, the temperature departures will be increased significantly in the Southeast – Florida, in particular – in April and the West, especially California and Nevada, later in April and May.
Electricity providers told AccuWeather they all are prepared for what’s happening now and for what’s ahead.
„We have robust plans to ensure that we are able to deliver clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy for our customers – today and for the future,” PEPCO spokesperson Christina Harper told AccuWeather. PEPCO serves 883,000 customers in Maryland and the District of Columbia. „Our crews are working to address ongoing maintenance and upgrades that are necessary to ensure continued reliable energy service and to address any issues that may arise, which we recognize is of utmost importance as more and more people are at home and essential businesses are relying on us more than ever.”
The higher temperatures shouldn’t be a problem, either. „We work throughout the year to ensure our system is always prepared,” PECO spokesperson Greg Smore told AccuWeather. PECO is Pennsylvania’s largest electric and natural gas utility serving more than 1.6 million electric customers. „This includes long-range planning for extreme temperatures we may experience in the summer and winter months. Because of this forecasting and planning, we do not anticipate current weather forecasts to have an impact on our system.”
For now, overall electricity usage is largely unchanged, providers tell AccuWeather; the demand, however, has shifted.
„It’s important to remember that even though we are seeing greater consumption among residential customers staying at home, especially with warmer temperatures in some of our service areas, we’re generally seeing lower usage among many businesses and industry that have temporarily closed or instituted work-from-home practices,” Duke Energy spokesperson Neil Nissan told AccuWeather. Duke Energy is one of the largest electric power holding companies in the U.S., providing electricity to 7.7 million customers in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
|A lone jogger runs on a partially empty 7th Avenue, resulting from citywide restrictions calling for people to stay indoors and maintain social distancing in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, Saturday March 28, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)|
„It’s kind of a wash right now,” Con Edison’s Clendenin said of recent usage in the New York City area. „I’ve seen reports that put the estimate at 5 to 15 percent higher usage in residential homes, but we are seeing less usage in Manhattan and all of the other boroughs where you have commercial buildings.”
One plus for Americans is the substantial drop in the prices of natural gas and crude oil over the last year could lead to savings on electricity costs. „Even though it’s going to be a hotter summer, there will probably be lower costs where the electricity costs are brought down in concert with the underlying cost of fuel,” AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers said. Natural gas and oil, among other things, are used in the production of electricity.
Crude oil prices have plummeted 55 percent year-over-year, while natural gas prices are 34 percent lower. „That brings down the price of electricity,” Con Edison’s Clendenin said. „[Customers] will [see lower prices]; the supply cost is a direct pass-through.”
Energy providers encourage customers to conserve energy to increase their savings. Suggestions from PEPCO’s Harper include:
- Set thermostats a few degrees lower when heating and higher when cooling to reduce energy use.
- Wash full loads of laundry in cold water.
- Switch to LED light bulbs to cut lighting costs by 70 percent or more.
- Unplug electronics and turn off lights when not in use.
Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.