On April 8th, a freak sandstorm swept across the town of Rostock in northern Germany. The sand and dust swept across a busy four-lane road near the Baltic Sea, causing an 80 car pileup. Twenty of the vehicles caught on fire after a truck carrying flammable material spilled. Eight people were reported killed and another 41 injured. Several of the injuries were serious, and there were fears the death toll could rise. The dust storm was driven by extremely dry conditions he past month across the country and strong winds blowing over recently ploughed fields.
During April, drought conditions persisted across eastern Africa, and particularly hard hit was Kenya and Somalia. The southwestern region of
Kenya was impacted the most, including Marsabit, Moyale, and Mandera. In those three regions alone, more than 17,000 heads of livestock died during 2011 to date due to lack of water and malnutrition. Many of the water sources completely dried up by April, and most of the remaining water sources were contaminated by water-borne diseases. An assessment by the United Nations found that the drought in East Africa has left eight million people in need of food aid, including with 1.2 million Kenyans. The rising cost of food also played a role in the shortages. The United Nations expected more people and livestock to perish due to the lack of potable water and food. The dry conditions also prompted migrations. Over 10,000 Kenyans migrated eastward into Uganda, while 10,000 Somalis migrated into Kenya. Meanwhile, more than 52,000 people have fled rural areas for the urban centers in search of water and food. The migration of people will continue to add strain to the fragile resources in the region.
Flooding rains across extreme southwestern Africa continued into April.
The rainy season for the region typically lasts from November to March, but this year it lasted longer than usual. The hardest hit nations were Namibia and Angola. Since the beginning of the year, 62 people have drowned in Namibia, and across both nations, the United Nations estimated more than 37,600 people have been displaced. On April 11th, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton promised aid to help the nation deal with the ongoing crisis. The heavy rains also completely filled the Kuiseb River, which flows through the very dry Namib Desert. On April 2nd, the Kuiseb River, which typically completely dries out before reaching the Atlantic Ocean, drained into the ocean for the first time since the 1960’s. The Swakop River, also reached the Atlantic Ocean on April 2^nd , the first time in five years.
On April 13th, a strong dust storm moved across the Middle East, affecting several Persian Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq. The dust storm was driven by a strong cold front moving across the deserts of Turkey and Syria into the Persian Gulf region. In Basra, Iraq, visibility dropped to just 165 feet (50 meters). Kuwait was particularly hard hit, prompting the country to halt all oil exports.
Kuwait is one of the world’s largest oil producers, pumping around 2.3 million barrels of crude oil into world markets daily. Schools and universities were also closed across the small nation, as the blowing dust reduced visibility to less than 350 feet (200 meters). According to media sources, this is the fourth dry winter in a row for the country, loosening desert sands. Dust storms are usually rare in winter, but become more common during the summer as hot temperatures return to the region.
Above-average snowfall and snowpack across the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains of the U.S. during the 2010/2011 winter primed the region for another spring of near-record flooding. The Red River which flows northward between the states of North Dakota and Minnesota into Canada, is particularly prone to spring flooding. These rivers and streams crested during the week of April 11th, causing the rivers to breach their banks. The first ten days of April brought particularly warm temperatures and rainfall to the region, causing an accelerated rise in the Red River, which rose more than seven feet (2.1 m) in 48 hours. In Fargo, North Dakota, the Red River crested at 38.6 feet (11.8 m), which is just shy of the record flooding which occurred in 2009 when the river crested at 40.8 feet (12.4 m). Thousands of volunteers and National Guard troops helped residents stack sandbags to keep the water out of towns. The governors of North Dakota and Minnesota declared states of emergency in the counties directly impacted by the flooding. Over 60 miles (97 km) of roads had to be closed due to flood water inundation. The flooding also impacted Winnipeg, Canada which is bisected by the Red River. Hundreds of volunteers helped sandbag Canada’s seventh largest city. Four people were reported to have died in flood waters in Minnesota. The death toll could have been higher, but communities in the region were well prepared for the floods, with this being the third consecutive spring with near-record flooding.
A large complex of severe weather moved across the southeastern quadrant of the United States on April 4^th , bringing reports of hail, severe winds, and tornadoes from Texas to Pennsylvania. Record warm temperatures ahead of a strong cold front primed the atmosphere for the severe weather outbreak. The fast moving complex traveled more than 800 miles (1290 km) in about 24 hours with an average speed of 30-40 mph (50-65 km/hr). At least nine people were reported to have been killed due to impacts of the storms. In Augusta, Georgia, a practice round of the Masterâ€™s golf tournament was delayed due to many of the famed magnolia trees along the course being destroyed. Strong winds tore the roof off an elementary school gymnasium in Tennessee, but fortunately no one was injured. Across Georgia and Tennessee, over 270,000 homes lost power. According to preliminary counts from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, there were 68 tornado reports, 90 hail reports, and 1,318 strong wind reports. After the local National Weather Service offices investigate these reports, it is likely that the number of strong wind reports within the 24-hour period will be a record breaker. The previous record for one-day severe wind reports was 455 on April 2nd, 2006.
A strong cyclone, dubbed a Nor’wester, hit Bangladesh on April 4th and 5th, killing 13 people and injuring 121. Media outlets reported that eight districts in the northern region of the country were hard hit with flooding rains, resulting in mudslides leveling hundreds of houses, and leaving thousands homeless. Hail also accompanied the storm, causing property damage and damage to a vast tract of corn, wheat, mango, and lychee orchards.
Unseasonable heavy rains caused landslides across the Caribbean island of Grenada on April 12th. April is typically part of the dry season for the island, and the rain caught many residents off guard. Up to six inches (152.4 mm) of rain fell in 24 hours, causing landslides. More than 20 families lost their homes. The storm also caused 15 fishing boats to wreck along the islandâ’s coast. Fortunately, there were no reports of fatalities, injuries, or missing persons.
Jim G. Munley, jr.
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