MAY 2016




India and many parts of south-east Asia have been struggling with a severe heatwave, caused in part by the El Nino conditions across the Pacific (4th). El Nino, characterized by warmer than normal Pacific equatorial waters, has continued for several months and has been the strongest such event on record. Although the El Nino has begun to weaken rapidly in recent weeks its effects are still being felt, especially in exacerbating the hot and dry conditions across India and south-east Asia. Temperatures in Thailand exceeded 40C (104F) every day during April, while neighboring Cambodia and Laos have set all-time temperature records during the heatwave. The Indian state of Bihar last week implemented a ban on cooking between 9am and 6pm, in an attempt to prevent accidental fires. Meanwhile in Darwin, Australia, the start of the dry season was interrupted on the 3rd by a storm that brought torrential rain and frequent lightning. At at Darwin airport 47.2mm (1.85in) of rain was recorded in 90 minutes, more than twice the average rainfall for the whole of May. The recent wet season in Darwin has been unusually dry, another symptom of the strong El Nio. Further south in Australia, there was heavy rain and damaging winds across Tasmania and Victoria over the past few days as an active cold front moved through. Wind gusts exceeded 60mph in places, bringing down trees and damaging buildings, and waves in excess of six meters battered many western coastal areas.


Chinese president Xi Jinping has ordered 'maximum efforts' to find survivors after dozens of people were buried by a landslide caused by heavy rains in south-east China (8th). On Monday domestic media said at least 41 people were missing after a torrent of boulders and mud tore through the construction site of a hydroelectric dam in Fujian province the previous morning. About 100,000 cubic meters of debris engulfed the riverside camp in Fujian's Tainan County at about 5am on Sunday.


Sixty-four people have reportedly been killed by lightning over the past two days during tropical storms across Bangladesh (12th-13). The reports said most of the deaths have occurred in rural Bangladesh, where farmers are busy with the harvesting season. The reports of casualties could not be verified independently, with lightning deaths not usually monitored by government agencies. Experts say increased deforestation and people's exposure to metal equipment like mobile phones are the reasons behind lightning deaths in Bangladesh.




The raging wildfire that forced the evacuation of the Alberta oil town of Fort McMurray intensified on Saturday as hot, dry weather whipped up fires around the beleaguered community (7th). Police continued to escort fresh convoys of evacuees out of the region as officials warned the fire could double in size this weekend. The blaze - the largest of more than 40 wildfires that are now burning across the province of Alberta - has forced virtually all the 88,000 residents of Fort McMurray to flee. The weather, which has seen temperatures rise to 28C, continues to hinder efforts to fight the wildfire, said Matthew Anderson, an official with the Alberta government. 'It's going to be a very extreme fire-hazard kind of day,' he said. 'The fire's growth potential is quite large.' The Alberta government, which declared a state of emergency last week, said the blaze had grown to cover more than 100,000 hectares (around 250,000 acres) or about 1,000 square kilometers (390 sq. miles). Aided by high winds, scorching heat and low humidity, the fire grew from 75 sq. km on Tuesday to 100 sq km on Wednesday, but by Thursday it was almost nine times that size, at 850 sq km. That is an area roughly the size of Calgary, Alberta's largest city. The full extent of property losses in Fort McMurray has yet to be determined, but authorities said on 1,600 structures were believed to have been destroyed. One analyst estimated insurance losses could exceed C$9bn (4.8bn). Entire neighborhoods have been burned to the ground, though most evacuees fled the town without knowing the eventual fate of their homes. The majority got away with only a few possessions and some were forced to leave pets behind. At least 10 oil-sands operators have cut production because of evacuations and other emergency measures that have complicated delivery of petroleum by rail, pipeline and highway. About half of Canada's oil-sands production capacity has been taken offline by the conflagration, according to Reuters. Although no deaths or injuries have been reported, Alberta's premier, Rachel Notley, warned on Saturday that the impact of the wildfire would be long-lasting. 'The city of Fort McMurray is not safe to return to, and this will be true for a significant period of time,' she said. This point was emphasized by Chad Morrison, Alberta's manager of wildfire prevention, who said he expected the fire to expand into more remote forested areas north-east and away from Fort McMurray. 'We have not seen rain of significance in this area for the last two months,' Morrison said. 'This fire will continue to burn for a very long time until we see some significant rain.'




Tornadoes killed two people, destroyed homes, overturned vehicles and stripped the bark from trees as they churned across Oklahoma, part of a strong series of storms that hit the plains (7th). At least two people died in weather so violent that forecasters declared a 'tornado emergency' for communities in the path of one of the twisters. The Storm Prediction Center said 23 tornadoes were reported across five states. 'You are in a life-threatening situation,' forecasters declared while warning the communities of Roff, population 725, and Hickory, population 71, which were ultimately spared major damage. 'Flying debris will be deadly to those caught without shelter.'


Severe weather erupted across the central U.S., unleashing multiple strong tornadoes (24th). One powerful tornado moved dangerously close to Dodge City, Kansas, tracking just west of the city center. The severe thunderstorm responsible for the twister was so powerful that at its strongest, it produced multiple tornadoes at the same time. Two people were critically injured as a result of the storm. None of the tornadoes moved into Dodge City itself, staying just west of the city. However, other tornadoes were reported in western Kansas, including near the towns of Ness City, Utica and Scott City. Preliminary reports from the National Weather Service in Dodge City, Kansas, supports a tornado producing at least EF-3 damage.




It has been unusually warm across much of eastern Australia so far this May. The high for Sydney was 28C on Tuesday (17th) when the average temperature for May is 19.5C. All the way from Brisbane down to even Hobart is warmer than average for this part of year, according to the Bureau of Meteorology In Brisbane the average high temperature for May is 23.2C - and so far this month not a day has failed to reach 24C. Canberra has also been warmer than the average May, with an average high of 18.9C so far this month compared with the usual 15.6C. And the effect has been felt as far south as Melbourne, where this month it has been 20.3C while the average May Day peaks at 16. 7C. The cause was warm ocean temperatures off the east coast and over northern Australia and prevailing winds bringing warm air from over the central part of the country to the eastern states.




Violent hailstorms over the weekend have wreaked havoc in Chablis, Cognac and Beaujolais, with one producer describing the situation as 'apocalyptic' (2th-28th). The hailstorms, which swept through parts of Chablis, Cognac and Beaujolais 27-28 May, have caused severe damage to vineyards. Fierce hail has damaged vines in the Chablis communes of Chiche, Courgis and Prhy. While the full extent of the damage is not yet known, France's national farming federation, FNSEA, has declared a 'state of catastrophe' in the worst hit areas. This isn't the first hailstorm to cause havoc in Chablis this year - the region was blighted by hail in early May and suffered from late spring frosts in April. In Beaujolais the damage was concentrated in the north of the region, where some plots in the Beaujolais Cru village of Chiroubles were completely destroyed. Cognac was also heavily hit, with around 7% of its vineyards (around 6,000 hectares of vines) affected by the storms that saw 15 cm of hail fall in 15 minutes. According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), the intensity of the storm 'caused considerable damage to varying degrees' and will lead to a smaller 2016 harvest.


11 people, including eight children and three adults, were hit by lighting in a Paris park amid stormy conditions on Saturday (28th), officials said. The people struck had sought shelter under a tree at the Park Monceau. Six of the victims, including four children and two adults, were seriously injured, a Paris fire service spokesman said.




Up to 500,000 people transferred to shelters as cyclone causes landslides, house collapses and embankments to break in Chittagong Cyclone Raoanu battered coastal Bangladesh on Saturday, killing at least 21 people and injuring many more. It has now weakened into a depression that, according to the weather office, could still bring brief periods of violent wind or rain. Several people were injured after winds damaged houses and shops and uprooted trees and electric poles. Some places were inundated by a storm surge of three to four feet (more than 1 metre) above normal tide height, officials said. Authorities evacuated people from hilly parts of Chittagong in case persistent rain triggered more landslides. Officials suspended flights at Chittagong airport, while the Bangladesh inland water transport authority restricted movement of all ships and ferries.


Jim G. Munley, jr.

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