Earth ChangesS

Cloud Lightning

Irish priests pray for sun as deluge brings farmers to their knees

© UnknownFiremen pumping water from outside a pub in Athea, Co Limerick yesterday.
A heartfelt plea is being sent up to a higher power on behalf of stricken farmers.

After a miserable summer of record-breaking rainfall, farm families are facing massive financial losses -- as they struggle to salvage this year's crops.

The dire situation has caused the Bishop of Ferns, Dr Denis Brennan, to intervene -- by calling on all priests in his diocese to pray for fine weather to keep farmers afloat.

The heavy rainfall, meanwhile, put emergency services on standby as flooding struck many parts of the country, with Limerick and Kerry among the worst-hit counties.

A number of festivals and events have also fallen victim to the deluges, including racing at Killarney and animal welfare group the ISPCA's annual festival.


Java quake toll hits 46, dozens trapped

© Unknown
The death toll from Wednesday's 7.3 magnitude tremor in Indonesia's Java island has hit 46 while many others remain trapped under debris.

In Cianjur district south of the capital Jakarta, rescue workers, joined by police and army, are searching for people buried under the rubble, digging them out manually with hoes, while authorities hope to bring in the heavy machinery soon.

"There are 46 people dead (across Java) and about 42 are still buried in Cianjur. Their chances of surviving are slim," disaster management agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono told AFP.

In the village of Cikangkareng, the earthquake caused landslides burying a dozen houses some 20 meters under.

Bizarro Earth

Strongest Storms Each Year This Decade: 2008, Super Typhoon Jangmi

© Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen, based on MODIS data
Cyclone Nargis, which killed tens of thousands of people when it struck Burma (Myanmar) in May, was more devastating, but the title of "strongest storm of 2008" goes to Super Typhoon Jangmi, shown in this image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite from September 27, 2008. The image comes from the Earth Observatory's new World of Change: Severe Storms feature, a collection of images of the strongest storm each year from the past decade.

Seen from space, even a super typhoon seems more beautiful than dangerous. The 50-kilometer-wide eye of Jangmi is encircled by a smooth disk of clouds. Bands of clouds swirl gracefully into the low-pressure heart of the storm. The smooth cloud band north of the eye is studded with thunderstorms.

Bizarro Earth

7.0 Indonesian quake kills 32, flattens homes

© Unknown
Jakarta - A disaster management official says the death toll from a powerful Indonesian earthquake has more than doubled to 32.

Social Affairs Ministry official Mardi says more than 700 houses and buildings have been badly damaged in Wednesday's 7.0 magnitude quake.

Scores of people have been injured.

Many of the victims died when their homes were buried in a landslide triggered by the temblor.

The official Antara news agency reports about 30 people are trapped under rocks and dirt from the landslide in one village.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake struck at 2:55 p.m. (0755 GMT) off the southern coast of the main island of Java. A tsunami alert was issued but revoked less than an hour later.

Cow Skull

Firefighters battle to save LA's communications hub as wildfire nears city

© Vibro1Mount Wilson on fire 15 miles from downtown LA
Higher humidity and a bit lower temperatures help crews battling the Station fire in the Angeles National Forest. But the northern and southeastern fronts could re-erupt, officials said.

Higher humidity and slightly lower temperatures helped firefighters inch closer to subduing the monstrous fire that has lashed about the San Gabriel Mountains for a week, but they were scrambling late Tuesday in gusty winds to keep it from overrunning Mt. Wilson.

The reprieve from extremely dry weather had fire crews feverishly setting back fires and cutting fire lines throughout the day, raising the blaze's containment to 22% in the evening, up from 5% the night before. Southwest winds largely pushed the fire deeper into the forest.

Evacuation orders were lifted in much of La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta. But fire officials still worried about the northern flank of the fire, from Agua Dulce to Littlerock, and said the blaze could reemerge as a threat to homes in the foothills of Sierra Madre and points east.

Cloud Lightning

Hurricane Jimena lashes Mexican Pacific resort

Los Cabos - Hurricane Jimena slammed Mexico's Baja California peninsula with howling winds on Tuesday and drenched the upscale Los Cabos resort area where tourists hunkered in boarded-up hotels.

The storm's wind speed eased as it neared land, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Jimena was now a Category 3 storm with 120 miles per hour winds with higher gusts, rather than an extremely dangerous Category 4.


Sun Run of 51 Days Without a Spot Now Among the Top 5 Longest

Sunday, August 30th marks the 51st straight day without a sunspot, one of the longest stretches in a century. One more day and we have a spotless month (we had some by some accounts one last August but a few observatories thought they saw a spot on the sun for a few hours one day). It would be either the first or second spotless month since 1913 depending on whether you count last August as spotless.

In fact it rises into 4th place among all spotless periods since 1849 (first table here). Note: It is 5th place if you accept a spotless August 2008 which would have led to a stretch of 52 days. The total number of spotless days this transition from cycle 23 to 24 is now 704, exceeding the number for cycle 15 in the early 1900s (See Graph here).

We have had 193 spotless days this year (79% of the days). We are in the top 20 years in 16th place. We will very likely rapidly rise up the list in upcoming weeks and rival 2008's 266 days and likely end in the top 5 years. 2007, 2008, 2009 will only have 1911, 1912, 1913 in the top 20 as string of 3 per transition (See Graph here).


Global warming and the sun

Recent studies seem to show that there's more to climate change than we know.

Assuming there are no sunspots today, a 96-year record will have been broken: 53 days without any solar blemishes, giant magnetic disruptions on the sun's surface that cause solar flares. That would be the fourth-longest stretch of stellar solar complexion since 1849. Wait, it gets even more exciting.

During what scientist call the Maunder Minimum -- a period of solar inactivity from 1645 to 1715 -- the world experienced the worst of the cold streak dubbed the Little Ice Age. At Christmastime, Londoners ice skated on the Thames, and New Yorkers (then New Amsterdamers) sometimes walked over the Hudson from Manhattan to Staten Island.

Of course, it could have been a coincidence. The Little Ice Age began before the onset of the Maunder Minimum. Many scientists think volcanic activity was a more likely, or at least a more significant, culprit. Or perhaps the big chill was, in the words of scientist Alan Cutler, writing in the Washington Post in 1997, a "one-two punch from a dimmer sun and a dustier atmosphere."

Well, we just might find out. A new study in the American Geophysical Union's journal Eos suggests that we may be heading into another quiet phase similar to the Maunder Minimum.

Better Earth

Map Characterizes Active Lakes Below Antarctic Ice

© Ben Smith, University of WashingtonDots represent the locations where scientists have identified 124 active lakes below the ice sheet in Antarctica. Warmer colors (orange and red) depict lakes with larger water volumes while cooler colors (green and blue) depict lakes with smaller volumes. Purple areas show the locations of previously known inactive lakes.
Lakes in Antarctica, concealed under miles of ice, require scientists to come up with creative ways to identify and analyze these hidden features. Now, researchers using space-based lasers on a NASA satellite have created the most comprehensive inventory of lakes that actively drain or fill under Antarctica's ice. They have revealed a continental plumbing system that is more dynamic than scientists thought.

"Even though Antarctica's ice sheet looks static, the more we watch it, the more we see there is activity going on there all the time," said Benjamin Smith of the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study.

Unlike most lakes, Antarctic lakes are under pressure from the ice above. That pressure can push melt water from place to place like water in a squeezed balloon. The water moves under the ice in a broad, thin layer, but also through a linked cavity system. This flow can resupply other lakes near and far.

Bizarro Earth

US: Summer's cold shoulder

The past months have been cool and dry. Now it's time for fall.

Milwaukee - Summer is over. Maybe now we can put away our mittens and sweat shirts.

If it seemed as if summer lasted a day or two this year, the meteorologists who keep track of these things concur.

Madison shivered through its coldest July on record, Miller Park's roof has been closed 34 times, the high temperature in Milwaukee on July 1 reached only 64 degrees, and it was eerily quiet at the National Weather Service office in Green Bay.

While it's possible there might have been fewer cases of sunburn and heat stroke, the relatively cold and dry weather did have its benefits.

The Green Bay office of the weather service issued zero severe weather reports. That means there were no tornadoes, no hail measuring at least 1 inch or thunderstorms with winds of 58 mph or greater in an area that covers roughly the state's top right quadrant.

"For farmers and people that don't want to put new roofs on their houses, that's a good thing," said Jeff Craven, National Weather Service science and operations officer in Sullivan.

Though purists will point out that summer actually ends Sept. 21, weather forecasters treat it as June, July and August. This year's meteorological summer will be remembered for being as cool and dry as a martini.

In Milwaukee, the average temperature in July was 3.5 degrees below normal with only 0.71 inch of rain, the fourth driest on record. August was 1.5 degrees below normal.

Madison's average July temperature - a combination of the daily highs and lows - was 65.7 degrees, 5.9 degrees below normal. That easily beat the previous record of 66.7 degrees set in 1891.