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El Nino May Ease Worst Texas Drought, Cut Florida Storm Risk

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El Nino May Ease Worst Texas Drought, Cut Florida Storm Risk

El Nino, The return of an El Nino climate pattern to the Pacific Ocean may relieve the worst Texas drought in 90 years and may reduce the threat of hurricanes ravaging orange groves in Florida.

El Nino, characterized by warming waters in the Pacific, “could bring relief” in the fall and winter to Texas, where farms are suffering from the lack of rain, the National Weather Service said July 16. The El Nino will last through the Northern Hemisphere winter and into 2010, presaging winter storms in the Southwest and a reduction in Atlantic hurricanes, the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said July 9.

The threat of weather damage to U.S. crops helped send cotton to a 10-month high on July 21 on ICE Futures U.S. in New York, while orange-juice prices have surged 39 percent this year. Texas, which has lost $3.6 billion from the current drought, is the nation’s biggest cotton-growing state. Florida is the world’s largest grower of oranges after Brazil.

El Nino “would be a good thing for Texas,” said Drew Lerner, the president of forecaster World Weather Inc. in Overland Park, Kansas. “It would assure planting would occur more normally. There are less hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin in an El Nino year.”

Fewer storms also reduce the threat of damage to oil and natural-gas rigs scattered throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Crude- oil futures jumped 40 percent in 2005, touching a record high after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf.

Rain Aids Crops

Rain during the winter months helps Texas crops because the soil holds the moisture until planting in the spring, said Roger K.Haldenby, the vice president of operations for Plains Cotton Growers Inc. in Lubbock, Texas. Parts of the state have been in a drought since November 2007, according to the government.

Previous El Ninos have helped boost cotton production. After the climate pattern last developed in 2006-2007, Texas yielded 843 pounds of cotton per acre, more than at any time in at least five decades, according to government data.

“When there is a developing El Nino, in past years we’ve definitely noticed the southern part of the U.S., specifically Texas and the high plains of Texas, benefit from increased rainfall,” Haldenby said. “It’s a very important weather phenomenon for us. A wet winter from El Nino sets up the situation well for the following growing season.”

Ranchers Need Rain

Rains from El Nino also may help Texas ranchers reduce the cost of raising cattle by improving pastures, reducing the need to purchase hay or feedgrain. The state is the biggest U.S. cattle producer.

“We would hope it hurries up and develops,” said Bill Hyman, a rancher and executive director of the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas in Lockhart. “When you are ranching in a drought, you pay attention to weather. Hay costs about twice what it was in the last wet year.”

A bale of hay weighing 1,200 pounds (544 kilograms) costs $55 to $70 during a dry year, compared with $30 to $35 when rain aids pastures, Hyman said.

One of the first indicators of how El Nino conditions will affect the U.S. will be hurricane activity in the Atlantic next month, said Mike Palmerino, a senior agricultural meteorologist for Minneapolis-based DTN Meteorlogix LLC. The hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

Tropical storms gather pace in the Atlantic Ocean in August and peak around Sept. 10, said Chuck Caracozza, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Miami.

“If the tropical-storm-and-hurricane season is less active than normal, that will tell us this El Nino has the ability to impact weather patterns” later in the year, Palmerino said.

Citrus Crops

Florida’s orange production in the 2006-2007 season fell to the lowest since the 1989-1990 crop year after hurricanes ripped through groves in 2004 and 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Florida citrus growers, and really anyone tied to agriculture, are obsessive weather watchers,” Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for grower group Florida Citrus Mutual in Lakeland, said in an e-mail. “I’m sure they are following the El Nino patterns. If the forecast is fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic, then that’s terrific news and one less risk growers have to worry as much about.”

Palmerino, the DTN Meteorlogix forecaster, said a strong El Nino also may bring more rain to help ease a drought in California, the largest agricultural state, which produces everything from milk and beef to lettuce and strawberries. Winters also tend to be milder than normal in the northern U.S. and southern Canada during El Nino conditions, he said.

Corn, Soybeans

Corn and soybean harvests in the U.S., the largest grower and exporter, may benefit if El Nino delays frost in the Northern Hemisphere, extending the growing season after planting began later than usual this year, said Peter Meyer, an agricultural-product specialist for JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York.

El Nino may strengthen in the months ahead, according to NOAA.

“We believe the El Nino will remain weak to moderate through fall, and it could possibly strengthen thereafter,” said Michelle L’Heureux, who leads the El Nino Southern Oscillation team at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland. The Southern Oscillation Index refers to the atmospheric part of the climate pattern.

In June, surface temperatures in the east-central region of the Pacific met the threshold of reaching 0.5 degree Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) above average, indicating that an El Nino is developing, she said. Related indicators such as decreasing strength in east-to-west trade winds have been observed, L’Heureux said.

NOAA doesn’t expect the strength this year to reach the level of the 1997-1998 El Nino, which was “exceptionally” strong, L’Heureux said. The 2006-2007 event was classified as weak to moderate, after a weak El Nino in 2004-2005 and a strong pattern in 2002-2003, according to NOAA.

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China quake survivors spend second night in freezing cold

Battling bitingly cold weather and a lack of oxygen, rescue workers clawed with their bare hands through the rubble of homes and schools toppled by the 6.9 magnitude quake that hit Yushu county in Qinghai province on Wednesday.

Officials said medical teams and supplies such as tents and quilts were on their way to the zone, where doctors set up makeshift hospitals to treat victims of the deadliest quake in China in two years.

But thousands spent another night without shelter in freezing temperatures after the quake destroyed almost all the mudbrick and wooden houses in Jiegu, the local capital, and flattened schools.

“I lost my husband and I lost my house,” Gandan, a Jiegu resident, told AFP, her son and daughter at her side. All three were living in a tent with other people, with one bowl of barley to share.

“We don’t know what to do, we have no food,” she said, standing by the tent a stone’s throw from her collapsed mud and brick house.

China quake devastates stunned town

The number who perished rose to 760, including dozens of children, while 11,477 were injured, the official Xinhua news agency said, quoting rescue coordinators.

The death toll is expected to rise further, with 243 still buried, and local officials say they were short of medical supplies and large digging equipment.

“The rescue job in this disaster zone faces many difficulties,” said Miao Chonggang, of the China Earthquake Administration, which is coordinating more than 7,000 rescuers.

President Hu Jintao cut short a Latin American tour and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao postponed a trip to Southeast Asia.

Hu told a news conference in Brasilia the quake was “a huge calamity which resulted in big losses of human life”.

Chinese president calls quake ‘huge calamity’

Wen on Thursday visited the quake zone, an underdeveloped area of the Tibetan plateau known as the “Roof of the World”.

“The top priority is to save people. We will never give up even if there is only a slim hope,” Wen told a meeting at the quake-relief headquarters in Yushu, according to Xinhua.

Soldiers, police and firefighters used shovels, iron bars and bare hands to dig through the mangled piles of concrete and rubble from 15,000 toppled homes.

Foreign governments offered help as international aid officials warned that the priorities would be providing shelter, medical aid, food and water and ensuring sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.

Meanwhile tens of thousands of Internet users have been showing their solidarity with the quake victims by posting virtual flowers in online “mourning halls” and donating to appeals, Xinhua said.

Jiegu lies around 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the provincial capital Xining, about 4,000 metres above sea level, meaning rescue workers from outside the region struggled to cope with the lack of oxygen.

The government said electricity and phone links had been restored to dozens of towns but the difficult terrain, including deep canyons, and the bitter cold and remoteness of the area were hampering rescue efforts.

Dazed survivors told harrowing stories of loved ones crushed under their homes.

“There are 10 people in my family and only four of us escaped. One of my relatives died. All the others are buried under the rubble,” Samdrup Gyatso, 17, told Xinhua after his two-storey home crumbled.

Facts on China quake zone

Among the dead were at least 66 pupils and 10 teachers, Xinhua said, quoting local authorities, as grieving parents waited for news near the ruins of the schools, where discarded school books and clothes lay.

Xinhua said a baby boy had been born in a tent near the epicentre shortly after the quake.

“It must be the first life that came to the world after the disaster,” Huang Changmei, a doctor, told the agency.

“The baby brought hope to the ruined place.”

The devastation was reminiscent of the huge quake in May 2008 in Sichuan province, where thousands of children were among 87,000 deaths when their shoddily-constructed schools collapsed.

Schoolbooks strewn in China quake rubble as children perish

Xu Mei, of the education ministry, denied a media report that around 200 children had been buried in the ruins of a primary school in Wednesday’s quake.

In Beijing, Zou Ming, the head of the government’s disaster relief department, said nearly 40,000 tents, 120,000 articles of clothing, 120,000 quilts and food were being dispatched.

As Mumbai Spills Over, Floodwater Creeps Closer

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As Mumbai Spills Over, Floodwater Creeps Closer

MUMBAI, India — As this city prepared recently to inaugurate a shiny new bridge that officials promise will ease Mumbai’s chronic traffic jams, Dilip da Cunha was peering at the underbelly of the city’s waterways and drainage systems.

Taking two visitors on a tour of the busy causeway where the city’s befouled Mithi River meets the Arabian Sea near the new bridge, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, he pointed out a small clump of trees nearby under which several men were defecating.

The trees represented one of the last remaining species of the mangroves that once dominated the ecology of Mumbai, India’s financial capital and its most populous city. Over the decades, most of the wetlands of the Mithi River estuary that were home to such trees have given way to highways, slums, office buildings and apartment towers.

While the mangroves’ retreat has provided valuable acreage for Mumbai’s growth, Mr. da Cunha, who is one half of a husband-and-wife team that recently finished an exhaustive study of the city’s landscape, said their disappearance, along with the degradation of the city’s waterways, has made the city increasingly vulnerable to flooding during the monsoons.

“At some point there were many species of mangroves here, and they must have made this a fantastic wetland,” he said. “We have reduced these mangroves to almost a single species that have survived with the bad waters, the sewage that is around.”

In the summer of 2005, a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and parts of Mississippi, Mumbai received a record 37 inches of rain in 24 hours during high tide. Approximately 900 people died in those floods in the city and surrounding areas.

While Mumbai has spent millions on its drainage system since then, last week an overnight rain about one-tenth as severe as the 2005 downpour brought traffic and suburban trains in many parts of the city to a crawl during the morning rush hour.

Inspired by the 2005 floods, Mr. da Cunha and his wife, Anuradha Mathur, who teach design and landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, have spent the last two and a half years studying Mumbai and its uneasy relationship with water. They recently released their findings and 12 proposals for making the city more resilient to floods in the form of a museum exhibit and a book, both titled “Soak: Mumbai in an Estuary.”

They have documented the current state of the city’s waterways and mangroves and collected a trove of historical maps, images and documents dating back hundreds of years. They previously did similar, though less comprehensive, work on the Mississippi River and Bangalore.

Their findings show that a series of natural features like mangrove swamps and interconnected creeks once protected and shaped Mumbai, just as the bygone swamps of the Mississippi River delta once protected New Orleans. But those defenses were weakened over the years, dating to the days of British rule, as swamps were filled in, land was reclaimed from the sea and creeks were narrowed or diverted.

The historical maps and documents show little appreciation for those long-lost natural features. Most old maps make no mention of swamps, which were often labeled simply as “badlands.” There are few images of the trees and plants that made up these areas.

Moreover, boundaries between land and sea were never drawn as they existed during the monsoon, when the wetlands of the estuary expanded, only as they stood during the summer or winter. “The monsoon was seen as foul weather,” Ms. Mathur said. And “all of the planning is based on fair weather maps.”

Ms. Mathur and Mr. da Cunha, who both grew up in India but met in San Francisco, said they set out on their work in part to provide an alternative interpretation of Mumbai — to have it be recast as an estuary where salt and fresh water coexist rather than as an island that has to be protected from the water.

“We are sort of trying to find ways to visualize these complex landscapes,” Mr. da Cunha said.

Yet they also seem realistic and do not advocate returning the city to an earlier, more idyllic landscape. They propose a series of projects that, they say, would alter and tilt the landscape in ways that could reduce or contain flooding during the monsoon without displacing its vibrant population and commerce.

For instance, they advocate that maidans, or empty fields, often used as playgrounds or fairgrounds should be redesigned so they can hold flood waters during storms and connect streams to one another. They also recommend creating more passages to the sea for the Mithi River, which currently has only one outlet. Another proposal recommends creating and widening ditches that could serve as green belts in fair weather but would carry rainwater and surging saltwater from the sea in the west to outlets in the east.

Ms. Mathur, Mr. da Cunha and partners like the Asia Society have been able to enlist the help of powerful and influential backers for their work. One of them, the chief minister of Maharashtra State, of which Mumbai is the capital, spoke at the public opening of their exhibit and made the prestigious National Gallery of Modern Art available to house their work.

But it is unclear how much weight officials will give to their ideas, which are a world apart from city and state plans to use more traditional flood control approaches like pumping stations and river dredging. The chief minister, Ashok Chavan, who exerts significant control over the local government, praised the exhibit as educational but did not speak about any of its proposals.

Still, Ms. Mathur and Mr. da Cunha are hopeful that their ideas will have some lasting impact. Members of a wealthy family recently asked how they could help. They plan to ask the patron to provide the prize money for a competition in which engineers would design prototypes of one their proposals: toilet barges for the poor who live near the water. The barges would be equipped with technology to treat the sewage and perhaps turn it into energy.

Ms. Mathur said the barges could even dock under the new Bandra-Worli bridge when they are full and treating their cargo.

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