Tag Archives: Extreme Weather

Southern California Feels Strongest Santa Ana Winds in a Decade

Here’s some startling video from ABC News—the strong, dry offshore winds known as Santa Ana are hitting southern California unusually hard. Reaching speeds of 60 mph in Los Angeles and more than twice that in the mountains, the winds caused power outages, felled trees, and at one point blacked out LAX airport. Several other states are also experiencing high wind, including Utah, where 90 mph gusts reportedly toppled semi-trailer rigs.

Potential damage from the wind isn’t the only threat this sort of extreme weather carries; fire officials warn that such intense gusts can intensify the spread of brush fires.

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Killer Snowstorm Closes Major Highways in Plains and Southwest Indian Country

As predicted by the National Weather Service, the Great Plains area was hit with a violent blizzard early Tuesday morning affecting nearly all reservations within New Mexico, parts of the Navajo Nation, the Fort Apache and White Mountain Apache reservations, and the Kickapoo, Kickapoo/Sac and Fox, and Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation Reservations in eastern Kansas.

With ice-covered roads and zero visibility, several major interstates and highways have been shut down including Interstate 40, Interstate 25, and Interstate 70, leaving holiday travelers seeking refuge in local hotels. With hotels filling up quickly, authorities have received nearly 100 emergency rescue calls from motorists in the Texas Panhandle.

This massive storm has already claimed eleven lives. Dailymail.co.uk reports that four people driving through the harsh blizzard conditions were killed after colliding with a pickup truck in eastern New Mexico. Another five people were killed, including a toddler, after a single-engine plane crashed outside of Waco, TX. While in Colorado, a prison guard and inmate were found dead after crashing along one the ice-covered roads.

According to National Weather Service’s website, as of 9 am this morning snow fall had reached 15 inches in parts of Colorado and 24 inches in Pie Town, NM, just south of several of New Mexico reservations. Although the heaviest of the snow has passed, there are still winds ranging from 15 to 25 MPH and gusts could reach over 30 MPH. The site informs drivers that “Travel through the region will likely be extremely difficult… if not impossible during the day Tuesday.”

Manitoba Aboriginals Roadless, on Thin Ice as Temps Soar

Manitoba aboriginals are suffering from a lack of cold weather, as warmer than usual temperatures prevent the construction of ice roads to bring in supplies.

Unlike their Ontario counterparts in Attawapiskat, where First Nations are suffering from a surfeit of cold weather combined with shoddy housing, Manitoban aboriginals need the cold so they can make the ice roads to transport the annual 2,500 shipments of staples that come through by truck each year over 1,300 miles of ice roads, Grand Chief David Harper of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., the political advocacy organization for 30 northern Manitoba First Nations, told the Canadian Press.

A good 30,000 people who reside in 20 remote communities that are only road-accessible during winter depend on this connection, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. The alternative is prohibitively expensive fly-in delivery.

Current temperatures in and around Winnipeg were reaching 7 degrees Centigrade, or 44 degrees Fahrenheit, on January 5, and Environment Canada said such highs were likely to last for a few more weeks. The previous high was 4.3C, or 40F, in 1984, CBC News said. This time last year it was Nunavut and its capital, Iqaluit, that were dealing with a heat wave.

In Berens River First Nation the high temperatures have created a health emergency, CBC News reported on January 5. The community had run out of gasoline and could not fuel its ambulances. Chief George Kemp told CBC News that health workers were unable to reach home-care patients and said that 30 residents may have to evacuate.

The unseasonably warm weather also means weeks of delay for $5.5 million in supplies that are scheduled to be trucked in to help residents of the four First Nations communities of Island Lake obtain long-awaited running water, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. As the newspaper has reported extensively, most Island Lake homes “lack indoor plumbing, and many residents have less access to clean water each day than is recommended by the United Nations for refugee camps.”

The higher-than-usual temps are also keeping people off lake and river ice, as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have warned people away from such bodies of water.

This problem is not new, the Canadian Press points out. Supply trucks were stranded in 2010, CBC News reported, as winter roads thawed into muddy quagmires, prompting a few aboriginal chiefs to declare a state of emergency. Chief Harper told the Canadian Press that he plans to take the issue up with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Crown–First Nations Gathering to be held later this month.

There is a slight upside, as the Canadian Press reported: The floods that crippled Manitoba’s prairie communities may not happen this year, due to the lack of snow and thus melt.

Under 18 Feet of Snow, Cordova, Alaska Calls on National Guard (Videos)

The fishing town of Cordova, Alaska has seen 18 feet of snow this winter, and with the town of 2,239 residents (23% of them Native) buried in the white stuff, Mayor Jim Kallendar declared a state of emergency on Sunday and called in the National Guard.

The city’s website, CityofCordova.net, displays periodic updates on “Snowpocalypse 2012,” and the catchy nickname isn’t entirely hyperbole. According to a CBS news report, the accumulation is three times the average for the area; a resident says there is “more snow in Cordova than people and shovels to deal with it.”

An Associated Press dispatch reports that the snow has caused the collapse or partial collapse of at least three buildings and has rendered six homes “severely stressed.” There have been no reported injuries.

Dealing with the snow is part of the difficulty being faced by Cordovans; the other serious problem is that the town is very hard to reach at the moment. The only ways in are by boat and plane, and the airport has been largely out of commission due to bad weather. Additionally, the Copper River Highway, a 12-mile road that links the town to the airport, was closed due to an avalanche. The 70 National Guard members who arrived on Sunday did so by ferry.

The unusually harsh storms have dumped snow all over Southcentral Alaska. Valdez, located about 60 miles north of Cordova, is likely to eclipse its all-time record seasonal accumulation of 560 inches, according to the Anchorage Daily News, and Anchorage itself has been challenged to keep the streets clear and maintain basic services. According to an earlier article in the Anchorage Daily News, the city saw just six days without measurable snowfall in all of December.

Meanwhile, 700 miles to the northwest of Cordova, a different drama is unfolding for icebound Nome. The community faces a serious shortage of gasoline, caused due to a fall shipment being delayed and then canceled because of ice. A shipment is on the way, but it’s slow and careful going: With the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy cutting through three feet of ice, a Russian tanker loaded with 1.3 million gallons of petroleum products plods on behind it at a speed of between two and five miles per hour. The population of Nome is roughly half Native.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Fuel Reaches Nome; Cordova Keeps Digging

The Russian tanker Renda, carrying much-needed fuel to Nome, Alaska, has arrived. The Wall Street Journal reports that the ship remains offshore, unable to enter the ice-bound harbor, and that the fuel will be conveyed to Nome by means of a mile-long hose. That’s easier said than done, though. As a Fox News article explains, the Renda must be close enough to shore to attach to the hose, but not so close that it is in water too shallow for the Coast Guard ice breaker Healy to free it from the ice when it is empty.

The supply of gas and heating oil will mean the world to Nome residents, although the current $6-a-gallon price of gas isn’t likely to budge. Jason Evans, chairman of Sitnasuak Native Corp., the Alaska Native Corporation that arranged for the Renda shipment, told the Journal that under the alternate plan of flying gas into Nome, the price would have spiked to $9 a gallon.

Meanwhile, 700 miles to the southeast, the snowbound town of Cordova continues to dig out and watch the weather. Speaking to NPR, local innkeeper Wendy Rainey described nonstop digging, but also a break in the snow that brings its own issues — in particular, treacherous ice. “We’ll keep going because this is only the beginning of the winter,” she added.

As previously reported, residents aren’t alone in their efforts — the National Guard is in Cordova to lend its help. Here’s a video made by a Guardsman and posted to the Department of Defense website:

Click here to view the embedded video.

In Nome, Fuel Begins to Flow

A follow-up to our previous stories about the Russian tanker Renda’s arduous journey to fuel-strapped Nome, Alaska: The tanker has arrived, the 700-foot hoses have been attached, and the fuel is flowing. So far, so good. If all goes well, the transfer be completed in a few days, and Nome will have the fuel it needs for the winter. The icebreaker Healy will then have to free the icebound Renda.

For more details, see the AP news report below:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Monster Seattle Snowstorm: Perspectives From the Tulalip Nation

The snow has hit and stayed at the Tulalip Reservation, located in Tulalip, Washington, half an hour north of Seattle. Surrounded by towering cedar, pine, hemlock and fir trees and nestled on the beautiful waters of the Tulalip Bay, the Tulalip Reservation and surrounding areas haven’t seen this much snow in years.

The Northwest Indian College is the only regional Tribal college in the nation, with many of our sites closed this week due to the inclement weather and power outages. Our Nez Perce site, with classes in Kamiah and Lapwai, has been opened sporadically this week, while sites at Nisqually, Tulalip, Port Gamble, Swinomish and Muckleshoot have all been closed, as well as our main campus at Lummi.

 Monster Seattle Snowstorm: Perspectives From the Tulalip Nation

Snow on the Tulalip Reservation by Renee Roman Nose

 Monster Seattle Snowstorm: Perspectives From the Tulalip Nation

Tulalip freeway sign by Renee Roman Nose

 Monster Seattle Snowstorm: Perspectives From the Tulalip Nation

Tulalip eagle by Renee Roman Nose

 Monster Seattle Snowstorm: Perspectives From the Tulalip Nation

Tulalip reeds by Renee Roman Nose

 Monster Seattle Snowstorm: Perspectives From the Tulalip Nation

Tulalip frozen orca by Renee Roman Nose

 Monster Seattle Snowstorm: Perspectives From the Tulalip Nation

Renee Roman Nose

I live on the Tulalip Reservation and, thanks to the intrepid Deborah Saluskin, enrolled Assiniboine Sioux, with family at Upper Skagit, Samish, Swinomish and Tulalip, we were able to brave the elements and ventured out to the Quil Ceda Village to purchase tire chains for her van. During our travels we stopped several times so I could take photos in front of the Tulalip Resort, and throughout the Tulalip Reservation, trying to capture the beauty of Tulalip cloaked in winter white.

Tribal and community members have tucked in and rode out the weather for the most part, staying with friends and family to ride out the storms. My home has been no exception, with three friends now staying here until the weather breaks. Our home has been filled with space heaters, food and laughter, along with Canoe Journey songs and the sharing of stories. Sometimes the weather brings out the worst in people and in places. This time it has brought out the best at Tulalip as we come together to weather the storms, build snowmen, toss a few snowballs, walk in the snow, share our salmon and our stories.

All photos taken by Renee Roman Nose, enrolled member of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, M.A.I.S., NWIC Tulalip Site Manager.

Snow Slams Colorado

From a dusting of snow in Hopiland northward into a slow-moving blizzard in Colorado and the eastern Plains, a record-breaking storm is delaying travel, causing abundant fender-benders, and amazing those who thought recent spring-like weather would continue through February.

Click here for an ever-growing gallery of reader-submitted photos (like the one of Klondike the golden retriever, above) at DenverPost.com.

Punxsutawney Phil, the prognosticating groundhog who predicted six more weeks of winter, outdid other groundhogs who foresaw an early spring, at least in Colorado’s capital.

Denver had accumulated about 1 foot of snow by midday Friday, when schools, businesses and government offices were closed, ski resorts rejoiced and ecstatic students took to sleds and snowboards to celebrate the fluffy white stuff.

Snow totals in the city were at least double along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The forecast called for snow Saturday tapering off slowly and ending in a sunny Super Bowl day.

In the meantime, however, Mother Nature’s surprise blizzard caused long lines at grocery stores, gas stations, and everywhere else people thought they had to be for survival even though most could have weathered a two-day inconvenience readily in a region known for weather extremes.

The only real hazard seemed to be the rigors of shoveling sidewalks and driveways and avoiding the inevitable fender-benders, although mountain travel into Denver lived up to the dangers associated with the weather warning issued in the area until late Friday. More than a hundred flights were canceled at Denver International Airport.

Denver had its full contingent of 68 large snow plows on the streets throughout the night after snow began falling late Thursday and the city planned to also plow side streets at least once, according to The Denver Post.

The city could break a century-old record for the heaviest snowfall in February from a single storm if snow continues to pile up through Saturday. The record of slightly more than 14 inches was set in 1912.

From snowstorms in midwinter to extreme bouts of hail in midsummer, the Denver area embodies the old saw that “If you don’t like the weather today, wait until tomorrow” as an apt description of its changeable climate.

Native Knowledge and Modern Science Foresee Ill Effects of Mild Winter

There’s no denying the lower 48 has had an unseasonably warm winter thus far. A balmy winter season may seem like a well-needed reprieve that we all should celebrate, but scientists warn there are consequences for such imbalance in a temperate climate where animals, plants and even us humans are specifically adapted for four seasons.

Expect to see increased numbers of biting insects out earlier than usual this year. Cold weather triggers diapause—a prolonged sleep period similar to hibernation that occurs in insects like mosquitoes, flies and ticks. Without the cold necessary to put them to sleep, these insects will have more time to reproduce, increasing their numbers. Typically we see these insect populations peak in late summer. This year, we could see a population spike much earlier. Biting insects also serve as vectors for certain blood borne diseases, like West Nile (transferred by mosquitoes) and Lyme Disease (carried by deer ticks). If there is an increase in these insect populations, we could see a greater number of humans contracting these illnesses, and earlier. A lack of cold weather allows pathogens to proliferate too. Gardeners and farmers could see above average rates of disease in produce as a result.

Traditional Native practitioners of food and medicine are also experiencing difficulty due to the mild winter. Dr. Ed Galindo, (Yaqui) a faculty member at the University of Idaho, and an affiliate faculty member at both Idaho State University (Biology), and Utah State University (Physics), is working with a Frank Finley (Salish Kootenai), a faculty member at Salish Kootenai College, who is researching the effects of this mild winter on plants and wildlife.

“What we are finding is that native plants are coming out of winter hibernation very early and they are smaller in size. This is a concern for tribal members, mainly Elders, who have a set ‘time’ in their minds when to look for the plants and may have a hard time seeing them,” Dr. Galindo warns.

Another concern is that after months of mild winter, we’ll see a sudden freeze after plants and crops have already begun to de-winterize. If a budding plant freezes, it will likely die before the growing season has even begun.

Fauna are being affected by a warmer winter season too. Dr. Galindo states, “As far as animals, we have seen migration patterns start to change as well. For example, many geese that use to go south for the winter now stay year round. I worry about this as they may not find all the food they need for the winter and they will have their young that now will stay year round.”

Amphibians are particularly susceptible to cold temperatures, and a lack of snowfall prevents them from finding the insulation they need to survive, especially if a freeze occurs after a mild winter.

Warmer temps could fool hibernating animals into leaving their dens much earlier. This could present a danger to humans who live in areas where they may come into contact with a bear that’s been awakened too early from his typically long winter’s nap.

Those who raise animals or livestock could also see an increase in diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

Fish like the salmon are more susceptible to bacterial kidney disease (BKD) in warm water. Infection by BKD causes significant mortality among wild and farmed salmon alike.

While one could argue that the warmer winter will enable animals to find more food and produce more offspring, the danger therein is a population boom is nearly always followed by a subsequent population crash.

This year, forest fires could also become an increased danger to flora as well as fauna. Mild temperatures and a lack of significant snowfall have led to drier conditions in many areas, dramatically increasing the opportunity for forest fires to take place.

The effects of a mild winter are far reaching, as Dr. Galindo cautions: “These weather patterns affect not only the two-legged, but our plants, and winged and four-legged animals. This is also very specific for the area. For example, the further north, the more dramatic the changes are on animals, plants and people.”

Massive Snowstorm Hits San Francisco Peaks and Arizona Snowbowl

The Arizona Snowbowl ski area has a problem, as we’ve reported before—not enough snow. And the solution proposed has been to make snow from reclaimed waste water, like what you flush down your toilet, and spray it on mountain peaks considered sacred by several Indian tribes.

So it’s a little ironic that, as the fight goes on, Snowbowl and the San Francisco Peaks were among the areas buried in snow on the penultimate day of winter. The Snowbowl saw an accumulation of three feet, according to a UPI report, which was significant but well short of the more-than five feet that piled up in other parts of Arizona’s high country. The weather prompted the state to close 180 miles of Interstate 40. Northern and western New Mexico were also hard hit by the storm.

“The other day it was 65 degrees, next day it is snowing, so it’s been crazy,” said Brandon Neuman, who posted a much-viewed time-lapse video to CNN (below). “It killed a lot of people’s travel plans because the highways are a mess.”