CHICAGO (Jan. 30) - Severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and fierce winds sliced through the Midwest and took aim at the Northeast early Wednesday, leaving behind bitterly cold air and blizzards in the northern Plains that sent temperatures in some areas plummeting by 50 degrees in a few hours.
The bad weather reached upstate New York by early Wednesday and forecasters warned that the Arctic blast would send mercury tumbling across the Northeast and New England.
"This is going to be a hard, vicious slap in the face from Mother Nature," Gino Izzi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, Ill., said Tuesday night. "The temperature drop we saw was really spectacular in a bad way."
The temperature in Buffalo, N.Y., went from a high of 54 degrees Tuesday to 21 degrees by 7 a.m. Wednesday, with winds gusting to more than 60 mph. Power was out in 40,000 homes and businesses, roads were slick and most schools in the Buffalo area were closed.
In northern Illinois, high winds downed power lines and knocked trees onto utility lines, causing nearly 14,000 customers to lose power overnight, mostly in Chicago's south suburbs, said ComEd spokeswoman Judy Rader. Service to all but 1,300 had been restored by Wednesday morning.
Thousands also were without power in Ohio and Illinois. In Michigan, Lower Peninsula residents were in the dark as blizzard conditions hit the western and northern parts of the state.
The winds and thunderstorms may have killed two people in Indiana on Tuesday, authorities said. Firefighters in southwestern Indiana pulled two bodies from a mobile home near Evansville that had been turned on its side by winds in a thunderstorm, WEHT-TV reported.
Wind gusts as high as 70 mph created problems for air travel and avalanche warnings were issued for some Western regions. Tornadoes or reports of tornadoes surfaced in several communities in the nation's midsection.
"I wouldn't call it a common occurrence to see winds this strong with this kind of snow," Izzi said. "This isn't something we see every year."
The system also dragged frigid air across the northern Plains. The Weather Service reported midday temperature Tuesday of minus-24 degrees at Glasgow, Mont. North Dakota registered wind chill factors of minus-54 degrees at Garrison, while Williston hit a low of minus-24 degrees.
Most of Minnesota was under wind chill warnings until noon Wednesday due to indexes that fell into the minus-30 degree level. It was as low as 50 degrees below freezing in Hibbing.
Though only light snow fell in western, central and eastern Iowa on Tuesday, winds snapping as fast as 60 mph caused visibility problems, and temperatures dropped into single digits.
"It's a little worse than your average snowstorm," said Rod Donovan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa.
Some 1,500 workers went home early from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., while critical medical staff were put up in hotels so they could stay close to serve patients. The blustery winds also put flight operations on ice at the Rochester airport.
In Cape Girardeau County, Mo., winds were as strong as 70 mph and dime-size hail fell. Two unconfirmed funnel clouds were reported, said Dick Knaup, the county's emergency management director.
The weather week began with heavy snow pummeling mountain areas from Washington state to northern Arizona as two storms converged, one from hard-hit California and another from the Gulf of Alaska, meteorologists said.
The storms were followed Tuesday by a third that threatened to leave up to 20 inches of snow in Idaho's mountains, said Jay Breidenbach of the Weather Service office in Boise, Idaho.
A fourth storm was on the way to the interior West: "By Thursday, the next storm will be right on our doorstep. This is quite a storm system," Breidenbach said.
In the snow farther west, avalanche danger forced officials to close Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, Washington state's main east-west artery across the Cascade Mountains. The pass was to remain closed until Wednesday morning, Meagan McFadden of the state Department of Transportation said.
More than 200 trucks were backed up at North Bend, waiting to move freight across the pass. On a typical weekday, as many as 7,000 trucks travel I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, she said.
Snow also closed highways in Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming.
Two of three snowmobilers lost in the mountains west of Denver were found late Tuesday, said Summit County sheriff's spokeswoman Paulette Horr. The third was still missing.
In Oregon, two snowmobilers were rescued Monday after spending two nights in the Wallowa Mountains, where they were trapped by storms. Authorities said the two were dressed warmly and equipped with survival gear, matches and an avalanche beacon.
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Agriculture Ministry said on Wednesday that the unusually harsh winter had dealt a serious blow to the country's wheat and vegetable crops and warned that damage could rise because of persistent cold.
The ministry said in a statement on its Web site that 103 million mu of farm crops had been hurt by the freak weather, which has plagued southern, central and eastern China over the past week.
Of that total, it said 11 million mu had been ruined, while another 53 million mu were badly damaged.
The crops affected included rapeseed, vegetables, wheat, tangerines and tea leaves, although the ministry did not specify how much of each had been damaged.
Beijing is sending out experts to the most damaged areas: Hunan, Guizhou, Hubei, Anhui, Shaanxi, Henan, Jiangxi and Jiangsu.
"They will survey the damage and lead rescue work, to guide these areas to resume winter production as quickly as possible and ensure efficient market supply of farm products," it said.
Grains traders and industry officials were most nervous about damages to rapeseed, an oilseed grown mainly along the Yangtse River that is harvested after March.
While record vegetable oil prices have raised the country's rapeseed acreages this year by possibly as much as 30 percent from a year earlier, any crop loss would lead to higher imports of edible oils or oilseeds, including soybeans.
"The most important thing to watch out for is the local rapeseed crop," said a trader at an international house in Shanghai.
"This year, if the weather is normal, the crop should be around 11 million. If bad weather continues in the next 1-2 weeks, we'll have to cut our forecast."
A small 2007 rapeseed crop, which some traders estimated at 8-9 million metric tons -- or well below the government think-tank estimate of 12 million -- has helped push up the country's imports of soybeans and vegetable oils last year.
The Shanghai trader added that so far China had booked 6-7 cargoes of canola, or rapeseed from Canada, for December to February shipment at $570-620 per metric ton, including costs and freights.
The traders and industry officials said though the icy weather would reduce the country's 2007 winter wheat crop, they expected the damages to be small. It was also unlikely to lead to any supply shortages due to its ample stocks in the grain.
"I do not have great concern about wheat supply at this moment," said one industry official in Beijing. "The Chinese government has enough wheat stocks."
He said the top wheat producing in the north, such as Shandong, Hunan, Hebei should be fine, though damages might be done in less crucial producers such as Jiangsu, Anhui and Hubei.
"According to weather department forecasts, rain and snow is persisting in most southern areas and some are still experiencing snow storms, so the disaster may continue to develop," the National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement.
The NDRC said in a separate statement that prices of some vegetables, including cabbage, carrots, eggplant and cucumbers, have risen by more than 50 percent in some regions because of the storms.
(Reporting by Simon Rabinovitch and Nao Nakanishi in Hong Kong; editing by Dominic Whiting)
Poll of 500 major firms reveals that only one in 10 regard global warming as a priority
By Tricia Holly Davis, Geoffrey Lean and Susie Mesure
Global warming ranks far down the concerns of the world's biggest companies, despite world leaders' hopes that they will pioneer solutions to the impending climate crisis, a startling survey will reveal this week.
Nearly nine in 10 of them do not rate it as a priority, says the study, which canvassed more than 500 big businesses in Britain, the US, Germany, Japan, India and China. Nearly twice as many see climate change as imposing costs on their business as those who believe it presents an opportunity to make money. And the report's publishers believe that big business will concentrate even less on climate change as the world economy deteriorates.
The survey demolishes George Bush's insistence that global warming is best addressed through voluntary measures undertaken by business – and does so at the most embarrassing juncture for the embattled President. For this week he is convening a meeting of the world's largest economies to try to persuade them to agree with him.
The meeting – in Hawaii on Wednesday and Thursday – follows the US's refusal to accept binding targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of global warming, in international negotiations in Bali last month, and is seen as an attempt to develop a less rigorous approach to the crisis.
But the new report shows that even business does not support this, with four out of the five companies surveyed wanting governments to take a central role in tackling climate change.
The survey, carried out by the consulting firm Accenture, found that only 5 per cent of the companies questioned – and not one in China – regarded global warming as their top priority. And only 11 per cent put it in second or third place.
Overall it ranked eighth in business leaders' concerns, below increasing sales, reducing costs, developing new products and services, competing for talented staff, securing growth in emerging markets, innovation and technology. Although most are taking limited action to reduce their own emissions, almost one in five had done nothing.
Mark Spelman, global head of strategy at Accenture, told The Independent on Sunday at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week: "Climate change is not going to get nearly the same degree of attention here as it would have achieved if the economic outlook were brighter. Whenever there are underlying economic concerns, people will focus on them."
The report makes it clear that – in contradiction of the Bush administration's position – business is waiting for governments to take the lead. Nearly half of all the companies worldwide said that climate change was already a major issue for them and three in five expected it to be so within five years. But more than half confessed to be struggling to understand its implications.
Matthew Farrow, head of environment for the Confederation of British Industry, agreed that companies are having a hard time digesting climate change, but added: "The core financials need to be right, but business also needs to understand how climate change will affect the marketplace and realise those business opportunities."
Some 67 per cent of the businesses surveyed agreed they have a role to play in tackling global warming, but only four out of 10 felt in a position to fulfil it. In China only 14 per cent of those questioned felt in a strong position.
The report concludes: "Businesses clearly are seeking long-term signals about where and how to invest. They are reluctant to make big investments in climate change-related initiatives until the scope of future regulation becomes clearer".
This point has been made to US and European governments by businesses in their own countries. The European Corporate Leaders on Climate Change group, made up of the heads of major companies – which persuaded both Tony Blair and EU President José Manuel Barroso to make climate change a priority – has called for "a strong and clear policy framework" to enable cuts in emissions.
And the US Climate Action Partnership – which includes the heads of blue-chip companies such as General Electric, DuPont, and Alcoa – has urged Mr Bush to "establish a mandatory emissions pathway" leading to a reduction of up to 30 per cent in US emissions within 15 years.
Yesterday, Mark Kenber, policy director at the Climate Group, said: "These disappointing findings highlight the fact that carbon pricing mechanisms are not yet strong enough for businesses to incorporate climate change risks and opportunities into traditional business strategy".
The Earth has entered a new geological epoch because man-made changes to the climate are having a dramatic and long-term impact on the land and the oceans, a study has found.
A team of geologists believes that humans have altered the Earth so much since the start of the industrial revolution that we are now living in a new epoch called the Anthropocene, which began when the previous Holocene epoch ended in about 1800.
The geologists have proposed that the new epoch should be formally recognised by the international body governing geological terms. "On our exploration of the evidence, there's potential justification for the use of the new term," said Jan Zalasiewicz, of the University of Leicester and chairman of the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London. "The surface environmental processes of the Earth are sufficiently different from pre-industrial times that the Earth's geology has in fact changed."
The geologists believe that human activity over the past 200 years has transformed the worldwide patterns of sediment erosion and deposition, disturbed the carbon cycle and global temperatures, triggered a mass extinction of animals and plants, and has caused the acidification of the oceans.
Dr Zalasiewicz said the dominance of humans had physically changed the Earth so much that there was little justification for believing that we are still in the Holocene epoch, which began when global temperatures rose at the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago. The Anthropocene, meaning "human influenced", was coined in 2002 by the Nobel chemistry laureate Paul Crutzen.
A month ago it vowed to fight deforestation. Now research reveals it funds the rainforest's biggest threat.
By Daniel Howden The World Bank has emerged as one of the key backers behind an explosion of cattle ranching in the Amazon, which new research has identified as the greatest threat to the survival of the rainforest.
Ranching has grown by half in the last three years, driven by new industrial slaughterhouses which are being constructed in the Amazon basin with the help of the World Bank. The revelation flies in the face of claims from the bank that it is funding efforts to halt deforestation and reduce the massive greenhouse gas emissions it causes.
Roberto Smeraldi, head of Friends of the Earth Brazil and lead author of the new report, obtained exclusively by The Independent on Sunday, said the bank's contradictory policy on forests was now clear: "On the one hand you try and save the forest, on the other you give incentives for its conversion."
There are now more than 74 million cattle reared in the Amazon basin, the world's most important eco-system, where they outnumber people by a ratio of more than three to one. Fuelled by massive illegal ranches, the South American giant has become the world's leading beef exporter, rearing more cattle than all 25 EU members put together. This industrial expansion comes despite international agreements to combat deforestation, and claims from the government of Brazil that it is succeeding in slowing the destruction of the world's largest standing forest.
"Land-use change in the Amazon is first and foremost a product of ranching. It is on the hooves of cattle, out on the forest fringe, where the repercussions are being felt," said Mr Smeraldi.
The new report, "The Cattle Realm", comes after a year in which deforestation was acknowledged as the second leading cause of carbon emissions worldwide and was included in the plan for a new global treaty to fight climate change. But the catastrophic destruction of the Amazon to make way for ranches is being funded by the same international institutions that have pledged to fight deforestation.
The World Bank, which unveiled a new programme to fund "avoided deforestation" at the UN climate summit in Bali last month, is at the same time pouring money into the expansion of slaughterhouses in the Amazon region. The new report estimates that the internationally funded expansion of Brazil's beef industry was responsible for up to 12 billion tons of CO2 emissions over the past decade – an amount comparable to two years of emissions from the US.
The World Bank, which British taxpayers help to fund, lent its backing to the inclusion of deforestation in the Bali "road map" signed by 180 countries last month. At the summit the bank unveiled its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), aimed at reducing deforestation by compensating developing countries for carbon dioxide reductions realised by maintaining their forests. The pilot programme has received more than $160m (£82m) in funding from donor governments.
The World Bank's president, Robert Zoellick, claimed that the project "signals that the world cares about the global value of forests and is ready to pay for it. There is now a value to conserving, not just harvesting the forest." But the institution, set up to provide loans to developing countries aimed at reducing poverty, has been accused of hypocrisy as it talks up relatively low levels of funding on "avoided deforestation" while spending millions more on the industries – such as cattle ranching and soya production – that are the acknowledged drivers of forest destruction.
In a single project last year, the IFC – part of the World Bank group – handed $9m to Brazil's leading beef processor to upgrade its slaughterhouse operations in the Amazon, despite an environmental study, carried out for the IFC, which showed that expansion of a single slaughterhouse in Maraba would lead to the loss of up to 300,000 hectares of forest to make way for more cattle.
The project was signed off despite angry resistance from up to 30 NGOs in Brazil and the intervention of the influential US lobbying group the Sierra Club, all of which pointed out that the high-risk agricultural project contradicted the bank's stated aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In the past three years Brazil's National Development Bank and the World Bank have poured funds into the southern Amazon, fuelling the expansion of the cattle industry with new slaughterhouses and four million additional head of cattle. "While governments insist they are doing their utmost to stop deforestation they have been putting in place incentives for the destruction of the forest. It is taxpayers' money fuelling this," said Mr Smeraldi.
Only the US rears more cattle than Brazil, which since 2004 has led the world in beef exports. The endangered eco-system of the Amazon basin has accounted for 96 per cent of all growth in the country's cattle industry. The ranchers are expanding as meat consumption soars both in Brazil and the rest of the world. Britain is the sixth largest importer of Brazilian beef, buying more than 80,000 tons in the year to November 2007.
The Amazon basin is home to one in 10 of the world's mammals and 15 per cent of land-based plant species. It holds more than half the world's fresh water, and its vast forests act as the largest carbon sink on the planet, providing a vital check on the greenhouse effect. This vital resource faces three main dangers: the expansion of the soya industry, driven by high prices for animal feed; the surge in sugarcane plantations to feed the sudden and insatiable global appetite for bio-fuels; and the traditional threat of cattle ranching, underestimated in recent years as soya and sugarcane have received more attention.
Since the "Save the Amazon" campaigns of the 1970s the role of illegal ranchers in the destruction of the rainforest has been widely known. Virtually non-existent government control has allowed ranchers to clear large areas of remote forest for pasture. But the land – while initially fertile – quickly erodes, spurring the need for new pasture and driving the chainsaws further into the forest, in a vicious cycle largely unchecked for decades. Carbon dioxide emissions from the fires set to clear the trees have helped to propel Brazil into the top four carbon polluters in the world, exceeded only by the US, China and Indonesia.
At the end of each dry season, in anticipation of the first winter rains, farmers and cattle ranchers throughout South America set fires to "renovate" pasture land. But this process has spun out of control as deforestation and climate change have created a tinderbox, leading to ever-larger blazes. Last October a record area of the rainforest went up in flames, choking vast areas of not just Brazil but Paraguay and Bolivia.
There are increasing signs that the strain placed on the Amazon's eco-system could lead to an irreversible breakdown Last month the WWF predicted that the combination of drought and fire could wipe out the Amazon by 2030, with disastrous consequences for the world.
Parts of the ice sheets covering Antarctica are melting faster than predicted, with the net loss of ice probably accelerating in recent years because of global warming, a study has found.
A satellite survey between 1996 and 2006 found that the net loss of ice from Antarctica rose by about 75 per cent as the movement of glaciers towards the sea speeded up.
Scientists estimate that that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet lost about 132 billion tons of ice in 2006, compared with a loss of 83 billion tons in 1996. In addition, the Antarctic peninsula lost about 60 billion tons of ice in 2006.
"To put these figures into perspective, 4 billion tons of ice is enough to provide drinking water for the whole UK population for one year," said Professor Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol. "We think the glaciers of the Antarctic are moving faster to the sea. The computer models of future sea-level rise have not really taken this into account."
Sea levels are estimated to have risen by 1.8mm a year on average during the 20th century, but data from the past decade or so suggest that the average rise is now about 3.4 mm per year.
Computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which predict that sea levels will rise by no more than about 50cm by 2100, are based largely on the stability of the Antarctic ice sheets. But many scientists now believe this forecast is too restrained. "I agree with a number of scientists who feel the IPCC is likely to have underestimated the upper bound of predicted sea-level rise by the end of the century – 50 cm is probably too conservative," Professor Bamber added.
There are two key factors in estimating the net loss of Antarctic ice. The first is the flow of glaciers towards the sea; the second is the build-up of snow over the vast landmass of the frozen continent. The IPCC models imply that global warming will increase the moisture content of the atmosphere and so may actually increase snowfall over Antarctica, much of which is too cold to be affected by rising global temperatures. This would suggest a net build-up of ice. However, Professor Bamber believes the IPCC's models have not taken into account the complex, dynamic interaction between the ocean and the ice shelves of West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, which are warmer than East Antarctica.
Eric Rignot, who led the latest study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, said the findings indicated a rapid loss of ice to the sea rather than a net gain. "We have determined that the loss is increasing with time, quite rapidly at 75 per cent in ten years," Dr Rignot said. "We have also established that most of this loss, if not its entirety, is caused by glacier acceleration. The IPCC focussed on the surface mass balance component. We find this component is not indicative of the true mass balance."
The acceleration in ice loss over the past 10 years could increase in coming decades, he added. "As some of these glaciers reach deeper beds, their speeds could double or triple, in which case the contribution to sea-level rise from Antarctica could increase quite significantly beyond what it is now. Many people suspect Antarctic ice to be immune from changes. We are finding this is not the case.
"The future is the big question. The potential exists for ice speed to increase two or three times, which will result in a doubling of the mass deficit from Antarctica."
Nearly half a million passengers homeward-bound for the Lunar New Year are stranded at a rail station as blizzard conditions bring chaos to the country's transport network.
The crisis has come as many Chinese migrant workers are preparing to return home for the Chinese New Year period, which even in normal conditions puts enormous strain on the transport system. The Guangzhou railway station in Guangdong Province has seen the most severe disruption -- at its peak, nearly 1 million passengers were stranded.
The season's first major storm caused flooding and transport chaos in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Much of the MIddle East is either flooded or covered in a thick and rare blanket of snow. A major storm - winter's first - has socked the region, shutting businesses and schools, disrupting traffic and providing a bit of fun for many in the form of snowball fights.
(KABUL, Afghanistan)—Some 300 Afghans have died in the past 10 days from bitter cold and heavy snow across the country, the Health Ministry said Monday.
Officials said the dead included nomads who live in tents and villagers cut off from food and medical aid because heavy snow had blocked roads.
Faryab province in northwest Afghanistan is covered in a 20-inch-deep blanket of snow, said Gov. Mohammad Omar.
"This is a grave crisis," he said. "Sixty percent of the roads to the remote villages are cut off by the snow."
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. Afghans in remote villages are typically able to heat their mud-brick homes only by burning animal dung or wood, if the family can afford it.
Afghan officials reported on Jan. 15 that 85 people had died in the previous days from heavy snow, avalanches and cold weather.
The Afghan government and NATO's International Security Assistance Force have been providing emergency supplies to areas hard-hit by the weather, but provincial officials said the aid has not been reaching some areas fast enough.
GUANGZHOU, China (Jan. 29) - Some of the worst winter weather to hit southern China in decades took 25 more lives Tuesday when a bus plunged off an icy road, adding to the chaos the snow storms have caused during the nation's peak travel season.
Snowy Weather Strands Travelers1 of 3 A worker shovels snow Monday from a car showroom which collapsed after a snowfall in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province. A new round of blizzards threatened regions still recovering from storms that stranded thousands of people during the country's busiest holiday travel season.
Numerous cities suffered blackouts as heavy snowfalls caused power lines to snap and hampered the delivery of coal, used to generate most of China's electricity. Around 50 deaths so far have been blamed on the weather.
The storms also stranded travelers, among them hundreds of thousands of migrant workers heading home for the Chinese New Year. The holiday, which begins Feb. 7, is China's most festive. For many migrants, it is their only chance to visit their families, and by Tuesday many had given up trying to go.
Premier Wen Jiabao visited Changsha, capital of central Hunan province, which has suffered its heaviest snowfall levels since 1954, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Wen issued instructions to clear ice from roads and power cables. Much of the disruption to the grid has been blamed on the accumulation of ice and snow on power lines, weighing them down and causing them to snap.
Because of the snowfall, Wen was forced to fly to an airport in the neighboring province of Hubei and complete his journey by overnight train.
Power plants that produce 7 percent of China's electricity have shut down for lack of fuel, Xinhua said Tuesday, citing the State Electricity Regulatory Commission. Other plants accounting for a further 10 percent of the electricity supply have less than three days' reserves, it said.
Trains are delivering less than 25 percent of normal daily coal shipments due to bad weather obstructing transportation, Xinhua said, citing the Railways Ministry.
The Politburo of the ruling Communist Party warned that the bad weather would continue at an emergency meeting held Tuesday and chaired by Secretary-General Hu Jintao, who is also president.
"In the next few days, there will be more severe weather in some southern areas. The government departments and localities must be aware of the seriousness of the situation and be fully prepared to prevent and fight disasters," it said in a notice.
The extreme weather has been blamed for nearly 50 deaths over the past two weeks. In the latest accident, a bus plunged 40 yards off a road into a valley in mountainous Guizhou province, the State Administration of Work Safety said.
The 35-seat passenger bus was carrying 38 people when it went crashed, killing 25, the safety watchdog said. Two passengers were hospitalized in critical condition and the other 11 had slight injuries.
The road was covered with a thick layer of ice and snow, highly unusual for the southern province where the winters are normally mild, Xinhua said.
Meanwhile, the number of migrant workers stuck at the main train station in the southern city of Guangzhou dropped to 200,000 - from a high of 500,000 - as many simply gave up trying to make the annual trip home and cashed in their tickets, railway officials said.
The workers have been camped out in the station's plaza over the last several days as heavy snowfall in provinces to the north cut off parts of the busy railway line that starts in the city and ends in Beijing.
Traffic on the Beijing-Guangzhou line may not return to normal for three to five days, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Red banners at the Guangzhou train station encouraged travelers to cash in their tickets and stay in the city.
The train station plaza looked like a massive canopy of umbrellas, as people waited for their trains in a bone-chilling drizzle. Tens of thousands of others were camping beneath a highway overpass in front of the station.
Many like Wang Jigen, a 50-year-old construction worker, were hanging around the station because they had no other place to go. Wang left his job and had just enough money to go home to the western province of Sichuan. His train was canceled and he couldn't afford to stay in a hotel.
"I spent last night outside at a bus depot," said Wang, dressed in a tattered sweater and a corduroy coat. "I have no idea where I'll sleep tonight or how I'll ever get home."
Construction worker Liu Chenmin, 43, said he visits his family in neighboring Hunan just three times a year, though the trip is just eight hours by train. His hopes of getting a train were fading fast, and he had already warned his family - a wife and a teenage son and daughter - that he might not be home for the holiday.
"I just called them and they are really disappointed but they understand because my hometown is buried in snow," he said. "But spending the holiday here is going to be sad and uncomfortable for me."
The severe weather has caused economic losses of $3 billion since it began Jan. 10, the Civil Affairs Ministry said.
Shanghai was blanketed in white after sleet changed to snow overnight, leaving city streets slick with slush. The city's expressways remained closed and traffic was slow. Trains and flights from the city to many destinations were delayed.
"Now you can buy train tickets only to nearby cities like Hangzhou and Suzhou. No long-distance train tickets are available. No idea when things will be back to normal," said a staffer who answered the phone at the Shanghai Train Station. He gave only his surname, Yuan. *aol.com
Bad weather in China is continuing to cause havoc for millions of people as the country battles the heaviest snowstorms in 50 years. Flights have been grounded and power plants have failed. The emergency services today struggled to control crowds of commuters trying to get to work.
The blizzards and ice storms have created a transport crisis, and forecasters have warned that conditions will get worse.
Snowstorms and freezing rain were predicted to hit central and eastern China, putting more pressure on already strained transport, communications and power networks.
The weather had affected 67 million people and the economic loss was 18.2bn yuan (£1.27bn), the civil affairs ministry said. More than 34cm of snow fell yesterday in Nanjing in the east, the city's heaviest in 50 years, halting air and rail services. A third of flights in Beijing and Shanghai were delayed, throwing the national train service into chaos.
Military police kept order at a Beijing railway station today, where 400,000 passengers were stranded.
Hundreds of police and soldiers tried to control swelling crowds at a major train station in the southern city of Guangzhou, where about 200,000 travellers were stranded.
Police blew whistles and used loud hailers, while soldiers stood guard.
The crowd of mostly migrant factory workers filled the plaza in front of the station. They eventually spilled out on to a busy thoroughfare, which had to be closed to accommodate them.
Radio announcements urged people not to go to the station because most trains had been cancelled and tickets were not being sold until February 7, the start of Chinese New Year and the country's biggest annual holiday.
The bad weather started two weeks ago, when sleet and snowstorms snapped the power lines of scores of electric passenger trains in Hunan province, a midpoint for the busy railway from Guangzhou to Beijing.
As many as 5% of China's coal-fired power plants, which generate 78% of the country's electricity, were shut because snow hampered coal shipments, the National Development and Reform Commission said.
Zhuzhou Smelter Group, China's largest zinc refiner, said shortages had forced it to cut production.
Storms have also closed roads. Some 24 deaths have been reported since the heavy snow began on January 10, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Guangzhou rarely gets snow. Officials there were today trying to find temporary shelter for migrant workers in schools and convention centres.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The world's biggest greenhouse gas-polluting countries are sending delegates to Hawaii this week for a U.S.-hosted meeting aimed at curbing climate change without stalling economic growth.
The two-day gathering, which starts on Wednesday in Honolulu, is meant to spur U.N. negotiations for an international climate agreement by 2009, so a pact will be ready when the current carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
The Bush administration rejects the Kyoto plan, saying it unfairly exempts developing countries from cutting back on emissions, and could cost U.S. jobs. Instead, Washington favors voluntary measures and "aspirational goals" to limit climate change, aided by easier transfer of environmental technology.
In addition to the United States, by many counts the biggest emitter of climate-warming carbon dioxide, the conference is expecting representatives from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and the United Kingdom.
The United Nations and the European Union will also be represented.
This is the second time this group has convened -- the first time was in Washington in September -- and there has been some skepticism among environmentalists about the effectiveness of this process.
"The question back in September was, 'Does the fact that they're launching this process indicate some change in the position of this administration?"' said Angela Anderson of the non-partisan Pew Environment Group.
The answer, Anderson said in a telephone interview, is no: "There has been no change in position whatsoever in this White House. They were hoping to sell their position to the rest of the world and that's not working." COLLABORATION AND CRITICISM
James Connaughton, the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, played down expectations for the Hawaii meeting.
"I think these will be iterative discussions, which the initial goal will be to lay out a variety of options without holding any country to a particular proposal," Connaughton told reporters at a briefing on Friday. "... We're trying to do this in a collaborative way, rather than in the more classic 'You bring your number, I bring my number, and we start kicking them around."'
President George W. Bush drew criticism at the September meeting for his opposition to the mandatory limits on carbon emissions specified by the Kyoto agreement and supported by every other major industrialized country.
The criticism continued in December at a global climate meeting in Bali, Indonesia, where U.S. representatives -- including Connaughton -- were booed for opposing demands by poor nations for the rich to do more to help them fight climate change.
Back in Washington, the Democratic-controlled Congress last week grilled Connaughton and another top Bush administration official, Stephen Johnson, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, over two hot-button issues: EPA's rejection of a push by California and 15 other states to set higher standards than the U.S. government for vehicle emissions, and the administration's overall policy on climate change.
Another environmental case drawing unwelcome attention is the U.S. government's delay in deciding whether polar bears should be classified as threatened by climate change as their icy habitat melts. The postponed deadline for issuing this decision is February 9 -- three days after an expected sale of oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast, where thousands of polar bears live.
The Hawaii meeting begins two days after Bush's final State of the Union address. Connaughton declined to say whether Bush would discuss greenhouse emissions in this major speech, but said climate change was "among the items at the top of the agenda" in presidential discussions with world leaders.
"World leaders and the president are very, very engaged, and I think you'll see that continued engagement all the way through this year," Connaughton said. Bush leaves office on January 20, 2009. (Editing by Eric Walsh)
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Climate change will have potentially devastating consequences for human health, outweighing global economic impacts, researchers said on Friday, calling for urgent action to protect the world's population.
"While we embark on more rapid reduction of emissions to avert future climate change, we must also manage the now unavoidable health risks from current and pending climate change," said Australian researcher Tony McMichael, who co-authored a study in the British Medical Journal.
"This will have adverse health effects in all populations, particularly in geographically vulnerable and resource-poor regions," he said.
McMichael, from Australia's Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said increased wildfires, droughts, flooding and disease stemming from climate change posed a much more fundamental threat to human wellbeing than economic impacts.
A 2006 report by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern said climate change had the potential to shrink the global economy by between 5 and 20 percent, causing a similar impact to the Great Depression.
But McMichael said climate shift would bring changes to the pattern of infectious diseases, the effect of worsening food yields and loss of people's livelihoods.
While it was unlikely to spawn entirely new types of diseases, it would impact on the frequency, range and season patterns of many existing disorders, with between 20 and 70 million more people living in malarial regions by 2080, he said.
And the impact would be hardest in poor countries, said the researchers, including co-author Sharon Friel from the Australian National University, Tony Nyong from Nigeria's Jos University and Carlos Corvalan of the World Health Organization. "Infectious diseases cannot be stabilized in circumstances of climatic instability, refugee flows and impoverishment," McMichael said. "Poverty cannot be eliminated while environmental degradation exacerbates malnutrition, disease and injury."
McMichael said immediate decision-making was needed to involve health professionals in planning for the impact of climate change.
Kevin Parton, from Australia's Charles Sturt University, said the report was a wake-up call that the world needed to be doing more to eradicate diseases such as malaria.
"The health risks are massive, and the best way to mitigate them is to minimize the extent of climate change. Global community health is the climate change issue," he said.
LONDON (Reuters) - Security forces round the world will face tough new challenges as climate change unleashes violent storms, raises sea levels and causes floods and famines, a new report said on Thursday.
Up to 200 million people could become environmental refugees by the middle of the century, bringing to one billion the number of people displaced by conflicts, natural disasters and large development projects, the Oxford Research Group report said.
"It is crucial that governments begin to take steps now towards developing effective policy solutions for the police, security services and military to help them adapt to the new and changing demands," said author Chris Abbott.
"However, they must resist the temptation to use force to try and control insecurity and maintain the status quo. In this instance, prevention really is the only cure," he added.
The Oxford Research Group is an independent think-tank that regularly issues reports on global security issues. Abbott's report is titled "An uncertain future -- law enforcement, national security and climate change."
While climate-related events will put new strains on the security services, governments' responses to global warming could give rise to militant environmental groups using terror tactics to make their points, the report said.
"In the U.S., the FBI ... currently consider 'eco-terrorism' to be one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats," the report said, noting an upsurge in violent rhetoric among a small group of environmental extremists.
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan will see average to warmer-than-average weather from February to April, the official forecaster said on Thursday.
All of Japan's regions stand a 40 percent chance of having average or warmer-than-average weather in the three months from February, the Japan Meteorological Agency said in its three-month outlook. (For details, see table below.)
A rare snowfall occurred in eastern Japan on Wednesday, dusting central Tokyo in the season's first accumulated snowfall and driving daily power demand to a seasonal record high for the fourth time this winter at Tokyo Electric Power Co, the nation's largest power utility.
DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - The Himalayas are suffering the effects of global warming more acutely because of their height and melting glaciers could flood local settlements, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) said on Thursday.
"The Himalaya, that's really moving very fast. They're being hit very hard," IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefevre told Reuters at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
Thousands of glaciers in the Himalaya mountains are the source of water for nine major Asian rivers whose basins are home to 1.3 billion people, including Pakistan and parts of India and China.
The melting causes lakes to form at the base of glaciers, which may then break their banks and flood down the valleys.
"When the glaciers recede there's a growing danger of glacial dams collapsing," Marton-Lefevre said. "The effect will be very dramatic."
"There's a lot of poor people living at the foot of the Himalaya," she said.
Marton-Lefevre said it could take decades to slow down the process of global warming, but hoped it would be possible.
There is now a greater commitment from businesses and governments to cutting emissions, as scientific studies, extreme weather and climate campaigning have all raised awareness of the problem. About 190 nations agreed in December in Bali, Indonesia, to launch negotiations on a new pact to fight global warming.
"I'm concerned about how difficult this road map is going to be, and then there are some recalcitrant countries, like the United States," Marton-Lefevre said.
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil on Thursday unveiled measures to slow deforestation of the Amazon region including one that calls for the army to help carry out inspections.
The steps came one day after Brazilian officials said Amazon destruction had surged during the last five months of 2007. Deforestation rose from 94 square miles in August to 366 square miles in December.
"Our aim is to establish institutional mechanisms to prevent deforestation," Justice Minister Tarso Genro told reporters after an emergency meeting between Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his ministers.
The government also put on hold any new deforestation requests in 36 municipalities in an area that accounted for half of the forest destruction last year.
Landowners in the area will have to prove they maintain preservation areas, and could face penalties like being denied official credit if they fail to meet some requirements.
Additionally, companies like trading houses, soybean crushers and meat processors that buy commodities originating from destroyed areas of the forest will be considered responsible for deforestation.
Environment Minister Marina Silva said the recent rise in commodity prices may have contributed to the stepped-up pace of deforestation.
"It's not a problem planting grains in Brazil because they can be planted in sustainable conditions. But you cannot deny that there was a rise in deforestation in the last months," Silva said.
"Something new is happening and new measures have to be taken," she added. Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes said he backed the government's actions but rejected arguments that a rise in planted areas was causing destruction of the Amazon region.
"From an agricultural point of view, there is no need to increase deforestation in order to boost soy and beef output in the country," Stephanes said.
From August to December last year, 1,250 square miles
of the Amazon forest, known as "the lungs of the world" for its ability to consume greenhouse gases and produce oxygen, were destroyed, according to the government.
This figure is expected to double when higher resolution satellite images are analyzed.
(Writing by Inae Riveras; Editing by Xavier Briand)
Chinese authorities have ordered urgent measures to be put in place to fight nationwide transport chaos caused by severe weather conditions. Ice and snowfall caused power cuts that left 100,000 people stranded at train stations in southern China on Sunday.
Forecasters predict the bad weather will continue for a week, causing travel misery in the run-up to the Lunar New Year holiday on 7 February.
Nearly 18 million people are due to visit relatives during the period.
'Battle against disaster'
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the weather was threatening lives and disrupting supplies of fresh food, oil and gas ahead of the New Year, and he warned worse could come. "Urgently mobilise and work as one to wage this tough battle against disaster," he told officials, according to a transcript on the official government website.
"Ensure that the people enjoy a joyful and auspicious Spring Festival."
Brutal conditions in recent days have collapsed homes, snapped power lines and destroyed crops across the country.
Parts of China have suffered their worst snowfalls in more than a decade.
In the southern town of Guangzhou, more than 100,000 people have been stranded at the main railway station as power cuts paralysed services.
Many of those stranded were rural migrant workers returning home for the traditional New Year celebrations.
Their number is expected to swell to as many as 600,000 on Monday as China gears up for its busiest period for family gatherings.
Guangzhou's authorities are arranging temporary shelters in schools and other public buildings for passengers stuck at the station.
China's railway authority has dispatched around 10,000kg (22,046lb) of rice, vegetables and meat, as well as 20,000 boxes of instant noodles and drinking water, to relieve those stuck on board stranded trains.
Motorways as well as railways have been brought to a standstill, especially in the country's east.
Several regional airports have been closed, and 17 of the country's 31 provinces are enduring reduced power supplies.
LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Winter storms continued to soak Southern California on Sunday and meteorologists warned that wetter weather was on its way.
Up to 2 inches of rain fell overnight in valley and coastal areas and about double that in the mountains, National Weather Service specialist Stewart Seto said.
The rain appeared not to have triggered any major mudslides, but Seto said thunderstorms were likely later in the day, bringing a threat of torrential rain, tornadoes and an increased likelihood of slides in areas denuded by last year's wildfires.
Officials from Los Angeles County and Orange County fire departments were on standby for flash floods and slides, but said Sunday there was little damage to report.
Flash flood watches remained in effect through Sunday night for Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.
The storm system also soaked parts of Northern California and the weather service posted winter storm warnings for parts of the Sierra Nevada.
A series of fierce storms has caused deadly avalanches, flooded streets and set off mud and rock slides in recent days. Some areas have received more moisture in a week than during the entire rainy season last year.
Three skiers were killed Friday by a trio of avalanches that swept through canyons outside the trails of Mountain High ski resort at Wrightwood, northeast of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains.
A fourth man escaped the avalanches. Snowboarder Oscar Gonzales Jr., 24, of Westminster, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that he got lost when he left marked ski trails at the resort. "I made the wrong decision about going out of bounds," he said. "I hit a rock."
Gonzales said he was not hurt but walked at least 13 miles during the night to keep warm. He eventually found an old airplane fuselage and slept there until he was rescued Saturday by the crew of a sheriff's helicopter.
Avalanches are unusual in the San Gabriel Mountains, but the peaks had been hit by 3 feet or more of new snow this past week, drawing thousands of skiers and snowboarders.
LOS ANGELES — The latest in a series of storms that unleashed deadly avalanches, flooded streets and caused mud and rock slides barreled into Southern California on Saturday, threatening more problems for the rain-soaked region.
Heavy showers arrived late in the day after a blue-sky break in the storms allowed searchers to find the body of a third skier killed by a snow slide and rescue a missing snowboarder who survived a frigid night in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Christopher Allport, 60, of Santa Monica, was found Saturday morning, one of two people reported missing Friday after a trio of avalanches swept through off-trail canyons outside the Mountain High ski resort in Wrightwood.
A family member confirmed Allport had died but declined to give her name or comment further. Allport was a veteran character actor who had appeared on such TV shows as "ER," "Felicity," and "Matlock."
Allport wrote a story that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 2004 about the pleasures of backcountry skiing. "Any excursion into the mountains requires awareness," he wrote. "Have fun, but be careful."
The missing snowboarder was found Saturday after spending the night on the mountain. Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy Luis Castro said officials were confident no one else was missing and called off search efforts.
Oscar Gonzales Jr., 24, of Westminster, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that he got lost when he left the marked ski trails at the resort. "I made the wrong decision about going out of bounds," he said. "I hit a rock."
Gonzales said he was not hurt but he walked at least 13 miles overnight to keep warm, thinking of his 5 1/2-year-old daughter, Jaden Ann.
"I didn't think about anything else," Gonzales said. "I couldn't stand leaving my daughter."
Gonzales told the newspaper he eventually found an old airplane fuselage and slept there until about 4:30 a.m., when he went to an open field and waited until he was rescued by a sheriff's helicopter.
The avalanches a day earlier killed Michael McKay, 23, an off-duty member of the resort's ski patrol, and Darin Bodie Coffey, 31, both of Wrightwood. Both were skiing out of the resort boundaries.
Eric Coffey told KNBC-TV that his brother was skiing with two friends. One friend was on top of the slope and "he yelled avalanche," Coffey said.
The other friend turned around.
"He got buried, and then he popped out," Coffey said. "My brother just got buried."
Avalanches are unusual in the San Gabriel Mountains, authorities said, but so was the 3 feet or more of new snow that hit the region in a matter of days this week.
"We depend on snow-making, and snow-making doesn't lead to avalanches," said Pete Olson, president of Mt. Baldy Ski Resorts. "It usually doesn't snow enough to make anything happen up here."
The tragedies didn't keep skiers and snowboarders from swarming to the resort 80 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. About 6,000 people jammed the slopes Saturday, officials said.
Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties braced for another bout of heavy rain as flash flood watches were in effect through Sunday because of thunderstorms, possible hail and wind gusts as high as 50 mph.
National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Thompson said up to 8 inches of rain could fall in the hills outside Los Angeles, while 2 to 4 inches were expected in coastal and valley areas. Ski resorts could be pounded by as much as 3 feet of powder.
"The heaviest rains will fall Sunday morning," Thompson said. "It will be pretty steady all through the day into the afternoon." Rain should taper off Sunday night, he said.
Several storms have been dumping rain onto Southern California since Monday. Some areas have received more moisture in that time than during the entire rainy season last year.
In Orange County, residents of five canyons that were denuded by wildfires last year were urged to follow a voluntary evacuation order because of the risk of mudslides.
POINT MUGU Calif. — Streets flooded, hillsides slipped and commuters cursed Friday as another in a series of powerful winter storms lashed Southern California.
The morning commute was long, wet and, in some cases, treacherous. Traffic accidents doubled compared to the usual rush hour, California Highway Patrol Officer Miguel Luevano estimated.
However, no fatal accidents were reported on Los Angeles-area freeways.
Near downtown, at least two cars were stuck in door handle-deep water on a flooded Hancock Park neighborhood street.
Click here for photos.
About 6,700 customers were without electricity after power lines toppled, city Department of Water and Power spokeswoman Gale Harris said.
In some hillside areas, minor mudslides were reported but there were no injuries. Canyons scarred by wildfires last fall held despite a fifth day of rain but flash flood watches remained in effect.
Mountain ski resorts enthusiastically welcomed blankets of fresh snow that came in with the storms that began pummeling the region Tuesday.
Some areas have received more rain in the past week than they did the entire year before, National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Meier said, though experts said the moisture would do little to improve local water supplies.
By Friday morning, Long Beach Airport had received 2.76 inches of rain, compared to 2.1 inches over the previous 12 months, Meier said. Downtown Los Angeles had received 2.54 inches and Gibraltar Dam near Santa Barbara was drenched with 7.56 inches.
A flash flood warning was in effect early Friday in Los Angeles in areas around Griffith Park that were denuded by last year's wildfires.
The Mountain High ski resort received 18 inches of snow, but was forced to temporarily close its slopes Thursday due to high winds.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the Santa Barbara County mountains through 10 p.m. Friday. The snow level was expected to drop to between 2,000 and 3,000 feet Thursday night, and down to 1,500 feet during heavier showers or thunderstorms.
At least one waterspout from the Pacific made landfall Thursday night, the National Weather Service said. The tornado tore the roof off of a building at Naval Base Ventura County in Point Mugu, meteorologist Curt Kaplan said.
Vance Vasquez, a base spokesman, said debris was scattered across the runway and "a good portion" of the roof was torn from Hangar 351, which houses aircraft. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The storm had forced the closure of Interstate 5 late Wednesday on each side of the Grapevine section of Tejon Pass, which soars to an elevation of more than 4,000 feet between the Los Angeles Basin and the San Joaquin Valley. Hundreds of trucks and cars were stuck along a 40-mile stretch of the major north-south artery but most were guided out, the California Highway Patrol said.
A roughly 40-mile stretch of the icy interstate reopened Friday morning after overnight rains helped clear snow on the road, CHP Officer David Porter said.
In Orange County, crews placed safety barriers against several homes in fire-scarred Modjeska Canyon Thursday.
"The rain resulted in a few minor debris flows behind a few houses but as far as I know there was no structural damage," Capt. Mike Blawn of the Orange County Fire Authority said.
Authorities are concerned about another storm forecast to hit the area over the weekend. Forecasters are predicting 4-6 inches to hit south and southwest facing mountain slopes between Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Heavy rain and hail prompted the Santa Anita horse track in Arcadia to cancel races Thursday, the fourth time this month. Its synthetic track has had drainage problems.
The storm was not expected to improve local water supplies. One of the driest rain seasons on record left reservoirs so low last year that several cities called for voluntary water conservation.
A powerful winter storm continued to lash southern California for the fifth consecutive day on Friday, prompting warnings of flash floods at lower elevations and snow in the mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles.
New snowfall prompted the closing of a 40 mile stretch of the region’s major north-south highway, Interstate 5, with no estimate of when it would re-open. Snow and ice coated the roadway earlier in the week, trapping hundreds of cars and trucks.
Most of those motorists were escorted down from a 4,000 foot high mountain pass before the snow resumed.
Along the coast, the storm brought rain, in some cases more than fell in the entire year before. Los Angeles had 2.25 inches on Thursday and Santa Barbara had 5.4 inches.
The National Weather Service posted flash flood warnings for the lower levels, and warned that more bad weather was on the way. “A series of Pacific storms will continue to affect the region through the weekend,” the weather service said. The area denuded of vegetation by last year’s extensive wildfire are particularly susceptible to flooding and mudslides, it said.
The storms are expected to be accompanied gusting winds and thunderstorms that may produce lightening, hail and tornadoes.
“Travel may be very dangerous where snow or heavy rain fall through tonight,” the service said Friday morning. “Isolated thunderstorms will also make it hazardous over the coastal waters with lightening and waterspouts.”
A waterspout, or a tornado over the water, made landfall Thursday, damaging the roof of an aircraft hanger on a naval base at Point Mugu in Ventura County. There were no reports of injuries, though.
The weather service warned that driving in the region will be hazardous because of water on road surfaces and accumulations in underpasses.
Bono has joined forces with former US vice president Al Gore to urge world leaders to tackle climate change and global poverty together.
The pair shared the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and said the environment and poverty should be seen as linked because the effect of climate change will have the most-dramatic effect in the developing world. Mr Gore said: "In addition to changing the light bulbs, it is far more important to change the laws and to change the treaty obligations that nations have.
"One simple thing that will solve the climate crisis is to put a price on carbon. It needs to be effective globally."
Economic fears have overshadowed climate discussions in Davos this year's forum has staged a record number of sessions and workshops about global warming
Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel, said: "If we get distracted by the aberrations that you see in the financial market right now it would clearly be very unfortunate."
There’s new evidence from an Antarctic ice core that the popular image of the melting poles doesn’t quite fit reality at the southern one. Elizabeth R. Thomas of the British Antarctic Survey and colleagues report in Geophysical Research Letters that snow accumulation has doubled since 1850 in the western Antarctic peninsula, and that the trend has accelerated in recent decades. I mention this not to suggest this means the planet is cooling, nor to argue that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is wrong in warning of future warming. Quite the contrary. An increase in snowfall in the Antarctic happens to jibe quite well with the projections in the latest IPCC report: “Current global model studies project that the Antarctic ice sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and is expected to gain in mass due to increased snowfall.” But that consensus projection hasn’t gotten as much attention as the dire warnings from some scientists of an imminent meltdown in the Antarctic, so this new evidence from one spot is worth noting. You can read more about it at the World Climate Report blog of Patrick J. Michaels of the University of Virginia. His take on the new data from an ice core drilled at a site called Gomez in the western Antarctic peninsula:
So while we’ve heard recent reports about Antarctica losing ice, here we again find evidence to the contrary, and then some, at least in these locations. Not only is there no evidence of melting at the Gomez site, snow is accumulating there at an amazingly high rate. Clearly, this paper adds to the evidence that suggests that we simply, as of yet, do not have a firm grasp on the climate changes and their drivers that are effecting Antarctica, past, present, or, much less, future.
CASTAIC, Calif. (AP) -- Hundreds of big rigs were stranded in a snow-covered mountain pass north of Los Angeles Thursday after a frigid storm covered the area in snow and heavy rain.
The drivers were stuck near Tejon Pass, which rises above 4,000 feet and frequently is closed by winter storms. Interstate 5, a main artery between northern and southern California, was shut down.
''There are abandoned cars everywhere,'' said Wendy Gardner, a manager at Madd Bailey's Pub in Pine Mountain Club, where up to 10 inches of snow fell. ''We got hit around 2:30 in the morning and it hasn't stopped.''
It was not clear when the road would reopen. More snow and sleet was expected to fall on the area through the day.
One driver said that he had been stuck for 24 hours, unable to move because California Highway Patrol officers had blocked the road. Early Thursday, CHP officers were escorting motorists down from the pass but television footage showed dozens of commercial trucks crowding parking lots to wait out the weather.
Elsewhere, heavy rain littered roadways with jackknifed trucks, flipped cars and fender-bender crashes. There were about 125 crashes on Los Angeles County freeways overnight, CHP Officer Francisco Villalobos said.
Flash flood watches were issued for Southern California areas burned bare by last fall's wildfires but only minor mudslides were reported.
Overnight, the storm dumped nearly 7 inches of rain in some areas of Ventura County, and 4 inches or 5 inches elsewhere. Santa Barbara's airport got 4.16 inches of rain, breaking the record of 2.45 inches for the day set in 1943.
Another storm -- this time a warmer one coming up from Mexico -- was expected to arrive Thursday night and dump up to an inch of rain in Los Angeles but less snow, Seto said.
LOS ANGELES (Jan. 23) - A powerful storm dumped snow and rain as it moved across California on Wednesday, shutting down a major interstate highway and prompting flood watches in areas scarred by wildfires.
California Highway Patrol officers escorted vehicles out of Tejon Pass as traffic was halted in both directions along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles, a dispatcher said. "There are abandoned cars everywhere," said Wendy Gardner, a manager at Madd Bailey's Pub in Pine Mountain Club, where as much as 10 inches of snow fell. "We got hit around 2:30 in the morning, and it hasn't stopped."
Nearly a foot of snow was reported at the ranch community of Lockwood Valley in Los Padres National Forest, northwest of Los Angeles, the National Weather Service said.
Along the coast, a record 4.14 inches of rain was recorded at the Santa Barbara airport, topping the date's old mark of 2.45 inches set in 1943. More than 2 1/4 inches fell at the San Luis Obispo airport.
Flash flood watches were issued for areas of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. A flood warning was posted for the Malibu areas burned by recent wildfires.
The unstable atmosphere brought the threat of thunderstorms, which in the past have led to dangerous debris flows in and below burn areas, the Weather Service said. aol.com
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Unmanned aircraft like those used by the U.S. military in Iraq will increasingly be used to monitor storms, a role currently performed by manned aircraft, weather officials said on Tuesday.
At an American Meteorological Society meeting in New Orleans, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists announced a three-year program initially funded with $3 million to study use of unmanned aircraft in hurricanes.
Data from such missions could allow scientists to learn more about how and why storms spin into hurricanes and why they change speed and direction, said NOAA research meteorologist Marty Ralph.
"This is a huge breakthrough when it comes to getting to places we couldn't go," Ralph said, predicting that unmanned aircraft "will become ubiquitous in the coming decade."
NOAA, which has relied on several generations of manned "hurricane hunter" planes to monitor storms, sent unmanned craft into Hurricane Noel in 2007.
Current hurricane flights drop tube-like, data-gathering devices known as sondes, which sample conditions as they fall and radio the data back to the plane.
Unlike manned aircraft, which are generally safe but put people at risk, unmanned craft theoretically could operate for sustained periods at lower altitudes and give meteorologists a continuous sampling of data, including wind speed, temperature, pressure and moisture, Ralph said.
More accurate prediction of storms would give oil companies a better idea of when to keep offshore platforms running and when to shut them down. It also would aid coastal cities such as New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, in making preparations, NOAA research meteorologist Joe Cione said.
WASHINGTON - Global warming could reduce how many hurricanes hit the United States, according to a new federal study that clashes with other research. The new study is the latest in a contentious scientific debate over how man-made global warming may affect the intensity and number of hurricanes.
In it, researchers link warming waters, especially in the Indian and Pacific oceans, to increased vertical wind shear in the Atlantic Ocean near the United States. Wind shear — a change in wind speed or direction — makes it hard for hurricanes to form, strengthen and stay alive.
So that means "global warming may decrease the likelihood of hurricanes making landfall in the United States," according to researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Miami Lab and the University of Miami.
With every degree Celsius that the oceans warm, the wind shear increases by up to 10 mph, weakening storm formation, said study author Chunzai Wang, a research oceanographer at NOAA. Winds forming over the Pacific and Indian oceans have global effects, much like El Nino does, he said.
Wang said he based his study on observations instead of computer models and records of landfall hurricanes through more than 100 years.
His study is to be published Wednesday in Geophysical Research Letters.
Critics say Wang's study is based on poor data that was rejected by scientists on the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They said that at times only one in 10 North Atlantic hurricanes hit the U.S. coast and the data reflect only a small percentage of storms around the globe.
Hurricanes hitting land "are not a reliable record" for how hurricanes have changed, said Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
Trenberth is among those on the other side of a growing debate over global warming and hurricanes. Each side uses different sets of data and focus on different details.
One group of climate scientists has linked increases in the strongest hurricanes — just those with winds greater than 130 mph — in the past 35 years to global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said "more likely than not," manmade global warming has already increased the frequency of the most intense storms.
But hurricane researchers, especially scientists at NOAA's Miami Lab, have argued that the long-term data for all hurricanes show no such trend. And Wang's new research suggests just the opposite of the view that more intense hurricanes result from global warming. The Miami faction points to a statement by an international workshop on tropical cyclones that says "no firm conclusion can be made on this point."
Former National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said regardless of which side turns out to be right, it only takes one storm to be deadly. So the key for residents of hurricane-prone areas, he said, is to be prepared for a storm "no matter what."
Heavy rain has swept across Northern England forcing homes and businesses to be evacuated.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service confirmed around 60 homes are under water in Armitage Bridge near Huddersfield, and 100 people have been evacuated from a factory in Silsden as fears of flooding became reality. Meanwhile in Shropshire a driver was rescued after spending the night trapped in her car when it was swept away by flood waters. The 45-year-old woman's car was carried downstream as she tried to cross the swollen River Severn.
The woman, who attempted to drive across a ford near Bridgnorth, Shropshire, could not call for help as she had no mobile phone signal, according to West Midlands Ambulance Service.
Heavy rain has continued to fall across the north of England, Wales and Gloucestershire.
The Environment Agency (EA) has issued warnings for several catchments and communities were urged to remain vigilant as the threat of flooding remains with river levels expected to peak on Tuesday.
Officers from the EA said they were particularly concerned with the Rivers Aire and Calder in West Yorks after rainfall totals of 30 to 50mm of rain were forecast.
Mark Tinnion, regional flood risk manager for the EA, said: "Some flooding is likely to happen in the region, but at this stage it is not thought to be as widespread or significant as the summer floods."
A woman and child had to be rescued by Humberside firefighters after their car got stuck in flood water on the B1246 road from Pocklington to Warter.
As the week progresses, river levels on the Ouse and Derwent are expected to rise. Levels at York are expected to be very high later in the week after the rain has worked its way downstream.
In Yorkshire, Network Rail confirmed flooding had forced the closure of the line between Sheffield and Barnsley. A spokeswoman said the problem was at Elsecar, where water levels had risen over the rails. She said all services on the line between Sheffield and Barnsley were suspended.
Families in Gloucestershire say they have been "living in fear" of a repeat of the summer flooding crisis for more than a week, with warnings in place along the River Severn since January 12.
The EA has a total of 45 flood warnings in place including at the River Severn between Worcester and Tewkesbury and from Tewkesbury to upstream of Gloucester. itn.co.uk/news
(CNN) -- Bitter cold gripped most of the United States on Monday, with temperatures dipping below normal from coast to coast.
Temperatures in the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains were about 30 degrees below normal, CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider said.
"It's very hard to find any part of the country that's warm," Schneider said.
In Presque Isle, Maine, the overnight low dropped to 27 below zero, according to the National Weather Service. Monday's high in extreme northern Maine was not expected to make it up to zero, the service said, and the wind chill made it feel much colder. Watch the frigid forecast for Monday »
In Butte, Montana, the temperature at 10 a.m. (noon ET) was 20 below zero, up from an overnight low of 32 below.
The cold hampered firefighting efforts in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where firefighters had to deal with frozen hydrants and frigid temperatures during a seven-alarm fire.
The pre-dawn blaze destroyed a dozen homes and sent one person to a hospital, the city's fire chief said.
Firefighters in Butler County, Pennsylvania, had a similar problem, CNN affiliate WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh reported. Water sprayed on a fire turned to ice as soon as it hit the ground, creating a slipping hazard, a fire official told the station.
Icy temperatures in Fort Collins, Colorado, forced organizers to move their celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday indoors, CNN affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver reported.
Heavy lake-effect snow blanketed parts of upstate New York.
In Fulton, New York, near Syracuse, deep snow collapsed the roof of a Department of Public Works garage, according to CNN affiliate WSYR-TV in Syracuse. The people inside escaped unharmed, but snowblowers and salt trucks needed for snow removal were stuck inside the damaged building, the station reported.
More snow was in the forecast for the region -- possibly up to 12 inches.
Snow also was expected in Chicago, Illinois, and other areas near Lake Michigan. Weather was blamed for flight delays of up to an hour and 45 minutes at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and an hour at Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning until 5 a.m. ET Tuesday for parts of Michigan. The service said snowfall could top 8 inches in some areas.
An armada of robot submarines and marine sensors are to be deployed across the Atlantic, from Florida to the Canary Islands, to provide early warning that the Gulf Stream might be failing, an event that would trigger cataclysmic freezing in Britain for decades.
The £16m system, called Rapid Watch, will use the latest underwater monitoring techniques to check whether cold water pouring south from melting Arctic ice sheets is diverting the current's warm waters away from Britain.
Without the Gulf Stream, the UK would be as cold as Canada in winter. Ports could freeze over and snowstorms and blizzards would paralyse the country. An extreme version of this meteorological mayhem provided the film The Day After Tomorrow with its plotline.
'The Day After Tomorrow suggested the Gulf Stream could fail within a couple of days,' said Rapid Watch's co-ordinator, Meric Srokosz of the Southampton Oceanographic Centre. 'In reality, a collapse will take a lot longer, but could still occur in about 10 years.' Rapid Watch has been designed to discover if such weakening is already occurring or is about to begin.
The Gulf Stream starts in the Gulf of Mexico and follows the eastern US seaboard before crossing the Atlantic towards western Europe. The heat it brings across the Atlantic gives Britain its temperate climate. The former chief scientist, Sir Robert May, once calculated that the Gulf Stream delivered 27,000 times the warmth that all Britain's power stations are capable of supplying.
But scientists have recently warned that the current is threatened by meltwater from Greenland and the Arctic. As global warming takes a grip, glaciers and ice sheets are disappearing faster and faster. This could bring major cooling to western Europe. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last year, the Gulf Stream is particularly warm and salty, and increasing amounts of fresh water pouring into it from the Arctic are likely to disrupt it.
These fears have been backed by studies involving research vessels that have zig-zagged across the Gulf Stream, measuring currents at various depths, data that indicated that the Gulf Stream was indeed beginning to switch off.
But in 2004, Dr Srokosz - with his Southampton colleagues Professor Harry Bryden and Dr Stuart Cunningham - set up Rapid, a temporary array of sensors fixed to the seabed that provided daily measurements of the Gulf Stream for the first time. The first results, which were published last year, revealed that the Gulf Stream fluctuates in a highly unpredictable fashion.
'The Gulf flows at an average rate of 20 million cubic metres per second,' added Srokosz. 'But this flow varies from as little as four million cubic metres to about 35 million. This means past isolated measurements could be highly misleading.'
As a result, Srokosz has designed Rapid Watch, which has just received £16m from the Natural Environment Research Council. 'Rapid was a proof of concept study,' he said. 'Rapid Watch is a full-scale detection system.' Rapid Watch, which will begin operations later this year, will monitor the Gulf Stream until 2014. Cables will moor monitoring devices to the seabed and measure current flow, temperature and other variables at depths down to 5,000 metres.
In addition, robot probes - called gliders - will study the current as they descend and ascend. 'Robot gliders can currently operate to depths of about 1,000 metres, but soon versions that can dive to 5,000 metres should be ready.
'Certainly, it is critical we now find out how the Gulf Stream is behaving,' added Srokosz. 'It has an immense influence on our climate - and our lives.'
ATLANTA (Jan. 20) - Freezing cold spread across the South and all the way to the Gulf Coast early Sunday, a day after the region got an unusual coating of snow.
Thermometers fell to 17 degrees early Sunday at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Blairsville in northeastern Georgia recorded a low of 9, said Stephen Konarik, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Peachtree City outside Atlanta. Daytime temperatures Sunday were expected to rise only into the mid-30s.
Despite the chill, fears of slippery roads did not materialize because snowfall stopped before sunset Saturday in most of the Atlanta metro area, and strong wind helped dry pavement, Konarik said.
"Most of the water ... was able to get off the roads, so it wasn't so much of a problem that we know of," he said.
Sunday morning temperatures fell into the freezing range even on the Gulf Coast, where Mobile, Ala., and Gulfport, Miss., both hit 28 degrees, according to weather service Web sites. By midmorning, thermometers had risen to 36 at Mobile. New Orleans had a low of 32.
New Orleans had put its freeze plan into effect to provide temporary shelter for the homeless for Saturday and Sunday nights.
On Saturday, snow fell as far south as southwestern Mississippi, with totals of as much as 3 inches, although the ground was too warm to allow it to accumulate. It was that area's first snowfall since 2001, the National Weather Service said.
All five runways at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport remained open during Saturday's sleet and snow, but Delta Air Lines Inc. canceled about 280 flights, spokeswoman Betsy Talton said. AirTran Airways canceled about 80 and other flights were delayed by the need to deice wings, spokesman Tad Hutcheson said.
As much as 5 inches of snow fell in Alabama. The state's last major winter storm dropped 16 inches in March 1993.
The clash of warm and cold air helped produce two tornadoes along Florida's west coast late Saturday afternoon, the weather service said. No injuries and little damage were reported. (AOL)
Another factor might be contributing to the thinning of some of the Antarctica's glaciers: volcanoes.
In an article published Sunday on the Web site of the journal Nature Geoscience, Hugh Corr and David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey report the identification of a layer of volcanic ash and glass shards frozen within an ice sheet in western Antarctica.
"This is the first time we have seen a volcano beneath the ice sheet punch a hole through the ice sheet" in Antarctica, Vaughan said.
Volcanic heat could still be melting ice to water and contributing to thinning and speeding up of the Pine Island glacier, which passes nearby, but Vaughan said he doubted that it could be affecting other glaciers in western Antarctica, which have also thinned in recent years. Most glaciologists, including Vaughan, say that warmer ocean water is the primary cause of thinning.
Volcanically, Antarctica is a fairly quiet place. But sometime around 325 B.C., the researchers said, a hidden and still active volcano erupted, puncturing several hundred yards of ice above it. Ash and shards from the volcano carried through the air and settled onto the surrounding landscape. That layer is now out of sight, hidden beneath the snows that fell during the next 2,300 years.
Still, the layer showed up clearly in airborne radar surveys conducted over the region in 2004 and 2005 by American and British scientists. The reflected radio waves over an elliptical area about 110 miles, or 176 kilometers, wide were so strong that earlier radar surveys had mistakenly identified it as bedrock. Better radar techniques now can detect a second echo from the actual bedrock farther down.
The thickness of ice above the ash layer provided an estimate of the date of the eruption: 207 B.C., give or take 240 years. "It's probably within Alexander the Great's lifetime, but not more precise than that," Vaughan said.
Thousands of flood-hit families who barricaded their homes with sandbags have been given hope that they might stay dry over the weekend.
Fears of more chaos were easing last night after weather experts insisted the general outlook was "improving".
Severe weather warnings had been issued with up to a month of rain expected to fall this weekend.
An off-duty policeman lost his life earlier this week after he drowned in a stream which had been turned into an "absolute torrent" by heavy rain.
PC Shaun Horton is thought to have slipped into the stream while he was out birdwatching on Wednesday in Alfreton, Derbyshire. His body was found the next day.
As the Princess Royal pledged her support to deluged families living in caravans since last summer, the Environment Agency gave them hope that the worst of the latest crisis might be over.
More bands of wet weather were expected across northern Wales today but flood defences across the country were said to be coping well.
Warnings halved over 24 hours, with only parts of the Midlands remaining on high alert last night.
Lisa Beechey, spokeswoman for the Agency, said the situation was not unusual for this time of year.
She said: "This flood event is not on the scale of the summer where we saw thousands of properties flooded. So far only a small number of properties have been affected.
"The general situation is improving."
She added: "More rain is predicted for the weekend and Monday which has the potential to cause some problems in the Midlands and the North of the country.
"We are constantly monitoring the situation and will issue flood warnings and deploy our officers as needed."
The majority of rainfall this weekend was expected to fall over the hills of northern Wales.
Jeremy Plester, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "As far as I can see, it is Wales that will get most of the rain over the weekend.
"There is a front which goes across the country - it will be wavering rain coming and going in pulses.
"We could see more heavy rain coming in Sunday night coming into Monday."
One of the worst-affected towns has been Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, which was visited by Princess Anne yesterday.
After meeting several families who have been living in caravans since last summer, she said: "They seem to be coping remarkably well."
Anne, who had travelled to the area from her nearby home at Gatcombe Park, visited Mark and Helen Knight, both 44, who have been living in a one-bedroom caravan on Pike Road with their two children since July last year.
Parts of North Yorkshire were also said to have been affected by floods.
The Ship Inn pub, in Acaster Malbis, near York, was marooned with water.
Rail services were still being disrupted in the South West, Powys and Hampshire, with replacement bus and taxi services running.
BEIJING (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's visit to China switches focus to the environment on Saturday as he highlights how Britain and China can cooperate to fight climate change.
Action on climate change is a priority for Brown, who spent the first day of his visit on Friday telling Chinese officials that Britain would welcome more trade and investment from China, including from its new $200 billion sovereign wealth fund.
China is the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States and is poised to overtake it.
Brown's government has proposed the world's first climate change law which requires Britain to cut climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.
But if other countries do not act to tackle climate change, it will not solve the problem, British officials say.
"We very much need other countries, particularly the largest emitters ... to move similarly onto a low carbon path," one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Britain and British companies are already working with China on clean energy initiatives and agreements signed by China and Britain on Friday aim to increase that cooperation further.
Brown is due to visit a gas-fired power station in Beijing that British officials say is nearly twice as efficient as the coal-fuelled power stations China typically builds. It is a combined heat and power plant that uses waste heat to heat water for people's homes.
The Taiyang Gong power station was partly financed by Britain through the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism which enables companies from rich countries to invest in clean energy projects in developing nations in return for credits to offset their own emissions.
After a visit to the 91,000-seat Bird's Nest National Stadium, which will hold the opening and closing ceremonies for this year's Beijing Olympics, Brown flies to Shanghai where he will see plans for China's first eco-city.
The scheme is to be built at nearby Dongtan where all energy will be renewable and no gasoline-fuelled cars will be allowed.
Major developing countries such as China have been loath to agree to firm targets for emissions cuts that could hold back their rapid economic growth.
But last month U.N.-led talks in Bali approved a roadmap for negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol that would widen the treaty to the United States, China and India.
Brown said after his talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday that Wen took the problem of climate change seriously.
"He's not denying there's a problem. He knows action needs to be taken," he told BBC television. A declaration on climate change signed by Britain and China on Friday commits Britain to provide at least 50 million pounds ($100 million) to support investment in energy efficiency, renewables, clean coal and carbon capture and storage in China.
Under a second agreement, Britain and China will collaborate on developing low carbon cities. Britain plans an eco-city of its own in the Thames Gateway, east of London.
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