Volcanic Winter

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:18 PM GMT on April 24, 2009

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"The sun was dark and its darkness lasted for eighteen months; each day it shone for about four hours; and still this light was only a feeble shadow; the fruits did not ripen and the wine tasted like sour grapes." As this Michael the Syrian quote regarding the weather of 536 A.D. demonstrates, a climate catastrophe that blots out the sun can really spoil your day. Procopius of Caesarea remarked: "During this year [536 A.D.] a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness. and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear." Many documents from 535 - 536 A.D.--the time of King Arthur in Britain--speak of the terrible "dry fog" or cloud of dust that obscured the sun, causing widespread crop failures in Europe, and summer frosts, drought, and famine in China. Tree ring studies in Europe confirm several years of very poor growth around that time, and ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica show highly elevated levels of atmospheric sulfuric acid dust existed.

Though some scientists believe the climate calamity of 535-536 A.D. was due to a comet or asteroid hitting the Earth, it is widely thought that the event was probably caused by the most massive volcanic eruption of the past 1500 years. This eruption threw so much sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas into the stratosphere that a "Volcanic Winter" resulted. Sulfur dioxide reacts with water to form sulfuric acid droplets (aerosol particles), which are highly reflective and reduce the amount of incoming sunlight. The potential eruption that led to the 535 - 536 A.D. climate calamity would have likely been a magnitude 7 event on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI)--a "super colossal" eruption that one can expect to occur only once every 1000 years. The Volcanic Explosivity Index is a logarithmic scale like the Richter scale used to rate earthquakes, so a magnitude 7 eruption would eject ten times more material than the two largest eruptions of the past century--the magnitude 6 eruptions of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines (1991) and Novarupta in Alaska (1912).


Figure 1. An 18 km-high volcanic plume from one of a series of explosive eruptions of Mount Pinatubo beginning on 12 June 1991, viewed from Clark Air Base (about 20 km east of the volcano). Three days later, the most powerful eruption produced a plume that rose nearly 40 km, penetrating well into the stratosphere. Pinatubo's sulfur emissions cooled the Earth by about 1°F (0.5°C) for 1 - 2 years. (Photograph by David H. Harlow, USGS.)

Super-colossal eruptions
There has been only one other magnitude 7 "super-colossal" eruption in the past 1500 years--the massive eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora in 1815. The sulfur pumped by this eruption into the stratosphere dimmed sunlight so extensively that global temperatures fell by about 2°F (1°C) for 1 - 2 years afterward. This triggered the famed Year Without a Summer in 1816. Killing frosts and snow storms in May and June 1816 in Eastern Canada and New England caused widespread crop failures, and lake and river ice were observed as far south as Pennsylvania in July and August. The Tambora eruption was about 40% smaller than the 535 - 536 A.D. event, as measured by the number of sulfur aerosol particles deposited in Greenland ice cores.

In an article published in 2008 in the American Geophysical Union journal EOS, Dr. Ken Verosub of the University of California, Davis Department of Geology estimated that future eruptions capable of causing "Volcanic Winter" effects severe enough to depress global temperatures by 2°F (1°C) and trigger widespread crop failures for 1 - 2 years afterwards should occur about once every 200 - 300 years. Even a magnitude 6 eruption, such as the 1600 eruption of the Peruvian volcano Huaynaputina, can cause climatic change capable of killing millions of people. The Huaynaputina eruption is blamed for the Russian famine of 1601-1603, which killed over half a million people and led to the overthrow of Tsar Boris Godunov. Thankfully, the climatic impacts of all of these historic magnitude 6 and 7 eruptions have been relatively short-lived. After about two years, the sulfuric acid aerosol particles have settled out of the stratosphere, returning the climate to its former state.

Mega-colossal eruptions
Even more extreme eruptions have occurred in Earth's past--eruptions ten times more powerful than the Tambora eruption, earning a ranking of 8 out of 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI). These "mega-colossal" eruptions occur only about once every 10,000 years, but have much longer-lasting climatic effects and thus are a more significant threat to human civilization. According to the Toba Catastrophe Theory, a mega-colossal eruption at Toba Caldera, Sumatra, about 74,000 years ago, was 3500 times greater than the Tambora eruption. According to model simulations, an eruption this large can pump so much sulfur dioxide gas into the stratosphere that the atmosphere does not have the capacity to oxidize all the SO2 to sulfuric acid aerosol. The atmosphere oxidizes as much SO2 as it can, leaving a huge reservoir of SO2 in the stratosphere. This SO2 gradually reacts to form sulfuric acid as the OH radicals needed for this reaction are gradually produced. The result is a much longer-lasting climate effect than the 1 - 2 years that the magnitude 6 and 7 events of 535, 1600, 1815, and 1991 lasted. A magnitude 8 eruption like the Toba event can cool the globe for 6 - 10 years (Figure 3), which may be long enough to trigger an ice age--if the climate is already on the verge of tipping into an ice age. Rampino and Self (1992) argued that the sulfur aerosol veil from Toba was thick and long-lasting enough to cool the globe by 3 - 5°C (5 - 9°F), pushing the climate--which was already cooling and perhaps headed towards an ice age--into a full-scale ice age. They suggested that the response of Canada to the volcano played a particularly important role, with their model predicting a 12°C (22°F) reduction in summer temperatures in Canada. This would have favored the growth of the Laurentide ice sheet, increasing the reflectivity (albedo) of the Earth, reflecting more sunlight and reducing temperatures further. The controversial Toba Catastrophe Theory asserts that the resulting sudden climate change reduced the Earth's population of humans to 1,000 - 10,000 breeding pairs. More recent research has shed considerable doubt on the idea that the Toba eruption pushed the climate into an ice age, though. Oppenheimer (2002) found evidence supporting only a 2°F (1.1°C) cooling of the globe, for the 1000 years after the Toba eruption. Zielinski et al. (1996) argued that the Toba eruption did not trigger a major ice age--the eruption merely pushed the globe into a cool period that lasted 200 years. Interestingly, a previous super-eruption of Toba, 788,000 years ago, coincided with a transition from an ice age to a warm period.


Figure 2. The 100x30 square kilometer Toba Caldera is situated in north-central Sumatra around 200 km north of the Equator. It is comprised of four overlapping calderas aligned with the Sumatran volcanic chain. Repeated volcanic cataclysms culminated in the stupendous expulsion of the Younger Toba Tuff around 74,000 years ago. The lake area is 100 square kilometers. Samosir Island formed as a result of subsequent uplift above the evacuated magma reservoir. Such resurgent domes are typically seen as the concluding phase of a large eruption. Landsat Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) browse images for path/row 128/58 (6 September 1999) and 129/58 (21 January 2001) from http://landsat7.usgs.gov/. Copyright USGS. Image source: Oppenheimer, C., 2002, "Limited global change due to the largest known Quaternary eruption, Toba 74 kyr BP?"Quaternary Science Reviews, 21, Issues 14-15, August 2002, Pages 1593-1609.


Figure 3. Total mass of sulfur dioxide and sulfate aerosol in the stratosphere (heavy solid and dotted lines, respectively) modeled for a 6 petagram stratospheric injection of SO2. Observed SO2 and aerosol mass for the 1991 Pinatubo eruption are shown for comparison. The much larger amount of SO2 in the Toba simulation soaks up all available oxidants in the stratosphere leading to a much longer lifetime of SO2 and, in turn, prolonging the manufacture of sulfate aerosol. Data from Read et al. (1993) and Bekki et al. (1996). Image source: Oppenheimer, C., 2002, "Limited global change due to the largest known Quaternary eruption, Toba 74 kyr BP?"Quaternary Science Reviews, 21, Issues 14-15, August 2002, Pages 1593-1609.

When can we expect the next mega-colossal eruption?
Given the observed frequency of one mega-colossal magnitude 8 volcanic eruption every 1.4 million years, the odds of another hitting in the next 100 years is about .014%, according to Mason et al., 2004. This works out to a 1% chance over the next 7200 years. Rampino (2002) puts the average frequency of such eruptions at once every 50,000 years--about double the frequency with which 1-km diameter comets or asteroids capable of causing a similar climatic effect hit the Earth. A likely location for the next mega-colossal eruption would be at the Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming, which has had magnitude 7 or 8 eruptions as often as every 650,000 years. The last mega-colossal eruption there was about 640,000 years ago. But don't worry, the seismic activity under Yellowstone Lake earlier this year has died down, and the uplift of the ground over the Yellowstone caldera that was as large as 7 cm/yr (2.7 inches/yr) between 2004 - 2006 has now fallen to 4 cm/yr, according to the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. The USGS states that "the Yellowstone volcanic system shows no signs that it is headed toward such an eruption. The probability of a large caldera-forming eruption within the next few thousand years is exceedingly low".

What would happen if a magnitude 8 mega-colossal eruption were to occur today?
If a mega-colossal eruption were to occur today, it would probably not be able to push Earth into an ice age, according to a modeling study done by Jones et al. (2005). They found that an eruption like Toba would cool the Earth by about 17°F (9.4°C) after the first year (Figure 3), and the temperature would gradually recover to 3°F (1.8°C) below normal ten years after the eruption. They found that the eruption would reduce rainfall by 50% globally for the first two years, and up to 90% over the Amazon, Southeast Asia, and central Africa. This would obviously be very bad for human civilization, with the cold and lack of sunshine causing widespread crop failures and starvation of millions of people. Furthermore, the eruption would lead to a partial loss of Earth's protective ozone layer, allowing highly damaging levels of ultraviolet light to penetrate to the surface.

Not even a mega-colossal eruption of this magnitude would stop global warming, though. The level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would not be affected by the volcanic eruption, and warming would resume where it left off once the stratospheric dust settled out in a decade. With civilization crippled by the disaster, greenhouse gas emissions would be substantially reduced, though (small solace!) If we really want to say goodbye to civilization, a repeat of the only magnitude 9 eruption in recorded history should do the trick--the magnitude 9.2 La Garita, Colorado blast of 27.8 million years ago (Mason et al., 2004).


Figure 4. Annual near-surface temperature anomalies for the year following a mega-colossal volcanic eruption like the Toba eruption of 74,000 years ago, if it were to occur today. Most land areas cool by 22°F (12°C) compared to average. Some areas, like Africa, cool by 29°F (16°C). Image credit: Jones, G.S., et al., 2005, "An AOGCM simulation of the climate response to a volcanic super-eruption", Climate Dynamics, 25, Numbers 7-8, pp 725-738, December, 2005.

What would happen if a magnitude 7 super-colossal eruption were to occur today?
An eruption today like the magnitude 7 events of 535 A.D. or 1815 would cause cause wide-spread crop failures for 1 - 2 years after the eruption. With food supplies in the world already stretched thin by rising population, decreased water availability, and conversion of cropland to grow biofuels, a major volcanic eruption would probably create widespread famine, threatening the lives of millions of people. Wars over scarce resources might result. However, society's vulnerability to major volcanic eruptions is less than it was, since the globe has warmed significantly in the past 200 years. The famines from the eruptions of 1600 and 1815 both occurred during the Little Ice Age, when global temperatures were about 1.4°F (0.8°C) cooler than today. Crop failures would not be as wide-spread with today's global temperatures, if a suer-colossal eruption were to occur. Fifty years from now, when global temperatures are expected to be at least 1°C warmer, a magnitude 7 eruption should only be able to cool the climate down to year 2009 levels.

Volcanoes also warm the climate
While volcanoes cool the climate on time scales of 1 - 2 years, they act to warm the climate over longer time scales, since they are an important source of natural CO2 to the atmosphere. Volcanoes add 0.1 - 0.3 gigatons (Gt) of carbon to the atmosphere each year, which is about 1 - 3% of what human carbon emissions to the atmosphere were in 2007, according to the Global Carbon Project. In fact, volcanoes are largely responsible for the natural CO2 in the atmosphere, and helped make life possible on Earth. Why, then, haven't CO2 levels continuously risen over geologic time, turning Earth into a steamy hothouse? In fact, CO2 levels have fallen considerably since the time of the dinosaurs--how can this be? Well, volcano-emitted CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by chemical weathering. This occurs when rain and snow fall on rocks containing silicates. The moisture and silicates react with CO2, pulling it out of the air. The carbon removed from the air is then washed into the sea, where it ends up in ocean sediments that gradually harden into rock. Rates of chemical weathering on Earth have accelerated since the time of the dinosaurs, largely due to the recent uplift of the Himalaya Mountains and Tibetan Plateau. These highlands undergo a tremendous amount of weathering, thanks to their lofty heights and the rains of the Asian Monsoon that they capture. Unfortunately, chemical weathering cannot help us with our current high levels of greenhouse gases, since chemical weathering takes thousands of years to remove significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. It takes about 100,000 years for silicate weathering to remove 63% of the CO2 in the atmosphere. Thus, climate models predict that chemical weathering will solve our greenhouse gas problem in about 100,000 - 200,000 years.

For further information
PBS TV special on the 535-536 A.D. disaster.
Newspaper articles on the 535-536 A.D. disaster.
Volcanic winter article from wikipedia.
Realclimate.org has a nice article that goes into the volcano-climate connection in greater detail.

References
Bekki, S., J.A. Pyle, W. Zhong, R. Toumi, J.D. Haigh and D.M. Pyle, 1996, "The role of microphysical and chemical processes in prolonging the climate forcing of the Toba eruption", Geophysical Research Letters 23 (1996), pp. 2669-2672.

Jones, G.S., et al., 2005, "An AOGCM simulation of the climate response to a volcanic super-eruption", Climate Dynamics, 25, Numbers 7-8, pp 725-738, December, 2005.

Rampino, M.R., and S. Self, 1993, "Climate-volcanism feedback and the Toba eruption of 74,000 years ago", Quaternary Research 40 (1993), pp. 269-280.

Mason, B.G., D.M. Pyle, and C. Oppenheimer, 2004, "The size and frequency of the largest observed explosive eruptions on Earth", Bulletin of Volcanology" 66, Number 8, December 2004, pp 735-748.

Oppenheimer, C., 2002, "Limited global change due to the largest known Quaternary eruption, Toba 74 kyr BP?"Quaternary Science Reviews, 21, Issues 14-15, August 2002, Pages 1593-1609.

Rampino, M.R., 2002, "Supereruptions as a Threat to Civilizations on Earth-like Planets", Icarus, 156, Issue 2, April 2002, Pages 562-569.

Read, W.G., L. Froidevaux and J.W. Waters, 1993, "Microwave Limb Sounder measurements of stratospheric SO2 from the Mt. Pinatubo eruption", Geophysical Research Letters 20 (1993), pp. 1299-1302.

Verosub, K.L., and J. Lippman, 2008, "Global Impacts of the 1600 Eruption of Peru's Huaynaputina Volcano", EOS 89, 15, 8 April 2008, pp 141-142.

Zielinski, G.A. et al., 1996, "Potential Atmospheric Impact of the Toba Mega-Eruption 71,000 Years Ago", Geophysical Research Letters, 23, 8, pp. 837-840, 1996.

Portlight moves to provide relief for South Carolina wildfires
South Carolina's biggest wildfire in more than three decades --a blaze four miles wide--destroyed dozens of homes near Myrtle Beach yesterday. Portlight Strategies, Inc. is preparing to respond to this disaster, focusing on providing drinks and sanitary products to firefighters, particularly to rural volunteer fire departments and other first responders which do not have the same resources as some of the larger paid departments. To help out, visit the Portlight South Carolina fire relief web page. Thanks!

Jeff Masters

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Quoting hahaguy:


Well form what weather456 and drak said it may look like the 2004 setup. But that was their guesses.


I agree. I was thinking we'd see a weakness from Mississippi eastward.
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Quoting homelesswanderer:

I have too. I guess thats another thing hard to predict.


It's one of the hardest things to predict. Like 2007 no one expected the high to be that strong.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting hahaguy:


Well form what weather456 and drak said it may look like the 2004 setup. But that was their guesses.


For my sake I really hope thats not the case.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15946
Quoting hahaguy:


I've been hearing a lot of different theories of where the B/H is gonna setup this year.

I have too. I guess thats another thing hard to predict.
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Quoting PresidentialElection:


there is clearly no getting through to you, now isn't there?


mel..got a real nice email from you..and you can't deny it. Also..guess what your next on my ignore im done with you..and im sure by the season starts you'll be talking on the blog as an invisable person, as you will be on everyones ignore if not already banned.
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
Quoting CatastrophicDL:
HaHa thanks for fixing that, I was having a hard time figuring out what a "didn't theory" was!


Ya I looked at it and realized what the hell is a didn't theory lol.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting weatherganny:
Is the B/H a "problem" for us this year?? Or does anyone know?


Well form what weather456 and drak said it may look like the 2004 setup. But that was their guesses.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting hahaguy:


I've been hearing a lot of different theories of where the B/H is gonna setup this year.
Is the B/H a "problem" for us this year?? Or does anyone know?
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Quoting Ossqss:
haha, you keep changin hair doo's ?


Ya I change it when I'm in a different mood LOL.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting PresidentialElection:



I'm really not going to argue with you, cause your devious, diabolic and vendictive malicious intention is to gte me band, but, I'm ain't falling for that, thankfully.


did you ever think folks would forgive and forget? Its on you, not them.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
HaHa thanks for fixing that, I was having a hard time figuring out what a "didn't theory" was!
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haha, you keep changin hair doo's ?
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Quoting homelesswanderer:
Yeah. I agree with you there. 2006 was a nice break. LOL. I think the most decisive factor in whether most storms come here is the position of that bermuda high.
I am still learning all of the things that play a role in our area being more of a target.
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Quoting PresidentialElection:


there is clearly no getting through to you, now isn't there?


Do the deed
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Quoting homelesswanderer:
Yeah. I agree with you there. 2006 was a nice break. LOL. I think the most decisive factor in whether most storms come here is the position of that bermuda high.


I've been hearing a lot of different theories of where the B/H is gonna setup this year.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting weatherganny:
That's good!! Hope we have an ok season this year...
Yeah. I agree with you there. 2006 was a nice break. LOL. I think the most decisive factor in whether most storms come here is the position of that bermuda high.
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It's not even june 1st and we got this crap.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting homelesswanderer:

Yes the tree fell away from the house. Luckily missed the neighbors behind us.
That's good!! Hope we have an ok season this year...
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Quoting CaneAddict:


And he should stop emailing people with harrasing messages using profanity...i give him 24 hours before being banned PERMANENTLY!


It should be known to all that IP tracing is commonplace. Your link is your ink. That's a fact for snack.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Quoting CaneAddict:


And he should stop emailing people with harrasing messages using profanity...i give him 24 hours before being banned PERMANENTLY!


Thats starting again??
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15946
Beell, thanks again. A couple of those links weren't working for me, but I got enough info from the others.
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Quoting weatherganny:
I have too. It's very informative here, I like to get information early and this blog really helps be prepared for our area.Dis you do ok with Ike??

Yes the tree fell away from the house. Luckily missed the neighbors behind us.
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Quoting Ossqss:
PresElect person, I hear a dissonance around you.

I don't know you, and I really don't count, but it feels like you owe an appology to some to clear the air from prior dispair. I only see that in front of me. Make it so, so we all know.




And he should stop emailing people with harrasing messages using profanity...i give him 24 hours before being banned PERMANENTLY!
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
Quoting homelesswanderer:
Hi. Glad to hear you made it through Ike ok. I'm on the Texas gulf coast too. Learned a lot here since last year.
I have too. It's very informative here, I like to get information early and this blog really helps be prepared for our area.Dis you do ok with Ike??
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656. beell
Quoting CatastrophicDL:
Does 456 have more than one blog? I'm only seeing Hurricane FAQ with no graphics.


In the comments- No's 7, 11, 13, and 17
Weather456

(YW x2)
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Quoting weatherganny:

Yes, just moderate damage to property and home.Still cleaning up property but home is finished.I'm a nurse and I have alot of my elderly patients talking about this season which is unusual.
Hi. Glad to hear you made it through Ike ok. I'm on the Texas gulf coast too. Learned a lot here since last year.
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Does 456 have more than one blog? I'm only seeing Hurricane FAQ with no graphics.
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Beell, awesome. I knew I'd seen it mentioned somewhere. Thanks!
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652. beell
Quoting CatastrophicDL:


That's about what I was thinking. Thanks Beell. Didn't someone post the predicted location of the Bermuda/Azores High earlier today? Anyone have that?


Drak posted some long-term AB graphics in 456's blog today.
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i saw a TV show one time wish was on stargat SG1 and this was about the same kind of thing
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115357
Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Ah a conversation starter!

Well by the way it looks now...Probably another three or so weeks JMO.


That's about what I was thinking. Thanks Beell. Didn't someone post the predicted location of the Bermuda/Azores High earlier today? Anyone have that?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
PresElect person, I hear a dissonance around you.

I don't know you, and I really don't count, but it feels like you owe an appology to some to clear the air from prior dispair. I only see that in front of me. Make it so, so we all know.


Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
i think the Mexican border sould be shut down in tell this swine flus is take in care of wish means no one can enter or leve MX
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115357
645. beell
640.
Here's a fun little chart...

ITCZ Animation
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Quoting CatastrophicDL:
When will we see the ITCZ shift further north?


Ah a conversation starter!

Well by the way it looks now...Probably another three or so weeks JMO.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15946
Quoting PresidentialElection:


Thank God, I'm so relieved for you!

Thanks!! We were very blessed!!!
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When will we see the ITCZ shift further north?
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Quoting KoritheMan:


No one can really predict that with any reasonable degree of accuracy.

Basically, if shear is below average (which it probably will be) throughout the season, the other main factor we need to take into account to determine who is and isn't hit is the position and strength of the Bermuda High. The further south this goes (like in 2007), the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico will be at greatest risk. If the high manifests itself further northward, say, over the Greater Antilles, Texas would probably be under the gun. Or, this year could be like 2004 or 2005, where a strong high pressure ridge is draped along the southeastern coast of the United States.
Thanks, I am trying to learn all I can from this blog and most of you are a gigantic help especially when my area is in the path of a storm. I really appreciate all of the information.
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Quoting SevereHurricane:


"Copyright � 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press."




SO WHAT its news that evere one needs too here


DONT GO TO MX in tell this thing is overe
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115357
KoritheMan IM me thank you
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115357
Quoting Tazmanian:
2 swine flus in Kan


NEW YORK %u2013 At least two cases of the human swine influenza have been confirmed in Kansas and one more in California, bringing the U.S. total to 11. At least eight students at a New York City high school probably have swine flu, but health officials said Saturday they don't know whether they have the same strain of the virus that has killed scores of people in Mexico.

A strain of the flu has killed as many as 68 people and sickened more than 1,000 across Mexico. The World Health Organization chief said Saturday the strain has "pandemic potential" and it may be too late to contain a sudden outbreak.

Kansas health officials said Saturday they had confirmed swine flu in a married couple living in the central part of the state after the husband visited Mexico. The couple, who live in Dickinson County, were not hospitalized, and the state described their illnesses as mild.

Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, the state health officer, said, "Fortunately, the man and woman understand the gravity of the situation and are very willing to isolate themselves."

The man traveled to Mexico last week for a professional conference and became ill after he returned home. His wife became ill later. Their doctor suspected swine flu, but it wasn't confirmed until flu specimens were flown to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A flu viruses, the CDC's Web site says. Human cases of swine flu are uncommon but can happen in people who are around pigs and can be spread from person to person. Symptoms of the flu include a fever of more than 100 degrees, body aches, coughing, a sore throat, respiratory congestion and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.

At least nine swine flu cases have been reported in California and Texas. The new California case, the seventh there, was a 35-year-old Imperial County woman who was hospitalized but recovered. The woman, whose illness began in early April, had no known contact with the other cases.

The 11 U.S. swine flu victims range in age from 9 to over 50. All recovered or are recovering; at least two were hospitalized.

Health officials are worried because people appear to have no immunity to the virus, a combination of bird, swine and human influenzas. Also, the virus presents itself like other swine flus, but none of the U.S. cases appears to involve direct contact with pigs, said Eberhart-Phillips, who called the strain "a completely novel virus."

"It appears to be able to transmit easily between humans," Eberhart-Phillips said. "It's something that could potentially become very big, and we're only seeing, potentially, the very beginning of a widespread outbreak."

New York health officials said more than 100 students at the private St. Francis Preparatory School, in Queens, had come down with a fever, sore throat and other aches and pains in the past few days. Some of their relatives also have been ill.

New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said nose and throat swabs had confirmed that eight students had a non-human strain of influenza type A, indicating probable cases of swine flu, but the exact subtypes were still unknown.

Samples had been sent to the CDC for more testing. Results were expected Sunday.

Parent Elaine Caporaso's 18-year-old son Eddie, a senior at the school, had a fever and cough and went to a hospital where a screening center had been set up.

"I don't know if there is an incubation period, if I am contaminated," Caporaso told the Daily News. "I don't want my family to get sick, and I don't want to get anybody else sick."

The symptoms in the New York cases have all been mild, Frieden said, but the illnesses have caused concern because of the deadly outbreak in Mexico.

Frieden said that if the CDC confirms that the students have swine flu, he will likely recommend that St. Francis Preparatory remain closed on Monday "out of an abundance of caution."

"You could say, 'All you've got is a lot of kids with mild illness. Why close a school?'" Frieden said.

One factor, he said, is that the illness appears to be moving efficiently from person to person, affecting as many as 100 to 200 people in a student body of 2,700.

"We're very concerned about what may happen," he said, although he noted that the pattern of illness appeared different from in Mexico, where much larger groups of people have become much sicker. Overall, flu cases have been declining in the city in recent weeks, he said.

"If we were to see, as they have in Mexico City, a large number of people becoming seriously ill with flu, that would be a very different situation from what we have now," he said.

The city health department has asked doctors to be extra vigilant in the coming days and test any patients who have flu-like symptoms and have traveled recently to California, Texas or Mexico.

Investigators also were testing children who fell ill at a day care center in the Bronx, Frieden said. And two families in Manhattan had contacted the city, saying they had recently returned ill from Mexico with flu-like symptoms.

Frieden said New Yorkers having trouble breathing due to an undiagnosed respiratory illness should seek treatment but shouldn't become overly alarmed. Medical facilities in the part of Queens near St. Francis Prep, he said, had already been flooded with people overreacting to the outbreak.


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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.