TIME natural disaster

Watch: Giant Colorado Mudslide Leaves 3 Missing

Collapsed ridge is thought to be four miles long and two miles wide

Rescue teams in western Colorado are searching for three people missing after a four-mile long mudslide in Mesa County.

The mud is thought to be 250ft deep in places, the Associated Press reports, after an entire ridge collapsed in the wake of heavy rainfall.

The area is extremely remote, and authorities said it was unlikely any structures had been swallowed by the mudslide. The nearest major road, the I-70, is around 26 miles away from the area and not in any danger.

TIME natural disaster

San Diego Wildfire Destruction Could Reach 30,000 Acres

California wild fires
A longtime exposure shows smoldering remains of overnight fires on the hillsides of San Marcos, San Diego county, Calif., May 16, 2014. Stuart Palley—EPA

Only one of the seven major blazes in the outskirts of San Diego had been fully contained by early Saturday, and the rest are expected to spread further — though cooler, more humid weather will help in the fight to extinguish the fires

San Diego residents began returning home Saturday even as some of the worst early-season wildfires in California’s history continued to carve a swathe of destruction along the city’s drought-wasted outskirts, threatening to engulf up to 30,000 acres of land.

The dozen or so fires that raged in the less populated areas around California’s second-largest city had desolated more than 26,000 total acres of land, or 40 square miles by early Saturday, Cal Fire Capt. Richard Cordova told TIME. Only one of the seven major blazes had been fully contained, and the rest are expected to spread further.

A fire that began on Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook on Wednesday had affected over 6,500 acres and a separate fire first reported Thursday—the “Las Pulgas” fire—engulfed 15,000 acres.

A total of 11 single-family homes in San Diego county and 25 structures of the Harmony Grove Spiritualist Association have been destroyed so far in the 2,520-acre Cocos fire, based on a damage assessment late Friday by local authorities. Dozens of home have been swallowed up over the course of the week.

An unusually harsh drought this season, along with hot, arid winds from the east have made the region particularly susceptible to fire, said Cordova, exacerbating the risk of the region’s 10-year fire cycle, which lands this year.

“We get extreme fire behavior every 10 years and the drought doesn’t help. This is very odd for the month of May to have these types of fires,” Cordova said.

Parts of the county were reopened for residents after some of the worst fires were quelled, with sections of San Marcos and the Del Dios corridor around Lake Hodges, but much of the area remained closed as the fire continued to burn actively with strong winds.

Up to 125,000 people have been forced to leave their homes, Reuters reports.

Authorities were investigating how so many fires started at the same time and whether they were intentionally set. Two teenagers were arrested on Thursday on suspicion of setting two small fires that bystanders quickly extinguished. A 57-year-old man was also charged with arson Friday in connection with a fire near the suburban area of Oceanside.

The fire erupted Wednesday near the town of San Marcos after the worst drought season since the federal government began monitoring levels in 2000.

Local firefighters are working closely with the U.S. military and national guard this year, who will deploy aid within 24 hours, faster than the four to five days of previous years, the Cordova said.

The fire could burn as much as 30,000 acres but cooler, more humid weather over the next few days will help firefighting efforts.

TIME natural disaster

San Diego Wildfires Leave Haunting, Burned-Out Landscapes

At least twelve separate fires raged through 20,000 acres of land in San Diego County, Calif. this week, leaving scorched hillsides and piles of ashes where houses once stood. Most blazes were under control Saturday, with at least one man charged with arson for starting a fire

TIME weather

Entire State of California Facing Worst Drought Since Tracking Began

California Drought
Cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino, Calif., on March 13, 2014. Marcio Jose Sanchez—AP

The entire state of California is suffering the most intense drought since the federal government began monitoring drought levels in 2000. Wildfires in the south have burned down at least 30 homes, in an “unprecedented” intensity, climatologist Mark Svoboda said

The entire state of California is facing a “severe” drought or worse for the first time since tracking began in 2000, according to the federal U.S. Drought Monitor.

The level of drought in the state, where wildfires in the south have burned down at least 30 homes, is “unprecedented” over the past decade and a half, climatologist Mark Svoboda, from the National Drought Mitigation Center, which runs the monitor based out of Nebraska, told USA Today.

Nearly a quarter of the state is facing an “exceptional” drought, the worst possible categorization, including the entire Bay Area. Another half of the state, including Los Angeles and San Diego, is in the midst of an “extreme” drought, while the remainder of the state is in the midst of a “severe” drought, the third most dire category.

[USA Today]

TIME weather

The Scariest Picture You’ll See All Day: A ‘Firenado’

FIRENADO TEARS THROUGH MISSOURI FIELD
A 'firenado' tears through a field in Chillicothe, Missouri on May 3, 2014. Part fire, part tornado this blazing twister was spotted by Missouri native Janae Copelin while out driving. Janae Copelin—Barcroft Media/Landov

Bill Paxton never could have predicted this

You thought the highly underrated 1996 action movie Twister taught you everything there was to know about tornadoes, but you were wrong. Meet the firenado, which is exactly what it sounds like: a tornado that sucks up surrounding fire, creating a swirling, burning cone of disaster. The above firenado was captured on Instagram by Janae Copelin in Chillicothe, Missouri. No injuries were reported.

TIME Environment

Obama to Arkansas Tornado Survivors: Your Country Is Here For You

Barack Obama Vilonia, Arkansas Tornado
President Barack Obama tours tornado-damaged areas and talks with Daniel Smith and his sons Garrison Dority and Gabriel Dority in Vilonia, Ark. on May 7, 2014. Susan Walsh—AP

President Barack Obama toured areas in Arkansas on Wednesday that were destroyed by forceful tornadoes in late April, promising support to residents: "Your country is going to be here for you"

President Obama told residents of an Arkansas town blasted by tornadoes in late April that the federal government will have their backs throughout the rebuilding process.

“Your country is going to be here for you,” Obama said during a press conference Wednesday. The President spent Wednesday touring areas destroyed by severe weather including Vilonia, Ark. just outside of Little Rock. The April 27 storms killed 15 and left hundreds of homes ruined.

On Wednesday, Obama praised the people of Arkansas for their strength in his promises to provide support. “Folks here are tough,” Obama said. “They look out for one another … that’s been especially true this past week.”

TIME Japan

Strong Quake Rattles Tokyo but Few Injuries Reported

Japan's highest peak of Mt. Fuji and Shinjuku skyscrapers in central Tokyo, on Dec. 16, 2013.
Japan's highest peak of Mt. Fuji and Shinjuku skyscrapers in central Tokyo, on Dec. 16, 2013. Kimimasa Mayama—EPA

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake centered 100 miles south of Tokyo shook the Japanese capital early on Monday; however, no deaths or major damage have been reported in the tremor’s wake

A powerful earthquake rattled the nerves of Tokyo residents in the early hours of Monday morning, but failed to cause any substantial damage.

Local authorities reported that at least 17 people were injured as a result of the 6.2-magnitude earthquake, according to the Associated Press.

Japan’s national broadcaster NHK reported that Monday’s quake was the strongest seismic convulsion to shake the capital since powerful aftershocks hit Tokyo in the wake of the massive 2011 earthquake that struck off the country’s northeast coast.

[AP]

TIME Afghanistan

2,000 Missing in Afghanistan Landslide

Afghan villagers gather at the site of a landslide at the Argo district in Badakhshan province, May 2, 2014.
Afghan villagers gather at the site of a landslide at the Argo district in Badakhshan province, May 2, 2014. Reuters

About 300 homes were destroyed after intense rains caused a hill to collapse on the village Hobo Barik

Updated: Friday, 12:35 p.m. ET

A landslide in a remote village of northeastern Afghanistan buried about 300 homes and left about 2,000 people missing Friday, an official said.

A spokesman for the United Nations said at least 350 people were confirmed dead so far, the Associated Press reports. Search efforts were underway but rescuers were strapped for supplies and officials in nearby villages were worried about the possibility of additional landslides.

“It’s physically impossible right now,” Gov. Shah Waliullah Adeeb, of Badakshan province, told the AP. “We don’t have enough shovels; we need more machinery.”

Initial reports had tallied the number of missing people at 250, with seven rescued. The landslide reportedly occurred after intense rains caused a hill to collapse on the village Hobo Barik.

[AP]

TIME

Southern California Blaze Kicks Off What Could Be Especially Dangerous Wildfire Season

A fire crew uses their deck gun to cut down an aggressive branch of the Etiwanda Fire in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., on April 30, 2014.
A fire crew uses their deck gun to cut down an aggressive branch of the Etiwanda Fire in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., on April 30, 2014. David Bro—Zuma Press

Rising temperatures and a prolonged drought have prepped the Golden State for what could become one of the most severe and dangerous wildfire seasons on record, beginning with the Etiwanda Fire that firefighters have about 53 percent contained

As he looks ahead to summer, firefighter Steve Abbott is worried about the down and dead. The term refers to the dry, lifeless leaves and branches that are explosive fuel for wildfires and which are more abundant in California this year thanks to an unprecedented drought that has gripped the state. “The combination of temperatures and fuel adds to our concern,” says Abbott, one of more than 500 firefighters now battling what’s known as the Etiwanda Fire in San Bernardino County east of Los Angeles.

The fire, which started on April 30, has burned about 1,600 acres and was 53 percent contained by Thursday evening. In addition to the drought conditions and temperatures that climbed above 90 in Southern California this week, fierce Santa Ana winds helped propel the blaze and prevented fire crews from fighting it from the air. Although the fire has not yet destroyed any structures, Etiwanda is effectively opening night for a wildfire season that fire officials say could be one of the most severe and dangerous on record—and a preview of what life in a hotter and drier world could be for Californians.

That’s because the Golden State is primed to burn. California is suffering through its most severe dry spell in decades, with the entire state now in some category of drought. At the beginning of May the snowpack level in the Sierra Nevada mountains—a key source of stored water—was just 18% of normal. This winter, meanwhile, was the warmest on record for the state. The drought and the heat mean that plants and trees haven’t grown as many green leaves as usual. Those leaves help trees maintain moisture—and without them, the plants are that much more likely to ignite in a blaze. And it might not even take a fire to kill some of these parched trees. “If you don’t have the vegetation receiving water, not only do you have lower humidity levels in the plants, but some of the trees will actually die,” says Carlos Guerrero, a Glendale, Calif. fire captain and a spokesman for the multi-agency unified command battling the Etiwanda Fire. Dead trees means even more fuel on the ground as the height of the summer wildfire season approaches.

Guerrero and his fellow firefighters are getting the Etiwanda blaze under control—the mandatory evacuation orders announced after the fire began on Apr. 30 were lifted by the next day. But the changing climate means that the threat from wildfires is likely to only increase in the months and the years to come, in California and in much of the rest of the West. A study published last month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters found that the number of large wildfires in the West had increased by a rate of seven fires a year from 1984 to 2011, while the total area had increased at a rate of nearly 90,000 acres a year. Since 2000 more than 8 million acres have burned during six separate years. Before 2000, no year had seen 8 million acres burned. The authors connected the increase to climate change, as did the researchers behind a 2012 study in Ecosphere that predicted that global warming would likely cause more frequent wildfires in the Western U.S. within the next 30 years. Even the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, considered the gold standard for climate science, concluded that there was high confidence that global warming was already intensifying wildfires in the West.

Climate change isn’t the only factor behind the increasing wildfires in California and the West. Successful firefighting in the past has allowed some forests to grow beyond their natural limits, ironically providing more fuel for megafires. And the number of people who have moved to areas that border wild land has increased as well. Given that most wildfires are begun by human beings—either purposefully or by accident—more people near a forest means more chances for forest fires.

For people like Mia Hidayat, who lives in a housing development near the border of the Etiwanda Fire, that means the simple sight of dry brush and bushes in her neighborhood has taken on a new danger. “I’m afraid,” says Hidayat. As California’s wildfire season grows, many others are sure to feel the same.

TIME weather

Monster Storm Brings Record Rainfall to Southeastern U.S.

A truck is stuck in the middle of flooded Piedmont Street in the Cordova Park neighborhood after it washed out due to heavy rains on April 30, 2014 in Pensacola, Fla.
A truck is stuck in the middle of flooded Piedmont Street in the Cordova Park neighborhood after it washed out due to heavy rains on April 30, 2014 in Pensacola, Fla. Marianna Massey—Getty Images

The system that wrought devastating tornados in the Midwest and South over the last few days, leaving at least 35 people dead since Sunday, is unleashing record rainfall further east as forecasts project severe weather up to Virginia

The massive weather system that has wrought devastating tornados in the South unleashed record rainfall across the region overnight Tuesday, with forecasts projecting more severe weather in states from Florida and Alabama to Virginia.

Pensacola, Fla. reportedly suffered more than two feet of rain in a 26-hour period, according to a rain gauge owned by a local resident, as bridges were washed away and miles of highways shut across the region, stranding hundreds of drivers. About 6,000 lightning strikes were recorded in the region in just 15 minutes, NBC reports. Local officials called it the worst flooding the region had seen in 30 years.

Much of downtown Mobile, Ala. was flooded and water levels near Fish River, near Silverhill were at their highest levels in 60 years. Tuesday was Mobile’s fifth-wettest day in 143 years.

Tornado warnings were issues early Wednesday in several states, as the gargantuan weather system brought high winds and thunderstorms across the Deep South. Georgia, Alabama and Florida faced tornado alerts, with forecasters predicting the gravest tornado risks from South Carolina to Virginia.

At least 35 people have been killed in six states since Sunday.

[NBC]

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