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Strange and wild weather continued last week throughout the world, particularly in the United States.
Over the weekend, a powerful winter storm rolled across the American Midwest.
Waves of freezing rain, sleet and snow began on Friday; by Monday the storm took a total of 36 lives in Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, Texas, New York and Maine. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Missouri were left without power. Utility companies reported that power would not be restored for some until Wednesday. Eighteen inches of snow fell in parts of Colorado, and over an inch of freezing rain accumulated on roads and trees in Missouri.
Late Sunday (Jan. 14), President George W. Bush declared Oklahoma a federal disaster area, and a state of emergency was declared in Missouri. The same storm continued across the Northeast Monday and Tuesday. By Thursday, the death toll had risen to at least 65, including 10 in Texas and 23 in Oklahoma. A 300-mile stretch of Interstate 10 in Texas, from Fort Stockton to San Antonio, was shut down, and hundreds, if not thousands, of flights across the country were canceled.
This same storm brought several unusually cold nights to California. By Tuesday (Jan. 16), Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger estimated that the weather could result in a loss of $1 billion in state crops, hitting citrus particularly hard. In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, Gov. Schwarzenegger wrote, “These extreme weather conditions have had a devastating impact on California’s agricultural industry, exacting catastrophic losses on our citrus, avocado, vegetable and strawberry crops.”
California normally supplies a large portion of the fresh oranges across the U.S. “In many cases, only a small percentage of the crops were harvested when the freeze began, with the result being that some California growers are reporting a complete loss of their crop,” the governor wrote.
The Associated Press reported that parts of Arizona received more than a foot of snow on Sunday (Jan. 21). The weather was blamed for 11 traffic fatalities across the Plains states over the weekend, with officials closing a long stretch of Interstate 70 from Denver International Airport almost to the Kansas state line. Residents in parts of Oklahoma and Missouri were without power once again.
Elsewhere, brushfires disrupted power to Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne (3.7 million), as residents endured sweltering temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Storms also lashed out across Europe last week, with hurricane-force winds affecting several parts of the continent and claiming at least 46 lives. The storms also brought down power lines, damaged buildings and disrupted travel. Berlin’s new train station closed after a two-ton steel girder fell 130 feet onto a staircase. The entire German national railway was virtually shut down, with trees and overhead power lines down across the country. In both Germany and the Czech Republic over one million homes endured power losses. Deaths occurred in several countries as well: at least three in the Czech Republic, 12 in Germany, 14 in Britain, 6 in the Netherlands, 3 in France, 2 in Belgium and 6 in Poland.
Parts of Russia, however, have seen unseasonably warm temperatures. So far in January, Moscow and St. Petersburg have generally experienced temperatures above freezing. At St. Petersburg’s Leningradsky Zoo, two of five resident bears came out of hibernation weeks ahead of normal. Russia’s agriculture minister tried to minimize fears that the lack of hard frost (which helps improve soil structure) and snow cover (which serves as a blanket for crops) would negatively affect future harvests.
The increasing bad weather has begun to affect national and international politics as well, with politicians and governments blaming one another for policies that may be affecting “global warming” and therefore the increase in storms and unusual weather. The U.S., with the world’s largest economy and greatest per capita consumption of natural resources, stands to receive the most blame.