Friday, July 22, 2011

Extreme Heat Pushes Use Of Power Past Record In 13 States

D.C., Pa., NJ Among States That Set Record For Electricity Use
PHILADELPHIA -- People battling the heat broke a record for peak power usage in 13 states and the District of Columbia. PJM Interconnection said the record was set at 5:00 Thursday as customers used 158,450 megawatts of power. Each megawatt powers about 1,000 homes. The previous record for peak demand was set on August 2, 2006.
PJM company said its supplies held up to the demand from 58 million customers.
PJM serves customers in Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Allentown-based PPL said it set a record for electricity use on Friday. Early estimates indicated demand peaked at 7,600 megawatts during the noon hour. That's a record for both summer and winter usage.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shock forecast: NOAA predicts heat index of 116 in Washington, D.C.

By Jason Samenow - NOAA has upped its peak heat index prediction for D.C. Friday to a stunning, sweltering 116 degrees. Remarkably, it predicts there is a 90 percent chance it will reach at least 110 and a 100 percent chance of at least 105. Earlier today, NOAA was predicting a maximum heat index of 109 Friday. And poor Richmond, Va.! NOAA projects its heat index will soar to a stifling 118 degrees.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Giant dust storm moves through Phoenix area

PHOENIX (AP) — A giant wall of dust rolled through the Phoenix area on Monday, turning the sky brown, creating dangerous driving conditions and delaying some airline flights.

The dust, also known as a haboob in Arabic and around Arizona, formed in Pinal County and headed northeast, reaching Phoenix at about 5:30 p.m.

The dust wall was about 3,000 feet high and created winds of 25 to 30 mph, with gusts of up to 40 mph, said Austin Jamison, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Visibility was down to less than a quarter-mile in some areas, he said.

"You have suddenly very poor visibilities that come on with all the dense dust in the air," he said. "With poor visibilities, that makes for dangerous driving conditions and that's arguably the biggest impact."

There were no immediate reports of accidents on roadways because of the storm, which began to clear within an hour of moving in. The Arizona Department of Public Safety did not immediately return a request for information about road conditions.

Some departing flights at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport were delayed because of the storm, said airport spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez.

Incoming flights from nearby cities including Los Angeles were being held until the storm cleared, she said. She did not know how many flights were delayed or whether any were canceled.

Another giant dust storm in Arizona caught worldwide attention on July 5. That storm brought a mile-high wall of dust that halted airline flights, knocked out power for hundreds of people and turned swimming pools into mud pits.

Jamison said Monday's storm was not as powerful or as large as the last one, and didn't last as long.

"It's kind of like a ripple in a pond where it spreads out, slows down and fades out," he said.

Rodriguez said visibility at the airport was better Monday than it was during the July 5 storm, which grounded flights for 45 minutes.

"It's not as bad as it was," she said. "It's reduced but it's not terrible."

Weather officials say haboobs only happen in Arizona, the Sahara desert and parts of the Middle East because of dry conditions and large amounts of sand.

Pollution levels skyrocket during dust storms and create even more breathing problems for people with asthma and other similar conditions.

The dust also brings increases in a disease known as Valley Fever, a fungal pneumonia. Valley Fever thrives in the hot and arid Southwest in dirt found just a few feet beneath the earth's surface; it can be stirred up by construction, wind and other activity.


Associated Press writer Michelle Price contributed to this report.



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Monday, July 18, 2011

Gold Tops $1,600 an Ounce as Debt Fears Simmer

Reuters (Monday, July 18) - Gold prices rallied to record highs above $1,600 an ounce in Europe on Monday, as investors spooked by the euro zone debt crisis and the threat of a U.S. default bought into the metal as a haven from risk. Risk aversion swept the markets after euro zone stress test results failed to address the potential for a Greek sovereign debt default before a summit in Brussels on Thursday, and as a deadline to raise the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt ceiling loomed.

New Zealand city hit by 20 earthquakes a day

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — It's been 10 months since the first big earthquake struck New Zealand's second-largest city. It's been nearly five months since a far more devastating one killed 181 people and crippled the downtown. And it's been just a few hours since yet another aftershock startled Christchurch residents during the night.

"I stop breathing," said Sheridan Cattermole, a bartender and a mom. "I get pins and needles all over. I either freeze or run. I just want things to be back to what they were like this time last year. I had my vege garden, and my sunflowers."

Seismologists have recorded 7,500 earthquakes in Christchurch since September — an average of more than 20 a day. The rumblings are rattling the psyche of the still-battered city. They have left the land under thousands of homes unsafe to build on. Some people have left town entirely. Yet many have proven resilient, and some now see a reconstruction boom on the horizon.

Christchurch is the disaster that the world forgot. When the deadly quake toppled the iconic Cathedral spire and flattened buildings in this city of 390,000, people around the globe paid attention. But two weeks later, the massive earthquake and tsunami that left more than 23,000 dead and missing in Japan took center stage.

In New Zealand, the quake in Christchurch is reverberating. In a country of 4 million people, the cost of the quakes — estimated at more than $12 billion — amounts to 8 percent of annual economic output. Compare that to Hurricane Katrina, whose costs were less than 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. Christchurch will likely eclipse the Japan disaster in cost per person.

And nobody knows if the worst has passed. Not even the experts.

When Kevin Furlong, a professor of geosciences at Penn State University, came to Christchurch on a sabbatical last year, he thought he would be studying earthquakes in the abstract — not living through them.

The quakes in the city have not followed the classic pattern, he said. Typically, a big quake hits and is followed by a series of ever-diminishing aftershocks.

In Christchurch, the initial Sept. 4 magnitude-7.0 quake didn't cause widespread destruction because it was centered 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of the city, but it helped trigger at least two distinct new quakes on different fault lines, each with their own pattern of aftershocks.

First came a deadly magnitude 6.1 quake on Feb. 22, which was centered almost directly under a residential area and flattened buildings that had withstood the earlier quake. Then a 6.0 magnitude quake struck on June 13. Though no one died, it was a psychological blow to people trying to rebuild.

Earthquakes are maddeningly difficult to predict, Furlong said. There's no way of knowing whether there's more to come, he said, though the odds improve with each day that passes without a major event.

New Zealand geologists estimated last week that there was a 23 percent chance another big quake would hit within a year, down from 30 percent last month.

"I've become much more attuned to what the public wants to know: 'When will it stop and why are we having them,'" Furlong said. "To be honest, it's really frustrating. You just can't answer those very appropriate first-order questions."

That uncertainty is no comfort to people like Cattermole. She and her husband Pete, a cabinetmaker, and their three young children remained in their home in the working-class suburb of Bexley long after most neighbors had left.

As recently as late June, they were sleeping in the living room to escape the muck creeping through the walls and floor at the sunken rear of their home. Their ruined possessions lay in a heap in the front yard, awaiting an insurance assessment.

All around, buckled homes sat abandoned atop a sea of mud and sand. A makeshift blue water pipe snaked along the sidewalk. The few who remained announced their presence with cardboard signs like the Cattermoles': "3 Children & 2 Adults Still Here."

The problem: a phenomenon called liquefaction, when an earthquake forces underground water up through loose soil.

"It's the same physics as quicksand," Furlong said. "Whole acres turn into something of a liquid. Houses sink. Water and mud jet up through the surface. You get cracks, sand volcanoes, flooding."

He said that geologists are reassessing the importance of liquefaction after the devastating impact it has had on Christchurch.

Cattermole and her family endured long stretches without fresh water and, with the sewer system broken, used a portable toilet on the street or a chemical toilet inside. "There's so much stress around, you can just see it," she said.

They have since found a rental home and are moving out.

Their previous home was among more than 5,000 condemned by the New Zealand government last month because of liquefaction. Most are in the city's low-income eastern suburbs. Thousands more are likely to be condemned in what will force a major redesign of the suburbs.

The government has offered to pay homeowners for their losses, but many, Cattermole included, fear they will be priced out of new homes.

"There's a plentiful supply of Rolls Royce-priced sections, but they're not affordable for people on Toyota Corolla incomes," said Hugh Pavletich, a longtime Christchurch property developer and critic of the city's land-use policies. City officials say they're working hard to ensure there's plenty of affordable new land for displaced residents.

It's hard to gauge what long-term effect the quakes will have. School enrollment is down about 7 percent — an indication of families leaving — and the economy is fragile. Retail sales are down about 11 percent from pre-earthquake levels, and unemployment claims are up about 14 percent.

The center of the city remains off-limits behind chain-link fences and will stay that way for months, possibly years.

Demolition crews are planning to tear down about 1,000 hotels, office buildings and other unsafe structures. So far, they've taken down fewer than 150. City officials estimate it will take nine months just to demolish the 26-story Hotel Grand Chancellor, which has been teetering since February. When the city center reopens, fewer than half the buildings will remain.

The new downtown is likely to be much lower. Christchurch residents appear to have little appetite for high-rises these days. "The magic number I'm hearing is three stories," said Connal Townsend, chief executive of the Property Council of New Zealand, which represents commercial property owners.

Around the country, building owners are bracing for big insurance premium increases, particularly for older structures, Townsend said. Homeowners are also likely to see earthquake insurance rates climb significantly.

The Port of Christchurch in Lyttelton, which handles almost all the region's freight, has been unable to secure any earthquake insurance since June. The port's chief executive, Peter Davie, said he is essentially crossing his fingers, hoping that no more damaging quakes hit.

Even the Christchurch City Council has been unable to secure new earthquake insurance for much of its infrastructure.

Still, many are hoping that the billions of dollars flowing in from government and insurance payments will stoke a boom within a couple of years.

As the city looks to rebuild, Townsend said much will depend on the vision of city leaders: A bold reconstruction plan would inspire confidence and investment, while a second-rate one could scare away investors.

Attention is turning to Roger Sutton, a former energy executive who took a pay cut in June to become the first Christchurch earthquake czar, with broad planning powers.

Asked if he was worried whether new earthquakes could cause more damage, Sutton shook his head and said, "Hopefully, there's not much more to break."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hundreds flee eruption of Indonesian volcano

USA TODAY - A volcano erupted three times late tonight and early Friday in central Indonesia, sending lava and smoke thousands of feet into the air and scattering residents, according to news reports. There are no immediate reports of casualties. Mount Lokon in northern Sulawesi first erupted at 10:46 p.m. (11:46 a.m. ET), forcing 500 mountainside residents to flee, a disaster agency official told the Associated Press. A second blast occurred just after midnight and a third at 1:10 a.m.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Drought Spreads Pain From Florida to Arizona

New York Times — The heat and the drought are so bad in this southwest corner of Georgia that hogs can barely eat. Corn, a lucrative crop with a notorious thirst, is burning up in fields. Cotton plants are too weak to punch through soil so dry it might as well be pavement. He said it was the worst the lake, in drought-stricken South Florida, had been in more than a decade. Farmers with the money and equipment to irrigate are running wells dry in the unseasonably early and particularly brutal national drought that some say could rival the Dust Bowl days.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Stocks tumble on weak jobs growth

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — U.S. stocks slumped on Friday after a disappointing government jobs report prompted investors to dial back recent optimism about the economic recovery. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 118 points, or 0.9%, to 12,601 in midday trade. General Electric led the blue-chip average lower, dropping 2.1%, while Bank of America declined 2% and Caterpillar fell 1.9%. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index shed 15 points, or 1.1%, to 1,338, as industrial, financial and consumer discretionary stocks struggled. All 10 of the S&P 500’s sectors traded in negative territory.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gold futures close at a two-week high

July 6, 2011, 2:17 p.m. EDT (MarketWatch) — Gold futures closed at their highest level in two weeks Wednesday, with global-debt troubles helping it tally a two-session win of nearly $47 an ounce. Gold for August delivery /quotes/zigman/700181 GC1Q +1.14% closed up $16.50, or 1.1%, at $1,529.20 an ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract, which earlier touched a high of $1,534.50, marked its highest close since June 22.“ Gold’s current strength signals that something’s very seriously amiss on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Adrian Ash, head of research at, an online service for gold-bullion trading and ownership.

QUAKE WATCH: 7.8 New Zealand

2011/07/06 19:03:16 (UTC)
In the Kermadec Islands region, north of New Zealand
Preliminary Magnitude: 7.8
Latitude: -29.4 Longitude: -175.7
Location: in the Kermadec Islands region, north of New Zealand