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8 Extreme Weather Events As Seen From Space

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Most of us have seen at least one extreme weather event in our lives. But no matter how things look from the ground, these events look drastically different, even surprisingly peaceful, from above. Here are some of the biggest weather events of the last few decades, as seen from space.

1. Hurricane Katrina

Most of us remember the severe devastation Hurricane Katrina (top image) caused, and it’s easy to see why the storm presented so many problems when seen from above—the arms of the hurricane expanded across most of the Gulf of Mexico. When this image was taken on August 28, 2005, winds in the storm were recorded traveling at about 160 mph.

Katrina was not only one of the five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history—it was also the most expensive natural disaster in the country's history, causing more than $108 billion in damages.

2. Superstorm Sandy

Just last year, the Floss headquarters was closed for weeks thanks to this massive hurricane that caused over $75 billion in damage. 

3. Ireland and Britain’s Winter of 2009-2010

While not due to one storm in particular, the winter of 2009 through 2010 was unusually cold throughout Europe, earning the season the title of “The Big Freeze.” This satellite image from January 7, 2010 shows the extent of snow covering over England and Scotland.

4. Snowmageddon

Europe wasn’t the only area hit hard by winter that season. On February 5, 2010, the North Atlantic coast was hit by a category 3 (major) blizzard. Up to 35 inches of snow was dropped on the East Coast of the U.S. The area was already suffering from the effects of a blizzard that had occurred in December, and when another category 3 blizzard happened only a few days later, bringing another 20 inches of snow, the media began pronouncing the event “snowpocalypse,” “snoverkill” and “snowmageggon.” Catchy nicknames aside, the storms resulted in the snowiest winter on record for much of the Mid-Atlantic, which is easy to imagine given how much snow is visible in this satellite image taken on February 11.

5. Cyclone Gafilo

While it might not be as famous as many of the other storms on this list, 2004’s Cyclone Gafilo is the most intense cyclone to ever form in the south-western Indian Ocean and the strongest cyclone to strike Madagascar. With winds reaching over 185 miles per hour, the storm caused more than $250 million in damages and resulted in 172 deaths.

This image shows the cyclone on March 6, after it reached peak speed and was about to strike northwest Madagascar.

6. 2009's Australian Sandstorm

When someone says “extreme weather,” you probably think of wet conditions, but when high winds hit sand, they can result in massive dust storms that can be just as intense as a blizzard. In September of 2009, a dust storm hit Eastern Australia, sweeping dirt and debris across New South Wales and Queensland. Typically, air particle concentrations register at 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air. During bushfires, the air particle concentration raises to about 500 micrograms per cubic meter. So you can imagine how concentrated the dust must have been for the air concentration levels to reach 15,400 during the storm. It’s been estimated that the storm carried over 16 million tons of dust from the desert to the coast, at a peak level of 75,000 tons per hour.

7. 2003 Firestorm

Many would hesitate to call wildfires a weather event, but in most cases, weather is at least partially responsible. This was definitely the case in the California wildfires of October 2003, where over 15 wildfires broke out throughout Southern California and Baja, Mexico. I was in San Diego when the fires first broke out and there was so much thick, white ash in the air that even 20 miles from the fires, it looked like the roads were covered in snow.

8. 2007 Wildfires

I was also present for the 2007 California wildfires, which were a result of many of the same weather conditions as the 2003 fires, which have become a seasonal problem for the region.

Were any of you witness to these events, or do you have any extreme weather stories of your own? While everyone loves a good story, you might consider yourself lucky if your answer is “no” this time.

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Great Britain's Last Snow Patch Is About to Disappear Completely for the First Time in a Decade

Until recently, it was easy to find snow in Great Britain at any time of the year—you just had to know where to look. In previous Septembers, the island has been home to as many as 678 snow patches, residual pockets of snow and ice whose climates and topographies keep them frozen through the summer. This year, though, only two of Britain's snow patches have survived the summer. And the island is now on track to be completely snowless by the end of the season, Atlas Obscura reports.

Snow patches vary in size and durability, with some melting completely by late summer and others remaining a permanent fixture of the landscape. Garbh Choire Mor—a steep glacial depression on top of Scotland's third-highest mountain, Braeriach—contains two of the oldest snow patches in Britain, known as the Pinnacles and the Sphinx. The Pinnacles snow patch dissolved into a puddle earlier this month, and the Sphinx snow patch, the last surviving snow patch in Great Britain, is expected to do the same in the next few days.

Scotland experienced uncharacteristically hot weather this summer, with temperatures creeping into the low 90s as early as May. But more significant than the sweltering summer was the dry winter that preceded it. Below-average snowfall last year meant this year's snow patches were already smaller than usual when temperatures started heating up. If the Sphinx snow patch does vanish before winter arrives, it will mark the first time in over a decade and just the sixth time in the last 300 years that England, Scotland, and Wales are without a single patch of snow.

The Sphinx snow patch, though currently a measly version of its previous self, is still visible for now. But Iain Cameron, a veteran "snow patcher" who writes an annual report on snow for the UK's Royal Meteorological Society, says it could be gone as soon as Wednesday, September 20.

He's currently camped out on Garbh Choire Mor, waiting to document the patch's final moments. You can follow his updates on Twitter.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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This Just In
Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

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