HOLLISDALE, Australia (Reuters) – Robert Costigan thought the worst was behind him when he saved two family properties from wildfires last summer.
This year, they drifted away.
The home of Australian breeder and father-in-law Brian Watt, who lives next door, swept its foundations this month when heavy rains caused the river to reach its highest level in half a century, submerging bridges and buildings. Watt’s house crashed into a telegraph pole.
“If it weren’t for bad luck, I probably wouldn’t have had any at all,” Costigan told Reuters on his 100-acre property in Hollisdale, 400 km (249 miles) north of Sydney.
Days after the flood, the property was filled with farm equipment, trees and overturned debris.
“I don’t know if it’s just someone testing me or what, but that’s what I guess. You can get through it, ”he added, holding back tears.
Costigan’s ordeal is familiar to thousands of people living outside the cities on Australia’s densely populated east coast.
After years of drought devastating crops and livestock, they battled the country’s worst wildfires in a generation in the southern hemisphere’s 2019-20 summer, only to face flooding amidst this year’s La Nina wet weather event.
The same river system Costigan used to pump water to save her home from wildfires has returned to destroy it with floods.
The water level had receded but the insurance company had removed the building, with the wooden structures torn off, the tin roof shattered and everyday objects – mattresses, fluffy children’s toys – in disarray.
When the fire broke out, the family remained safe in the city because Costigan remained on the property in an effort to protect it. Now they all live with neighbors, homeless and heartbroken.
Two days before the house was swept away, Costigan’s daughter, Eva, had to cancel her 11th birthday party because of the flood.
“He was upset about it and then we had to tell him he lost his house Saturday morning. “All the gifts he got on Thursday are gone,” said Costigan.
Even so, the 39-year-old farmer, who also works for the local council, vows to rebuild.
“I’ve worked too hard to just walk away,” he said.
Reporting by Stefica Nicol Bikes; Written by Byron Kaye; Edited by Karishma Singh
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Rob Costigan bought a rugged farm in rural Australia three years ago with the dream of building it into something he could leave behind for his children.
One year later, he needed to truck water to combat an extreme drought. Then, Australia’s deadly wildfires raged towards the end of 2019, forcing Costigan to spend day after day turning out coals and running sprinklers on its roof to save his home, in an eerie setting akin to Armageddon.
Then last week, on the day her daughter Eva was supposed to celebrate her 11th birthday, there came a flood. Thankfully, his family had left to live in his brother’s house.
The water roared with such force that it lifted both the Costigan farmhouse and the second home where her father-in-law lived from their foundation, destroying both of them. The family is still picking up toys and clothes that are strewn everywhere – they even found their barbecue gas bottle stuck in a tree.
“Just don’t believe it,” said Costigan. “It feels like the world is against us. You work hard and then everything is cleared away in the blink of an eye. “
Costigan, 40, a road maintenance worker whose ranch is in the Hollisdale community about a five-hour drive north of Sydney, said he was grateful he had managed to avoid yet another catastrophe so far – a plague of rats that affected several farms in the region. Maybe, he hoped, the flood could help wash them away.
Australia has always been a land of bad weather, where drought and fire are part of the nation’s soul. But experts say that global warming is likely to make recent weather events even more extreme. The forest fires that raged until early last year killed at least 33 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes.
“This event was to be expected,” said Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales. “But climate change has put them on steroids.”
He explains that paradoxically, a warming atmosphere can exacerbate droughts and floods. The extra heat can suck more moisture from the soil during the dry season. But warmer air can also hold more moisture, he says, so when it rains.
Several cities in New South Wales have set record rainfall for 50 or 100 years over the past week. The floods have killed two people in separate incidents, both trapped in their cars, and have forced more than 20,000 people to flee.
Dale Ward this week tried to clean up the rented apartment he owns, and where his daughter and their family live, in the city of Windsor. He said he was mopping up the mud after about 1 foot (30 centimeters) of water ran out, destroying a box of photos and other memorabilia.
“It’s like someone dropped three tons of dirt on your house, and then dropped a bucket of water on it,” he said.
Ward estimates it will take at least a month to make the place habitable again, with plumbers and electricians needed to fix everything.
Elsewhere, people are still facing plague of rats. Last year in eastern Australia, months of rain doused wildfires and ended a drought that has crippled the region for more than two years. That led to overgrowth on many farms, and an explosion in the rat population.
Pompy Singh, manager of the Spar supermarket in the town of Gulargambone, said they were starting to see rat numbers increase before Christmas. They used to set one or two traps a day, he said. They began to buy much bigger traps and set more until they set 20 at a time.
Suddenly they catch 100 or 200 mice every day. The creatures began to eat everything from lettuce and potato chips to dog food and even tobacco. Singh says they started keeping everything in fridge or closed container.
Still, he said, the rats kept coming. Several days, they chased up to 600. Even the refrigerator kept breaking when the mice chewed on the wires. Singh said the number of rats appeared to have decreased somewhat since the floods hit, although they still caught a lot.
And Australia’s problems may not be over. Some experts have warned people to inspect their shoes and clothes for deadly spiders, as swarms of them seek protection from flood waters by moving into residential homes.
Meanwhile, Costigan says he wants to rebuild. He’s spent too much time putting up fences on his fields – many of which survived the floods – and making other improvements to give up now. He added that he moved his small herd of cattle to higher ground before the floods hit and they all survived.
Costigan said he feels lucky his farmhouse is insured and is also grateful to family members and neighbors who have contributed to online funding to help his family rebuild.
He says these kinds of problems all come with living in Australia, and may even explain why the British originally treated the continent as a place to send their captives.
“They think it’s hell on earth,” he said. “What they don’t realize is that it’s a beautiful part of the world.”
The Asian American Community in Utah Reacts To The Atlanta Shooting
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Highest Number of New COVID-19 Cases Since Early March
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Tanner Ainge Leaves Utah Stake Commission
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Rural Countries Get Opportunity to Better Spend Hotel Tax Revenues
Rural Utah with national parks and recreation areas have to pay for services and infrastructure for millions of tourists, but they have a small tax base. That’s a problem as more people visit the southern part of the state, according to Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield. He passed laws that allow rural districts with national parks or recreation areas to spend about 60% of their hotel tax revenue on services and about 40% on tourism promotion. The current law requires a division of around 50-50. Grand County administrator Chris Baird said the bill was not perfect, but it was a good compromise with the tourism industry. Read the full story. – Kate Groetzinger, Bluff
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Fire Smoke Worsens Air Quality Across the US
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This comes on top of the large decline in runoff over the last 50 years.
“Since the 1970s, we’ve had a 20 percent decrease in rainfall in this part of the state,” said Tom Hatton, former chairman of the WA Environmental Protection Agency.
“Now, it doesn’t sound like much, but it results in an 80 percent reduction in river flow. So, in the past (with) the catchments around Perth, we could count on about 400 gigaliters of water a year to replenish.
“Now we’re lucky if we get 70 gigiter and we don’t even depend on that.”
For sheep and growers like Anna-Lisa Newman, a dry dam means a tough decision.
“We are not at a critical stage in, say, east coast farmers where you can gradually reduce your herd and then have to step aside altogether,” he said.
“We are not near that point.
The dry years also provide opportunities for adaptation.
“Going forward, on the pruning side, we have advanced greatly in our ability to maximize yields for the lower rainfall we can get,” said Newman.
“So I wanted to think we could do something like that with our stock. And I think there is technology in terms of desalination.”
Apart from the challenges posed by a drying climate, such changes also bring opportunities. Many areas of Western Australia that were once considered too wet to cultivate are now major producers of grain.
From livestock to crops
Tim Tresize, a farmer from Jingalup in the southwest, said when he first moved to the district 20 years ago, it was a very different place.
“You will go around and especially look at pastures and sheep and cattle whereas now when you are around you are mostly looking at the crops,” he said.
Mr Tresize said the economy also played a big role in the shift.
“The sheep don’t grow well, so people are experimenting with planting them,” he said.
“And they started to get good at it and had some success. So they went for it.”
Mr Tresize said the last four dry seasons have been good for them.
“That’s when we had really good production years because standing water costs a lot of money in the rainy season,” he said.
With the projected rainfall to continue to decline, Mr Trezise is supporting farmers to adjust.
“They just solve the problem and keep going,” he said.
“So, you know, I support a farmer every day of the week… to adapt and get on with it.”
A lone fisherman braves the heat of Hawke’s Bay at Napier’s Perfume Point. Niwa predicts weather that looks more like summer – especially in the northern and eastern regions – through to autumn. Photo / Paul Taylor
Summer-like conditions are expected to persist well past the end of the season in already dry parts of New Zealand – with some bags now roasting in severe drought.
Niwa latest views over the next three months there is a longer, hotter dry season across the country – and the potential to reduce rainfall in places north and east that feel mostly hot.
That pattern is driven by the bizarre La Niña climate system, which traditionally brings many northeastern storms to normally dry areas.
Which is called “hot spot” – or places with very dry to very dry than usual soil conditions – have now developed over large parts of Northland, parts of Auckland, northern Waikato, and parts of the East Cape.
Meteorologists also keep an eye on the hotspots in eastern Wairarapa which are scattered in the eastern Tararua District and the Hawke’s Bay coast.
The worst conditions can be seen in the upper Far North, which has officially achieved meteorological drought status.
Although some rain is expected to fall later this week, it is likely that the hotspot – especially those in the east – will only continue to expand.
Fire hazard currently very high at the tip of the North Island, and around Dargaville, Whangarei and parts of Eastland, Porangahau, Tararua and Wairarapa.
On the South Island, there is also a high risk around McKenzie Village, and most of the coast of Marlborough and central and northern Otago.
Over the next three months, Niwa forecast above-average temperatures in the north – and close to above-average temperatures elsewhere.
“We’re going to have some warm conditions that will probably last until March – and maybe April too,” said forecaster Niwa Ben Noll.
“It won’t be summer without stopping during those months – but chances are we’ll have a spell that’s like summer, overall.
“What we can see are high pressure mountains, curving over New Zealand for maybe a week or so, before being disturbed by features like we expect from the Tasman Sea. [this week].
“But the northern and eastern parts of the North Island, which are currently the driest areas relatively normal, have the lowest chance of feeling the full effect of the feature.”
Noll noted that this dry weather followed an equally hot summer last year, resulting in Auckland’s worst drought in 25 years.
“Several locations in Auckland also have the record for driest years in 2020. Piling this on top is a tough combination.”
Auckland dam level is still recovering well, and as of the week, is running at 61 percent capacity – and more than 20 percent below the historical average for this time of year.
With Auckland needing to limit its water use to 511 million liters per day, restrictions installed throughout the city which prohibits the use of hoses not equipped with a trigger nozzle.
However, the regulation is not expected to be tightened.
“At this stage, we are confident that our new water source, coupled with Auckland’s excellent water savings, will help us get through the summer and fall without the need for more severe water restrictions,” said a Watercare spokesman.
Noll said La Nina influencing the behind-the-scenes image will likely prove to stand out in the record books, given its dramatic “non-traditional” behavior.
Most of the La Nina-flavored summers usually come with widespread warmth, but also storms from the northeast, rains in the north and east, drought in the south and southwest – far different from what New Zealand saw this summer.
That can largely be explained by two factors.
One of these is the fact that the coldest ocean temperatures in the Pacific below La Nina are found farther west than usual, meaning much of its traditional tropical activity is centered elsewhere.
The other is warmer than average temperatures in the Indian Ocean, which, combined with the unusual La Nina, result in a different climatic setting for New Zealand.
Current models suggest La Nina is likely to stick around for the next few months, before largely disappearing by winter.
Meanwhile, one of La Nina’s classic effects – warmer ocean temperatures – is at least in part, with pockets of sea around the north of the North Island reaching “ocean heat wave” conditions last month.
During January, coastal waters around New Zealand ranged from 0.3C to 0.7C above average – but it remains to be seen how long this trend will continue.
Noll says the picture is a far cry from the 2017-18 and 2018-19 summers, where repeated ocean heat waves pushed ocean temperatures several degrees above average.
“To make that happen, you need currents that extend from north to northwest – and we have too much variability to allow for that.”
While there is no immediate threat from a tropical cyclone affecting New Zealand, Noll said there is potential for activity at the end of the month.
Every year, on average one of these systems sweeps within 550 km of the country, bringing destructive winds and heavy rainfall.
So far, the cyclone seasons have gone hand in hand predicted range of eight to 10 systems in the southwest Pacific, with four recorded so far.
“Of course, the season runs through April, so we are keeping an eye on if anything will actually land here in New Zealand.”
Last month marked four years since New Zealand last experienced a month with below-average temperatures – a trend driven by climate change.