Updated 09 Aug 2012
Wildfires in northeastern Spain claimed four lives and injured 47 persons during late July—tragically denoting 2012 as the worst year for forest fires in that country in over a decade, according to media reports. Two wildfires raged in Catalonia bolstered by a Tramuntana (a strong, dry wind from the northwest). The fire near the city of La Jonquera consumed 32,000 acres and forced the closure of major roads and rail services into France, while another fire near the coastal city of Portbou burned over 22,000 acres. At least 135,000 residents were advised to stay indoors and 800 children were evacuated from camps across the Alt Emporda region while about 4,200 homes lost utilities. A combined force of 950 Spanish and French firefighters supported by 350 soldiers, police, and volunteers, as well as 33 aircraft, brought the flames under control. A third fire blazed in southwestern Spain, which led to an evacuation of 50 people in Cambron. Having experienced its driest winter in 70 years, persistent drought conditions in Spain have resulted in high risk of wildfires during this summer. Earlier wildfires in Spain's Canary Islands (an archipelago near the western coast of Africa) forced evacuations of 90 people in Tenerife, 60 people in La Gomera, and 160 people in La Palma at mid-month. One of the fires scorched parts of Spain's largest national park Teide—designated United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site, when at least 4,500 acres were burned on Tenerife; also 17 acres burned on La Gomera (an UNESCO biosphere reserve); and 990 acres burned on La Palma. Nearly 1,100 firefighters supported by 20 helicopters and firefighting planes battled the island blazes.
Wildfires occurred elsewhere across southern Europe in July, according to media reports. Mainland Portugal and its Madeira Islands were hit by intense wildfires, forcing dozens to flee their homes. Over 1,000 firefighters battled numerous major wildfires in northern and central Portugal. One firefighter died and seven others were injured, at least five homes were lost, and more than 12,000 acres were consumed.
In Greece, nearly 80 wildfires swept through the country at mid-month. Officials declared a state of emergency in Patras when that city became surrounded on three sides by wildfires, which were exacerbated by strong winds and soaring temperatures. Hundreds of its residents and university students were forced to evacuate as smoke filled the air of Greece's third-largest city. Near Athens, two persons were injured, several homes were damaged, and over 300 people were evacuated from summer camps, a retirement home, and a monastery, according to media accounts.In Croatia, one firefighter perished and 1,500 tourists were evacuated along the Adriatic coast where the main highway was closed due to heavy smoke. In Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), two people died and 14 others were injured in a 50-acre forest fire at Strumica on July 24th, according to media accounts.
Massive wildfires continued to rage in central and eastern Siberian. As of July 9th, rapidly spreading blazes increased the size of the burn area to nearly 61,000 acres and involved up to 2,000 personnel and 200 vehicles in firefighting efforts, according to media reports. From January through July 2012, more than 1,800 taiga wildfires have burned close to 485,000 Russian acres, and eight paratroopers died combating those flames in June. Smoke from the Russian fires reached North America during mid-May, while creating spectacular sunsets over Alaska, contributed to air quality issues in the Northwest U.S. by early July. On July 8th–9th, the smoke caused record-high levels of ozone in British Columbia—nearly three times the average for July, according to media reports.
In the U.S., four firefighters—members of the North Carolina National Guard, were killed in air tanker crash on July 1st. The team was part of a fleet battling the 9,000-acre White Draw wildfire in South Dakota. The Long Draw wildfire consumed over 560,000 acres in southeast Oregon, thus becoming that state's biggest blaze since 1865. A second fire, Miller Homestead, scorched an additional 160,000 acres in Oregon where multiple fires have adversely impacted the region's cattle-farming industry.
Around the Northern Hemisphere, high temperatures turned deadly. Up to 39 heatstroke deaths occurred in Japan during July as the oppressive heat forced over 21,000 residents to seek medical attention, according to media accounts. Japan's daytime temperatures hit 35°C (95.0°F) or above for ten consecutive days during the month. Elsewhere, the unprecedented heat wave throughout the central U.S. had contributed to 74 deaths by mid-month. Numerous U.S. cities experienced multiple days of triple-digit temperatures during July. July 2012 was the hottest July and hottest month in U.S. records dating to 1895. Please visit NOAA's National Overview page for additional information.
In the Southern Hemisphere, low temperatures plunged at locations in South America and Australia. According to media reports, 16 deaths resulted from a cold snap in central Chile over the first weekend of July when nighttime temperatures dipped to -8°C (17.6°F). As the cold moved eastward, below-normal temperatures coupled with frost hampered wheat-planting efforts by Argentinean farmers. In Australia, Alice Springs recorded its coldest mean July minimum temperature in 35 years with a value of -0.3°C (31.4°F) as 19 days of the month fell below freezing. The continuous cold resulted in numerous occurrences of broken water pipes for residents. Likewise, Perth set an all-time low mean July minimum temperature with a value of 5.2°C (41.4°F), where sunshine averaged only 7.4 hours per day, according to media reports.
In the United Kingdom (U.K.), deluges of precipitation drenched areas from southwest England to the Scottish Lowlands—with some parts receiving up to half or more of a year's worth of rain within hours. The UK's average rainfall for July is 69.9 mm (2.75 inches). The region's extreme weather has been attributed to the position of the overhead Jet Stream being farther to the south than is usual for summer. When this fast-moving, narrow band of air (at six to seven miles above the Earth's surface) lies to the north of the U.K., the winds and rain are steered towards Iceland and Scandinavia. According to media accounts, Devon received 35 mm (1.38 inches) and Holbeach Lincolnshire received 36 mm (1.42 inches) during a six-hour period on July 6th and flash floods resulted. In Devon, the 24-hour total of rainfall was 56.6 mm (2.23 inches). One death was reported; the Red Cross assisted with evacuations of residents; at least 100 properties were flooded; roadways and rail services closures caused travel delays. Adverse economic impacts arose when nearly 30,000 spectators of the British Grand Prix were advised to forego part of the multi-day event and the Great Yorkshire Show—a major British agricultural fair with estimated revenues approaching $3.5 million U.S. dollars was canceled.
Flooding in northeastern India has resulted from exceptionally heavy and continuous monsoon rains which began during June, and was deemed the worst in 30 years, according to media reports. Within the Indian state of Assam the humanitarian impacts were severe with at least 117 people having died, millions of people made homeless, and tens of thousands of people being without safe drinking water.
Torrential rains sweeping through southern Russia the first week of July resulted in over 140 deaths (from drowning and electrocution), at least 5,000 homes being flooded, and thousands of people were evacuated. Media accounts depicted the devastation in the city of Krymsk as the worst seen in 70 years when 279.4 mm (11 inches)—an average two months' worth—of rain fell within a few hours on July 6th. Oil shipments were suspended from the city of Novorossiysk, which is the country's main port on the Black Sea.
Intense rains on July 14th–15th with hourly rainfall rates in excess of 90 mm (3.5 inches), caused flash flooding and landslides in southern and western Japan—where areas already hard-hit by flooding received another 800 mm (31.5 inches). According to media reports, there were 28 deaths, 250,000 residents were evacuated, and over 4,300 properties were damaged as well as notable agricultural losses of rice paddies. Japanese troops airlifted supplies to thousands of people trapped in mountainous districts as 800 roads and 20 bridges were closed. Up to an additional 152 mm (6 inches) of rain was deposited over Japan by passage of a tropical storm system on July 19th.
As much as 170 mm (6.7 inches) of precipitation fell within 16 hours in regions near China's capital city on July 21st and caused flooding considered as the worst in six decades, according to media reports. At least 77 people died, while nearly 700,000 Beijing residents were evacuated and 80,000 travelers were stranded when 500 airline flights were canceled. Torrential rains later in the month—197 mm (7.8 inches) in 3 hours—in areas southwest of Beijing resulted in 18 deaths.
A deluge on July 29th dumped 400 mm (15.7 inches) of rain in 24 hours from thunderstorms over North Korea, exacerbating already saturated conditions created by Tropical Storm Khanun around mid-month. Media reported that widespread flooding in the country resulted in 88 deaths with 134 people injured during July, and left nearly 63,000 residents homeless and over 75,000 acres of farmland in ruins.
A violent storm ripped through the eastern U.S. in early July claimed four lives and injured six people, while thousands of downed trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park forced the closure of its roads and trails. Two deaths occurred when lightning struck on July 24th in southwestern Pennsylvania where a family was picking blackberries. More severe thunderstorms—which produced multiple tornadoes and quarter-sized hail, rolled across the country's Midwest and Northeast regions on July 26th causing loss of power to nearly 300,000 residents and 900 airline flights to be canceled. According to media reports, the powerful storms resulted in three deaths in New York.
The U.S. also experienced a near record-low number of tornadoes—the fewest for a July since the 1950s. Historical U.S. records indicate that 23 tornadoes occurred in July 1950 and 1951. At 24 tornadoes, the preliminary count for the month in the U.S. was a notable drop from the previous near record-low of 42 twisters set in July 1960, according to media reports. The climatological factors contributing to the country's intense drought impeded the development of the severe storms which tend to produce tornadoes. Please visit NOAA's Tornadoes page for additional information.
Three tropical cyclones formed in the Eastern Pacific during July—all attained hurricane strength, but none posed a threat to land areas. Specific statistics for Hurricanes Daniel, Emilia, and Fabio can be found at NOAA's Hurricanes & Tropical Storms page. A concise synopsis is also available at NASA's Hurricanes/Tropical Cyclones page.
Tropical cyclones were active in the Western Pacific with four named storms forming during the month. Tropical Storm Khanun (a.k.a. Enteng; July 14th–19th) originated northwest of Guam and moved across the East China Sea to render deadly flooding in the Korean Peninsula.
Typhoon Vicente (a.k.a. Ferdie; July 18th–July 26th) passed over the Philippines causing adverse conditions before reaching southern China. According to media reports, two persons died and 1,140 people were evacuated in the northern Philippines amid numerous incidents of flooding and tornado damage as the storm amplified adverse conditions being caused by the Southwest Monsoon. Major disruption occurred within the city of Hong Kong as strong winds and rain forced closure of the financial markets, caused delays in transportation services, and inflicted injuries to at least 118 people.
Typhoon Saola (a.k.a. Gener; July 26th–Aug 2st) formed east of the Philippines and slowly advanced northwest to hit the Taiwan coast, before reaching China's Fujian province. According to media reports, Saola produced massive flooding in the Philippines which resulted in 39 deaths, forced evacuation of at least 230,000 people, and loss of utilities for over two million residents. In Taiwan, where nearly 900 mm (35 inches) of rain fell by August 1st, at least five storm-related deaths were known, heavy winds disrupted rail and airline travel, and many highways were closed due to flooding and mudslides. In China, nearly 60,000 fisherman and maritime workers were evacuated and shipping routes were closed, as officials issued the first 2012 "red-alert" warning—the highest of that country's four-tier system. Tropical Storm Damrey (July 28th–Aug 2nd) followed a path along Japan to also make landfall along eastern China, only hours before Saola. The compact tropical storm punched southern Japan with torrential rains and violent winds, where rain fall had an estimated intensity rate of 80 mm (3.2 inches) per hour, and kept hundreds of airline flights grounded, according to media reports. In China, two deaths and 29 injuries resulted as Damrey dumped 174 mm (6.8 inches) of precipitation. As many as 306,000 residents of Fujian and at least 461,000 residents of Zhejiang, Jaingsu, and Shandong provinces were evacuated due to the storms.
Phenomenal melting of Greenland's ice sheet was identified by NASA and university scientists during July. High pressure aloft anchored above the island induced warm and clear weather conditions that contributed to the rapid thawing, according to media accounts. The ice melt area which expanded from 40 percent to nearly 97 percent within 4 days was unusual in terms of speed and extent—exceeding the maximum thawing observed by satellite in three decades (previously about 55 percent) for Greenland. Ice cores indicated that large-scale melting occurs on average about once every 150 years with 1889 being the last event.
In northwestern Greenland, a massive iceberg broke away from Petermann's Glacier along a rift existing since at least 2001. At 32.3 square kilometers (12.5 square miles), this iceberg was roughly half the size of one which calved in July 2010 and deemed to be associated with ocean currents rather than the surface melt. In southwestern Greenland, a group of sightseers cruising the waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord—an UNESCO World Heritage Site, witnessed a thunderous iceberg split firsthand and although shaken by the resulting "ice wave" were fortunately unharmed. Elsewhere, melt runoff produced flooding of the Watson River and damaged a bridge which provided access to one of the island's major commercial airports.
Research of climate factors which influence tropical diseases garnered resources from the World Health Organization in July. In partnership with Canada's International Development Research Center, a major program (valued at $6.8 million U.S. dollars) was implemented to understand the impact of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa on people's susceptibility to diseases carried by mosquitoes, flies, and snails.
Warm temperatures coupled with stagnant waters lingering in flooded areas on two continents yielded favorable conditions as breeding ground for mosquitoes. According to media reports, 2,000 cases of Dengue Fever with 23 deaths occurred in the Philippines between January and July 2012 and reflected an increase of 16 percent compared to the same period of 2011. As of July 31st,the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention had received reports of 241 cases of the West Nile virus—the highest number since 2004 within the nation, and four deaths were known to have occurred. In Minnesota, where the city of Minneapolis conducts one of the world's largest mosquito-abatement programs using a budget of $17 million U.S. dollars to treat between 175,000 and 225,000 acres of wetlands annually, officials accelerated control measures during July, according to media reports. Two-hundred thousand acres have been treated with a granular material which results in death to the mosquito larvae ingesting it.
Whereas in U.S. areas afflicted by lack of water, entomologists noted increases in other pests. Hot, dry conditions impede the natural bacteria and fungi which tend to control insects like grasshoppers and crickets that can potentially devastate crops such as alfalfa and tobacco.
Dust from Africa's Sahara Desert was observed to be traversing eastward across the Atlantic Ocean and reached the Florida coast during July. Evidence suggests that heavy dust transport has coincided with Caribbean coral declines in the past. Meanwhile, dry riverbed sediments from the Africa's Sudan desert blew western over the Red Sea during the following week. Dust plumes ascended over Argentina as a result of persistent dry conditions around its lake, Laguna Mar Chiquita.
During the International Coral Reef Symposium held mid-month in Cairns, Australian, scientists urged for actions to preserve the coral reefs. Rising ocean temperatures have significantly inflicted damage to corals across the world. Overfishing and influxes of sediment and pollution were cited as contributing factors. Likewise, another study released in July concluded that greenhouse gas emissions amplify effects of climate change's influence on the collapse of coral reefs in the eastern Pacific, according to media reports. Deforestation occurring in Madagascar was cited within another study as adversely impacting corals in the western Indian Ocean due to resulting soil erosion.
At least 60 wild peacocks perished in Pakistan's Thar desert during July. While no conclusive causes were known, the birds were likely weakened by multiple factors linked to the delay of the annual monsoon rains, according to media reports.