Record-breaking storm blasts Nunavut, 135 km/h winds rip off stairs and crush cabins


IQALUIT —
Pangnirtung mayor Eric Lawlor couldn’t see out his windows on Sunday.

That’s when a record-breaking blizzard hit the Baffin Island community of about 1,500, shaking houses and crushing cabins.

Environment and Climate Change Canada says Sunday’s storm brought record wind gusts and heavy snow to communities across Nunavut. In Pangnirtung, winds reached 135 km/h that day.

“It was like an all day thing. The wind was so strong,” Lawlor said.

Sky Panipak, who also lives in Pangnirtung, posted a photo to Twitter of one resident’s home where the front steps were torn clean from the door.

“Many shacks and cabins are gone. Many, many snowmobile windshields are gone. Some injuries we have heard of so far,” Panipak said, noting one resident had been medevaced to a southern hospital after being injured in the storm.

Sara Hoffman, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said the Dec. 27 storm affected most of the territory. Out of 25 communities, 23 were hit by the same storm, which came up from Quebec.

Hoffman said her team is looking into whether Sunday was a record-breaking day for such a storm in the territory.

“It’s pretty unusual for a storm like that this late in December. We don’t typically see that,” Hoffman said.

Lawlor said much of the storm’s damage affected Government of Nunavut housing. Right now, he said the hamlet’s priority is to keep the roads clear so people can get out of their homes.

He said it’s not unusual for Pangnirtung to see high winds, but they usually hit the community in the summer and fall months when the weather is warmer.

“We’re used to getting 70 to 90 km winds. During the summer it’s just as bad. A number of years ago we even had a vehicle that was flipped over because of the wind,” Lawlor said.

Hoffman explained that open water fuels storms, mixing cold weather with warmth from the water to create winds like the ones Pangnirtung saw Sunday.

“When Hudson Bay has open water, that is a major source of energy for storms … Parts of those areas stay ice-free longer and longer now,” she said.

Hoffman said cold weather from the northwest and warmer weather from the southeast collided to create the weekend blizzard that traveled across most of the territory, which set up the “perfect storm” for especially strong winds.

Pangnirtung set a new record Sunday for the highest recorded temperature in the community on Dec. 27, with a high of 4 C. The last record of -3.5 C was set in 2000.

Hoffman also said Pangnirtung, which is nestled in a fiord and surrounded by mountains, is the ideal place for a blizzard to brew.

“When they get a prevailing wind direction set up just right, the surrounding terrain can actually enhance that,” she said.

Hoffman said Coral Harbour, in the north end of Hudson Bay, was also hit hard by the same blizzard, with winds up to 115 km/h. Winds also reached 120 km/h in Kimmirut and 80 km/h in Iqaluit that day.

Two days later, there were still blizzard warnings in effect for Gjoa Haven and Grise Fiord.

“It’s much weaker than it was on (Sunday), but we still have alerts out for it because it was such a powerful storm,” Hoffman said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 29, 2020.



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‘Unsurvivable’ storm makes landfall with 240 km/h winds


An “unsurvivable” monster storm that is stronger than 2005’s deadly Hurricane Katrina has made landfall in the southern United States.

Injuries have been reported as flying glass was ripped from a skyscraper. One person simply said “I am terrified” as they posted footage from inside their unit block of the fierce winds howling outside.

The category-4 Hurricane Laura struck the coast of the state of Louisiana, tearing through the town of Cameron 210 km east of Houston, at about 1.15am local time (4.15pm AEST).

Winds of up to 240 km/h were measured as Laura smashed into the coast. By comparison, when Katrina hit New Orleans its wind speed was less than Laura at a little over 200 km/h.

By some accounts it’s the strongest storm in 164 years to hit Louisiana, a state that is no stranger to hurricanes.

A storm surge warning is in place for an almost 700 km stretch of coast from south of Houston to New Orleans – that’s not far short of the distance between Melbourne and Adelaide.

The US’ National Hurricane Centre (NHC) warned some of the storm surges might be up to 6m in height and spread as far as 45 km/h inland.

Just before the storm hit, the country’s National Weather Service was blunt.

“TAKE COVER NOW!” it stated. “Take action now to protect your life!”

Around 150 people are said to have remained in the town of Cameron.

For those people who had remained in their homes, the NHC said the best they could do was “get under a table … use blankets of pillows to protect your head.”

INJURIES AS GLASS RIPPED FROM TOWERS

CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater said Cameron, which is only 1.5 meters above sea level, “was mostly completely underwater. There will not be a chance to get to that area until late in the morning”.

Fox News reported that thousands were without power in Louisiana before the hurricane’s eye even hit.

In Lake Charles, close to the coast, injuries have been reported. On Twitter, storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski said flying glass from skyscrapers had fallen on people below. Other footage showed the roof being ripped of a hotel in the city with people apparently in rooms below and glass shorn off office buildings.

Forecasters have said the storm is so strong it could remain a category 1 hurricane by the time it reaches Little Rock, Arkansas, some 400 km inland.

Earlier, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said people had to take Laura seriously.

“The power of Hurricane Laura is unprecedented, and Texans must take action now to get out of harm’s way and protect themselves,”

“The conditions of this storm are unsurvivable, and I urge southeast Texans to take advantage of these final few hours to evacuate.

“Your property can be replaced,” Mr Abbott said. “Your life cannot be replaced.”

US President Donald Trump told residents in the path of the storm to “listen to local officials”.

“Hurricane Laura is a very dangerous and rapidly intensifying hurricane,” Mr Trump tweeted. “My administration remains fully engaged with state and local emergency managers.”

‘NOT GOING TO PLAY WITH THE GOOD LORD’

Jimmy Ray was among those heeding evacuation orders in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“We were going to try to ride it out at the house, but we found out that it was going to be too bad,” Mr Ray told AFP outside an evacuation facility.

Another evacuee in Lake Charles, Patricia Como, said her sister, her brother, cousins and other family members had stayed behind but she was “not going to take a chance”.

“I’m not going to play with the good lord,” Ms Como said.

Craig Brown, acting mayor of Galveston, Texas, which suffered the deadliest hurricane in US history in 1900 with thousands of deaths, said the authorities were “monitoring this very closely”.

“We’ve had good co-operation from our residents on evacuation,” he said, adding that it was not mandatory.

“If they want to stay put, then we allow them to do that,” he said. “But we do tell them if they stay, they may not have any emergency services available to them.”

Angela Jouett, director of evacuation operations in Lake Charles, said the authorities had new protocols in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People that come in, they get their hands sprayed with sanitiser,” Ms Jouett said. “They’re having their temperature checks, and we’re also spacing everybody in six foot (1.8m) distancing.”

NEW ORLEANS EMPTIED OF PEOPLE

In New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the historic French Quarter was empty of tourists, while sandbags were piled up in front of the doorways of colonial-style buildings and windows were boarded up with plywood.

The city remains traumatised from Katrina, which made landfall as a Category 3 storm, flooding 80 per cent of the city and killing more than 1800 people.

Laura earlier caused flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, killing at least 25 people.

In Cuba, it caused material damage but no deaths.

The Atlantic storm season, which runs through to November, could be one of the busiest ever this year, with the NHC predicting as many as 25 named storms. Laura is the 12th so far.

– with AFP.



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