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Argentina declares drought crisis

Argentina, S.A.
ARGENTINA has declared an agricultural emergency as it confronts one of the worst droughts in decades. The decree will defer tax payments for thousands of farmers for a year. Several regions of Argentina, including the provinces of Buenos Aires, Cordoba, La Pampa and Entre Rios, have been hit by THE WORST DROUGHT SINCE AT LEAST 1971. Since March last year, rainfall has been significantly below normal. Among the effects, some 800,000 head of cattle have been lost, while in Entre Rios some 90% of the wheat crop has been ruined. The worst affected area is the Pampas region, where winds have been whipping up the dry soil and coating huge swathes of barren land. Farmers' leaders indicated the measures did not go far enough. "The only thing this announcement achieves is to postpone the payment of taxes, and that is of no use to the farmer who has lost his entire crop."

Climate shift 'killing US trees'

USA
Old growth trees in western parts of the US are probably being killed as a result of regional changes to the climate, a study has suggested. Analysis of undisturbed forests shows that the trees' mortality rate has doubled since 1955. The loss of old growth trees could have implications for the areas' ecology and for the amount of carbon that the forests could store. "The trend we're seeing is a prelude to bigger, more abrupt changes to our forests."

Mysterious Booms Heard in Central USA

Arkansas, USA

From rattling windows to big loud booms, Sequoyah County residents reported feeling tremors earlier this week, and now officials are investigating the matter. The reports come from as far north as Marble City and as far south as the Le Flore County border. Calls have been pouring into the county sheriff's office. Residents say they heard rumbling noises, and saw their windows and sliding glass doors shaking. Officials say there is no evidence at this time of seismic activity, but they'll continue to look into it..

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NEBRASKA - 1/20/09 - loud booms heard in Grand Island Tuesday night and Wednesday morning are believed to be starling control measures or the acts of curious youth. The Central Platte Natural Resources Distric began shooting off propane cannons last Friday night around dusk for about seven to 14 days. But Grand Island/Hall County Emergency Management said the 911 center received calls about loud booms from “one end of town to the other,” and the calls came after dusk. They were reported between 9:30 and 10 p.m. Tuesday and again around 7 a.m. Wednesday. “There were no reports of fire, no reports of damage, no reports of power outages or any infrastructure damage.” The boom almost sounded like a “sonic boom” that is sometimes heard from traveling aircraft. Calls to the Central Nebraska Regional Airport were not immediately returned. Area youth may be experimenting with something like a “dry ice bomb.” When dry ice is dropped into a 2-liter bottle of water, a loud explosion can be the result. The technique has been featured on the cable television show “Mythbusters.” The city of Grand Island has contracted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for starling control in the past, but no such work is currently under way. “The city has not received any calls from citizens regarding problems with starlings." USDA officials have been tracking the birds, Briseno said. They believe the birds are moving to the area later in the season this year, and for the most part, the flock that is here stays in Grand Island the majority of the year

Costa Rica quake causes mass fish die-off

Costa Rica, C.A.
When the magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck 10 km east of the Poás Volcano on Jan. 8, at least 23 people were killed, most in landslides. Thousands of fish in the nearby Sarapiquí River in north-central Costa Rica were killed when mudslides choked the waterway, turning it to a continuous trough of sludge. Researchers fear that the river's entire fish population may have been wiped out. While the full picture of damage to infrastructure, homes and citizens in the area hit hardest by the quake is now beginning to come into focus, the environmental consequences are still unclear. A total of 550 square kilometers (212 square miles) of terrain, including waterways, were affected in some way by the earthquake.

170 ill in dengue fever outbreak

Australia

AT least 170 people have been struck down with the worst outbreak of dengue fever since before World War II, leading authorities to declare it an epidemic.

So far, 161 people in Cairns and nine in Townsville have been confirmed to have contracted the mosquito-borne disease.

Queensland Health's Linda Selvey said the Cairns outbreak was of a type of dengue fever more virulent than that found in Townsville.

Dengue fever symptoms include fever, sunburn-like rash, sore eyes and lethargy.

China Scrambles to Prevent Major Bird Flu Pandemic

The Chinese authorities are scrambling to prevent an outbreak of bird flu after three reported cases in the last two weeks. 

Hundreds of millions of Chinese are preparing to travel home during Chinese New Year this weekend, and the authorities are concerned that the world's biggest human migration could help spread the disease further.
After not reporting a single human death from bird flu since 2003, the last two weeks have seen three cases in three separate provinces. The Agriculture Ministry said it was moving quickly to quarantine anyone who came into contact with the victims.

Thousands of birds die in outback heatwave

Australia
A huge flock of birds has dropped dead in temperatures topping 45C after swamping an outback roadhouse in the southern Gascoyne. Budgerigars, crimson chat, zebra finches and cockatiels descended on the Overlander Roadhouse, 200km south of Carnarvon, on Monday last week. Thousands of birds have since died after invading sheds, basements and even a hotel bedroom. The number of dead birds was well over 1000 and it was probably due to the extreme heat. It probably happened when what were mostly young birds were “caught out” by the heatwave. The woman who owns the Overlander Roadhouse said the scenes were reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds. So many birds arrived that they broke the branches of one of her trees. “I’ve never seen anything like it - birds were dropping out of the sky, dead. They were just coming out of nowhere." Officials put out water bins for the birds, but many seemed too exhausted to be revived. “We tried to give them water but they were drowning under the sprinklers.” Kangaroos, emus and goats also died in the heat. 

Humongous waves forecast for isles

HANALEI, Kauai » Honolulu and Kauai lifeguards are preparing for the possibility of a giant, long-lasting swell expected to arrive tomorrow, officials said yesterday.

A high-surf warning could be in place as early as tomorrow morning for surf as big as 25 feet, according to National Weather Service forecasters.

The storm, currently near the Aleutian Islands, has been in the Hawaii swell window for days, and the giant surf is not expected to subside until Saturday.

However, another cold front is also expected to hit Kauai Thursday night, moving south of the Big Island by Saturday. There is a chance of locally heavy rain and gusty winds, especially Friday, according to Ian Morrison, a National Weather Service forecaster

Tadpoles wiped out by Arctic blast

A whole generation of frogs has been wiped out and rare plant species decimated after sub-zero temperatures gripped a Cornish wilderness. The Lizard peninsula is home to some of Britain's rarest flora and fauna, many of which have adapted to flourish in the unique conditions. But as mild winter weather last week gave way to THE SEVEREST FROSTS IN DECADES, the ground was turned rock solid and shallow water froze – killing off plants and animals. "Any frost is a RARE occurrence and many of the rare and unusual flora and fauna unique to The Lizard only occur here because frosts are so unusual. Species like the frogs have adapted their lifecycles to make the most of the mild winters, breeding in October rather than the more usual spring. The wet summer and autumn looked like it was going to be a bumper year for the frogs, until the severe frost arrived and froze the tadpoles into blocks of ice." Data from the Met Office recorded a temperature of –7.8 on the night of January 6, THE COLDEST THERE FOR 20 YEARS. Scientists fear for the delicate balance of nature in places like The Lizard as climate change made weather patterns more erratic. The frost has also made life difficult for one of The Lizard's most celebrated, but elusive, wild residents – the Cornish chough. The iconic birds usually feed by poking their beaks into the ground and rummaging for invertebrates. But the frozen ground has made it impossible for the bird to feed. It is also feared that the frost penetrated deep into the soil, potentially affecting some winter annuals.

Storm 'one of the worst ever'

The death toll of a "monstrous" overnight storm that devastated various parts of KwaZulu-Natal has risen to eight. "It's a very sad New Year for those affected and it's devastating to see the little food these people had being covered by mud. Many people have lost everything." The FREAK storm was described by residents and officials as ONE OF THE WORST THEY HAVE SEEN. Trees were uprooted, roofs caved in, walls and houses collapsed, and in some areas water mains had burst. "It's estimated that more than 300 households were affected which in essence means over 2,000 people." In recent months several similar storms had struck different parts of the province and destroyed homes, leaving thousands homeless. "This is not the first, and it might happen again. It's the climate change. Now we are planning ahead and we will work towards building human settlements that have more stable structures."

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