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A Closer Look at Flood Damage in India

Exceptional, early monsoon rains in northern India and Nepal combined with melting snow to bring horrific flooding and landslides to the region in mid-June 2013. According to national and international relief agencies, more than 1,050 people died, thousands more went missing, and hundreds of thousands had their lives disrupted (mostly through the damage or loss of their homes). Indian government officials reported that 744 villages and hamlets had lost some or all of their connectivity—roads, water, or electric power—to the rest of the country.

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Three weeks after the disaster, people were trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, and scientists and government officials were trying to piece together what happened. Instruments such as cameras on the International Space Station (ISS) and an imager on the Landsat 8 satellite are being used to assess the damage to the landscape.

On June 26, 2013, the ISERV Pathfinder camera on the ISS captured the top image of India’s Mandakini River, near the village of Tilwara in Uttarakhand state. The river still appeared to be swollen, though deposits of chalky gray and tan sediments also made the banks difficult to discern from the river itself. (Note that the image is hazy due to the atmosphere and because the ISS did not pass directly over the site; the camera has a fixed, downward pointing lens, so images on the edge of the field of view are less crisp.) For comparison, the lower image from DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-2 satellite shows the same area as it appeared on March 2, 2009.

ISERV is an engineering “testbed” instrument developed to support a joint NASA/U.S. Agency for International Development effort known as SERVIR. The program provides satellite data and tools to environmental decision-makers in developing countries and operates via regional centers in Nairobi, Kenya; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Panama City, Panama.

The ISERV imagery has been made available to the International Charter, which was activated in the Indian state of Uttarakhand in response to the flooding disaster. The International Charter helps coordinate space agencies around that world to provide data, imagery, and other space technology solutions to help mitigate the effects of disasters.

Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh walloped by rain; 50 dead, thousands stranded

In Uttarakhand, nearly 26 people have died and over 50 are missing after record downpours and floods washed away buildings and roads.

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More than a dozen people died in the state’s Rudraprayag district alone, while another 50 people were missing, said Amit Negi, an official in Uttarakhand.

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Vehicles were seen being washed away; a landslide buried a bus, killing three people in Almora district.

More than 20,000 pilgrims are stranded along a mountain pass leading to the religious site of Kedarnath. Air Force sent in helicopters to help with evacuation after roads to the pilgrimage spot were blocked by landslides.

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Army and paramilitary troops were leading efforts to rescue the pilgrims and scores of people from the rooftops of their flooded homes. The state government was readying food parcels and drinking water pouches to be air dropped to villages cut off after roads were washed away.

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The Ganga is flowing above the danger mark in places like Haridwar. “The situation is very grim. The meteorological office has predicted that the rain will continue for another three days at least,” said government official Amit Chandola.

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In neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, 10 people were killed in landslides and nearly 1,000 tourists are stranded in the Sangla Valley. With roads blocked, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has been stuck in Sangla since Sunday night.

In Haryana, the water level in the Yamuna rose suddenly, leaving 22 people dead and 1,000 stranded.

Surprise showers struck the capital New Delhi on Sunday, flooding the arrival halls in the international and domestic airports. Today, large traffic jams were reported in the capital. Water-logging,too, was reported in various parts of the city.

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Showers in Mumbai were lighter than forecast; the city’s municipal corporation had warned people not to leave home unless absolutely necessary after heavy rain was predicted for the next two days.

Low-end Derecho Hits Eastern United States

When meteorologists say derecho, which means “direct” or “straight ahead” in Spanish, they are referring to a widespread, long-lived wind storm associated with bands of fast-moving thunderstorms. This type of storm was given the name in the late nineteenth century, and they occur most often in the Midwestern and Great Lakes regions of the United States between May and July. To qualify as a derecho, a storm must cause damage over a 240-mile (400-kilometer) front/line and produce wind gusts of at least 58 miles (93 kilometers) per hour.

“Low-end” Derecho Hits Eastern United States

When a derecho barreled over the eastern United States in June 2012, the impacts were severe. That powerful storm brought hurricane-force winds to numerous states, killed 22 people, and knocked out electric power for millions. So people were bracing for the worst when a fierce line of storms was bearing down on the same area on June 13, 2013.

While the 2013 storm was not as powerful or destructive as the previous year’s event, the National Weather Service said it still qualified as a “low-end derecho.” Over a 15-hour period, the storm system generated 376 reports of damaging thunderstorm wind. In one part of Indiana, a storm cell brought winds of 90 to 100 miles (140 to 160 kilometers) per hour across an area seven miles long and three miles wide, according to meteorologist Jeff Masters.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this image of the storm system passing over the eastern United States on June 13 , 2013. While it is not possible to make out the band where thunderstorms were strongest because of cloud cover, a composite of radar images reveals a bow-shaped band of storms—called a bow echo—propagating east at 47 miles (75 kilometers) per hour.

Tropical Cyclone Mahasen

Mahasen formed as a tropical storm over the northern Indian Ocean on May 10, 2013. On May 13, the U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) reported that Mahasen was moving northward over the Bay of Bengal, headed in the direction of Bangladesh and northeastern India. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 50 knots (95 kilometers per hour) and gusts up to 65 knots (120 kilometers per hour). Within 72 hours, the JTWC reported, sustained wind speeds were expected to increase to 70 knots (130 kilometers per hour).

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 The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this natural-color image on May 13, 2013. Mahasen lacked a distinct eye, but still sported a rough apostrophe shape typical of strong storms. Clouds extended along the coast of India and over Sri Lanka.

The JTWC reported that the storm was located roughly 630 nautical miles (1,170 kilometers) south-southwest of Kolkata (Calcutta). The JTWC forecast map showed Mahasen moving northward over the Bay of Bengal before turning slightly toward the northeast, making landfall around May 16.

Ash covered Snow on Kizimen Volcano

Spring has arrived at Kizimen Volcano. The mountainous landscape is covered in a patchwork of snow, ash, volcanic debris, and still-dormant vegetation. Instead of being white, the snow is dark brown, covered by layers of ash that were trapped by a succession of winter storms. As the snow melts, layers of ash that were deposited individually start to combine, resulting in a thick blanket of ash on top of the remaining snow. Bare rock and volcanic debris are also brown, but lighter than the ash-covered snow.

A plume of ash, steam, and other volcanic gases from Kizimen’s summit—as well as gases escaping from a fumarole on the northwestern slopes—indicate the volcano’s ongoing activity.

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