Nov 252016
 

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You may have seen in the past on this blog that a certain date is noteworthy because two notable people with related interests share the same birthday. Today I give you an accounting of the many disastrous events that happened on 25th November in different years worldwide, all related to bad weather. The events span a total of 170 years from 1839 to 2009. I get the strong feeling that this is not a good date to be thinking about venturing out to sea or climbing a mountain. These are the weather disasters that occurred on this date to my knowledge. There may have been more.

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1839  On this date, the bustling port city of Coringa, situated near the mouth of the Godavari River on the southeastern coast of India was slammed by a disastrous cyclone. In 1789 it had been brutally hit by a cyclone that left around 20,000 dead, but though devastated, the port city was still able to function. The 1839 cyclone delivered terrible winds and a giant 12 m (40 ft) storm surge. The port was destroyed, about 20,000 vessels were lost, and 300,000 people were killed. The port was never fully rebuilt and Coringa today remains a simple village. It was in the wake of this storm that the term “cyclone” was coined by British East India Company official Henry Piddington to describe devastatingly swirling winds. The word “cyclone” is irregularly formed from a Latinized form of Greek kyklon “moving in a circle, whirling around,” present participle of kykloun “move in a circle, whirl,” from kyklos “circle” (from which we also get “cycle”). This, so far, has been the third most destructive storm in history.

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1926  The deadliest November tornado outbreak in U.S. history struck on this date, which was Thanksgiving Day, and continued the following day. A total of 27 tornadoes of great strength were reported in the Midwest, including the strongest November tornado, an estimated F4, that devastated Heber Springs, Arkansas. There were 51 deaths in Arkansas alone, with a total of 107 deaths and 451 injuries overall.

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1950 On this date, the Great Appalachian Storm of November 1950, a large extra-tropical cyclone,  moved through the Eastern United States, causing significant winds, heavy rains east of the Appalachians, and blizzard conditions along the western slopes of the mountain chain. Hurricane-force winds, peaking at 110 miles per hour (180 km/h) in Concord, New Hampshire and 160 miles per hour (260 km/h) in the New England highlands, disrupted power to 1,000,000 customers during the event. In all, the storm impacted 22 states, killing 353, injuring over 160, and creating US$66.7 million in damage (1950 dollars). At the time, U.S. insurance companies paid more money out to their policy holders for damage resulting from this cyclone than for any other previous storm or hurricane. The cyclone is also the highest-ranking winter storm on the Regional Snowfall Index with a maximum value of 32.31.

The cyclone initially began forming in southeast North Carolina near a cold front on the morning of November 24 as a cyclone over the Great Lakes weakened. Rapid development ensued and the cyclone completely formed while moving north through Washington D.C. the next morning. The former occluded front to its northwest became a warm front which moved back to the west around the strengthening, and now dominant, southern low pressure center. By the evening of November 25, the cyclone retrograded, or moved northwestward, into Ohio due to a blocking ridge up across eastern Canada. It was at this time that the pressure gradient was its most intense across southern New England and eastern New York.  The cyclone moved west over Lake Erie before looping over Ohio as the low-level and mid-level cyclone centers coupled. Significant convection within its comma head led to the development of a warm seclusion, or a pocket of low level warm air, near its center which aided in further development due to the increased lapse rates a warmer low level environment affords under a cold low. After the system became stacked with height, the storm slowly spun down as it drifted north and northeast into eastern Canada over the succeeding few days.

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1987 Typhoon Nina, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Sisang, struck the Philippines on this date. Typhoon Nina originated from an area of convection near the Marshall Islands in mid-November 1987. It gradually became better organized, and on November 19, was first classified as a tropical cyclone. Moving west-northwest, Nina attained tropical storm intensity that evening. Late on November 20, Nina passed through the Chuuk Lagoon. After a brief pause in intensification, Nina intensified into a typhoon on November 22. Two days later, the typhoon intensified suddenly, before attaining its peak 10 minute intensity of 165 km/h (105 mph). During the afternoon of November 25, Nina moved ashore in southern Luzon at the same intensity.

Across the Chuuk Lagoon, four people were killed and damage ranged from $30–$40 million (1987 USD). In the capital of Weno, 85% of dwellings and 50% of government buildings were damaged. Throughout the atoll, at least 1,000 people were rendered homeless, approximately 1,000 houses were damaged, and 39 injuries were reported. While crossing the Philippines, Nina brought extensive damage to the northern portion of the island group. The town of Matnog sustained the worst damage from the typhoon, where 287 people died. 61 people died in the nearby city of Verla, where 98% of all structures were either damaged or destroyed. 400 people died, 80% of all crops were destroyed, and 90% of all homes were either damaged or destroyed in Sorsogon province. Nearby, in the Albay province, 73 people were killed. Throughout both the Albay and Sorsogon provinces, four-fifths of all schools and half of all public infrastructure were destroyed. Elsewhere, in Boac, 80% of homes lost their roofs. In Bacacay, 18 of the village’s 200 homes were destroyed. However, the capital city of Manila avoided the brunt of the typhoon. Throughout the Philippines, approximately 114,000 people sought shelter, approximately 90,000 houses were destroyed, leaving more than 150,000 homeless. Nationwide, damage from the storm totaled $54.5 million and 808 people died.

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1996 On this date a powerful ice storm struck the central U.S., killing 26 people. I had never experienced an ice storm until I moved to New York State and found them quite beautiful until I became a home owner. After that I was more concerned than entranced. The formation of ice begins with a layer of above-freezing air in the atmosphere over a layer of sub-freezing temperatures closer to the surface. Frozen precipitation melts to rain while falling into the warm air layer, and then begins to refreeze in the cold layer below. If the precipitate refreezes while still in the air, it will land on the ground as sleet. However, the liquid droplets may continue to fall without freezing, passing through the cold air just above the surface. This thin layer of air then cools the rain to a temperature below freezing. In this case the drops themselves do not freeze, a phenomenon known as supercooling. When the supercooled drops strike ground or anything else below 0 °C (32 °F) (e.g. power lines, tree branches, aircraft), a layer of ice accumulates as the cold water drips off, forming a slowly thickening film of ice.

Ice storms can be perfectly beautiful to look at (from a distance), but they frequently bring down tree limbs or whole trees, power lines and such from the sheer weight of accumulated ice. When they occurred on my property it was eerie to go out, especially at night, and hear the periodic sound of limbs creaking and crashing. I’m glad to say that none ever fell directly on my house, but there were some close calls.

To add to the misery on this date, a powerful windstorm affected Florida with winds gusting over 90 mph, toppling trees and flipping trailers.

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2008 On November 24 an area of low pressure formed over land in Sri Lanka. Later that day the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) assessed the low-pressure area’s chance of becoming a significant tropical cyclone within 24 hours as ‘poor’, due to the minimal convection near the Low Level Circulation Center. The next morning the JTWC issued a Tropical Cyclone Formation Alert on the low-pressure area, stating it had a ‘good’ chance of becoming a significant tropical cyclone within 24 hours, as the Low Level Circulation Center was moving into the Bay of Bengal. Two hours later the India Meteorological Department (IMD) upgraded the area of low pressure to Depression BOB 07. Three hours later the IMD reported that the depression had intensified into a Deep Depression whilst remaining stationary. Later that day the JTWC upgraded the Deep Depression to Tropical Cyclone 06B and reported that the depression had wind speeds equivalent to a tropical storm, on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. The cyclone was named Nisha.

15 people were killed when Nisha hit northern Sri Lanka on November 25, 2008, causing heavy rains and flooding that reportedly displaced between 60,000 and 70,000 people in Vanni and 20,000 people in Jaffna district. Jaffna recorded the highest rainfall since 1918, of 520.1 mm of rain in one week, with the 26 November total rainfall (389.8 mm) being the highest in nine decades.

At least 189 people were killed by the heavy rains and floods caused by Nisha in Tamil Nadu. Some places recorded extreme rainfall, notably Orathanadu, Thanjavur District where over 660 mm of rain fell in a 24-hour period, breaking the 65-year-old record of highest daily rainfall in Tamil Nadu. In two days, Orathanadu registered 990 mm of rainfall. Previously the highest amount of rainfall in a day was 570 mm registered by Cuddalore on May 18, 1943. During the four-day period from 25 through 28 November, Orathanadu received 1280 mm of rainfall, making it as the 4th wettest Cylone in India to date. A map showing the most affected areas was released by ReliefWeb. Damage in India totaled to 3789 crores, or 800 million in 2008 USD.

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2009 The 2009 Saudi Arabian floods affected Jeddah, on the Red Sea (western) coast of Saudi Arabia, and other areas of Makkah Province. They have been described by local officials as the worst in 27 years. About 122 people were reported to have died, and more than 350 were missing. Some roads were under a meter (3 ft) of water on 26 November, and many of the victims were believed to have drowned in their cars. At least 3,000 vehicles were swept away or damaged.

More than 90 mm (3½ inches) of rain fell in Jeddah in just four hours on Wednesday 25 November. This is nearly twice the average for an entire year and the heaviest rainfall in Saudi Arabia in a decade. The flooding came just two days before the expected date of the Eid al-Adha festival and during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to nearby Mecca. Business losses were estimated at a billion riyals (US$270 million). The poorer neighborhoods in the south of Jeddah were particularly hard hit, as was the area around King Abdulaziz University. The university was closed for vacation at the time of the floods, preventing even higher casualties.

25 November was the first day of the annual four-day Hajj pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in and around Mecca, for which Jeddah is the main entry point for foreign pilgrims arriving by air or sea. The number of foreigners, as well as Saudi citizens, was slightly lower than in previous years, possibly because of health fears due to the pandemic of H1N1 influenza. However, over 1.6 million are still believed to have made the hajj, with 200,000 coming from Indonesia alone.

According to the Saudi Interior Ministry, none of the flood victims was taking part in the pilgrimage. However, the main Haramain expressway between King Abdulaziz International Airport and Mecca was closed on 25 November, stranding thousands of pilgrims. Parts of the 80-km (50 mi) highway were reported to have caved in, and the Jamia bridge in eastern Jeddah partially collapsed. The highway remained closed on 26 November amid fears that the bridge would collapse completely.

Rain was unusually heavy in Mecca on 25 November, as well as in nearby Mina, where many pilgrims stay in vast tent cities. The weather had improved by 26 November, and pilgrims had to face scorching heat on the plain of Mount Arafat for the second day of the Hajj.

I have lived through my fair share of stormy weather over the years, including hurricanes, typhoons, and ice storms in North Carolina, New York, Hong Kong, and mainland China. I’ve also had to deal with the aftermath of storms in Florida and Louisiana. For me, having a good water and food supply is essential for weathering bad storms and I was always prepared. Typically in my house in the Catskills the power would go out during a storm either because the local sub-station was disrupted, or because power lines had fallen. Power outages could last from a few hours to a week depending on the nature of the problem. About half a day was typical for an averagely severe storm. In my house, water was supplied by a well with an electric pump, and heat came through forced hot air driven by an electric fan. So a power outage meant no water and no heat.  I always stocked up with several gallons of water before a major storm, and kept a stack of firewood indoors for my wood stove. My cooking stove ran on bottled gas. The electric igniters would not work with the power out, but matches always work. So, I could always keep warm, hydrated, and fed.

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With the power out for an indefinite period of time you shouldn’t open the refrigerator or freezer doors. I would seal the doors with strong duct tape to prevent momentary lapses in judgment resulting in melted ice cream. Without the refrigerator my menu choices came down to my non-perishables.   I’m nowhere near as assiduous with non-perishables as my mother used to be, but back in New York I could survive for a week without assistance. My mum’s pantry used to look like a culinary Aladdin’s cave. Given her wartime and post-war experiences she felt it her duty to have a year’s supply of food in the pantry including dried soups, canned goods, and other non-perishables. I don’t go any near that far but I always have a number of grains, dried pulses, and whatnot on hand for regular meals, and keep a stock of canned goods. I’ve always got rice (jasmine, basmati, Arborio), pasta (various types), and pulses (red and brown lentils, beans, chick peas, black-eyed peas). I don’t normally buy canned vegetables except tomatoes which I always have, both whole and crushed. They are better than fresh tomatoes for sauces, soups and stews. Of course I also have my herb and spice collection plus assorted bouillon cubes  along with wheat and rice flour, rolled oats, pearl barley, white and brown sugar, and various condiments and pickles.

Protein is the only limitation I have in my non-perishable stock. There’s lots possible – corned beef, sardines, herrings etc. – but I’m not a big fan of most tinned proteins. I do like bottled clams, though, and sporadically I use anchovies. I don’t keep it around a lot, but I do also use canned salmon once in a while for kedgeree. So, fish and shellfish are all right with me, but canned meats and common fish, especially tuna, don’t make it to my list. There are a few dried meats and sausages that keep more or less indefinitely however, and they can be reconstituted in soups and stews.

When the lights go out there’s plenty for me to make – linguine with clams or tomato sauce, bean or lentil soup. Of course fresh items such as butter, cream, milk, and eggs are missing. You could stock milk powder or dehydrated eggs, but you can do without them for a few days.

Jun 112016
 

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Today, the second Saturday in June, is National Day in Montserrat, a Caribbean island in the Leeward Islands, which is part of the chain known as the Lesser Antilles, in the British West Indies. It is a British Overseas Territory. Montserrat is approximately 16 km (10 mi) long and 11 km (7 mi) wide, with approximately 40 km (25 mi) of coastline. In 1493, Christopher Columbus named the island Santa Maria de Montserrate, after the Virgin of Montserrat in the Monastery of Montserrat, near Barcelona in Spain.

Archaeological field work in 2012, in Montserrat’s Centre Hills indicated there was an Archaic (pre-Arawak) occupation between 4000 and 2500 BP but the island was uninhabited when Columbus sailed by. A number of Irish settled in Montserrat in 1642, and the Irish population expanded due to the arrival of exiles after Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland (1653). The island was captured by the French in 1666, and shortly afterwards by the English. English control of the island was confirmed under the Treaty of Breda in 1667.

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The Irish and English colonists began to transport African slaves for labor, as was common to most Caribbean islands in the 18th century. The colonists built an economy based on the production of sugar, rum, arrowroot and sea island cotton, cultivated on large plantations using slave labor. By the late 18th century numerous plantations had developed on the island, and many Irish continued to be transported to the island, to work as indentured servants.

On 17 March 1768, slaves rebelled but failed to achieve freedom, but the people of Montserrat celebrate St Patrick’s Day as a public holiday due to the slave revolt. In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, France briefly captured Montserrat after supporting the American cause. The French returned the island to Great Britain under the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended that conflict.

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The Irish constituted a significant proportion of the population from the founding of the colony in 1628. Many were indentured laborers; others were merchants or plantation owners. The geographer Thomas Jeffrey claimed in The West India Atlas (1780) that the majority of those on Montserrat were either Irish or of Irish descent, “so that the use of the Irish language is preserved on the island, even among the Negroes.” There is indirect evidence that the use of the Irish language continued in Montserrat until at least the middle of the 19th century. The Kilkenny diarist and Irish scholar Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin noted in 1831 that he had heard that Irish was still spoken in Montserrat by both black and white inhabitants. A letter by W.F. Butler in The Atheneum (15 July 1905) quotes an account by a Cork civil servant, C. Cremen, of what he had heard from a retired sailor called John O’Donovan, a fluent Irish speaker:

He frequently told me that in the year 1852, when mate of the brig Kaloolah, he went ashore on the island of Montserrat which was then out of the usual track of shipping. He said he was much surprised to hear the negroes actually talking Irish among themselves, and that he joined in the conversation.

There is no evidence for the survival of the Irish language in Montserrat into the 20th century.

Britain abolished slavery in Montserrat and its other Caribbean territories effective August 1834. During the 19th century, falling sugar-prices had an adverse effect on the island’s economy. In 1857, the British philanthropist Joseph Sturge bought a sugar estate on the island to prove it was economically viable to employ paid labor rather than slaves. Numerous members of the Sturge family bought additional land. In 1869 the family established the Montserrat Company Limited and planted lime trees, started the commercial production of lime juice, set up a school, and sold parcels of land to the inhabitants of the island. Much of Montserrat came to be owned by smallholders.

From 1871 to 1958, Montserrat was administered as part of the federal crown colony of the British Leeward Islands, becoming a province of the short-lived West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962. In 1979, The Beatles’ producer, George Martin, opened AIR Studios Montserrat to provide a haven for harried musicians. The studios attracted numerous world-famous musicians, who came to record in the peaceful and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat.

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The last decade of the 20th century brought two events that devastated the island. In the early hours of 17 September 1989, Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm, struck Montserrat with full force, producing sustained winds of 140 kilometers per hour (87 mph). It damaged more than 90% of the structures on the island. AIR Studios closed, and the tourist economy was virtually wiped out. Within a few years, the island had recovered considerably, only to be damaged again, and even more severely, six years later by volcanic activity that started in 1995.

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The island now has a population estimated at around 6,000. Approximately 8,000 refugees left the island (primarily to the UK) following the resumption of volcanic activity in July 1995. Now, two-thirds of the population are between the ages of 15 and 64, the vast majority being of mixed Irish and African descent. It is not known with certainty how many African slaves and indentured Irish laborers were brought to the West Indies, though according to one estimate some 60,000 Irish were “Barbadosed” by Oliver Cromwell, some of whom would have arrived in Montserrat.

Today is also the first day of National Dairy Goat Awareness Week in the U.S. which runs from the first to the second Saturday in June. It was proclaimed in the Reagan era to promote dairy products from goats. Ronnie praised goats as hardy, productive animals that were intrinsically linked to the history of the United States. I expect he had a good speech writer; this is the man who thought ketchup was a vegetable.

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By coincidence, goat stew, known locally as goat water or kiddy stew, is the national dish of Montserrat. So you have a choice: cheese or meat. I buy goat cheese quite often when I can. I like its tang, especially in sandwiches and salads. I’m also a fan of goat meat which is harder to find, but is very common in Mantua, where I live now. There are numerous goat farms scattered around the countryside. Goats are common in the rockier regions of Montserrat, where they thrive. Milk-fed kid is as tender as young lamb, but mature goat requires lengthy cooking to be tender. It is more flavorful than kid, though.

Goat water is prepared using goat meat, breadfruit, vegetables, onion, tomato, spices and herbs, and flour. Additional ingredients may also be used, such as rum, whiskey and various tubers. Not surprisingly, there is no canonical recipe; it’s all down to what’s available and cook’s choice. Here’s a reasonable recipe which you can vary as you like. The bouquet garni can have in it various herbs. Mine is normally sprigs of thyme, rosemary, and sage.  Maggi cubes are made in Nigeria and are the ubiquitous flavoring in West African and Caribbean soups and stews. You can buy them online or in specialty markets. I’m not a big fan, so I use stock. Red chile peppers and tomato paste are also common ingredients, but I have omitted them here. Your choice.

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Goat Water

10 lb goat meat
2 lb/1kg green pawpaw, peeled and diced
2 lb/1kg breadfruit, peeled and diced
1 lb/500g flour
1 lb/500g onions, peeled and diced
cooking oil
2 tbsp gravy browning
bouquet garni
salt & black pepper
stock (or Maggi cubes)

Instructions

Cut the meat into serving pieces and season with salt and pepper. Heat cooking oil over high heat in a heavy pot and lightly brown the meat on all sides. Cover with stock (or water with Maggi cubes) and simmer for at least 2 hours (longer if the meat is still tough.

Gently sauté the pawpaw, breadfruit and onions and sauté in a little cooking oil, then add them to the meat along with a bouquet garni. Continue simmering.

Mix 3 tbsp (45ml) of flour to a smooth paste with water and add 2 tbsp (30ml) gravy browning. Add this mix to the stew.

With the remaining flour, make tiny dumpling (droppers) by making a dough of flour and water that is stiff. Mix the flour and water, a little at a time, until you have a firm ball. Knead the dough for about 20 minutes, then break off small pieces to form the dumplings. Add them to the stew and simmer until they are cooked, about 20 minutes.

Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread (or white rice).