After weird winter, US forecasters see warm, wet spring

Washington's famed cherry blossoms are covered in ice during a late winter storm in Washington. (AP)
Updated 20 March 2017
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After weird winter, US forecasters see warm, wet spring

NEW YORK: If you liked the balmy weather that dominated on the US East Coast and much of the South this winter, you will probably enjoy the spring of 2017, too.
The new season, which officially begins on Monday, should bring more of the same in both regions, forecasters say, though for the East, a final twist of winter weirdness will have to play out before the region basks in the warmth again.
Spring, which starts with the vernal equinox at 6:28 a.m. EDT on Monday, will begin warmly but Wednesday’s temperatures are predicted to plunge into the 20s (-1 to -6 Celsius) and teens in the US Northeast, with a snowstorm possible in the Midwest, according to Accuweather.com.
After the warmest February on record in New York City and other parts of the Northeast, winter returned with a vengeance last week with a paralyzing snowstorm and sustained stretch of sub-freezing temperatures.
“That was our three days of winter,” said Jon Gottschalck, chief forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In New York, where pedestrians are still navigating deep piles of snow and ice, the mercury was expected to dip below the freezing mark overnight and then climb to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) on the first day of spring.
“Hang tight, bear with it, because our forecast for spring is above-average temperatures,” Gottschalck said.
That may come as cold comfort for the nation’s capital. Last week’s cold snap annihilated half of the pink-and-white cherry blossoms that typically draw 1.5 million tourists to Washington in early April. Lured to an early bloom by historic warmth, they were dangerously exposed, said National Park Service officials, who soldiered on with a festival celebrating survivors expected to reach peak bloom around March 25.
While the East Coast luxuriated in the mild temperatures, and Texas and Louisiana had the warmest winter in more than a century, the West Coast enjoyed a welcome stretch of wet weather after years of drought.
Nevada and Wyoming set records for precipitation, while California had the second wettest winter in the 123 years of record-keeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.
Temperatures for April, May and June were expected to be above normal in the Southern Plains, lower Mississippi Valley and the East Coast, said NOAA meteorologist Dan Petersen. For the West Coast, the long-range forecast was still unclear.
But NOAA is calling for a wetter-than-normal spring on the Gulf Coast and in the Northern Plains, where above-average snowfall in North Dakota and Idaho could trigger flooding.
On the final day of winter, almost 110,000 animal lovers worldwide remained glued to a YouTube streaming video of a pregnant giraffe named “April,” who is overdue to give birth at Animal Adventure Park in upstate New York.
Much more of a wait may mean a spring birth amid winter temperatures.


Taliban warn Kabul residents to ‘keep away’ ahead of attacks

Updated 21 May 2018
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Taliban warn Kabul residents to ‘keep away’ ahead of attacks

  • The militant group has issued such warnings to civilians before, including during a failed attempt to take the western city of Farah last week
  • The Taliban are stepping up their Al Khandaq spring offensive in an apparent rejection of calls for the militants to take up the Afghan government’s February offer of peace talks.

KABUL: The Taliban warned Kabul residents Monday to avoid “military centers” in the heavily fortified city, saying they are planning more attacks in the capital where civilians have long taken the brunt of the casualties.
The militant group has issued such warnings to civilians before, including during a failed attempt to take the western city of Farah last week, but it is believed to be the first time they have singled out Kabul.
The warning comes after the United Nations said the war-weary capital — where the Daesh group is also stepping up its attacks — is already the deadliest place in the country for civilians.
The Taliban said they are planning more attacks on “the enemy’s military and intelligence centers” as part of an annual spring offensive.
“Therefore, to avoid civilian casualties and only cause damage to enemy military, we are asking Kabul residents to keep away... We don’t want even a single innocent civilian to be killed,” a statement published online said.
The group did not define what was meant by “military and intelligence centers.”
Such targets are difficult to avoid given the overcrowded city is the heart of the country’s intelligence, government and military operations and also plagued by traffic jams due to ubiquitous checkpoints and barriers.
“Any attacks or explosions, even a small one, would cause civilian casualties because military installations are located in the center of the city near people’s houses,” political and military analyst Nik Mohammad told AFP.
The Taliban’s statement was pure propaganda, he said, adding that if they fight in the cities “you will definitely kill civilians, there is no way to avoid that.”
The Taliban are stepping up their Al Khandaq spring offensive in an apparent rejection of calls for the militants to take up the Afghan government’s February offer of peace talks.
The group portrays itself as taking care to avoid civilian casualties, but has claimed attacks such as a massive bomb hidden in an ambulance in January which detonated in a crowded street and killed more than 100 people.
The extremists’ chilling ability to hit at the heart of the country despite increased police checks has spotlighted security and intelligence failures, with the government of President Ashraf Ghani coming under increasing pressure to protect civilians.
Kabul — overflowing with returning refugees and internally displaced Afghans fleeing war and seeking jobs and security — has been the deadliest place in the country for civilians for months.
Figures from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) show that Afghan civilians were deliberately targeted in militant attacks and suicide blasts in 2017.
The capital is a top target, with 16 percent of all casualties during the year — a total of 1,831 people killed and wounded — occurring in Kabul alone. The UN has warned that 2018 could be even deadlier.
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