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Costa Rica, Nicaragua brace for deadly Hurricane Otto
By Inti Ocon in Bluefields, with Marc Burleigh in San Jose
Bluefields, Nicaragua (AFP) Nov 24, 2016

More hurricanes likely for northeast US: study
Paris (AFP) Nov 23, 2016 - A study warned Wednesday of hurricanes hitting the US northeast coast more frequently in future due to climate change caused by fossil fuel emissions.

As the planet has warmed over the last few hundred years, Atlantic hurricanes have moved gradually northward from the western Caribbean to northern North America, said a study in the journal Scientific Reports.

This trend would continue if humanity keeps pumping planet-warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

"Our results strongly suggest that future emission scenarios will result in more frequent tropical cyclone impacts on the financial and population centres of the northeastern United States," wrote the team.

They had reconstructed hurricane rainfall for the western Caribbean as far back as 450 years ago, by analysing the chemical composition of stalagmite from a cave in Belize.

Hurricane rainfall has an easily-recognisable, unique chemistry preserved in the stalagmite as it grows out of deposits left behind from dripping water.

The data showed the average number of hurricanes at the Belize site decreased at the same time as hurricane records showed they had become more frequent in places like Bermuda and Florida.

"This information showed that Atlantic hurricanes were moving to the north," said a statement from Durham University, whose researchers contributed to the study.

The north-shifting hurricanes were of a particular type -- long-lived storms which develop near the Cape Verde islands off Africa's west coast. They are influenced by the width and position of the so-called Hadley cell -- a pattern of circulating air in the area.

As carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere have increased since the Industrial Revolution, the Hadley cell has expanded, the team wrote.

"This suggests that from the late 19th century, manmade emissions have become the main driver behind shifting hurricane tracks by altering the position of global weather systems," said the statement.

- Redirected -

"If future trends in carbon dioxide and industrial aerosol emissions continue as expected, hurricanes could shift even further northward, exacerbating the risk to the northeast coast of the USA."

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy unleased three-metre (10-foot) floods across coastal New York and New Jersey, after lashing the Caribbean.

Having caused an estimated $71 billion in damage and 157 deaths in the US, Sandy is considered the second costliest hurricane in American history, after Katrina which ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005.

The study said the northward movement of the so-called Cape Verde hurricanes did not mean fewer storms for the west Caribbean coast.

A second category of hurricane, a shorter-lived type which forms within the Caribbean basin itself and makes land quite quickly, is likely to become worse as well.

"These storms are likely to increase in number as Caribbean sea surface temperatures continue to warm," and may increase in strength, study lead author Lisa Baldini of Durham University told AFP.

"These storms generated within the Caribbean are largely replacing the Cape Verde storms that are being redirected northward," she said.

In December last year, the world's nations adopted the Paris Agreement to limit average global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.

This would be achieved by cutting emissions from burning coal, oil and gas, switching to renewable sources like solar energy instead.

Costa Rica declared a national emergency hours before a Caribbean hurricane that was expected to rip into it and neighboring Nicaragua on Thursday.

Hurricane Otto, upgraded from a tropical storm by the US National Hurricane Center, was packing sustained winds of 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour that were forecast to strengthen further before landfall.

The slow-moving system was expected to churn slowly through northern Costa Rica and southern Nicaragua over two days, dumping heavy rains that the US center warned would likely cause "life threatening flash floods and mud slides."

Both countries had issued red alerts for the areas to be worst-hit, evacuated thousands of people and ordered the closure of schools, some of which were designated shelters.

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis' declaration of a national emergency meant government offices in his country would be closed Thursday and Friday, except the ones dealing with the storm.

In Bluefields, a Nicaraguan city of 45,000 inhabitants directly in the storm's path, there was panicked buying of battery-powered lamps, bottled water, canned food and plastic bags.

"I'm expecting it won't hit Bluefields directly... but it's worrying that it's stationary because it's growing bigger and taking up a lot of water and has become unpredictable -- it could go in any direction," a shopkeeper, Elmer Jackson, told AFP by telephone.

Otto has already proved deadly in Panama, where on Tuesday its outer band of rains and wind caused a mud slide that killed two people and brought down a tree that crushed a nine-year-old boy in a car in the capital.

A search was under way for three people who went missing in a small boat, Panama's National Air and Naval Service said. Another person was feared swept away by a river.

- Evacuations -

Princess Barberena, a resident in Greytown, an outpost on Nicaragua's far southern Caribbean coast, said some locals were crossing the nearby border into Costa Rica looking for safer shelter.

But the situation there was not projected to be much better.

Costa Rican officials have ordered the evacuation of more than 4,000 people along the sparsely inhabited northern half of its Caribbean coast. But some were defiantly staying.

"Some people don't want to leave their homes, leave all their possessions, their animals," police officer Christian Rodriguez told the Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion in the village of Batan, close to the Caribbean port city of Limon.

One woman who did evacuate her home near the village of Barra del Colorado, Teresa Romero, 52, told AFP that around 10 male locals had refused to leave. She was taking shelter in a church near the inland capital of San Jose.

The high winds and heavy rains could devastate crops -- a big blow especially in Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

Otto "could seriously jeopardize food security for small farmers who rely on maize (corn), beans, cocoa, honey, coffee and livestock for their livelihoods" in Nicaragua, Jennifer Zapata, a regional director for Heifer International, a US-based poverty-fighting charity, said in a statement.

"The storm is coming at a terrible time for the vital coffee crop, which is usually harvested between now and December," she said.

- Late-season hurricane -

Otto was a rare, late-appearing hurricane in the Atlantic storm season, which runs from June to the end of November.

It was also on an unusually southern trajectory. It will be the first time Costa Rica has suffered a direct hit from a hurricane since records began in 1851.

A previous, far-stronger hurricane, Matthew, devastated parts of southern Haiti early last month, killing 546 people and leaving nearly 175,000 homeless.

The US National Hurricane Center said up to 50 centimeters (20 inches) of rain could fall on parts of northern Costa Rica and southern Nicaragua between Wednesday and Thursday.

Dangerous surf and rip tides were also likely, it said.

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Previous Report
Hurricane Otto heads toward Central America, kills 3
Panama City (AFP) Nov 22, 2016
Tropical Storm Otto strengthened into a hurricane Tuesday in the Caribbean as it lurched toward Central America, causing three deaths in Panama and prompting coastal evacuations in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Otto became the seventh hurricane of the 2016 Atlantic season as it moved westward packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour, the US-based National Hurricane C ... read more

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