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SCIENCE FILE | Earthwatch: A Diary of the Planet

May 30, 1996

Drought

A drought in the Southwestern United States and parts of northern Mexico has reached disastrous proportions. "We are in the grip of a very, very serious drought, a national disaster," Texas Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry announced, This is the third year of drought for some areas, and water tables are at their lowest levels in decades from New Mexico and Colorado to Kansas. Perry said weather patterns are similar to those of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s when drought turned the Great Plains into windblown wastelands.

Drought, heat and dry winds that have hit Russia's Stavropol region since March have forced farmers to halt planting. Itar-Tass reported that the situation is most severe in the region's eastern part, adjacent to the Caspian Sea semi-desert.

Volcanic Illness

The latest in a series of eruptions of the Mexican volcano Popocatepetl has caused skin infections among villagers in the area, according to a Mexico City radio station. Radio Red said residents to the east of the volcano complained of pustules on their skin and rashes on the mucous tissues. The 18,182-foot mountain east of the capital has been active since December 1994. Thousands of tons of ash have rained down on the surrounding area since March. Domestic animals were also said to be dying in the area, and the report stated that health authorities had not yet responded to complaints.

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area caused minor damage and sparked a small apartment fire.

Earth movements were also felt in central and northeast Japan, Russia's Lake Baikal region, western Turkey, southern Mexico, northern Chile, the Southern California desert and Los Angeles.

Tropical Storm

Tropical Storm Cam formed over the South China Sea, then threatened shipping lanes as it passed through the Luzon Strait into the Philippine Sea. Maximum winds were estimated near 50 mph.

False Alarms

A dawn chorus of blackbirds that have learned to imitate the wailing sirens of car alarms regularly jolts residents of a small English town from heir sleep. It started with just one bird but has now apparently spread to the entire blackbird population of Guisborough, said bartender Donald O'Shea, who discovered the phenomenon when he rushed out at dawn to confront car thieves but found only a bird in mid-song. Police denied that the mimicry was the result of an increase in car theft.

Additional Sources: U.S. Climate Analysis Center, U.S. Earthquake Information Center and the World Meteorological Organization.

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