Russia chokes as fires rage in worst summer anyone can remember

Deaths in Moscow have doubled to an average of 700 people a day as the Russian capital is engulfed by poisonous smog from wildfires and a sweltering heat wave, a top health official said today, according to the Associated Press.

The Russian newspaper Pravda reported: “Moscow is suffocating. Thick toxic smog has been covering the sky above the city for days. The sun in Moscow looks like the moon during the day: it’s not that bright and yellow, but pale and orange with misty outlines against the smoky sky. Muscovites have to experience both the smog and sweltering heat at once.”

“Russia has recently seen the longest unprecedented heat wave for at least one thousand years, the head of the Russian Meteorological Center,” the news site Ria Novosti reported.

Various news sites report that foreign embassies have reduced activities or shut down, with many staff leaving Moscow to escape the toxic atmosphere.

Russia heat map.jpg

Russian heatwave: This NASA map released today shows areas of Russia experiencing above-average temperatures this summer (orange and red). The map was released on NASA’s Earth Obervatory website.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, based on MODIS land surface temperature data available through the NASA Earth Observations (NEO) Website. Caption by Michon Scott.

According to NASA:

In the summer of 2010, the Russian Federation had to contend with multiple natural hazards: drought in the southern part of the country, and raging fires in western Russia and eastern Siberia. The events all occurred against the backdrop of unusual warmth. Bloomberg reported that temperatures in parts of the country soared to 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit), and the Wall Street Journal reported that fire- and drought-inducing heat was expected to continue until at least August 12.

This map shows temperature anomalies for the Russian Federation from July 20-27, 2010, compared to temperatures for the same dates from 2000 to 2008. The anomalies are based on land surface temperatures observed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Areas with above-average temperatures appear in red and orange, and areas with below-average temperatures appear in shades of blue. Oceans and lakes appear in gray.

Not all parts of the Russian Federation experienced unusual warmth on July 20-27, 2010. A large expanse of northern central Russia, for instance, exhibits below-average temperatures. Areas of atypical warmth, however, predominate in the east and west. Orange- and red-tinged areas extend from eastern Siberia toward the southwest, but the most obvious area of unusual warmth occurs north and northwest of the Caspian Sea. These warm areas in eastern and western Russia continue a pattern noticeable earlier in July, and correspond to areas of intense drought and wildfire activity.

Bloomberg reported that 558 active fires covering 179,596 hectares (693 square miles) were burning across the Russian Federation as of August 6, 2010. Voice of America reported that smoke from forest fires around the Russian capital forced flight restrictions at Moscow airports on August 6, just as health officials warned Moscow residents to take precautions against the smoke inhalation.

Posted by David Braun

Earlier related post: Russia burns in hottest summer on record (July 28, 2010)

Russian Smokejumpers photo.jpg

Talk about tough: These guys throw themselves out of 50-year-old aircraft into burning Siberian forests. (National Geographic Magazine feature, February 2008)

Photo by Mark Thiessen

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn