Every Friday, FreightWaves takes a look at the past week or so in social media, highlighting images in trucking, transportation and weather. This week features a tornado of sorts spawned by a wildfire, two train derailments in the same state, severe-size hail and more.
Wildfire weather control
The Dixie Fire in Northern California has been burning since July 13 and is the largest wildfire in the country. The heat is so intense that the fire has been creating its own weather, like this fire whirl in Cooks Creek earlier in the week. As the extremely hot air from the fire rises toward the midatmosphere where the air is much cooler, this creates instability and often rotation in the form of a whirl.
Wildfires can also produce pyrocumulus clouds. They look like big thunderstorm clouds, sparking lightning but little to no rain. These localized byproducts can add to the damage done by the fires themselves, and make it difficult for crews to control the fires. As of late Thursday morning, the Dixie Fire was burning almost 518,000 acres — about 2½ times the size of New York City — and was only 31% contained.
Off the rails
It hasn’t been a good week for BNSF. Two of its trains derailed in the past several days, both in North Dakota. The first was Sunday afternoon when more than 20 coal cars went off the tracks just east of Bismarck. A local road was closed for a while. The cause of the derailment remains under investigation, and no one was injured, according to a report from Bismarck’s KFYR-TV.
The second accident happened Wednesday in Grafton, in northeastern North Dakota, about 40 miles north of Grand Forks. The North Dakota Department of Transportation said that around 1:30 a.m. a low-speed freight train derailed on U.S. Highway 81. The crossing, the tracks and the road appeared to be damaged, and a section of the highway was shut down. During the closure, the BNSF Railroad will be making repairs to the crossing, according to a report from the Grand Forks Herald. The closure is expected to last through Friday evening.
Severe thunderstorms have been slamming parts of the Plains, Midwest and Northeast this week, which isn’t unusual in the summer. They have produced tornadoes, powerful straight-line winds and flash flooding.
On Monday, one storm dropped hefty hail in the rural North Dakota town of Bowdon, about 70 miles northeast of Bismarck. Some of the hailstones were reportedly up to 3 inches in diameter, the size of baseballs. There were no reports of injuries or significant damage.
Tropical Storm Fred became the sixth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season Tuesday evening. It’s been drenching part of the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, and Cuba the past few days. Winds were whipping, too. Fred weakened to a tropical depression Thursday as it interacted with these land masses. However, the National Hurricane Center expects Fred to regain strength gradually as it moves back over open waters, returning to tropical storm status sometime Friday or early Saturday.
Fred will then head toward South Florida, making landfall Saturday before sliding by Tampa-St. Petersburg Sunday, then making a second landfall Monday in the Florida Panhandle before heading inland. Strong winds and potential flooding could temporarily delay drivers and freight flows in parts of the Southeast as Fred moves through the region.
A cargo ship ran aground Wednesday in Hachinohe port in Aomori, Japan, and split in two, according to the Japan Coast Guard. Aerial images of the Panama-flagged vessel showed the separated stern of the Crimson Polaris tipped upwards and the other part of the stricken boat listing into the sea.
A fuel leak from the ship has spread about 15 miles, a coast guard spokesman told AFP news agency, but the extent of any environmental impact was unclear. The spokesman also said all 21 crew members — Chinese and Filipino — were rescued safely.
The 39,910-ton vessel was carrying wood chips when it ran aground, Reuters reported. Patrol boats were dispatched to avoid potential collisions with other ships. Authorities were trying to contain the oil leak, hoping to build an oil fence around the boat, the spokesman said.
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