Saturday, August 27, 2011

Irene Update: Early Saturday

Not much has changed since Friday afternoon.  Irene has weakened (this photo was taken from space before the eye deteriorated) and it is expected to make first landfall in North Carolina as a weak category 2 or strong category 1 hurricane.  But Dr. Jeff Masters notes that this is deceptive because " Irene is such a huge storm--tropical storm force winds extend out up to 290 miles from the center--it has set a massive amount of the ocean's surface in motion, which will cause a much larger storm surge than the winds would suggest..." 

On Friday afternoon the potential storm surge damage was still rated at what "a typical Category 4 hurricane would have."  Though the storm will likely weaken further as it moves up the coast, storm surge will still be higher than the wind speed would usually indicate.  There is an additional factor: tides will be especially high anyway on Saturday night and Sunday morning due to the new moon.  Masters writes: " I continue to give a 20% chance that a 3 - 4 foot storm surge high enough to over-top the Manhattan flood walls and swamp the New York City subway system will occur on Sunday."

What noone knows is what the duration of the winds will mean. Because of the storm's size, some places will get high winds for 12 to 24 hours straight.  Given the population increase, difference in the built environment, etc. since the last big storms on the Atlantic coast, and given the hugeness and eccentric internal behavior of this storm, nobody really knows what the effect on tides, rivers, buildings, infrastructure (especially electricity) etc. will be.  And then there are the nuclear power plants.  

Fortunately both officials and the general population are taking this storm seriously. President Obama will be monitoring events from the White House. Evacuations and precautions and emergency efforts (see previous post) should help everyone get through this.   

Friday, August 26, 2011

What Matters

The good news concerning Hurricane Irene is that it is no longer a category 3, and is unlikely to intensify.  The bad news is that it is the size of Europe.  According to Dr. Jeff Masters' latest post, it is likely to make first landfall in North Carolina as a category 2, and decline to a category 1 by the time it reaches New England.  He expects flooding to be the major threat rather than wind damage.

Media coverage can't seem to be anything but excessive--either ignoring the storm or as now, filling the airwaves with simulations that make it seem that the storm damage is already a fact.

But the coverage is bringing home one important message: what matters.  What turns out to be important is the disaster planning and drills that hospitals, schools and municipalities have been working on.  Kim Kardashian's wedding does not matter. It never did. Disaster planning, the dedication of public employees, of nurses, police and fire, teachers and civil servants at all levels of government--they matter.  They always do. 

Irene Update: Early Friday

Early Friday from Weather Underground:

"Irene is forecast to make landfall on the North Carolina coast Saturday afternoon. It will likely be a Category 3 storm, with windspeeds around 115 mph. As Irene moves northwards through the mid-Atlantic region it will weaken considerably. On Sunday, Irene's center will pass through the Tri-State region of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, with impacts spread over a wider region due to Irene's size."

Note that landfall is not by any means the first effect.  Strong winds will start hitting North Carolina coast on Friday. The "weakening" also doesn't mean the threat of catastrophic effects is over.  Even a category 1 or tropical storm can cause considerable damage, especially with the amount of rain associated with this storm.  Flooding is a big worry. "Six to ten inches of rain are possible along Irene's track from the Carolinas northward, with 15 inches possible in isolated areas. As a result, flooding is very likely...The Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC)... thinks that river flooding in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey is likely, while flooding along the rest of the northeastern US is possible."

Earlier Dr. Jeff Masters warned: "I am most concerned about the storm surge danger to North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and the rest of the New England coast. Irene is capable of inundating portions of the coast under 10 - 15 feet of water, to the highest storm surge depths ever recorded."

According to an early Friday morning story, CBS News hurricane consultant David Bernard says Irene could still strengthen to a category 4 before it hits North Carolina.  The CBS story quotes an official suggesting that the storm will likely cost billions in damages, enough to affect the U.S. economy.

As for the storm itself, "It is a massive storm - spanning as wide as 700 miles - with tropical-force winds extending almost twice as far as normal. Irene is about the same size as Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005."  Although Katrina was a category 5 hurricane at its most intense, it was a category 3 when it hit New Orleans.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Murky as Tar

Update: This TPM story clarifies the situation better than anything on the enviro tar sand sites.

I just signed a petition urging President Obama to deny permission for the tar sands oil pipeline from Canada.  I've followed the issue cursorily, but the "game over" statement by James Hansen opened my eyes to the full import of the decision.  He feels it will release such a quantity of carbon that the future will be lost.

The President is expected to make the yes or no decision before the end of the year.  But opponents have been demonstrating in front of the White House this week, some inviting arrest.  Bill McKibben was one.  He spent 2 days in a D.C. jail.  He had about 15 seconds to say why as a guest of Chris Hayes on Thursday's Last Word, and he used it well.

However, I can't say the same for the associated web pages on this issue, such as this one.   Now I admit that I am behind the curve on new informational techniques that younger folk use, particularly the reliance on Facebook, Twitter and texting.  But I still think I'm right about the ineffectiveness of this site, which is crammed with insider information and so many arguments that it looks like the usual environmental advocacy technique of throwing charges against the wall to see which ones stick with various constituencies.

Contrast that with the simple, clear message conveyed by the Exxon ads in favor of tar sand oil exploitation, which in that good ol American way, happened to run on MSNBC within seconds of McKibben's appearance.

There is no simple, clear, compelling argument that hits the eyes of anyone going to this site.  There is no sense of what is of greatest importance about this.  It's all a bunch of acronyms and political social networking, plus access to a bewildering ton of information.  It's a site for activists--but where is the site for those not yet converted? 


The new predicted track is in and it's the "worse." (See previous post.) Though Hurricane Irene failed to achieve category 4, after battering the Bahamas it has reconstituted as a strong category 3 and is headed up the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

Hardly a blip on the news last night when I posted, this is now the dominant story.  Why?  Well, the media centers of New York City and DC are threatened, but it's otherwise warranted as well: this storm could affect areas where 55 million Americans live, including 20 million in the New York City area, and 2 million on the New York/New Jersey shoreline alone.  In Manhattan, Ground Zero (the World Trade Center site) is particularly vulnerable.

Six states on or near the eastern coast have declared emergencies.  Mayor Bloomberg of NYC has ordered the evacuations of hospitals and nursing homes in low-lying areas, and will consider larger evacuation by Friday morning.  He suggests the city's subway system, pretty much a lifeline for New York, may shut down on Saturday.

As of Thursday afternoon, Irene was an "unusually large" storm, spread 250 miles in every direction.  As it moves up the U.S. coast it will cross the warmest waters ever recorded off New York and New Jersey.  "Irene's middle name is Global Warming," said Bill McKibben on MSNBC.

Right now the storm is tracking to begin affecting North Carolina on Friday, as a category 3 hurricane. It would reach Virginia and Washington late Friday and Saturday, possibly weakening to category 2.   Then it moves up the coast from Saturday to Sunday and Monday, expected to weaken as it goes but still a category 1 when it reaches New York/New Jersey.  But even if it is down to tropical storm force winds, the damage could still be considerable.

  The population areas it could affect dramatically include Washington,   Philadelphia, New York City and Long Island, and possibly Boston.  Storm surges could flood New York subways and airports.  Heavy rain and wind are also expected with this storm.  "We could be looking at mandatory evacuations up and down the East Coast," said a Weather Channel reporter.  Already, commercial air flights and scheduled trains are being cancelled.  The scheduled dedication of the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington has already been cancelled as well.

But amidst what could be a catastrophic storm, affecting these areas for days and weeks, GOPer House majority leader Eric Cant's office is insisting that no federal emergency aid be rendered unless offset by budget cuts.

Hurricane Irene Update: Dangerous and Potentially Historic Storm

CBS News meteorologist says that Hurricane Irene could be an "historic storm."  He calls the two more likely storm tracks "bad" and "worse."

He outlines those two scenarios:

"The bad scenario cuts the hurricane across Long Island and into New England as a large and strong Category 2 storm. This scenario brings tremendous storm surge on the back bays of Long Island and from the ocean. Massive power disruption and tremendous wind damage will result.

The worse scenario has the hurricane hug the coast all the way to New York City. This would bring tremendous storm surge and wind damage affecting everything from Maryland, right up to the Hudson Valley and across New England."

Earlier on Wednesday, Dr. Jeff Masters:

Irene continues to be embedded in a large envelope of moisture, and wind shear is expected to remain low to moderate, 5 - 20 knots, for the next three days. With water temperatures very warm, 28 - 30°C, these conditions should allow for intensification to a category 4 hurricane (winds of 131 to 155 mph). The only reliable model that's not forecasting this intensification is the GFS, and this is likely due to its relatively course spatial resolution. The National Hurricane Center expects Irene to intensify to a category 4 tomorrow, with a decrease in intensity back to a category 3 on Friday."

Emergency management officials in the eastern states, and particularly FEMA director Craig Fugate are on the job.  Residents are urged to be prepared for storm effects as well as aftereffects (loss of power, infrastructure damage, etc.)  Evacuations from the area of the U.S. coast expected to be hit first,  North Carolina Outer Banks, will be underway Thursday.  The Bahamas will bear the brunt on Thursday.  This storm has already caused flooding in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and killed two people.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"We know what we are, but know not what we may be."


Photo: the endangered mountain gorilla, mother and child.

Shake and Blow

Update: Hurricane Irene reached category 3 strength overnight Tuesday and is holding a track that takes it up the U.S. East Coast. 

The East Coast got rattled by an earthquake on Tuesday, but that may turn out to just be the beginning of a bad week.

As resident of earthquake central, I both sympathize and roll my eyes (TPM has a nice running account of the inflated reaction.)  Quakes do shake you up, and they are all different--though I did hear descriptions that remind me of the only non-California quake I've experienced, when I was watching TV in a college student union in Illinois where I was visiting, and I felt somebody grab the back of my chair and pull it sharply back.  But noone was there.  And a second later, the TV announcement of a quake from the New Madrid fault, which I soon learned is a very big fault indeed.

Unlike CA where our quakes come largely from lots of plates rubbing, the eastern half of North America is all one big solid plate, and (as several seismologists put it) a quake there is like ringing a bell--it reverberates a long way.

But there were no reported injuries and so far not much damage.  Things might be different by next week, though.  Hurricane Irene is heading north over very warm waters.  Predicted to be a category 3 or higher at its height, its track could take it across the North Carolina Outer Banks and up to Washington and New York, and even New England.  Stay tuned.     

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”

Anais Nin

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Emerson for the Day

"There are men whose language is strong and defying enough, yet their eyes and their actions ask leave of other men to live."


"Moon" by Robert Davidson at Lattimer Gallery