Wednesday, August 31, 2011

September 1: Growing Risk of Tropical Storm "Lee" In Gulf of Mexico

Thursday Severe Risk. An eastbound cool front may spark strong to severe storms from Minnesota into eastern South Dakota later today and tonight - a few storms capable of large hail and damaging winds. Source: SPC.

America's Next Tropical Storm? A tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico is being closely monitored for intensification. Enhanced IR satellite loop courtesy of Here's the latest from NHC:


Tropical Storm Lee? Conditions are ripe for a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico to strengthen to at least tropical storm status, and then come ashore over coastal Louisiana or Mississippi, before pushing northeast across Georgia into the Carolinas early next week. As you can see from the jumbled path predictions - the specific track is still unclear, but residents of the Gulf Coast should stay alert.

Solution 1: Landfall Over Louisiana. The NAM model brings "Lee" into coastal Louisiana and Mississippi late in the week. The map above is valid 7 pm Friday evening.

Solution 2: Landfall over Texas? The WRF solution develops a strong tropical storm or possible hurricane in the western Gulf of Mexico later this week. The map above is valid 7 am Saturday morning, showing what appears to be a minimal hurricane (complete with eye) off the coast of Galveston. Yes, there is at least a slight chance of a drought-busting storm for Texas by the weekend.

Hurricane Cost Seen Ranking Among Top Ten. The storm surge was bad enough, but inland flooding will probably be responsible for the vast majority of the damage from Irene; historic river flooding from the Delaware Valley and northern New Jersey to Vermont. The New York Times has more details: "Hurricane Irene will most likely prove to be one of the 10 costliest catastrophes in the nation’s history, and analysts said that much of the damage might not be covered by insurance because it was caused not by winds but by flooding, which is excluded from many standard policies. Industry estimates put the cost of the storm at $7 billion to $10 billion, largely because the hurricane pummeled an unusually wide area of the East Coast. Beyond deadly flooding that caused havoc in upstate New York and Vermont, the hurricane flooded cotton and tobacco crops in North Carolina, temporarily halted shellfish harvesting in Chesapeake Bay, sapped power and kept commuters from their jobs in the New York metropolitan area and pushed tourists off Atlantic beaches in the peak of summer."
  • At least 44 deaths have been reported in 13 states and an estimated 2 million people remained without electrical power Wednesday.
  • Vermont officials are making some headway trying to deliver supplies to flooded communities. One Vermont official is calling this the worst natural disaster in the state’s history. Description:
  • Roads were open to at least emergency vehicles across the state, though some communities including Stratton and Rochester were still barely accessible
  • Federal emergency officials are scheduled to tour Upstate New York and New Jersey later in the day.
  • In New Jersey, the Ramapo, Pompton and Passaic rivers crested and started to slowly recede, More than 10,000 evacuees were still waiting to return to their homes
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office reported
  • that power had been restored to about 78% of the areas that were hit by Irene.
  • Early Wednesday, President Obama declared a major disaster in New York, freeing up federal recovery funds for people in eight counties. Governor Cuomo says damage in New York is likely to hit 1 billion.
  • NJ TRANSIT restored rail service Wednesday morning on the Northeast Corridor from Trenton Transit Center to New York Penn Station.

Katia: A Category 3 Hurricane? Check out the Tropical Cyclone Guidance Project (RAL), courtesy of UCAR in Boulder, which shows model guidance strengthening Hurricane Katia into a Category 3 storm with sustained winds over 111 mph within 120 hours: "The real-time guidance system generates an individual page for each active storm in the North Atlantic, Northeast Pacific, and North Central Pacific basins. Each individual storm page features the latest plots of model guidance and intensity forecast aids for that storm, as well as other diagnostic and observational information. For more information and about the real-time guidance system and the documentation for each section of the individual storm pages, click here."

Katia: A Near Miss? Odds favor that Hurricane Katia will make a turn to the north/northeast, probably avoiding the east coast of the USA. Map courtesy of NHC and Ham Weather.

Projected Path For Katia. The hurricane should weaken as it passes over colder ocean water in the north Atlantic, possibly brushing the Canadian Maritimes as a tropical storm early next week.

Flood Dangers From East Coast Face The East Coast. Here's an update from The Huffington Post: "NEWFANE, Vt. — As emergency airlift operations brought ready-to-eat meals and water to Vermont residents left isolated and desperate, states along the Eastern Seaboard continued to be battered by the after effects of Irene, the destructive hurricane turned tropical storm. Dangerously damaged infrastructure, 2.5 million people without power and thousands of water-logged homes and businesses continued to overshadow the lives of residents and officials from North Carolina through New England, where the storm has been blamed for at least 44 deaths in 13 states. Raging floodwaters continued to ravage parts of northern New Jersey on Wednesday morning, even after the state's rain-swollen rivers crested and slowly receded. The Passaic River crested Tuesday night, causing extensive flooding and forcing a round of evacuations and rescues in Paterson, the state's third-largest city. "Been in Paterson all my life, I'm 62 years old, and I've never seen anything like this," said resident Gloria Moses as she gathered with others at the edge of what used to be a network of streets, now covered by a lake. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, after touring Wayne, through which the Passaic also flows, said Tuesday night he saw "just extraordinary despair."

NASA Measures Irene's Record Rainfall Totals From Space. Some of the rainfall amounts (derived from satellite sensors) are staggering, as much as 225-250 millimaters). has more details: "NASA has totaled the impressive rainfall from Hurricane Irene using highly precise microwave measurements from a satellite. The map, created using data recorded by the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite from Aug. 20-29, reveals rainfall in some bands of the now-dissipated 10-day-long storm exceeded 2 inches per hour. “Hurricane Irene was dropping tremendous amounts of rainfall over the eastern United States during a part of this period,” said TRMM team member Hal Pierce of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in a press release. To gauge rainfall levels, the satellite relies on an instrument that measures microwave radiation. Flat water looks cold because of it doesn’t emit microwave radiation as readily, but round raindrops falling from clouds do and appear warm. By running calculations of the cold/warm contrast over oceans, TRMM can accurately assess rainfall totals. Over land the situation is trickier. Soil, plants and other materials on the ground emit microwave radiation almost as efficiently as water droplets, providing poor contrast to detect rainfall. But ice crystals present at the tops of most rain-making clouds are different enough in microwave-detected temperatures to allow the satellite to infer rainfall intensity and levels."

Rainfall Amounts From Irene:

  1. Virginia Beach Va., 20.40 inches
  2. Jacksonville, N.C., 20.00 inches
  3. Bunyan, N.C., 15.66 inches
  4. New Bern, N.C., 14.79 inches
  5. Williamstown, N.C., 14.27 inches
  6. Leonardtown, Md., 13.35 inches
  7. East Durham, N.Y., 13.30 inches
  8. Washington, N.C., 13.11 inches
  9. Plum Point, Md., 12.96 inches
  10. Ft. Eustis, Va., 12.52 inches
Wind Gusts From Irene:

  1. Mt. Washington, N.H., 120 mph
  2. Cedar Island, N.C., 115 mph
  3. Fort Macon, N.C., 92 mph
  4. Sayville, N.Y., 91 mph
  5. Hatteras, N.C., 88 mph
  6. Conimicut, R.I., 83 mph
  7. Barrington, R.I., 82 mph
  8. Buxton, N.C., 79 mph
  9. Soyosset Mobile, N.Y., 79 mph
  10. Cape Lookout, N.C., 78 mph
* information courtesy of EverythingWX.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Finds Despair In Flood Zone Tour. Here's a story from the Boston Herald and CBS News: "TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ordered the gates of the Pompton Lake Dam to be opened nine hours before Hurricane Irene arrived – dropping the water level by 3 feet – hoping to avoid what turned out to be inevitable. In previous floods, officials had kept the gates shut, and flooding occurred. Christie said he didn’t know if his actions had any effect and would wait until an independent review of the dam is completed in February before judging the dam’s role in recent floods. The Army Corps of Engineers installed floodgates in 2007 as part of a project to reduce flooding. "I don’t believe the Army Corps of Engineers did anything up there that was trying to intentionally hurt people or make matters worse," Christie said. "But you learn in life that sometimes people make mistakes."

Washington Monument Leaking After Irene. The details from NBC Washington: "Walking into the Washington Monument on Monday after Hurricane Irene blew through, standing water was found puddled inside the iconic structure's interior. That water could indicate more cracks in the monument than were previously detected, Park Service spokesperson Carol Johnson told News4. An outside engineering has been working with the Park Service to evaluate breaks in the marble structure's upper triangle, detected after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook the nation's capital on August 23. A helicopter inspection following the quake revealed a 4-inch crack on one of the monument's upper triangular faces last week.  A follow-up evaluation conducted by architectural firm Wiss, Janney, Elsner Associates detected at least 3 more large cracks in the monument."

Photo credit above: "WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 24: Security guards and a U.S. Park ranger stand on the temporary fence circling the base of the Washington Monument on the National Mall August 24, 2011 in Washington, DC. The Washington Monument will remain indefinitely closed after Tuesday's 5.8 magnitude East Coast earthquake left cracks near the top of the 555-foot-tall obelisk." (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

FEMA Chief To Tour Flood-Ravaged New Jersey; Looting Reported. An update from NBC New York: "Raging floodwaters continued to ravage parts of northern New Jersey as the nation's top emergency management officials Wednesday planned to view the damage left by Hurricane Irene. Flooding continued to besiege Paterson, Little Falls and Montville Township even after the state's rain-swollen rivers crested and slowly receded. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate planned to visit flood-damaged Lincoln Park, in Morris County, late Wednesday afternoon. The raging Passaic River crested Tuesday, bringing a new round of evacuations and more misery in places like Lodi and Paterson, where the first incident of looting was reported Wednesday. A resident identifying herself only as Jackie told NBC New York that a pack of as many as 20 or 30 youths jumped a fence into a backyard and tried to break into the rear of several homes that occupants had been forced to flee by the rising waters of the Passaic River."

About Two-Thirds Of Irene Power Outages Are Fixed. The story from AP: "NEW YORK (AP) — Neighborhood by neighborhood, the lights are kicking back on. Utilities reported significant progress Tuesday on widespread power outages that followed Hurricane Irene. About 73 percent of the weekend's 9.4 million outages have been restored, according to an Associated Press tally. Thousands of repair crews are still working through a tangle of uprooted trees and floodwaters in 13 states that were raked by Irene over the weekend. The storm ripped out power lines, flooded electrical substations and crushed critical circuits that each bring power to thousands of people. Irene led to the deaths of at least 38 people in 11 states. Entire communities are still waiting for power. Eastham, Mass., on Cape Cod is still mostly in the dark. In Wakefield, N.H., 70 percent of the town's customers are off the grid. And nearly half of the 491,000 homes and businesses in the Richmond, Va., metro area are blacked out. Power companies say their first priority is to reconnect hospitals, police stations, emergency call centers and other critical services. After that they'll try to get schools back online in time for the fall semester. Individual neighborhoods and homes will be next on the list."
Photo credit above: "About 85 Progress Energy workers work in the field in Alliance, N.C. trying to restore the power in the region east of New Bern, N.C. Monday, Aug.29, 2011. Thousands were still without power in eastern North Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Irene." (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Takaaki Iwabu)

Irene Strengthens Case For Natural Catastrophe Fund. Here's an Op-Ed from Tampa Bay Online: "If the devastation caused by tornadoes and floods over the past year weren't enough to convince skeptical states and governors of the need for a national catastrophe fund, Hurricane Irene should be the catalyst. The storm, which missed Florida but struck North Carolina and then slowly hit the rest of the East Coast, caused widespread havoc. At least 40 people have died, and damage from flooding — especially inland — and other effects is expected to tally well into the billions of dollars. In all likelihood residents of impacted areas will soon feel what Floridians have felt many times — the sting of higher property-insurance rates from hurricanes. A national "cat" fund would help soften future blows from those and other disasters by spreading risk throughout the country, instead of leaving individual states to fend for themselves. No region is immune from natural disasters. For example, as the people of especially hard-hit Vermont now know, tropical cyclones do not strike just Florida, Louisiana and the other Southeastern coastal states. And earthquakes are not limited to California, as many Virginia residents also learned last week. A national cat fund isn't a new concept. It would be funded by a portion of property insurance premiums already collected by companies and be allowed to grow tax-free. Officials would establish a damage "threshold," and the fund could not be tapped unless the threshold is exceeded."

Special Report: Hurricane Irene Wallops Flood Insurance Program. The details from Reuters: "The only thing worse than getting flooded out of your home once is getting flooded out of it twice. Or, for that matter, over and over again. Margaret Wert bought her Wayne, New Jersey house in 1999, relying on assurances from her realtor that any occasional flooding would only amount to an inch or two of water. A week after closing, Hurricane Floyd put four feet of water in her basement. Earlier this year, Wert, 45, got flooded again and received a payout of $5,000 on her government flood insurance, which costs her $1,200 a year. It wasn't enough to cover her bills, but it helped with the new stove, refrigerator and boiler. But all of Margaret Wert's new appliances and much of her house are now ruined, after Hurricane Irene flooded broad swathes of New Jersey. This time, though, she has a message for the government insurance program. "If they don't buy me out and give me what I want, I am going to walk away, and they can keep it. I will tell the insurance company 'give the check to the bank.' You can do the repairs. You can live there in mold, you can live there in smell, I am done."

Insurers Escape Irene's Wrath, Economy Does Not. The story from Reuters: "Hurricane Irene may heap billions of dollars of extra costs on the already fragile U.S. economy, but insurance companies are likely to emerge relatively unscathed. Most of Irene's damage was from flooding, which the government insures, instead of wind, which insurance companies cover, meaning insurers could pay out as little as $1.5 billion by some early estimates. That's just a fraction of the $10 billion to $12 billion of economic damage that Irene likely caused, according to estimates from catastrophe modelers and ratings agencies. Moody's Analytics said the storm might take a tenth of a percentage point off third-quarter gross domestic product.The question now for insurers is whether the insured losses are bad enough to eat up third-quarter earnings, which some analysts believe is the case, and whether the losses are enough to let insurers raise rates, which many analysts doubt."

Second-Guessing Irene: Could 120 Petabyte Array Make Better Predictions? Supercomputers have come a long way - but would an even more powerful weather model make a difference predicting track and intensity? has the details: "Predicting the outcome of severe storms is one of the hardest jobs there is, based on complex models with many variables. The difficulty was evident with Hurricane Irene, which wound up being less severe than forecasters predicted. Perhaps the weak point isn’t computing power or human oversight. Perhaps it’s simply storage. The amount of data storage needed to run the sorts of simulations necessary to help predict weather patterns is, quite simply, really huge. Certainly it’s larger by degrees of magnitude than is currently needed for a desktop computer application or even basic storage for an entire network. IBM researchers have announced that that they are now able to link more drives together than ever before – 200,000 to be precise – into one giant continuous drive. Individually, these drives are just your ordinary serial-attached small computer system interface (SCSI) drives, but when IBM puts them together they yield 120 petabytes of storage. If you haven’t been working with long-term, back-up storage, you might not be familiar with that prefix. Well, you know what a gigabyte is — your desktop’s hard drive and even your key drives are likely quantified in this unit. A petabyte is more than 1 million gigabytes (actually, 1,048,576 – binary, remember?). That’s right – there are as many gigabytes in a petabyte as are there are kilobytes in a gigabyte." (photo credit:

Forecast: Bees! Irene is gone, but in the hurricane's wake an infestation of bees have swept across portions of metro New York City. The New York Times has more details: "Tropical Storm Irene moved through New York City on Sunday knocking out power, causing flooding in some neighborhoods and knocking over many trees. In one corner of Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, the storm also set off a fight — over bees. In a gale wind from the storm, a hollowed-out branch of an enormous tree was ripped off, exposing a hive of 30,000 to 40,000 honeybees. The hive’s discovery was a jackpot for the beekeeping community and word spread quickly on Facebook and Twitter that a feral hive was up for grabs. Two beekeepers jumped at the chance to claim the bees, unknowingly setting off a feud between two of the city’s main beekeeping groups."

Photo credit above: "Lane Ramsey, 7, Ms. Dory’s son and John Derow, a beekeping student, extracted a bee hive from a hollowed out log at the Hart to Hart Community Garden in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Monday." (Liz Dory).

30 Homes Destroyed In Palo Pinto Wildfire. Extreme heat and drought across Texas is resulting in raging wildfires; this update from WFAA-TV: A fast-moving wildfire destroyed at least 30 homes and was threatening well over 100 more near Possum Kingdom Lake, forcing evacuations of several neighborhoods and dozens of children from a YMCA camp, officials said.

11:15am At a press conference held by Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer 5,130 acres have burned in the wildfires that started on Tuesday. He is reporting that 25-30 homes have been destroyed. For those who have lost thier homes or forced to evacuate, the Red Cross has set up a shelter at First Baptist Church. There is concern about the weather leading into the early afternoon between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. If the humidity drops and the wind picks up and it gets drier, the sheriff said they may be in more trouble."

Extreme 2010 Russian Fires And Pakistan Floods Linked Meteorologically. Here's a fascinating story from NASA: "GREENBELT, Md. -- Two of the most destructive natural disasters of 2010 were closely linked by a single meteorological event, even though they occurred 1,500 miles (2,414 km) apart and were of completely different natures, a new NASA study suggests. The research finds that the same large-scale meteorological event — an abnormal Rossby wave — sparked extreme heat and persistent wildfires in Russia as well as unusual downstream wind patterns that shifted rainfall in the Indian monsoon region and fueled heavy flooding in Pakistan. Although the heat wave started before the floods, both events attained maximum strength at approximately the same time, the researchers found by analyzing satellite data generated by NASA instruments capable of measuring the land surface temperature, precipitation intensity and wildfire activity."

Planning A Trip Overseas? Interested in what the weather will be for a trip to Europe, the Caribbean, Asia - anywhere? Here's a good place to start: This has average highs, lows and precipitation for every significant town on Earth - there's no way to predict specific (daily) weather beyond 10-12 days, but by looking at the averages you can get some sense of what to expect.

Jupiter-Bound Space Probe Captures Earth And Moon. I've never felt so small in my entire life. NASA has the story: "PASADENA, Calif. – On its way to the biggest planet in the solar system -- Jupiter, NASA's Juno spacecraft took time to capture its home planet and its natural satellite -- the moon. "This is a remarkable sight people get to see all too rarely," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "This view of our planet shows how Earth looks from the outside, illustrating a special perspective of our role and place in the universe. We see a humbling yet beautiful view of ourselves." The image was taken by the spacecraft’s camera, JunoCam, on Aug. 26 when the spacecraft was about 6 million miles (9.66 million kilometers) away. The image was taken as part of the mission team’s checkout of the Juno spacecraft. The team is conducting its initial detailed checks on the spacecraft’s instruments and subsystems after its launch on Aug. 5. Juno covered the distance from Earth to the moon (about 250,000 miles or 402,000 kilometers) in less than one day's time. It will take the spacecraft another five years and 1,740 million miles (2,800 million kilometers) to complete the journey to Jupiter. The spacecraft will orbit the planet's poles 33 times and use its eight science instruments to probe beneath the gas giant's obscuring cloud cover to learn more about its origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere, and look for a potential solid planetary core."

Card courtesy of Yep, that pretty much sums up America's summer.

Growing Risk of Tropical Storm "Lee"

The media may have over-hyped the storm surge in New York Harbor, but the potential for catastrophic, historic, INLAND flooding, was probably underestimated - in 20/20 hindsight. It's dangerous to think "Hmm...Category 1...tropical storm? No big deal." Tropical storms can be deadlier than hurricanes, especially when tropical moisture meets terrain; mountains can wring out 3-6 month's worth of rain virtually overnight.

A tropical storm (Agnes) got me interested in weather back in '72. It stalled over my home in Pennsylvania: 15" rain - I vividly remember swimming in my basement.

Irene will probably wind up being one of the top 10 costliest weather disasters in U.S. history; estimates range from $7-12 billion. "Katia" should avoid the east coast early next week, but a disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico may strengthen into T.S. "Lee". Models bring it into the Florida panhandle, stalling over New Jersey by the middle of next week. I'm hoping the GFS model is out to lunch.

Climate Stories...

Why Anti-Science Ideology Is Bad For America. An Op-Ed from climate scientist Peter Gleick at "Anti-science ideology isn’t completely new in the U.S. — there is a dismaying history of irrational, pseudoscientific, or downright anti-scientific thinking and political culture here. But it seems to be gaining momentum — even as it runs counter to America’s scientific and technological strengths. Such strengths, in fact, underpin our economic and political strengths. I’m not talking about honest scientific skepticism and questioning – indeed, that is the very basis of good science. I’m talking about a disturbing combination of two factors: political cowardice hiding behind scientific skepticism; and political pandering to special interests by rejecting science, knowledge, and reason in favor of ideology, religion, or narrow economic self-interest. Sadly and with few brave exceptions, some politicians are active and aggressive at using false, misleading, or discredited science, or explicitly ignoring good science, in setting public policy to support ideology. History tells us this never leads to a good outcome. The Soviets let Lysenkoist ideology pollute their biological and genetic sciences in the 1930s, and they’ve never recovered. We saw it with the long, successful effort of the tobacco industry and their allies to confuse the public and delay regulations to protect public health, leading to millions of unnecessary cancer deaths. We saw it with the veto by Richard Nixon of the Clean Water Act (overridden with the help of some brave and influential Republican senators). And we see it now, in full flower, on the issue of climate change."

Near-Record Thinning Of Arctic Ice. We're approaching levels of ice not seen since the record summer of 2007. Data courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center out in Boulder, Colorado.

Bill Nye: Hurricane Irene Evidence of Climate Change. I think it's dangerous to link any one storm with climate change. Some climate scientists argue that Gulf Stream water temperatures off the east coast were running 1-3 degrees F. warmer than average - which may have added additional fuel and moisture to Irene. Here is a story from CBS News: "We tend to avoid outright politics here on SmartPlanet, but Bill Nye -- known as "The Science Guy" after his popular television show on PBS -- recently visited the Fox Business channel's Freedom Watch to explain to host Charles Payne and his viewers the intricacies of drawing a line between Irene's destruction and climate change as a whole. The conversation, while expectedly argumentative at times, was interesting if only because Nye took great pains to simplify the science in a way that's understandable to the layman. For example, his first response to Payne's question of whether Irene was proof of global warming:
"I don't think the word "proof" is what you're looking for. "Evidence," or "a result of"? Yeah. Yeah. Now here's what the people will tell you who run these climate models. Now everybody, the word "model" in this usage is a computer program, a very sophisticated computer program. So you take data from satellites about the thickness of clouds and the extent of cloud cover over the sea. You take data about the temperature of the sea surface. You take data about the existing weather in let's say, North America or the Gulf of Mexico, as the storm moves into it, then you compute how much rain fell out of it, how much energy must have been put into it to create that much rain and it takes many months to analyze an event like Irene. Now, climate colleagues that I have will tell you that they cannot tell you today that Irene is evidence or a result of climate change, but check in with them in about March, next year, after they have a few months to collect all these millions and millions of data from weather services and satellites and compile them and run a climate model and show that Irene was a result of the world having more energy in its atmosphere."

"Catastrophic" Vermont Flood Kills Three; Governor Blames Climate Change. Again, we need to be very cautious about connecting the dots, and linking any one meteorological event, no matter how catastrophic, to larger forces. The science is still unclear about whether a slowly warming atmosphere (and ocean) is resulting in more numerous or extreme hurricanes - more research is needed to make a clear connection between hurricane intensity and climate change. The Environment News Service has the story: "MONTPELIER, Vermont, August 30, 2011 (ENS) - At least 24 people have died across eight states as a result of Hurricane Irene, according to emergency officials. After first making landfall in North Carolina on Saturday, August 27, Irene had decreased to tropical storm force by the time it reached Vermont late on Sunday. Nevertheless, the impact was devastating. Three people in Vermont lost their lives, nearly 300 roads and 30 bridges are closed, rail traffic has stopped and the state office complex was shut down. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont told reporters, "There are some who believe that this is the worst natural disaster to hit the state since the 1927 floods."

The Political Lessons Of Hurricane Irene. Here's an Op-Ed from The Des Moines Register: "Hurricane Irene is a great case study of the idea that big government is our enemy. The 2012 election is all about big government, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said that if elected president he hopes to make the federal government “irrelevant” to average Americans. If climate change (regardless of how much is natural and how much is caused by human activity) is progressing as we assume, coastal areas may see repeat storms such as Irene. Therefore, we need to plan long range (not just respond to an incident such as a hurricane).

Irene is an opportunity to assess a range of political and policy issues.

We know from many studies that coastal areas have sensitive “critical infrastructure” including airports, railroad tracks, power plants, subways and tunnels, fuel and chemical storage facilities, ports, sewage treatment plants and military bases. These become extremely vulnerable when a huge storm hits the East Coast of the United States. The West Coast is somewhat different, but substitute tsunami for hurricane."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August 31: Tracking "Katia" (risk of "Lee" in the Gulf of Mexico by weekend)

64 days above 100 so far this summer season in Dallas/Fort Worth (record is 69 days, set in 1980) 23 consecutive days above 100 at Houston, Texas.

Signs of autumn....

Monday's Record Highs:

Austin Camp Mabry, TX 105
Midland, TX 105
Wichita Falls, OK 109
Tyler, TX 103

Philadelphia's Record Summer:

July 2011 was Philadelphia’s hottest month on record. August 2011 is the rainiest month the city has ever had.  Philadelphia on average receives 42.05 inches of rain throughout an entire year.  Philadelphia broke a record for most rainfall at 13.61 inches and that was before Hurricane Irene.  After the storm, new record breaking amount was 18.41 inches of rain in a single month.

* photo credit above: David Reilly, flickr.

Tropical Storm Katia Strengthens, Expected To Become Hurricane. Americans are already hurricane-weary (and we've only had one direct strike, the first in roughly 3 years). With any luck steering currents will push Katia away from the east coast of the USA, but it may be a close call early next week. More from Bloomberg News: "Tropical Storm Katia may grow into a hurricane in the next two days as it moves west-northwest through the mid-Atlantic Ocean, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm’s winds increased to 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour from 40 mph earlier today as it churned across the Atlantic about 630 miles west-southwest of Cape Verde, according to a center advisory issued at about 11 a.m. New York time. “Continued gradual strengthening is forecast and Katia is expected to become a hurricane by late Wednesday or early Thursday,” the center said. Its current track and intensity forecasts have the storm growing into a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson five-step scale. Computer forecast models suggest Katia will turn into the Northern Atlantic, a maneuver meteorologists refer to as recurving. The move would mean Katia would miss the U.S., which was struck last weekend by Hurricane Irene, a storm that killed at least 40, cut power to 8 million homes and businesses and caused an estimated $2.6 billion in damage."

* It's early, but right now it appears that Hurricane Katia will make a turn to the north/northeast, avoiding the east coast of the USA early next week.

Tropical Storm "Lee"? This is pure speculation - but an area of disturbed weather entering the Gulf of Mexico may strengthen to tropical storm status, even a hurricane, as early as Sunday. Right now the GFS brings this storm into coastal Alabama or the panhandle of Florida - but it's way to early to get specific.

NOAA Accurately Predicted Irene's Path 4 Days In Advance. There's no question in my mind: NOAA's NHC branch nailed the track of Hurricane Irene. Here's a press release from NOAA: "Four days before Hurricane Irene struck eastern North Carolina and tracked northward, NOAA's National Hurricane Center accurately projected the storm's path. Even before then, forecasts showed that Irene would threaten the East Coast. This satellite animation shows Irene's progress across the western Atlantic and how it followed the National Hurricane Center's track issued at 11pm ET on Tuesday, August 23 (Advisory # 15)."

Irene Destroys 1,100 Homes In North Carolina. The grim details from the "Hurricane Irene destroyed more than 1,100 homes in North Carolina, causing damages that are estimated above $70 million and will rise higher as crop losses, clean-up costs and other expenses are added, Gov. Bev Perdue said today. But most beaches will be open for the Labor Day weekend, Perdue said at a news conference in Manteo. “Three-hundred-plus miles of our coastline is now open for business,” Perdue said. “Many of our beaches are open and will continue to open for the holiday week and weekend, and we urge folks to come to North Carolina.” Irene caused at least six storm-related deaths in the state and cut power to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina customers. Much of that power has been restored now. The latest county-by-county update from NCDOT shows that most roads closed by Hurricane Irene have reopened, but N.C. 12 and other roads in Dare County still face major problems."

Vermont Towns Battle Historic Floods From Irene As Death Toll Tops 40. Here's a good overview on the flooding in Vermont (worst since 1927) from AP and The Huffington Post: "MONTPELIER, Vt. — The full measure of Hurricane Irene's fury came into focus Monday as the death toll jumped to 40, New England towns battled epic floods and millions faced the dispiriting prospect of several days without electricity. From North Carolina to Maine, communities cleaned up and took stock of the uneven and hard-to-predict costs of a storm that spared the nation's biggest city a nightmare scenario, only to deliver a historic wallop to towns well inland. In New York City, where people had braced for a disaster-movie scene of water swirling around skyscrapers, the subways and buses were up and running again in time for the Monday morning commute. And to the surprise of many New Yorkers, things went pretty smoothly. But in New England, landlocked Vermont contended with what its governor called the worst flooding in a century. Streams also raged out of control in upstate New York. In many cases, the moment of maximum danger arrived well after the storm had passed, as rainwater made its way into rivers and streams and turned them into torrents. Irene dumped up to 11 inches of rain on Vermont and more than 13 in parts of New York."

Irene: "1 In 500 Year Flood":

Hurricane Irene caused many rivers and creeks in upstate New York to crest at near record levels, leading to severe flooding in several communities.

The Mohawk River near Schenectady was expected to crest at a record 12 feet above flood level, promising what officials called a "500-year flood."

State officials were keeping a close eye on dams, and encouraged residents near the overflowing Pepacton Reservoir in Delaware County to leave the area.

* information courtesy of the New York Daily News. (photo courtesy of NASA).

Hurricane Irene Aftermath:
  • At least 41 deaths across 11 states blamed on Irene so far.  (updated 8/30 2:55pm)
  • A total of 2.85 million customers still are without power (updated 8/30 2:55pm)
  • In New Jersey, search and rescue teams have plucked nearly 600 people from
    homes in recent days with the most intense efforts on Tuesday
    when the Passaic River measured 13 feet (4 metres) above flood
    stage (we have youtube video of this)
  • More than a dozen towns in New York and Upstate New York are cut off because roads and bridges are washed out
  • 400 hundred people are stranded at Killington Ski Resort in Vermont
  • Vermont began mobilizing National Guard helicopters to airlift food, water and supplies Tuesday to these small towns - (We have video of bridge repair in vermont)
  • It was the worst flooding to strike Vermont in 83 years.
  • Most of the state's major rivers crested Monday and the water began to recede, but the damage was already widespread, state officials said.
  • Mercer and Middlesex Counties in the central part of New Jersey also hard hit with some streets under several feet of water.
  • The nation’s planes, trains and buses had their first full day of near-normal service since Thursday, as most passengers stranded by Hurricane Irene slowly made their way home.
  • Amtrak resumed service between New York and Boston Tuesday. Trains are still cancelled between Philadelphia and New York because of flooding. Amtrak also cancelled trains from the Northeast to cities like Miami and New Orleans.
* photo credit above: AARP.

Storm's Push North Leaves Punishing Flooding Inland. The New York Times has a comprehensive overview of how a tropical storm resulted in as much as 11" of rain for Vermonth, nearly 13" for parts of upstate New York. To put that into perspective, that's 3-4 months worth of rain, falling in 12-18 hours: "Here in southern Vermont, normally picturesque towns and villages were digging out from thick mud and piles of debris that Sunday’s floodwaters left behind. With roughly 250 roads and several bridges closed off, many residents remained stranded in their neighborhoods; others could not get to grocery stores, hospitals or work. It was unclear how many people had been displaced, though the Red Cross said more than 300 had stayed in its shelters on Sunday, and it expected the number to grow. In upstate New York, houses were swept from their foundations, and a woman drowned on Sunday when an overflowing creek submerged the cottage where she was vacationing. Flash floods continued to be a concern into Monday afternoon. In the Catskills, where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo led a helicopter tour of suffering towns, cars were submerged, crops ruined and roads washed out. In tiny, hard-hit Prattsville, what looked like a jumble of homes lay across a roadway, as if they had been tossed like Lego pieces."

* map above courtesy of the New York Times.

Hurricane Irene - Satellite Rainfall Estimates. Here's a post from NASA's Earth Observatory, focused on satellite-derived rainfall measurements for Irene: "Although hurricanes often call to mind raging winds and toppling trees, some of the worst destruction caused by these storms comes in the form of rain. Hurricane Irene, which roared up the U.S. East Coast in late August 2011, was no exception. Flooding was reported from North Carolina’s Outer Banks to New England. This color-coded image shows rainfall totals from August 22 to August 28, 2011. The heaviest rainfall—more than 240 millimeters or over 9 inches—appears in dark blue. The lightest rainfall—less than 40 millimeters or 1.5 inches—appears in light green. Superimposed on the rainfall totals is a storm track, with maroon indicating the strongest storm intensity, and pink indicating the weakest. Heavy rain occurs all along the storm track, and much of the heaviest rain falls over the ocean. On land, however, Hurricane Irene brought rain heavy enough to cause destructive floods."

Intensity Of Hurricane Still Bedevils Scientists. This has been a consistent challenge ever since the advent of supercomputer weather modeling in the 1960s - models do a fairly good job predicting the track of hurricanes (margin of error is 200 miles for a 4 day forecast), but intensity is far more problematic. Small eddies of warm water below the storm can spark rapid intensification - while wind shear aloft can shred a hurricane and weaken it considerably. In addition, hurricanes go thru cycles. "Eyewalls", the raging donut of T-storms ringing the calm eye, go thru "regeneration cycles", a new eyewall replaces a previous eyewall, and this can cause a hurricane to sputter and temporarily lose strength. The New York Times has more: "For scientists who specialize in hurricanes, Irene, which roared up the Eastern Seaboard over the weekend, has shone an uncomfortable light on their profession. They acknowledge that while they have become adept at gauging the track a hurricane will take, their predictions of a storm’s intensity leave much to be desired. Officials with NOAA’s National Hurricane Center had accurately forecast that Irene would hit North Carolina, and then churn up the mid-Atlantic coast into New York. But they thought the storm would be more powerful, its winds increasing in intensity after it passed through the Bahamas on Thursday. Instead, the storm lost strength. By the time it made landfall in North Carolina two days later, its winds were about 10 percent lighter than predicted. It’s not a new problem. “With intensity, we just haven’t moved off square zero,” Dr. Marks said. Forecasting a storm’s strength requires knowing the fine details of its structure — the internal organization and movement that can affect whether it gains energy or loses it — and then plugging those details into an accurate computer model."

Hurricane Irene's Price Tag May Exceed $7 Billion. More details from Gwen Ifill at

"GWEN IFILL: It was a day for clearing away the mess and calculating the cost along the path of Hurricane Irene. The scope of the wreckage was less than feared, but the storm did kill at least 35 people in 10 states and triggered ongoing floods.

Irene was long gone today, but a weekend of storm-driven downpours left behind a trail of damage, sometimes to lethal effect.

CRAIG FUGATE, Federal Emergency Management Agency: We have seen record flooding in Vermont, record flooding in New York. We still have rivers that have yet to crest. The river forecast center for the Northeast was reporting that some of these rivers may not crest for two to three days. So, the extent of impacts, we still don't know.

GWEN IFILL: Officials said the flooding in Vermont was the worst in at least 80 years. It swept away historic bridges more than 100 years old.

WOMAN: Oh, my God.

GWEN IFILL: In Upstate New York, streams turned into swollen torrents, leaving roads impassable and entire communities cut off. And in Pompton Lakes, N.J., a house exploded into flames and burned amid the floodwaters, possibly from a gas leak. The storm also knocked out power to nearly 7.5 million homes and businesses along the East Coast.
Governors in Connecticut and Maryland warned today it could take some time to turn the lights back on."

Hurricane Irene Response Imagery Viewer. Here's a powerful (interactive) tool from NOAA, showing damage and clean-up efforts related to Hurricane Irene.

After Hurricane New Yorkers Hardly Miss A Beat. Yes, the storm surge was over-estimated (by some in the media), while the scope of inland flooding was probably underestimated, especially across northern New England. Irene was a blunt reminder that tropical storms can be just as deadly (in terms of flooding rains) as hurricanes. More on the "aftermath" in New York City from "When the clouds parted, Wall Street wasn't swamped. Coney Island's world-famous Cyclone roller coaster was still standing. The Empire State Building hadn't lost a single window. And New Yorkers hardly missed a beat after Irene -- a hurricane demoted to a tropical storm just before it made it to the big city -- swept through Sunday morning. Just hours after an all-night, window-rattling drenching from the storm, people were back on the streets, jogging, milling around Times Square, walking dogs and surveying the damage, which consisted mostly of downed trees, power outages and neighborhood flooding. The subway system, shut down Saturday because of the risk of flooding, was still out of service, and trains probably won't be running in time for the Monday morning commute, meaning it could be a hellish start of the work week for millions of New Yorkers. But for a while at least, "it was a fun little adventure," said Zander Lassen, who spent the night at a boathouse in lower Manhattan babysitting beached sailboats." (photo courtesy of

Hurricane Irene: Are You Set To Fight Your Insurer? Here's a timely article from Reuters: "The morning after Hurricane Irene blew through their Takoma Park, Maryland, neighborhood, homeowners Michael Desautels and Susan Hearn awoke to find a giant holly-leafed cherry tree nestled precariously in some broken tiles on their roof. Hearn called State Farm, the company that holds their homeowners policy and boasts on its web site, "we're here to help... Ready to respond to Hurricane Irene." After the usual press-one-press-two roundabout, she heard a recorded message: "We are experiencing extremely high call volumes, please call back later." Click. And Hearn was disconnected. She finally got through to her insurance company the following day. Sigh. With more than a million homeowner claims and billions of dollars of damages expected to result from the storm's violent trip up the U.S. East Coast, it's not surprising that the path to an insurance settlement might not be smooth. "

Should Taxpayers Subsidize Flood-Prone Homes. An excellent question. Many people that live along major streams and rivers experience flooding every couple of years, relying on (federal) flood insurance to rebuild. Is this rational, or at some point should we (as tax payers) say "enough"? Here's a story at the Washington Post: "Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) called Hurricane Irene a wake-up call from God to rein in federal spending. Perhaps, but if God hates federal spending, he has a funny way of showing it: There’s no question that the disaster will rack up governments costs in the short run, particularly when it comes to flooding from the hurricane’s rain and coastal surges. Private insurers rarely cover offer flood protection, believing that the risk is far too high in most cases. Instead, the National Flood Insurance Program — created in 1968 and currently run by FEMA — covers about 5.5 million homes across the country, insuring flood-prone communities that take steps to manage their floodplains. Even when private insurers are contracted, “the profits from such flood insurance are private, but the losses are socialized as private insurance companies bear none of the underwriting risk associated with this insurance,” as economist Don Taylor explains. Either way, taxpayers are ultimately on the hook when these flood-prone homes go under water. The program was originally intended to pay for itself, but since Hurricane Katrina, it’s been heavily in debt. As of March 2011, the NFIP owes $17.8 billion, and Irene will only add to the costs, particularly as New York and New Jersey have heavy concentrations of federal flood protection. The NFIP’s fiscal troubles have prompted the Government Accountability Office to put the program on its “high risk” list, urging reforms to help balance its budget and “limit taxpayers exposure.”

Climate Extremes Index. Is our weather becoming more extreme, or is this merely perception vs. reality? It's true that more people are living in harm's way (on the coast, next to rivers prone to flooding - more subdivisions in what was farmland making tornado strikes far more deadly). But beyond these factors, there appears to be an uptick in extreme weather since 1990. Here's is more on NCDC's "Climate Extremes Index", or CEI. NCDC is a division of NOAA: "How has the climate changed over the past 50 or more years? In what ways and by how much? Many people, including climatologists, have been struggling with these questions for some time now, not only for scientific interest, but also to aid in policy decisions (IPCC 2001) and to inform the general public. In order to answer these questions, it is important to obtain comprehensive and intuitive information which allows interested parties to understand the scientific basis for confidence, or lack thereof, in the present understanding of the climate system. One tool, first developed as a framework for quantifying observed changes in climate within the contiguous Unites States, is the U.S. Climate Extremes Index (CEI)."

Parts Of Britain Suffer Coolest Summer In 2 Decades. What a strange weather pattern - while much of the southern USA cooks, residents of the U.K. are wandering around in sweatshirts and light jackets. The U.K. Telegraph reports: "As Britons return to work today after a soggy Bank Holiday weekend, official weather data reveals that average temperatures were significantly down on recent years. The UK’s average temperature from June 1 to August 15 was only 57F (13.9C) – the lowest for 13 years. For central England the average was 59F (15C), making it the coolest summer since 1993."

Thursday Severe Threat. An approaching cool front may spark strong to severe T-storms Thursday, most likely from northern and central Minnesota southwestward to Colorado. Source: SPC.

No Mocking Please

A CNN post from comedian Dean Obeidallah caught my eye. "People ask: How can the weathermen be wrong so often? Here is the simple answer: They are trying to predict the future! It's a forecast, meaning a prediction about an event yet to happen. And to make it more challenging, they are dealing with the weather, which to me, is a mystical, awe-inspiring creature. How can anyone know for certain what this supernatural beast will do?"

"My point is simply this: We must recognize that these weather people are doing the best they can to predict the future. And for that, we should praise, not mock them, because if we continue to do so, there may come a day when they stop sharing their prognosticating gifts and instead leave us like cavemen to predict weather based on the sounds of insects and our swollen feet." 

Thanks Dan. I needed that.

"Media Overhyped Irene To Boost Obama, Boost Global Warming Theory: Limbaugh. Oh my. Here's the story from the International Business Times: "Radio host and arch-conservative Rush Limbaugh said that President Barack Obama was ‘hoping’ that Hurricane Irene would become a major catastrophe and that most of the mainstream media over-hyped the magnitude of the storm in order to boost Obama and "push the leftist agenda.” “The hysterical reporting on Irene? They couldn’t wait for this storm. I'll guarantee you Obama was hoping this was going to be a disaster as another excuse for his failing economy," Limbaugh said on his show Monday (the nation’s number one radio program). "If he's out there blaming tsunamis, blaming earthquakes, this one [was] made to order, but it just didn't measure up." Limbaugh also fired some volleys at the mainstream media for their coverage of the storm. "You know how the media lies, how politicized everything is to push the leftist agenda," he said. "You know how the media distorts."

Obama: The Catastrophe President. Here's a post from msnbc and "By the end of August 2011, President Barack Obama had already made 181 FEMA disaster declarations, solidly smashing the record 157 declarations made by Bill Clinton in 1996. For some on the right, it's all about the relentless expansion of Big Government -- the "federalization of fairly routine disasters," as Matt Mayer, the president of the conservative think tank Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, wrote in a blog post for the Heritage Foundation website. We can leave it to residents of Vermont to decide whether the flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene qualifies as "routine" or not, but there's also another explanation: 2011 has been a banner year for disasters, period. By mid-year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2011 was already one of the most extreme -- and costly -- years on record. And that was before Hurricane Irene.

From Scientific American:

"Just shy of the halfway mark, 2011 has seen eight $1-billion-plus disasters, with total damages from wild weather at more than $32 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Agency officials said that total could grow significantly, since they expect this year's North Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1, will be an active one."
* Irene is now the 10th billion dollar weather disaster so far this year in the USA, a new record (old record was 9 separate billion dollar disasters in 2008).

Betting The Farm Against Climate Change. Here's a story from "Leon Trotsky is reputed to have quipped, "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." Substitute the words "climate change" for "war" and the quote is perfectly suited for the governors of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, all of whom have ridiculed or dismissed the threat of climate change even as their states suffer record-breaking heat and drought. In his book, "Fed Up!" Texas governor and presidential aspirant Rick Perry derided global warming as a "phony mess," a sentiment he has expanded on in recent campaign appearances. Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, has gone on record as doubting that humans influence climate, and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma dismissed research on climate change as a waste of time. Her solution to the extraordinary drought: pray for rain (an approach also endorsed by Perry). Although they may dismiss climate change, a changing climate imposes costs on their states and the rest of us as well. In Texas, the unremitting heat has been straining the capacity of the electric grid, killing crops and livestock, and threatening water supplies. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, the grid's governing body, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, bases its forecasts on the average demand over the previous 10 years. In a world without the threat of global warming, this is an entirely reasonable approach. But what if climate change makes the past an unreliable guide to the future? Then Texas is left with the present situation, in which the grid operator is forced to procure power in a tight market where wholesale prices have skyrocketed to 60 times normal."