Saturday, May 3, 2014

Record Wildfire Year Shaping Up Out West - Is Your Child's School "Tornado Tough"?

Tornado Tough

It's all hype until it shows up in your town. Then it's "Why weren't we warned?" followed by "Why weren't we better prepared?"

Has your child's school taken any steps to reduce the risk of injury from extreme weather, including violent tornadoes? I wouldn't hesitate to ask your school administrators. Last week brought 214 tornadoes, some monstrous EF-4 in strength.

In today's weather blog: a school in Memphis retrofitted a few hallways with 6-inch steel frames designed to resist 250-mph wind loads and sudden spikes in pressure.

I work with Fortune 500 companies to reduce their weather risk, but I often wonder if we're making the investments necessary to protect our most precious resource, our kids.

There's some risk of a severe weather outbreak close to home by Thursday, as warm air surges northward.

After the 15th snowiest winter (nearly 70 inches) and 2nd wettest April, a cool bias shows signs of lingering indefinitely.

The southern USA is warming rapidly but northern states can't quite shake off March. A strong north-south temperature gradient sets the stage for heavier rain and more severe storm outbreaks. I'm betting on cooler/wetter into June.

I hope I'm wrong.

Is Your Child's School Tornado Tough? Some school districts are thinking ahead, finding the funding and making the investments in reinforcing school structures, anticipating future tornadoes and other extreme weather events. Here's a video and article from WMC-TV in Memphis that caught my eye. What steps is your school taking to keep your kids as safe as possible? "...At Lakewood Elementary and Middle School in Paris, Tenn., safety is top priority. That's why over 10 weeks last summer, three existing hallways inside the school were retro-fitted with a six-inch steel frame, designed to withstand tornado-strength winds. "Everybody realizes that once springtime comes, we always have that chance of a tornado spawning," said Jason Pirtle, TLM Associates. "What those panels do is they are designed to resist a 250 mile-an -hour wind load and pressures resulting from that as well as a debris impact from a 15 pound two-by -four traveling at 100 miles per hour..."

Tornado Preparedness Tips for School Administrators. Here's a good place to start; an excerpt from a long and detailed set of suggestions and variables to consider from Roger Edwards at NOAA's SPC, Storm Prediction Center, in Norman, Oklahoma: "The most important part of tornado safety in schools, and in similar logistical arrangements such as nursing homes, is to develop a good tornado safety plan tailored to your building design and ability to move people. Sample School SchematicI have found, through damage surveys and other visits, that a lot of schools settle for a cookbook-style, "one size fits all" approach to tornado safety -- often based on outdated literature -- which can be dangerous when considering the fact that every school is built differently. The basic concept in the schematic at right is usually correct; but it must be adapted to your unique school arrangements! For example, the idea of a relatively safe hallway becomes invalid if the hall is lined with plate glass, or if it has windows to the outdoors. Hallways can turn into wind tunnels filled with flying glass and other dangerous objects..."

Some specific tips from NOAA SPC include:
  • If the school's alarm system relies on electricity, have a compressed air horn or megaphone to sound the alert in case of power failure.
  • Make special provisions for disabled students and those in portable classrooms. Portable classrooms are like mobile homes -- exceptionally dangerous in a tornado.
  • Make sure someone knows how to turn off electricity and gas in the event the school is damaged.
  • Keep children at school beyond regular hours if threatening weather is expected; and inform parents of this policy. Children are safer deep within a school than in a bus or car. Students should not be sent home early if severe weather is approaching, because they may still be out on the roads when it hits.
  • Lunches or assemblies in large rooms should be postponed if severe weather is approaching. As illustrated above, gymnasiums, cafeterias, and auditoriums offer no meaningful protection from tornado-strength winds. Also, even if there is no tornado, severe thunderstorms can generate winds strong enough to cause major damage.
Photo credit above: National Weather Service office, Lubbock, Texas.

175 Tornadoes Last Week. Data from NOAA SPC and HAMweather shows a total of 175 tornadoes in the last 7 days, touching down from Iowa and Illinois southward to Florida. The most intense tornadoes touched down north of Little Rock and across Mississippi Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tornado Recap. This overview from the Birmingham office of the NWS includes some of the meteorological dynamics that resulted in a major outbreak.

Looking More Like Spring. I realize we've had a few false starts, but it appears tha tspring may finally stick. Today will look and feel like something out of early October, but by midweek highs surge into the 60s; 70s to near 80F possible by Thursday, with highs near or above 70F again next weekend. Our mild weather drought may finally be coming to an end. It's time. Graphic: Weatherspark.

7-Day Rainfall. Texas is forecast to see soaking rains with the heaviest amounts north of Dallas, but heavy showers are likely from the Pacific Northwest eastward to the Dakotas, Upper Midwest and Ohio Valley as a sharp north-south temperature contrast sparks a series of storms, some potentially severe by midweek.

GFS Model. As jet stream winds buckle northward by midweek, sending a surge of 70s and 80s into the Midwest, the risk of strong to severe storms will increase. Heavy rain brushes Seattle and Portland, while California remains bone-dry. Guidance: NOAA and HAMweather.

Southern California Blaze Kicks Off What Could Be Especially Dangerous Wildfire Season. 100% of California is now in some stage of drought and fires flaring up in late April are a bad omen of the year to come. TIME Magazine has a recap; here's a clip: "...That’s because the Golden State is primed to burn. California is suffering through its most severe dry spell in decades, with the entire state now in some category of drought. At the beginning of May the snowpack level in the Sierra Nevada mountains—a key source of stored water—was just 18% of normal. This winter, meanwhile, was the warmest on record for the state. The drought and the heat mean that plants and trees haven’t grown as many green leaves as usual. Those leaves help trees maintain moisture—and without them, the plants are that much more likely to ignite in a blaze..."

File photo: Karl Greer. U.S. Forest Service.

U.S. Wildfire Trends. The AP and Daily Astorian included a set of graphics that shows recent trends in wildfires across the nation.

Spelling for 100. No, you can't make this stuff up. I'm just glad this guy isn't operating a nuclear power plant.

Climate Stories...

"....Bob Inglis, a former congressman from South Carolina, has proposed a conservative approach to dealing with climate change through his group, the Energy and Enterprise Initiative. His proposal would:
■ Eliminate all subsidies for fuels.
■ Attach all costs to fuels. Coal would be assessed for its environmental and safety impacts, for instance.
■ Ensure revenue neutrality.
One sensible solution is a swap that taxes carbon and reduces income taxes or payroll taxes by an equal amount. It would reduce what we won’t want — carbon — and increase what we do want — jobs..."

- from an Op-Ed from the Florida Times-Union, at More details below.

Our Lonely Home In Nature. No, nature is neither friend nor foe. It merely is - set in motion by the same forces that created Earth. MIT Physicist Alan Lightman has a very good read in this Op-Ed at The New York Times; here's an excerpt: "...The recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change documents the damage now being done by human-created greenhouse gases and global warming. In reacting to the report, we should not be concerned about protecting our planet. Nature can survive far more than what we can do to it and is totally oblivious to whether homo sapiens lives or dies in the next hundred years. Our concern should be about protecting ourselves — because we have only ourselves to protect us."

Florida On Front Lines Of Climate Change. Here's another excerpt of an Op-Ed that at that seemed more than sensible to me, especially for Floridians, who will be some of the first to experience the consequence of rising sea levels linked to a warming world: "For Florida, rising sea levels are the most obvious threat. The IPCC estimates there is a 60 percent probability that sea levels will rise by about 3 feet by the end of this century; it also warns the rise could be as much as 7 feet. A spokesman for Swiss Re, the world’s second largest reinsurer, said parts of Florida could become uninsurable by 2100, the Miami Herald reported..."

How Megacities Can Survive Rising Tides. New research focuses on New York City, but applies to all cities and infrastructure within 10-15 feet of sea level. Here's an excerpt from a fascinating read at Motherboard: "...Of course, there's the big question (which the authors actually refer to as such) of figuring out who's going to pay for things. Improvements of individual buildings will most likely be covered by property owners, while the most costly infrastructure improvements will likely require a mix of city, state, and federal funds. "The big question in all of these things is who's going to pay for it?" Michel-Kerjan said. "Who's going to pay for these barriers, or who will pay for the economic consequences and even the human consequences if we fail to build them?..."

Winter Floods Linked To Global Warming. Is rapid warming of the Arctic and northern latitudes impacting the configuration and speed of the jet stream, increasing the potential for extreme weather events, with more of a tendency for weather patterns to get "stuck"? Here's an excerpt from The Australian and Scientific American: "...Speaking at the European Geosciences Union annual meeting here in Vienna, Myles Allen, a professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford, presented his take on the issue. At the gathering of more than 12,000 geoscientists, Allen reported an ambitious computer experiment that his team has undertaken over the last two months to test whether the winter floods could be attributed to climate change. And it seems that they can be linked. The floods of January 2014 certainly were extreme. According to Oxford’s records of daily rainfall, they were unprecedented in 250 years..."

File photo: Steve Parsons. AP.

Alaska's "Ice-Quake" Record Could Shake Up Climate Science. The Daily Climate has an interesting story; here's an excerpt: "...West's new findings are different from previous studies where scientists instrument and study a single glacier in a targeted way. His research opens up the possibility of tracking what is happening over all of Alaska, one of the most dynamic glaciated regions of the world....Alaska is the most glaciated U.S. state, with glaciers covering about 29,000 square miles, about 5 percent of its surface. More than 99 percent of the state's low-lying glaciers are retreating..."

Photo credit above: "Icebergs from the Columbia Glacier in Alaska. For years scientists have recorded calving events on sensitive earthquake detectors. Now they are realizing the recordings could offer valuable insight for climate science." Photo courtesy NASA.

Koch Brothers Face An Unexpected New Foe: Tea Party Conservatives. Wait, you want to TAX free power coming from the sun? Seems pretty un-American to me, and apparently some Tea Party members agree. David Horsey has more at The Los Angeles Times: "...To these conservative-minded citizens, the extra fee being pushed by the Kochs and the utilities is the worst thing in the world: a tax.  “Monopoly utilities want to extinguish the independent rooftop solar market in America to protect their socialist control of how we get our electricity.” That assertion comes from the website of a group named TUSK, or Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed..."

Cartoon credit above: David Horsey.

Koch Brothers Decline Invitation To Debate Climate Change. Smart move. Although I suspect their current position is untenable over the long haul, no matter how many billions they have invested in fossil fuels. Here's an excerpt of a story from The Kansas City Star: "...We’re glad that Koch Industries has acknowledged that they are not experts on climate change,” Wong said in an e-mail. “The scientific community has in fact had a free and open debate about climate change and reached an unequivocal conclusion: Our climate is changing and carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels is primarily responsible...”

Photo above: Bo Rader, The Wichita Eagle.

Read more here:

A Look Into Climate Change. DIG Magazine has the article; here's a clip: "....I believe climate change is a natural phenomena, but what we are seeing is a rapid change that is human induced," said CSULB environmental science and policy professor Monica Argandona. This is exactly correct. Climate change is something that has been happening for millions of years; however, the effects of climate change have never happened this quickly before. Carla Weaver, a geology professor, added to the idea and said that, "the velocity of climate change today is quicker than past periods between ice ages..."

Illustration credit: Daniela Gonzalez.