Hurricane Watch; “New” COVID numbers from CDC?

Of the four systems the US National Hurricane Center has on their outlook (link), only two are very interesting at the moment. The first, just offshore from the Southeastern US, they give a 70% of forming a tropical depression or greater in the next 2 days. The fringes might cause some winds and waves in the Northeast and Canadian Maritimes and Bermuda, but any storm that forms is forecast to stay offshore. The second system is in the far southern Caribbean. It two is tagged at 70% over the next 2 days, 80% by day eight. Most models dissipate it, but a few have it as strong as a tropical storm making landfall on the Nicaragua or Belize/Yucatan coastlines in 5 days. In the West Pacific, Typhoon Maysak is sideswiping Okinawa today, and is projected to make landfall dead center over South Korea. Here is a track overview:

JTWC has backed off on the intensity a lot since yesterday, if it continued as forecast, it would have been an $80 Billion storm; now that is down to $37 Billion. I suspect it will probably end up around $10 Billion in economic impacts – big enough for sure, certainly a risk to life from mudslides and flash flooding. The misery a storm causes is often not linked to the dollar value, something to keep in mind about Louisiana after Laura …

If you’re confused about the news stories that came out this weekend regarding CDC’s mortality numbers, that’s not surprising. Consider these two headlines:
CDC: 94% of Covid-19 deaths had underlying medical conditions
CDC report on COVID deaths underlines virus’ danger

Like so many aspects of this situation, where you get your news probably governs what you think of the situation. So, did only 6%” of those listed in the U.S. coronavirus death toll actually die from COVID, or are only 5% people who would have died anyway? As usual, it’s complicated, and both points of view are both right and wrong and easily exploited by those who have an ax to grind. Most people who die of chronic diseases of some kind have multiple factors that would have killed them at some point, and these are related – if you have a heart condition, it makes diabetes more dangerous, and vice versa. Which one gets credit on the death certificate in any specific case is often subjective. In simple terms, the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 does in part is attack people in such as way that if there are any underlying problems it makes them worse. It also causes the immune system to go in to hyperdrive in some people, causing the bodies defense to turn on itself. What epidemiologists look for in a disease like this, or influenza for that matter, is excess mortality. How many people died who, despite the other conditions, would have made it through a given time period had they not contracted COVID19? That is where the Excess Deaths statistics are the place to start.

One problem with all this kind of analysis is it’s a moving target. To state the obvious, each year people are born, move through various stages of life (and therefore vulnerability to diseases like Influenza or SARS-COV-2), and die. The way the numbers are reported for COVID19 are really confusing and misleading on so many levels. We never do overall death counters for flu. It’s X died in a week, or in a season, and that is compared with the average mortality rate by cohort. Since this is a new virus the counter is starting from zero, but as we continue into the COVID19 outbreak, if we don’t reset the counter or start thinking in terms of excess mortality, it will exaggerate how bad it is. Over the last 20 years flu season numbers have ranged from 30k to 120k. This new virus this year will be high in year one because it is attacking a lot of people who were vulnerable, and the final number in the US will almost certainly be at least 300k, but in year two the vulnerable population will be smaller. Where will the COVID19 number settle? In the US, probably in the 200k range per year (absent a vaccine or better therapies of some kind).

So what does all this really mean? As noted yesterday, COVID19 seems to be three to four times as deadly as a bad influenza outbreak. It’s sneaky, because fewer average people get obviously sick, yet more vulnerable people die. The arguments over the details of this or that statistic in isolation generally miss that bigger picture. And don’t forget, while you may think you are in the less vulnerable group today (be aware lots of people have underlying conditions and don’t know it!), you might be in that group tomorrow, and certainly will be at some point in the future as you age. So what do we do? You know by now: mask up out of your bubble, good hygiene, take care of yourself healthwise. Duh. Off to do some treadmill …

Invest areas; #Typhoon #Maysak

For those of you living on the Georgia Coast, if you’ve ever wondered what an “INVEST” area looks like, just go look out the window! The US National Hurricane Center has tagged the system at the end of the stalled cold front over the area as having a 70% chance of gaining enough tropical characteristics to become s system in the next five days. Here is what the GFS model shows it looking like Monday morning as a developing storm offshore …

GFS Model (06z cycle), forecast for 5am ET Monday morning

Nothing to freak out about, it the models are taking it offshore between the US and Bermuda, should stay offshore from the Canadian Maritimes as well.

There are three other areas in the Atlantic; one is over the Windward Islands and is forecast to move through the southern Caribbean; it may be a threat to the Central American coast in a few days. Two other waves coming off of Africa, just like every other week in the summer. Chances are not high for formation in the next 5 days and even if so, way too early to tell where they will end up. Here’s the NHC depiction:

NHC 5 day outlook – click to go to their forecast page …

A potentially powerful typhoon is forming in the West Pacific. Typhoon Maysak is currently forecast to pass through the East China Sea and hit Okinawa on the way to South Korea (with some potential impacts to the other southern islands of Japan. On the present track, the storm will also make landfall in North Korea, which was hit last week by Typhoon Bavi. Bavi weakened considerably before landfall, and for what it’s worth, the PDRK reported minimal damage. Interestingly, given recent reports as to his health, state media showed Kim Jong Un himself out inspecting damage.

On the current track (shown below) Maysak would be a very damaging storm, upwards of $50 Billion in impacts. However, JTWC has been too strong with landfall intensity this year, so I’m expecting far less impacts that this track indicates. Internal modeling has it more like $12-$15 Billion. We’ll seen how it developed this week …

Typhoon Maysak swath of doom, based on JTWC forecast, which may be overly doomy.

COVID19 Update; Just how bad is this thing revisited …

While we’ve been storm-watching there have been some developments in the pandemic realm. As I constantly try to remind people that despite the news cycle pushing for “breaking news”, events tend to move a their own pace. With tropical cyclones that time frame is generally about 12 hours. With a pandemic, the time frame is driven by the cycle of exposure, illness, and recovery, which is on the order of weeks. That makes it harder to deal with since today’s actions don’t show up in any real measurable sense for at least two weeks – even if we had good data. Which, as previously ranted, we don’t. But all that said, events have moved since the last discussion, so let’s revisit the situation. Long post, with lots of charts, numbers, and math …

First, let’s look at the big picture and numbers across the world and the US. While there have been upticks in cases in some countries like Germany, the mortality per 10,000 population has leveled off at numbers that appear reflective of the pro-activeness of government policies, the quality of the public health care system, combined with the seriousness with which the virus and protective measures are being taken. Here’s what it looks like in deaths per 10,000 populations for some selected countries as of Friday:

France4.62Slightly Increasing
Spain6.31Somewhat increasing
Italy5.91Slightly Increasing
United Kingdom6.20Slightly Increasing
Russia1.16Somewhat increasing
Iran8.49Rapid Increase
United States5.49Moderate Increase
South Korea0.45Stable
Mortality Rates across selected countries
Raw mortality rates over time … glitches in the reports and all!

It’s worth noting that way back on March 15th, the estimated seasonal mortality rate (end of August) for the Spain and Italy outbreaks were 6.0 and 6.2 per 10,000 respectively. So for all the angst over projections and computer models, they’ve actually done a pretty good job when given the proper inputs and interpretation.

As for the US, it’s harder to assess. The biggest problem is that the US acts more like 50 separate countries than a single nation – which is, of course, by design. A similar plot to the above for selected US states looks like this …

Mortality Rates over time in the US

So some states like New York and New Jersey are worse than Spain or Italy, while other are comparatively better, such as Washington being comparable to Germany or Canada. None are doing as well as the best of the European countries. Georgia, with a rate over 5, is on track to exceed the rate in Italy and, if the suspected undercount is true, probably already has. So why did we see horror stories about crowded hospitals, etc. in Italy and Spain but (New York aside) not in other states such as Georgia and Florida? Note the shape of the curves: the “flatten the curve” efforts worked. But … the problem is that we did not take advantage of that time to squash the virus or put in to place longer term measures to reduce that flattened rate, so the virus is continuing a “slow burn” through the population … fast enough to be a problem, but not so fast as to cause everyone to take it seriously.

Which raises the issue again of just how bad is the SARS-COV-2 virus (the beastie that actually causes COVID-19). A huge problem is that despite all the sturm und drang over testing, we don’t really have a good handle on several key metrics here in the US because the testing is, to be blunt, rubbish. But with some careful analysis of the available US data, we can in fact come up with some useful conclusions. First let’s look at a key chart:

Ratio of Hospitalized to Tested, New York and Georgia

The amazing thing is that despite the very different progressions of the disease in these two states, we ended up at the same place: about 11% of people who have been tested, and test positive, have ended up in the hospital at some point. If we do that for mortality, about two percent of people who have tested positive have ended up deceased. Adjusting for the testing issues, asymptomatic rate, etc., it seems that if everyone were exposed, about .5% would need hospitalization, and .1% would ultimately die.

For the 2017 influenza outbreak, adjusting for the protective effect of the vaccine, about .4% of people who got infected required hospitalization, and 0.03% died. So … COVID19 is 3 or 4 times worse than a bad Influenza from a mortality rate but … the average person is more likely get symptomatically sick from the flu. But if you do get sick with COVID, you’re more likely to end up in the hospital and die. Naturally, that makes taking action harder since many people look around and say “hey, nobody is getting very sick” because so many have mild (or no) symptoms whereas with the flu, lots of people get visibly sick.

Of course, those are whole population statistics. Obviously older people, or those with underlying health issues, are more vulnerable. The discussions over racial disparities are interesting – it seems that if you control for economic disparities, the racial component is greatly diminished. Other recent research is showing a lot of longer term impacts even for asymptomatic people, things like hidden lung and cardiovascular damage. This virus triggers the immune system, which goes on a rampage and does as much damage to your body as the virus itself, to systems that the virus isn’t attacking. That is called an autoimmune response, and is one reason why the 1918 influenza pandemic was so deadly to younger people (who have stronger immune responses).

So what does all that mean? Same as it ever was: mask up when going out, try to limit contacts outside your bubble, good hand hygiene.

In other developments, it seems increasingly possible that immunity to this virus will be limited to some period of time like months or a season, similar to the cold or influenza. That’s bad news – it means that it will come in cycles, and vaccines or immunity protection will be short lived compared to other diseases. It’s good news for the pharmaceutical industry though, since the profits will return every year. The US Government has been pumping billions into developing an vaccine domestically as have been other nations – and both nations and private companies have been undertaking massive espionage efforts to keep up with, steal, and (if rumors are true) even sabotage advances made by others. Which leads to this interesting tidbit from last week:

You may recall that both Russia and China have announced potential vaccines. Well, last Thursday the US slapped sanctions on a variety of Russian and Chinese entities doing vaccine development, including the Russian Health Ministry’s N. F. Gamaleya Federal Research Center for Epidemiology & Microbiology that has developed the “Sputnik V” vaccine. It should be noted that this institute has also developed a MERS vaccine (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which is also a coronavirus), Ebola, and universal Influenza vaccines. The US claims the sanctions are over biological warfare related work of Defense Ministry institutes that Gamaleya works with. But given the close ties between the US DOD, CDC, and US Pharma companies, if other nations used a similar standard no one would do business with the US. Whatever you think of the standards and methodology used in Sputnik V development (and as I argued previously, it’s different, but I suspect no more or less dangerous than the US “warp speed” approach), this smacks of using security excuses to try to kneecap potential economic competitors, and is a reason European countries increasingly distrust the US. The US attempt to buy up the patents and research from a German company that had made advances in vaccine development has also left some bitterness in Europe, as has prior efforts to sabotage the North Stream 2 natural gas project in favor of LNG exports. Before somebody says it, this kind of thing is done by both Democrat and Republic administrations, and in fact the protocols used this time against the Gamaleya Institute were put in place during the Obama era …


The Lake Charles WSR-88D

Yesterday I posted the last scan from the Lake Charles NEXRAD radar, as the northern eyewall of Hurricane Laura was starting to move into the city …

Last scan from Lake Charles NEXRAD …

This morning NWS/GSP sent out a tweet showing the “before/after” of the antenna radome:

From NWS WFO GSP Twitter:

Inside that dome is normally a big dish antenna that looks like this … obvious it was destroyed:

What the inside normally looks like … (from WSFO BHM)

One of my long time complaints is that so many incoming storms are treated as catastrophic that it dilutes the fact that some of these storms are in fact devastating. Don’t ever lose sight of that fact in all the noise …

#Hurricane #Laura Landfall (Thu. 27 August 2020)

Laura made landfall near Cameron LA around 2am ET (1am Central Time) this morning, as a Category 4 hurricane. Here is the last scan from the Lake Charles Weather Service Office (NEXRAD just before it went offline as the eyewall hit:

Always sad to see the last scan from a radar – it takes a lot to knock these offline …

As of 5:30am, Laura is inland and heading towards Arkansas …

5:30am MRMS composite

Damage was probably extensive; we won’t start to get a fuller picture until the winds and waters subside and the sun comes up. The landfall was about 20 miles east of the location predicted by NHC yesterday, and the damage numbers came down some. (Note that 20 miles is utterly trivial – the models, and NHC, did a great job with this storm once it entered the Gulf and RI was locked in.) The latest computer model estimates are around $25 Billion when all is said and done, which puts Laura in the same company as the inflation/growth adjusted Rita ($18 Billion in 2005, probably $24 Billion today). While the gauge readings have been in and out, on radar it looks like the eyewall stayed just east of Port Arthur, so while the wind damage there will be extensive, the flood damage should not be as bad as anticipated by at least $5 Billion. A key issue with the total damage amounts will be driven by the five major refineries in the damage swath. Based on landfall, radar, etc. unless something broke that shouldn’t have, the Port Arthur facilities will need repairs and cleanup but should be back online within a month or two. The Lake Charles facilities may be in worse shape. But we won’t know until later today. Water was still rising at the inland gauges. There will also be extensive agriculture impacts from this storm, as many crops are within their prime growing seasons.

It’s not over for this storm as winds will be well above tropical storm force well inland. Expect damage and power outages as far inland as Little Rock …

Impact zone and forecast – expect damage and power outages cross Louisiana, Arkansas …

In the big picture, Larua may well transit the US and exit into the Atlantic, perhaps no longer techically a tropical system, but producing tropical storm force winds in the Canadian Marintime Provinces …

Laura isn’t quite over yet …

Will keep watching as the reports come in. Elsewhere, Typhoon Bavi has hit North Korea. Agriculture in the PDRK probably took a big hit, but until we get satellite data or defectors, we won’t know for sure. Instability there is always a worry.

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#Laura Update 5pm Wednesday

It’s starting to look like Laura will make landfall as a solid Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane in a few hours, depending on the exact timing of eyewall replacement cycles and some shear that is forecast to be present near landfall. It’s an impressive storm on satellite, with a clear 25 mile wide eye …

Laura just before 5pm ET, Wednesday

The impact estimate from this morning is still in right range, although depending on the timing $30 Billion is within reach of Laura – or even a bit more depending on what happens at the refineries, which are multi-billion dollar complexes. The tide gauge at Sabine Pass is already running almost 4 feet above normal – I’m expecting surges of 16 to 20 feet in Sabine Lake, which would be Bad for the refineries fronting on the lake.

May check back in for the 11pm, but most likely will do the next post in the morning. It’s going to be a long night for the folks on the Louisiana and north Texas coast … hopefully those in low lying areas near the coast have evacuated.

#Laura at 11am Wednesday

Latest NHC Key Messages regarding Hurricane Laura (en Español: Mensajes Claves). It’s an impressive storm … here’s the visual satellite view a noon (all images can be embiggened):

Beautiful … but so are lots of deadly snakes. If in the impact zone this is a very serious storm.

Rain bands are now moving on shore, so not much time for people in vulnerable areas to get out of the way – and they absolutely should. Here’s the current composite …

Eye is visible on radar now from Lake Charles.

Damage projections from this morning are fairly stable, and largely incorporated the slightly higher NHC intensity forecasts. Unless something dramatic changes this will be a major catastrophe, with national implications for energy, pandemic, and of course politics.

#Hurricane #Laura Pre-Landfall Estimates: #Oil Refineries at risk

Hurricane Laura is undergoing rapid intensification, and will likely be an impressive picture once the sun comes up. Here is the Infrared view just after 6am this morning, with the warm eye surrounded by cold convective clouds clearly visible:

Infrarad Image from GOES East, 6:10am ET

The forecast track has been remarkably stable over the last day or so even as the intensity (and estimated impacts) keep rising. Here’s the official forecast summary Key Messages regarding Hurricane Laura (en Español: Mensajes Claves). And here is the impact estimate using my TAOS/TC model:

Swath of doom: click to embiggen …

This is a major storm, and those in the impact swath need to be wrapping up actions – including evacuations – by this afternoon as winds will be picking up and conditions rapidly worsening. Follow the advice of your local emergency managers. If you are anywhere near the coast or a place that floods easily, or in the “severe damage” zone in the map below, there is no calculation to be made: get out. Whatever fears you might have about COVID are secondary – even those with health issues that might make riding out a weaker storm and option. Storm surges on this track could reach 6 meters (20 feet) in places near Grand Chenier and Cameron, Louisiana. Although on the left side of the storm, winds will be blowing straight across Lake Sabine, and Port Arthur could also experience five to six meters (16 to 20 feet) of water if the geometries work out right. This is a dangerous storm – take it seriously.

As for economic impacts, the estimates keep creeping up, now in the $20-$25 Billion range. A big chunk of that change is because of the enormous value of the onshore petrochemical industry infrastructure – and a lot of that is concentrated in five major refineries located directly in the most damaging zone from the storm:

Big Money goes around the world using oil, and it comes from here …

All told, the Valero, Motiva (the largest refinery in the US at over 600,000 bbl per day), ExxonMobil/Beaumont, Total, and ConocoPhillips refineries are responsible for over 10% of US refinery capacity. And they are all in the “Severe Damage” zone. That said, due to the depressed economy right now refineries are only running at about 80% capacity nationwide, so there is a lot of slack in the system, but if some of these facilities are out for the long term (in the case of salt water inundation it could take a year and a lot of capital to repair), it could hurt any recovery from the hit the economy has taken from COVID. Which brings up another issue.

If these larger facilities are severely damaged or destroyed, another factor in rebuilding may well be political. One of the parties and candidates in the upcoming US election are advocating severely restricting, even phasing out fossil fuels. Let’s say the Motiva facility is a near total loss. If you are a decision maker in a company looking at investing perhaps as much as three to five Billion dollars and take several years to rebuild, are you going to do that in the absence of iron-clad reassurances the government isn’t going to shut you down before you’ve broken even? Even for lesser damage, it may make sense to “wait and see,” or try to use the economic situation and leverage to try to get some kind of deals during election season. Either way, as with so many things in our complex, politics driven society, it’s not just an economic decision …

#Typhoon #Bavi and #Korea: how will the #PDRK react to a disaster?

While attention is focused on Laura, another storm is headed for landfall tomorrow, one that may have regional implications for Asia, and perhaps global stability as well. Typhoon Bavi (WP092020) is entering the Yellow Sea as a strong typhoon, equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane. Here’s is a shot from JPSS:

Typhoon Bavi

While Bavi is expected to decrease intensity before landfall, it will sideswipe South Korea, potentially causing upwards of over a billion dollars of impacts. In a 1.6 Trillion dollar economy, that hurts but it’s not a huge hit, under 1% of GDP. The landfall in North Korea, on the other hand, could prove to be a bigger problem. Here’s the forecast impact swath:

While the dollar value is technically lower (maybe $800 Million using a wild guess at Purchasing Power Parity), any kind of economic calculation for the PDRK is doomed with uncertainty. The functioning of the internal economy of North Korea is not really amenable to these kinds of calculations. The best we can come up with is the impacts would be on the order of 10% of functional GDP (the equivalent of a two TRILLION dollar storm for the US – or 200 times worse than a Sandy or Katrina). But it’s worse than that, because it is likely to cause extensive agricultural damage to a country that is always on the verge of famine and starvation. Combined with the swirling rumors of a leadership change, the situation is ripe for a crisis. In the past, the PDRK has lashed out during leadership changes and natural disasters to get attention and blackmail the international community in to providing aid, as well as create a crisis to solidify support. China is watching this carefully as well – the last thing they want or need are thousands of North Koreans trying to force their way across the border. All in all, this is a potential humanitarian and foreign policy crisis in the making …