Doomwatch, Tuesday 29 Sept 2020

Numerous potential flashpoints of doom out there … but nothing as of this morning above the “that might get bad soon.”

Tropics: Typhoon Kujira is off of Japan, no threat to land. Tropical Depression 18-E is off the coast of Mexico, again no threat to land. Closer to home (well, mine 🙂 ) a system is moving across the Caribbean that the global models are showing spinning up in a few days as it approaches the Yucatan Peninsula. NHC gives this a 50% chance of forming something in the next five days. Some of the usual suspects are already flogging the potential for the system to spin up. Here is what the GFS model is showing for next Wednesday, a sort of organized depression/minimal storm approaching the Mexican coast, and a second thing trying to spin up behind it …

DOOOOM! Or not. Probably not. But it might, so give me clicks! Or just relax and check back Friday.

but … models don’t always do so great in this kind of situation. They are getting better, but 7-10 days just isn’t there yet for anything other than entertainment purposes. A couple of things to keep in mind – note there is no “X” on the NHC map, just a diffuse area where something might form. Second, no discrete model runs or INVEST area ID has been assigned yet. The Tropical Weather Outlook doesn’t have the majik words “interests in <name of some area> should monitor the progress of this system.” So unless you are a die hard weather junkie, you’ve got plenty of other stuff to worry about!

Like the debate tonight between the raging dumpster fire and the older well worn house that looks comforting from the outside but has bats in the attic, rats in the cellar, and an ax murderer living in the spare bedroom.

Or the continuing slow burn of the COVID-19 Pandemic. I posted on this yesterday, and nothing I’ve seen in the last month or so says there is any progress – or significant new threats. As I write this the talking head on the radio news said “we have hit 1 million deaths, one fifth of those in the US.” Which is total bullcrap for reasons I’ve discussed before (globally there is a huge undercount; the US is about 5% of global population and if you take in to account the horrible reporting in most of the world, is about 5% of deaths, not 20%). Guess he doesn’t read this blog. Sigh.

The economy continues to send up flares, red flags, warning lights, and Edvard Munch style screams. But Congress is deadlocked over the aforementioned election thingee, there is no coordinated plan to try to stabilize things, so the ongoing collapse of key aspects of the economy like small businesses continues. The wave of potential defaults is on the verge of becoming a tsunami, and when that hits the over-leveraged capital markets, Bad Things Will Happen.

In the geopolitical world, Donbass, Nagorno-Karabakh, Syria, Greece-Turkey, and Libya all continue to smolder. The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is especially dangerous and tragic, given the involvement of Turkey in another potential attack on Armenians (which has a long and tragic history). It is one of many complex “frozen” conflict areas like Ukraine and the Balkans that were suppressed during Soviet times, but have flared up since. Why does this matter to you? The various tangle of alliances and obligations can rapidly drag outsiders in. Oh, did I mention oil? Because oil is involved as well … of course.

Oh, and Tampa Bay winning the Stanley Cup? Which sign of the apocalypse is that?

So we wait and see what happens. There’s always stuff to worry about, and it is best to be proactive when we can. But if you have a family emergency plan (always keep a week of emergency food, containers you can fill with water on short notice, and a contact plan), a weather radio, and are taking COVID precautions (masks when going to enclosed spaces, distance, good hand hygiene), you’ve got most of the bases covered, so enjoy life and don’t worry about all the might be’s until they become “probably”s …

Yet another rant about COVID data

It’s one thing for the media to have “death counters” and for talking heads to spend 15 minutes an hour talking about the COVID statistics. Sure, it’s overly dramatic, misleading, causing a lot of unnecessary FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt). But … entertainers are going to entertain. However, an awful lot of people are making life and death decisions based on week to week (even day to day!) fluctuations in COVID19 statistics. Does that make sense? Let’s take a look …

For a start, lets take a look at US Death reports, comparing the estimated numbers with the “final” totals for the latest reporting period, the week of September 12th:

Oops. Looks like there is a problem. First, (looks at calendar), it’s the 28th. The data for the week of the 19th is so incomplete it isn’t even showing up yet, only 25% or so of jurisdictions nationally have submitted data. Let’s put this in bold: we don’t really have solid numbers ( say, no more than 2% missing) for SIX WEEKS. Not six days, much less six hours (or, for TV folks, six minutes!). Here is a CDC paper describing the lags in the reporting system.

Now, let’s look at the reported deaths vs. the expected deaths. For expected we are using the average deaths in the US over 2000-2015, adjusted for current population. It varies from week to week during the year, more people die in winter than summer (mostly due to Influenza and Pneumonia). Here is the plot since February 1st of this year …

Two things are obvious from this plot: first, there is drastic under reporting in the most six to eight recent weeks (but we knew that from the previous graph). The second is that something out there is killing lots of Americans. So those saying COVID-19 isn’t that big a deal, well, that’s not what the numbers are showing – that’s not really the point of this graph, which is to show that the rapid tail off in recent weeks is probably due to reporting issues. We won’t have a good idea of what the data is for this week until November. That’s insane for a so called developed country with computers and telephones and stuff, but there it is.

Essentially all of the numbers you are seeing reported on a daily basis are ESTIMATES – not actual data. Now, the CDC, NCHS, Johns Hopkins and others doing the estimates are trying to do their best, and everyone is trying to get COVID data expedited through the system, but that’s actually a problem because now COVID confirmed deaths are being treated differently than other cases. and due to inconsistent testing and reporting it’s clear that we are missing a lot of COVID related deaths. Why do I say that? Take a look at this:

In other words, either there is another respiratory virus out there killing folks (very unlikely), or we are under counting COVID-19 deaths by around 20% (5 or 6% of total deaths).

And remember anything since week 28 or 29 (Mid August) is incomplete … so don’t get duped by the apparent tailing off since week 29 or so in this graph.

I could grind through this on a state by state basis; some are doing better, others worse, but you get the picture: the data isn’t timely or accurate. This is why (much to the annoyance of some) I don’t get bogged down in what this or that article (or even specific credible study in isolation) is arguing, trying to use the COVID-19 statistics to prove masks don’t work, or do work for that matter, or if the mortality rates are going up or going down or reopening is or isn’t working. Because to be blunt, the data sucks and we just don’t really know other than generally or anecdotally. That’s not to say the data is worthless – certainly we can see trends, and professionals can extrapolate a good bit from incomplete data, but this obsession with the death statistics isn’t healthy. Cases? Forgetaboutit. That’s even worse due to testing, reporting, and societal issues.

All this noise is why you can find an “analysis” out there (some credible, some not) that supports just about any point of view you want to try to flog. But if you take a step back and aren’t trying to make some political point, the picture is relatively clear: the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 is killing a lot of people who wouldn’t have otherwise died, we aren’t counting everyone who is being killed by it, and it isn’t going away.

Data Sources:
Excess Deaths Associated with COVID-19 (CDC).
Provisional COVID-19 Death Counts by Week Ending Date and State (NCHS).

Bit of a break from NH Hurricane Season

Only two active systems, WP14 (Dolphin) is moving away from Japan as a tropical storm, and AL20, Teddy, a “post tropical” system bringing wind and rain but apparently not so much damage to Nova Scotia. The remnants of Beta continue to dump rain on the south central states, lots of flood warnings up …

Otherwise, both the JTWC and NHC 5 day forecasts are remarkably empty. At least here in Savannah Georgia you can feel a change in the air as fall seems to be on the horizon. But there is still potential for storm formation, so don’t eat your hurricane supplies just yet. Also, those of you who can’t get enough doom will be happy to hear I’ve configured the systems to produce winter storm and nor’easter graphics and data similar to the TC versions. And there is still the pandemic and all the other stuff trying to kill us this year, like the idiot who ran the light at DeRenne and almost hit me as I managed to get out of the office for a bit to get a haircut (in Savannah, aka “a day ending in Y”).

The Passing of Stephen F. Cohen

On Friday the 18th of September, America lost one of its few clear voices of sanity in the field of Russia Policy. His passing would likely be overlooked in normal times, but with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg the same day, it has been lost in the noise. He deserves better. Chances are you’ve never heard of Dr. Cohen, much less been given the opportunity to hear his cogent, unbiased analyses unfiltered. Yet had his voice been widely heard, and his sage advice followed over the last three decades, the world you live in would likely be a far better, more stable place.

Dr. Stephen F. Cohen, from The Nation.

Dr. Stephen F. Cohen was a Professor of Politics and Russian studies at Princeton and later New York University. His 1969 Doctoral dissertation and early work was on a topic many would consider obscure, the ascension of Stalin over other “founding fathers” of the Soviet Union such as Bukharin. That work, backed by careful scholarship, asserted that the totalitarian style of Stalin was not an inevitable consequence of Leninism, much less Marxism. That may seem obscure and irrelevant, but it laid the stage for a fresh view (some would say revisionist) of Soviet Politics and, later, for how one looks at the post Soviet era and the emergence of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

I discovered Dr. Cohen when one of his books was recommended to me by one of my mentors, an old OSS guy who was fond of saying “never confuse the Soviet Union with Russia” – advice that many modern Russia analysts need to take to heart. Cohen’s 1984 book Rethinking the Soviet Experience was a bit of a slap in the face to someone raised on talk of the “Evil Empire.” It forced me to reconsider much of what I thought about Russia and the Soviet Union, and was part of a process that has led to a life-long interest in Russia as something more than comic book villains, but a country and people with a vast and complex history and who need not be our enemy. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s Dr. Cohen was often heard in the US media due to his knowledge of and contacts with Mikhail Gorbachev.

But that began to change in the mid 1990’s. Cohen clearly saw that Yeltsin and his American advisers (the so-called “Harvard Boys”) were setting up a disaster by enabling the plundering of the natural resources of the old Soviet Union, generating massive profits for the west and enriching a few Oligarchs while plunging the rest of Russia into a 1930’s style depression complete with gangsters and shoot-outs in the streets of Saint Petersburg. To say his warnings were unpopular among US leaders intoxicated with their new “hyperpower’ status, and international banks with eyes focused on short term profits is an understatement. His cautions over the eastward expansion of NATO and attempts to manipulate the emerging democracies in the former Soviet Block were likewise ignored. Over time he was called on less and less to opine on Russia, although he frequently appeared in Russian sources to try to explain America’s view on Russia.

In the his last decade, Cohen was virtually unheard in the major US Media. Although he continued to write for The Nation, that is almost certainly due to the fact his wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, was editor and publisher (her reflections are here). His position on Ukraine that the west bears considerable responsibility for the turmoil there, and pointing out that many of our so-called “allies” are corrupt and rife with Nazi heritage and ideology did not fit the narrative of a popular, democratic, anti-Russian uprising that many want to portray. The last straw was probably his view that Russia’s responses in Ukraine are rational and perhaps even justified. By 2015, on the rare occasions his views were presented, it was only to be ridiculed, and phrases such as “Putin’s Apologist” were often used. Yet his views on Putin were nuanced, and take in to account the fact that a majority of Russians still support him over the restoration of order and financial security he restored after the catastrophic impacts of the Yeltsin era. Putin’s policies are sometimes at odds with what the US wants, but to point out they are rational from a Russian perspective is not necessarily to agree with them. It is simply to try to understand them, which is the only way to formulate realistic responses. Calling Cohen an apologist is just an excuse to ignore his arguments. It is disingenuous in the extreme, and dangerous because it implies that it is wrong to try to explain or understand a world leader or power opposed to the US.

The by-line of my blog is “You’re Doomed. Here’s why.” This is rarely more true than with this article. The way that calm, careful, “revisionist” analyses that challenge mainstream thought are systematically excluded from public debate (and often even internal government policy consideration where such open debate is vital) is a key reason why American foreign policy is so often unsuccessful. When discussed at all – often during some crisis – Americans are usually presented with simplified, grossly biased depictions of foreign policy situations. The comic-book caricatures of foreign leaders like Vladimir Putin never lends itself to the kind of nuanced approaches that are often called for. The New York Times was kind enough to run an editorial today as an example. These life or death matters deserve clear, informed debate. For the views of a brilliant analyst like Dr. Cohen to be insulted, marginalized, then finally ignored, is a key reason why this country is potentially headed towards a cataclysmic confrontation with Russia. It is a tragedy, avoidable if more would insist on considering nuanced views about the world like those provided by Steven Cohen.

Вечная Память (may your memory eternal), Dr. Cohen.

Nothing new to say today …

Despite a storm making landfall last night (Beta, in Texas), and another headed to Nova Scotia (Teddy), if you read yesterday’s post there isn’t really anything much to add to that. Texas is getting dumped on, the Canadian Marintimes should be preparing for a nor’easter with likely 50-60mph winds, rain, 5-6 ft storm surge and big waves.

The year is weird when two landfalling storms is sort of “boring” …

Here are the latest forecasts from NHC:

NHC is mentioning a cluster of thunderstorms over south Florida, and put one of those yellow X’s on their maps, tagged with a zero percent chance of formation in the next two days, and 10% on days 3 to 5. I really don’t know what they are thinking. Don’t worry about it.

So I’m going take today to catch up on all the stuff that didn’t get done over the last few of weeks with the back-to-back storms, Schroeder’s passing, and so forth.

#Beta to soak TX/LA, #Teddy to give Nova Scotia a rough ride, Return of #Paulette?

Beta has weakened considerably, and the rain potential has decreased somewhat, but it still presents a flood risk to areas of Louisiana and Texas. Here is what NHC has to say: Key Messages regarding Hurricane Teddy and some graphics from WPC:

As for Paulette, the remains are still somewhat organized in the eastern Atlantic, drifting towards Europe. NHC gives it a 60% chance of reforming.

The big story is likely Teddy (AL202020). It is passing Bermuda, causing high waves and tropical storm force winds. Speaking of waves, they have reached the US coast and are causing rip currents and some erosion in places. Teddy is on track to make landfall on the central Novia Scotia coast as a transitioning system. What does that mean? In very simple and general terms, hurricanes are warm core low pressure systems with strong embedded thunderstorms. Mid/Northern latitude cyclones and their more powerful incarnations, nor’easters, are also low pressure systems, but are “cold core” systems and do not have the embedded thunderstorms. They sill bring wind and rains, but structurally are different, generally more broad, elongated, and no distince “eyewall” structure of thunderstorms. In either case the winds are created by the pressure differences between the center of the storm and the environment. Here’s a description with some more info. A transitioning system is a low pressure system that is losing tropical characteristics – thunderstorms,warm core, etc – but maintaining the winds and low pressure. Thus, it still presents a threat – and in fact can threaten a larger area as the wind field expands.

In terms of impacts, here is the impact swath for Teddy:

All graphics are embiggenable by clicking

Nova Scotia, especially from Halifax north, can expect conditions to deteriorate Wednesday with strong winds, power outages, trees down, and some roof damage as the system passes the next day or so, bringing deteriorating conditions to Newfoundland as well.

#Teddy and #Canada, #Beta and #Texas

First what not to worry about: yes, there is a yellow “X” next to Florida, but it is just a cluster of thunderstorms that is going to move inland today. Not sure why NHC is bothering, given the very low risk, and detracting from other stuff that matters. Such as Teddy, which is spraying waves all over the east coast and causing rip currents on it’s way towards probably slamming Nova Scotia and Newfoundland with nor’easter like conditions in about 5 days. Or Beta, which while no longer forest to become a hurricane, is likely to add misery inducing rains across much of the northern Gulf Coast. Here’s the swath of doom (wind version) first: probably not much worse than power outages and limbs down for the most part:

Click to embiggen

The rain, on the other hand, could be a big problem … about a foot in the Houston area is certainly possible. It’s not likely this will end up as a Harvey scenario; although Beta is moving slowly now, once inland it should be picked up by an approaching front. But still lots of rain in places that don’t need it …

As for Teddy, it is passing Bermuda fairly far to the east, but the front that is about to tur the storm north and interactions with the storm will produce gusty winds in addition to the heavy surf. In 4-5 days Teddy will be approaching Nova Scotia as a transitioning storm and merging with a cold front. The exact timing of all that means it could be torn up and deflected north (more likely), or come straight in as a stronger, more organized system (less likely). Most likely it will feel like a powerful nor’easter, with winds in the 50-60 MPH range on the coast, heavy surf, and rain.

Who’s on first? (Saturday 19 Sept Update)

Hard to know where to start this morning. Have been trying to do a post on the West Coast fires for over a week, there is new pandemic data, some geopolitical doom lurking in the wings. But the Northern Hemisphere Hurricane seasons continues to swamp the working day with a storm hitting MS/AL (Sally), and another threatening (Beta) the Gulf Coast, a powerful storm (Teddy) about to sideswipe Bermuda spewing waves across the entire East Coast (causing rip currents and erosion) on its way to Canada, a weak system, Alpha, hitting Portugal (!), and a strong hurricane-like system in the Mediterranean causing a lot of damage in Greece (!!). And a tropical storm hitting Vietnam. And an earthquake in Crete. Those familiar with Greek Mythology will know that the oceans and earthquakes are the domain of Poseidon. Clearly the dude is annoyed …

Some of these we can set aside. The Crete earthquake was a 5.9 and 50km deep – rattled things, but didn’t seem to cause any significant damage or injuries despite the UK Daily Express headline “Greek Holiday Island Struck By Devastating 5.9 Earthquake!” There are some invest areas but none are in a place to threaten land for a bit. But there is plenty of doom to go around:

Moving from East to West, Noul caused flooding and significant damage in Vietnam with landfall in Hue as a strong tropical storm, dozens injured and at least one fatality:

Most of the damage due to rain and flash floods …

Next up is a Mediterranean Tropical-Like Storm, or “Medicane,” that has slammed into Greece. Here is a NOAA VIIRS image of the storm, called “Ioanes” (John) by the Greek Weather Service:

NOAA NPP Image of Ioanes

The storm, equivalent to a weak hurricane, has caused a lot of coastal damage and a number of bridges have been washed out. At least two dead, several more missing, extensive power outages and flooding.

SubTropical Storm Alpha hit Portugal yesterday. There were at least two tornadoes (video) and some flash flooding.

Alpha, a compact storm but spawned tornadoes …

In the central Atlantic, Major Hurricane Teddy continues to be a powerful storm, as seen here from EUMETSAT …

EUMETSAT view from Friday Afternoon

Here are NHC’s Key Messages regarding Hurricane Teddy. Teddy has weakend a little due to an eyewall replacement cycle, but is still a very powerful Category 3 or low end Category 4 hurricane. It will probably over around that strength before starting to transition from a tropical (warm core) system into an extratropical (cold core). Bermuda looks to avoid a major hit (aside from high waves), but the storm is forecast to make landfall in Nova Scotia in about five days.

There are several wobbles on days 4 and 5, the present track makes landfall at the north end near Port Hawkesbury before trekking towards Newfoundland, but I wouldn’t be surprised at a further south landfall near Halifax. Either way the storm will likely have a broad wind field, so our Canadian friends need to keep an eye on this one and prepare for a blow.

In the Gulf of Mexico, we have tropical storm Beta. NHC is forecasting the storm to wander towards the central Texas coast then make, um, landbrush, moving northeast just off shore. Key Messages regarding Tropical Storm Beta (en Español: Mensajes Claves). Here’s the swath of doom:

The big concern here rain. The Gulf Coast is saturated, and Beta has a lot of moisture in it. Here is the HPC 5 day forecast.

Notice the 10″ isoheyt (fancy name for the 10″ rainfall boundary) is right along the shoreline. Even so, 5-8″ are forecast across a wide streatch from Corpus Christi to the Mississippi Delta – including the still recovering Laura impact areas near Lake Charles. And that’s just the next five days – the storm may well drift into the Louisiana coast beyond this forecast and dump more rain into the already flooded regions of Mississippi and Alabama by next weekend.

That’s enough doom for now. Some in Coastal Georgia and SC have asked about the high tides. These are not related to the tropical cyclones – we have three things going on: we are having spring tides (near new moon), we are near an equinox (21st of March or September) so the sun and moon are more closely aligned than the rest of the year, and we have some onshore winds adding a foot or so on top of all of that. Also, the damage surveys confirmed there was an EF-1 tornado in Effingham County the 17th.

Tropical Storm #Wilfred: not in the Gulf, in the Atlantic?

Seems like a waste of a name, but … the National Hurricane Center has initiated advisories on Tropical Storm Wilfred (AL232020), the former AL98 off of Africa: Forecast Discussion #1. It’s almost certainly going to be a fish storm, may get up to 45 knots before falling apart, but not come anywhere near land:

Boring map for a Boring Storm …

So TD#22, if as expected becomes a tropical storm, will be “Alpha”.