In the Atlantic, the US National Hurricane Center has two “watch” areas, one of which is being tracked as invest area AL99. Neither are a threat to land at the moment, and arguably don’t have much potential to become actual tropical systems, although AL99 might develop some hybrid characteristics and meet the forecast criteria for a “subtropical” system by Sunday.
This year people are more attuned to the weather – for good reason. Given COVID19, gatherings outdoors are far safer than inside, so the weather is a bigger factor than usual. I’m getting a lot more questions like “what’s the weather going to be like next St. Swizzen’s Day” – be it for a holiday, wedding, birthday gathering, protest march, golf game, or whatever. My usual reply is “I study disasters; if I can tell you then you probably don’t want to know” doesn’t make people happy 😛 Of course I’ve got the tools here to do pretty much any kind of forecast from “nowcasts” to climate, but how does the average person answer that question without annoying their favorite scientist/blogger? Which provider is best? As it turns out, that’s an easy question to answer. Your tax dollars have funded a really great organization, the US National Weather Service, and they have some nice on-line tools for planning your holiday. Virtually all the other providers – be it big companies, TV stations, whatever, are using NWS data and perhaps “adding value” (although in most cases I’d argue they are adding FUD, but that’s a different post). So lets walk through using the NWS web site to see what tools are available, and if you can hold that Thanksgiving gathering outside, or if everyone will have to stay home and use video …
The starting place is https://www.weather.gov. Here’s what the main page looks like. Any warnings will be color coded:
The map is clickable … click on the location you’re interested in; it doesn’t have to be perfect, you’ll get the chance to refine it. But for your home location, enter the place name you want in the box on the left. You can use a zip code or place name – for example, you can enter “Ardsley Park, Savannah, GA” and the system will give you matching names …
If you click “remember me” then whenever you go to weather.gov your local forecast will pop up on the left side. Clicking “Get detailed information” and you will jump to the point location forecast … here’s where you can really get into seeing what is going on:
The page itself is a nice overview, but if I’ve got family coming over at 4pm Thursday, with dinner at 6pm, and people will probably start to go home at 8pm. How likely is it that we can eat outside at the picnic table, or will I have to set up tables all over the house inside, or just cancel? Jackets, build a fire in the fire pit, or Savannah being Savannah will we need bug spray? If you scroll down and look under the map on the right there is a box called “additional resources” …
Click the graph and you get the hourly forecast data.
You can change the date to see up to a week in the future; in this case let’s set the start point at 12am (midnight) on Thursday. Click submit and you get:
So for Ardsley Park area in Savannah, the temperature should be 70 degrees, light wind, 31% Cloud Cover. The precip chance is 18% – but if you look at the graph, it never gets above 20%, and drops to only 8% by 7pm, so chances are this is not a sharp rain producing weather system. Now that you’ve tagged this as your “remember me” location any time you to to weather.gov on that device it will have your forecast on the main page – and you can easily get the very detailed details!
But what if you are travelling? Just click on the national map … it will take you to the forecast for that point. In this case, as noted on the first map I directly clicked on Andrews NC, then got the “additional details” to see the timing and intensity of any rain:
Looks like rain overnight Wednesday (80% chance at midnight!) and perhaps Thanksgiving morning, but will clear out and be nice overnight, with rain maybe coming back Friday night (back up to 30% chance) .
When planning an event, obviously the closer in time the better the forecast. By the time we’re within three days they are pretty good; 3 to 5 days are fair, over five days takes some interpretation. I’ll try to do some more posts on that in the future, but hopefully this will get you started …
Although it is still raining in places, the flooding is receding in some areas of Honduras and Nicaragua, and the process of assessing the damage is underway. This is a huge natural disaster (EuroNews summary in this link) that does not seem to be getting as much attention as it probably deserves. Some are saying it will ultimately prove worse than 1998’s Hurricane Mitch. The death toll so far is much less, but the economic impact seem to be on par with Mitch. And there will possible yet a third disaster: conditions for the estimated 250,000 people who sought shelter are conducive to spreading the virus that causes COVID19, so disaster planners are concerned that there will be an explosion of cases in the region in the coming weeks.
Elsewhere, NHC has a broad region south and east of Bermuda flagged as a 10% chance of subtropical storm formation in the next 5 days. The NCEP objective probability model has it below 3%, but still shows some potential for formation in the southwest Caribbean in the region still generating rain over Central America. There are two “invest” areas in the Indian Ocean forecasters at JTWC are watching, one that might become a tropical depression before hitting Somalia …
The US National Hurricane Center has two watch areas but neither are much of a threat of becoming an actual tropical system at the moment, both tagged as less than 20% over the n next five days. That said, one of them is associated with a low developing in about the same place that Iota formed. That system is likely to drift over Central America dumping even more rain on the ravaged region. Here’s this morning’s analysis from TAFB, overlain on the mid level water vapor image from GOES East. Compare how moist the air is streaming into Central America (grays/whites with colored blobs of storms) with the cool dry are to the north (oranges/reds) ..
In the East Pacific, Tropical Storm Polo is off the coast of Mexico, and will fade out over water. Nothing in the West Pacific, in the Indian Ocean the Joint Typhoon Warning Center is watching a system in the Arabian Sea that is in a somewhat favorable environment but not likely to develop in the next day or so.
Iota was downgraded to a tropical depression as of the 4am forecast this morning Wednesday 18 Nov). But that isn’t really the storm – although a Category 4 at landfall, the biggest impacts are inland due to landslides and flooding across northern Nicaragua and south/central Honduras. Communications is limited, and there are many areas that remain cut off from the floods caused by Hurricane Eta two weeks ago. This is a multi-phase, ongoing disaster that will only get worse as the weeks go on. Tens of thousands of people are in shelters in Nicaragua and Honduras, so it is likely there will be a spike in COVID cases in these countries in the days to come. Here is the present tropical analysis:
There is concern that the low pressure center forming off the coast of Panama, and the approaching tropical waves, will dump even more rain in the already saturated regions hit by Eta and Iota. It is very possible that we are looking at damage and, ultimately, deaths approaching the levels not seen since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
There will be important foreign policy implications and decisions resulting from these storms. In the past, the economic privation and deterioration in the security status of Central American countries resulting from natural disasters triggers waves of migration towards the US. It is certain that (as seems likely at the moment) this will coincide with a relaxation in immigration restriction by an incoming Biden administration. While many try to put this in clear-cut humanitarian or homeland security positions the two political parties in the US have staked out, it’s not so straightforward. For one thing it ignores the impacts migration have on the original countries, something pro-immigration advocates tend to overlook. It is also destabilizing because many of those who leave are those who are the foundation of the economy. Then there is the danger of the migration routes themselves, and the exploitation of the migrants by gangs that fosters those criminal enterprises. Some countries encourage immigration because they see it as reducing their burden by getting the “surplus” poor populations out of the way – often “double dipping” by accepting US aid, but letting the security situation deteriorate so people leave anyway. All told, my position is that while we need to treat those who reach our borders with dignity and all humanitarian consideration, we should be aggressively supporting, stabilizing, and building up the countries of Central America so that people can (and will want to) remain in their homelands. We need to spend at least as much attention to economic development and assistance as we do to “security” (drug control) issues, which sadly is the prism through which the region is viewed. A comprehensive stabilization plan will be better for the region long term, as well as the United States.
The remains of Iota are probably going to end up in the East Pacific. The chances of it reforming are low at the moment. Aside from the low in the Caribbean noted above (20% chance) NHC also has an area in the central Atlantic tagged with a 20% chance for tropical development in the next 5 days. Even if something does get organized out there, while it might have winds approaching TC criteria, it will not likely be a real tropical system – it’s getting late in the year for that kind of thing out in the Atlantic.
Iota made landfall overnight as a category 4 hurricane, and is rapidly losing wind speed. But the huge amount of moisture being dragged into Central America means the disaster is really just beginning. Iota is hitting virtually the same areas impacted by Eta two weeks ago. Here are the wind swaths – you can grab the slider with your mouse/finger and move it back and forth to compare …
While the coastal damage is significant, it is inland where the major concerns are at the moment. The following map is showing moisture transport, computed from the GFS model as of this morning.
As you can tell from the arrows, moist air from both the Pacific and Caribbean are being pulled inland, with a major convergence over central Nicaragua. Combined with the pre-existing damage and saturated soils from Eta, flooding and landslides are inevitable. This is likely to be a historic disaster in Central America. And more bad news is potentially on the way – there is another tropical wave crossing the region, and it is likely to encounter the same favorable environment that spawned Iota, and even if it does not become a formal system, it will bring more rain to the region in five or six days, just as the impacts of Iota would ordinarily be lessening …
With the late season storms both here and in the West Pacific, and the developing catastrophe in Nicaragua/Honduras, haven’t formally checked in to see how the virus is doing until today … Yep, the virus is doing fine. Humans? Not so much. True, it’s not a Monty Python style dystopian “bring out your dead” kind of pandemic, but a lot of people are still passing away from this thing who would not have otherwise died. How do we know this? Forget the death counters popular on TV. As I have discussed before, the absolute numbers aren’t nearly as important as the concept of excess mortality – how many people are we losing who wouldn’t have died otherwise? For some more background on that take a look at this post. For those paying attention let’s jump right to the numbers. Here is the overall US chart for deviations in mortality over the last four years, as of the last week of October. Above average is above normal, below zero is below average. No, the numbers aren’t any more recent than the end of October. I’m so tired of ranting about the craptacular public health data reporting system in this stupid country, a system that is even worse than the stupid election system that can’t manage to count live ballots any better than it can dead bodies – the gallows humor there writes itself these days.
So it’s absolutely, unambiguously clear: something is killing ‘Muricans this year at greater numbers than past years, and it’s pretty clear it’s the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. And it’s not “just the flu”. “Just a bad flu” is what that spike in late 2017/early 2018 is. No, it’s not “Spanish Flu” bad, much less the Black Death, but it’s bad enough. Even correcting for the mild 2019 influenza season, (which is partly responsible for the early spike in COVID deaths – vulnerable people who would have died in 2019 lived into 2020 to fall victim to COVID instead), COVID has really distorted the mortality statistics.
What about the State of Georgia? Here’s that graph. Note with ha smaller sample size, it is “noisier”, but clearly the same story …
Before anybody says “oh, it’s getting better!” Remember these numbers are a couple of weeks old, and the lag between infection and death is around 4 weeks, so this is maybe 6 weeks behind the curve. The last few entries are certainly low as it can take four weeks or so to collect all the mortality data (insert primal scream here).
This graph looks like the normal cycling of a mostly out of control virus, where people notice it’s bad, react, it drops some, then they get complacent, and it rebounds, as well as the fact that we are seeing the virus move in to different populations in different areas. The other problem is that we are entering the normal respiratory virus season, and, flawed as they are, the other metrics – case counts, hospitalizations, positivity rates, and so forth – are all trending upwards. So it’s likely these numbers are about to trend higher.
Again, the problem with SARS-COV-2/COVID19 is that it’s bad – but not bad enough. It slots nicely into a place that scares some people in to overreacting, and others into under reacting, exacerbating existing fault lines in society depending on where you fall on the security/freedom and personal/collective responsibility prioritization scales.
So what do we do? Mostly it’s common sense. But that is in remarkably short supply. The problem is a critical mass of the population across the country (and even world)has to act responsibly. Otherwise the slow burn – punctuated with flare ups – will continue. And with flare-ups politicians will feel forced to “do something” dramatic, most likely things like shutdowns and restrictions which won’t work in the long run, but will further the social and political divisions, not to mention the incredibly fragile economic situation. An interesting question arises: If the mortality rate settles in to a new, higher value, say 20-30% above the previous average, will people ultimately just accept that and get on with life? It’s going to be interesting to watch the media coverage with respect to the statistics as the likely change in administration progresses. Will things actually be better next year, or will they just seem better with an (on the surface anyway) more coherent approach and a vaccine? When will the media give up on coverage and move on to other stories? Hard to say. Those are all issues just as important – maybe more so – as the biology and epidemiology of the virus itself.
I’m also very afraid that the vaccine won’t be the deus ex machina that people are hoping it will be. For starters, the 90%+ effectiveness reports are unlikely to be seen in widespread use. Those number always come down once things move in to general use, so there’s an expectations problem building. There’s also a fair enough chance one or more of several potentially unfavorable scenarios will come to pass – not the least of which will be that in the rush to get vaccines out, long term adverse reactions will start to crop up in six months or a year once widespread vaccination takes off. The other is potential risk is that immunity will decline rapidly and be seasonal at best. Great for the bottom line of Big Pharma, probably not so good for the rest of us.
Sense some frustration here? Yep. COVID19 long ago stopped being a mostly scientific problem, and after the behavior of both political parties in the US the last few years, only a hard core political activist affiliated with one of the tribes can be optimistic (aka delusional) about all this. Those of us in the real world will just have to continue to suffer through their shenanigans and try to keep out of the way …
There’s not much to say about the forecast; it’s straightforward, and Really Really Bad. A category five landfall is always catastrophic, but in this the worst may be inland as the storm take four takes to decay across Honduras, where it will dump a lot of rain across areas already devastated by Eta two weeks ago. This is a mountainous area prone to flood and worst of all mudslides. The potential for thousands of lives to be lost is very real.
A few people have noted the confusing NHC five day outlook graph yesterday and this morning. They seem to show another storm forming in the same place as Iota:
I really dislike this graphic. The problem is that it is showing the CURRENT position of active storms like Iota, but the FUTURE formation potential areas, so it is confusing. NHC needs to show the track of active storms so people know where the storms will be in sync with the potential formation zones … in this case, there is a tropical wave following Iota that will be entering the area that triggered Iota’s rapid intensification. Although it will be less favorable (in part due to Iota sucking up a lot of energy), there is still some potential for the wave to get organized. Here’s the big picture, showing the wave a couple of days behind Iota …
Iota gained 35 knots of wind speed in under 24 hours, qualifying for “rapid intensification” and is now two days out from landfall, most likely on the northern Nicaraguan coast. Here are the National Hurricane Center’s Key Messages regarding Hurricane Iota (en Español: Mensajes Claves). Iota will likely be at least a Category 3 hurricane, and the current forecast shows it becoming a Category 4 just before landfall. Here is the impact swath …
This is likely to be yet another devastating event for the region. The region is still damaged and trying to recover from Eta, and the additional heavy rains (at least three days worth) is almost certainly going to trigger flooding and mudslides. The mudslides are especially dangerous – Eta killed over 50 in one mudslide in Honduras. Unlike Eta, Iota is expected to dissipate over the mountains of Central America by next weekend.
Tropical Storm Iota has formed south of Jamaica, and is headed slowly towards the Nicaragua/Honduras border. Here are the National Hurricane Center’s Key Messages regarding Tropical Storm Iota (en Español: Mensajes Claves). This is a very similar track to what Eta followed, and is crossing the still very warm waters of the Western Caribbean Sea:
Like Eta, Iota is expected to rapidly intensify as it approaches Central America, and may reach major hurricane (Cat 3) status before landfall. Here is the estimated impact swath as of this morning’s forecast:
The forecast track may shift a bit north, and some of the models keep Iota over water just off the north coast of Honduras, striking Belize instead. Expect some significant impacts either way in Central America – coastal storm surge, high winds, and we are especially concerned about inland flooding and mudslides in the already suffering region. Unlike Eta, Iota is expected to traverse Central America as it disintegrates and not turn northward to impact Canada or its less politically and economically stable southern neighbors.
Elsewhere, the West Pacific season is still causing misery, with Typhoon Vamco expected to make landfall in Vietnam, after causing significant damage in the Philippines. And the Southern Hemisphere hurricane season is now underway, with Cyclone Alicia forming almost due south of India. No land impacts in the forecast swath at the moment. The southern hemisphere season runs from October to May. Alicia has been designated SH012021 because the southern hemisphere season runs from October to May. Like US Government Fiscal Years, the ID’s in October start using ID’s for the subsequent year – thus Alicia has the ID SH012021.