Severe weather potential in coastal GA/SC today (Sat Apr 24)

For those in the coastal Georgia and South Carolina Low Country, while there is some uncertainty there seems to be two bands of potentially severe weather on the way today. The first is a Quasi Linear Convective System (QLCS), which is a fancy term for a line of thunderstorms, interacting with a warm front late this morning. The second is a squall line that is shaping up to push through during the peak energy time, late this afternoon and early evening. Overall, heavy rain (up to 3″ in the Savannah area, maybe near high tide, so expect street flooding!), gusty winds, and according to the Storm Prediction Center a 10% chance for a tornado … so keep your weather radios on and be aware we could get some heavy weather today. You can see stuff shaping up to our southwest in this radar composite as of 7:30am …

Click to embiggen; severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings in southern AL this morning

COVID19 excess mortality – reasons for optimism?

For the last few weeks I’ve been watching the COVID-19 excess mortality statistics from NIH/CDC. As I constantly rant, the real time numbers you see on the cable “news” networks are utter rubbish: it takes several weeks for death certificates and reporting to become reliable, and of course just raw daily numbers lack context. So here is the latest reliable data charting excess mortality in the US from all causes since 2016 through late March. Above zero means more than expected; below zero means fewer people died than we would expect. The last data point (well below zero) is likely based on incomplete data, but is probably not drastically wrong. You can clearly see the bad 2017/2018 influenza season as the spike on the left side – and the very obvious and undeniable COVID-19 pandemic on the right (although people do deny it for whatever stupid reasons):

Click to embiggen

So … it is possible that in mid to late March all cause mortality in the US returned to something like statistically normal. I’m using “all cause” because that puts everything in perspective – deaths caused by everything from COVID-19, influenza, traffic accidents, crime, etc. The biggest deviations in this number over the last 20 years or more have been due to Influenza (like the spike in 2017/18), and of course now COVID-19 is the big driver. There are probably a lot of reasons for the big drop in COVID-19 related mortality – first, to be blunt, a lot of the initially vulnerable population has likely succumbed to the virus (many of them probably shouldn’t have, but that’s another rant). Second, the precautions like masking and distancing are helping, third, the vaccination program is likely starting to impact the numbers, and of course we are exiting the winter respiratory virus season.

Even given the case counts over the last couple of weeks (which were trending in the wrong direction) this trend in mortality is likely to be preserved, and the overall mortality in the US to remain in the normal range unless something changes. Have we turned the corner? Maybe … unless the variants are deadlier than expected, people get stupid about precautions too soon, etc. And other parts of the world aren’t doing so well. So don’t start partying yet – but maybe you can smile a little behind your mask …

Super Typhoon Surigae

Super Typhoon Surigae is an impressive Category Four (Saffir Simpson scale) storm, just offshore from the Philippines this morning. Here is a composite high resolution view from the NOAA VIIRS sensor on polar orbiting satellites …

Surigae, composite of daytime passes from NOAA NPP

Surigae is expected to stay offshore and economic impacts should be limited. It’s an impressive storm for so early in the year, hopefully not a portent of things to come.

Click any image to embiggen …

There is some talk in US West Coast newspapers that the remains of Surigae might brink some relief to the dry conditions in the US Western states in a week or so. It’s possible – the typhoon will likely be dragging a lot of moisture North that will will be streaming across the Pacific. Of course by that time it will no longer by a tropical system, but the region could certainly use the rain (just not all at once, because that causes mudslides …)

Doomwatch, 13 April 2021

Lots going on today, with multiple ongoing volcanic eruptions on Saint Vincent (which is becoming a worse humanitarian disaster in part due to the response) and Iceland (which now have multiple cinder cones, are fascinating to watch without guilt as they aren’t hurting anyone at the moment – the cameras are obscured this morning due to weather) , and Cyclone Seroja made landfall in Australia leaving several small towns devastated. In the West Pacific, the second tropical cyclone of the year has already formed – but is weak, well away from land, but bears watching.

But by far the biggest concern is the potential for a major conflict to erupt in Ukraine. Despite rhetoric that on the surface seems geared towards defusing the situation (such as Biden’s offer to meet Putin), under the surface all sides are preparing for war, and all four major parties (the US, Ukraine, the DPR/LPR, and Russia) believe the situation is in their favor. Three of them are right. But we all know who loses: the average person caught up in the conflict zone … more on the situation in Donbass/Ukraine later this week.

60th Anniversary of first manned space flight

Today is the 60th Anniversary of the flight of Yuri Gagarin, and is celebrated in Russia as День Космона́втики or Cosmonautics Day. Because it was so convolved with the Cold War and early space race, the date was mostly ignored in the western world out of embarrassment over the fact the Soviets beat the US into space. It wasn’t until the 40th Anniversary, when “Yuri’s Night” became popular, and culminating with the 50th Anniversary, when the UN designated the 12th of April as “International Day of Human Space Flight” and NASA began to more formally commemorate the event, that the event has become more properly commemorated. Most of the reporting I’ve looked at this morning emphasize the Cold War aspects rather than the amazing accomplishment itself (a CNN story I looked at was rather biased and historically inaccurate). This article on phys.org has some background for those who are interested in more.

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was like many of the early cosmonauts and astronauts far more than the comic-book heroes they were often made out to be. One of the lesser known aspects of his personality and family is that despite the officially atheistic communist government and society, like many Russians he was underneath a Christian. His family kept icons, and he ensured his daughter Yelena was baptized before his first (and, sadly, only) flight. Many in the US government and media utterly fail to recognize the return of Christianity in Russia, writing it off as some kind of facade. Yet the facade was in fact communism – Christianity endured and persevered under the surface and quickly returned once the Soviet Union fell. Surveys this year show that 66% of Russians consider themselves to be Orthodox Christians, and fully 17% are observing Lent (Orthodox Easter, or Pascha, is later than Western Easter this year, not being celebrated until May 2nd).

But today we celebrate Gagarin’s first flight, and the monumental achievement of Sergey Pavlovich Korolev and his rocket designs that are still in use today. Here is a photo I shot of the statue of Gagarin just outside his office in the Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City …

Центр подготовки космонавтов имени Ю. А. Гагарина (Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center)

Massive eruption of volcano in Caribbean (St. Vincent)

There has been a massive eruption on the island of St. Vincent of the Soufriere Volcano, visible from space from the GOES East satellite …

Eruption of Soufriere at just before 9am ET, Friday 9 April 2021

Here is an animation starting at 6:50am with frames every 10 minutes, through 9:30am …

Click to embiggen …

Evacuations were underway at the time of the eruption. The La Soufrière is rather notorious, having had multiple severe eruptions over the last 300 years.

Cyclone Seroja causes destruction in Timor, Indonesia

A weak but strengthening disturbance has been doing a slow loop just south of eastern islands of Indonesia and East Timor. It has dumped epic amounts of rain over the region, causing tremendous flooding. Thirty thousand have been evacuated, and while 97 deaths have been reported as of this morning that number will undoubtedly be higher as several flash floods hit at night. In the words of one official:

“We are using rubber boats to find bodies at sea. In several villages, flash floods hit while people were sleeping,” Thomas Ola Langoday, deputy head of Lembata district government, told Reuters by phone.

Most of this damage happened before the cyclone became organized enough to become a named storm. Now known as Seroja, the cyclone (in the Southern Hemisphere hurricanes are called cyclones) the system is moving away from the islands and headed towards the west coast of Australia, where it may be nearly category 3 (major hurricane) in strength when it makes landfall.