Major M7.5 earthquake in Peru

There was a major earthquake in Peru this morning (Sunday, about 5:52am ET). Fortunately it was in a sparsely populated area, and was at least 100km deep, which seems to have limited the damage. Economic impact estimates are all below $50 Million, the mean of the TAOS/EQ models is $4.4 Million with many of the ensemble estimates below $1 Million USD. Here is the impact map …. given the depth and magnitude, it was actually felt all over Ecuador and Peru.

Click to embiggen.

More pandemic deaths in 2020 than 2021?

So if you’ve been watching the news over the last few days you’ve seen a rash of headlines along the lines of “US COVID-19 deaths in 2021 surpass last year’s toll” (The Hill). Is that true? Let’s see what Dr. House has to say …

I feel his pain.

Even some basic common sense shows comparing year-to-date numbers for 2020 and 2021 is utterly absurd. Let’s take a look at the CDC’s excess death database, using data through the end of October (since US medical statistics reporting is a train wreck and the November data isn’t usable yet due to late reporting). COVID19 wasn’t widespread in the US last year until at least April. There were only five COVID19 excess deaths in the first five weeks of 2020. There were 120,541 in the first five weeks of 2021. So these reports comparing 2020 to 2021 are just typical modern media reporting: simplistic, context free, and melodramatic.

So what if we do a rational comparison. By the first week of April 2020 COVID-19 was widespread in the US and weekly excess deaths were over 10,000. Let’s compare the first week of April through the last week of October in each year. In that period last year (2020) we had 230,240 excess deaths attributed to COVID. 2021? “only” 207,590 – . I say “only” in the sense it’s not as high as 2020, not in the sense that it’s anywhere near a good thing or shouldn’t have been a lot lower. (and, that number may go up some due to the reporting problems, but it’s probably not far off). For reference, using a baseline of that period (April to October) of 1,730,000 deaths (the number of people we would expect to die in the US during those months), over 12% more people died so far this year who wouldn’t have were it not for COVID. Still, put it all together … lower is lower, and you can argue it’s a positive sign given the “Delta Surge” the last couple of months. However, hope doesn’t sell for some reason and there is a lingering fear among officials who certainly know better about the statistics that if the message is “diluted” with hope, people who haven’t been vaccinated will use it as yet another excuse to avoid the jab.

The “Delta Surge” starting in August seems to be waning, but if last year is a guide the winter surge got started about the end of October/Early November. Will we have a similar winter surge this year? Hard to say, but it might be that the Delta surge, combined with vaccination and the sad fact that many vulnerable people have already been lost, it will take the edge off the expected winter peak.

If we use the first week of April as a baseline, the total number of excess deaths (people killed by the SARS-COV-2 virus who wouldn’t have died otherwise) in the first full year of the pandemic, from April 2020 to the end of March 2021, was 556,179. Even if this winter season (Nov to March) is exactly as bad as last year, the total will be 5% less than the first year of the pandemic. For what it’s worth I think this winter won’t be as bad as last year, and I suspect when we look at the number for April 2021 to March 2022 they will be 10% or even 15% lower than the first year. To be clear, that’s not as big a dip as I’d hope, but given the mangled response to the pandemic by all the key players (government, industry, public), sadly not surprising.

Side note: if you’re over 30 or have an underlying vulnerability, just get the stupid shot.

Lunar Eclipse early tomorrow morning

Just a reminder that there is an almost total eclipse in the morning. How almost? 99.1%! so the moon should be a deep copper or red color about 4am Eastern Time. It is a slow motion event. The moon will start to seem get a dark bite out of it around 2am, half will be darkened by 3am, and virtually the entire moon will be in the darkest part of the Earths shadow at 4am. Here is a link to a NASA page describing the event …

Update: Here it is from Savannah at 4:03am … 1s exposure @F11, ISO400, Leica SL and Leica Apo-Telyt-R 400mm

Click to embiggen …

Surprise! Another day of flooding for coastal GA/SC

I didn’t bother to check the updates this morning, but it looks like the high tide this morning was actually higher than yesterday, and busted in to the top 5 records at 10.45 feet (preliminary). That flooded US 80 (the road to Tybee). NWS/Charleston also got caught a bit off guard (although they did still have coastal flood advisories in effect), saying in the early morning discussion (referring to the coastal surge models) ….

However, that guidance has consistently over predicted tides for several days now. Thus we are reluctant to utilize it for this morning.

That was my thinking as well. Probably should have re-examined that plan. Here’s the tide graph from Ft. Pulaski as of 2:30pm EDT:

(The weird jog at 3am is due to the time shift)

So why? Several things – onshore winds stayed above that forecast for longer than expected, a big factor was more rain than expected (5 inches here in midtown), and the marshes just didn’t have a chance to drain out overnight (notice in the above plot how high the “low” tides are, two feet above normal). For what it’s worth, both the models and humans are saying tomorrow morning’s high tide should be at least a foot lower (~9.5 feet, which is the flood stage for this gauge, and at which Catalina Dr and Lewis Ave start to get wet on Tybee).

Bottom line:

Tides on the way out in Savannah …

Although water levels are still high, at least they are dropping, and it’s starting to look like the peak this morning wasn’t as high as forecast yesterday … still some flooding in the usual places. Here’s the data as of 11:30am (red) and the expected “no wind” tide in blue.

The preliminary peak of 9.8 feet is less than yesterday morning’s peak of 10.0 feet, so it’s not even in the top 20 (the 10.0 peak yesterday is tided 😛 for the 18th spot on the list).

Coastal storm this weekend for Georgia/South Carolina coasts

For those of you on on the Georgia Coast and South Carolina Lowcountry a storm system is brewing up that threatens some gusty winds and coastal flooding. In fact, if the forecast holds, the water levels at the Fort Pulaski gauge are predicted to be in the top five water levels in the last 80 years, beating the October 2015 storm for the number four spot (10.6 is forecast for around 10am Saturday; the October 2015 storm reached 10.43 feet above MLLW). Here is the tide forecast for this weekend …


These water levels are about two feet lower than the modern records of 12.6 feet set by hurricanes Irma (2017) or Matthew (2016), so while high, and the usual coastal places that flood will see water, that couple of feet makes a difference given the low terrain. And while the wind will be a bit gusty, nowhere near dangerous levels, so don’t use those storms as reference points!

Tides tonight should also be quite high, into the moderate flood stage. There are several reasons for this. First, the moon is near new, so the pull of the sun and moon are lined up creating higher tides. Second, the winds have been blowing onshore, so that “stacks up” water in the marshes – water levels have been running about a foot above normal. The storm, a fairly classic nor’easter like system forming out of a frontal system, is currently (Friday Morning) over the Gulf, but by Saturday morning will be just offshore …

Forecast for 8am Saturday Morning; click to embiggen …

This will mess with the Rock and Roll Marathon in Savannah, with temperatures at race time in the upper 40’s (good you’re running) and 80% chance of rain showers (not so good). The entire coast from Jacksonville up to the other side of Charleston will see impacts … the weather service office in Charleston has a briefing up at this link. To be clear, aside for folks in the usual places that flood with higher than normal tides this will just be a cold, wet, windy day, but if you do live on the water it may get uncomfortably high.

Tropical Storm #Wanda and what it says about #climate

The storm system that pounded the Northeastern US last week has wandered out in to the mid Atlantic, and over the weekend became detached enough from surrounding fronts and weather, and tropical enough, for the National Hurricane Center to start tracking it as a tropical system. It’s definitely a fish storm; here’s the impact swath:

Click to embiggen.

If you look at the above swath map you’ll notice something weird: although there are tropical storm markers, there is no wind swath for most of the track. The reason is that while the winds were above tropical storm strength, the modeling system recognized it wasn’t really tropical – it was a nor’easter in characteristics. Even now it’s somewhat marginal, but does technically meet the criteria to be a tropical system.

This is another example of a storm that in the past more than likely would not have been named or tracked. Changes in the criteria that NHC uses for when to start advisories, combined with the tremendous improvements in sensor systems the last 20 years, means that it is likely that at least six, and as many as eight or nine of the 21 storms this year would not have been counted prior to 2000 (and certainly not prior to 1980). This presents a real challenge for those trying to figure out how the Earth’s atmosphere is changing. In a 2009 paper in the Journal of Climate, researchers from NHC and NOAA show that there has been an obvious bias in “short duration” storms (those with lifetimes less than two days) due to observational bias. They state …

In particular, frequency of hurricanes and major hurricanes, duration of TCs, length of season, peak intensity, and integrated TC measures [like Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) and Power Dissipation Index (PDI)] should not be used directly from HURDAT for climate variability and change studies without consideration of, or quantitatively accounting for, how observational network alterations are affecting these statistics. In general, the subsampling of TCs back in time will artificially introduce increases in all of these parameters with time.

The situation since this paper was written has become even more pronounced, with post-Sandy changes in how advisories are issued. Unfortunately, there are those who use data and warning issues like this to dismiss concerns over global warming, just as there are those who point to the inflated tropical cyclone counts as evidence of a crisis. As I ranted earlier, there is a balance between understanding the limitations of the modeling and historical data, and understanding that in fact humans have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere and surface of the Earth, changing our weather and climate. It’s an artificial conflict fueled by politics to say it has to be one or the other, and the choices aren’t simply “do nothing and keep exploiting the Earth’s resources” or “radically reshape our society while exploiting different resources”.

But being sensible has nothing to do with politics … 😦

Why #climate change isn’t the problem.

With the COP26 meetings starting today, lots of angst will be generated about the state of Earth’s climate system and human impacts. Although this post talks a lot about climate, it may surprise you that at this point I’m not really “worried” about it; like the pandemic, at this point I’m much more worried about how badly world leaders are screwing up the response. By far the greatest threat to humanity is our flawed system of governance and, in particular, the collapse of the US as a superpower. That is a much more immediate threat to the planet than the most likely climate change scenarios. So you’re still doomed, just not because of anthropogenic climate change. Here’s why …

What clouds might look like …

If you’re not familiar with my background and position on all this, you might want to start by reading a couple of previous posts. If you’re too impatient to do that, I’d gently point out that this is a very complex subject that involves politics, economics, engineering, and science, and you’re going to have to work to create an informed opinion. The climate problem isn’t an existential crisis, but it isn’t a hoax either. Be very careful of hand waving and simplistic points of view that exist in sound bites. As for my background and views …

The post in that last link discussed things from the perspective of COP25 and the US withdrawal under Trump, but Democrats often are equally problematic, and so far the Biden Administration has followed the destructive trends of prior (pre-Trump) administrations such as Obama, Bush II, and Clinton. I’ll add that the current US positions in most international organizations are (as always) more about internal US politics than the actual global problem. But that would be another long blog post.

With respect to the science, our understanding continues to improve. There is no doubt humans are altering our climate system. But the key is what is going to happen in the future; that will drive, in part, our solutions. The future scenarios used by the IPCC and echoed by decision makers and activists are weighted towards more extreme carbon production and economic activity than is possible given resource and growth limitations. That is a complex issue, but it’s not likely that most of the scenarios (“Shared Socioeconomic Pathways” or SSP’s) are even possible; they are certainly not likely for the medium to distant future (50-100 years). We know the models “run hot,” so that is another potential bias. Forming policy around extreme scenarios is always dangerous, especially when based on modeling. Some of the better performing configurations with respect to history combined with reasonable scenarios do not forecast nearly the severe outcomes that are being repeated and promoted by advocates for radical action on climate (not that they don’t forecast Bad Things, just not Horrific Things). So I’m increasingly skeptical about the more extreme outcomes.

Cloud microphysics is a vital component of climate modeling. Here at the top of the cloud, where water droplets, ice crystals, sunlight and clear sky meet are extremely important and complex small scale processes that have to be parameterized since they can’t be simulated from first principles. Small changes in these assumptions and models can cause huge swings in predicted temperatures.

This weighting towards extreme scenarios has a toxic effect on any attempts to do something about the real problem. First, it opens the door to both healthy skepticism and unhealthy dismissal of the reality of the problem as ideological. Second, it pushes potential solutions away from those that are practical and less disruptive towards more radical and harmful economically actions, which is therefore unacceptable to the majority of people and countries. But it fits in well with the current mode of human governance, where in order to get anything done, it has to be a “crisis,” and somebody (preferably the existing oligarchs) need to profit.

To be clear, we have and continue to alter the earth’s climate system, and we need to stop it. But I don’t think the climate problem is a “crisis” or “emergency” that requires (or is even amenable) to radical immediate action in and of itself – especially if those actions are themselves not sustainable or risk destabilizing societies and economies. It is intimately entangled with politics, economics, and therefore lifestyle. Solving these interrelated aspects will take long range, multidecadal, multilateral, consistent and careful action (action that should have started 20 years ago). Unfortunately, that kind of planning and action is impossible in the US political system which is incapable of looking beyond the two year election cycle in the House of Representatives. And if it is impossible in the US, it is even more impossible globally given the fact that the US is so vital to the global system of governance, and the dis-functionality of the US political system means that humanity itself is at risk, in part from climate, but more so from geopolitical instability and the threat of global war, including something we thought left in the 1960’s but is now more likely than ever, nuclear war.

In the US, “solutions” to problems often boil down to two competing narratives believed with almost religious fervor by the bases of each party, neither of which is true, and more often than not neither of which will actually solve the problem. So climate change is either Crisis or Hoax. The political objective is the next election cycle – and the “news” media is an enabler because they profit from that system, and horse race reporting with two sides yelling at each other is easier than trying to explain cloud microphysics. Social media didn’t start this, but it is making things worse. So an emotionally driven deeply split and angry electorate with mutually exclusive policy positions are the “optimal” way to win election cycles and keep ratings high. But they make it nearly impossible to govern. And policy radically swings depending on who is better able to scare the fraction of the electorate that changes sides from year to year, and is thus able to seize power. This is catastrophic since almost all of the problems we face require a consistent approach measured in years or decades, not election cycles. Even if the Biden Administration had policies that would work (TLDR: they don’t), it wouldn’t matter: the political pendulum will likely swing, and they will be scuttled, just as the Trump Administrations policies (also bad) are being scuttled.

To sum up, just like what happened last year with the pandemic, any estimates I might make as a scientist about the potential impacts of climate change will more than likely be totally swamped by the impacts of the horrible decisions and policies implemented by human leaders, based on short term thinking, lack of understanding of the complex technical issues, and their greedy and narcissistic values based on gaining and holding power.