The fires in Colorado are clearly visible from satellite. This overlay shows fires detected from the NOAA-20 satellite as flame icons:
The fires have jumped into several subdivisions. The early (very preliminary) economic impact estimates are over $500 Million, and the fires are still partly out of control. This is pretty unusual for this time of year, normally there would be snow covering the ground but it has been an unusually warm and dry winter so far, after a very dry summer and fall. Fortunately it looks like snow is already falling this morning, and 3 to 5 inches of accumulation is predicted over the next day or so.
The scariest thing to me is that despite the obvious attempts to be “over the top” it was far too often “close to the mark.” I won’t do any real spoilers here, except this brief note from the first few minutes of the film: the scientists discovering an urgent threat are bundled up and flown to Washington DC to brief government officials (including the President). They they wait outside the oval office, are finally sent to stay in a hotel overnight as political stuff came up, and have to come back the next day. They are then misunderstood and ignored, and go home on the train. Been there, done that. Except I got stuck paying for my own hotel room due to a paperwork screwup.
Pick a topic: foreign policy/nuclear war, climate, resource depletion, economics, pandemic, whatever, and the attitudes in Don’t Look Up are played out in our society every day. Scientists getting hijacked by the DC/Media Culture, ratings driven “news” stories, the “if it didn’t come from the Ivy League it can’t be worth much” worldview, politicians with one eye on the polls and the other on their billionaire backers, it’s all here. And far too real.
Doomwatch give this five stars. It does for the current politics/media/high-tech-billionaire society what Dr. Strangelove did for the Cold War. A lot of people won’t like it, and certain political parties will take offense by thinking it is about them, and the “other side” will smugly make the same assumption, rather than in fact about the whole system. But give it a try, and consider if you too are “feeding the beast” and try to think of ways of changing our society to get away from this train wreck. Because even if you avoid the end of the world, you might be eaten by a Bronteroc.
You don’t see this too often: tropical cyclones on opposite sides of the equator. The one to the north is an invest area that should become a Tropical Storm overnight, currently being tracked as WP96. GFS shows it becoming a Typhoon before striking the Philippines later this week. To the south is Cyclone Ruby, which is intensifying and may cause considerable destruction to the French islands of New Caledonia. Here are the respective swaths …
The death and damage from the tornadoes that swept through the Midwest Friday evening continues to be assessed, and sadly the death toll keeps increasing as the debris is cleared and the missing accounted for. There is already fundraising to help those who were harmed by these events – please be careful where you make your contributions. Sadly the scamsters are as fast off the mark as those trying to do good. Stick with organizations you know. Some of the major Churches have good programs (IOCC, CRS), as well as secular organizations like Americares. Internationally, Médecins Sans Frontières does a lot of good.
Just a quick note on weather here on the GA/SC Coast, we’re potentially going to get close to record temperatures today. In Savannah the record is 83 (set in 1971), and here at the midtown office it’s already 77 at 11am. Charleston is also likely to flirt with their record, also 83, set in 1972.
The front that caused the tornado outbreak in the midwest overnight is entering North Georgia, losing energy but still a few severe thunderstorm warnings and one tornado warning in south Alabama …
As noted earlier, it is unlikely to cause any severe weather in the coastal counties. Still worth keeping your weather radio on till it passes overnight.
A strong cold front is running into unusually warm and moist air in the midwest, and whenever contrasting air masses collide you get severe weather … here is the radar and current warnings as of 6am this morning (Saturday):
The Alabama/Tennessee/North Georgia northwards into Ohio/West Virginia can expect to see thunderstorms today from this system, but for those in coastal Georgia, South Carolina, and North Florida, it should have lost a lot of energy and only a few rumbles are expected. Will post again if that changes.
There is an ongoing swarm of earthquakes off of the coast of Oregon, with over a dozen M5+ events over the last day. The shaking hasn’t been felt onshore …
The theory of Plate Tectonics is the basis for our understanding of Earth’s geology. How that theory was developed, and the verification of it through cold war submarine hunting, is an amazing story of science and technology. The Pacific Northwest is a complex and interesting area, with three tectonic plates mashing together (or in the case of the Pacific and Juan de Fuca plates, spreading apart). The subduction zone where the North American Plate is riding over the top of the Juan deFuca plate is the cause of the volcanoes in Oregon and Washington, including the infamous Mount Saint Helens. Here is a USGS graphic showing the general situation:
As can be seen the swarm is along a section of the boundary between the Juan de Fuca and Pacific plates where the plates are grinding against each other rather than spreading apart (in geological terms, a transform boundary rather than a divergent boundary). Transform boundaries tend to produce earthquakes, so this swarm isn’t terribly unusual, although the number above Magnitude 5.0 is more than we normally see.
While this swarm isn’t a threat, it is a reminder that the Pacific Northwest is a geologically unstable area, and destructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are always lurking just under the surface.
St. Petersburg (the cold one, in Russia) set a record low last night at -21C (-5.8F), breaking the old record set in 1893. So what does this mean for climate change? Nothing. Just like any given record high doesn’t mean anything. Here’s why …
Analyzing climate records isn’t as straightforward as just saying it’s a record high or low. First, you have to be careful about the time frame; naturally, the longer the time frame, the less likely it is that anew record will be set (and of course short time frames are more likely to have records set). For Petersburg, the period of observations is 138 years, which a pretty good time frame. For a given site you’d have to watch over a period of many years to see if you are setting more high records than low records. That (along with other metrics like daily temp ranges, averages, etc) will let you see if things are changing. One-off records either way don’t mean much.
But, by aggregating records from around the world and taking in to account all the variables like length of recording period, moving stations, and other factors like changes in urban heat islands, we can start to get a picture of what is going on without having to wait 30 or 40 years. What we are seeing in the area of records is that more high records are being set than low records – by a factor of about 2:1 last year (2020). That is one indication that the Earth is warming. So, one or more record lows doesn’t mean global warming is a hoax, just as a few record highs means the opposite. You have to look at all the data – and the totality of the data does indicate that the atmosphere is changing for the warmer. What to do about that is a longer story …
For most of its existence Pan Am was known as the unofficial “Flag Carrier” of the United States. I spent many hours on Pan Am aircraft in the early/mid 1980’s. This was after the “glory days” of the airline, and the toll of deregulation, restructuring, and bad business decisions by management were beginning to tear the airline apart. But it was still used quite a bit by various US Government agencies. There were rumors that some of the stewardesses (today known as Flight Attendants) were CIA agents, especially on the runs in and out of Berlin. I wouldn’t know anything about that, but PanAm was instrumental in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet among other things.
Pan Am was instrumental in creating a global airline system that we take for granted today. Worldport, their terminal complex at JFK, was a beautiful structure. Sadly, despite attempts at preservation, it was demolished in 2014. If you’re interested in a bit more on the history of Pan Am, try the PanAm Historical Foundation (link). The history of Pan Am, and how the airline industry has changed after deregulation, is interesting and I think sad in many respects. It’s worth reflecting on what we’ve gained, but also what we’ve lost.
Those of you who are flying to visit family and friends this holiday season and have window seats may want to keep an eye out for an interesting geological feature along the Atlantic Coast: Carolina Bays. Although farming and other activities have destroyed a lot of them, there may be as many as 500,000 of them left with various degrees of visibility. A lot of them are quite distinctive from the air, especially in fall and winter when the vegetation differences are distinctive …
Carolina bays are normally elongated, in the southeastern US have a northwest to southeast orientation, shifting in angle as one moves north. Where these features came from was a mystery for a long time. During the 1950’s some geologists believed that they were “splatter” from an asteroid impact in Michigan. But more recent research has shown these are in fact a relic of the Wisconsonian Ice Age (the most recent one). Carolina Bays are most likely something known in geology as a thermokarst lake. These are found today in Alaska, where lakes form where the ground is frozen and thaws, with the orientation depending on the prevailing wind direction. Carolina Bays are an indication that during the period from 70 to 80 thousand years ago, and again 15 to 14 thousand years ago, the ground was frozen as far south as North Florida with strong winds sweeping across what was then a tundra like terrain.
The CBS News headline summarizing the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is typical: “2021 Atlantic hurricane season was the third most active on record — and the most costly.” Is that true? If you have followed this blog you know the answer already: no. It’s misleading and part of the worsening trend in reporting, simply parroting sources with little to no critical thought or research if it fits the prevailing narrative, and dismissal and derision if it does not. In this case both of the statements in the headline are substantively wrong or misleading.
The second statement is the most easily disposed of just by looking at the official NOAA numbers. The preliminary estimated impact of the 2021 season is about $70 Billion USD, most of which due to Hurricane Ida at $65 Billion. Well, hurricane Katrina alone had a damage total of around $80 Billion and estimated economic impact of $150 to $180 Billion. The total of all of the 2005 storms (which also included Wilma and Rita, over $25 Billion each) in 2020 dollars works out to be $236.1 Billion (again using NOAA numbers). So the “most costly” statement is just wrong.
As for the first part, tne number of storms, it is perhaps technically correct but in essence not true. I’ve commented before on the fact that given the improvements in sensor systems and changes in how storms are tracked, named, and classified means comparing the raw numbers of storms in a season is pointless. This season is probably the worse example in recent years.
Ana, the first storm of the season, barely had tropical characteristics, and then only briefly. Danny was very short lived and a tropical storm only briefly as it made landfall. In the past storms like Danny were undercounted. Odette was technically tropical only briefly, less than a day, and in past years might well have been treated as a nor’easter type storm. Kate and Julian, both located in the far eastern Atlantic off of Africa, likely would have been overlooked in the pre-satellite era. Teresa was a very marginal system, and before the current generation of satellites probably not tracked. Wanda spent most of its life as a non tropical system – the storm did cause some damage in the US as a nor’easter, and in the past would have likely been treated as a nor’easter for its entire life cycle.
Where does that leave us? If we take out five of the above storms, that puts us at 16 storms: a little above the current average of 14, but not dramatic. So while technically by raw numbers 2021 had the third highest number of named storms, in realistic terms it would be tied with 2008, 2003, and 1936 for 10th place. In terms of ACE (Accumulated Cyclone Energy) it’s not even close to the top ten.
In the era of internet, 24/7 news channels, and so forth, you would think there would be time to explore issues like this with at least a little depth. Yet the coverage tends to be parroting favored sources and “horse race” analogies. It probably shouldn’t, but it continues to astonish me how shallow reporting has become among the major news networks. This is an insidious problem in that there is no common set of facts on major topics on that people can trust, and from that build policy and then monitor the performance of that policy.