Lightning is one of those amazing and scary phenomena that nature uses to try to keep equilibrium – in this case, to equalize the static charge between clouds and the ground (link to Wikipedia article). While the displays can be beautiful, the sound it produces (thunder) isn’t much fun for a lot of dogs (and a few cats), and lightning causes on average around 30 deaths a year in the US. It also causes something on the order of two billion dollars in damage, a number that is increasing. No, not because of climate change, but because of all the electrical stuff we have today. Modern electronics is sensitive to both the static charge and the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated by a nearby strike.

Nicholas can’t see or hear too well, he doesn’t like the thunder. Ok, this photo is pure clickbait because my silly FB post yesterday about Google’s cat paw app got 5x the normal views. Sigh.

Lightning damage is often strange. This weekend we had a strike hit a power pole a few hundred feet from the office. Why there, when the office has a big metal tower that sticks up at least as high, not to mention lots of higher trees and nearby cell towers? Probably something to do with the way the power lines are run in this neighborhood and the fact the cap wasn’t grounded on the pole. In any event, despite being on a different circuit than the hit pole, I had a lot of damage, all of it seems to be from EMP (the exception is the geophone in the seismometer). Essentially every Ethernet card with a cable run over 10 feet or so was damaged. For systems with embedded Ethernet ports that’s fatal. The numerous radios and antennas were not impacted at all as far I as I can tell, but they all have special protection, and of course the cluster computer uses high speed optical fiber so it’s ok. In any event, still sorting out the damage and figuring out what to do next. A bigger problem than the cost and paperwork hassle is the layout and design. While my systems were cutting edge a few years ago, it certainly isn’t what you would implement today given the changing pace of technology. So just replacing stuff isn’t really smart or even practical – I do have some spares but not enough to replace all that was damaged. But the core monitoring systems are hardened and generating data, so here’s a tropical update.

As expected, the strong tropical wave coming off the coast of Africa is not being tracked as Invest AL97 (or 97L). NHC gives it a 40% chance of developing before it encounters unfavorable conditions in a a few days. It looks to stay north of the Caribbean Islands, nothing to get excited about yet unless you’re on TV and need something to talk about 😛

Raw spaghetti. Cook prior to consumption. Most of these tracks are for subtropical lows or depressions, even if it does organized enough for NHC to initiate advisories it probably won’t get very strong.

Tropical wave coming off of Africa today (Sunday 7 Aug 2022)

Nothing to worry about. What, you want more? Sigh. Ok. The US National Hurricane Center has put the orange X of doom on its Tropical Weather Outlook this morning (link) marking a system they tag at a 40% chance of becoming a tropical system. Here is what it looks like on satellite:

IR (cloud top temperatures, colder=stronger thunderstorms) on left, visual on right, 6:20am ET Sunday. Wave of interest is the cluster of orange on the right.

The reason for NHC’s interest is the global forecast models show this becoming a tropical low, and indeed a tropical storm, by the middle of the week. Here is what the GFS model is spewing out for Tuesday afternoon at 2pm ET …

GFS 850mb winds and heights for Tuesday afternoon, based on Sunday 2am forecast run.

Ten or 15 years ago a global model showing development like this would be viewed with a lot of skepticism. They had a bad tendency to “spin up” false vorticies. But they’ve gotten a lot better over time, and the current generation, while still far from perfect, should be taken seriously when there is “run to run consistency”. What does that mean? Every six hours weather station and satellite data is collected from around the world and a digital “snapshot” of what we think the atmosphere looks like is created. These are called initial conditions. The big global models are then run from that starting point. So one way of assessing the reliability of a long forecast is to see how similar they are. Since the last four GFS runs (and the European IFS as well) both show something spinning up in about the same location, we have more confidence it may really happen. Because the GFS and IFS use somewhat different assimilation processes of the raw data, when they agree that’s a further boost to confidence. Of course, the problem is that data over the oceans is sparse, and the atmosphere is really complex (not to mention the ocean, and the interactions between the two!). So models can be “consistently wrong” for a variety of reasons.

Any local weather dude or dudette talking about this is wasting their time at this point – they could be doing a “heartwarming human interest” story 😛 . Any national weather channels who says much more than “there is a wave coming off of Africa and we are watching it for development” without being very clear that it’s far from threatening anybody. and the global forecast models are indicating it a fish storm staying north of the Caribbean is either filling time or fear mongering. It isn’t even an invest area yet, although I expect it will get tagged as one by tomorrow at the latest.

Doomwatch and Geopolitics (Ukraine, Taiwan) Notes, 5 August 2022

In the natural disaster world, the big news items are the slow motion events like floods and droughts. That’s an area I’m doing some active work and research, so will try to do a more specific post in upcoming days. The usual suspects (NOAA and Colorado State University) have issued their mid-season forecasts. Here’s the NOAA update (link) – bottom line is an active season is still in the works, even though the next week looks quiet both in the Atlantic and West Pacific. The activity in the East Pacific has been staying offshore. Here is this morning’s tropical analysis: notice how quiet the Atlantic is compared to the East Pacific.

Tropical Surface Analysis from TAFB/NHC, Friday Morning 5 August 2022

Continuing to watch the spectacular new volcanic eruption in Iceland (link to live TV). But as has been the case recently the big news is what Humans are doing to each other, rather than what nature is up to.

The grind towards a likely Russian liberation/occupation (depending on your perspective) of most of eastern Ukraine continues. Your perception of what is going on depends entirely on your information sources, and all of them are either biased, incomplete, or most commonly just outright lying, so multi-source integration is essential. Amnesty International has come out with a controversial report that has annoyed the supporters of the current government of Ukraine, saying that Ukrainian tactics deliberately put civilians in danger. This supports what I’ve been saying since the beginning (and that’s 2014, not this February): Ukrainian government forces are using civilians as human shields, as well as deliberately targeting civilians in pro-Russian areas. While it has largely gone unreported in the western media, there is hard evidence over the last few days that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are deploying banned artillery delivered anti-personnel mines in to civilian areas well behind the the front lines. It’s a nasty business. To repeat myself, this is really a civil war where two parties (NATO and Russia) are supporting the two sides as proxies in their own conflict. I wrote a long piece three years ago on the background to the conflict in Ukraine that I think holds up well – please read it if you aren’t familiar with how we got here (or if you’ve only heard the prevailing narrative).

Other than revising the timeline, I don’t have much else to add with respect to the progress of the conflict in Ukraine from what I wrote last April. This probably won’t be a popular comment, but I think to a neutral observer the economy of force and attempts to avoid civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure that Russia is using in this conflict is interesting as compared to the US way of doing business. For example, power, water, and communications are still on in most of the country. Compare that with the deliberate strikes against purely civilian infrastructure by NATO in Yugoslavia. Or with the horrific impact on civilians that are routine used by the West, most of the impact of which falls on vulnerable populations and are designed to cause social unrest. That’s not to say the Russian invasion isn’t messy and brutal, but simply to provide context. The full economic ramifications of the conflict haven’t hit yet – this winter could be a long one for Europe, and those impacts will be felt here in the US as well unless some accommodations are made. And my sense is that Vladimir Vladimirovich specifically and Russia in general aren’t a forgiving mood these days.

But the bottom line is, as it has been since 2014, the situation in Ukraine is tragic, avoidable, and in the end horrific for the people caught in the middle.

Of course Ukraine isn’t the only conflict in the news. Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has triggered a major crisis that isn’t likely to calm down any time soon. Unlike Ukraine, I can’t really say too much about the specifics with any authority – China/Asia was never in my portfolio. It feels to be a similar situation to Ukraine in some ways – an ongoing civil war, albeit currently not a hot war – and yet the US is on the “other” side. It seems a bit hypocritical to support the right of determination for the people of Taiwan yet not support the right of the people of Donbas to do the same. My sympathies are somewhat with Taiwan, but it is a complex situation and I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to take a firm stand.

Taylor’s “The Generalissimo” is a good background on all this. Even though Bǫðvarr Bjarki was bored.

What is almost certainly similar is that the US is approaching the crisis with the neoconservative theory of American Exceptionalism. The whole way the trip was announced and implemented was incredibly provocative and dangerous. It didn’t have to be that way – there were many ways Pelosi could have done this, even travel to Taiwan, that would have been less provocative. If it was planned, it was a stupid plan, but I suspect like most US Foreign Policy actions it was less planned than just happened as politicians make short term, selfish calculations and the professionals are left scrambling to mitigate the consequences.

So that’s a quick review of where I think things stand. Any of the above (except Taiwan) could be a full blown post or five, but I have work to do before the height of the storm season hits …