Some advice on how to monitor “Invest” areas

In today’s media environment, with the constant pressure to keep eyes on screens and you clicking on sites, it’s hard to know when something is an actual threat vs. something there is no need to worry about. After all, if your revenue stream is based on interactions, telling people it’s OK to have a life and go for a walk or relax isn’t in your best interests. So how is the average person supposed to navigate that environment? With tropical systems, it’s actually fairly straightforward …

First, and I hate to have to say this, but unless a storm is actually threatening your area, with a few exceptions I can’t recommend most local news or their apps. They are under too much pressure to keep you amped up and tuned in, and most apps are thinly disguised attempts to siphon off as much of your valuable personal data as possible. The “threatening your area” exception is so you can keep up with local closures, evacuation plans, etc. Otherwise, far too many broadcast weather people just can’t bring themselves to say “don’t worry about this, check back tomorrow.” Certainly check the local news at least once a day to keep up with what is going on locally, but don’t get too excited by weather news if there is no actual watch or warning up. And as for Those Weather Channels, the less said the better. By far your best source for hurricane information is the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).

The primary source for the average person to keep up with the tropics is the Tropical Weather Outlook (TWO). It has both text and graphics versions – don’t skip the text (scroll down under the graphic) as the graphics are not the whole picture! The TWO is produced four times per day, at 2am, 8am, 2pm, and 8pm. There is no need to hang on every update of invest areas if they are more than a couple hundred miles from your location – and even then, unless the NHC TWO (tropical weather outlook) specifically says “Interests in (your area) should monitor the progress of this system.” there is no need to worry. They are extremely conservative (on the safe side) with these bulletins, and will include a caution that watches/warnings might be needed on short notice if there is a chance of that.

My advice for the average person is to check the TWO in the morning, if there isn’t a live storm or anything within your ~300 mile range, don’t worry about it until the next day. If there is, or it does say “monitor”, and if it’s an invest, go to twice a day (8am/8pm) and maybe check the 2pm update if it’s really close (say around the Bahamas or northeastern Gulf for the southeastern US, or the Gulf/northwestern Caribbean for Florida). If you’re a night owl or working shifts, there is a 2am update for TWO’s. Once a storm develops, the advice really doesn’t change, only the times, since storm bulletins are published at 5am, 11am, 5pm and 11pm. Then watch the NHC’s “Key Messages” product for that storm. There aren’t any examples at the moment, but I try to always post a link to those in any posts about live storms in NHC’s area of responsibility. It’s a great, no-hype summary.

There is no need to get stressed out over hurricane season if you have a plan (and a reminder, make sure your insurance is up to date well in advance because policy changes are generally frozen once an active storm is being tracked). FEMA/DHS has a good site for checklists (link). Checking the TWO’s once a day makes sense – just don’t get worked up over invests (or live storms for that matter) until you need to

#Invest area in the #Atlantic

As the sun rises over the eastern Atlantic this morning, media weather personalities are breathlessly generating gigabyles of content over an “invest area”. Here’s a quick overview. On the visual band image it’s hard to pick out the system …

click to embiggen. Notice the tilt of the terminator (the line between day and night) since we are so close to the summer solstice (June 21st), the maximum of the year at 23.5 degrees.

The global forecast models are all tracking some kind of organized low spinning up from this tropical wave in 4-5 days, and the US National Hurricane Center gives it a 50% chance of becoming a depression over the next five days. Here is the obligatory spaghetti map showing the major global track models … there is a remarkable consensus in the track given it’s not very organized yet:

Raw spaghetti. Do not consume until cooked.

The TLDR is a tropical depression will likely form this weekend or early next week as the system approaches Barbados, and there is the potential for a tropical storm to spin up from that as it makes its way across the southern Caribbean. There are no “magic words” in the NHC tropical weather outlook, so nothing specific to worry about at this point. Those in the Caribbean might want to double check your hurricane supplies and plans if your haven’t already, but again nothing to get excited about if you’ve done your pre-season prep.

Afghanistan Earthquake 21 June 2022

There was an earthquake on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border overnight. While not especially strong (M5.9), the combination of poor construction and economic distress from decades of war means this will be a disaster far out of proportion to what the raw numbers will show. Here is the impact zone …

click to enlarge.

The computer models indicate casualties are on the order of 3000, with approximately 1000 of those killed. Initial reports are of 920 deaths (BBC article), so that seems the right order of magnitude. On paper, economic impacts should be on the order of $100 Million USD. And here is the first indication of why the usual metrics don’t work: The problem with Afghanistan at the moment is that the economy is essentially dysfunctional. GDP and economic metrics just don’t work. Economic sanctions and the impounded resources and frozen aid programs resulting from the return of the Taliban to control of the country means that something like a third to half of the country cannot meet basic food needs. So like many disasters, this is a failure of governance as much as natural forces.

Unfortunately this earthquake will likely result in a tremendous amount of additional suffering that will almost certainly drop off the media radar given the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, pending domestic turmoil over US Supreme Court decisions, and it being an election year.

Fires on St. Catherine’s Island (Coastal Georgia, US)

Despite the rain, recent thunderstorms have triggered a few fires in the area given the persistent dry conditions. The wildland fires on St. Catherine’s Island (Wikipedia), located between Savannah and Brunswick, are getting some media coverage (WJCL TV) and social media angst. The smoke plumes are visible from space, but a better picture can be had from the infrared sensors on the polar orbiting satellites. Here are the fire signatures detected from the NOAA “Sumoi” polar orbiter over the last 24 hours ending 7am …

Sumoi fire signatures; click to embiggen.

And here is a visible band view from the same satellite from yesterday, with the smoke plume visible …

These kinds of fires are an essential part of the coastal ecosystem. The fires create habitats for birds and animals (like the Red Cockaded Woodpecker – link goes to USFS) and in the long run reduce the overall fire danger by keeping fuel levels down. This becomes more of a problem where human encroachment puts our stuff in areas that have adapted, over thousands of years, to periodic burns. Over the last few decades there has been a concerted effort to try to balance letting them run their course and protecting human infrastructure. There are ongoing studies trying to figure out if we will get more fires as climate changes. We don’t really have a good answer to that yet (USGS) …

#Earthquake near Stillmore, Georgia

There was a magnitude 3.9 earthquake between Stillmore and Metter this morning at 4:05am. Here is what it looked like on the Enki seismograph in midtown Savannah …

click to embiggen. EQ is obvious, other stuff is noise from the city like air conditioners, traffic, etc.

While it was felt across South Georgia, it’s not likely it caused any major damage, although it wouldn’t surprise me if there were a couple of damage reports. It was felt as far away as Atlanta and Jacksonville. Here’s the map, computer model damage estimate < $1 Million although I’d be surprised if it is that high.

Stillmore earthquake preliminary map

This quake is in an unusual place. The sediments are deep, and we really don’t have a great picture of what is going on down there. Usually geologists write off this kind of thing as the earth readjusting to equilibrium from various stresses and strains. It does show that earthquakes can happen anywhere, not just on known faults (the key word being “known”). This one is number five on the list of strongest earthquakes in Georgia, which makes it unusual (the stronger events tend to be in North Georgia, associated with the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains, or near Savannah, associated with the fault complex near Charleston. From the early data seems quite shallow – 0.75km from the early estimates – but I don’t think I believe that (update – more data seems to indicate the depth was at 16km). Unlike the event in Poland back in April, there doesn’t seem to be anything on the surface, although there is a small man-made lake and earthen dam nearby.

A single seismograph can only compute how far away a quake is. It takes at least three stations to “triangulate” the quake location. The green band circle shows the minimum distance from our seismograph, the red the maximum. The orange “Hypocenter” marker shows the computed location based on 23 stations.

Another thing to note is the wide area over which this small quake was felt. That is because we have fairly solid rock, with wet mushy soil on top. This transmits seismic energy pretty well, unlike the highly fractured (from all the earthquakes!) rocks out west. A 3.9 near LA wouldn’t be felt nearly as far as one here is. If you’re interested in Savannah/SC Low Country Earthquakes, I did a blog post on it last fall (link). This morning’s event (probably) isn’t connected to the Charleston fault system.

We learn more after every earthquake, especially unusual ones. Will be interesting to see what comes out of further analysis on this one. If you felt this event, please go to the USGS site and fill out the “Did You Feel It?” form.

Tropical update, storms across the US

Tropical Storm Blas has formed off of the west coast of Mexico. It is expected to stay offshore, becoming a hurricane later today before it encounters adverse conditions Friday and begins to decay. Other that some higher than normal waves shouldn’t be a problem. Elsewhere, two “invest” areas are being tracked by NHC, both near Central America. The GFS model shows the one off of Nicaragua (AL932022) moving across Belize/Yucatan perhaps reaching tropical storm strength. The outlook for one off of Costa Rica isn’t so clear, it will probably bring rains to the region but how organized it gets isn’t obvious yet. Here’s the map …

Tropical Outlook, 15 June 2022

Some strong thunderstorms wandered through coastal Georgia yesterday, caused some scattered damage. The NWS Local Storms Report database shows quite a few trees down and power outages across the region …

Red icons are thunderstorm damage

Wild contrasts in weather across the country. While there are record droughts in some areas (link to UNL Drought Monitor), in Montana and Wyoming Yellowstone National Park is closed (link to NPS) and the Yellowstone River is overflowing, causing significant damage. The North Entrance road that many visitors use to get into the park from the Montana side via Mammoth Hot Springs looks like this right now …

Central America Surrounded by Weather!

The system off of the west coast of Mexico has been upgraded to a tropical depression as of 5am this morning, making it the second storm of the East Pacific season (EP022022). It will likely strengthen into a tropical storm and perhaps minimal hurricane as it skirts the coast, but conditions are not favorable for any more than that, and most of the damaging impacts should stay offshore with the main impact being waves. Elsewhere, NHC has a 30% probability area behind EP02, and has increased the five day formation odds for the blob in the western Caribbean to 40%.

Central America Doomwatch, click to embiggen.

But there are no organized model tracks or “magic words” in the forecast as of yet. Most likely this will be a rain event in Central America, GFS shows a weak system drifting into the coast of Belize in this weekend, and spins up another system next week. This is typical behavior where an area is favorable for storm formation, and as systems move through it they have the potential to spin up. Some do, most don’t, so if you have prepared for hurricane season and have your plan and supplies organized (link to FEMA’s “ready” site), nothing to worry about.

Quick look at the tropics; nothing terribly concerning at the moment.

Most of the world is quiet from a tropical standpoint. There are a couple of areas on the US National Hurricane Center’s five day outlook. The one with the highest potential is just off the west coast of Mexico. Here’s a quick look at the areas tagged in the outlook …

NHC’s Five Day Outlook formation probabilities

The system off of Mexico might spin up into a depression over the next couple of days. The main model runs keep it just offshore, some upwards of a Cat 1 or 2 hurricane, but the ensemble runs have a bit of a “squashed spider” look to them. Once a circulation forms the forecasts should stabilize. The other two areas aren’t anything to worry about for a few days.

Signaling virtue, or just ignorance?

With PTC1/Alex on the prowl I didn’t have a chance to comment on this, but the City of Savannah posted this photograph last week to signal the start of Pride Month. Notice anything? Yep. The Ukrainian Flag is backwards.

How to signal your ignorance.

Sadly, ignorance/incompetence isn’t just limited to the City of Savannah … here’s a screen capture from a Pentagon briefing a week or so ago. The fact this briefing was for Defense Industry contractors looking to cash in on the $40 Billion windfall masquerading as aid puts this firmly in the “you can’t make this stuff up” realm …

Assistant SecDef for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia Laura Cooper (left), Defense Secretary (center), Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (right), with upside down Ukrainian Flags.

The Savannah thing is absurd. The Progress Pride flag I understand (it’s a domestic policy issue, the City has an advocacy office and well known positions, etc.), but why is the City displaying the Ukrainian Flag? Did the City put together a policy justification for why the City Government, as representatives of the Citizens of Savannah, should be signalling its support for either side of this war? Does the Mayor, anyone on the City Council, or anyone in City Government have the necessary background and expertise to understand the situation, or are they just jumping on a popular bandwagon? And even if this was a carefully thought through policy, didn’t anybody bother to look up how to properly display the Ukrainian Flag? Ten seconds on Wikipedia would have done the trick. The blue band is on top if flown as a flag, and on the left if displayed as a banner.

As any reader of this blog knows, I strongly feel the situation in Ukraine is a tragic mess, one we bear significant responsibility for starting and inflaming. I think that sending weapons in to this conflict is dangerous, and ultimately causing more harm than good. Expressing support for the present Government of Ukraine by flying its flag is not as simple as some might think. I have to wonder if the Mayor of Savannah is aware of what senior officials of the Ukrainian Government have said about people of color (much less, given the Progress Pride flag now displayed in the rotunda, the LGBTQ community). Almost certainly not.

But that’s not really the point of this post. If you do feel that support of the Ukrainian Government is justified, at least fly their flag right side up.

As for the Pentagon, I don’t even know where to start. Whenever I have been involved in activities at this level annoying but essential protocol officers were scurrying around making sure flags were right side up, seating was correct, and that I didn’t cause yet another international incident by asking for ketchup at a state dinner thrown by the President of France like that first time. That the DoD official responsible for Ukraine didn’t instantly recognize the problem is simply unbelievable, and for the SECDEF to be seen surrounded by upside-down flags is a major national embarrassment.

This is sadly yet another symptom of how US Diplomacy has collapsed over the last thirty years. This 2020 RAND corporation study (link) describes elements of that decline, but I think there is a deeper problem with the overall level of education in the US, ignorance about the rest of the world, and the self-centered, “exceptionalist” view of that world. Fẹmi Akọmọlafẹ, a journalist from Ghana, wrote the following recently comparing the competence of foreign diplomats from the major powers:

Western officials, on the other hand, attack the world as haughty, naughty, ill-mannered, ill-educated, uncultured, provincial, and narcissistic imbeciles. They lack the elementary decorum necessary to engage peers in respectful manners. Ok, superciliousness, fueled by racist arrogance, might partly explain why they behave so, but we cannot discount the possibilities that they simply lack the education, the culture, and the home training required for civilized behavior, especially in encounters with other cultures. The question needs to be asked how the Collective West ended up with the current gaggle of clowns holding positions of responsibility? … It didn’t use to be like this. The West was once great. I should know; I studied there.

Harsh, but an interesting perspective. A key difference between the US and some major countries is that in the US the top levels of the State Department are political appointees. Having watched career US diplomats first hand, there are some fantastically knowledgeable people working in that field, able to balance US interests with an understanding of history and a concern for the legitimate interests of other peoples. But unfortunately that does not extend to political appointees, who by and large lack those skills and tend to view everything through the lens of domestic politics. It’s a complex problem (yeah, I say that a lot), and one a serious President and Congress would try to address and find a better balance between political accountability, the ability of a President to direct foreign policy, the long term interests of the US, and the essential skills, knowledge, and experience that only comes from years – even decades – of experience.

PS – Please don’t use this space to debate the Progress Pride or Pride flags and domestic policy issues. Such posts will be deleted unless they are respectful and relevant to the Ukraine/Foreign Policy realms.

#Alex (AL012022) passing #Bermuda

Tropical Storm Alex (formerly Potential Tropical Cyclone One) is passing Bermuda today, causing some wind and rain but shouldn’t be anything bad unless something breaks that shouldn’t. Alex is already losing what tropical characteristic it had, and will be absorbed into the wider north Atlantic weather by mid-week. Here is the impact swath (winds over 40mph, the point at which you start to see big tree limbs break), probably a bit exaggerated due to the disorganized nature of the storm.

Tropical Storm Alex Damage Swath, click to enlarge.