Binary Thinking

In reading “news” stories lately, not to mention various comments in social media about topics ranging from politics to COVID vaccines, I was struck again by the power of binary thinking, as well as how perceptions are manipulated by asking (and answering) the wrong question. Another frequent related problem is making assertions that are perhaps true, but presented out of context in such a way as to create a false perception. This usually results in the two “sides” talking past one another and a shouting match ensues; there is no shared worldview to even begin a discussion.

Here’s a concrete example regarding vaccines: In skimming a discussion about mRNA vaccines it was said by one advocate that there is no evidence or “mechanism” they cause birth defects. The problem is, that’s “true” as far as it goes but also misleading. Pregnancy was a specifically excluded condition during the trails reported so far, and all of the documentation submitted to the FDA said it was not assessed. As for mechanism, there are in fact several potential mechanisms where something could go wrong, given the rapid and complex cell division that occurs during the early stages. Is it rare? Possible or impossible? Probable? Likely? We just don’t know – there is no evidence. Last time I looked at least 18 people had become pregnant during the trials and are being closely monitored, but that’s a very small sample size, and until the children are several years old, it can’t be said for sure that there were not problems. It was also said no long term side effects have been reported. That is true but highly misleading: the vaccines were only developed less than a year ago, so there hasn’t been enough time for any long term effects to develop or reach a statistical threshold. So therein lies the problem – saying “there is no evidence” when there have been very limited (or no) studies is absolutely not the same thing as saying “there have been detailed studies an no problem was found.” That’s a distinction that is lost on many people.

For the record on this subject, here is what CDC says as of 7 January 2021: Based on how mRNA vaccines work, experts believe they are unlikely to pose a specific risk for people who are pregnant. However, the actual risks of mRNA vaccines to the pregnant person and her fetus are unknown because these vaccines have not been studied in pregnant women. We know COVID19 presents risks to pregnant women, so if in a high risk group (like a health care provider) it might make sense to be vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine despite the unknowns. Work from home and sensible about social distancing, etc? Maybe best to wait. It’s not an easy call, based on an objective view of the available data.

Again, this isn’t to be anti-vaccine. There are rational risk-benefit arguments for some, and over time as more data is collected and if the early results hold up, increasingly large segments of the population to take these vaccines. What bothers me is that people present it as a binary, “no brainier” choice. It’s just not that straightforward and it is hubris to assert that it is.

Unfortunately there is no shortage of hubris, exaggeration, and binary thinking in order to sway opinions in our public dialogue these days. I could cite many examples, from election fraud (it probably didn’t impact the results, but that’s not the point: the US election system is broken, with deep structural flaws such that it doesn’t meet standards it imposes on other countries), to social debates like LGBTQ issues or abortion or climate change or …

In short, it takes objectivity and careful analysis to reach good conclusions. This is especially hard given the political parties benefit from a sharply divided electorate, advocates for various issues minimize or are even blind to potentially adverse consequences, and demand you “take a stand”, and of course the media industry profits from the noise and drama all that creates. Please don’t feed that process, and try to understand that many situations are not sound-byte simple.

In short, life is complex. Don’t fall into the trap of absolutes.

Not a big Star Wars fan, but it has its moments.

Doomwatch, 20 Jan 2021

It’s been super busy and I’ve been swamped trying to reset things after major changes my organizational landscape, but we continue to have the usual share of doom stalking the Earth: it’s hurricane season in the southern hemisphere, there have been a couple of significant earthquakes. The SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 continues to be doing fine (humans not so much), and of course there is something happening in Washington DC today …

There are three active tropical cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere, two “invest” areas, and another invest area in the Philippines(!). Most of these are fairly weak systems, but Cyclone Eloise has just made landfall in Madagascar and is headed towards the African Mainland. The forecast models, as well as the official forecasts from MetoFrance (who are responsible for this area) and the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center, show it strengthening into a hurricane before the second landfall. Here’s the impact estimate …

Cyclone Eloise, headed for Mozambique.

There has been a rash of earthquakes causing moderate damage over the last week. The two most significant are a series of quakes in San Juan province of Argentina, and a major earthquake causing significant damage near Sulawesi, Indonesia. Nearly 100 are known dead, while humanitarian situation among survivors in Indonesia is becoming of concern. Damage in Argentina seems mostly confined to infrastructure.

COVID continues a slow burn through the population. It has been over a year since the first warnings were raised, and I have a longish post under construction looking back on the early predictions, as well as where we seem to be going from here. Hopefully will get posted in the next day or so, reviewing some of the latest data. It’s not good, and while it’s not the black death, it is still killing a lot of people who would not otherwise have died, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong. Period. That said, there are some interesting trends in mortality from other causes (such as influenza, which is almost non existent this year).

Due to the inauguration, the normal weekly data update won’t be out until tomorrow, which will give us our first mostly complete look at the 2020 mortality data, so the post will likely be on Friday. To rant once again, there is NO REAL TIME DATA ON COVID19! The “death counters” on TV are bogus. Johns Hopkins (the source most are using) is doing a great job, but the daily totals, especially of mortality, are very noisy estimates. This is a slow moving disaster; it takes a couple of seeks for all of the mortality data to be compiled.

It still astonishes me that people can’t seem to get grip on this thing, and how politicized it has become. Of course, it shouldn’t; sadly the reaction of people and what policies they want to enact are pretty predictable based on party. And like most things a balanced approach would do far better than either extreme. We’ll see how the “new” Administration does. Speaking of which …

The Biden Administration takes over today. A lot of things will likely become more orderly, and while their domestic polices are not accepted by almost half of the population, the rollout and implementation will be well organized given the long government pedigrees of the President and his various appointees. And given the fact the US media is largely on their side, stuff will get done and things will certainly appear to be better. But I’m extremely concerned about Foreign Policy. This group, lead by Blinken, Rice, Powers, and the new torturer in chief, Avril Haines, are responsible for inflaming many of the world’s trouble spots such as in the Middle East (especially Syria and Libya). They are largely responsible for the confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, and advocate policies that are likely to create further dangerous conflicts. Unfortunately, much of that will be “under the radar” as the US public and media focus on the domestic situation.

Administrative note: I’m no longer cross posting any politically focused posts on either Facebook or Twitter. The environment just isn’t conducive for rational discussion, and I don’t want the Enki FB page to become yet another site where people I don’t know engage in poo throwing contests πŸ˜› … I’m happy to discuss the political implications of various doom we face (and most of them do involve politics), but we need to keep the anger and emotion to a minimum, and try to keep things based on all the facts (not just the ones that support some particular point of view). All that said, the new year is starting off much better (organizationally, if not funding wise) than the last, and the reorganization should finally start to be seen in better stuff on the Patreon page and web sites any day now πŸ™‚

What can be said about the last week?

What can be said about the events of the last week that hasn’t been said? A lot, actually, since most of what has been said on social and corporate media is either bullcrap or out of context, but I don’t think anybody wants to hear it. Not that I’ll let that stop me πŸ˜›

I’m starting to worry it’s too late,Β  andΒ  the Russian commentator Vladimir Solovyov is right: “American is finished.Β  Everyone knows this.” But on the off chance it isn’t, here are a few thoughts, because where this ends may be seen in places like Sarajevo …

Woman braving sniper fire to get food, Sarajevo.

Or Beirut …

Think that is being overly dramatic? A significant part of what I study how societies, organizations, governments, respond to disasters – often of their own making. And this society seems to be unraveling. And it shouldn’t be.

We need to keep perspective. The protest in the US Capital last week was barely even a halfway decent riot. Seriously, folks, get a grip: do a Google search for “national championship riot” and you’ll find scenes and reports of mayhem in support of a winning (or losing) sports team that are far in excess of the meager efforts of the MAGA crowd. Heck, the MAGA folks didn’t mange to overturn or burn even one cop car! As far as disrupting Congressional proceedings, again, that’s not terribly unusual, and people have even set off bombs inside the capital. That’s not to say there weren’t disturbing aspects – the collapse of security for one thing, and the President and others egging them on, but let’s not blow it out of proportion.

Which brings me to my first point: don’t give these half-assed amateurs who caused the damage more credit than they deserve; they should be ridiculed, not feared. Yet if you watch CNN, as one odious example, or read Facebook (which I have pretty much stopped doing), you will be bombarded by phrases like “insurrection” or “coup.” Well, I’ve seen a few insurrections and coup d’etats, and this isn’t anywhere near that, any more than the somewhat better organized and implemented BLM riots of last year were (and were called insurrections and worse in the right wing bubble). What we have in both cases are groups of people with legitimate concerns (such as Law Enforcement misconduct on the part of BLM, election integrity on the part of MAGA) are being exploited by a broken political system to deflect attention from their own failures and the real underlying problem that afflicts both BLM and MAGA: economic disparities and corruption. And don’t delude yourself: Democrat politicians have been exploiting the BLM destruction and violence (by excusing it) just as surely as they are by denouncing the MAGA efforts (by exaggerating it). Likewise, those Republicans who jumped on the MAGA and wagon have been playing with fire by doing the opposite, encouraging MAGA while demonizing BLM/Antifa. Both exaggerate the radical elements of the movements they dislike, and cover up or excuse those they want to manipulate, to try to get their respective agendas rail-roaded though because they can’t stand the light of a reasonable debate.

And before somebody screams “false equivalence”, sorry to burst the bubbles on both sides, but these two movements are EXACTLY equivalent in many respects: people with legitimate concerns that could and should be addressed within the normal political process are being encouraged by opportunistic elements to distrust the system and go outside the process to use disruptive, even violent protests to apply pressure to the system. Again, that is playing with fire.

I’ve tried to have conversations with acquaintances (I can’t call them friends any more) on both “sides” of this increasingly stark, largely reality free (IMNSHO of course) divide.Β  Both sides have reached the stage where to even try to understand the other is seen an act of treason and betrayal, and the radical elements are now controlling the conversation, placing what should be a reasoned discussion of the complex but solvable problems facing this country into the starkest, most confrontational concerns possible. Β A similar situation arose before the “War of the Rebellion,” aka US Civil War. Both the “fire eaters” of the south and the radical abolitionists of the north wanted redemption by blood. The “other” is beyond redemption, and must be destroyed. And once it becomes a “religious” (ideological) war, reason no longer plays in to it. That is unbelievably dangerous, and has to stop. The “sides” need to communicate, understand, cooperate and compromise.

But what about tRump? Ignore him and he will go away in less than two weeks. Yes, he might continue to try to incite his more radical supporters, but the best way to deal with that is to not give them any more credit than they deserve, which is very little. By keeping the radicals fired up and making them seem important, you’re painting those who could quietly deal with Trump into a corner. It’s not likely that a lame-duck can do substantial, long term damage. The institutions are mostly in place to mitigate that. And both sides then need to do a gut check and minimize the demagogues – of which both have way too many. The media has a role here: don’t give the extremists credit, and seriously, objectively fact check everyone. “Advocacy journalism” – which is by far the dominant mode in the US – is probably the most toxic thing that can be done in this environment.

So tune down the rhetoric. Objectively listen to what your side is saying, and imagine how it sounds to the “other.” Recognize the “other” has legitimate concerns and more than likely just wants many of the same things you do, and even when it seems they don’t, often there are compromises that can be made. Be on guard for the fact that opportunistic politicians and media corporations/personalities are trying to exploit you, and are artificially ramping up the temperature of the debate. Realize there are a few individuals/groups who are just looking for any excuse for mayhem. They want to burn the existing system down. That almost never ends well. Don’t let them.

TLDR: everybody calm down and eat some fruit. I don’t have time for this political stuff. Now that I don’t have as many restrictions on my public activities, I’ve got some neat new projects (like with UNICEF and the African Risk Capacity), and am trying to roll out some cool stuff for my Patreon supporters as well as the great unwashed masses. So behave yourselves πŸ˜›

Pandemic Update: things still going great (for the virus …)

With the late season storms both here and in the West Pacific, and the developing catastrophe in Nicaragua/Honduras, haven’t formally checked in to see how the virus is doing until today … Yep, the virus is doing fine. Humans? Not so much. True, it’s not a Monty Python style dystopian “bring out your dead” kind of pandemic, but a lot of people are still passing away from this thing who would not have otherwise died. How do we know this? Forget the death counters popular on TV. As I have discussed before, the absolute numbers aren’t nearly as important as the concept of excess mortality – how many people are we losing who wouldn’t have died otherwise? For some more background on that take a look at this post. For those paying attention let’s jump right to the numbers. Here is the overall US chart for deviations in mortality over the last four years, as of the last week of October. Above average is above normal, below zero is below average. No, the numbers aren’t any more recent than the end of October. I’m so tired of ranting about the craptacular public health data reporting system in this stupid country, a system that is even worse than the stupid election system that can’t manage to count live ballots any better than it can dead bodies – the gallows humor there writes itself these days.

Click to embiggen this utterly depressing graphic.

So it’s absolutely, unambiguously clear: something is killing ‘Muricans this year at greater numbers than past years, and it’s pretty clear it’s the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. And it’s not “just the flu”. “Just a bad flu” is what that spike in late 2017/early 2018 is. No, it’s not “Spanish Flu” bad, much less the Black Death, but it’s bad enough. Even correcting for the mild 2019 influenza season, (which is partly responsible for the early spike in COVID deaths – vulnerable people who would have died in 2019 lived into 2020 to fall victim to COVID instead), COVID has really distorted the mortality statistics.

What about the State of Georgia? Here’s that graph. Note with ha smaller sample size, it is “noisier”, but clearly the same story …

Yet another depressing graphic.

Before anybody says “oh, it’s getting better!” Remember these numbers are a couple of weeks old, and the lag between infection and death is around 4 weeks, so this is maybe 6 weeks behind the curve. The last few entries are certainly low as it can take four weeks or so to collect all the mortality data (insert primal scream here).

This graph looks like the normal cycling of a mostly out of control virus, where people notice it’s bad, react, it drops some, then they get complacent, and it rebounds, as well as the fact that we are seeing the virus move in to different populations in different areas. The other problem is that we are entering the normal respiratory virus season, and, flawed as they are, the other metrics – case counts, hospitalizations, positivity rates, and so forth – are all trending upwards. So it’s likely these numbers are about to trend higher.

Again, the problem with SARS-COV-2/COVID19 is that it’s bad – but not bad enough. It slots nicely into a place that scares some people in to overreacting, and others into under reacting, exacerbating existing fault lines in society depending on where you fall on the security/freedom and personal/collective responsibility prioritization scales.

So what do we do? Mostly it’s common sense. But that is in remarkably short supply. The problem is a critical mass of the population across the country (and even world)has to act responsibly. Otherwise the slow burn – punctuated with flare ups – will continue. And with flare-ups politicians will feel forced to “do something” dramatic, most likely things like shutdowns and restrictions which won’t work in the long run, but will further the social and political divisions, not to mention the incredibly fragile economic situation. An interesting question arises: If the mortality rate settles in to a new, higher value, say 20-30% above the previous average, will people ultimately just accept that and get on with life? It’s going to be interesting to watch the media coverage with respect to the statistics as the likely change in administration progresses. Will things actually be better next year, or will they just seem better with an (on the surface anyway) more coherent approach and a vaccine? When will the media give up on coverage and move on to other stories? Hard to say. Those are all issues just as important – maybe more so – as the biology and epidemiology of the virus itself.

I’m also very afraid that the vaccine won’t be the deus ex machina that people are hoping it will be. For starters, the 90%+ effectiveness reports are unlikely to be seen in widespread use. Those number always come down once things move in to general use, so there’s an expectations problem building. There’s also a fair enough chance one or more of several potentially unfavorable scenarios will come to pass – not the least of which will be that in the rush to get vaccines out, long term adverse reactions will start to crop up in six months or a year once widespread vaccination takes off. The other is potential risk is that immunity will decline rapidly and be seasonal at best. Great for the bottom line of Big Pharma, probably not so good for the rest of us.

Sense some frustration here? Yep. COVID19 long ago stopped being a mostly scientific problem, and after the behavior of both political parties in the US the last few years, only a hard core political activist affiliated with one of the tribes can be optimistic (aka delusional) about all this. Those of us in the real world will just have to continue to suffer through their shenanigans and try to keep out of the way …

#Eta gone; AL98 headed to #Honduras/#Nicaragua, Vamco in the #Philippines, #Earthquake in #Nevada

Even though the winds are still above tropical storm strength, Eta has lost its tropical characteristics so NHC has discontinued advisories. However, on the way out flash floods from the interaction of Eta and the front that is finally seeing it off killed at least six (two are still missing) in North Carolina. The remains of the system should stay well south of the Canadian Atlantic Provinces, so we’re done with this one. Here’s the big picture in the Atlantic, the surface analysis from the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch on top of the GOES IR satellite view this morning:

TAFB Analysis, Friday Morning. Click to embiggen. AL98 is the “DVLPG GALE” (Developing Gale) below Eta.

We still have Theta (AL302020) out in the North Atlantic, no threat to land. AL98, located in the middle of the Caribbean, is expected to become a depression later today, and will be given the permanent identification AL312020 (recall that numbers starting with a nine are temporary ID’s for investigation areas). If it becomes a tropical storm as expected, it will be called Iota, the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet. The tracking is pretty tight, focused on the Honduras/Nicaragua border:

Many of the techniques that also estimate intensity are pretty enthusiastic about this storm, with many reaching hurricane status before landfall.

Forecast intensity for AL98 for the next five days

And Typhoon Vamco is in the West Pacific, which just smashed the Philippines and is headed for the coast of Vietnam (which itself has had lots of flooding and damage this year) as a tropical storm.

And if that’s not enough, as further proof the earth just wants us to go away there was an earthquake overnight in Nevada. Although a shallow magnitude 5.5, it is in a pretty sparsely populated area, under 5,000 people in the area at risk of damage.

Oh, and the virus thingee is running rampant again, so maybe I’ll say something about that in the next couple of days in between all the other ways the planet is trying to kill us …

About the Greek Alphabet …

Since we now have Tropical Storm (soon to be Hurricane) Zeta, I’ve had a few people ask me “what happens now that we’ve used up the Greek Alphabet?” I love this question. It gives me the chance to shake my head, sigh, and say, with a disappointed air of smug superiority …

You Never Studied …

OK, now we’ve got that out of the way, it’s really a good question for anyone who hasn’t studied a lot of non-romance or Germanic languages, not to mention math, physics, chemistry, or engineering. Not all languages use a similar order to English, or end with a “Z” sound. There are 24 letters in the modern Greek alphabet – Zeta is only the sixth. Greek starts with Alpha, and ends with Omega. Those of you familiar with the Christian Bible will of course have heard the phrase “The Alpha and Omega” … which means the beginning and end. So we’ve got a ways to go before we run out of Greek Letters, and if we do get to Hurricane Omega, I think it’s likely that other biblical stuff will be happening involving four horses and their riders, the dead rising from the graves, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, and we’ll need those guys showing up for sure. At least two of whom did in fact study πŸ˜›

Still watching the Caribbean …

First, a review of the real storms – Hurricane Epsilon has passed well east of Bermuda, the only significant effects being waves and strong swell spreading across the Atlantic (which means a risk of rip currents even in the Southeast). Typhoon Saudel has done a weird jog in the middle of the South China Sea but is now headed towards Hainan Island and onward to Vietnam – more than likely decaying to tropical storm strength by then. The rain in central Vietnam will be unwelcome – they have had way too much over the last month or so.

But all eyes in the Southeastern US are on the system that might be forming in the Caribbean, in the hopes of a watery deliverance from all the political advertising. The surface analysis from this morning doesn’t look like much …

TAFB Anaysis – area of interest is in the center, Epsilon is in the upper left.

… but some models show development (while GFS, for example, just moves it across Yucatan as a weak low as of the 06z run). NCEP is running the specialized models now, but the major model runs aren’t in yet. We’ll have spaghetti maps with lots of tracks to prattle on about later today.

The National Hurricane Center currently has this system tagged with a 30% short term, 40% long term chance of development. That means on the long term forecast map it has turned ORANGE, which no doubt is a sekret message has a third of the country terrified and engaging in conspiracy theories, the other third exultant and engaging in alternative conspiracy theories, and the few sane people left just sick of it all πŸ˜› The most likely scenario at the moment is that this will cause a lot of rain over Cuba and Florida, then be swept up in a frontal system. But it’s worth watching to see what happens (but not worth worrying about in the sense of being a serious threat at the moment).

Doomwatch, Tuesday 29 Sept 2020

Numerous potential flashpoints of doom out there … but nothing as of this morning above the “that might get bad soon.”

Tropics: Typhoon Kujira is off of Japan, no threat to land. Tropical Depression 18-E is off the coast of Mexico, again no threat to land. Closer to home (well, mine πŸ™‚ ) a system is moving across the Caribbean that the global models are showing spinning up in a few days as it approaches the Yucatan Peninsula. NHC gives this a 50% chance of forming something in the next five days. Some of the usual suspects are already flogging the potential for the system to spin up. Here is what the GFS model is showing for next Wednesday, a sort of organized depression/minimal storm approaching the Mexican coast, and a second thing trying to spin up behind it …

DOOOOM! Or not. Probably not. But it might, so give me clicks! Or just relax and check back Friday.

but … models don’t always do so great in this kind of situation. They are getting better, but 7-10 days just isn’t there yet for anything other than entertainment purposes. A couple of things to keep in mind – note there is no “X” on the NHC map, just a diffuse area where something might form. Second, no discrete model runs or INVEST area ID has been assigned yet. The Tropical Weather Outlook doesn’t have the majik words “interests in <name of some area> should monitor the progress of this system.” So unless you are a die hard weather junkie, you’ve got plenty of other stuff to worry about!

Like the debate tonight between the raging dumpster fire and the older well worn house that looks comforting from the outside but has bats in the attic, rats in the cellar, and an ax murderer living in the spare bedroom.

Or the continuing slow burn of the COVID-19 Pandemic. I posted on this yesterday, and nothing I’ve seen in the last month or so says there is any progress – or significant new threats. As I write this the talking head on the radio news said “we have hit 1 million deaths, one fifth of those in the US.” Which is total bullcrap for reasons I’ve discussed before (globally there is a huge undercount; the US is about 5% of global population and if you take in to account the horrible reporting in most of the world, is about 5% of deaths, not 20%). Guess he doesn’t read this blog. Sigh.

The economy continues to send up flares, red flags, warning lights, and Edvard Munch style screams. But Congress is deadlocked over the aforementioned election thingee, there is no coordinated plan to try to stabilize things, so the ongoing collapse of key aspects of the economy like small businesses continues. The wave of potential defaults is on the verge of becoming a tsunami, and when that hits the over-leveraged capital markets, Bad Things Will Happen.

In the geopolitical world, Donbass, Nagorno-Karabakh, Syria, Greece-Turkey, and Libya all continue to smolder. The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is especially dangerous and tragic, given the involvement of Turkey in another potential attack on Armenians (which has a long and tragic history). It is one of many complex “frozen” conflict areas like Ukraine and the Balkans that were suppressed during Soviet times, but have flared up since. Why does this matter to you? The various tangle of alliances and obligations can rapidly drag outsiders in. Oh, did I mention oil? Because oil is involved as well … of course.

Oh, and Tampa Bay winning the Stanley Cup? Which sign of the apocalypse is that?

So we wait and see what happens. There’s always stuff to worry about, and it is best to be proactive when we can. But if you have a family emergency plan (always keep a week of emergency food, containers you can fill with water on short notice, and a contact plan), a weather radio, and are taking COVID precautions (masks when going to enclosed spaces, distance, good hand hygiene), you’ve got most of the bases covered, so enjoy life and don’t worry about all the might be’s until they become “probably”s …

Doomwatch 11 Sept 2020

Globally we have a lot going on, and several apocalyptic vistas to describe. Given the peak of hurricane season and eight systems being watched, several earthquakes, the fires in the Western US, Pandemic, and several unstable geopolitical hot spots trying to flare up, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re doomed. But, when you take them one by one and see what the actual risks are … ok, it doesn’t look great, but hopefully not as bad as you might think. Rather than worry about what might happen, let’s look at what is happening …

Bit busier than I like to see it … click any graphic to embiggen.

Tropics: Leaving aside the watch areas, there are three systems to be concerned about. In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Paulette is increasingly a threat to Bermuda. Here are the National Hurricane Center’s Key Messages regarding Tropical Storm Paulette. The current forecast track takes the storm right over the island, but wobbles of 100 miles one way or the other will make a big difference and it’s still a ways out. But folks there should be in their initial preparation phases.

Paulette Damage Swath

The second thing to be aware of is there is a system in The Bahamas that will need watching this weekend and early next week. It will just dump rain on Florida, maybe some gusty winds in thunderstorms, but as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico some of the models are showing it becoming a tropical storm before impacting the northern Gulf coast (Louisiana). Tracking and forecasts are just ramping up on this one … but here is what the GFS looks like for Tuesday morning:

GFSForecast for 5am Tuesday Morning – possible weak tropical storm near Louisiana, the big storm off of the east coast is Paulette; Rene is the weak thing on the right.

Rene is weakening and while it may recover some, it’s not heading towards any land anyway. There is a strong system that just moved off the coast of Africa. Models show it becoming a storm in the next few days, and heading towards the Caribbean. Too early to worry about it. There are two systems just off the coast of Mexico – both are likely to stay offshore. Longer term I’m sure that there will be angst over the strong system that has emerged from Africa. The GFS shows a very powerful storm moving near The Bahamas in 10 days – here is the forecast for Monday the 21st:

IGNORE THIS! Yes, dramatic scary picture, BUT it is a long range forecast with very little skill!

You’ll probably start to see more scary graphics like the above, and people talking about the ECMRWF and GFS model runs out 10 to 14 days. Ignore them – there is very little skill that far out. Don’t worry until the official forecasts start, and then only the five day forecasts have enough skill to act on.

And then there’s this …

Lots of rusty tanks of radioactive water. Insert large dinosaur-like creature joke here. Or not – it isn’t really funny.

The third system to watch is the potential for a tropical storm to form in the Western Pacific and impact Japan in a few days. It shouldn’t cause too many problems aside from rain, and the chance some of those highly radioactive waste water storage tanks at Fukushima will leak or even catastrophically fail. There are over 1000 tanks on site, some now approaching a decade old. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, and nobody really knows what to do about it …

Earthquakes: There was a pretty strong earthquake in Chile about 3:30am this morning, part of a series rumbling the country recently. Power outages and light damage have been reported but so far no reports of injuries. Impacts in the low millions of USD if that.

Wildfires: For those watching the fires in the Western US, the CalFire incident site is a great resource. In addition to the fires themselves, the epic smoke is causing air quality impacts across the entire region. Large areas in Oregon are being evacuated and otherwise put on alert. This is worth a separate post and analysis … will try to do that at some point.

CalFire Incident Map

Pandemic: At first glance it would seem things in the US are getting better, but if you look at testing data and the deeper statistics this is likely the calm before the fall/winter storm. Will be doing a longer post on this. As it has been for a couple of months now, we are still in a “slow burn” phase rather than a crisis. Same advice as before – mask up when in public spaces, good hygiene, and while I’m normally a bit ambivalent about flu shots outside high risk groups for a lot of technical reasons, this year I think it’s a good idea for everyone who can get one to do it.

Geopolitics: Hard to know where to start – Belarus, the Eastern Mediterranean has multiple hot spots just waiting to flare up (Greece vs. Turkey, various players in Syria, Lebanon), not to mention Asia (PDRK, South China Sea, India/Pakistan/China, etc.), lots related to Russia (Navalny, hacking/interference allegations, etc). Any one of those would be worthy of a full blown doomwatch post. The stress that the pandemic has put on political and economic systems is extreme, and likely to be expressed in conflicts. Scary stuff, any could spiral out of control. But … much of the coverage of these various conflicts that does leak into the US media obsession with internal US politics is a bit overheated.

So on that note … just remember that there are always potential disasters out there and it can easily be overwhelming and depressing if you let it. Do what you can about the direct threats and don’t worry about the rest. The TL;DR today is: Bermuda needs to watch Paulette. Florida and the Gulf needs to watch the system moving in to Florida and be prepared for a tropical storm late this weekend/early next week. The west is on fire – be aware of rapidly changing conditions; those out there need to be ready to evacuate quickly, so be ready. Wear your (colorful language) mask outside your bubble, and otherwise try to enjoy life this weekend!

Is it time to freak out yet? 10 September Tropics Update

If you glance at the National Hurricane Center’s Five Day Tropical Weather Outlook, you might think the tropics are gearing up to put the paw down on denizens of coastal realms:

ZOMG! Click for larger terror.

8am Update: Even More Terror! But … no substantive changes …

But there is less here than meets the eye. The two systems near the US are not likely to be of any concern. The one that has been lurking off the North Carolina coast has fallen apart, NHC gives it a 1 in 10 chance of becoming a depression before “landfall”, but I think that’s pretty generous. It will bring rain to the Carolinas. Likewise, the system in The Bahamas is expected to cross over South Florida over the next 3-4 days and cause … rain. And Thunderstorms. Longer term, once it gets into the Gulf it may be worth watching, but for now, definitely alert condition “meh.” Of the two disturbance “watch areas” coming off of Africa, only one is of any real interest. It does not yet have a tracking ID (and long time readers know I don’t get excited about these until they get formal invest area ID’s), but is worth watching since it is a strong, well organized system already, and is very likely (90% according to NHC) to form a depression once it reaches the ocean. After that … it’s over a week to cross the ocean to get to the Caribbean, and 10-14 days from the Americas, so the “cone of uncertainty” is basically Trinidad to Greenland at this point! Here is a IR satellite composite view of the East Atlantic, with GFS surface pressures as an overlay …

GOES/EUMETSAT Composite IR view of East Atlantic

In terms of real storms, we have two. Rene is a classic fish storm at this point, headed out to open ocean. Paulette is weakening, but expected to enter a favorable area while on the way to the general area of Bermuda in five days. People there should probably start paying attention as it could be a hurricane by that point.

As usual, don’t worry about any given storm until you need to … if you have a plan for what to do, unless you’re in Bermuda there isn’t anything here to worry about at this point.