Don’t look in the mirror …

Last night we watched the new Netflix movie “Don’t look up.” It was a bit of a surreal experience. It’s billed as a “dark comedy” or “parody”, but to me it was more than that. The critics don’t like it much, I suspect because
a) it hits too close to home; and,
b) the critics probably don’t get it.

Parody or Documentary? Marketing shot for Don’t Look Up by Netflix.

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.

Here’s DiCaprio discussing the movie …

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.

#Nicholas, #Chanthu and #China ports, Atlantic watch Wed 15 Sept

TLDR: Nicholas continues to dump on the Gulf Coast, Shanghai/Ningbo starting to reopen, and why you shouldn’t get excited about models episode eleventy-billion or something.

Nicholas is still being tracked as tropical depression. By far the biggest impact of this thing has been rain and ongoing flooding along the Gulf Coast. Here’s the forecast rain swath for the next few days as the remnants drift east …

click an image to embiggen.

Tropical Storm (formerly Chanthu) is wrapping up it’s S turn off the coast from Shanghai and is headed towards Kyushu (the southernmost main island of Japan) as a tropical storm. It will bring rain across Japan over the next couple of days, but winds should remain well below hurricane (typhoon) intensity. Operations are starting to resume in the ports of Shanghai and Ningbo, which is important as these two port are responsible for over 10% of the entire world’s container traffic. A three or four day disruption may not sound like much, but a four day outage equates to around one million TEU’s of disruption in traffic, which has a rippling effect especially given the already messy situation in global shipping.

NHC is watching a couple of disturbances in the Atlantic. One, off the US East coast, might move north and impact North Carolina and points north as a tropical system. The usual suspects seem excited about AL95, the disturbance off of Africa. The last couple of GFS runs have it spinning up in to a fairly organized/intense system, but the intensity and track have a lot of uncertainty. Here is a comparison using the cool slider thingee function in wordpress, showing the 00z and 06z runs, forecast for Friday night about 10 days from now (the 24th). Grab the <> thing and slide back and forth to see the difference …

Comparison between 00z and 06z GFS run forecasts for 8pm Friday, 24 September 2021

That’s actually pretty tight, but reinforces the fact that any speculation as to who (if anyone) is doomed based on this kind of thing is pointless. I can’t say this enough: until the hurricane center uses the magic words (“interests <somewhere> should <do something>”) in their outlooks or advisories, please don’t stress out over it. If you have a hurricane plan then you’re fine – it’s 5 days from the leeward islands, and nearly two weeks away from the US even if it does spin up (which is likely but not certain yet) or come this way (which is very uncertain – a track offshore is more likely). And to the media people: stop with the fear mongering. Recall the fable of the irresponsible kid and the wolf who heroically ended his reign of terror …

#Nicholas hits #Texas, #Chanthu blocks #Shanghai/#Ningbo

NHC upgraded Nicholas to a hurricane just before landfall, based on an isolated hurricane wind report. In reality that’s just a technicality, the impacts were that of a strong tropical storm, and the major threat continues to be inland rain and flooding. In the Pacific, Typhoon (now tropical storm) Chanthu missed a landfall at Shanghai, but has spent the last day doing a slow “S” turn just offshore from Hangzhou Bay …

modeled Wind Waves off of coast of China; click to embiggen.

This matters a lot because two of the three largest container ports in the world are blocked by the storm: Shanghai, that last year moved over 43 million TEU (Twenty foot Equivalent Units), and Ningbo, that moved almost 29 million TEU. The storm is likely to disrupt traffic for a total of for or five days. The impact on global supply chains is significant – these two ports combined move an amazing 10% of the world’s container units (73 million TEU of the global total of 775 million last year).

Back in the Atlantic, there are a couple of disturbances but none are a threat in the immediate (5 days) future and beyond that, well, there isn’t much skill in forecasting that so don’t worry about it. As a reminder, if the magic words “Interests <somewhere> should <do something>” don’t appear in the hurricane center’s Tropical Weather Outlook, ignore what any sites or media outlets are saying about them.

9/11 plus 20

The post-9/11 world is such a huge chunk of my working life, and 20 years is a milestone and worth some reflections, so I guess I should write something about it. I wasn’t in the country on that day – I was returning home from a mission in the Caribbean, and was waiting in Puerto Rico for my flight to Miami as the first airplane hit the World Trade Center.

Green Iguana. Why is he in a 9/11 post? Story at the end …

I have stories about trying to get home (it took some string pulling and four days), and of course all that has followed from the US reaction to that day, from getting frantic calls for information on Afghanistan (I had been there in the late 1980’s), to helping with aspects of the Iraq invasion planning, and so many other episodes. But, to be honest, I think the time for those kinds of stories has long past.

In the days after the attack I was involved in a position paper pointing out that overreacting had the potential to cause more harm than the original attack. It was pointed out that in terms of deaths, the terrorist attack was a blip in our yearly murder rate (therefore Americans are better than killing ourselves that the jihadis). That this wasn’t, as was being alleged, a failure in intelligence – we had all the pieces, and some analysts had put them together, it just wasn’t communicated to the right people for action. It wasn’t really even a major failure in security – minor changes in procedure could and should have caught the hijackers. The Taliban were open to turning over those thought to be directly behind the attacks – and of course those ultimately responsible, the Wahhabi extremists and their financial backers in the Saudi government, were well known. So maybe we shouldn’t over react, but just kill the planners in some suitably public and messy way, quietly (but equally messily) take out a couple Saudi princes who were supporting the spread of Wahhabism to make that point, tweak what needed tweaking, and move on.

But tweaking and minor fixes isn’t the American way. Neither, apparently, is moving on.

War in Afghanistan. War in Iraq. War in Syria. US forces engaged in open combat across the horn of Africa. Proxy wars across the region. A new, dystopian “Department of Homeland Security” with intrusive and expensive security theater. Militarization of civilian police forces. Fear. Paranoia.

Was it an over-reaction, and was it worth it? Consider: the US has almost certainly killed over TWO HUNDRED times more civilians – CIVILIANS – in its response to 9/11 than were killed in the original attacks. We have directly inflicted several thousand times – probably as much as 10 thousand times, and if you include secondary factors, an eye watering thirty thousand times – as much economic damage on ourselves and the world as was inflicted on us on that day 20 years ago.

And the result? Near East Asia is in far worse shape today than it was twenty years ago. American society has fractured, I think in significant part due to the self inflicted stresses and distorted priorities the last twenty years have brought. So while those with a vested interest in not being overly reflective on all this will talk about heroics (and there was much) and loss (again, there was much), I can’t help but think we turned a tragedy into a catastrophe.

I will close with one 9/11 related story, the reason for the picture of the Iguana. I was on the first airplane to depart Luis Munoz Marin International Airport that was allowed to return to the US. We had problems getting take-off clearance. Not security, or paperwork, on any of the usual reasons.

But because there had been no traffic for several days, the Iguanas had taken over the runways and taxiways, the tarmac staying warm overnight, and it being a perfect place to bask in the morning sun. This a problem at SJU on normal days, but on Friday September 14th, 2001, it was extreme. A truck had to preceded our airplane as we taxied out with line crews jumping out and shooing the lizards out of the way; then did the same to clear the runway. We were told they ran back to their spots as soon as we took off, and it took days for things to return to normal.

Tropics overview, #Ida impact notes

Ida is raining out over Mississippi/Alabama/Tennessee, still causing flooding and impacts across the south …

Surface Analysis and Radar Composite, Tuesday morning 31 August 2021.

The remnants of Hurricane Nora are also causing flooding in the southwest – it’s the blob of rain over Arizona, having made landfall in Mexico and causing about 300 million in impacts. Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Kate is in the mid Atlantic, due to move north and dissipate. Likewise, a tropical wave (INVEST AL90) following behind it will probably become a named storm, but will also likely follow the same track and not bother anybody but fish and shipping.

Ida’s economic impacts continue to rise. When looking at economics it’s important to be clear what you mean. The storm probably caused about $28 Billion in damage in terms of simple direct physical damage value. There are some big unknowns – while it appears several key refineries avoided damage, yesterday a flood control structure failed and one refinery was flooded. And there is no word yet about the vital Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) and its onshore support equipment. That alone could have huge ramifications both directly and indirectly.

Another big issue is that things are rarely rebuilt exactly as they were – for one thing, construction codes change over time. As one example, there are regulations that say that if a structure is more than 50% damaged it must be rebuilt to meet new flood zone codes, which can cause a home that would have cost $100,000 to repair or replace to cost $300,000 or more to rebuild. Delays can also cause damage to increase, as well as increase secondary impacts like lost wages. For example, if power is out and supplies slow to reach an area, additional damage can be inflicted from even relatively mild follow-on rainstorms. Secondary economic impacts are even more tricky to compute, and depend heavily on the decisions make by local, state, and federal authorities, as well as the “hidden hand” of the economy and investors. Demand inflation is often a factor – when supplies are short, prices go up. And while regulators try to prevent it, price gouging and opportunism sneak in whenever they can.

When you put all this together, the current estimates for Ida are in the $45 Billion range. It could rise as high as $60 Billion depending on the unknowns like the oil and gas infrastructure that has yet to be surveyed, how long the power stays out, and what regulators and officials do. A final issue is what Congress does. The Hurricane Sandy relief bill included money for salmon farms in Washington State, all the way across the country from where the storm hit! That and other pork are often included in the Sandy numbers, and the Katrina impact number often includes $20 Billion in mitigation spending (which, while obviously needed, should have been spent before the storm: it wasn’t caused by the storm). So the price gouging and opportunism (and when we’re lucky needed improvements) that follows storms like the mosquitoes sometimes wears fancy suits and has high end offices on K Street

#Ida Landfall recap

Ida is now a tropical storm, decaying inland over Mississippi and dumping rain across the region. The remnant low is expected to track across the southeast then back out to sea after crossing New Jersey, regenerating somewhat. Here’s the “big picture” for the track, along with two other storms we’ve sort of been ignoring (Nora, which caused several hundred million of damage in Mexico, and TD 10, which is a fish storm):

And here is closer view of the Ida impact zone:

With the coming daylight the damage assessment for Ida can begin. Fortunately so far only one death has been reported. As for damage, at this point all we have are models. The direct damage models come in at $25 to $35 billion, but the more complex models give economic impact totals in the $35 to $50 Billion range. It’s almost certain that when all the damage is tallied up Ida will be in the top ten, and likely in the company of storms like Andrew (#6, inflation adjusted $48 Billion) and Ike (#7, at $38 Billion).

A lot of the uncertainty hinges on damage to two essential elements of the nation’s energy infrastructure: the LOOP terminal, and to the onshore refineries. These are multi-billion dollar facilities with obviously widespread economic ramifications if they are severely damaged and offline for months. The LOOP terminal is a vital conduit of oil into the refineries, and the only deep water port than can handle supertankers. It, along with the onshore facilities at Port Fourchon, were in the direct path of IDA and no doubt suffered significant damage. As for the onshore refineries, unless something broke that shouldn’t have, there may be some good news. The swath of heaviest damage seems to have only passed over or near few refineries. The Marathon Ashland Garyville refinery (565,000 BPD) may have suffered significant damage, and the Valero Saint Charles Refinery (340,000 BPD) and Shell Noco were also very close to the eyewall damage swath. Here is the MRMS mid level rotation data for the last 24 hours with the NHC track line. It’s a bit noisy, but you can see the parallel bands of the eyewall as it comes ashore (right over the LOOP) then turns northward as the storm decays near the refineries mentioned above:

Fortunately the eye wall missed the core of New Orleans. That doesn’t mean there won’t be enormous damage, especially as one moves to the western suburbs. And given the widespread power outages, and the potential for pump failures (which should be running on backup power, but some are offline) there may be flooding inside the flood control systems due to the rain. There were also a few levee failures outside the city that have cause flooding.

I heard the governor of Louisiana say this was a worst case scenario – that’s simply wrong. As bad as this may turn out to be it was in reality a near miss … it could have been a lot worse.

Hurricane #Ida pre-landfall analysis for #NOLA, #LA

Long time followers know I’m usually one of the few voices saying “this is hyped and won’t be so bad.” Not this time. Sure, CNN got the meteorology/hydrology wrong, and many of the other media are rather unseemly in their excitement, but this is a dangerous and devastating storm, and things are potentially dire for New Orleans (NOLA). Here’s the increasingly bad news. First, the storm itself. As expected, Ida moved into an area nearly perfect for rapid intensification, and the only potential inhibitor, some dry air to the south, stayed out of the circulation. It is now a mature Category Four hurricane, and is likely to stay that way up to landfall late this afternoon.

Ida is now within range of land based radars. Here is the view from Slidell, LA (just east of New Orleans) at 5:20am. Any image may be clicked to enlarge. The left is reflectivity (rain) showing the eye and bands (some of the outer bands are already reaching NOLA), the right is the doppler velocity. In the fine print in the upper left hand side of the doppler side of the display is the peak wind speeds – the radar is seeing a peak 121 knots (139mph) at the altitude the radar beam is passing through the storm (several thousand feet).

The forecast shows Ida making landfall just west of Port Fourchon, with the eyewall sweeping across the western suburbs of New Orleans – Kenner, St. Charles, Laplace. Even a small wobble, well within forecast uncertainty, takes the eastern (stronger, right hand) eyewall right across the city. Wind damage is likely to be epic in either case. Here is the forecast swath:

However – on this track, storm surge flooding in NOLA is actually less likely as the storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain should be pushed parallel to, then away from the levees. This is something CNN’s weather people got consistently wrong yesterday; New Orleans is a bit backwards in that the worst case for flooding is with the storm passing just *east* of the city (to the right). Yes, that places the city in the “weaker” eyewall – but it means the winds blow the water directly into the city. I’ll try to do a post on that today. It’s an interesting situation, one that anyone familiar with tropical meteorology risks in the US is well aware of, and it’s disappointing (but not unexpected) that they don’t know that. How likely is that scenario? Unfortunately it’s a lot more likely than it was yesterday. The track has been shifting eastward, and the satellite and radar fixes this morning are right (east) of the forecast track as well. That’s bad as it places the stronger eyewall across the city, resulting in more wind damage – and if it results in a passage just east of the city, storm surge could well overtop the levees. On this track Ida is forecast to be a $40 to $50 Billion dollar storm, just below Sandy for the #5 spot on the US “costliest” list. But a eastward wobble with the eyewall crossing the city (and a refinery or two breaking), Ida could easily be up there with Harvey, and Katrina in the $100 Billion dollar club. If a levee or the pumping system fails, we could well be looking at the most costly storm in US history. Given the disjointed evacuation process (it’s only voluntary in NOLA), it will likely be deadly as well.

Oil and Gas: on this track and intensity, something like 12 to 15% of US refinery capacity will be offline for at least a month. A lot depends on how strong the storm is when it passes over Baton Rouge and the huge ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery. At 520,000 BPD, that one facility represents almost 3% of US capacity. It is in partial shut-down now to prepare for the storm, which is expected to still be at hurricane force as it passes over Baton Rouge. There is well over 1 million BPD of capacity at high risk from this storm. So much depends on how rapidly the storm decays after landfall – and how well the surrounding electrical infrastructure providing power to them survives. That, and you need people to run these things: if the surrounding communities are devastated, even if the facilities survive with minimal damage the workforce will be in bad shape. Here are the major refineries in the swath …

Down at the bottom of the above map is a label, “Louisiana Offshore Oil Port”. That is a vital bit of infrastructure. Through that platform passes over 10% of US oil imports, and its pipelines are connected to the major refineries inland. The offshore facility will be experiencing waves over 10 meters (30ft) and winds well over 120mph in the coming hours. It is likely to be offline for some time.

This is going to hurt at the gas pump for a while.

#Ida at 11am update: clock ticking on #LA, #NOLA preparations. #ToxicStew

Those in the forecast impact zone and under warnings should really be wrapping up preparations and getting out. While a bit behind the forecast, Ida is still organizing and has every potential to be a Cat 4 at landfall. Updated Key Messages regarding Hurricane Ida (en Español: Mensajes Claves). If you’re in New Orleans (NOLA), a wobble one way or the other is the difference between some wind damage, and swimming for your life. Don’t bet on it.

It’s well known that the Louisiana coast is home to hundreds of facilities associated with the petrochemical and related industries. Modern life requires it – the amount of hazardous materials required to manufacture the things we want and drive our machines is enormous. But the extent isn’t clear until your map it out and start looking at the potential for toxic spills due to hurricane damage. This map shows the 11am forecast track and sites containing hazardous materials. Each icon indicates a facility, red is at highest risk of materials getting off-site.

Facilities containing hazardous materials at risk from Ida (11am Sat Forecast). Click to enlarge.

That’s over three hundred facilities at risk. Of course, some only have relatively small quantities, but some contain thousands of pounds or gallons of pretty toxic stuff. One of the lesser known aspects of the Katrina cleanup was the thousands of workers out in chem-suits (and think about being out in the Louisiana summer in a chemical protection ensemble) trying to sop up the mess. Although with the damage and human suffering it might be overlooked, this is another aspect of hurricane and disaster planning that is essential in the planning, response, and recovery process. Clicking on one point at random gives us America’s Styrenics LLC, with an estimated 12 percent structure damage …

The other aspect is of course economic. This morning’s post noted the potential impact on oil and gas production, but a lot of the other things like plastics that are so essential in our society are made from petrochemicals, and those are in shutdown and may not, depending on the track, come back for weeks or months. Many of these facilities are very specialized bits of engineering and the parts have to be custom made. Something else to consider …

Hurricane #Ida and #LA, #NewOrleans potential impacts on #Oil and #Gas

This morning’s forecast for Ida has not changed the big picture: most signs point to a major hurricane (Category 3 or 4) hitting the central Louisiana coast in about 36 hours (Sunday afternoon). If you are in that area you should use today to get out if under evacuation warnings, or prepare for severe hurricane conditions if you are elsewhere in the swath. Here are NHC’s latest Key Messages regarding Hurricane Ida (en Español: Mensajes Claves), and here is my TAOS/TC impact model estimate based on the 5am data:

Click any image to enlarge.

Conditions are good for a rapid intensification (RI) today. Ida is a category one hurricane at the moment, but with low wind shear and and a pool of very deep, warm water ahead it should be a category three by tomorrow morning. The only real negative is some dry air nearby – if that gets entangled in the circulation, it could choke off the forecast intensification. But if you live in Louisiana, it would be foolish to count on that because by the time that is apparent you may not have time to get out.

Assuming the RI cycle happens as forecast, the exact landfall location will be critical with respect to damage and long term impacts. New Orleans presents a special case. Ordinarily, the worst place to be is just to the right of the direction of travel. And for winds and storm surge right on the coast that is certainly true. But New Orleans is protected by the Mississippi Delta to the south – the main risk of storm surge flooding is actually from the North, off of Lake Pontchartrain. A storm making landfall just to the east (putting NOLA just to the left of the storm track) would pump water into Pontchartrain and, if it tops the levees, into the city. In this case the majority of the projected tracks keep Ida to the west (keeping NOLA on the right), which worse for wind, but is actually less bad for the city from a flooding standpoint – assuming all of the flood control systems work. The model damage outputs have jumped from $6 Billion to nearly $30 Billion, then back to $15 billion for this forecast, depending on the exact track of the eye wall. On the current track NOLA is just out of the severe damage swath, but Baton Rouge, Moran City, and Thibadaux, and Houma are within it. That is fairly typical for a landfall with a major city near the track – the wobbles matter a lot, since for most storms the most severe damage is confined to a narrow swath about 50 miles wide, far less than our ability to forecast accurately. So don’t bet your life on the forecast.

Another concern is energy infrastructure. There is a LOT of stuff offshore for storms to break, and a lot of it is now “shut in” (the industry term for turning off extraction):

Each pin represents a piece of offshore infrastructure …

However, after the hurricanes in the mid-2000’s like Ivan and Katrina, the oil and gas industry did a lot to improve the resiliency of this stuff. In addition, the US isn’t as dependent on the Gulf of Mexico resources as it once was. However, onshore is a different story. There are a lot of refineries in the potential damage swath. Those are vulnerable, and not so easily replaced …

Refineries in the severe damage forecast swath, 5am ET Saturday 28 August

There is just over 1 million barrels per day (BPD) of production at risk of being offline for at least a month if Ida follows this track and intensity. Again, the wobbles matter a lot and this number goes up and down with each little track shift, but it’s a fair “middle” estimate. The US has around 18 million BPD of production, so taking 5% offline might not seem like much, but it is a very delicate system with tight margins, and oil traders being oil traders expect some wild fluctuation in price until we know exactly what happened. Another big issue is the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port or LOOP terminal. It handles something like 13% of US foreign oil imports. It’s right on the edge of the forecast damage swath for Ida:

LOOP Terminal and damage swath

This is a bit of a concern, and both offshore and onshore components are right on the edge of the severe damage swath. If this track continues, I expect it to be offline for at least a week, and a wobble right could be bad news.

So the summary is that the current track and intensity is going to hurt both locally in Louisiana, and nationally via a spike in oil and gas prices. How long that spike lasts depends on the exact track and intensity; it could be just transient, but given the location and vulnerability of some key assets (LOOP terminal, onshore refineries) we could see some multi-month outages, which would cause longer term price disruptions. NOLA is on the edge of the damage swath – will see more or less wind impacts, but unless something breaks that shouldn’t or the storm shifts a lot to the right (east), should avoid Katrina-like catastrophic flooding.

Unless something changes, next big update will be Sunday Morning with the “pre-landfall” impact estimates.