Over the last few days there have been a series of small earthquakes in Croatia. This morning US time (noon CET) a shallow M6.4 hit, and early reports are to have caused significant damage. At least one person has been killed, and the mayor of Petrinja reports “This is a catastrophe. My city is completely destroyed.” It is likely the death toll will be higher as the day goes on.
Initial economic impact estimates are $4 to $5 Billion USD, with some models as high as $8 Billion. There are about 1.5 Million people in the hazard zone, and upwards of 150,000 people living in areas with a significant risk of structural collapse.
While the snowstorm made headlines in the US yesterday, cyclone Yasa crossed the islands of Fiji yesterday …
Loss of life seems light, two deaths confirmed so far as of Friday morning US East Coast time, but damage is extensive. Fortunately the damage swath missed the more densely populated island of Viti Levu and main city of Sava, but it is still likely that Yasa caused upwards of $100 Million USD in damage. That may not seem like much, however for some perspective that’s around 1.8% of GDP, so it would be the equivalent of 360 Billion dollar storm hitting the US, or over three Katrina/Sandy class storms.
Iota was downgraded to a tropical depression as of the 4am forecast this morning Wednesday 18 Nov). But that isn’t really the storm – although a Category 4 at landfall, the biggest impacts are inland due to landslides and flooding across northern Nicaragua and south/central Honduras. Communications is limited, and there are many areas that remain cut off from the floods caused by Hurricane Eta two weeks ago. This is a multi-phase, ongoing disaster that will only get worse as the weeks go on. Tens of thousands of people are in shelters in Nicaragua and Honduras, so it is likely there will be a spike in COVID cases in these countries in the days to come. Here is the present tropical analysis:
There is concern that the low pressure center forming off the coast of Panama, and the approaching tropical waves, will dump even more rain in the already saturated regions hit by Eta and Iota. It is very possible that we are looking at damage and, ultimately, deaths approaching the levels not seen since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
There will be important foreign policy implications and decisions resulting from these storms. In the past, the economic privation and deterioration in the security status of Central American countries resulting from natural disasters triggers waves of migration towards the US. It is certain that (as seems likely at the moment) this will coincide with a relaxation in immigration restriction by an incoming Biden administration. While many try to put this in clear-cut humanitarian or homeland security positions the two political parties in the US have staked out, it’s not so straightforward. For one thing it ignores the impacts migration have on the original countries, something pro-immigration advocates tend to overlook. It is also destabilizing because many of those who leave are those who are the foundation of the economy. Then there is the danger of the migration routes themselves, and the exploitation of the migrants by gangs that fosters those criminal enterprises. Some countries encourage immigration because they see it as reducing their burden by getting the “surplus” poor populations out of the way – often “double dipping” by accepting US aid, but letting the security situation deteriorate so people leave anyway. All told, my position is that while we need to treat those who reach our borders with dignity and all humanitarian consideration, we should be aggressively supporting, stabilizing, and building up the countries of Central America so that people can (and will want to) remain in their homelands. We need to spend at least as much attention to economic development and assistance as we do to “security” (drug control) issues, which sadly is the prism through which the region is viewed. A comprehensive stabilization plan will be better for the region long term, as well as the United States.
The remains of Iota are probably going to end up in the East Pacific. The chances of it reforming are low at the moment. Aside from the low in the Caribbean noted above (20% chance) NHC also has an area in the central Atlantic tagged with a 20% chance for tropical development in the next 5 days. Even if something does get organized out there, while it might have winds approaching TC criteria, it will not likely be a real tropical system – it’s getting late in the year for that kind of thing out in the Atlantic.
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 🙂 ) 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 …
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 …
While we’ve been storm-watching there have been some developments in the pandemic realm. As I constantly try to remind people that despite the news cycle pushing for “breaking news”, events tend to move a their own pace. With tropical cyclones that time frame is generally about 12 hours. With a pandemic, the time frame is driven by the cycle of exposure, illness, and recovery, which is on the order of weeks. That makes it harder to deal with since today’s actions don’t show up in any real measurable sense for at least two weeks – even if we had good data. Which, as previously ranted, we don’t. But all that said, events have moved since the last discussion, so let’s revisit the situation. Long post, with lots of charts, numbers, and math …
First, let’s look at the big picture and numbers across the world and the US. While there have been upticks in cases in some countries like Germany, the mortality per 10,000 population has leveled off at numbers that appear reflective of the pro-activeness of government policies, the quality of the public health care system, combined with the seriousness with which the virus and protective measures are being taken. Here’s what it looks like in deaths per 10,000 populations for some selected countries as of Friday:
Mortality Rates across selected countries
It’s worth noting that way back on March 15th, the estimated seasonal mortality rate (end of August) for the Spain and Italy outbreaks were 6.0 and 6.2 per 10,000 respectively. So for all the angst over projections and computer models, they’ve actually done a pretty good job when given the proper inputs and interpretation.
As for the US, it’s harder to assess. The biggest problem is that the US acts more like 50 separate countries than a single nation – which is, of course, by design. A similar plot to the above for selected US states looks like this …
So some states like New York and New Jersey are worse than Spain or Italy, while other are comparatively better, such as Washington being comparable to Germany or Canada. None are doing as well as the best of the European countries. Georgia, with a rate over 5, is on track to exceed the rate in Italy and, if the suspected undercount is true, probably already has. So why did we see horror stories about crowded hospitals, etc. in Italy and Spain but (New York aside) not in other states such as Georgia and Florida? Note the shape of the curves: the “flatten the curve” efforts worked. But … the problem is that we did not take advantage of that time to squash the virus or put in to place longer term measures to reduce that flattened rate, so the virus is continuing a “slow burn” through the population … fast enough to be a problem, but not so fast as to cause everyone to take it seriously.
Which raises the issue again of just how bad is the SARS-COV-2 virus (the beastie that actually causes COVID-19). A huge problem is that despite all the sturm und drang over testing, we don’t really have a good handle on several key metrics here in the US because the testing is, to be blunt, rubbish. But with some careful analysis of the available US data, we can in fact come up with some useful conclusions. First let’s look at a key chart:
The amazing thing is that despite the very different progressions of the disease in these two states, we ended up at the same place: about 11% of people who have been tested, and test positive, have ended up in the hospital at some point. If we do that for mortality, about two percent of people who have tested positive have ended up deceased. Adjusting for the testing issues, asymptomatic rate, etc., it seems that if everyone were exposed, about .5% would need hospitalization, and .1% would ultimately die.
For the 2017 influenza outbreak, adjusting for the protective effect of the vaccine, about .4% of people who got infected required hospitalization, and 0.03% died. So … COVID19 is 3 or 4 times worse than a bad Influenza from a mortality rate but … the average person is more likely get symptomatically sick from the flu. But if you do get sick with COVID, you’re more likely to end up in the hospital and die. Naturally, that makes taking action harder since many people look around and say “hey, nobody is getting very sick” because so many have mild (or no) symptoms whereas with the flu, lots of people get visibly sick.
Of course, those are whole population statistics. Obviously older people, or those with underlying health issues, are more vulnerable. The discussions over racial disparities are interesting – it seems that if you control for economic disparities, the racial component is greatly diminished. Other recent research is showing a lot of longer term impacts even for asymptomatic people, things like hidden lung and cardiovascular damage. This virus triggers the immune system, which goes on a rampage and does as much damage to your body as the virus itself, to systems that the virus isn’t attacking. That is called an autoimmune response, and is one reason why the 1918 influenza pandemic was so deadly to younger people (who have stronger immune responses).
So what does all that mean? Same as it ever was: mask up when going out, try to limit contacts outside your bubble, good hand hygiene.
In other developments, it seems increasingly possible that immunity to this virus will be limited to some period of time like months or a season, similar to the cold or influenza. That’s bad news – it means that it will come in cycles, and vaccines or immunity protection will be short lived compared to other diseases. It’s good news for the pharmaceutical industry though, since the profits will return every year. The US Government has been pumping billions into developing an vaccine domestically as have been other nations – and both nations and private companies have been undertaking massive espionage efforts to keep up with, steal, and (if rumors are true) even sabotage advances made by others. Which leads to this interesting tidbit from last week:
You may recall that both Russia and China have announced potential vaccines. Well, last Thursday the US slapped sanctions on a variety of Russian and Chinese entities doing vaccine development, including the Russian Health Ministry’s N. F. Gamaleya Federal Research Center for Epidemiology & Microbiology that has developed the “Sputnik V” vaccine. It should be noted that this institute has also developed a MERS vaccine (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which is also a coronavirus), Ebola, and universal Influenza vaccines. The US claims the sanctions are over biological warfare related work of Defense Ministry institutes that Gamaleya works with. But given the close ties between the US DOD, CDC, and US Pharma companies, if other nations used a similar standard no one would do business with the US. Whatever you think of the standards and methodology used in Sputnik V development (and as I argued previously, it’s different, but I suspect no more or less dangerous than the US “warp speed” approach), this smacks of using security excuses to try to kneecap potential economic competitors, and is a reason European countries increasingly distrust the US. The US attempt to buy up the patents and research from a German company that had made advances in vaccine development has also left some bitterness in Europe, as has prior efforts to sabotage the North Stream 2 natural gas project in favor of LNG exports. Before somebody says it, this kind of thing is done by both Democrat and Republic administrations, and in fact the protocols used this time against the Gamaleya Institute were put in place during the Obama era …
Laura made landfall near Cameron LA around 2am ET (1am Central Time) this morning, as a Category 4 hurricane. Here is the last scan from the Lake Charles Weather Service Office (NEXRAD just before it went offline as the eyewall hit:
As of 5:30am, Laura is inland and heading towards Arkansas …
Damage was probably extensive; we won’t start to get a fuller picture until the winds and waters subside and the sun comes up. The landfall was about 20 miles east of the location predicted by NHC yesterday, and the damage numbers came down some. (Note that 20 miles is utterly trivial – the models, and NHC, did a great job with this storm once it entered the Gulf and RI was locked in.) The latest computer model estimates are around $25 Billion when all is said and done, which puts Laura in the same company as the inflation/growth adjusted Rita ($18 Billion in 2005, probably $24 Billion today). While the gauge readings have been in and out, on radar it looks like the eyewall stayed just east of Port Arthur, so while the wind damage there will be extensive, the flood damage should not be as bad as anticipated by at least $5 Billion. A key issue with the total damage amounts will be driven by the five major refineries in the damage swath. Based on landfall, radar, etc. unless something broke that shouldn’t have, the Port Arthur facilities will need repairs and cleanup but should be back online within a month or two. The Lake Charles facilities may be in worse shape. But we won’t know until later today. Water was still rising at the inland gauges. There will also be extensive agriculture impacts from this storm, as many crops are within their prime growing seasons.
It’s not over for this storm as winds will be well above tropical storm force well inland. Expect damage and power outages as far inland as Little Rock …
In the big picture, Larua may well transit the US and exit into the Atlantic, perhaps no longer techically a tropical system, but producing tropical storm force winds in the Canadian Marintime Provinces …
Will keep watching as the reports come in. Elsewhere, Typhoon Bavi has hit North Korea. Agriculture in the PDRK probably took a big hit, but until we get satellite data or defectors, we won’t know for sure. Instability there is always a worry.
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Hurricane Laura is undergoing rapid intensification, and will likely be an impressive picture once the sun comes up. Here is the Infrared view just after 6am this morning, with the warm eye surrounded by cold convective clouds clearly visible:
This is a major storm, and those in the impact swath need to be wrapping up actions – including evacuations – by this afternoon as winds will be picking up and conditions rapidly worsening. Follow the advice of your local emergency managers. If you are anywhere near the coast or a place that floods easily, or in the “severe damage” zone in the map below, there is no calculation to be made: get out. Whatever fears you might have about COVID are secondary – even those with health issues that might make riding out a weaker storm and option. Storm surges on this track could reach 6 meters (20 feet) in places near Grand Chenier and Cameron, Louisiana. Although on the left side of the storm, winds will be blowing straight across Lake Sabine, and Port Arthur could also experience five to six meters (16 to 20 feet) of water if the geometries work out right. This is a dangerous storm – take it seriously.
As for economic impacts, the estimates keep creeping up, now in the $20-$25 Billion range. A big chunk of that change is because of the enormous value of the onshore petrochemical industry infrastructure – and a lot of that is concentrated in five major refineries located directly in the most damaging zone from the storm:
All told, the Valero, Motiva (the largest refinery in the US at over 600,000 bbl per day), ExxonMobil/Beaumont, Total, and ConocoPhillips refineries are responsible for over 10% of US refinery capacity. And they are all in the “Severe Damage” zone. That said, due to the depressed economy right now refineries are only running at about 80% capacity nationwide, so there is a lot of slack in the system, but if some of these facilities are out for the long term (in the case of salt water inundation it could take a year and a lot of capital to repair), it could hurt any recovery from the hit the economy has taken from COVID. Which brings up another issue.
If these larger facilities are severely damaged or destroyed, another factor in rebuilding may well be political. One of the parties and candidates in the upcoming US election are advocating severely restricting, even phasing out fossil fuels. Let’s say the Motiva facility is a near total loss. If you are a decision maker in a company looking at investing perhaps as much as three to five Billion dollars and take several years to rebuild, are you going to do that in the absence of iron-clad reassurances the government isn’t going to shut you down before you’ve broken even? Even for lesser damage, it may make sense to “wait and see,” or try to use the economic situation and leverage to try to get some kind of deals during election season. Either way, as with so many things in our complex, politics driven society, it’s not just an economic decision …
While attention is focused on Laura, another storm is headed for landfall tomorrow, one that may have regional implications for Asia, and perhaps global stability as well. Typhoon Bavi (WP092020) is entering the Yellow Sea as a strong typhoon, equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane. Here’s is a shot from JPSS:
While Bavi is expected to decrease intensity before landfall, it will sideswipe South Korea, potentially causing upwards of over a billion dollars of impacts. In a 1.6 Trillion dollar economy, that hurts but it’s not a huge hit, under 1% of GDP. The landfall in North Korea, on the other hand, could prove to be a bigger problem. Here’s the forecast impact swath:
While the dollar value is technically lower (maybe $800 Million using a wild guess at Purchasing Power Parity), any kind of economic calculation for the PDRK is doomed with uncertainty. The functioning of the internal economy of North Korea is not really amenable to these kinds of calculations. The best we can come up with is the impacts would be on the order of 10% of functional GDP (the equivalent of a two TRILLION dollar storm for the US – or 200 times worse than a Sandy or Katrina). But it’s worse than that, because it is likely to cause extensive agricultural damage to a country that is always on the verge of famine and starvation. Combined with the swirling rumors of a leadership change, the situation is ripe for a crisis. In the past, the PDRK has lashed out during leadership changes and natural disasters to get attention and blackmail the international community in to providing aid, as well as create a crisis to solidify support. China is watching this carefully as well – the last thing they want or need are thousands of North Koreans trying to force their way across the border. All in all, this is a potential humanitarian and foreign policy crisis in the making …
Marco is starting to fall apart under strong wind shear from the high pressure ridge that is steering Laura. While it is dumping a lot of rain on the Florida Panhandle and Alabama early this morning, southern Louisiana and Texas, will be next up. Wind impacts are likely to be fairly light; this is mostly a rain and flooding event. The biggest danger is that all the rain it drops won’t have time to drain out before the second act arrives Wednesday. Here’s the official word: Key Messages regarding Tropical Storm Marco (en Español: Mensajes Claves), and TAOS/TC damage swath:
Laura is the big concern at this point. Key Messages regarding Tropical Storm Laura (en Español: Mensajes Claves). Laura has a strong circulation, and is skirting the south coast of Cuba. That should protect south Florida a bit, so the Keys and Conch Republic won’t be hit as hard, although it looks like there will be gusty winds and rain squalls. The bad news is that this makes it more likely Laura will be ready to intensify quickly when it reaches the Gulf. The Global models only strengthen Laura to hurricane status, but the dedicated hurricane models are spiking up to Cat 3. Currently the National Hurricane Center (NHC) is splitting the difference at Category 2. Here is the damage swath based on their forecast:
Laura is shaping up to be a serious threat, and those in the impact zone should be carefully considering their situation and listening to the advice of local emergency managers. This is especially true for those in low lying areas prone to flooding, and right on the coast. While the model guidance is converging, the track may shift. Hurricane watches should go up this evening.
There is a lot of critical oil and gas infrastructure in the path of both Marco and Laura. At the moment, 60% of the oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico are “shut in.” (Shut In is the term used; the production isn’t lost, the oil/gas is still in the ground, but you just can’t get it out right now.) There are several aspects to this: first, there have been a lot of improvements in the resilience of the offshore infrastructure. Marco isn’t likely to have caused any significant problems. Laura is another matter, and is forecast to be at the threshold of where stuff starts to break. And there is a LOT of stuff out there to break … here is a map of all of the offshore platforms in the Gulf:
However, Gulf of Mexico production isn’t as important as it used to be. Twenty years ago, it was more than 25% of all of the US oil and gas production. Today, the Gulf is only 17% of oil and 5% of gas production. So that, combined with the depressed usage from the COVID pandemic, means the impacts on the markets should be transitory (those guys always freak out so expect price increases the next couple of days, but in this case the long term impacts on the production side should not be significant). HOWEVER:
US Oil refining capacity is concentrated along the Gulf Coast. 50% of the entire US refinery capacity is at risk from Gulf storms – in this case, over 10% of capacity is within the significant damage swath of Laura, and if it shifts towards Baytown, that can put up to 25% at risk. And refineries are something that are difficult to repair, and replacement for serious damage takes years. At first glace this seems like a really dumb place to put all this infrastructure, but of course you have to put refineries near the source, which in this case is the Texas oil fields, Gulf, and near big ports for oil tankers. The biggest, the LOOP terminal, is off the Mississippi and should be ok unless there is an eastward wobble, although tankers are already being re-routed.
So the TLDR is: Marco a rain thing, but that’s potentially bad if Laura hits the same area. Laura is about three days from landfall, and is the bigger threat. A Category 2 could be a problem – a Cat 3 or higher could be a major disaster depending on the exact track, and could have national implications depending on how many refineries are taken offline, and for how long.