“Tropical” Storm #Odette, other disturbances

Here’s the morning surface analysis from TAFB (the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch, within the National Hurricane Center) over the GOES IR satellite image …

click to embiggen.

The two features of interest are “Tropical” storm Odette, and the disturbance approaching the Leeward Islands(lower right, above the word “Surface” in the label). I put Odette’s title in quotes because Odette isn’t really very tropical – and despite having some areas of tropical storm force winds, it’s really more like a nor’easter in structure and impact. It will be bringing wind and rain to the Canadian Maritime Provinces, especially Newfoundland (more properly, Vinland). To quote from the Environment Canada forecast

This storm is expected to behave more like a strong fall storm with northerly winds and heavy rain. A cold front moving over Newfoundland on Sunday will interact with Odette's moisture to enhance the rainfall over southeastern Newfoundland later in the day Sunday and Sunday night. A special weather statement is in effect for eastern Newfoundland for Sunday into Monday. There will be some minor influence in Nova Scotia's weather with gusty northerly winds on Sunday. Gusts could be near 70 km/h or so in Cape Breton which may cause some minor issues. Some enhanced rainfall is likely over eastern Nova Scotia Sunday morning as Odette interacts with the cold front.

Odette is another example of a storm that needs advisories, but doesn’t quite fit our current system of “tropical gets one kind of advisories, other storms get something different.” Why does this matter? It’s inconsistent for one thing, and confusing in that a 50 mph wind and coastal flooding from a nor’easter has a different warning structure and, especially in the commercial weather media world, different level of reporting and attention.

On the science side it can cause problems as well, especially in the popular mindset. As data has become better, and marginal storms are tracked and named, there is an impression that tropical cyclones/hurricanes are more frequent. It is true that storm characteristics seem to be changing (almost certainly due to human driven climate change), but you have to be careful with the numbers game because the metrics haven’t been consistent over time. Simple storm counts and trends aren’t diagnostic when it comes to climate change. That’s not a criticism of NOAA or the Hurricane Center – they are doing their job, which is to issue watches and warnings, and over time they have continued to get better and better at it. But people who use that data for other purposes need to be very careful. Which brings up the insurance world.

At least in the US, how something is named and warned has a direct impact on things like insurance deductibles, and the same damaged roof could cost a homeowner $500 or $5000 depending on how the contract handles the “named storm deductible.” After the huge industry losses in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s due to earthquakes and hurricanes, rather than design a rational system the insurance industry successfully lobbied state regulators to allow them to have separate “catastrophe deductibles” for these major events. So US consumers face a bewildering array of contract conditions depending on the hazard or if a storm is named or not. You get crazy things like if your roof is damaged and water leaks in and damages your carpet, it’s covered by private insurance. But if that same rain backs up because of a drainage problem, enters your house and ruins your carpet, it isn’t covered unless you have separate, Federally sponsored flood insurance from FEMA. Even outside the US things like reinsurance contracts and parametric insurance depend heavily not on the actual impacts or damage a storm produces, but how it is classified and if it is named or not. It’s a dumb system – insurance triggers should NOT be tied to a watch and warning system. That just isn’t what it was designed for. End of rant.

For the US, it looks like the impacts of Odette will be limited to high surf and rip currents; there are no watches or warnings at this time. As for the disturbance off of the Leeward Islands, it may briefly become a tropical system, but isn’t likely to last long once it starts its northward curve. As the Tropical Weather Outlook says, people there should “monitor” until it is safely past …

#Ida: the wobbles will matter for #NOLA (11am Sunday Update)

Ida is a category four, nearly a category five storm with winds just below the threshold (150mph, 155 is the lower limit for a cat five), and should make landfall in the next few hours. The 11am NHC update didn’t change the track or intensity much, so the post this morning on potential impacts is still valid (link). In that post I noted that small track changes can make a huge difference, especially for storm surge. The core of Ida is actually small – especially compared to Katrina – so while this is going to be bad, it’s possible that downtown New Orleans may avoid a total catastrophe. Let’s take a closer look …

First, recall how wind blows around a hurricane. Here is the wind flow around Ida from this morning as it approaches the coast:

Wind flow around Ida (from GFS model). Click to enlarge.

Air flows around a storm counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, and is strongest in the northeast quadrant of the storm due to storm motion as well as Coriolis forces. So in general, the water piles up on the right hand side (facing the direction of motion) because the wind is blowing it towards shore; on the left, the winds are blowing offshore and can actually blow shallows bays and shorelines dry! Since the Gulf Coast faces south, this means that in general the peak storm surge will be to the east (right) of the landfall location. So far so good.

But New Orleans is very different because its most vulnerable shoreline is actually on the North side of the city! That’s because the city is in between the Mississippi River (with its tall natural and artificial levees) and Lake Pontchartrain – a great place for storm surge with its long, shallow fetch. Let’s start with the forecast track (which is virtually identical to the 5am track):

Surge if storm follows forecast track (click to enlarge).

On this track, which remains the most likely scenario, it would likely cause around $45 Billion in damage, with the eye wall passing through the western suburbs of New Orleans. Notice that as expected the surge on the coast is to the right, the storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain is pushed into the west (left) side, and causes minimal flooding in urban areas. On this track water from the Gulf (Lake Borgne) isn’t pumped in to Pontchartrain since Ida is too small to put high enough winds on that side. Now let’s shift the track 30 miles east (the diameter of the eye):

Same intensity, just shifted the track right (east) 30 miles …

Now the eye wall passes over downtown New Orleans, and there is a lot more wind damage, so the total jumps to at least $52 Billion. Notice too there is a lot more water in the lake, but fortunately it mostly ends up on the north side (well, for NOLA, it’s unfortunate for Covington). Now lets shift the track another 20 miles (in other words, 50 miles to the right/east of the expected track):

Same storm, shifted 50 miles from the expected track.

Ut oh. Wind damage in the city has actually decreased. But now the storm surge has shifted to the bottom of the lake, because the winds during eye passage are blowing south. Extra water from the Gulf flows into the lake and south, the levee’s get topped, water ends up in the city, and damage more than doubles due to flooding, probably over $125 Billion.

So now you know more than at least three CNN meteorologists who keep getting this wrong 😛

At the moment it looks like Ida is still tracking towards Houma, and won’t start the northward turn in time for the eyewall itself to sweep over downtown New Orleans, much less pass just east of the city and produce our nightmare scenario shown above. Here’s the latest radar loop (11:50am). Let’s hope it stays that way – the next few hours will be nerve wracking.

Radar from Slidell, LA, 11:53am Sunday 29 August 2021

#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 …

Scientist or Administrator?

Scientists who move into administrative and policy positions have a very delicate line to walk. At some point, you’re no longer a scientist. Yes, you bring expert knowledge, and are hopefully better at backing policies that are supported by the science, but that doesn’t mean you are still making your judgments based on the scientific method: almost certainly, other factors are weighing in. The move from science to policy is a hard transition, and in my experience many who have done so often don’t internalize that they are no longer practicing scientists and now have a different role, responsibility, and relationship to the scientific endeavor. Perhaps it has something to do with the Peter Principle – that individuals who are competent – especially super-competent – are promoted out of those roles until they are in positions outside their level of comfort, competence, and experience.

It is painful to watch this process play out – and sadly I think we are watching it with Dr. Anthony Fauci. He has become such a lightning rod for both derision and worship it must be incredibly difficult for him personally. While it’s cool to have your own action figure …

You can really buy one of these: https://idealistico.com/products/dr-fauci-action-figure

… all the publicity and hate is hard to deal with. While of course not to anywhere near the same degree, having been publicly and very personally attacked over both science and policy (and more rarely praised as a paragon of Scientific and Manly Virtue 😛 ) it’s hard to take, and I really understand his frustration and pain. But he’s not doing himself – or most importantly the scientific enterprise – any favors with comments like these:

Continue reading

It’s not a dry heat

So there’s one or two heat warnings and advisories up this morning …

(in red, click to embiggen; blue stuff are flood, fog, or coastal advisories)

… and a lot of talk about the Heat Index. Let’s take a closer look. First off while the temperatures are above normal, at least here in coastal GA/SC they won’t be threatening the historical record highs. The air temperatures are going to be high Friday/Saturday, but won’t set any records. The average for July 30th is 92, the records this time of year are over 100 (101-103), and forecast highs in downtown Savannah are 97 today and 96 Saturday. The problem is that humidity is way above normal. That is due to the pattern of air flow over the region is keeping moist Gulf and Atlantic air “trapped” over us (recall the low pressure system that NHC was looking at earlier this week, AL90, wandered over us, then off of North Florida before drifting back over us). And it’s the humidity that’s the problem.

The Heat Index has an interesting history, and there are several versions. The method currently in use by the US National Weather Service is not a complex equation, if you want to see it look here:

  The TLDR is that the “heat index” is supposed to represent how hot if feels, given that the higher the humidity, it “feels” hotter because your body can’t cool itself as efficiently.  The technical reason is because we cool ourselves by sweating (ewww), and the evaporation of that sweat cools us down, since it takes energy – heat – to convert water from the liquid to gas states.  The evaporation rate depends temperature and humidity – the higher the humidity, the less moisture evaporates, and the less heat is transferred from your body to its surroundings. Drier air means that evaporation works better, so it “feels” cooler (although that can be misleading), thus all the jokes about a Dry Heat …

You can’t talk about heat without quoting Hicks 😛

  Either way, especially if you are not adapted to it, the heat can be dangerous (and in the ranges expected today, even if you are). By the way, the NWS has different criteria for when to issue heat advisories around the country, depending on normals. So a heat advisory in Vermont is issued at much “cooler” temperatures than in Savannah.

 To sum up, technically speaking, it’s not that it’s so hot, it’s because it’s kinda hot and really humid … it would be uncomfortable at 97, but all that humidity today will make it feel like it’s well over 110, maybe as high as 120 in parts of town where the temperature and humidity gang up.  So if you can avoid working outside this afternoon, don’t, and if you absolutely have to, drink lots of fluids, protect yourself, and be careful.

Update: at 2:30pm, in midtown Savannah the air temperature was 93, the humidity 70%, which adds up to a heat index of 120F :O

Hires color image of system approaching Georgia coast

Click to embiggen this GOES East rapid scan view of, um, whatever it is.

Here is the view from the one minute “mesoscale sector” GOES scans at 10:07am … this is a really interesting image since you can very clearly see the low level circulation center (the swirl on the right) is separate from the thunderstorms and “worst” of the weather. In simplified terms, this is why NHC hasn’t started advisories, warnings, etc. on this storm: it isn’t really a tropical cyclone yet (if it will ever be). The concern is that when that circulation crosses the Gulf Stream it will develop thunderstorms around the center and thus qualify as a TC.

In practical damage terms, as noted before, if this thing does become a depression before landfall or not won’t make too much difference. However, if it does become a “named” storm, it can make a lot of difference to your pocketbook if you are unlucky enough to get any damage since it will change your deductible. Not fair, but that’s the system your insurance commissioners have set up …

#Atlantic #Hurricane Season Begins

Although there has already been activity in the form of “Subtropical Storm Ana,” the Atlantic hurricane season officially begins today. There is presently no activity in the Atlantic, and none forecast for foreseeable future (which is only a few days). There are some weak systems in other parts of the world including Choi-Wan, a tropical storm decaying to a depression as it brushes the northern Philippines. So how does the year look? We’ll know in December 😛 but for what it’s worth here’s the forecast ..

So the question most people have at this point is what kind of season is coming, and that usually devolves to the number guessing game. It’s likely to be an “normal to above normal” season in terms of overall activity. Here is a link to the official NOAA forecast. In short, hurricane activity in the Atlantic is largely driven by two factors. The first big driver is the state of the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which drive the big currents in the atmosphere that both control their formation and intensity (through wind shear) and direction of movement. The ENSO state transitioned from La Nina to “Neutral” this spring, and is forecast to stay neutral through the end of the hurricane season, with the possibility of returning to La Nina conditions late in the year. Here is the forecast from the main NOAA model, the Climate Forecast System (CFS):

The second big driver is the heat content in the ocean, which provides the energy for storms. The Atlantic remains above – here is the latest anomaly map (the deviation from long term averages).

You can see that while there are a few cool spots, much of the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico remains above normal, so there will likely be plenty of energy for storms to draw from (don’t worry too much about the complex swirls off the US Northeast; that’s just the Gulf Stream, and it meanders so some areas will be hotter or cooler on any given day).

So, what does that all mean? As it turns out, the post I did back in March is still mostly on track (click to read). For the Georgia and SC Low Country coast, the probability of a severe landfall is below normal early and middle part of the season (back door storms and annoying, evacuation-inducing bypassers are always possible) due to the ENSO Neutral conditions. Later in the year the risk is higher – if La Nina returns, risks are above normal for October/November (about a 50/50 chance of that). The Caribbean may be busy early – we’ll have to watch.

But for now things are quiet, so enjoy the late spring and start of summer. Once again as a reminder, this is the time of year to revisit your hurricane plans, especially insurance. There is a “lock out” period for changes prior to a storm and if you wait until one is headed your way, it’s too lateCheck out Ready.gov for checklists and advice.

Another #cyclone headed to #India, #Kolkata on edge of track

Cyclone Two (soon to be Cyclone Yaas) is headed towards the northwestern corner of the Bay of Bengal, and is expected to make landfall just south of Kolkata, India. This is a much more densely populated area than where last weeks Tauktae hit. On the current forecast track, over 110 Million people are within the tropical storm wind swath, with nine million experiencing hurricane conditions, and 1.5 million at risk from flooding.

Click to enlarge

The economic impacts would likely be around $1 BIllion USD, but of course as is usual in that part of the world the humanitarian impacts are far disproportionate to the economics. Another issue is the impact on India’s already overstressed health care system. In the damage swath are 477 major health care facilities and hundreds more smaller clinics at risk of disruption due to high winds and flooding. No need to say this will exacerbate the already horrid COVID19 situation now and in the weeks after the storm.

Hospitals/clinics at risk from Two (IO022021)

While not forecast to be as strong a storm as Tauktae, this one has the potential to cause a lot more human misery …

#Climate change: which “side” is more delusional?

One of the more catastrophic artifacts of America’s sharply split political system is that instead of one side being right and one side being wrong, both parties seem to be forced by their activists in to adopting positions that are driven by fringe ideology instead of rational thought as to how to solve any given problem. The looming climate crisis (which is really a complex energy/financial system crisis) is a perfect example. Which is worse? Hard to say, but let’s take a look at the two biggest delusions: there is no climate change, and renewables will save us.

The delusions of the R’s …

I’ve been involved in climate research for over 25 years, and as a scientist it still stuns me that anyone can possible say anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, or some kind if leftist plot, or whatever. I’ve blogged about this before. The data across interlocking disciplines like meteorology, oceanography, biology, geology/geophysics, all point in the same direction. You can argue over the details, and what to do about it, but you can’t argue over the big picture: humans have changed the earth’s climate system, and it is likely to enter a period of rapid change over the next century that will most likely prove highly disruptive both to humans and the natural world. However, as someone with a background in the geopolitical world, denying human impacts on climate doesn’t surprise me a bit – in fact, given how the crisis came to light, it was inevitable.

Some of the more outspoken scientists doing early research on climate really screwed up. I understand that they feared for the future and felt they needed to raise the alarm, but they overstepped the bounds of the role of scientists. Many of them in the public eye (such as James Hansen) crossed the line between science and partisan politics by advocating specific actions based on their political leanings. By the mid to late 1990s the impression had been firmly fixed in the minds of many politicians as well as members of the public that the science was politically biased. Combined with the religious component (as I discussed in the link above), this created a circumstance where the science wasn’t trusted. While it would have been a hard job to navigate the complex energy, financial, and societal response required by human impacts on climate, this false impression of political bias in the science has created an almost intractable situation.

and the D’s aren’t any better.

The situation on the Progressive side of the spectrum isn’t any better. By any rational metric the proposals floating around for the Green New Deal are technological fantasies, and are based more on restructuring society than the realities of trying to address the climate crisis. Take one small technical detail about so-called renewable energy: solar panels and wind turbines (much less batteries) are advanced electronic devices. They take a lot of Rare Earth Elements(REE) to make, and that presents two huge problems:
1) Mining and processing REE’s is an environmentally destructive process, basically being strip mining with lots of toxic (even radioactive) waste (more so than mining Uranium), not to mention using a lot of water.
2) Depending on how you crunch the numbers, there aren’t enough known REE’s on the planet for even a third of our present energy needs.

If it wasn’t so delusional and going to end so badly it would be mildly amusing to hear people rant about how fossil fuels are limited and using them is environmentally damaging, then in the next breath preach about the cleanliness and potential for solar or wind – which are by the same measures just as resource limited and environmentally destructive.

Maybe this guy wants the job of fixing things …

So what do we do? Like most things, anyone who says they have “THE” answer is, well, delusional. This is a very complex problem that crosses so many aspects of society. It won’t be easy, and it will take time – time we are running out of if we haven’t already. As I noted above, I think for the most part scientists should keep out of the political process. However, if I were acclaimed Imperator Caesar, Princeps Senatus, Tribunicia Potestas, Pontifex Maximus (which is the only way I’d take on the job), I think I could put together an approach to start down the path to a solution. But nobody presently in power would like it. The first thing I’d do is completely rework the system of global governance. The climate crisis is ultimately a failure of governance – and it isn’t the worst threat we face in that respect (I am convinced that the worst threat to humanity – and the environment – is conflict/war and the collapse of the complex system of resource allocation/distribution needed to sustain nearly eight billion humans). As for energy and resources, there really isn’t much choice for wide scale reduction of emissions given our present technology: immediate widespread use of nuclear for electricity generation, combined with a crash program for fusion and the development of a sustainable, high energy density method of powering transportation systems. There are other complex changes that need to be made, all of which will take time and some serious rethinking of how society functions. In other words, to fix this, the technology will piss off Progressives, and the social changes will piss off the Neoconservatives. So I just don’t know how our present angry, bifurcated political system can come up with a good plan without an outside force like a benign Emperor to make the two sides behave.

Yes, climate problem is a crisis, and we’ve wasted at least 25 years we really didn’t have to start dealing with it. But we need to sort out the technology and have a clear rational, compassionate path forward before upending our economy and society. Going down the wrong path will kill as many if not more people, and be at least as destructive to the environment, as doing nothing.

#Tauktae approaching landfall in state of #Gujarat, #India.

Tauktae reached full intensity last night as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane just offshore from Mumbai, India. Here’s the view from the US Space Force EWS-G1 satellite this morning …

I really think “Space Force” is a bad name … click to embiggen.

From the early reports it seems like the worst of the storm has stayed offshore from Mumbai. Although there is a lot of light damage (and some fatalities and spots of heavier impacts), the winds were not as high as the JTWC forecast was predicting. The Indian Meteorological Service seems to have done better. Here’s a comparison of the two tracks and forecasts using the cool slider-comparison thingee. Notice that the IMS forecast keeps the hurricane force winds (orangish colors) offshore, whereas the JTWC shows the storm a bit larger than IMS and bringing hurricane force winds inland. That makes a *huge* difference in damage – 5 Million in the hurricane wind swath and just under $4 Billion in damage with the IMS forecast vs. 13.5 Million people and over $11 Billion on the JTWC track!

Drag the slider left to see IMS simulation, right to see JTWC simulation

Next up is landfall in Gujarat. Storm Surges could be over 4 meters (14 feet) just to the right of landfall and within the funnel shaped Gulf of Khambhat (Cambay). Here’s the storm surge forecast based on the JTWC track:

The forecast based on the IMS track is a little less but still well over 3 meters. This area is much less densely populated that near Mumbai, but damage will be more extensive.