Typhoon remnants hitting #Alaska

The remnants of Typhoon Merbock have become a strong extratropical cyclone and is slamming in to Alaska today … here’s the GFS overlay showing the structure of the storm:

click to embiggen.

Alaska is pretty far north (duh). What that means is that the geosynchronous satellites (GOES – Geosynchronous Orbit Environmental Satellites) we rely on for near-instantaneous weather pictures are distorted since they are over the equator, and are looking at the state at a steep angle. Here is what the view from the GOES West satellite looks like right now …

Fortunately there is another family of satellites that is in a lower orbit and passes over the poles. These satellites, the NOAA Polar Operational Orbiting Satellites (POES) track over every point on the earth twice a day, and more frequently near the poles since they pass over each pole every 90 minutes. They give us a more overhead view. Here is the Alaska storm from NOAA-20, with a GFS forecast wind on top … notice the “swath” of the image as the satellite moves from north to south, and you can see the edges are a bit smeared since it is at a lower altitude.

There are also a set of NEXRAD radars across the state that are the same model we have down here in the lower 48. Here’s the view from Nome, which is closest to the storm center:

The west coast of Alaska is getting pounded right now with near hurricane force winds, 50 foot waves, storm surge, and rain. Conditions will be bad for a couple of days.

Tropical Storm #Danielle

When a storm is forecast to stay offshore like the newly formed Danielle, we often derisively call it a “fish storm.” But, is that fair?, I mean …

OK, you guys all know Dolphins are not fish, right?

Well, it turns out that researchers do study the impacts of storms on fish as well as marine mammals like Dolphins. Here’s one sample – a report on a dolphin with the catchy name R-10 (who says scientists are boring). She didn’t seem to care much, just went with the currents and followed her food around.

Other than the upgrade of TD5 to Tropical Storm Danielle, nothing really has changed since this morning’s post.

An update on SARS-COV-2 mortality

We are now in to the third year of dealing with this virus and pandemic, so we’ve got some long term trend data to digest despite the fact our real time surveillance and monitoring is terrible. It is amazing that in this technically advanced country it takes over a month to collect and collate reliable mortality statistics. But that said, here’s a go at a summary of where we stand. Note that the CDC mortality statistics are compiled on a weekly basis, which makes sense as day to day variations and record keeping anomalies like holidays and weekends get smoothed out. Here I’m looking at “excess mortality” – people who died in any given week who probably would not have if it had not been for COVID. Also note that the typical course of the disease is that death occurs 2-3 weeks or so after infection, so the “death” curve lags the “infection” curve by around three weeks.

First, we have to pick a “start date.” For that we can’t use the calendar year because in the US the pandemic really didn’t get going and become widespread until the end of March or early April. So let’s use the 13th week of the year, March 28 2020 as our reference. That means year one is from March 28 2020 to March 26 2021, and year two is March 27 2021 to March 25 2022, and we are now about 17 weeks into year three. Here is a plot of excess deaths due to the pandemic by week. The blue line is the first year, the orange line the second year, and the yellow line is this year so far. I’ll explain the green line further down.

Click to see full size.

The blue line, 2020, clearly shows the initial wave (with the sharp rise as the disease spread and vulnerable populations fell) as the infection spread across the country. The “summer peak”, which is unusual for a respiratory virus, is also clear, and happened between mid June and early September. Then the big one, the massive winter wave of 2020 between weeks 30 and 52 (early November to early March). Enter 2021 (the orange line). Here we have three factors: first, the various masking and social distancing measures were in full force, and second vaccination was kicking off. By week 1 of year two (first week of April 2021) 25% of Americans were “fully vaccinated” (the initial two dose sequence), and there was no spring wave or early summer peak as seen in 2020. Unfortunately by Summer 2021 restrictions were being lifted, and there was still a significant population that was either not exposed and unvaccinated. So the delayed summer peak hit with almost as many deaths as the initial wave in the spring of 2020. By disease week 40 62% of the population had been vaccinated, so perhaps 80% of the population had some kind of immunity from either having COVID or being vaccinated. So why was there a sharp uptick in the orange line? The third factor: variants like Omicron. While technically not as deadly, the variants spread more easily than COVID Classic. But, as the graph shows, the peak was not as high, and not as many people fell sick and died. So how bad was the first year? We lost 555,242 people who would not have otherwise died. SARS-COV-2 had a whole population mortality rate of 0.168%. The 2017 Flu season had a whole population mortality rate of 0.0187%. So it was far worse than a normal influenza epidemic, almost ten times as bad. However, it wasn’t as bad as the Spanish Flu of 1918, which had a rate of around 0.3%. The two year rate for Spanish Flu was 0.65%, SARS-COV-2 was 0.30%. However, a caution, in that the full story of COVID has yet to be told. Spanish Flu went away, and immunity was long lasting. it doesn’t look like this new virus is going to go so quietly.

Where do we stand? At first things looked pretty good this year. The mortality trend was going down. But the new variant (BA5) is more easily transmitted and appears to be more deadly. Starting at the end of March, the death rate in 2022 became higher than in 2021 – and the trends aren’t good. The yellow line is reported, but as noted above there is a problem. It takes at least a month for all of the mortality data to come in. Even so what we have the line is above 2021, and if we estimate statistically what the line might look like when all the data is in, we get the green line. I sure hope that’s wrong, but in any event it does look like we might be in for another wave.

One last note of interest, the consensus computer models (not the extreme ones that got all the attention in public) at the end of February 2020 estimated the mortality in the US for the first year of the pandemic at 0.1326%. That’s not too bad given what was observed (0.168%).

Caveats: this isn’t a formal scientific study, just a brief overview. I think it’s pretty close, it’s just plotting processed numbers so not terribly complex, but obviously not peer reviewed. The primary reference data for this analysis is the CDC’s Excess Deaths Associated with COVID-19 data set (link to CSV). Vaccination data also from CDC is located here (link). Both are raw data sets, be sure to read and understand the technical notes before you do any number crunching – like hurricane track data, spaghetti must be cooked before consumed 😛 .

Roost Rings

The Charleston SC Doppler radar (really located south of Hampton, SC) picked up something that, if you’ve never seen them before, might send you scurrying to the news to see if something blew up, or the nearest UFO meeting to see what you missed:

Radar from KCLX (“Charleston” radar), Saturday Morning, 23 July 2022

Here is one frame zoomed in on the source, which seems to be east of Columbia, near Irmo, SC …

And here is what is there on Google Earth:

Click any graphic to embiggen.

So what is going on? The lake is a strong clue. It is a “Roost Ring”, radar returns from massive numbers of birds leaving their roosts to head out to forage for the day. Here is an article from the National Weather Service with more details (link). In this case we are seeing Purple Martins leaving Lake Murray, which holds the largest sanctuary in North America, Bomb Island, home to something like one million of these birds.

The above radar images are reflectivity (strength) on the left, and direction of motion relative to the radar station on the right. Green means it is moving towards the radar station, red away. On the zoomed in view, that “arrow” pointing towards the station is an artifact of the earth’s curvature, the height the birds are flying, and the scan angle of the radar. Another neat thing to see is that thunderstorm cluster that flared up over Myrtle Beach, visible in the top animation which covers from 5:30 to 7:30 am. At 6:15 it was nothing, by 7am it was a strong, 50dBZ return. That goes to show that this time if year it doesn’t take long for an innocent looking cloud to turn into a dangerous thunderstorm, so boaters and aviators beware! Just because the radar is clear now doesn’t mean it will be that way in 20 or 30 minutes.

FYI, there’s no threatening activity to speak of in the tropics anywhere in the world. JTWC is watching a weak circulation south of Japan, and NHC is watching activity in the Eastern Pacific, but staying offshore of Mexico and fading out before nearing Hawai’i, so no big risks there. No major earthquakes recently, and the situation in Ukraine continues to be Russia methodically working their way towards their objectives, not that you’d know that from Western media. The COVID pandemic is entering a new phase, with lots of interesting research and much better understanding of both the virus and how the vaccines interact. Unfortunately the data collection system and advice for the public, over two years after the virus appeared, is still substandard, with many states (like Georgia) not having updated their public data pages since April, and the news media jumping from issue to issue with no consistent coverage. The environment is so hostile for rational discourse that it’s hard to get the energy to write up something on either of those topics, but maybe I’ll give it a go next week.

Coastal GA/SC Rain 9-11 July

There has been an interesting (and needed) rain event over Coastal GA (Savannah) and the South Carolina Low Country the last few days. Here is the Multi Radar Multi Sensor (MRMS) 72 hour accumulation from 8am 9 July to 8am 12 July 2022:

Click to embiggen and see location labels

The gauge at the Enki office in Midtown Savannah is showing 5.99″, which is close to the MRMS estimate. Notice the very sharp gradient and the southwest-northeast line area of heavy rain running along the coast. This is caused by storm cells following roughly the same ground track during the big rain events the last few days. Saturday and Sunday night’s rain each of dropped over 2″, and 1.8″ another last night. So far in July our gauge is showing 8.08″. But compare that to the Savannah International Airport, located 8.5 miles inland, which has only had 2.15″ over the same period. For this weekend’s rain, rain totals varied from under an inch in parts of Pooler to over 6.5″ in parts of downtown, around 5.5″ midtown, 4.5 at Hunter Army Air Field, and over 5″ at Skidaway and parts of the Islands.

Rain is one of the hardest weather variables to forecast. This example shows why – sites located only a few miles apart (indeed, only a few city blocks apart) can show radically different rain totals depending on the exact track of thunderstorm cells. Winter rains (stratiform rain) tend to be more uniform. But summer rain, which is typically convective (produced by thunderstorms), can be far more localized.

How high do birds fly?

Normally when flying pilots worry about birds during takeoff and landing, for the obvious reason: who can forget US Airways Flight 1549 going for a swim in the Hudson River after a run-in with Canada Geese at 2800 feet during takeoff? In a typical year the US Air Force has upwards of 5000 bird strikes, and civil aircraft hit on the order of 9,000. Most are minor and don’t result in an incident (the vast majority are found by maintenance personnel after landing), although it is almost always fatal to the bird. A dozen or so a year result in the pilot having to abort the flight and make an emergency landing. Here’s a Boeing article on bird strikes for those wanting to find out more details.

I tend to relax a bit about birds once I’m above 5000 feet or so, but birds fly much higher during migration. Recent research in Europe has shown even small birds can fly at over 20,000 feet at times. I got a bit of a reminder while in the Mississippi flyway last week. I was cruising along at 16,000 feet when I saw a bright triangular shape rapidly cross in front of and slightly below me. Contrary to what this guy might think, as it passed I realized it was a flock of birds a few hundred feet below (the human brain tends to “connect the dots” when seeing moving point sources and it looks solid when it isn’t).

No birds or airplanes were harmed taking this picture, by which time said birds were too far to see.

Despite the occasional dramatic events, aviation and flying is remarkably safe. Because accidents are so rare we tend to focus on them, and since flying is something most people don’t do that often it feels more dangerous than it is (unlike driving, which is more risky than you think, especially on Abercorn). Perception of risk is one of those things I study, and it amuses me a bit that now I’ll probably worry more about birds than I should for a while until something else pops up to change my focus. It’s human nature. But hopefully resulted in an interesting blog post 😛

Wait, it’s not Palm Sunday?! Well, it’s complicated …

For the Western Churches that trace their lineage back through the Roman Catholic Church, today (10 April 2022) is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. But for roughly 30% of the Christian World, Palm Sunday isn’t until next week (17 April). Why is a fascinating story that involves astronomy and geophysics, politics, and theology. Here’s a few notes for those who are curious …

A Roman Kalend (Calendar) stone …

At the time of Christ, the calendar in use was the Julian Calendar. Julius Caesar himself ordered it into use in 45 B.C to clean up a number of issues surrounding the old Roman calendar. His new calendar was designed with the help of Greek astronomers (who were among the best of the time) and by any measure it was a big advance, more closely matching the actual length of the time it takes the Earth to go around the Sun, which is 365.24219 days. The Julian Calendar is pretty close to that, 365.25 days. It did that by having a year that is 365 days for most years, but inserting an extra day in the month of February every four years. The problem is that over time, even that .00781 of a day adds up, so the calendar “drifts” by about one day every 128 years. They were aware of the problem but figured they could fix it later, Of course, like many problems politicians say will get fixed later, later never came, possibly due to stabby senators …

By the 1500’s that drift had added up to nearly 10 days, causing the calendar to be out of sync with the seasons and causing problems with the calculation of the date of Easter. So Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar developed. It’s not really that different from the Julian Calendar, but tweaks things by making the average length of the year 365.2425 days (only .00031 days off, or one day of drift every 3225 years). It does this by dropping the leap year sometimes:

Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400. For example, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 are not leap years, but the years 1600 and 2000 are.
– US Naval Observatory FAQ.

In the Catholic world, the Gregorian Calendar came in to use in 1582. But while Gregory XIII was still called Pontifex Maximus, he was no Pater Patriae or Imperator like Julius … and by then the Western World was fragmented. The Roman Catholic Church had split off from the Eastern Churches in the Great Schism of 1054, and the Protestant Revolutions of the 1400’s had caused a major fracturing of Western Christianity. Most Protestant countries rejected the new “Papist” calendar even though it was technically more accurate, and more in sync with the seasons. The Orthodox Churches simply ignored it as just another Papal heresy to add to the increasingly long list 😛 . However, over time, the Protestant countries created their own, so called “Improved Calendar” that just happened to be identical to the Gregorian Calendar, so under whatever name by the 1700’s most of the western world had adopted the Gregorian Calendar. In the early 1900’s, most nominally Orthodox countries had adopted a split system: a civil calendar based on the Gregorian calendar, but the religious calendar and thus the calculation of the dates of Nativity (Christmas) and Pascha (Easter) stayed on the Julian Calendar.

So the situation today is that the Western Churches (Catholics and Protestants) use the Gregorian Calendar to calculate Easter, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Macedonian, Antiochian, the Orthodox Church in America, and so forth) use the Julian Calendar to calculate Pascha (Easter).

Today there is a 13 day difference between the Julian and Gregorian Calendars. Because Pascha/Easter are calculated based on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (on 20/21 March), that means the dates sometimes fall on the same day, but in other years can be up to a month apart! In 2016 Easter was March 23rd on the Gregorian Calendar, but Pascha was on May 1st Gregorian (April 18th Julian). This year (2022) they are only a week apart.

Nobody really disagrees with the fact the Julian Calendar has drifted, and the Gregorian Calendar is more accurate. Why haven’t the Orthodox Churches updated the calendar? Worse, why have some (like Constantinople) switched for the daily calendar but not for calculating Pascha? A key reason it remains unsolved involves the way the Churches are governed and how councils that can decide that sort of thing are convened. The Orthodox Church suffered two major disruptions in the early 1900’s, the Communist takeover of Russia (which is the largest Orthodox Church in numbers), and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and rise of the secular Turkish regime. The situation in Turkey has become even more complex, and the Orthodox Church there nearly destroyed by the increasingly oppressive Islamic forces under Erdogan. There have been some attempts at convening a council but some complex politics have gotten in the way such as the growing Schism between Istanbul (Constantinople) and Moscow, and interference in Church affairs by secular authorities. But that’s a long. complicated mess … but the bottom line is in the Orthodox world, where things move slowly anyway, the mechanisms to fix things like the calendar problem aren’t working.

So that’s a bit of history. To wrap up, here are “Leonid and Friends” doing a fantastic cover of Chicago’s classic, “Does anybody really know what time it is?” This group is amazing – the musicians are scattered across Russia and Ukraine, working together even during COVID and the ongoing conflicts. They also did a session with Arturo Sandoval doing a trumpet solo on “Street Player”. Well worth exploring …

Conversations at the End of the World

One of the people who are working to save the world that you’ve probably never heard of is Nate Hagens. He is involved in a number of projects designed to not only raise awareness about the dangerous traps humanity has set for itself like environment, energy, finance, geopolitics, technology, he’s actually trying to do something about it, especially through education. As part of that work, Nate has started producing podcasts featuring deep conversations with a broad spectrum of researchers. The first 3 conversations are now live:

  1. Former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, on social media, leadership and democracy;
  2. Endocrine/chemical expert Dr Shanna Swan on impact of chemicals on human (and animal) reproduction;
  3. Geologist Art Berman on the importance of (and risks to) US oil production.

These are fascinating deep dives in to each subject area. Those of you who are concerned about the trajectory Humanity is on, I highly recommend listening in. The links are at The Great Simplification with Nate Hagens (direct), or subscribe via substack at this link.

While I probably doesn’t deserve to be in such august company, Nate needed some filler so a talk with me is episode four. Nate and I started talking about risk and climate and ended up talking mostly about nuclear war since that is probably the biggest threat to climate that you’ve never heard of … and wouldn’t be good for humans either.

#Colorado Fires

The fires in Colorado are clearly visible from satellite. This overlay shows fires detected from the NOAA-20 satellite as flame icons:

click to enlarge.

The fires have jumped into several subdivisions. The early (very preliminary) economic impact estimates are over $500 Million, and the fires are still partly out of control. This is pretty unusual for this time of year, normally there would be snow covering the ground but it has been an unusually warm and dry winter so far, after a very dry summer and fall. Fortunately it looks like snow is already falling this morning, and 3 to 5 inches of accumulation is predicted over the next day or so.

#Carolina Bays

Those of you who are flying to visit family and friends this holiday season and have window seats may want to keep an eye out for an interesting geological feature along the Atlantic Coast: Carolina Bays. Although farming and other activities have destroyed a lot of them, there may be as many as 500,000 of them left with various degrees of visibility. A lot of them are quite distinctive from the air, especially in fall and winter when the vegetation differences are distinctive …

Carolina Bay near Allendale, SC (Enki Research Photo, 30 Nov 2021)

Carolina bays are normally elongated, in the southeastern US have a northwest to southeast orientation, shifting in angle as one moves north. Where these features came from was a mystery for a long time. During the 1950’s some geologists believed that they were “splatter” from an asteroid impact in Michigan. But more recent research has shown these are in fact a relic of the Wisconsonian Ice Age (the most recent one). Carolina Bays are most likely something known in geology as a thermokarst lake. These are found today in Alaska, where lakes form where the ground is frozen and thaws, with the orientation depending on the prevailing wind direction. Carolina Bays are an indication that during the period from 70 to 80 thousand years ago, and again 15 to 14 thousand years ago, the ground was frozen as far south as North Florida with strong winds sweeping across what was then a tundra like terrain.

For more on Carolina Bays, start with the Wikipedia entry as an overview. If you’re flying and want to know just what it is you’re seeing out of the window, try this really neat app from the National Science Foundation, Flyover Country. You can use it when flying if your phone is in airplane mode, and it’s handy to have for road trips as well (just not if you are driving!).