Doomwatch, 20 Jan 2021

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

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

Cyclone Eloise, headed for Mozambique.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyclone Yasa and Fiji

While the snowstorm made headlines in the US yesterday, cyclone Yasa crossed the islands of Fiji yesterday …

TAOS/TC Impact estimate for Cyclone Yasa

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.

The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season

The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season has ended, and there have been much written about the record setting number of named storms. There are several issues with the numbers based on named hurricanes. The problem is that these are based on shifting criteria (naming) and technology (wind speed measurements) that tend, in my opinion, to make recent seasons (especially since 2000) look worse than they really are in context. While it was a very active season with significant damage and impact, the total number of storms is a bit exaggerated – several storms would probably not have been named using the criteria prior to the mid 2000’s. Here are a couple of other ways of looking at things to put the season in perspective.

One measure of the intensity of a season is the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index. It is summing the square of the wind speed for each storm at six hour intervals (recalling that the kinetic energy is related to the square of the wind speed). By that measure the 2020 season is the 13th most active since the mid 1800’s – with the caveat we know there is an undercount of storms, and likely an underestimation of intensity (by modern standards) as well, especially for storms that did not make landfall. So more than likely 2020 was still in the top 20, but probably not above 15th.

What about damage? By that measure, if we use the existing distribution of population and infrastructure for past storms, again we have a bad season (especially for the Gulf Coast and Central America), but depending on how you crunch the numbers far from record setting. 2020 just breaks the top 10 in total damage.

Estimated Economic Impact of Tropical Cyclones in the Atlantic

It does better if you use the criteria of the number of people who experienced tropical storm force winds, coming in at number two, but that is a bit misleading because many people are counted twice (or even three times) since Central America and Louisiana were hit by more than one intense storm. Taking the double counts out it drops to eighth (2012 is by far number one due to the broad Sandy wind field sweeping through the densely populated northeast).

Estimated population experiencing tropical storm winds or greater

So the official Atlantic season ended on November 30th. There is still an invest area in the far eastern Atlantic that has winds well above tropical storm strength, but it does not really have tropical characteristics so has not been named. There is a cyclone at tropical storm strength about to make landfall on Ceylon today, followed by southern India. And the southern hemisphere season is kicking off … the world keeps turning and the seasons change, but there are always weather disasters going on somewhere. For the Blog, will continue to report on cyclones and earthquakes of course, but will be posting more on winter storms in the coming weeks. Interestingly, for many years the biggest property insurance loss numbers come from broken pipes … and you haven’t really experienced terror until you’ve driven the perimeter in Atlanta (much less navigated Spaghetti Junction) with so much as a single ice crystal sighted in Marietta 😛

Still activity in the Northern Hemisphere Tropics …

Cyclone Nivar make landfall yesterday in India, causing flooding, power outages and wind damage along the southeastern coast (link goes to Al Jazzera article), especially the Tamil Nadu region …

NIVAR makes landfall … US holiday so no fancy graphics 😛

In the Atlantic, the US National Hurricane Center has two “watch” areas, one of which is being tracked as invest area AL99. Neither are a threat to land at the moment, and arguably don’t have much potential to become actual tropical systems, although AL99 might develop some hybrid characteristics and meet the forecast criteria for a “subtropical” system by Sunday.

Tropical Cyclone Update for Saturday 21 Nov (#Honduras, #Nicaragua)

Although it is still raining in places, the flooding is receding in some areas of Honduras and Nicaragua, and the process of assessing the damage is underway. This is a huge natural disaster (EuroNews summary in this link) that does not seem to be getting as much attention as it probably deserves. Some are saying it will ultimately prove worse than 1998’s Hurricane Mitch. The death toll so far is much less, but the economic impact seem to be on par with Mitch. And there will possible yet a third disaster: conditions for the estimated 250,000 people who sought shelter are conducive to spreading the virus that causes COVID19, so disaster planners are concerned that there will be an explosion of cases in the region in the coming weeks.

Elsewhere, NHC has a broad region south and east of Bermuda flagged as a 10% chance of subtropical storm formation in the next 5 days. The NCEP objective probability model has it below 3%, but still shows some potential for formation in the southwest Caribbean in the region still generating rain over Central America. There are two “invest” areas in the Indian Ocean forecasters at JTWC are watching, one that might become a tropical depression before hitting Somalia …

Continuing to watch Central America after #Iota; other watch areas

Although Iota has formally dissipated, the rains continue, and unfortunately more is on the way. Some areas in northern Nicaragua and Honduras are still cut off and damage assessments have not even started, as there are extensive floods and landslides in this ongoing crisis. For more information, here is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Situation Report.

The US National Hurricane Center has two watch areas but neither are much of a threat of becoming an actual tropical system at the moment, both tagged as less than 20% over the n next five days. That said, one of them is associated with a low developing in about the same place that Iota formed. That system is likely to drift over Central America dumping even more rain on the ravaged region. Here’s this morning’s analysis from TAFB, overlain on the mid level water vapor image from GOES East. Compare how moist the air is streaming into Central America (grays/whites with colored blobs of storms) with the cool dry are to the north (oranges/reds) ..

GOES East Water Vapor, Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch analysis, Thu 19 Nov 2020

In the East Pacific, Tropical Storm Polo is off the coast of Mexico, and will fade out over water. Nothing in the West Pacific, in the Indian Ocean the Joint Typhoon Warning Center is watching a system in the Arabian Sea that is in a somewhat favorable environment but not likely to develop in the next day or so.

#Iota aftermath in #Nicaragua, #Honduras

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:

TAFB Analysis, Wed. Morning 18 November 2020

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.

#Iota Landfall

Iota made landfall overnight as a category 4 hurricane, and is rapidly losing wind speed. But the huge amount of moisture being dragged into Central America means the disaster is really just beginning. Iota is hitting virtually the same areas impacted by Eta two weeks ago. Here are the wind swaths – you can grab the slider with your mouse/finger and move it back and forth to compare …

Comparison: Eta (AL29) and Iota (AL31)

While the coastal damage is significant, it is inland where the major concerns are at the moment. The following map is showing moisture transport, computed from the GFS model as of this morning.

Moisture Transport, valid for 10am EST Tuesday 17 November 2020

As you can tell from the arrows, moist air from both the Pacific and Caribbean are being pulled inland, with a major convergence over central Nicaragua. Combined with the pre-existing damage and saturated soils from Eta, flooding and landslides are inevitable. This is likely to be a historic disaster in Central America. And more bad news is potentially on the way – there is another tropical wave crossing the region, and it is likely to encounter the same favorable environment that spawned Iota, and even if it does not become a formal system, it will bring more rain to the region in five or six days, just as the impacts of Iota would ordinarily be lessening …

#Iota “Explosive Intensification” on the way to #Nicaragua, #Honduras Tonight

Iota is now a Category 4, on the fast track to be a Category Five hurricane at landfall in northern Nicaragua overnight tonight. Here are NHC’s Key Messages regarding Hurricane Iota (en Español: Mensajes Claves). Here is the forecast impact swath using my TAOS/TC model, driven by the NHC forecast:

Hurricane Iota forecast damage swath, Monday Morning

There’s not much to say about the forecast; it’s straightforward, and Really Really Bad. A category five landfall is always catastrophic, but in this the worst may be inland as the storm take four takes to decay across Honduras, where it will dump a lot of rain across areas already devastated by Eta two weeks ago. This is a mountainous area prone to flood and worst of all mudslides. The potential for thousands of lives to be lost is very real.

A few people have noted the confusing NHC five day outlook graph yesterday and this morning. They seem to show another storm forming in the same place as Iota:

Confusing graphic is confusing.

I really dislike this graphic. The problem is that it is showing the CURRENT position of active storms like Iota, but the FUTURE formation potential areas, so it is confusing. NHC needs to show the track of active storms so people know where the storms will be in sync with the potential formation zones … in this case, there is a tropical wave following Iota that will be entering the area that triggered Iota’s rapid intensification. Although it will be less favorable (in part due to Iota sucking up a lot of energy), there is still some potential for the wave to get organized. Here’s the big picture, showing the wave a couple of days behind Iota …

TAFB Surface Analysis, Monday Morning 16 November 2020

#Iota now a hurricane; major damage expected in #Nicaragua, #Honduras

Iota gained 35 knots of wind speed in under 24 hours, qualifying for “rapid intensification” and is now two days out from landfall, most likely on the northern Nicaraguan coast. Here are the National Hurricane Center’s Key Messages regarding Hurricane Iota (en Español: Mensajes Claves). Iota will likely be at least a Category 3 hurricane, and the current forecast shows it becoming a Category 4 just before landfall. Here is the impact swath …

Iota forecast damage swath – click to see full size.

This is likely to be yet another devastating event for the region. The region is still damaged and trying to recover from Eta, and the additional heavy rains (at least three days worth) is almost certainly going to trigger flooding and mudslides. The mudslides are especially dangerous – Eta killed over 50 in one mudslide in Honduras. Unlike Eta, Iota is expected to dissipate over the mountains of Central America by next weekend.