Tropical Depression Two

Since I was traveling yesterday/today, naturally the National Hurricane Center found some clouds and spun it up it in a tracked storm 😛 So we now have Tropical Depression Two (AL022021), which may briefly be elevated to Tropical Storm strength (and thus bestowed with the name Bill). Here’s the TAOS/TC impact swath based on the 5pm ET advisory … TD2/Bill should stay offshore, with minimal impacts to the US and Nova Scotia, although as it merges with a non-tropical low off the coast of Canada it may bring blustery conditions to Vinland (known to the locals for obscure reasons as Newfoundland).

Elsewhere, the thing in the Gulf (AL92) is now forecast to drift more northerly, and has a 70% chance by NHC of spinning up. More on that tomorrow …

Tropical Storm #Carlos, fear mongering the invest in Gulf (Sunday Update)

Two “live” storms today and one invest area of interest in the Gulf of Mexico. The first real storm is Tropical Depression Koguma, a tropical storm that crossed Hainan island a couple of days ago and has made landfall in Vietnam. It is dissipating rapidly, mostly a heavy rain event, no major damage reported or expected. In the East Pacific, yesterday’s Tropical Depression is now Tropical Storm Carlos. It is expected to remain just over tropical storm strength the next few days before encountering dry air and cold water. Carlos is now a very small storm – notice how compact the wind field became as it spun up. It is way offshore and no threat to land … click to embiggen:

The Invest (potential storm investigation area) in the southern Gulf of Mexico is expected to meander in the Bay of Campeche for the next few days. NHC gives it a 50% chance of become a tropical storm, which may be generous. Essentially all of the dynamical model guidance keeps it headed south or west into the Mexican coast as a rain event, and no threat to the US. Of course, that’s not stopping headlines like in USA Today, “First threat of 2021 Atlantic hurricane season? Forecasters eye developing tropical system in Gulf of Mexico.” with breathless bullet points like “The system could impact the Gulf Coast by the end of next week.” and “It would be the first storm of the season to affect the U.S.” Here is the actual NHC discussion:

A large area of cloudiness and showers over the Bay of Campeche and adjacent land areas is associated with a trough of low pressure. Slow development is possible over the next several days while the broad disturbance moves little, and a tropical depression could form in this area by Thursday or Friday. Regardless of development, heavy rainfall will be possible over portions of Central America and southern Mexico during the next several days. Please consult products from your local meteorological service for more information.

Formation chance through 48 hours…low…10 percent.
Formation chance through 5 days…medium…50 percent.

From NHC Tropical Weather Outlook, 2AM ET, Sunday 13 June 2021

Maybe I’m missing something, but the US isn’t even mentioned … As usual, your best bet for avoiding the fear-mongering when it comes to hurricane guidance in the US and Caribbean are the official NHC reports. As noted before, if you live in a hurricane prone area have a plan (and keep in mind rain flooding can extend hundreds of miles inland so check your flood insurance).

Tropics Update – 12 June 2021

We have one weak system to look at, WP05, which is presently a depression over Hainan Island and forecast to become a weak tropical storm before making landfall in Vietnam. The biggest threat is rain and mudslides in the mountains.

Elsewhere, there are two “invest” areas (systems that have formation potential, and are organized enough for the models to start tracking) being watched in the eastern Pacific. Here is GFS based forecast tracks. along with the conditions for development over the next 48 hours …

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NHC gives each of these a 40 percent chances of becoming storms. Another area that will be getting some attention is that faint blue blob in the southern Gulf of Mexico. It’s not organized enough to be an invest area, but NHC is watching it as has some potential for something to form next week. They have it tagged in their five day forecast as having a 30% potential for development. You’ll also note a band of blue off of the US East coast – conditions are somewhat favorable, but nothing organized on the horizon.

In short, stormy weather for Vietnam, may a weak storm hitting southern Mexico in two days with mostly rain, and the usual angst inducing conditions in that bathtub known as the Gulf of Mexico. Got your hurricane plans ready? Still time to think about that in the US …

The Hacking Problem

Infrastructure resiliency is an important area of my research, and disruptions to infrastructure come from both natural and human actions. There is no need to mention the critical nature computers and networks play in modern society. The disruption to the essential Colonial Pipeline oil and gas distribution system got a lot of news a few weeks ago, and now the attack on the JBS food distribution company is causing disruptions and a lot of angst. Let’s look at three aspects of this: the impact of the disruptions themselves, the infrastructure security implications, and the role of both state sponsored and freelance cybercriminals.

First, the impact of the disruptions. Like with the Colonial Pipeline attacks, the JBS impacts should be transitory – but will probably end up being worse than it should be due to human behavior. Like the irrational pandemic inspired toilet paper runs last year, there will likely be a lot of spot shortages as people change their normal buying habits, creating a temporary supply shortage. Although modern logistics methods like warehousing-in-transit have reduced the safety margin, what people don’t think about is that supplies and distribution systems have slack build in to account for disruptions – and disruptions happen all the time due to maintenance, weather, and so forth. But that is all based on normal buying habits. When you horde or stockpile, you break that assumption, creating artificial shortages. Assuming the system is back online in the next day or so, price spikes and outages should be transient, but like disruptions from storms, may take a week or two to settle down. My guess is that if nothing breaks that shouldn’t, this will again have been a brief disruption.

As for the infrastructure implications, it’s an almost intransigent problem. It takes time to develop and deploy infrastructure. Even with fixed hardware, the firmware and software than runs on it takes time to develop, test, and deploy – and of course it is the ability to do remote upgrades and software changes that is the underlying cause of the problem in the first place. If you can access it to use it, much less upgrade it, you can probably hack it. The old DoD “Orange book” on computer security said the only secure computer was one that was unplugged with the hard drive removed. So while a lot can be done to improve security, ultimately there is no way to create a system that is both usable and completely secure against a determined, intelligent attacker. So like most things, the trick is to balance the two – maintain usability, but make it hard enough to keep out the amateurs, and have international standards, laws, and policies in place to deter and punish those who exploit system vulnerabilities.

And therein lies a key problem: governments use cybercriminals.

There is a love/hate, sometimes incestuous relationship between intelligence agencies, IT security companies, and cybercriminals. A not insignificant amount of the malware floating around was either developed, enhanced, or allowed to continue in play due to the action (or inaction) of intelligence agencies – including some well known episodes involving US intelligence agencies. Ironically, some of the most effective malware currently in circulation goes back to a hack of NSA and the release of their toolkit (ARS technica link). In addition, Agencies have been known to discover exploits, but because they are using them, don’t report them to operating system and software developers. IT and cyber security firms have been known to be complicit, in one at least one known case not fixing a hole until after No Such Agency had finished an operation requiring the exploit. And of course the need for computer virus protection, OS upgrades, cybersecurity consulting, etc. is a profitable business.

So it was remarkably hypocritical for President Biden to say that Russia bears responsibility for the hacks because the hackers (who in both cases seem to have only been after money) happened to be based there. Of course, President Putin didn’t really help matters when he “joked” …

Putin’s comments about hacking. Enki Research Photo, Moscow Kremlin.

“Hackers are free people, like artists: (if) they are in a good mood, they (get) up in the morning and draw. So hackers, if they wake up and read that something is happening in interstate relations and if they are patriotic, then they begin to make their contribution,” Vladimir Putin said.

Of course he went on to deny that Russia was sponsoring or exploiting hacking. While there have been cyberattacks in Russia, the security services pretty much hunts the criminals down and kills them. It is clear to these guys that if you’re going to do this, do it elsewhere. I’m not advocating that kind of quick “justice”, and the tolerance of domestic criminals who keep their crime offshore is something nations-states shouldn’t do, but in fairness it is absolutely not limited to Russia; the US is infamous for it with respect to other kinds of crimes, particularly essential and profitable but environmentally damaging enterprises.

In summary, treating cyber criminals as serious, dangerous criminals no matter where they are based or where their crimes are committed, is essential. Today one can kill with a computer by harming cyber infrastructure almost as easily as one can kill with a bomb. Therefore, as has been attempted with mixed success with nuclear weapons and biological warfare, nation-states need to put together frameworks to limit and prosecute the use of computer viruses and cyber attacks. That will be difficult – the system of international law and norms of behavior is in shambles (in no small part due to US actions over the last two decades, but that’s another story). The US, which pioneered these techniques, should take the lead in renouncing them and working with the international community to address the problem rather than hypocritically screaming about it in public all the while creating and using them in private (the US approach), or joking about it in public, making sure it doesn’t happen at home, but allowing it to occur elsewhere (the Russian approach).

#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.

Hurricane Season Arriving …

Actually, it’s already here, and has been in the Indian Ocean (two bad storms hitting India) and there is a depression off of the Philippines and another trying to form, and a area of interest off of the west coast of Mexico. At least the Atlantic is quiet … nothing expected there over the next few days …

Formation probability for May 30- June 1st (click to embiggen)
Pacific View (click to embiggen)

As a reminder, now is the time to get your hurricane plan together – and remember hurricane (and severe weather) plans are a good idea inland as well as right on the coast. DHS/FEMA have a site (link) with lots of good advice and checklists on what to do. The big things I like to remind people of are to have a weather radio for alerts (especially tornadoes – the sirens aren’t designed to be heard everywhere, or in buildings, and often take several critical minutes to go off whereas the weather radios go off immediately because the weather service controls them; local emergency managers control the sirens). The other thing is to double check your insurance: especially flood insurance (link goes to previous rant). Once storms start to form it’s too late to do anything about that.

The current indications are this will be an average to slightly above average season – using the new normals. It will probably feel above average, but of course the numbers don’t matter, only the landfalls and near misses that trigger evacuations. People tell me they are afraid of hurricanes, but I think that’s somewhat misplaced. Although they can be incredibly destructive, hurricanes are actually one of the “better” disasters. First off we know where the risks are, and can plan for them. Second, and this is huge, you can see them coming and have days to prepare, unlike tornadoes where you may only have a few minutes of warning, if that. You, personally, can do a lot to reduce your risk and stress: have a plan, know where you will go if you need to evacuate (or have supplies laid in if you can safely stay). Have your insurance review. Ignore the breathless coverage and have an “information plan” (will do a post on that next week) so you don’t get stressed out by the hype. Then don’t worry about it until and unless you’re in a watch area – then do the plan. Otherwise, enjoy the summer!

Savannah’s Port and Megaships

Wednesday the largest ship to ever call at the Port of Savannah snaked its way up the Savannah River. The news coverage I’ve seen was all positive, basically echoing the press releases from the Georgia Ports Authority, commenting on the size of the crowds that came out to see the 1300 foot ship, and similar fluff coverage (link goes to WTOC TV). Entirely missing was the perspective that this kind of global commerce is destructive to local and national economies, and has created an unstable situation. The collapse of this system will create disruptions across the entire world. Sound dire? Well, this is doomwatch … so let’s look at two reasons this isn’t a good thing: economics and resiliency.

GPA Savannah Container Port (Enki Research Photo)

Economics: The economic implications of this kind of global shipping is often hidden. During the studies of the deepening of the Savannah harbor, and periodically since, the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) trots out economic analyses of the “benefits” of the port. I’ll be blunt: these “analyses” are misleading – even bogus. One key problem is that all the numbers about local jobs or regional impact overlooks the lost manufacturing jobs, and the distortion of the US economy from a balanced producer/consumer economy in to a consumer dominant economy supported by a service sector. This is one of the factors behind the increasing levels of disparity in income in the US, and the depressed middle class sector in the country: those middle class, manufacturing and repair service type jobs disappear since cheap goods means it is more “cost effective” to import and replace rather than repair them when they fail or break. Of course, it is only “cost effective” if you ignore the resources wasted in a throw-away world, but that is a different issue.

You’ll notice when GPA reports statistics, they talk about containers and tonnage exported, rather than the overall value of imports vs exports. If you run the numbers that way, billions of dollars a year (and therefore tens of thousands of manufacturing and related jobs) flow out of the US to foreign countries, some hostile such as China. In other words, China is treating the US like an extractive colony – but the US goes along with it because US based companies profit from the somewhat lower retail prices, even though the average person sees only marginal benefits. Ten or even 20% lower prices doesn’t mean much if your neighbors are either out of work or working lower paying jobs, or your taxes are high to cover social costs. You have to look at the whole society impacts – not just narrow sectors.

One of the reasons behind the American Revolution was that Great Britain restricted certain kinds of manufacturing in the Colonies. It makes sense from a colonial/control standpoint: extract the raw materials, force the colonies to buy the finished products. That way the net value is not equal – money flows out of the colony and enriches the mother country, and makes the colony dependent on them. China has been doing this to the US for at least three decades now – and we’re actually cooperating with our own subjugation.

Resiliency: Lost in the discussions over the ports and global commerce discussions are the social stability aspects, in that a mostly consumer based economy is vulnerable and ultimately unsustainable. The COVID pandemic came very close to crashing the US economy and even stability of the society. Critical supplies such as plastic tubing almost ran out because no US companies make them, and the global system of moving goods and supplies came to a standstill with the quarantines and shutdowns. In the past a disruption might cause a rise in prices, but many critical goods are no longer manufactured in the US. The loss of supply lines – be it due to natural disaster or geopolitical instability – can rapidly spin in to a crisis since there is diminished or nonexistent ability to replace the lost sources of those goods.

Underlying all of this is a philosophical meta-question: what is the purpose of an economy? In the US, the purpose of the economy is primarily geared to create shareholder profit. Human factors such as the dignity of work, providing a sustainable livelihood for the average person, and social stability are all lost in the pursuit of maximum quarterly profits. The celebration of the arrival of the Marco Polo is that distorted worldview writ large.

So for a variety of reasons, the global system of commerce that has evolved in to massive transfer of the manufacture of goods that could be made anywhere to a few areas like China (generally with exploited/oppressed workers), all in the name of increasing profit margins, has created a hidden global crisis that could for a variety of reasons trigger a collapse of the economy – with societal turmoil following close behind.

Rather than celebrating, at least we should be mourning, and better yet protesting if we had any sense.

Better news for #India, #Cyclone #Yaas weaker than expected

Cyclone Yaas is currently (Tuesday Morning ET) has not strengthened as forecast, and is likely to only be a minimal hurricane when it makes landfall about 24 hours from now. Here is the current forecast impact swath using my TAOS/TC model, based on the JTWC forecast track:

Click for embiggened view.

While a huge number of people are still expected to be exposed to tropical storm conditions (78 million), the number at risk of truly dangerous conditions is now under a million, and the storm is still expected to cause considerable disruption in the Kolkata area. And, of course, this will exacerbate the ongoing COVID19 pandemic and tremendous death and suffering that has caused in the country. But the weaker storm is good news …

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 …

Subtropical storm #Ana in the #Atlantic

The US National Hurricane Center has started advisories on Subtropical Storm Ana. Here’s the impact swath based on the 5am ET Forecast:

Mostly of concern to shipping, aviation, and fish.

Although Ana has tropical storm force winds, it doesn’t quite meet the formal definition for a tropical storm, so NHC is using the term “subtropical”. I think that term is confusing, because a storms like Ana can have strong tropical storm force winds, and the term “quasi-tropical” would seem to fit better, but that’s what they use so we’re stuck with it.

In any event, it should already be moving away from Bermuda over the next few hours, , but it is such a large and disorganized system that Bermuda might get some tropical storm force winds. Along the US East Coast and Canadian Atlantic Provinces there will be waves and some rip currents, but that’s about it.

Elsewhere, there is a disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico, but it should move ashore over Texas before it becomes a depression. In the Bay of Bengal there is a weak system under observation but no objective guidance as of yet. So hurricane season in the Northern Hemisphere is underway. If you live near the coast, time to get ready (click here for checklists and tips from FEMA/DHS) , and remember inland winds and flooding are possible hundreds of miles from the coast, and most insurance is “frozen” when there are incoming storms (and flood insurance has a 30 day waiting period).