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Soggy Halloween Central USA (lessons from Superstorm Sandy)

…123 million Americans, more than a third of the entire country, live in coastal counties, a number that increased by 39% from 1970 to 2010. About 3.7 million Americans live within just a few feet of the sea at high tide, putting them at even more extreme risk for coastal flooding…” – from a Time Magazine retrospective of Sandy, details below. Map above showing Sandy storm surge flooding vs. Cat 4 storm surge potential flooding courtesy of the Capital Weather Gang – details below.

650,000 U.S. homes damaged or destroyed by Sandy. Source: NBC News.

“…The results highlight four main factors that control storm surge: The shape of a coastline, the depth of coastal water, and the wind speed and storm size prior to landfall, specifically, about 18 hours before a storm hits land… – from a Live Science story below focused on why the Saffir Simpson Scale for rating hurricane intensity can’t be relied upon for estimating storm surge heights.


Communicating Risk

Sandy was a poignant reminder that meteorological gains (better models, more accurate hurricane tracks) have outpaced our ability to effectively communicate risk. Social science matters; how people process information and make decisions that keep them safer.

Sandy took a 1-in-700-year turn into New Jersey – virtually unheard of in late October. A mash-up of Nor’easter & dying hurricane, Sandy was 3 times larger than Katrina; tropical storm force winds encompassed a 1,000 mile radius. Hurricane warnings were (mistakenly) discontinued as Sandy approached land but the combination of high tide, a full moon & sustained winds near hurricane-force pushed an historic 14 foot surge into lower Manhattan.

We knew it would be bad, but it’s hard communicating impacts of a storm that is so outside the norm; an almost incomprehensible weather event. Rising sea levels have doubled the risk of similar storms for many U.S. coastal regions.

Putting Another Minor Dent In The Drought. NAM model data shows some 1″+ rainfall amounts over far southeastern Minnesota, closer to .25″ for the Twin Cities, maybe ..1 to .2″ for St. Cloud. Some 2-3″ amounts are expected from near Kansas City to Peoria and Chicago, capable of minor flash flooding. 84-hour NAM data courtesy of NOAA and Ham Weather.

A Halloween Trick. At least we’re not tracking any blizzards (or ill-timed hurricanes) this year. 4km NAM model simulations show a full latitude trough spinning up a storm which should track from near Denver to the Twin Cities, pushing strong T-storms across the Mississippi Valley, drenching the Midwest and Great Lakes with significant rainfall amounts. The East Coast may hang onto dry weather Thursday evening before showers and T-storms arrive. Loop: Ham Weather.
Nuisance Snow. This was the scene from my trusty “Dropcam” webcam up at our cabin on Pelican Lake, near Breezy Point around midday Tuesday, showing a light coating of snow on the ground. Not exactly breaking news, but yes, it did snow (a little) up north.

17 Images That Tell The Story Of Sandy Slamming The East Coast. Here is a terrific summary of Sandy, data and images that tell the story of this 1 in 700 year storm, courtesy of the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang: “…The Suomi NPP VIIRSsatellite got some of its first stunning imagery during Sandy. With the storm still off the Florida coast, clouds streamed north up into New England. An advancing cold front that would help supercharge Sandy is also quite vivid.”

Image credit above: CIMSS/SSEC/University of Wisconsin-Madison and NOAA/NASA/JPSS Project.

A Year After Sandy, Living Dangerously By The Sea. What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. At some point, as seas continue to rise, rebuilding next to the ocean won’t make much sense – it will become prohibitively expensive, and U.S. taxpayers won’t keep picking up the tab. Time Magazine has the article and video clip; here’s an excerpt: “…Here’s a fact about Sandy that might surprise you: when the storm made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, it wasn’t actually a hurricane. Its wind speed had fallen below the 74 m.p.h. sustained velocity that’s needed to change a tropical storm into a hurricane. Instead Sandy was officially a “post-tropical cyclone.” And while the storm certainly dropped a lot of water on the belt of heavily affected states between South Carolina and New York — 7 in. or more in many places — it wasn’t the precipitation alone that led to the devastating floods that followed in its wake, causing more than $68 billion in damages. What made Sandy devastating was its size, covering more than 1,000 miles, the coastal storm surges it caused, and the way the force of the cyclone — which took an unusual path almost directly at the East Coast — pushed the sea and rivers up and over onto land, spilling out into streets and inundating nearby infrastructure…”

Experts Say Sandy Showed Limits Of An Accurate Forecast. Meteorologist Andrew Freedman at Climate Central analyzes the forecasts (public and private sector) leading up to a very unconventional storm unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. Social science, how we communicate threats to life and property, haven’t kept up with meteorological breakthroughs; here’s an excerpt: “...Spurred by Sandy as well as Hurricane Isaac, which struck Louisiana in 2012, the NWS is developing storm surge warnings as well as mapping tools that will allow forecasters to bring the threat closer to home for the public. Jamie Rhome, the storm surge lead for the NWS, said that Congress appropriated funds for storm surge forecasting improvements in the wake of Sandy, but that much of the work had already begun before the storm. The $10 million in post-Sandy funds devoted to storm surge modeling will accelerate the development of these warnings and enable the NWS to deliver this nationally earlier than expected. The NWS is also working to roll out experimental inundation graphics in 2014 and storm surge warnings in 2015. These warnings, and the maps used to convey them, are being designed collaboratively between forecasters and risk communication experts…”
Graphic credit above: “A prototype of NOAA’s new storm surge depth maps, which will be in use starting in 2014.” Credit: NOAA/NWS.
Communicating Weather Risk. Technology is great, but the weakest link is often communications. How can you accurately convey the level of risk so people and businesses can take appropriate measures? This becomes even more challenging when you’re faced with something you’ve never seen before: a strange, mutant combination of Nor’easter and dying hurricane, approaching from the east, in late October? In today’s edition of Climate Matters we take a look at social science, and how Sandy’s scope, as well as its path, was nearly unprecedented: “It’s been a year since Sandy made landfall near Brigantine, New Jersey. The storm which had a 1 in 700 year track turned into one of the costliest storms in history impacting 24 states. WeatherNation Chief Meteorologist Paul Douglas looks at the factors that made Sandy so destructive.”

8-Day Heads-Up On Superstorm Sandy. Leveraging ECMWF guidance we were able to provide an 8-day advance warning to our clients last year – Sandy’s landfall wound up being farther north (near Atlantic City), but the “Euro” did a remarkable job overall tipping off meteorologists of an eventual, westward “hook” to the storm track. More details fromAlerts Broadcaster.

Water, Not Wind, Makes Storms Like Sandy Dangerous. It turns out that the Saffir Simpson Scale (rating hurricanes from 1 to 5 based on sustained winds) does not do a good job estimating storm surge, which is the biggest threat to life and property. Live Science has a good explainer; here’s a clip: “…This is because the official Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is based entirely on a storm’s wind speed, which, it turns out, has little to do with the surge it produces. “There is no relationship,” James Brinkley, a member of the National Hurricane Center’s storm surge unit, told LiveScience, citing a number of inconsistent figures from past hurricanes. For example, Hurricane Katrina, which was a Category 3 storm, had a storm surge of more than 20 feet (6 m) in some locations. Hurricane Charley, on the other hand — which hit Florida in 2004 — was a Category 4 storm, but only caused storm surges of about 8 feet (2.4 m), Brinkley said…”

Turning Hurricane Sandy’s Scars Into Badges Of Survival. Showing off waterlines from Sandy’s storm surge has become something of a status symbol with some residents of New York and New Jersey, as described in The New York Times: “It was a foul, filthy thing that marred the aesthetics, something to scrub off or paint over, something to just get rid of. It stood for what once was: a sour reminder of the thundering water, unimaginable wreckage and exponential wounds. No one would want it anymore, would they? Marco Pasanella engagingly pointed out the jagged white line that ran the length of the brick wall inside his wine shop, Pasanella & Son Vintners, in the South Street Seaport. It was about six feet above the floor. It was going to stay right there. The waterline from Hurricane Sandy…”
Photo credit above: “Marco Pasanella, owner of Pasanella & Son Vintners in the South Street Seaport, stood in front of the interior brick wall, which still has a waterline.” Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times.

Sandy Was Our Social Storm, But At What Cost? Uploading all those Instagram photos of flooding seemed like a good idea at the time, until the power failed, there was no way to charge your iPhone, and now you couldn’t reach your loved ones. Mashable has an interesting story about Sandy and social media; here’s a clip: “…”A lot of the messaging when we announced the feature was to encouraging folks to take photos, but more importantly to take photos safely,” said Shayne Adamski, director of digital communications for FEMA. “We did not want folks to put themselves in harm’s way just to get a photo.” Adamski added that taking and attempting to upload photos or video may not be a productive use of battery life during situations where a person may be without power for days at a time. He said priority No. 1 in these situations should be notifying friends and family members of your status so those people do not have to call emergency managers to find out about you...”
Photo credit above: “This combination of Oct. 29, 2012 and Oct. 20, 2013 photos shows sea water flooding the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in New York as Superstorm Sandy struck the city, and traffic entering nearly a year later.” (AP Photo/John Minchillo).

Hurricane Sandy Anniversary: Dealing With The Psychological Scars One Year Later. Psychologists talk about a weather-version of PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the same thing tornado and flood victims also cope with post-storm. Here’s a clip from a story at Fox News: “…Coming up on an anniversary of something like a traumatic event can ramp things up and people can feel highly anxious and depressed,” Dr. Rachel Yehuda, director of the traumatic stress studies division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, told  “It’s a time where there is a natural spike in symptoms, especially on a first year anniversary.” According to Yehuda, some people who have experienced storm-related trauma, such as the loss of a loved one or the loss of a home, can undergo what is known as an “anniversary reaction.”  Every year on the date of the traumatic event, people may suffer from a resurgence of depressive symptoms and painful memories.  These symptoms can range from mild feelings of distress to significant psychiatric and medical effects…”

Photo credit: “Residents look over the remains of burned homes in the Rockaways section of New York, October 30, 2012. Hurricane Sandy battered the U.S. East Coast last year with fierce winds and driving rain, as the monster storm shut down transportation, shuttered businesses and left hundreds of thousands without power.” (REUTERS/Keith Bedford).

Reinsurer Tracks Natural Disasters, Tallies Devastating Effects. Here’s a clip fromThe Hartford Courant: “…The total cost of weather-related disasters in North America to insurance companies, and to the economy overall, has trended upward between 1980 and 2011, Munich Re says. In 2012, Sandy alone cost insurers $18.7 billion — more than the total cost of all hail, thunderstorms and tornadoes combined during the active 2011 storm season that destroyed property from Springfield, Mass., to Joplin, Mo., according to the Insurance Information Institute, a property-casualty research entity…”

Sandy Exposes Federal Flood Insurance To Political Pressure. Premiums are spiking near the water, local homeowners are howling, and now their elected representatives are feeling the heat, as reported at The Street; here’s an excerpt: “Although health insurance gets the headlines, it’s flood insurance that’s driving people crazy, one year after Superstorm Sandy. The people who want to rebuild face low payouts from the federal insurance pool and huge premium hikes to replenish the same pool. All this could delay the rebuilding process by years. The risks of floods, and the catastrophic losses from floods, have long forced beachfront property into a special, federal risk pool,the National Flood Insurance Program…”

Photo credit: Mike Groll, AP.

4 Reasons You Should Worry About Another SandyMother Jones has the story – here’s a clip: “…According to NASA researchers, Sandy’s particular track made it a 1-in-700 year storm event. It was, to put it mildly, meteorologically suspicious. So now, with a year’s distance and a lot of thought and debate, what can we say about climate change and Sandy—and hurricanes in general? A lot, as it turns out. Here’s what we know:

1. Sea level rise is making hurricanes more damaging—and Sandy is just the beginning. The most direct and undeniable way that global warming worsened Sandy is through sea level rise. According to climate researcher Ben Strauss of Climate Central, sea level in New York harbor is 15 inches higher today than it was in 1880, and of those 15 inches, eight are due to global warming’s influence (the melting of land-based ice, and the thermal expansion of seawater as it warms). And that matters: For every inch of sea level rise, an estimated 6,000 additional people were impacted by Sandy who wouldn’t have been otherwise…”
Photo credit above: “Flooding in Breezy Point, Queens, during Sandy.” .

Flash Floods And Debris Flows: How To Manage Nature’s Runaway Freight Trains. Here’s an excerpt of an interesting follow-up on recent fires and flash floods in Colorado, courtesy of Science Daily: “…One of the big science advances has been in the U.S. Geological Survey’s debris flow models. These models have helped explain, for instance, where these potentially deadly flows are most likely to happen and how large they might be. “We’ve learned that debris flows are likely from burned area for the first two years after a wildfire.” says DeGraff. “But the chance of flash floods lasts a little longer.” This kind of information helps determine what kinds of treatments might be done to mitigate damage...”

Photo credit above: “Private homes along Apple Creek narrowly avoided the Mountain Fire which occurred July 2013 in the San Jacinto Mountains between Palm Springs and Idyllwild, California. USGS modeling in the wake of the fire has indicated a moderate chance of a debris flow flowing down Apple Creek.” (Credit: Photo courtesy of the USDA Forest Service.)
Blizzard At The Superbowl? Businesses Seek Insurance. What are the odds? Slim, statistically, but Old Man Winter does have a wicked sense of humor. At this point nothing would surprise me. CNBC has the story; here’s the intro: “Super Bowl 2014 at New Jersey’s Meadowlands is expected to bring the Northeast $1.5 billion in revenue, but some businesses are already worrying about the weather, The Star-Ledger reported Tuesday. After the Farmers’ Almanac said a bitter storm could hit the Northeast around the time of the big game on Feb. 2, business owners began to look for insurance. “It’s an insurance most business owners probably don’t have now and might not be thinking about,” said Lori Shaw, executive director of the entertainment practice at Aon Risk Solutions…”

Air Pollution Sickening Computers Too. Just when you thought you had seen everything, along comes this story from AP and The Seattle Times; here’s an excerpt: “In a windowless lab at its Hillsboro campus, Intel scientists are brewing foul air so they can study the effects of air pollution on the innards of computers — a step toward figuring out how to protect electronics in markets such as India and China that have big pollution problems and the potential for big sales growth. So far, the scientists tell The Oregoniannewspaper, there have been no breakthroughs as they load test tubes of pressurized hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and chlorine, and calibrate their effects on electronics…”

Riding “The Big One”. Good grief, a 77 foot wave? The stuff of watery nightmares. This was off the coast of Portugal, a possible new world record for surfing the biggest wave. Some witnesses estimated that it was more than 100 feet high. Here’s a post (and amazing video clip) from Surfer Today: “The Brazilian crew traveled to Portugal with a goal in mind. To beat the Guinness World Record for the largest wave ever surfed, which belongs to the Hawaiian hellman, Garrett McNamara. Carlos Burle, Pedro Scooby, Felipe Cesarano, and Maya Gabeira had big hopes for the European super swell. On the 28th October, 2013, Burle claimed one of the biggest wave ever ridden at Praia do Norte. The first pictures show that he may be above the world record set by Garrett McNamara, at 23.77 m (78 feet), measured from trough to crest, on the 1st November 2011…”

What Happened To Just Watching Sesame Street? From Marketplace: “new studyfrom the group Common Sense Media found that 38 percent of children under two have used a mobile device, like an iPhone or tablet computer. That’s up from 10 percent just two years ago. The earliest of adopters

Climate Stories…

U.S. Says It Won’t Back New, International Coal-Fired Power Plants. The number one thing we can do, worldwide, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Phase out coal-fired power plants, convert them to natural gas or retire them altogether. Sequestering CO2 underground (carbon sequestration) hasn’t been proven to be even remotely cost-effective. And no, this probably won’t happen anytime soon, but the market is doing what regulation can’t – relatively cheap natural gas is powering an increasing percentage of the grid, producing roughly half the carbon emissions. Here’s an excerpt from The New York Times: “In an aggressive move to impose President Obama’s environmental policies overseas, the Treasury Department on Tuesday largely declared an end to United States support for new coal-fired power plants around the world. The decision means that Mr. Obama’s administration will no longer contribute to coal projects financed by the World Bank and other international development banks…” (Photo: AP File).

Storm-Ready Cities: How Climate Resilience Boosts Metro Areas And The EconomyThe Center for American Progress has the article; here’s a clip: “…Many city leaders—such as those in New York City, Washington, D.C., Houston, and Miami— are developing innovative strategies to reduce the risks from extreme weather. These leaders recognize that increasing their cities’ resilience to climate change not only keeps people and businesses out of harm’s way, but also—if done right—drives economic growth and improves the quality of life in metro areas. These leaders are working to meet priorities such as upgrading public transit and other infrastructure, providing cleaner and more reliable energy, creating jobs, attracting new businesses, improving air quality, and expanding parks and green spaces. To adequately prepare our nation for the impacts of climate change, more metro areas must follow their lead…”

File Photo credit above: AP/Kathy Willens. “Sandbags remain around the perimeter of the World Trade Center Memorial and construction site after the memorial was closed by flooding in the wake of Superstorm Sandy on Monday, November 5, 2012.”

U.S. Viewpoint: Earth Dangerously Warming – And We Are Causing It. Here’s an excerpt from an article at Independent Catholic News: “…“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. … It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” states the IPCC report. In his 2010 World Day of Peace message titled ‘If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation,’ Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI boldly wrote: “Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?” We remain indifferent at our own risk – and that of future generations.” (image above: NASA).



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Welcome to the WeatherNation blog. Every day I sift through hundreds of stories, maps, graphics and meteorological web sites, trying to capture some of the most interesting weather nuggets, the stories behind the forecast. I’ll link to stories and share some of the web sites I use. I’m still passionate about the weather, have been ever since Tropical Storm Agnes flooded my home in Lancaster, PA in 1972. I’ve started 5 weather-related companies. “EarthWatch” created the world’s first 3-D weather graphics for TV stations – Steven Spielberg used our software in “Jurassic Park” and “Twister”. My last company, “Digital Cyclone”, personalized weather for cell phones. “My-Cast” was launched in 2001 and is still going strong on iPhone, Android and Blackberry. I sold DCI to Garmin in 2007 so I could focus on my latest venture: WeatherNation. I also write a daily weather column for The Star Tribune And if you’re on Twitter, you’ll find me @pdouglasweather.

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