2011: Glad It Is Over!

The National Weather Service sums up the too-numerous billion dollar disasters of 2011. Glad this year is over! And, this list does not include the pre-Halloween snow storm in the Northeast that likely would have totaled a billion if indirect costs (staying in hotels, etc.) were included.

From a meteorological point-of-view, very glad it is over. Jack Hayes, the Director of the National Weather Service, offers similar thoughts.

The 552 deaths from tornadoes, the worst since 1925, was the lowlight of the year. Here is a one-minute animation of the tornadoes of 2011.

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What We Didn’t Hear Yesterday

Now that we have begun a new decade since the attacks of 9/11, I believe it is time to take a fresh look at the TSA and airport security.

As a person who has spent an entire career developing techniques to save lives and manage risks, the expenditure of $57,000,000,000 on airport security is at best excessive and at worst largely a waste.

What do I mean as “excessive”? Given that cockpit doors are locked and that passengers would fight back against any attempt to hijack a plane, spending that amount of money — given the far more serious threats we are hardly addressing — is nonsensical.

We just saw 46 deaths and (preliminary estimate) $15,000,000,000 in damage due to weak Hurricane Irene. Just imagine what a category 4 hurricane (which occurred in 1938) could do to the Northeast given today’s population!  Want $10/gallon gasoline? Just put a cat 3 or greater hurricane into the Houston Ship Channel. We have put too many fuel production eggs in that basket. These are just two examples where some smart planning and investment of small sums could greatly lessen our society’s vulnerability.

And, there are huge — huge — threats that are not even on most people’s radar. A giant solar storm or an EMP attack would, given our complete lack of preparation, take us back to 1870. That’s right, 1870: No electricity. Our homes and businesses would be dark, our modern autos would not run, we could not pump gas and your local pharmacy would quickly run out of medicine. The power would stay off for months.

As Sen. John Kyl said in 2005:

The Sept. 11 commission report stated that our biggest failure was one of ‘imagination.’ No one imagined that terrorists would do what they did on Sept. 11. Today few Americans can conceive of the possibility that terrorists could bring our society to its knees by destroying everything we rely on that runs on electricity. But this time we’ve been warned, and we’d better be prepared to respond.

That was six years ago and nothing has been done.

There is a bill before Congress to address this threat by reinforcing the electric grid that I believe should be passed immediately.

It is time to stop the expansion of airport security and the TSA. That is fighting the last war.

We need to direct the vast sums of money for new TSA body-scanning machines into better disaster preparedness and fixing these huge vulnerabilities.

Tropical Trouble!

Rain has already started on the Gulf coast as Tropical Storm Thirteen creeps north at 2 mph. Given the long duration, storm totals may exceed 20″ in spots. Winds could be 50+ mph as the storm intensifies slightly over the weekend.

The flood risk with this system is very high. As I was doing last week at this time, I urge people living in these areas — even if you are in an area that does not traditionally flood — to be prepared in case an evacuation is necessary.

And, tropical storm Katia continues in the Atlantic. There is nothing to worry about for the next five days. However, starting Tuesday, the U.S. east coast will need to begin to pay attention. I still doubt that Katia will get to the U.S. coast but she will be close enough that — after you’ve enjoyed the weekend — you’ll ant to monitor the storm.

Wrap-Up on Irene

I believe it is now clear to everyone that Irene was not “overhyped” by weather forecasters,

Associated Press photo of what used to be Route 4 in Vermont

with approximately 6,000,000 still without power 4-5 days (depending on location) after the storm and communities still cut-off from the outside world, I want to close out Meteorological Musing’s coverage of Irene with a remarkable time-lapse of Irene with  the National Weather Service’s path forecast superimposed.

Hat tip: Andrea Bleistein

While they were not perfect, I’m very proud of my colleagues at AccuWeather and the National Weather Service for superb forecasts of this dangerous storm that unquestionably saved lives and dollars. The meteorological profession came through again.

I’d now like to talk just a moment about preparedness. The Wall Street Journal has an online story just posted about “slow pace” of the recovery.

Political leaders encountered frustrated residents in the northeast Wednesday, angered by days without power, continued flooding and what they perceived to be a slow government response to Hurricane Irene’s devastation.
More than 1.8 million homes and businesses from Virginia to Vermont remained in the dark—with some people told they may not have power for days…

Standing with her school-age son and daughter beside her, Andrea Trout said she had Type 2 diabetes and was struggling to keep her insulin at the proper temperature because her refrigerator lost power. “I’m feeling afraid,” she said. She has been in the dark since 7 a.m. Sunday.

I absolutely, totally feel for these people. But, rather than complain to politicians (which is the topic of the story), I would like to suggest to readers that it is wise to prepare for future disasters and plan to be self-sufficient for at least a week whether it is an earthquake, hurricane, or ice storm.

Here is a set of links for planning for a disaster.

Do it. Tomorrow.