The Flood Was Forecast…Could Have Been Mitigated

“Meteorological studies suggest that rainfalls well in excess of those recorded in the floods of 1893 and 1974 are possible. Therefore it seems certain that unless major flood mitigation schemes, such as the proposed Wivenhoe Dam, are implemented, floods even greater than those of 1974 will again be experienced in Brisbane.”

Those words from a study from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. Unfortunately, those fears have played out since January 1. These devastating floods are not records — not even close. Here is a river stage graph via Roger Pielke, Jr.

This horrible flood appears to be a case of putting more and more civilization into harm’s way without sufficient thought given to the risk.

A frequent theme of this blog is mitigating risks both natural and man-made. This tragedy serves as a reminder that we ignore these risks at our peril.

Special thanks to Roger Pielke, Jr.

Shrinking Food Supplies?

Another article (subscription may be required) about worldwide food price and availability concerns:

Prices of corn and soybeans leapt 4% Wednesday and wheat gained 1%, continuing the broad rally in commodity prices that began in June. With yesterday’s gains, prices of corn futures contracts are now up 94% from their June lows; soybeans are up 51% and wheat is up 80%.
The USDA’s revisions reflect the impact of dry weather in South America and floods in Australia, which have compounded supply constraints that first started to emerge in the middle of last year, when a drought in Russia ravaged that country’s wheat fields. The agency also cut estimates for U.S. harvests of corn and soybeans.

Harvesting wheat in northern Kansas, 2010

This week’s extreme cold in the winter wheat belt was not taken into account in the reduced USDA estimates. Given the lack of snow cover in parts of Oklahoma, winterkill is a possibility which would further shrink supplies. We won’t know for several weeks (the crop is dormant now) whether this occurred.

I continue to be concerned about trends worldwide food supplies and will keep our blog readers updated.

Short Hurricane Bonds?

Did you know that there are bonds you can buy that help insurance companies raise capital in case of a hurricane-related catastrophe? In the last three years, with very low levels of tropical storm activity in the U.S., those bonds have paid off handsomely.

Roger Pielke, Jr., thinks it may be time to short hurricane bonds because the “hurricane drought” will end one of these days, “perhaps in spectacular fashion.”

I don’t know whether these bonds are even “short-able” but I agree with Roger that the hurricane drought will end, likely sooner than later.

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

As a person whose career is dedicated to mitigating risks, this is an excellent article about what should occur if a terrorist or rogue nation ever detonates a nuclear device in the U.S. The author is correct that it is not a 20 megaton hydrogen bomb (think Dr. Strangelove) blast we should fear (for which there is little we can do to save our lives) but rather a blast smaller than Hiroshima. We can do a lot to save our lives should the latter occur.

The advice to have a full three day (minimum) supply of food, first aid supplies, etc., is excellent for storms, terrorism, hurricanes, or earthquakes. Kathleen and I follow it and I suggest you do, too.

There is a movie trailer playing on TV where one of the characters says, “just because you choose not to believe in the devil does not protect you from him.” Regardless of it being “unthinkable,” there are likely evil people wanting or even planning such an event.  Proactive is always better than merely hoping for the best.

Wow, is that Cold!!

This is the 10-day computer forecast from the European consortium and the airmass over central Canada is the coldest I have ever seen on a model. The forecast is valid at Friday, January 14th. If this forecast is correct, it will bring extreme cold (think December 1983) into the U.S.

As posted below, I believe much of the U.S. east of the Rockies will turn sharply colder next week when compared to this week.  Confidence in that forecast is high.

Whether the second frigid air mass depicted above actually develops, or whether it is an exaggeration by the computer models, is unknowable at this point. I’m posting this so you can keep it in the back of your mind for planning purposes.

Global Cooling, Part 2 of 3

Among many in the climate science community, global warming is a given. There is no consideration given to the earth losing heat and cooling.
But is the chance of cooling really zero?  And, if it is not zero, what might the implications of cooling be? This is Part 2 of a three-part essay on global cooling. Part 1 is below.
Lets examine whether the “consensus” regarding continued warming is well-founded. 
World history is made up of cooling periods and warming periods. Here is a graph of temperatures for the last 2,000 years:
The Roman Warm Period was in progress at the time of Christ. Temperatures plummeted a few centuries later. Rome fell as civilizations relocated to escape the cold.
Temperatures warmed again about a thousand years ago. During the Medieval Warm Period, wine grapes were grown in Newfoundland and Leif Ericson set up a settlement in Greenland (which he described as “green”).  Over the next few centuries, temperatures dropped so much that the glaciers advanced and the world experienced the Little Ice Age. Temperatures have been in recovery mode since.
It is very likely that humans have influenced temperatures and other aspects of climate, especially in the past few decades as fossil fuel use has increased. Because of solar activity, volcanoes, cosmic rays, and climate feedbacks (i.e., other factors equal warmer temperatures equal more clouds which should produce cooling) it is impossible, at the present state of the science, to know the exact extent of man’s influence.
Climate scientists attempt to investigate the extent of man’s influence through the use of climate models. The models are complex computer simulations of the atmosphere, the ocean, the sun, and demographic trends.  The value of these simulations is limited because, to cite just one example, we don’t understand the role of clouds and tiny dust particles in regulating incoming solar radiation and outgoing “long wave” radiation. With so much about the sun, cosmic rays, and other influences not understood, the models cannot be relied upon to make accurate forecasts (see Part 1 for examples of wildly incorrect climate forecasts). In fact, the models are so unreliable, we do not use them to make 90-day climate forecasts. How can we believe they can make accurate 90-year forecasts?
It is not just my opinion that the forecasts are unreliable.  You can download a 2007 paper from The Wharton School that concludes, “We have been unable to identify any scientific forecasts to support global warming. Claims the earth will get warmer have no more credence than saying it will get colder.”
Mainstream climate scientists are starting to agree. Within the last week, Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr. writes:
There is no evidence that the global climate model multi-decadal predictions (and even shorter term runs on a year or less into the future) have the needed skill. [to make accurate forecasts]
My conclusion: There is no demonstrable skill at forecasting climate. 
With that background, lets ask a question:  What if all of the recent evidence of colder weather means just that:  The earth is starting to cool.
Now, I want to clearly state: I don’t know whether the earth’s heat content will increase, decrease, or stay the same in future decades. Neither does anyone else.
As a risk management professional, I’m asking whether major cooling or warming is the greater threat and should we prepare for either? 
I’ll offer some thoughts tomorrow.

UPDATE: New Year’s Eve. Here is an article about botched environmental forecasts

Killer Salad Bars

From CBS News:

(CBS)  In this exclusive story, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports the latest terror attack to America involves the possible use of poisons – simultaneous attacks targeting hotels and restaurants at many locations over a single weekend. 

The plot uncovered earlier this year is said to involve the use of two poisons – ricin and cyanide – slipped into salad bars and buffets. 

“We operate under the premise that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist acts are in this country,” said Dec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Dec. 6, 2010.

What next, grope searching garbanzo beans?

I don’t, for one moment, discount the threat that the U.S. faces. But, maybe if DHS focused our (yes, it is our money) resources on finding the specific individuals who might carry out a threat, as opposed to grope searching and nude-viewing of 70-year old grandmothers and the “homeland security threat” of ‘climate change,’ I could take them seriously.

UPDATE:  Now we are evacuating airports because of stuffed chickens.

Finally, An Intelligent Article About Airport Security

In my “day job” as CEO of WeatherData Services, Inc., my speciality is mitigating the risks posted by extreme weather and environmental conditions. The same risk mitigation strategies apply to just about any hazard, including those that are man-made.

As a frequent business flier, I have written about the TSA’s “security theatre” on a number of occasions (for example, here and here) and on the TSA’s outrageous violation of our privacy rights with its new grope searches and nude machines (examples here and here). In spite of all of the theatre and inconvenience, security is markedly ineffective. Just yesterday, ABC News reported that a loaded gun a passenger forgot was in his carryon bag got through security in Houston (an airport with nude machines)!

Unfortunately, up until now, most media articles on the subject have been little more than rewrites of the TSA’s “talking points” for reporters. At last, The Washington Post has written a comprehensive article that looks at both sides of the issue. Some excerpts:

Nine years after the Sept. 11 attacks and decades after hijackers first began to target passenger airliners, the United States has invested billions of dollars in an airport system that makes technology the last line of defense to intercept terrorists.

It has yet to catch one.

The result is an emerging consensus among experts and lawmakers that the checkpoint-heavy approach – searching nearly every passenger – may not be the most effective…

Some critics have given the labyrinthine airport security system the nickname “security theater,” saying it is riddled with loopholes. Airport workers are not screened daily, making them capable of passing into secure areas with weapons. Lines inside the terminal are vulnerable to a would-be suicide bomber. Packages sent as cargo go through a comparatively light screening process – one that is being tightened but was exploited by al-Qaeda operatives in October when they sent bombs hidden in printer cartridges.

“After 9/11, the attacks failed because of the poor skills of the terrorists rather than anything we’ve done,” said Rafi Ron, former security director at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. “In every one of these later attacks, the security checkpoint was overcome by terrorists who took advantage of the loopholes.”

If the sentiments expressed in the Post’s article seem familiar, they are exactly what I, and many other experts, have contended for years. As the article points out, the terrorists have “won” — we are curtailing our freedoms and spending hundreds of billions for little or no gain.

The article points out that the British are going to relax the silly liquids ban but the U.S. thinks it is “too soon.” That’s absurd. Either the chemistry exists to make liquid bombs on board an airplane or it does not (I’m in the latter camp). Timing ( = political theatre) has nothing to do with it.

I have written my congressional delegation as well as key congresspeople in other states. I have also written the airlines. Have you? I believe that it is only through sustained pressure from voters and airline customers that we will get intelligent and effective airport security.

SNL Has It Just Right

A few people have responded to my TSA postings with (paraphrasing), “anything to be safe.”
I understand the desire to be “safe.” What I don’t understand is this: From September 12, 2001 to October 31, 2010 (the last day of the old TSA procedures) here is what the statistics looked like:
  • Deaths due to tornadoes in U.S.:  533
  • Deaths due to being shot while hunting in U.S.: 900 (approximate, but close)
  • Deaths due to terrorism in U.S.: Zero

Keeping in mind that the underwear bomber, liquids plot, shoe bomber, and toner cartridges all originated outside the U.S. The toner cartridges were cargo, of course. Please help me to understand why you believe this ratcheting up of surveillance of passengers on November 1 is justified.
Storm chasing continues, and is growing, in spite of the hazard (i.e., there are companies that take paying customers out to watch storms). I don’t know of any serious person who proposes outlawing hunting because of the hazards.

We do not inspect air cargo and we do not inspect (other than when they are initially hired) the people who load the cargo, baggage and food or the people that service the plane. Al Qaeda has bragged that the whole toner cartridge “plot” cost them $4,600. We are spending billions to respond even though the plot was unsuccessful. It occurs to me that if we stopped overreacting, the plots would stop because they no longer accomplish AQ’s terror goal.

This was the security line on the 16th at O’Hare with the new procedures. As many have pointed out and, as I have personally experienced, the new procedures are much slower.

If planes were falling out of the sky or even if there had been a close call, I would understand the impulse to do nude machines and grope searches (even though I would probably still disagree with it). But, none of this is happening. So, I’m sincerely interested in the thoughts of the pro-new procedures advocates as to how this is justified in terms of the billions of dollars in costs and the loss of our privacy and our fourth amendment rights.
Please post your thoughts in the comments. Thank you in advance to anyone who responds. 

"Uh, Oh"

I didn’t see this until this morning. This is a “controlled” demolition where the smokestack is supposed to fall toward the northeast but, instead, falls to the south. As the stack hits the powerlines, you can see the blue flash that is often observed when lightning hits a powerline or when one is toppled by high winds.

Michael Bennett – Hero

On a number of occasions I have written about airport security. If you would like to read some of my previous postings go here or here.

I’ve known about Michael Bennett, the ExpressJet pilot who finally had enough of the TSA’s overreach, for several days. I haven’t written about it until now because I wanted to hear the TSA’s side of the story. Now that I have read their statement, here goes…

Mr. Bennett’s side of the story is the first posting here. Basically, he was going through the checkpoint on his way to his flight (he was piloting). He went through the metal detector and it did not alarm. Regardless, they directed him to go through the porn-o-scope. He refused. Keep in mind that pilots can legally take guns into the cockpit. So, the porn-o-scope, as it pertains to the flight crew, is pure “theatre.”

But, the bigger issue, for all of us, is giving up our liberties for little or no gain. The porn-o-scopes (which provide a detailed view under the clothing of airline passengers) add little to security, slow down the screening process and, in the process, violate our rights pertaining to “unreasonable search.”

Now that the TSA thinks its mission has expanded to school buses and intercity buses, I view the TSA and DHS as genuine threats to our liberty. We have rights to a peaceful bus ride without 60 TSA and local law enforcement boarding and demanding ID from innocent people.

If we don’t draw the line, where does it stop?

I’ve written my letter to ExpressJet supporting Mr. Bennett. I hope you will consider doing the same.

The Annoying Emergency Alert System Tests

Ever watched television or listened to radio and, just as the critical point in the program or a favorite musical passage comes on, it is interrupted by the annoying tones of the F.C.C. and Department of Homeland Security’s “Emergency Alert System” (EAS)?

When I was a child in the 1950′s, there was a system called CONELRAD that was to alert us in case of nuclear attack. And, perhaps in the 1950′s, it made sense to have that system. But today? CONELRAD has morphed into a giant white elephant called EAS.

The EAS says it is designed to allow the President access to the airwaves within ten minutes in case of emergency. Fine. But, why do we need EAS? Can’t the President just call up the networks? 

Think back to September 11, 2001. President Bush was in Florida. As the airplanes struck, all of the networks began covering the story without any help from the President or government. They did it because it was news. No EAS notification was made. Cuban Missile Crisis? No. Oklahoma City bombing? Nope! Assassination attempt on President Reagan? Nada. 

The EAS system has never been used. 

Lets ask a practical question: Since we got through the Cuban Missile Crisis and September 11 with the regular news media covering the stories, do you believe the media will fail to cover a bigger crisis? Of course they will! And, just like President Bush addressed the nation from a remote location on September 11 via the regular media, he will be able to do so in a future crisis.  

So, why do we need the EAS tests, infrastructure, and people to run it?  

Answer: We don’t. 

EAS is a perfect example of a government program whose time, if it had ever come, has passed. It is time to get rid of EAS and those annoying weekly tests.  

The $700,000,000 Weather Forecast

Hurricane Earl at a time when it was moving directly toward Florida (upper left)

Remember last week at this time when Category 4 Hurricane Earl was threatening the East Coast of the United States?

The memory has probably already started to fade because Earl just brushed the coast at the outer banks of North Carolina and far east Massachusetts. Total coastal miles put under hurricane warnings? According to the NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, 450. There were no mass evacuations, just some selective evacuations in areas most threatened by the storm. Earl was an inconvenience, not a disaster — just as it should have been, right?

Rewind 11 years. Above is a photo of Category 5 Hurricane Floyd in roughly the same geographic position as Earl. In 1999, virtually the entire East Coast of the U.S. was put under a hurricane warning. Again, according to NHC (thanks, Dennis Feltgen), the number of coastal miles of hurricane warning was 1,500.  There were mass evacuations that overwhelmed highways and local authorities —  to the extent that one scientist wrote an essay, “Floyd the Fire Drill.”

Given the similar paths north of Hispanola, why was there such a difference in preparations between Earl and Floyd? The answer is simple:  The great improvement in the quality of hurricane track forecasts in the last decade.

Below is the Hurricane Center’s forecast path from about the time Earl was north of Hispanola.

Instead of warning the entire East Coast as we had to during Floyd, the science of meteorology correctly identified that only the two areas (outer banks and far east Massachusetts) were at risk and warned accordingly. The forecast change in Earl’s direction of movement and rate of weakening were both remarkably good considering this forecast was two days out.

Why is this important?  It is further evidence that meteorology has “tamed the weather.”

NOAA estimates that an evacuation costs between $600,000 and $1 million per mile of evacuated coast. These costs include transportation, lost wages of the evacuees, preparations (i.e., cost of lumber to board up windows, pulling boats out of the water), lost income (tourists that cancel), etc.

Lets do a little hurricane warning math:  Floyd (1500 warned miles) - Earl (450 miles) = 1050 correctly unwarned miles due to the improvement in hurricane forecasting.

OK, now take those 1,050 miles and multiply them by a conservative figure of $700,000 in savings for each mile that correctly was not warned = $735 million dollars! Given the current weak economy, that is a tremendous value to the U.S. and its people!

And, when you figure in the value-added private sector hurricane forecasts issued by companies like WeatherData and its parent company AccuWeather, the savings grow further, perhaps approaching a billion dollars in total when the correct landfall forecast for Canada is factored in.  I chose to go with a more conservative number in the headline.

This is the story I tell (without math!) in Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather. We certainly have not “conquered” the weather, but we have tamed it — that is, we have removed a lot of its sting through more accurate forecasts, warnings, and advice that people and businesses can use to make appropriate decisions in critical situations.  The story behind this unnoticed miracle of science and technology is fascinating and I hope you will consider checking out Warnings. 

In the meantime, congratulations to my fellow meteorologists in general and, in particular, the meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center and my colleagues at WeatherData and AccuWeather.

UPDATE: 10AM Friday:  The American Meteorological Society has more here.

Hurricane Heads Up!

Stories like this give meteorologists nightmares…

BILOXI, Miss. —Robert Latham spent Aug. 27, 2005, riding along U.S. 90 from Jackson County to Hancock County along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, marveling at the number of people grilling, swimming and playing volleyball on the beach. They seemed oblivious to the monster storm that churned in the Gulf of Mexico, headed their way.

By the time Katrina departed, 168 were killed in Hancock Co. and the surrounding area.

After what has been a quiet hurricane season for the U.S. in 2010 looks like it is going to turn very active from roughly Thursday of this week through the end of the Labor Day weekend.  At leas two storms could conceivably threaten the U.S.

Meteorologists know that people on vacation often problems keeping up with weather information and have problems evaluating it because some are not familiar with the geography, local TV and radio stations, etc.  For this reason, I am urging anyone planning to vacation along the Gulf or Atlantic coasts this week or next to take a road atlas (even if you are flying). Or, note this link for a hurricane tracking chart.

Finally, here is AccuWeather’s Hurricane Center for all the latest!

It’s His Story and He’s Sticking To It

Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin was interviewed by Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show this morning. He again stated that he didn’t order a mandatory evacuation because they didn’t know Katrina was headed for New Orleans until Max Mayfield called him at home Saturday evening August 27th (Katrina struck on Monday morning). I tell the behind-the-scenes story of what went wrong during and after Katrina in Warnings.

Below are the National Hurricane Center’s public forecast maps from 4am and 10am Saturday, August 27, 2005. Both show Katrina moving right over New Orleans. Mayfield called Nagin because Mayfield was shocked that Nagin had not ordered a mandatory evacuation.

Nagin should have ordered a mandatory evacuation by 11am Saturday — he waited nearly 24 more hours to do so (10:30am Sunday)! The fact that more did not leave New Orleans is due to Nagin, not to the meteorologists!

UPDATE:  The interview can be viewed here.

I entirely agree with one point made by Nagin and former FEMA director Michael Brown: We are no better prepared now than we were for Katrina. This was demonstrated by the slow response to the oil spill in the Gulf and it will be demonstrated when the next catastrophic disaster occurs.

More Climate Nonsense

As I was viewing web sites in my hotel room last night, I came across this from the Carl Pope, the chairman of the Sierra Club.

August 10, 2010

Martha’s Vineyard, MA — I certainly can’t complain about the weather this week. It’s gorgeous on Cape Cod, a good place this summer to escape from the exceptional chill of California’s summer this year. But the newspaper suggests that globally that’s not the norm. Heat waves in Russia have led to massive fires in parts of the country that are usually too wet to burn, to the loss of 30 percent of that nation’s wheat crop, and to a ban on grain exports from one of the world’s major producers. It’s either Russia’s worst heat wave in 130 years or, if you believe some commentators, in a thousand.Regardless, the death rate in Moscow has doubled.

In Pakistan, the already fragile regime of President Zardari has been pushed into even greater instability by unprecedented floods that have displaced 14 million people, the worst disaster in a disaster-prone nation’s history.More people have lost their homes in Pakistanthan lost them in the Haiti Earthquake, the Indian Ocean tsunami, and the Kashmir earthquake combined.

Mudslides in northwest China have killed over 300 people.  The high desert of India’s Ladakh region has been savaged by unprecedented rains and floods. And a one-hundred square mile tower of ice broke off the Greenland ice sheet — the biggest iceberg in fifty years.

As Mr. Pope himself writes, he is not a climate scientist. An organization that should know better, the World Meteorological Organization (part of the United Nations), issued this statement yesterday:

Several regions of the world are currently coping with severe weather-related events: flash floods and widespread flooding in large parts of Asia and parts of Central Europe while other regions are also affected: by heatwave and drought in Russian Federation, mudslides in China and severe droughts in sub-Saharan Africa. While a longer time range is required to establish whether an individual event is attributable to climate change, the sequence of current events matches IPCC projections of more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming. The Monsoon activity in Pakistan and other countries in South-East Asia is aggravated by the la Niña phenomenon, now well established in the Pacific Ocean.

With regard to this line of thinking, Roger Pielke, Jr. writes:

Even though the IPCC report can be parsed in many ways, I await the textual exegesis that supports the claim that the “sequence of current events matches IPCC predictions.”  This will be difficult given that the IPCC didn’t even make projections for 2010.  I welcome in the comments efforts to justify the claim by the WMO.

I am coming to the conclusion that there is something about the climate issue that makes people — especially but not limited to academics and scientists — completely and utterly lose their senses.  The WMO statement is (yet) another example of scientifically unsupportable nonsense in the climate debate.  Such nonsense is of course not going away anytime soon .

Let me see if I can add something additional: This is a chart of world temperatures (dashed = Hadley Center, dotted = NASA) versus record U.S. disasters. It is taken from my global warming talk.

The takeaway from this is that record weather events occur at all levels of world temperatures! The fact there are several extremes going on in the world right now, by itself, has nothing to do with proving global warming.

For example, take the San Diego hurricane. Even though it occurred with much lower temperatures than we have now, do you have any doubt that if another California hurricane were to occur next month that newspapers would have headlines screaming global warming!?

Its not just the United States where there is no apparent correlation, the worst known storm disaster in recorded history, the Bhola, Bangladesh hurricane (500,000 to 1,500,000 killed) occurred in 1970 with much cooler temperatures than now.

So, while I am glad that Mr. Pope is having good weather for his Martha’s Vineyard vacation, his nice weather is no more proof of global warming than the record cold that has persisted in South America the last few weeks.