Haiti: What I Remember From Being There

It’s impossible for us to fathom what Haitian life must be like tonight. People who never had anything now have less.

haiti-beach.jpgLike you I’ve been watching the coverage of the Haitian earthquake. Each detail makes this sad story sadder. It’s difficult to imagine a spot less able to cope with this kind of adversity.

I have been to Haiti. Strange as it seems I vacationed there with my friend Neal sometime in the late 70s. We spent a week at the Club Med “Magic Isle.”

Even then Club Med never mentioned the country’s name in its promotional material. The club is long since closed, a victim of Haiti’s reputation as the basket case of the Western Hemisphere.

A few weeks before the trip we got paperwork from Club Med. We’d need to take medication before our departure. Malaria was the concern. In most of the country modern sanitation just didn’t exist. Judging by what’s coming out tonight that hasn’t changed.

We flew from JFK non-stop. Back then the airport bore the name of former Haitian president Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. His son, “Baby Doc,” was in charge of the country. This was an iron willed dictatorship which produced riches for a few on the backs of many.

Our bus trip through the countryside passed many streams. All were marked with health warning signs. Still there were people in each of them, mostly washing clothes. We didn’t slow down. My glimpses were brief.

Club Med “Magic Isle” itself was an armed camp. A guard station turned away locals who wanted in. Once a week local craftsmen were allowed to approach on the beach. It was obvious this part of Haiti was not for Haitians!

During our week there Neal and I never left the property.

The club itself was as beautiful as it was underused. About half the rooms were empty–this after being priced well below any other Club Med facility.

The view from my room was of stark mountains. They had been clear cut for charcoal–a cash crop. Haiti’s sister country on Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic, had similar rough hills. Theirs were covered in green!

The club was reasonably new when Neal and I arrived. Staff who’d been there for the construction told us the property was totally built by hand. There were no bulldozers or excavators. Hiring locals was much cheaper!

I was conflicted vacationing in this incredibly poor nation. I didn’t think of it before the trip, but it was tough to get off my mind while we were there. I had never been… still have never been… anywhere else with this much poverty. It was everyone. I was unavoidable… except inside the club.

It’s impossible for us to fathom what Haitian life must be like tonight. People who never had anything now have less.

The earthquake is just the first disaster. The next will diseases as dead and decaying bodies rot in place.

It is monumentally sad.

The Storm’s Over — The Numbers Are In

The dry air was the wild card. Radar showed moderate snow over all of Connecticut for hours-and-hours before anything hit the ground.

snow-shovel-on-the-steps.jpgThe snow has come and gone. There’s never a bullseye, but the forecast was reasonably close. If success is judged by number of complaints, or lack thereof, I’m doing fine. Here are the final DOT numbers. I have also added the Boston and New York NWS snow totals, which include Connecticut, for the Dec 20-21, 2009 storm at the end of this entry.

Not everyone was as lucky. A friend who forecasts in Springfield sent a text message saying he’d received nothing! “Bust of the decade,” he said. Ouch. Been there. I know exactly what he’s going through.

I was right about Southeastern Connecticut getting the most snow followed by the shoreline in general. The snow was fluffy and windblown as predicted. Accumulations were generally in line with my numbers. My call for the Northwest Hills and most of the area directly adjacent to the Massachusetts line was a few inches higher than the actual totals.

I wrote about this last night, but it bears repeating the most unusual and interesting part of this storm was the exceptionally dry air. During the summer we sometimes see 30 grams of water content per square meter. Last night it was around 1 gram per cubic meter!

The dry air was the wild card. Radar showed moderate snow over all of Connecticut for hours-and-hours before anything hit the ground. Once the atmospheric column over any location became saturated light snow turned to heavy snow. I’d never seen a situation quite like this before. It cut inches off all the accumulations.

It’s a shame this storm will impact Christmas shopping. Otherwise we’re lucky it came on a Saturday night when travel is usually light.

And now the dig out begins.

(NWS totals after the jump)

Continue reading “The Storm’s Over — The Numbers Are In”

These Snow Forecasts Never Get Easier

With all this heavyweight computing power and myriad observations this was the best we could do-vague and inconsistent guidance!

nws watches map.jpgThe weekend snow seems to be coming into sharper focus. I say “seems” because I won’t know for sure until the whole thing is gone. It’s been a wild, incredibly inconsistent ride which isn’t over yet.

Last night before going on-the-air I looked closely at the 00Z&#185 GFS and NAM models. The NAM called for a blizzard. The GFS had a windy day with light snow.

Before bed I took another look.

The 06Z runs were in. The NAM had gone from Armageddon to nothing! It was now showing the storm missing us! I sent a text message to Gil Simmons who was already preparing his forecast at work:

Geoff: Nam to 60h. Sorry snowman.

Gil: WTF. Gfs still had some measurable.

Gil: Nothing like flushing hrs of work

Gil: What a joke

He was right–What a joke. With all this heavyweight computing power and myriad observations this was the best we could do-vague and inconsistent guidance!

I went to bed.

I woke up this morning and checked my phone. Craig Allen, New York’s best known broadcast meteorologist, was on Facebook. He was complaining about the Weather Service’s freshly issued “Blizzard Watch” for Long Island. It was much too early considering the inconsistency of the forecast and the immense impact on the weekend before Christmas.

By experience on-air forecasters understand it’s easier to cancel an event than un-cancel it! There’s no harm in waiting a little while longer. On the other hand there’s plenty of downside committing to a watch too early.

Before starting this entry I took a look at the 12Z GFS and NAM. Major snow is back in the NAM. The GFS has become less of an outlier and is now closer to (but still less than) the NAM solution. These models and a few more will form the basis for my forecast today.

I will spend the next few hours mulling over each detail. How much wind? When will the snow start? Will there be a burst period? What about the critical cloud temperatures which will define the snow’s fluff factor.

In the end I’ll hope to be close. There’s no bullseye in snow forecasts. You’re never exactly right. You can only hope people are well prepared and critics cut you a little slack.

&#185 – To achieve global consistency all weather data is produced in “Z” time aka UTC or GMT. This time of year it’s five hours ahead of EST. So 00Z means 7:00 PM EST. That’s the initialization time. It takes a few hours for the results to trickle out.

The Hurricane Center Did A Terrible Job On Ida

I was just having a discussion with a friend about Hurricane Ida. It’s difficult to remember a tropical system this poorly forecast.

Here’s what the Hurricane Center said in their technical discussion Friday night:

ALTHOUGH WATERS ARE WARM OVER THE NORTHWESTERN CARIBBEAN…VERTICAL SHEAR IS EXPECTED TO HAMPER MUCH INTENSIFICATION OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS. THE GFDL AND HWRF MAKE IDA A HURRICANE OVER THE CENTRAL GULF OF MEXICO…A SCENARIO THAT DOES NOT SEEM PLAUSIBLE IN THE FACE OF WESTERLY SHEAR THAT IS EXPECTED TO INCREASE TO 50 OR 60 KT BY DAY 4.

ida-wind-fields.gifSo much for plausible! Ida was forecast to be a tropical storm now, not a powerful hurricane.

A blown forecast like this, even though the storm is far from the mainland, changes how preparations are made. When the forecast is less dependable storm preps become necessary earlier and for more storms.

Bad forecasting is costly.

That being said I can’t tell you who forecasts hurricanes better. I’m not sure anyone does. The Hurricane Center is stocked with very bright people. Most of their lead forecasters are PhDs.

I don’t know how well, or even if, NHC does post storm analysis. In cases like this I’d like to see some outside agency or (more likely) the academic community take a gander and see if there’s anything that should be done differently.

More accurate forecasting of tropical weather systems is a money saver, plain and simple.

NFL.com Redefines Burying The Lede

So what’s the lead on this screen cap from NFL.com on my iPhone? “Titans: Stopped Patriots on 4th down.”

In journalism, the failure to mention the most interesting or attention grabbing elements of a story in the first paragraph is sometimes called “burying the lede.”

nfl-on-iphone.jpgLet me begin by burying the lede!

I know. It should be lead. God only knows why, but lede is the form used in this phrase.

Anyway, back to the story at hand.

The Patriots played the Tennessee Titans in a raging snowstorm at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA. The Pats annihilated the Titans. It was 45-0 at halftime. The final was 59-0 and it really should have been 61-0 save a blown call on an obvious Titan safety.

So what’s the lead on this screen cap from NFL.com on my iPhone? “Titans: Stopped Patriots on 4th down.”

Nice try, but I don’t think so.

Tropical Storm Grace Is Totally Unimportant And Proves A Point

Before satellites this storm wouldn’t have been named. It might not have even been found!

The Hurricane Center has christened Tropical Storm Grace. It’s in a very unusual place, off the coast of Portugal. The official forecast has Grace gone sometime later today or tomorrow.

THE CYCLONE IS HEADED FOR EVEN COLDER WATER AND WILL LIKELY BEGIN TO WEAKEN VERY SOON. THE GLOBAL MODELS SUGGEST THAT THE SMALL CYCLONE WILL BE ABSORBED BY A LARGER EXTRATROPICAL CYCLONE OVER THE NORTHEASTERN ATLANTIC IN ABOUT 36 HOURS…IF NOT SOONER.

This storm is not a threat to land. It’s nearly a ‘who cares’ situation.

Before satellites this storm wouldn’t have been named. It might not have even been found!

When you read about increases in hurricane or tropical weather system activity keep that in mind. Not every statistic is meaningful. Historical data points are sparse.