Connecticut Gets A 5-1-0 From Hurricane Irene

Right now Irene is going through puberty. Earlier Monday there was a rapid growth spurt. Irene matured and stabilized.

I know you want to read about storms like Irene. My traffic spiked yesterday. It’s OK. I like writing about hurricanes. They are scary. They are fascinating. I know enough to be fearful should a storm strike.

Right now Irene is going through puberty. Earlier Monday there was a rapid growth spurt. Irene matured and stabilized.

Lots of things will affect this storm. Irene’s in warm water which is conducive to growth.

She has a tiny bit of wind shear on the southern side. That will act against growth, but will probably be outweighed by other factors. Because of the shear the growth will be slower.

Interaction with the mountainous Dominican Republic seems minimal.

This is when these storms come to life. Hurricane Irene will get stronger. Satellite images aren’t sharply defined yet. They will be later.

Our impact will come Sunday or Monday.

At Florida State University Dr. Bob Hart’s nifty webpage compares Irene to similarly placed storms in previous years. Since so much of tropical weather is climatology based historical numbers are useful.

We get a 5-1-0. There’s a 5% chance we’ll feel some impact from Irene in Connecticut. There’s a 1% chance we’ll get a hurricane strike and 0% (actually fractionally higher than zero, but rounded there) it would be a major hurricane.

For a tropical system getting to Connecticut is not easy. It has to operate in a narrow lane. If it hits anything on the coast it’s weakened. If it’s too far east it misses land. Other places have more forgiving paths and are hit more often.

I am concerned. I am not panicking. I have done little to prepare at this point, though I’ve been thinking of things we could use.

At work (FoxCT) we are very conscious of your desire to know about Irene and other storms that might concern Connecticut. We get it. I promise we’ll be informative and won’t hype you. Joe is on in the morning, Rachel and I are on at 4, 10 and 11p. We are assisted by Dan Amarante and an excellent newsroom with reporters who care. No one will do more for you. We hope you’ll watch.

What Smart Guys Can Do With Computers

This video is a simulation of the precipitation field from Hurricane Floyd. It looks like radar, but there is no radar coverage where most of this plays out.

My friend Bob Hart is a meteorology professor at Florida State. Of all the people I know, he has the most intuitive mind as far as math is concerned. He immediately sees the route to solving, or in this case, visualizing complex math problems.

This animation is a simulation of the precipitation field from Hurricane Floyd. It looks like radar, but there is no radar coverage where most of this plays out.

Quoting Bob, “This 27hr run took 36hr on 42 cpus.” That’s a lot of calculations!

The Evil Within (My Website)

I have been complaining for a few weeks now about the disappearance of my website from Google. It was a problem that only appeared when a page was clicked directly from a search engine, not entered by hand. Instead of my blog, spammy pages of links appeared, looking like they were coming from

I looked and looked and couldn’t find the content ascribed to me. Nothing.

A few times, I asked for assistance from the Google Groups Webmaster Help Forum. They didn’t solve my problem, but they did help me figure out where to look.

Tonight, I think the mystery is solved.

On November 23 at 9:04 PM and again on Dec 10 at 10:54 AM someone gained access to my server.

Whether it was a hack or exploit doesn’t matter. My host would like me to think it was an exploit – meaning it was through my doing. Whatever.

New .htaccess files were inserted in every directory on my web site. These files, which begin with a dot to make them normally invisible, control how certain web requests are handled.

These .htaccess files looked for 404 errors. That’s what you get when a page is missing.

This explains why I couldn’t find the spammy files on my website. This exploit only worked if a file name that DOESN’T exist was entered. Only then were they composed on-the-fly.

On top of that, a second file specified the trick should only worked if the request was coming from a search engine. No wonder I couldn’t make these spammy pages appear.

As awful as it is, I have respect for the programmer who accomplished this. It’s a very sneaky trick, and it sat on my site for a few months before I discovered it.

The .htaccess file called a php file, which is similar to the one this web page is served to your browser on. One set of these php files had an all numeric filename (002314.php, etc) and was 617 bytes long. The other used simple computer-ish names (server.php, command.php, etc.) and was 1260 bytes.

Every web attack has a weak spot and I had found it. Having the files all be the same length, and placed on my machine on specific days, made it easier to scout them out.

To make matters worse, permissions were changed all over the place. These are the rules that decide who can or cannot read, write or execute files. Lots of stuff was turned 777, meaning anyone could do anything!

The person who attacked my machine had opened all the doors. Now anyone could gain access and do anything.

Good grief!

I called on my friend Bob Hart to help.

Bob claims not be be a computer expert. Right.

His logical, organized, well exercised mind knew all the commands and tricks to remove thousands of files and reset an equal number of pointers without hurting anything. He dictated long strings of characters for me to type in… and they worked!

Is there an Emmy for computer assistance? I nominate Bob.

So, now you know the good news. The bad news is, it can happen again because I don’t know how the miscreants got in. I’m working on that next.

Hopefully, in deleting files, rewriting permissions and changing passwords, I will slow them down until a solution is found.

Once again, I’m begging Google to let me back into their good graces. Traffic on the blog is down about 75%. has slid off the face of the Earth!

Hurricane Info – Where To Go

This time of year, a lot of what I do is follow hurricanes. Many of the tools that are useful the rest of the year fail miserably with tropical systems.

There are a number of problems. Hurricanes… even big ones like Dennis, are often relatively small enough to fall between the cracks of the numerical weather prediction programs. So the computer models I’d normally follow aren’t particularly helpful.

Hurricanes can be very interesting when they’re far from land – away from radar and surface observations. Our government’s NEXRAD network is worthless until the storm is poised to hit land.

Here are some of the secondary sites I follow to try and get more info than would normally be available.

The spinning radar on the left side&#185 is from one of Cuba’s network of weather radars. On any given day, half of them might be out of service. In Cuba, that’s not unusual.

On the other hand, there are seven. That’s a lot for an island of Cuba’s size.

Even though the south coast of Cuba is within range of the Key West radar, there are mountains in the way. I think the Cuban radar does a better job at this position. It’s always surprised me that the Cuban images are on the net. I’ve used their sites for at least three years.

The College of DuPage, a two year college where you wouldn’t expect big time meteorology, has one of the best sites for ‘domestic’ imagery like satellites and radar images. DuPage has the full NIDS suite, meaning you can see the Doppler portion of Doppler radar – winds!

For prediction, I have been paying close attention to the MM5 model being run at Florida State by Bob Hart (originally of North Branford, CT). The MM5 was initially formulated at Penn State and runs on off the shelf hardware (though still beefier than what you’ve got at home).

What makes FSU’s iteration of the MM5 so special is its superior ability to properly see topography, ‘bogused’ data from the actual hurricane (to better set the initial parameters, and sophisticated physics.

Bob is among the smartest people I’ve ever known. It’s no surprise this forecast tool is run under his supervision.

Hurricanes are so difficult to accurately predict, especially using conventional methods. Any improvement in the state of the art becomes a possible life saver! What could be sweeter than doing your job and saving lives?

Finally, I look at the Hurricane Center‘s output. For me, seeing just the Hurricane Center’s work product removes the fun of doing it myself.

I do religiously read their technical forecast discussions. The link, unfortunately, changes each time they issue a new one. Links to NHC products are also on the right side of this webpage and on the Hurricane Center homepage.

&#185 – Because this webpage will live on long after Dennis is gone, this is a captured radar image. The link goes to the real thing.

Something New On This Site

My friend Bob Hart who runs CoolWx, an excellent weather geek site, breaks out weather extremes within the United States every hour. I asked if he’d have his server spit out a little file for me so it could be included here.

You’ll find it, updated constantly, in the right hand column. Clicking on the data will take you to Bob’s site where you can get more statistics than the Surgeon General allows.

Everyone Knows it’s Windy

An incredibly windy day across the Northeast today. Here in Connecticut, wind gusts over 60 mph in some spots, though the norm was more in the 35-45 mph range.

With all this wind, there were plenty of watches, warnings and advisories out. It was a chance to see how the automated NWS watch/warning page did.

Usually, it’s pretty good. Today, as my friend Bob Hart (safely and warmly in Florida) pointed out, it probably read text about hurricane strength winds, put 2 and 2 together and got 5!

Take a look at this afternoon’s map. Trust me – there was no hurricane.

Rebuilding the website

I’m not sure why, but I’ve finally got the bug to build this website correctly. whether I can accomplish that is another question.

I figure the first thing I need to do is establish a style, and that means CSS, something I don’t understand 100%. That makes it a bit more difficult.

I also worked on getting some dynamic weather data, specifically forecast model data. That meant shell programming, in BASH. Again, this is something beyond my expertise. Luckily, I have the guidance of Bob Hart at FSU. His knowledge of ‘ix’ languages and GrADS (which I’m using to produce the graphics) is scary.

There is also a version of HAMWeather running, though not customized at all.

This will take time. But, there is a huge amount of satisfaction (as I got a few minutes ago when a PHP enabled include worked) in writing and debugging code.

My last computer class was 1967… and then in Fortran.