Sunday Night Irene Update

Irene is still a tropical storm. The difference in what Irene can do now and what a hurricane can do are night and day. When the wind speed doubles the force quadruples.

From an observational standpoint Irene is a good storm. The track is bringing Irene right through the San Juan NEXRAD site. It entered from the east will be trackable through the radar’s entire operational range.

Here’s what I see now. The storm is changing. By the time you click the link things might have changed.

There is a circulation center near St. Criox–maybe a little to the north. There’s absolutely no doubt you’re seeing rotation around the center.

The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are/will be getting significant rain. The tropics are more able to handle this kind of rainy onslaught than we are. Still, near steep hillsides mudslides are possible.

Irene is still a tropical storm. The difference in what Irene can do now and what a hurricane can do are night and day. When the wind speed doubles the force quadruples.

The main forecasting unknown now is the interaction between Irene and land. The small islands don’t make a noticeable difference. Puerto Rico has some impact, but it’s Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti) that’s the biggest deal. A difference of 15-20 miles will make a huge difference. Of course that’s more certainty than the models are providing.

SEVERAL OF THE RELIABLE TRACK GUIDANCE MODELS SUCH AS THE ECMWF AND GFS HAVE SHIFTED EASTWARD FROM THEIR PREVIOUS RUNS AND SO HAS THE DYNAMICAL CONSENSUS. THE OFFICIAL TRACK FORECAST HAS BEEN SHIFTED A LITTLE TO THE RIGHT OF THAT FROM THE PREVIOUS ADVISORY AND LIES ON THE WESTERN SIDE OF THE GUIDANCE ENVELOPE. IT IS IMPORTANT NOT TO FOCUS ON THE EXACT FORECAST TRACK…ESPECIALLY AT DAYS 4 TO 5 SINCE THE MOST RECENT 5-YEAR AVERAGE ERRORS AT THOSE FORECAST TIMES ARE 200 AND 250 MILES RESPECTIVELY.

Florida is threatened, No doubt. The most likely time is Thursday, possibly Friday.

Where? No clue. The mainly north/south orientation of both Florida coasts make landfall predictions for a north moving storm troublesome.

Here’s Why I’m Worried About Irene

Obviously Florida is under-the-gun. Quite honestly so is the rest of the East Coast (and to a lesser extent the Gulf of Mexico).

A few days ago a friend wrote and asked about a Hurricane Center “invest” out in the Atlantic. It was a little early to give it more than a cursory glance. Invest 97 became Tropical Storm Irene last night.

Irene is a concern!

Not every storm is an equal threat. For a variety of reasons (mostly climatology) certain locations at certain times of the season produce storms that move toward population centers. Irene has that pedigree.

The map of hurricane models at the top of this entry show they’re in reasonably good agreement over the first few days. That agreement actually adds uncertainty because of the topography of the Dominican Republic.

The D.R. has one mountain 10,000+ feet tall! Hurricanes and mountains don’t get along!

THE INTENSITY FORECAST IS SUBJECT TO MORE THAN THE USUAL LEVEL OF UNCERTAINTY…AS IT DEPENDS VERY MUCH ON HOW IRENE WILL INTERACT WITH THE MOUNTAINOUS LAND MASSES OF HISPANIOLA AND EASTERN CUBA OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS. IF THE CENTER MOVES MORE OVER THE WATER THAN INDICATED IN THE CURRENT FORECAST…IRENE WILL LIKELY BECOME STRONGER THAN SHOWN HERE.

Today isn’t a beach day in the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. Squall lines are coming through and the storm is still way out to the east.

Obviously Florida is under-the-gun. So is the rest of the East Coast and to a lesser extent the Gulf of Mexico.

This is a storm I expect to write a lot about.

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.

I’m Not Flying This Plane

My folks should be in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic tonight. I have a cousin getting married there and they’re on their way for the wedding.

Of course nothing ever goes as smoothly as it should. The flight from Miami to Puerto Plata was canceled. I checked. It has run without fail for the last 61 days… OK, the last 60.

The pilot walked out of the cockpit and said, “I’m not flying this plane!” My dad says that’s a quote.

I have a rule. When the pilot doesn’t want to fly, you shouldn’t fly.

American says they’re on the same flight tomorrow. They have tickets and boarding passes. My dad wonders how they’re going to fit two days worth of passengers on one plane?

It’s possible this story isn’t over.

Oh – my folks are traveling with the parents of the groom. That plane had better take off!

Oh Canada (Computer Model)

Over the course of the hurricane season I’ll see lots of different computer projections. Hurricanes are notoriously difficult to forecast – especially before they form.

With that in mind, here’s the scenario presented by the Canadian CMC computer model. It builds a tropical system near the Dominican Republic, then streams it north, hitting Connecticut late Monday.

The color shading shows sea surface temperatures, which cool rapidly north of Cape Hatteras. Under this scenario, the storm would be extratropical by the time it got to New England. For all intents and purposes, that’s a minor factor.

Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Probably not.

Unfortunately, no one (certainly not me) is happy with a ‘probably not’ level of confidence. This will bear watching. More than likely it will be one of the dozens of false alarms I see every season.

It’s still scary to see.

The Mecca Of Ham Radio

This is probably the nerdiest thing I can say about myself. I have been a ham radio operator for nearly 40 years. I was first licensed as a Novice class operator while in high school and then went on to my General, Advanced and Amateur Extra licenses.

I can still remember my first contact or QSO&#185. I didn’t have a radio of my own, so I went to my friend Ralph Press’ house. Using Morse Code, I was able to span the globe from Flushing, Queens all the way to Nassau County, a little farther out on Long Island.

His callsign was WN2RNG. I remember that, because in Morse it had a distinctive rhythm: di dah dit dah dit dah dah dit.

Growing up I lived in apartment 5E. It was a building where outdoor antennas were forbidden. From time-to-time early in my ham radio career I strung up ‘invisible’ antennas of extremely thin, and very flimsy, wire.

Neighbors who knew complained I was ruining their TV reception. They complained even after I moved out and went to college!

It was all for naught. Only as an adult did I being to understand what it took to have a proper antenna and how important that was.

My ham radio career has been through a number of stages. There would be a few years of activity followed by a period of inactivity. I’m in an inactive stage right now. You can blame that on the Internet, which is more efficient than ham radio doing many of the things I enjoyed.

In my last active stretch I became involved in contesting, trying to contact as many other hams as possible in a set period of time, usually exchanging specific bits of information to confirm the contact. I also started toying with QRP or low powered contacts.

I have made contacts to Europe and Asia and everywhere in between with a transceiver I built on my kitchen table, using less power than a flashlight bulb. Once, on vacation, I took it to the Dominican Republic and operated off of D cell batteries with an antenna draped between two palm trees on the beach.

Early on, I used voice for contacts, but I grew tired of that. It was too much like operating an appliance and there didn’t seem to be much skill involved.

In my last ham radio incarnation I was 100% Morse. Ham operators call that CW for continuous wave. It is the most simple form of radio communications.

I became pretty proficient, able to send and receive at nearly 30 words per minute. At that speed you stop listening to individual letters and begin trying to hear words or phrases.

Once you start sending faster than 10-15 words per minute you can’t use the classic Morse key – the ‘brass pounder.’ Instead I used a paddle, with the dit and dah on opposite sides and an electronic keyer to translate my little finger motions into properly spaced tones.

Recently, my friend Harold become the Chief Operating Officer for the American Radio Relay League – the ham radio organization in America. It is headquartered in Newington, CT, about 40 miles from my house.

League Headquarters is ham radio’s Mecca. I went and visited today. It’s been a while since I’d been there.

It’s a difficult time for the ARRL because computers have stolen many of the geeky kids, like me, who used to go into ham radio. Restrictive covenants in housing developments have also made it extremely difficult to put up a decent antenna. They still have plenty of members, but I assume they’re getting progressively older.

ARRL headquarters is an interesting place because it’s a publishing house, membership service center, laboratory where new equipment is evaluated (and those evaluations published) and home of W1AW.

W1AW is to ham radio stations as Yankee Stadium is to ballparks. It is the best known callsign, without a doubt. Today, before I left the league, I sat down and did a little operating at W1AW.

There is, to me, something very romantic and relaxing about operating Morse Code. In a darkened room, with headphones on, totally concentrating, you can pluck weak signals from the ether and have conversations with people from around the world.

Imagine if the simple act of conversing required skill? That’s what CW operating is all about.

Many of the people you speak to don’t understand English, and I certainly don’t speak any foreign languages fluently. That’s where the telegrapher’s abbreviations come in. It’s possible to have a rudimentary conversation without speaking a common language.

I sat down at the W1AW operating position. The transceiver was down on the low end of 20 meters (14.005 mHz to be exact), a wavelength suited for long distance conversations. The rig’s coaxial cable connected it to a large multi-element beam on a tall tower. I was loaded for bear with a very recognizable call.

I called CQ – the universal request to chat. Nothing. I called again and Tom in Cardiff, Wales came back. We talked for a few minutes and, as I signed off, Ludo in Slovakia called me. That was followed by Valentin somewhere in Russia.

Harold estimated my speed at about 18 words per minute, well below my old CW comfort zone. My sending wasn’t entirely flawless either. A number of times I hit dit when I should have hit dah and had to correct myself and resend.

It really felt good.

Maybe it’s time to throw a wire antenna up over the house again and give it another try? Or, maybe, ham radio’s time has come and gone for me. I’m not really sure. There’s certainly a lot more on my plate right now. Where would I fit it in?

Something to ponder. Who knows?

&#185 – Because amateur radio had its beginnings in telegraphy, many Morse Code abbreviations are used, sometimes even when speaking. QSO, QTH, QRZ, QRU – they’re all part of the arcane lexicon.

Frances As A Spectator Sport

The names used for hurricanes are on a rotation. Every seven years the names repeat. There is, however, one exception. When a storm becomes ‘notorious,’ it is retired. That’s where Frances is headed.

As of this evening it was about twice the size and significantly stronger than Hurricane Andrew was at this stage of the game. That’s not to say Frances will be another Andrew – but there is that potential.

AT 11 PM EDT…0300Z…A HURRICANE WATCH HAS BEEN ISSUED FOR THE

FLORIDA EAST COAST FROM FLORIDA CITY NORTHWARD TO FLAGLER BEACH…

INCLUDING LAKE OKEECHOBEE. SOME OR ALL OF THE HURRICANE WATCH AREA

WILL LIKELY BE UPGRADED TO A HURRICANE WARNING THURSDAY MORNING. A

HURRICANE WATCH MEANS THAT HURRICANE CONDITIONS ARE POSSIBLE WITHIN

THE WATCH AREA…GENERALLY WITHIN 36 HOURS.

A few weeks ago while watching Hurricane Charley, I remarked about the steady stream of data available. There is less from Frances because of its track. As far as I know there are no weather radars available on the Internet from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos or The Bahamas. There are also few, or no, surface observations nearby.

The information is a little more abstract. It needs to be analyzed more carefully and digested. It is not self evident, like looking at Charley on the Key West radar.

There are weather buoys, drifting in Frances’ vicinity. There are also sporadic readings from hurricane hunter planes. And, of course, there is satellite imagery (though the highest resolution images are only available during daylight hours). These are good, but more would be better.

Hour by hour, computer run by computer run, Frances’ destination seems to be locking in on the Florida East Coast. If I had to venture a guess today, I’d say what I said yesterday – somewhere around Jupiter or Hobe Sound.

That’s no guarantee. No place from Homestead to Savannah would surprise me.

If I were anywhere in Florida tonight, I’d be making sure I was prepared. Even with Frances’ strength, most people inland will be forced to weather the storm in their homes. On the coast it will be a totally different story.

Wherever Frances lands, communication will stop. TV and telephone will be limited. Power will be spotty. In some communities, power will be shut off before the storm as a safety precaution.

Most people who live in South Florida have never felt the impact of any direct hurricane hit – much less a category 4 storm. It will be a sobering experience.

My parents live down there, in Palm Beach County. Of course, I worry for them. Their condo has storm shutters and is reasonably well built. The thing it has most going for it is its inland location. I won’t give them specific advice until we get closer.

My friend Wendie lives in the Miami area. Her office and home are close to the Intracoastal Waterway. That is more worrisome.

In a few of the later computer models, Hurricane Frances slows down while approaching the Florida coast. That could mean an extended period of torrential rain and very strong, damaging wind (possibly not hurricane strength if the storm is far enough off shore).

The are really no good scenarios left.

Haiti Floods

Every time I read the wire service reports about the deaths in Haiti, the death toll grows. That this disaster has happened, and happened in such a horrific way shouldn’t be a surprise to those who know the island of Hispaniola, it’s weather and the history of the eastern side.

It is no one’s fault that two feet, or more, of rain has fallen between May 18-25 (here’s a satellite estimate from NASA’s TRMM project). No one can be blamed for the mountainous interior of the island which forces runoff to congregate in swift flowing rivers. But decades of irrational land management are surely a contributing factor in this devastation.

I have been to Hispaniola three times. My family and I vacationed at the Club Med in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic in the 90s. In the 70s, I visited Club Med’s “Magic Isle” village on the Haitian side.

I remember leaving the airport in Port au Prince and driving cross country to the club. I had been to places marked with poverty, but never to the extent that I saw there. We crossed rivers, marked with signs warning of malaria. As I remember, I had to medicate with quinine for malaria protection.

The club sat on the coast with a magnificent view of rugged mountains. Though in the tropics, these mountains were barren – totally devoid of trees. After a few days at the club I was told the forests had been slashed and then the wood burned for charcoal. The mountains were left as they were.

Even in California, a contributing factor to mudslides which occur many winters are the removal of plant life during brush fires. But, in California the problem is recognized and often there is remediation. That was not the case in Haiti.

From the Toronto Star:

The mountains on the Haitian side of the devastated area rise to heights of 1,500 metres or more, and the region