Why Is That 737 Heading To Jamaica Tonight?

Sometime today, probably mid afternoon, Jamaica will get creamed by Hurricane Dean. It’s not a pretty scenario. Imagine watching a train barrel toward you while you’re tied to the tracks!

In the midst of this tumult, a chartered jet is heading into Norman Manley Int’l Airport in Kingston.

How do I know? I went on FlightAware and looked to see air traffic in and out of Kingston. I can only see flights which will touch Jamaica and the U.S., but that’s enough for a feel.

The plane is question is a Boeing 737 owned by Ameristar Jet Charter, operating from Addison Airport near Dallas. It’s a plane normally used for charters and configured 100% first class. There are only 56 seats.

Why is it flying there? Is it a rescue flight of some type? If so, why a plane with so few seats?

More importantly, will it get out before Hurricane Dean shuts things down? Any kind of mechanical trouble would be very costly. In this case time is money.

At the last observation, winds at Kingston were light. It is just another sultry tropical evening in the heart of the Caribbean. You can see how people were totally surprised by these storms in the pre-electronic era.

There will be enough damage in Jamaica without a perfectly good 737 being ripped to shreds. I hope they refuel and return to Texas quickly.

A Tornado For Brooklyn!

This is pretty over-the-top. Early this morning, as a line of very strong storms moved through the region, an EF2 tornado (111-135 mph) dropped down over the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

When I was in high school, my dad worked a few blocks from where this twister hit!

It’s an area on Brooklyn’s south shore, near the Verazzano Narrows Bridge and close to the cool waters of the harbor. It’s a surprising place to get this kind of weather event.

When I looked at the photos, I wondered, “Beirut or Bay Ridge?” It was really that significant damage.

After the jump, the Weather Service’s official pronouncement.

Continue reading “A Tornado For Brooklyn!”

Bad Weather Duty

A strong line of thunderstorms slid into Connecticut this afternoon. Though no ‘watch box’ was up first, the Weather Service issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning, then Tornado Warning, in pretty rapid succession.

I was on the air within minutes of getting into the station. I didn’t even have time to tie my tie.

I spent two hours on-the-air, assisted by Matt Scott&#185 for a while, but mostly on by myself. That’s two hours of non-stop talking… or attempting to non-stop talk.

It’s very difficult. It was made more difficult since I had to both talk and operate my computers.

I don’t want to rehash much of the two hours, but I would like to tell you about one specific moment. It was more than a little weird. Eerie is a good descriptive word.

While tracking the strongest cell at-the-moment on the radar, I zoomed in tight. My map couldn’t have shown more than a few miles on a side. At that range individual streets show up as off-white lines on the otherwise Earth toned map. The radar echo returns were bright – the sign of strong downpours.

I clicked a few on-screen boxes and pressed the left mouse button as my cursor hovered over an unmarked street. The name popped up – W TODD ST. I looked at the map and briefly stopped my rhetorical conversation.

It was my neighborhood. I could see my street, not far away.

Helaine and Stef were watching at home. I later learned, when I talked about how strong this particular storm was and how I could actually see the street where I lived on this map, they headed to the basement.

It was an out-of-body experience to realize I had inadvertently stumbled upon a storm headed toward my home. How could I not pause for a moment to collect my thoughts?

There was some storm damage in Connecticut this afternoon and evening. A tornado is suspected in New Milford based on the damage and a spotter’s report of a funnel cloud. I passed some large downed tree branches on my way home tonight.

At my house, the greatest impact was a nasty leaky from our dining room skylight. Leaks can be fixed.

&#185 – Matt came in on his own, out-of-town friend and infant daughter in tow. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that he chose to help out.

Yesterday’s Weather Fears

I’m never happy to be right about severe weather. The storms came yesterday afternoon under that ominous “Tornado Watch.”

Let me pause for a moment. A little tangent.

The Weather Service has watches and warnings and advisories. There are too many descriptions for too many different events. It is confusing to the public, in spite of the fact the whole idea is to inform the public.

Last night, by storm’s end, over 50,000 customers were without power. That’s a misleading number, because of home (one customer) might contain four or five or more people. There were tree down all over the place.

I started getting emails with tornado claims. There’s really no way to tell unless you’re in a Kansas type situation where the tornado is ‘in the clear’ and easily seen. We don’t get that here.

Early in the afternoon, as I’d gotten ready to go on for a quick live report, our director had pointed to an image on one of our remote cameras. It looked like a funnel.

I quickly made the decision not to mention that. I couldn’t be sure what it was from our distant camera shot and it wasn’t reaching down toward the ground.

More importantly, I thought the verbal warnings and instructions I was giving would have been proper in a tornado and there was no reason to cause panic.

Should I have mentioned the funnel? Based on what I knew then, I still think I made the right decision.

Now I have more information.

That photo on the left came via email from someone name Ted in Milford. Though I’d normally enhance a shot like this to bring out the contrast, this is ‘as is.’ It looks like it was shot through a window, hence the reflection of a fluorescent light fixture on the right.

All the experts who’ve seen it say it’s a funnel cloud. A tornado is a funnel cloud that reaches toward the ground. This was close and could have grown to be one.

After a day like yesterday, I usually look back to think about what I did and said. I wasn’t perfectly smooth – but who ever is? I think my info was good and appropriate and I respected the fact that every time I came on, I was interrupting someone’s viewing.

My job is to prepare the viewers, not panic them.

Radio Post Mortem

My radio appearance with Faith Middleton seemed to go OK. I like being on the radio, and this didn’t spoil my opinion.

WNPR’s New Haven studio is located in a building dedicated to the arts on Audubon Street. While I waited for the elevator, I looked in at a co-ed dance class in a ground floor studio. It’s nice to see that going on.

I made a wrong turn getting off the elevator and walked into the New Haven Council for the Arts, where I spent a few minutes looking at the exhibited photos. I wonder if they’d hang anything of mine?

The WNPR studio looks like a living room. I’ve never seen anything like that before.

Faith sat in a wingback chair facing me. The control room was at my back. Our microphones were on the kind of boom used by musicians. Unlike most modern radio talk shows, Faith had no audio console. All the technical execution took place in the control room.

Mark Schleifstein, one of the authors of Path of Destruction (the definitive account of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans) was on via telephone. Though he and I disagree about global warming in general and its specific implications for tropical weather systems, we do agree that the storms we get now are strong enough to cause lots of havoc.

When it was over, I called Helaine. She said I sounded scientific. Wow – she’s my toughest (or most honest) critic.

As I said, it was fun to do. Now we’ll see if I can stand listening to myself during the replay that’s on while I drive home.

Another Mention In Print

Wow – two print mentions in the past week. This time Joe Amarante of the New Haven Register called to ask about our lack of winter.

I’m not sure “alarmist crap” is be a phrase I’d use again for attribution. It was inelegant and crude. Unfortunately, it’s an accurate quote. Sometimes stuff just comes out.

I think writers, like Joe and Charlie Walsh at the Connecticut Post (who quoted me last week), have a distinct advantage over TV people. We need to haul our sorry butts to the scene of the crime. Newspaper people can just pick up the phone and interview a half dozen people in the time it takes us to drive to some far off little town.

Continue reading “Another Mention In Print”

One Day – Two Destinations

From Antelope – Zion

We started the morning in Kayenta, Arizona, just outside Monument Valley. I’m sure the people of the Monument Valley Region are very nice, but I wish Kayenta was more respectful of the natural beauty that surrounds it. There are no nice photos to be taken in Kayenta, because the scenery is interrupted at every vantage.

We headed out of Kayenta, west through Northern Arizona toward Page, home of Antelope Canyon, our first destination of the day. As has been the case since Gallup, NM, we were on two lane blacktop with 65 mph speed limits.

This is an Interstate free zone!

From Antelope – Zion

From time-to-time I wanted to pass the car in front of me. That meant waiting for a clear spot, hoping Helaine would cover her eyes, running it up to 85 mph, and swinging into the oncoming lane.

There aren’t a whole bunch of places to do that in Connecticut. Actually, there aren’t a whole lot of places to do that anywhere. It’s a lost art. Thankfully, everyone keeps their headlights on day and night.

From Antelope – Zion

As we sped west, we passed through a bunch of little towns… actually, more like settlements of a few houses. The speed limit would drop to 55 mph for a hundred yards or so and then back to 65 mph. Next.

What kind of life do people have here? We were curious in an anthropological way. Is it a life to be loved, or do kids wait for the day they can escape?

From Antelope – Zion

Forty miles from Page, and driving parallel to its single track, electrified railroad, we got our first glimpse of the gigantic Navajo Generation Station. Two of its three stacks were blowing something white skyward.

I’m hoping it was steam, though I doubt it. There were separate cooling towers for that.

From Antelope – Zion

As we got closer, and the sheer size of the plant became apparent, Helaine started singing, “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong.”

Whatever I said about Kayenta goes doubly for Page. I know we need to generate electricity. I wish there was a less invasive way. After all, this huge power plant also needs huge transmission lines to take the power away.

We were in Page to visit Antelope Canyon. It is a slot canyon. Don’t worry, until recently I didn’t know what that meant either.

This area of the country gets little rain. What they do get isn’t spread through the seasons, but falls in brief deluges which often cause flash flooding.

From Antelope – Zion

Over the eons, a flooded stream, Antelope Wash, found its way to the Colorado River by boring through a hillside. That channel is the slot canyon we visited.

Because it’s carved through sandstone, the walls have smooth curves and a layered look. At certain times of the year (not now) sunlight streams through to the canyon floor as beams of light.

It was unlike anything Helaine or I had ever seen before – beautiful, mystical, spiritual.

From Antelope – Zion

We signed up for a tour at the entrance to the Navajo Park which contained the canyon. The operation of the tour company was rinky dink. However, our guide Carol was amazing.

She knew all about the canyon and, after all these tours, was a camera expert. She spent lots of time showing people where and how to get great shots, even with little point and shoot cameras.

Carol’s expertise will be felt when returning tourists look at their photos and find her masterpieces.

From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion

We left Antelope Canyon, headed over the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam and into Utah. I believe I’m entitled to another wife at this point.

The road settled into a low area flanked by white monolithic rocks, We were in Glen Canyon.

From Antelope – Zion

I know Grand Canyon is larger, deeper and more well known. However, you usually see The Grand Canyon from the top looking down. Here, we were in the middle of the broad flood plain. The rock faces towered over us. I have never felt smaller nor more inconsequential.

From Antelope – Zion

As with the trip to Page, the roads were good. From time-to-time we’d round a sharp bend or go down the side of a mountain steep enough to warrant a sign listing the grade (6% was our personal best).

Helaine isn’t comfortable with heights. This was not her ideal routing.

From Antelope – Zion

We made a left onto Route 9 in Mt. Carmel, Utah and headed into Zion National Park. Of all the scenery we’ve seen so far, this is the prettiest… the most awesome.

From Antelope – Zion

The park road is a narrow two lane affair – definitely not good for 65 mph! It is also the first ‘redtop’ road I’ve ever seen. I don’t know why it’s red. I’ll try and find out more tomorrow.

The road dipped and curved and hugged the side of steep mountains. As treacherous as the road is, there are two places which must be worse, because two tunnels are bored through mountainsides.

From Antelope – Zion

At the second tunnel there was construction, which set us back twenty minutes. It also allowed us twenty minutes to soak in the scenery.

From Antelope – Zion

We’re staying in Springdale, Utah tonight. Everything that was wrong with Kayenta and Page is absent here. This is a spectacular little town, with shops, restaurants, galleries and a free shuttle bus system!

I’ve only been here a few hours, but I’m loving Zion National Park and Springdale.

Tomorrow we’re going to take the shuttle to the park for a little exploring before hopping in the car and heading southwest to Las Vegas.

From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion
From Antelope – Zion

Ernesto As In Pest(o)

After last year’s breakneck pace, this year’s hurricane season has been… well, it’s been a non-event.

This time last year Katrina was in the Gulf. Katrina was the 11th named storm. Ernesto, our current storm, is number five.

Ernesto is an interesting storm because reality and what the Hurricane Center is saying are two entirely different things!

Ernesto has crossed Cuba, an island with a spine of substantial mountains. The Hurricane Center says top winds are 40 mph. I don’t think so. I see no evidence of that kind of wind.

I’m not saying there’s chance Ernesto will rejuvenate in the warm water between Cuba and Florida. Still, it is what it is. I’m not sure what their purpose is.

A friend who’s a hurricane researcher says Ernesto has been a tropical depression for the last 12 hours. I with that.

Meanwhile, it’s all academic. The more pressing concern is what will Ernesto be when it hits Florida? My guess is tropical storm – but that’s just a guess – nothing scientific.

I haven’t called my folks to ask them to roll the hurricane shutters yet. That probably says more of how I feel than anything else.

Some long range projections bring Ernesto north, toward New England, this weekend. It will be working against a big high pressure system. Even as a non-hurricane, Ernesto might give us more wind than Cuba is seeing tonight.

These storms are always interesting, always perplexing, never user friendly.

Southwest Airlines Understands Customer Service

Possibly you remember how in January, Helaine, Steffie and I were scheduled to fly to LA from Hartford for a cruise? Though we left ourselves more than a full day of leeway, a major snowstorm was coming.

I called Southwest, and after some cajoling and pleading, our reservations were changed without charge. I wrote about it when it happened, calling the entry Southwest – May I Kiss You On The Lips?.

I’ll complain when things are bad, so I should compliment when they’re good. I did, by writing a letter to Southwest (as much as I love them, they’re very email un-friendly).

Today, I got my reply from Customer Relations (read it here) and a copy of the note Colleen Barrett, Southwest’s president, sent to the people who helped me (read it here). Do you think that note will help the next folks in my situation?

Damn right it will.

Just as important, the note from Southwest’s Kaye Kelly to me said, “I, of course, did back flips when I read how Patty and Linda were able to “bend the rules” and change your itinerary as you requested.”

Amazing! At Southwest, employees get rewarded for bending the rules to help a customer. This customer couldn’t be more pleased to let you know.

Hurricane Wilma And South Florida

Helaine and I were asleep when the phone rang at 6:30 AM PDT. It was my friend Wendie, who lives and works in the Miami area.

Wendie left her house early Sunday evening and headed to a hotel. She expected her family would join her, though they never did. Everyone has checked in and is OK.

As someone who’s been through her share of hurricanes, Wendie has the proper perspective to make a qualitative comparative judgment. Wilma was the worst.

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. Certainly, after years of being battered, each succeeding storm leaves you somewhat worse for wear. There’s no doubt Wendie was terrorized by Hurricane Wilma.

Reports from her neighbors tell her she has lost her porch. There might be more structural damage, but there’s no way to know right now.

Ask me how glad I am we made sure my parents got out early? Ask me how happy my parents are?

They’ve already been on the phone with neighbors who tell them there’s no power (same with Wendie) and many trees are down. One neighbor had a tree hit her window.

Why Wilma Scares Me

Just in case you’re counting, Hurricane Wilma is currently 1735 miles southwest of me. That’s ‘as the crow flies’ miles. Because this hurricane is ready to make a sweeping right hand turn, it would have to travel significantly farther.

How can I be worried about something 1735 miles away? It’s easy – I’ve seen this scenario before. I didn’t live it. It predates me. I’ve studied it because it is the benchmark for New England hurricane grief.

Before you feel my pain, let me talk a little about my parents. They’re ensconced in Boynton Beach, FL. Hurricane Wilma is 640 miles south-southwest of them.

As it stands now, the official Hurricane Center prediction takes Wilma right over… or reasonably close to them. Though the storm will be coming over land, it’s swampy land. There’s warm water and low friction in the Everglades. It’s not perfect for a hurricane but it won’t kill it either.

My folks have hurricane shutters and live in a substantial building. I think they’ll be OK, though I’ll revisit this with them later today.

Here’s the one bit of good news. Hurricane Wilma will be ‘booking’ as she passes through Florida. Coast-to-coast will be 10, maybe 12 hours. The faster Hurricane Wilma moves, the sooner the trouble is over.

Nature adapts to this kind of trouble. Palm trees have decidedly less wind resistance than the deciduous trees we have here in Connecticut.

The Hurricane Center forecasts 110 mph winds at landfall in Florida, dropping to 80 mph by the time the storm reemerges in the Atlantic&#185. Even 80 mph, a small hurricane, is substantial if it passes close by. Most of us have never experienced 80 mph winds… and we’ve all seen plenty of wind damage.

The Hurricane Center used to talk about 80 mph storms as minimal hurricanes. They don’t anymore. That’s a change for the better.

I am anticipating moderate to severe damage on the West Coast of Florida with minimal to scattered moderate damage on the East Coast. There will be a much smaller radius of damage in the east.

Once the storm leaves Florida the guessing game begins. It will really accelerate. This is the part that starts resembling the Hurricane of ’38.

From PBS’ American Experience: Within 24 hours, the storm ripped into the New England shore with enough fury to set off seismographs in Sitka, Alaska. Traveling at a shocking 60 miles per hour — three times faster than most tropical storms — it was astonishingly swift and powerful, with peak wind gusts up to 186 m.p.h. The storm without a name turned into one of the most devastating storms recorded in North America. Over 600 people were killed, most by drowning. Another hundred were never found. Property damage was estimated at $300 million — over 8,000 homes were destroyed, 6,000 boats wrecked or damaged.

Though the storm struck Connecticut’s coast in Fairfield County, the strongest damage was experienced at the opposite end of the state and into Rhode Island.

Here’s what’s most troubling. A storm barreling up the East Coast will leave minimal time for warning. Look at the map. Florida to New Jersey in 24 hours! I couldn’t drive it that quickly.

To get a Hurricane Warning out 24 hours in advance would mean alerting most of the Northeast. An error of a few degrees in course could mean Atlantic City versus Boston.

And where would all these people go? Imagine sending everyone in Coastal New England west on I-95!

This is the worst case scenario. A direct hit to New England would cause as much destruction, and possibly as many deaths, as the unpredicted storm in 1938!

The current projections bring Hurricane Wilma far enough east to spare New England. But there is very little margin for error over a five day forecast. I’m certainly not confident in it. Just a few degrees off…

So now we wait and watch. Like I said, there will be lots of phone calls to Florida tomorrow. I want to make sure my parents have every possible advantage. Then we’ll bring the worries closer to home.

Hurricane Wilma scares me to the bone.

&#185 – The Hurricane Center readily admits, of all the things it does, predicting intensity is the thing it does worst.

Hurricane Wilma On My Mind

I so wanted to make a joke about Wilma and Fred Flintstone. The window of opportunity to look at this as a funny little storm came and went in an instant. Wilma has me worried.

At the moment, the best view is from satellite, though I suspect the Mexican radar at Cancun will start seeing the structure of the storm later today.

This is not a good scenario for my folks who live in Southern Palm Beach County, Florida. In fact, it’s just not good for anyone in South Florida – and I believe they know it.

For many in Florida the first hurricane was an adventure. That romantic outlook is long gone. Hurricanes are terrifying and you don’t need a direct hit to bring grief, trouble, inconvenience and cost.

I’ll bet my folks put the hurricane shutters down a little quicker this time.

I was up, chatting with my friend Bob last night when the first signs of major trouble came in. Bob has his PhD in meteo, so it’s no stretch to say he’s much geekier and meteorologically adept than I am. He was reading the raw recon data from the Hurricane Hunter plane. I seldom do that when a storm is so far from land.

He tipped me of to the report of the 3 nautical mile eye&#185. We were both amazed. Then he caught the pressure fall. That was even more stunning.

This is my analogy, so Bob can distance himself if it’s not 100% on the mark: The pressure had dropped so much that being at a point the eye passed (impossible in real life, but stay with me here) would have been the equivalent of sitting on the wing of a twin engine prop plane as it took of and climbed to about 5,000 feet. The wind you’d feel and pressure drop you’d experience were pretty similar.

First the good news. Wilma will not stay at 175 mph. I’ve gone over this before, but it bears repeating. There is a ‘sweet spot’ for hurricanes where they can achieve symmetry and near physical perfection. As soon as one little parameter goes out of balance, that symmetry breaks down and the storm loses strength.

That being said, going from 175 mph to, let’s say 130 mph, isn’t much comfort.

Oh – did I mention Wilma could head for New England? My gut tells me it’s wide and to the right, but too close to dismiss at the moment.

If… again, that’s if… it does come north and does affect New England, the storm’s structure and forward speed (along with hurricane wind speed) will need to be closely watched. The Great New England Hurricane of ’38 hit Fairfield County, Connecticut, but its greatest hurricane force winds were felt 100 miles or more east of the center!

I’ll be writing more about Wilma later today. In the meantime, the hurricane links on the right side of this page are ‘live’ and will get you to the latest hurricane info, no matter when you read this.

&#185 – It might have gotten smaller today. I saw a reference to a 2 nautical mile eye on Dr. Jeff Masters blog.

I’m More Pessimistic About Hurricanes

Recently I was interviewed for an article in Business New Haven concerning hurricanes. I’ve linked to the text.

Over time I’ve become more pessimistic of what might happen in a repeat of the hurricane of ’38 scenario for Connecticut. There would be little time for warning and difficulty explaining where the damage might occur.

Even in 2005, a tragedy seems unavoidable. That’s not what I want to say, but it is a realistic expectation.

I’m glad to see, though Dr. Mel Goldstein and I were interviewed separately (I didn’t even know he had been interviewed), we are in agreement with our concern.

Unlike Katrina where good advice was ignored, I’m not sure what we could do today to help prepare us for a hurricane approaching us at 60 mph. The entire East Coast would need warning. What good would that do?

Continue reading “I’m More Pessimistic About Hurricanes”

I Didn’t Know I Was This Nice

My friend Farrell’s mom, Ruth, has been interviewed again about her escape from New Orleans.

Every time she tells the story, I become a bigger hero. It’s now the “Legend of Geoff Fox.”

Seriously, this was a call anyone with info would make to the parent of a close friend. I am glad Ruth escaped New Orleans unscathed. I’m glad she listened to her family and friends, because I know in her heart she very much wanted to stay.

The story from the Valley Gazette continues at the jump.

Continue reading “I Didn’t Know I Was This Nice”

Now It’s Rita That’s Got Me Worried

I should have started this over the weekend, because a new storm was the source of almost immediate ‘meteo chatter.’

Ophelia passed to my south. Phillippe is out-to-sea where he will cause little harm. Rita is in a bad spot with the promise of intensification.

There’s no doubt, New Orleans is the most vulnerable city for hurricanes in the US – duh. After that, Key West and Galveston are high up on the list. The official track projection for this storm, still a tropical storm and not a hurricane, impacts both cities!

Key West is an island with little land significantly above sea level. It is possible that during a significant hurricane (which Rita probably won’t be at the time) the entire island could briefly disappear as it was overwashed. There wouldn’t be the lasting flooding of New Orleans.

Galveston too is an island and prone to hurricane surges. Isaac’s Storm, the scariest book I’ve ever read, describes Galveston during the 1900 Hurricane. It stands as America’s most deadly natural disaster. Somewhere between 6-12,000 were killed, with most bodies never found.

From Wikipedia:

Since its formal founding in 1839, the city of Galveston had weathered numerous storms, which the city survived with ease. Residents believed any future storms would be no worse than previous events. In order to provide an official meteorological statement on the threat of hurricanes, Galveston Weather Bureau section director Isaac Cline wrote an 1891 article in the Galveston News in which he argued not only that a seawall was not needed to protect the city, but that it would be impossible for a hurricane of significant strength to strike the island.

The seawall was not built, and development activities on the island actively increased its vulnerability to storms. Sand dunes along the shore were cut down to fill low areas in the city, removing what little barrier there was to the Gulf of Mexico.

Rita isn’t much more than 24 hours from Key West. If the people there are lucky, the storm won’t intensify much, nor will it jog to the north.

Galveston has a bigger question mark. The five day forecast from the Hurricane Center aims squarely at Galveston (for purposes of this entry, let the cone of uncertainty be damned).

If you were living there, what would you do today? The storm is five days away and most likely will find another track before it arrives… or maybe not.