The Tropics Are Open For Business

After a non-existent early season the tropics are open for business. In a few short days we’ve seen Ana, Bill and now Claudette.

tropical storm bill sunday.jpg

My folks are on their way to Milwaukee tomorrow where my niece is expecting their first great-grandchild. Her first child too, but I’ll see it through their eyes right now.

In Florida where they live there is special preferred parking for great-grandparents.

OK, I made that up, but there might as well be! It’s the Florida condo equivalent of receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Anyway they fly out tomorrow. I called them yesterday.

“Get the hurricane shades rolled down.”

I’m glad they’ll be out-of-town.

After a nonexistent early season the tropics are open for business. In a few short days we’ve seen Ana, Bill and now Claudette. Ana fizzled. Claudette will cause problems on the Gulf Coast, but probably as a tropical storm of minimal hurricane. Bill is the big worry.

I am actually more worried about Bill than Claudette even though Claudette will surely make landfall while the track of Bill is nowhere near as well defined.


bill track sunday.gifI don’t disagree. And since this storm seems to be destined to turn parallel to the East Coast I worry–not just for my parents.

As storms get closer to land the ability to monitor them improves. Hurricane Hunter flights don’t go out into the mid-Atlantic. Buoys and remote sensors are limited in the middle of the ocean. Radar only covers a few hundred miles from shore.

This will not be my last entry on Bill.

Gustav Now On My Radar

The route is totally different from Katrina’s, but the projected destination is eerily similar.

Three years ago today I was on the phone with Farrell’s mom Ruth, try to get her out of New Orleans. Here’s what I wrote that day. Now I’m worried about New Orleans again.

Gustav is south of Cuba, heading toward Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. The route is totally different from Katrina’s, but the projected destination is eerily similar.

Much of the controlling mechanism behind hurricanes is seasonably predictable. At different times in the hurricane season different areas are favored for development and track. It’s not a big surprise a potential hurricane is aiming at the mid-Gulf Coast on Katrina’s anniversary week.

Gustav will gain strength. It’s tough to think it will go anywhere but the Gulf. I’m scared it will plow into the Gulf Coast states. I hope I’m wrong. It’s a hope I have too often during the hurricane season.

What We Don’t Know About Hurricanes

By virtue of the environment necessary for their formation and the latitude at which they travel, hurricanes are mostly slow movers. Sometimes they progress at walking speed. Other times they spin in place or loop around their own path.

That slow speed makes forecasting very difficult. The slower the environmental winds are carrying you, the more likely it is for something weak… something we may not see or properly model… to affect your path.

With all this in mind, it’s no surprise hurricane forecasts are less than ideal. The photo on the left represents most of the tropical prediction models for Hurricane Dean. Maps like this are generally called ‘spaghetti plots’.

Notice how they’re in reasonable agreement early on, but diverge as time goes by. That’s a lot of ‘maybe’ in the predicted Gulf Coast landfall.

During the day, Monday, the first shots of Dean’s damage on Jamaica will become available. I expect to see major destruction on the immediate coast.

What’s Up Hurricane?

Here’s a quote of a quote of a quote. I was reading Dr. Jeff Master’s weather blog this morning. He put numbers on the tropical weather of 2006.

In a word – average

The Atlantic was down. The Eastern Pacific was up. The rest of the world helped make the average… well, average.

Strong storms are up numerically, but experts now think strong storms were vastly underestimated in the pre-satellite, pre-radar, era. We were pretty blind back then.

Then, he quoted a recent statement from the World Meteorological Organization concerning hurricanes and global warming.

A consensus of 125 of the world’s leading tropical cyclone researchers and forecasters says that no firm link can yet be drawn between human-induced climate change and variations in the intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones.

In a statement issued in Costa Rica at the World Meteorological Organization’s 6th International Workshop on Tropical Cyclones, it was also declared: No individual tropical cyclone can be directly attributed to climate change. Tropical cyclone is the umbrella name for hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones.

The recent increase in loss of life and damages from tropical cyclones has largely been caused by rising concentrations of population and infrastructure in coastal regions.

In other words, if you build on the coast, you’re going to be hit when coastal storms come along. Period. End of story.

There’s no need to use global warming as a stalking horse to invoke fear. There will be devastating ‘big ones,’ because people have aggregated where big ones have always come in the past.

The Gulf Coast, from Florida through Texas, is alive with people. Same thing for the East Coast. Sure, Florida has been populous for a long time, but now there’s major development farther north in Florida and into Georgia and the Carolinas.

Even here in Connecticut… no, especially here in Connecticut, our shoreline is crammed with people, few of whom have heard of, much less remember the devastation of the Hurricane of ’38.

You don’t need to worry about ‘Super Storms.’ What Mother Nature naturally packs is bad enough already. You’ll see.

The Meisels Go Home To New Orleans

Back when Hurricane Katrina was threatening the Gulf Coast, I did my best to get Ruth Meisel out. The day she drove to safety up north was the last time she saw her home, until yesterday.

With her two adult children in tow, Ruth Meisel returned to New Orleans to see what could be salvaged and tie up loose ends. She will be among the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands, who will leave their homes and move elsewhere.

New Orleans is being abandoned, wholesale.

I asked her son, my friend, Farrell to type some of his thoughts so I could put them here in the blog. I’ll sprinkle a few of his photos here, though the best way to see them is in this slideshow.

Clean up goes on. 80% of the city was affected. Some parts of the city have begun to function, albeit at half speed. This area is still without electricity and is deemed unsafe. It’s expected that electricity won’t be restored in New Orleans East for six to nine months. My mother returned for the first time since the hurricane and subsequent floods, to survey the damage and see if anything could be saved. She’s suited up and ready to go inside. In the background, my sister, Cheri, ready to suit up, as well.

It’s nice… no, it’s amazing to see Ruth smiling.

Here’s my read. She could be distressed with what she’s about to see, or she could be happy to see she raised her children right, and they are accompanying and supporting her. She chose the latter.

My mother knew from earlier reports and a prior visit by my sister, that things didn’t look so good. She’s been very optimistic and hopeful, looking forward and giving us much encouragement. My mother’s house survived the storm on the outside, but the inside looked and smelled awful and was a total disaster. Entering the front door we were greeted by a living room chair that wasn’t there when my mother left in August. That gives you an idea of how we were greeted.

From the marks on the wall it looks like 4-5 feet of water made it into the house. From the ‘bunny suits’ the Meisel’s wore, you can assume it wasn’t spring water.

Nearly everything was ruined.

One of the things that struck Farrell when we spoke on the phone was the proliferation of signs advertising Katrina related services. There are also markings, scrawled on homes with spray paint.

This house has been FEMA’d. FEMA is not an acronym here. It’s a four-letter word. BTW, so is Bush.
One of the city’s synagogues, Beth Israel, an Orthodox house of worship…Also one of the city’s oldest, which used to be in the historic uptown area until the late 1960s. Also on Canal Blvd, note the watermarks. Reportedly, the head Rabbi fled town, leaving the Torah scrolls to flood and be rescued from religious volunteers. The Rabbi has since been fired. My sister spotted prayer books and prayer shawls on the ground in front of the now-deserted synagogue….a sin in the Jewish religion.

Here’s how Farrell ended his note, and I’ll leave it pretty much intact:

As I visit here, for the first time in several years, 3 months after the devastation that has been chronicled worldwide, I have now discovered: A Missing City. Parts of the city and neighboring parish (Jefferson) we have seen are beginning to function, but it’s slow and without spirit.

In our many conversations with New Orleanians and Jeffersonians, one hears a great deal of anger leveled at Government. I could only find one person with a nice thing to say about President Bush. I asked why? The waitress at the seafood restaurant said it was the Louisiana Governor’s fault for not letting Bush send FEMA and the troops in. I then asked, out of curiosity, did she know that Bush was on a fundraising trip in California for three days before he did a “fly-over”, VP Cheney was buying a vacation house and the Secretary of State was shopping in Manhattan, while her home state, Alabama, was flooded. The waitress hadn’t heard that.

A newspaper stand owner or manager clearly vented his anger towards Bush, but didn’t spare either the local, regional and state governments, but felt, the US Government let Louisiana down.

Most of the Greater New Orleans area, (Orleans and neighboring parishes), as it’s known, with some 1 million people once living there, don’t have electricity, a home, assistance from FEMA, insurance companies, and they feel forgotten just three months after the hurricane and floods.. As is the case with crises the world over, once the cameras leave, the sense of urgency goes with the camera crews.

The stores and shops that are open are operating for limited hours due to two factors: limited shoppers and limited staff.

It’s quite unusual to be driving in one part of the area, say neighboring Metairie, where the shops and malls have reopened, only to continue on Interstate 10 to downtown New Orleans, and pass through darkness because whole areas have no power.

There were some signs of life downtown and in the French Quarter. The beautiful St. Charles Avenue historic areas seemed to be untouched and lit, yet, just a few blocks away, one would have thought we could have been in a war zone.

Rumors of price gouging exist. Household stores are reportedly charging double for goods consumers can buy in the middle of the state or in Mississippi for less. Gasoline is 30 cents a gallon more expensive than in the center of Mississippi or Louisiana reportedly.

Residents feel abandoned now. From the newspaper shop owner to restaurateur, residents don’t feel the city of N.O. census will approach even half of it’s close to 461,000 registered residents.

Employers are looking for employees. Potential employees are looking for housing, assistance from FEMA and the insurance companies, and those are the few, who have returned.

The Times-Picayune reported today that the New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin, rumored to be in Washington on business, actually wasn’t there on business, but took his family on vacation to Jamaica. While I’m sure he’s deserving of a break, there are several hundred thousand to one million people, who’d love to take that break, if only they could get some help from the various government agencies so they could get on with their lives and rebuild. And I haven’t even begun to discuss the levee system.

As I write this at 2am Central Standard Time, I was trying to think, after only two days here, how could I best describe what I have seen and heard? The word that comes to mind is “abyss.”

New Orleans, which had once been described as the “city that care forgot,” from an old Mardi Gras tale, has become the bottomless gulf or pit. There are only a handful of truly unique cities in the U.S. with some history and character. When tourists think of those cities, New Orleans had always been in the same company with San Francisco, Boston, New York, Savannah, and perhaps one or two other cities or towns.

It would not be an exaggeration to suggest, if there is no sense of urgency, New Orleans could drop off that list in my lifetime.

Please, look at the pictures. It is so sad… so tragic.

Rita As An Underachiever

From “”It looks like the Houston and Galveston area has really lucked out,” said Max Mayfield, director of the hurricane center. “

That one characterization pretty much sums up Hurricane Rita’s arrival on the Gulf Coast. In reality, everyone lucked out.

There is a very fine line in being a weatherman (I can actually refer to myself as meteorologist, but I’m worried it sounds pretentious when it comes from me and not someone else). With big storms, you want to be accurate and convey the gravity of the situation without going overboard.

I spent a good part of the last few days hoping my worst fears would be wrong – and hoping if they were, people would not punish me for a forecast that was too pessimistic. In essence, I wanted to be right and wrong at the very same time.

When Hurricane Rite first clocked in at 175 mph, I swallowed hard. That’s quite a spectacular example of physics at work. There’s not much that can take 175 mph sustained winds – or the 200+ mph gusts that accompany them.

I knew the storm would diminish, you don’t need to be a meteorological genius to know that, but I didn’t know how much.

And, of course, I worried about the imponderables in Houston and even Dallas. Maybe I’ve read too many scientific papers where theory rules and the real world is just an imaginary setting. We really haven’t seen a significant hurricane blow through a city of tall buildings, like Houston.

Rita came on shore overnight. She’s a tropical storm now and will probably become a regular old low pressure system soon. The damage is significant. If we hadn’t had Hurricane Katrina, it would seem a lot worse. The damage will be calculated with 10 digit numbers as opposed to 11 or 12.

Amazing. We look at damage in the billions of dollars and marvel how we got off easy.

There is a rising tide of popular opinion that wants to tie this year’s hurricane season into Global Warming. And, of course, Global Warming proponents (they are for the theory, not for the outcome) are quick to fan these flames.

You can’t base scientific theory on popular opinion – and certainly not on one or two years of storms in only one of the world’s hurricane basins. This is much too complex to draw a conclusion from that small amount of data.

When I was a kid, I never could understand how the United States had any people before 1900, because everyone I knew was an immigrant, child of immigrants or grandchild of immigrants. I only knew what I personally saw. I didn’t have a broad enough set of facts and circumstances to make an educated stab at a theory.

I was a kid. Lack of scientific basis or proper research techniques didn’t stop me. I am scared that same kind of logic is in play today.

Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic, auditions for “Stan” have just begun:


Katrina Timeline Straightening

I am one of those people who firmly believe FEMA and/or the National Guard should have been in New Orleans as soon as the wind began to die down. However, a great misconception most people have is the flooding started around the time the storm peaked.

Here’s what I wrote around 3:00 AM EDT Tuesday morning. By then the storm had moved north and New Orleans no longer had hurricane conditions.

Rick Sanchez was on the air, speaking by phone with someone from Tulane Hospital in New Orleans. The hospital’s spokesperson was talking about water – rising water.

The hospital had seen no real flooding while Hurricane Katrina passed by, but tonight, water had begun rushing in and it was rising at an alarming rate.

I could hear the fear in her voice as she described the water level rising an inch every five minutes. That’s a foot an hour. Already there was six feet of water outside the hospital. Soon, water would reach the level of their emergency generators on the second floor.

Sanchez was taken aback. I’m not sure he originally understood what she was saying. It was so unexpected – so out of context.

She said a levee keeping Lake Ponchartrain out of New Orleans had been breached. The cut in the levee was two blocks long and water was rushing in unimpeded. Even if there were pumps working, and she wasn’t sure there were, they wouldn’t be able to keep up with this deluge.

On CNN, Rick Sanchez kept asking questions, but it was obvious this woman wanted to get off the phone. Speaking to him wasn’t going to help her.

I heard terror in her voice.

The hospital had to get its patients out. Its patients were by and large critical. The only way to move them would be by helicopter and FEMA would be needed for that.

The other all news stations are in their usual reruns. I have no way of knowing if this is true. If it is, this is New Orleans’ worst fears are realized. Lake Ponchartrain could inundate the city.

As far as I can tell, that was the first national report of flooding in New Orleans.

From Editor & Publisher: On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff told Tim Russert that one reason for the delay in rushing federal aid to the Gulf Coast was that “everyone” thought the crisis had passed when the storm left town: “I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers and I saw headlines, ‘New Orleans Dodged The Bullet.'”

So, maybe that was what Chertoff thought on Tuesday… but where was he on Monday? Even before the flooding, New Orleans was in great need. The city was without power. Windows were blown out all over the city. Buildings had been destroyed. People were homeless or were housed in shelters with no food, water or sanitary facilities.

Yes, the flooding came late, but wasn’t anyone there surveying the damage or deciding what kind of support the city would need before then? Even before the flooding, the city had suffered a tragedy.

Why was he depending on newspapers (or any media) for his information?

More On Katrina’s Aftermath

This story is beginning to wind down for me. However, what has happened in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast cannot be forgotten.

I am mortified at the sight of the United States begging other countries for aid. Is this our true place in the world? Heaven help us all.

While I was away from my computer, my friend Ashley Adams sent this IM. He was gone by the time I returned to the keyboard:

Ashley: Geoff, why weren’t FEMA and the other fed agencies better prepared in New Orleans? You were telling me that this was going to be the disaster of the century two days before it hit.

That, of course, is the money question.

This morning’s New Orleans Times-Picayune had a scathing editorial.

Taking Steffie To School

There will probably be no other entry in the blog today, or if there is it will be very late. We’re taking Steffie to college. The car is loaded.

Because her school is on a road that leads to a major beach, we’re leaving early, hoping to avoid a traffic backup. Considering the forecast, and that this is the last of the summer weekends, leaving early might not be enough.

I’ve had the TV on this early morning. I’m glad to see supplies and personnel finally getting to the Gulf Coast states. That doesn’t take anyone off the hook. What went on the past four days was reprehensible.

Earlier, I wrote this debacle was brought on by ineptitude at a number of governmental levels. I still feel that way. A chorus has also risen, saying this was racially motivated.

The realt cause of this failure must be found without any hiding from the truth. People died unnecessarily when the government they depended on didn’t come to their aid. This is not a political issue anymore (if it ever was).

If there was criminal negligence, those people responsible need to be punished.

One more thing. Yesterday I said something nice about Anderson Cooper. Today I’ll throw in Shepard Smith.

Those who know me know, I’ve been very critical in my opinion of Smith in the past. Arrogant was probably my weakest characterization.

For the past few days he has been a compassionate advocate for those in need. I suppose there’s a journalistic line across which advocacy lies, and so it is conventionally forbidden. These are extraordinary circumstances.

Will this new “Shep” continue after the crisis subsides? Who knows? I’m hopeful.

The More I Watch, The More Unhappy I Am

Hurricane Katrina ceased being a weather story days ago. I now watch as an interested bystander. I am very unhappy with what I see.

If FEMA or any other part of Homeland Security has had an impact on those people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, I haven’t seen it. Again, this storm wasn’t a surprise. I told people here in Connecticut how bad I thought it would be… but I wasn’t alone.

Reading the pre-Katrina statements from the Weather Service’s New Orleans office, there was no doubt this was being portrayed as a killer… a once in a lifetime type event. The Hurricane Center was saying the same thing.

Where was FEMA?

Where was Homeland Security?

Where are they today?

How can we allow our fellow citizens to suffer, as these people are certainly suffering? Where is the humanity that symbolizes America? These poor citizens deserve comfort.

New Orleans is a city filled with poor, black people. I would be easy to think this was racist or classist treatment. I don’t think so. I think this is a case of inept agencies. They would have poorly served any group so affected, regardless of station in life.

It looks like there are still people dying from this storm. How disgusting is that?

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Where Is The Federal Government?

“Good afternoon…there is a desperate, desperate race to try to save those who made it through the storm, but may not survive the aftermath. This may be one of the saddest spectacles I have ever seen.” – Shepard Smith, Fox News Channel

I’m not in New Orleans nor the Gulf Coast. I only know what I see on television and read in the newspaper. I am not happy with what I’m seeing.


Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Looting on Tchoupitoulas Avenue

By Michael Perlstein

Staff writer

Looting in New Orleans was so widespread Wednesday that police were forced to prioritize their overwhelmed enforcement effort.

The officers were rushing to a break-in next door at the Sports Authority, desperate to secure the store’s stockpile of guns and ammunition.

“I think we ran them off before they got any of it,” said the commanding officer at the scene. The cops secured the store with heavy plywood before moving on to other emergencies.

There’s more, but it’s too depressing.

Where is FEMA? Where is Homeland Security? Where is the National Guard? Where are tents and cots and kitchens?

Why on Wednesday is this first being announced by President Bush&#185?

That Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast was no surprise. It was well forecast, both intensity and track. The predictions from the Hurricane Center were dire with some of the strongest cautionary language I’ve ever read relating to weather.

Wasn’t anything brought in to be ready?

As we have a moment to step back from this tragedy, maybe it’s time to question how the resources allocated for emergency services are deployed. If I were in New Orleans or the Mississippi and Alabama coastal towns, I’d be more than steaming right now. I’d want answers.

&#185 – Though President Bush is ‘in charge’, operational decisions should have been made at lower governmental levels.

Katrina’s Forecast Stabilizes

Over the past few days I’ve commented on some of the wide swings in the forecast for Hurricane Katrina. Now, it looks like the swings have stopped.


Is this the meteorological kiss of death? Is the Hurricane Center patting itself on the back too soon?

The satellite presentation is massive with a well defined eye. This is still a devastating forecast for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Katrina And The Gulf

Katrina has left Florida. I’m not there, but I’m still betting there are lots of upset people in Dade County. The forecast track was too far north.

Now Katrina is in the Gulf of Mexico and intensifying. Already today NHC has shifted the probable Gulf Coast landfall 150 miles west.

That’s not a sign of confidence.

For years I’ve heard how difficult hurricane forecasting is. I’m not disputing that. I’m just not sure it’s any more difficult than any type of forecasting.

The problem is, every part of a hurricane forecast is critical. Many parts of my day-to-day forecast are not. I can get close and be considered right. I though 40% clouds, we had 60% – who cares? I figured .5″ rain, we got .75″ – who cares? The Hurricane Center doesn’t get that free pass.

This storm will continue to hold my attention. There’s actually 90&#186+ water in the Gulf. That’s like gasoline near an open flame.

What We Don’t Know About Hurricanes

I always knew hurricanes were tough to predict. I just never knew how tough they were to accurately observe.

Actually, the problem is more complex than that. We’re trying to put a finite number on a system that is complex. Maybe one number is not the way to do it.

Tonight, as an example, the Hurricane Center fixed the top winds of Tropical Storm Cindy at 70 mph. Then I got this:


The 70 mph in the earlier advisory was a sustained wind figure… and from ground level, not 150 feet over the open water. Still, these numbers are so close to hurricane status that you have to wonder, why no Hurricane Watch or Warning?

Maybe the oil rig reading is too high (unlikely) or the stated wind is too low (probably). This is not to say it wasn’t 70 mph back when that number was issued. These things pulse and change rapidly.

It would also be a great stretch to assume that the only observation taken from near the center of the storm just happened to catch its highest wind. If we read 99 mph there, someplace else probably received more.

Years ago I assumed the National Hurricane Center’s published numbers were gospel. They are not. Unlike most of what’s recorded weatherwise, these ‘observation’ are really estimates – and often poor estimates. That’s not NHC’s fault necessarily. They can only work with what they’ve got and hurricanes are usually situated where observations are difficult, if not impossible.

The Hurricane Center walks a difficult path. Report a number too high and you’re calling wolf. No one will believe you the next time. Underestimate and you leave people in harm’s way.

Tonight, I think they’re on the low side and their public statements may leave people unprotected. There’s a Tropical Storm Warning on the Gulf Coast. There should be a Hurricane Warning. My friend Bob, the hurricane maven, said it before I did.

He’s right.

Even if they were to up the category right now, it’s too late to help. The storm is already affecting Louisiana and will come onshore before first light Wednesday.

Ivan Nears Mobile

I’ve just taken a look at the Mobile, AL National Weather Service radar. I don’t believe there’s any other remote sensor that gives you this much of a feel for what’s going on.

On the shoreline, bands of heavy squalls, yellows and oranges on the radar display, are dropping torrential rains. It’s the kind of rain that flows over the sides of rain gutters – except this rain is being blown horizontally.

Out in the Gulf of Mexico the eye is easily scene. It was more circular earlier. Now it has opened a little. Looking back at the last 10 images covering an hour, its rotation is obvious.

The Doppler display of winds shows an “S” shaped pattern with solid green and red bands adjacent to each other. Green shows winds moving toward the radar, red is moving away.

I’ve seen a few TV reporters on the air from Mobile. I hope they get out of harm’s way, but I continue to worry which storm will be the one where someone will be killed on live TV as they’re hit by debris or overtaken by the strong winds.

For people along the Gulf Coast, tonight will be the scariest night of the life.