My preview of the hurricane season is up on Pajamas Media. Perhaps the most interesting point is this:
There…seems to be a new focus among the [seasonal] forecasters on explaining the uncertainties inherent in their task. NOAA, for instance, now includes percentage probabilities along with its predictions of storm activity, somewhat like the margin of error in a public opinion poll. And the margin is quite high: Ã¢â‚¬Å“an above-normal season is most likely (65% chance), [but] there is a significant 25% chance of a near-normal season and a 10% chance of a below-normal season.Ã¢â‚¬Â (Definitions here.) Ã¢â‚¬Å“This outlook is probabilistic, not deterministic,Ã¢â‚¬Â NOAAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s introduction states. It is Ã¢â‚¬Å“based on predictions of large-scale climate factors known to be strong indicators of upcoming seasonal Atlantic hurricane activity,Ã¢â‚¬Â but there are Ã¢â‚¬Å“uncertainties inherent in such climate outlooks,Ã¢â‚¬Â which the percentage probabilities are designed to take into account. …
Still, despite these acknowledged uncertainties, and despite the recent failures, forecasters have soldiered on and tried their best to accurately predict the 2008 season. In fact, the Klotzbach/Gray team has based its forecast on a newly tweaked model, designed to correct some of the errors of previous years. Cynics might compare this to college footballÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s BCS, which has repeatedly changed its formula to compensate for previous yearsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ problems Ã¢â‚¬â€ the sports equivalent of Ã¢â‚¬Å“hindcastingÃ¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬â€ only to see brand new problems develop in subsequent seasons.
On the other hand, this is how the science evolves, and Klotzbach and Gray are forthright in admitting that it is a work in progress. In any event, Ã¢â‚¬Å“hindcastsÃ¢â‚¬Â based on the new model come much closer to the mark than the real-time forecasts did in all of the last four years, which is significant, since 2004 and 2005 were both well above average (and were under-forecasted), while 2006 and 2007 were below average (and were over-forecasted). Ã¢â‚¬Å“The new hindcast model improves upon our real-time forecasts by approximately 60%Ã¢â‚¬Â¦over the period from 2004-2007,Ã¢â‚¬Â Klotzbach and Gray write.
P.S. Naturally, the comments are all about… you guessed it… global warming. *sigh*
As foreshadowed below, Tropical Storm Arthur has formed — one day before the “official” start of the Atlantic season — from the remnants of Pacific T.S. Alma.
It was actually designated a T.S. while over the Yucatan Peninsula. I’m out and about right now; details when I get home.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: Arthur didn’t form over land; it formed “near the coast of Belize,” according to the 1:00 PM special advisory that designated it. It was over land by the time the 2:00 PM advisory was issued, which is what I was reading when I wrote this post on my cell phone.
No word yet from Alan Sullivan considers the NHC’s designation of Arthur “count-padding.” Anyway…
…TROPICAL STORM ARTHUR OVER THE YUCATAN PENINSULA…EXPECTED TO
WEAKEN OVER LAND LATER TODAY…
… MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS REMAIN NEAR 40 MPH…65 KM/HR…WITH HIGHER GUSTS. THESE WINDS ARE OCCURRING PRIMARILY OVER WATER WELL TO THE NORTHEAST AND EAST OF THE CENTER. ARTHUR IS EXPECTED TO WEAKEN TODAY AS IT MOVES FARTHER INLAND OVER YUCATAN.
Will the first tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season be… the first tropical storm of the Eastern Pacific hurricane season?
SPECIAL TROPICAL DISTURBANCE STATEMENT
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
500 AM EDT SAT MAY 31 2008
AN AREA OF LOW PRESSURE…ASSOCIATED WITH THE REMNANTS OF FORMER EASTERN PACIFIC TROPICAL STORM ALMA…IS CENTERED OVER THE GULF OF HONDURAS NEAR THE COAST OF NORTHERN BELIZE. THE LOW IS MOVING SLOWLY WESTWARD…AND THE CENTER IS EXPECTED TO MOVE INLAND OVER THE YUCATAN PENINSULA DURING THE NEXT FEW HOURS. HOWEVER…SATELLITE IMAGERY AND SURFACE OBSERVATIONS INDICATE THIS SYSTEM IS BECOMING BETTER ORGANIZED…AND A TROPICAL DEPRESSION COULD FORM IF THE CENTER REMAINS OFFSHORE THIS MORNING. EVEN IF NO DEVELOPMENT OCCURS…LOCALIZED HEAVY RAINS AND FLOODS ARE POSSIBLE DURING THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS OVER PORTIONS OF HONDURAS…EL SALVADOR…GUATEMALA…BELIZE…AND SOUTHEASTERN MEXICO. FUTURE TROPICAL DISTURBANCE STATEMENTS WILL BE ISSUED ON THIS SYSTEM AS NECESSARY.
In some instances, a storm can retain its name when crossing from one basin to another. I forget the exact criteria for that, but I believe it has to do with whether the old storm retains its circulation, as opposed to merely its moisture. Given the NHC’s reference to the “remants of former” Alma, and the statement that “a tropical depression could form” (as opposed to re-form), I think they’re contemplating designating it as a new storm — in which case it would be named Arthur, if it reaches tropical storm status in the Atlantic basin. Weather Matrix agrees.
Meanwhile, weather Alan Sullivan, who correctly bucked the predictions of an active season last year, writes: “The Atlantic is way too active for so early in the season.”
The first tropical storm of the Eastern Pacific hurricane season (which starts annually on May 15, roughly two weeks earlier than the Atlantic season) has formed. Its name is Tropical Storm Alma, and it could cause a major flooding disaster in Central America.
Last weekend, there was an interesting discussion in comments here on the blog about the merits of forcably bringing humanitarian aid to the people of Burma/Myanmar, the junta be damned. Now the New Yorker’s George Packer ponders the same question, asking, "Should Burma Be Saved from Itself?" He writes:
Forcing the regime to let the rest of the world save its people
would have a devastating effect on morale. BurmaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s leaders are so
isolated and irrational that they actually believe their own propaganda
about being the only group that can hold the country together. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s
possible that the junta would collapse out of sheer humiliation. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s
also possible, though it seems unlikely to me, that Burmese military
units would be ordered to engage the foreigners. Shots might be fired,
people might be killed. No one knows what will happen if British
sailors and American airmen arrive on soggy Burmese soil. Hanging over
the question is, of course, Iraq. No one expects an intervention to go
smoothly anymore; now we expect it to go terribly wrong. I doubt the
American, British, French, Australian, and other governments, with or
without U.N. consent, will decide to invade Burma with boxes of oral
rehydration kits and high-energy biscuits. But if the fear of Baghdad
and Falluja is what keeps foreign powers from saving huge numbers of
Burmese from their own governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s callousness, that will be one more
tragic consequence of the Iraq war.
On the other hand, if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be done, it should be done
quickly. I know all the arguments why we shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. But there are at
least a million counterarguments why we should.
Andrew Sullivan links to Packer’s piece, and explicitly jumps on the bandwagon with the title, "Invade Burma, Please." He writes: "A brief, decisive international effort to reach the starving and sick
seems important to me. If it helps demystify this vile regime, great.
But in its demonstration of humanity, it is also a great way for the US
to enhance its soft power in the developing world."
P.S. Meanwhile, Dr. Jeff Masters notes that the seasonal monsoon rains are rapidly approaching the Irrawaddy Delta.
Every Day Should Be Saturday is running a contest that gives all you college sports fans an opportunity to help the victims of the recent spate of disasters — the Burma cyclone, the China earthquake, the Midwest tornadoes — while simultaneously showing your team pride. Here’s how it works:
2) Email the donation confirmation to firstname.lastname@example.org and state your team affiliation by 8pm EDT on Wednesday, May 14th.
4) The winning school will have its colors displayed at EDSBS and logo/mascot shown on every page at Fanblogs.
Things are looking dismal in the current standings for both USC and Notre Dame. Neither school shows up in the Top 10, and in fact, if EDSBS is counting ND as part of the "Big East" for purposes of their conference standings, it appears that zero dollars have been donated by fans of either school. (The Pac-10 and Big East are tied for last place with $0.)
So, pony up, Irish and Trojan fans! We can’t let freakin’ Michigan — in first place with $1,000 — win this thing.
As the government of Burma/Myanmar continues to show more interest in chasing down CNN reporters than in trying to prevent a holocaust in the Irrawaddy Delta, meteorologist and weatherblogger Dr. Jeff Masters puts the junta’s despicable actions in historical context:
[T]he criminal indifference of the nation’s leaders towards the plight of the cyclone’s survivors will doom hundreds or thousands more to death or terrible suffering. One can only hope that the people of Myanmar will rise up and put an end to Myanmar’s dictatorship as a result of this awful tragedy.
There is historical precedent for this sort of occurrence. The deadliest tropical cyclone of all time, the Great Bhola Cyclone of 1970, killed upwards of 550,000 people is what was then called East Pakistan (and now called Bangladesh). A statement released by eleven political leaders in East Pakistan ten days after the cyclone hit charged the government with “gross neglect, callous indifference and utter indifference”. They also accused the president of playing down the news coverage. The dissatisfaction with the government response to the disaster boiled over into full-fledged civil war the next year, which ultimately led to the overthrow of the government and the establishment of the new nation of Bangladesh. As bad as the West Pakistani response to the Great Bhola Cyclone of 1970 was, the response of the Myanmar government to Nargis is far worse. The slowness of response to this tropical cyclone disaster is unprecedented in modern times.
It makes the U.S. and Louisiana governments’ response to Hurricane Katrina seems like a model of efficiency by comparison. Here’s an overview of what’s happening:
More aid is on the way to cyclone-ravaged Myanmar - but so is the heavy rain… [and] relief workers, including Americans, [are] still being barred entry. …
Officials have said only one out of 10 people who are homeless, injured or threatened by disease and hunger have received some kind of aid in the week since the cyclone hit.
The government, which wants full control of relief operations, has less than 40 helicopters, most of them small or old. It also has only about 15 transport planes, primarily small jets unable to carry hundreds of tons of supplies.
“Not only don’t they have the capacity to deliver assistance, they don’t have experience,” said Mark Farmaner, director of the pro-democracy Burma Campaign UK. “It’s already too late for many people. Every day of delays is costing thousands of lives.”
On Friday, Myanmar’s military rulers seized two planeloads containing enough high-energy biscuits to feed 95,000 people sent by the U.N. World Food Program, which briefly suspended help after the action. The U.N. later agreed to send two more planes to help survivors.
The government acknowledged taking control of the shipments and said it plans to distribute the aid itself to affected areas. …
The U.N. has grown increasingly critical of Myanmar’s refusal to let in foreign aid workers who could assess the extent of the disaster with the junta apparently overwhelmed. None of the 10 visa applications submitted by the WFP has been approved. …
Myanmar says it will accept aid from all countries, but prohibits the entry of foreign workers who would deliver and manage the operations. The junta is not ready to change that position, [Shari Villarosa, the U.S. charge d’affairs in Yangon] said she was told. …
The junta said it was grateful to the international community for its assistance but the best way to help was to send in material rather than personnel.
Relief workers have reached 220,000 cyclone victims, only a fraction of the number of people affected, the Red Cross said.
“Believe me, the government will not allow outsiders to go into the devastated area,” said Yangon food shop owner Joseph Kyaw. “The government only cares about its own stability. They don’t care about the plight of the people.”
Indeed. F***ing inhuman bastards. May they rot in hell. (And, more immediately, may their “stability” be undermined by their own obsession with it.)
Will Cyclone Nargis, the catastrophic storm that ravaged Burma/Myanmar, ultimately be worse than the 2004 tsunami? Christ almighty.
That fearful prediction comes from the Sun, so you may want to take it with a grain of salt. But it’s based on an estimate of what could happen "through disease and hunger
if the nation’s hardline army rulers continue to block aid for the
devastated lowlands of the Irrawaddy Delta."
And blocking aid is exactly what these evil rulers are doing. They’ve seized all food supplies and are preventing it from being distributed to the victims, forcing the U.N. to suspend its relief efforts. Meanwhile, according to Nyo Ohn Myint, leader of an exiled opposition party:
"The bodies need to be collected and burnt as soon as possible or
disease will claim many more lives. But the government has organised nothing
and its 400,000 soldiers are doing nothing while undistributed aid piles up.
"They are hoping bodies will be washed out to sea so the final count
is smaller Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but it could kill half a million people within a
matter of weeks. The world must know what is going on."
There is a special circle of Hell for these junta bastards.
Incidentally, a death toll of 500,000 would place Nargis on the Top 5 list of deadliest natural disasters in history (excluding famines and diseases). Although, the term "natural disaster" may not be entirely appropriate, as Myint pointed out: "Much of this will be a
man-made disaster, caused by the military regime."
The worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami keeps getting worse:
Stephen Hadley, the White House national security adviser, said
100,000 people had probably been killed, with a large number of others
unaccounted for, in a Ã¢â‚¬Å“humanitarian disaster of enormous proportionsÃ¢â‚¬Â.
He said that BurmaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s junta would Ã¢â‚¬Å“compound the disasterÃ¢â‚¬Â by denying
access to relief groups.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is not about politics, this is
about helping people in need. And the junta should please open its
doors and let the international community provide humanitarian
assistance to the people in Burma because they need it desperately.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Dr. Jeff Masters has more, noting that Cyclone Nargis "took the worst possible track, passing directly over the densely populated and low lying Irrawaddy River delta," and also "came at the worst time possible, during the winter bora rice crop harvest." So the storm’s toll will be compounded by further food shortages at a time when the price of rice is already sky-high.
Masters also writes:
In one city alone–Bogalay, about 50 miles southwest of the capital of
Yangon–10,000 people are thought to have died. Bogalay is a decrepit
city of 100,000 that lies at the head of a estuary that leads to the
sea. No doubt this narrow waterway served to funnel a storm surge over
ten feet high into the city.
Cyclone Nargis has produced a major humanitarian catastrophe in Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma), with perhaps 13,000 dead and the nation’s capital — which suffered a direct hit from the storm — plunged into a “primitive existence.”
Dr. Jeff Masters has a detailed post on the cyclone and its impact.
Kerry Emanuel, the influential M.I.T. climate scientist who has been at the forefront of making the argument that global warming will lead to more intense hurricanes, has released a new study that backtracks on his earlier findings, revealing more uncertainty on the question of whether such a link exists. (Hat tip: InstaPundit.)
I’ve pointed out repeatedly that the question of what global warming would do vis a vis hurricanes is an entirely separate issue — about which there is much less consensus and much more uncertainty, even among the most ardent AGW true believers — from the question of whether global warming is happening (and the subsidiary question of whether, and to what extent, human activity is causing or contributing to it). This new Emanuel study basically reinforces that point. Entirely aside from the broader global warming debate, everyone ought to recognize that we really just don’t know for sure yet what the impact on hurricanes will be, if any. (cc: Al Gore)
Personally, notwithstanding my entirely tongue-in-cheek headline, I think the most important point is the one made by Eric Berger, the Houston Chronicle’s “SciGuy”:
This should put to rest a lot of the nonsense about a global warming conspiracy among scientists. Emanuel, faced with new evidence, has moderated his viewpoint. That’s what responsible scientists do, and most are responsible. The amount of scientist-bashing when it comes to global warming is generally quite deplorable.
Indeed. (I would have loved to see Glenn Reynolds quote that point, instead of rehashing the silly, trivial and misleading point about a “relative paucity of hurricanes over the last couple of years.” See my Pajamas Media article for a full rebuttal to that.) [UPDATE: Glenn has updated his post, adding a link to this post and quoting the very passage I wished he had quoted initially. Thanks, Glenn.]
Berger also points out that “if you’re a skeptic, and you welcome these results, please remember that [the climate models used in this new study] are the same climate models you bash when they show global temperatures steadily rising during the next century.”
Meanwhile, Becky tells me she saw the National Hurricane Center’s new director, Bill Read, talking on The Weather Channel last week about how we need to stop obsessing over the global warming issue when talking about hurricanes, and focus more on promoting greater preparedness. I agree 100% with that, and I would add that we also need to focus on figuring out what to do about runaway coastal development. As I wrote in my PJM article:
[T]he whole argument over global warming really misses the point, in a certain sense. The biggest downside of the politicization of weather is that it has largely blinded us to more pressing issues related to disaster preparedness.
Regardless of whether global warming is real and manmade Ã¢â‚¬â€ and regardless of whether warming ocean temperatures will lead to more active hurricane seasons, which is actually a separate question Ã¢â‚¬â€ it is an undeniable reality that hurricanes are going to become more damaging and deadly in the coming decades because of increased coastal development. It is also undeniable that certain cities (e.g., Houston/Galveston, Tampa, Miami, New York, and, still, New Orleans) are incredibly vulnerable to absolute devastation from a major hurricane, and more steps need to be taken to protect them, regardless of global warming. Disaster preparedness should not be a political issue, but because of intellectual dishonesty and laziness on both extremes in this feud, it has become one.
Whatever our positions on global warming and related political issues, we should all be happy that the 2006 and 2007 hurricane seasons have turned out to be relatively less devastating than some other recent seasons Ã¢â‚¬â€ and we should use that relative inactivity not as an excuse to grow complacent, but as an opportunity to get ready for the next big storm. Because there will be another big storm. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one inconvenient truth that nobody can deny.
As the Atlantic hurricane season gets underway, the possible influence of climate change on hurricane activity is receiving renewed attention. While the debate on this issue is of considerable scientific and societal interest and concern, it should in no event detract from the main hurricane problem facing the United States: the ever-growing concentration of population and wealth in vulnerable coastal regions. These demographic trends are setting us up for rapidly increasing human and economic losses from hurricane disasters, especially in this era of heightened activity. Scores of scientists and engineers had warned of the threat to New Orleans long before climate change was seriously considered, and a Katrina-like storm or worse was (and is) inevitable even in a stable climate.
Rapidly escalating hurricane damage in recent decades owes much to government policies that serve to subsidize risk. State regulation of insurance is captive to political pressures that hold down premiums in risky coastal areas at the expense of higher premiums in less risky places. Federal flood insurance programs likewise undercharge property owners in vulnerable areas. Federal disaster policies, while providing obvious humanitarian benefits, also serve to promote risky behavior in the long run.
We are optimistic that continued research will eventually resolve much of the current controversy over the effect of climate change on hurricanes. But the more urgent problem of our lemming-like march to the sea requires immediate and sustained attention. We call upon leaders of government and industry to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of building practices, and insurance, land use, and disaster relief policies that currently serve to promote an ever-increasing vulnerability to hurricanes.
Amen. (Emphasis mine.)
P.S. Since I now have a mini-Instalanche headed my way, which inevitably means a global warming flame-war is imminent, I wanted to quote one other key passage from my PJM article. I’ve added a few bracketed points for the sake of clarity.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“All scientists agree,Ã¢â‚¬Â Berger writes, Ã¢â‚¬Å“that a single hurricane season cannot make or break an argument for global warming having a measurable impact of hurricanes.Ã¢â‚¬Â Alas, this message is often lost on non-scientists in the pro- and anti- crowds.
Just as it was both unsound and unwise for some global-warming advocates to hold up the 2005 hurricane season as proof of their position, it would be equally unsound and unwise for global-warming skeptics to hold up 2006 and 2007 as somehow disproving the existence of global warming [or of a link between global warming and hurricanes]. Such arguments are unsound because they confuse climate, which is comprised of long-term trends, with weather, which chronicles individual events. They are also unwise strategically because they are so vulnerable to attack when things Ã¢â‚¬â€ predictably Ã¢â‚¬â€ turn out differently in future years.
The heavy reliance on 2005 in certain quarters, which gave some lay observers the false impression that all hurricane seasons would henceforth be similar to the freakish Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ05 season, left global-warming advocates open to cynicism, criticism and rebuttal when 2006 and 2007 failed to live up to expectations. Similarly, a global-warming skeptic who claims today that 2007 disproves global warming [and/or an AGW link to hurricanes] is leaving himself open to the argument, if 2008 is an active season, that Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ08 proves global warming is real [and linked to hurricanes] after all. The more honest (and strategically sound) course, for both sides, is to discuss global warming on its actual merits, and not obsess over minor year-to-year variations that tell us very little, if anything, about long-term trends.
Something for everyone, on both sides, to keep in mind as the 2008 hurricane season approaches.
Digging through some old computer files, looking for job-related stuff, I stumbled upon a text file titled “message to drudge - katrina,” dated Friday, August 26, 2005, at 10:23 PM. That would be about 8 1/2 hours after my oft-quoted “New Orleans in peril” post (i.e., the one I read aloud in Spike Lee’s movie), less than a half-hour after my post titled “Models ‘cluster’ on near-worst-case track” — which accompanied the final westward shift of the National Hurricane Center’s official forecast track, which ended up being almost exactly accurate even though it was ~60 hours out — and an hour before my frequently referenced “get the hell out” post.
Even as all that was going on, the Drudge Report was still focused on the possibility of another Florida landfall (recall that the Sunshine State had been hit by six hurricanes in the preceding 14 months or so, including Katrina’s first landfall on the peninsula), and much of the media was following suit, focusing on the Florida panhandle instead of the looming New Orleans doomsday scenario, despite the clear change in the forecast over the preceding 12 hours. Exasperated, I wrote to Drudge using his anonymous tips form thingy. I don’t think I’ve ever published my message before, and I thought it might be of some mild interest, so I’ve posted it after the jump.
So much for the 2007 hurricane season ending with — or the 2008 season beginning with — an unexpected subtropical storm. Invest 95L, the storm that could have become either Pablo or Arthur, has fizzled.
Hurricane season has been “officially” over for almost a month now, but Alan Sullivan notices a borderline tropical-ish storm out in the eastern Atlantic that the National Hurricane Center has apparently chosen not to name. He agrees with the decision to keep the storm nameless. He also compares it with Tropical Storm Zeta, which formed on my wedding day two years ago — and which, I gather, Sullivan believes was an example of NHC count-padding. Whatever. If nothing else, Zeta made for an interesting footnote to my own personal history. (And hey, maybe the NHC will belatedly name this one, too, and the baby will be born on the same day. Wouldn’t that be something?)
P.S. FWIW, Pablo would be the name. (Of the storm, not the baby.)
UPDATE: Right on cue…
A SURFACE LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM CENTERED OVER THE EASTERN ATLANTIC OCEAN ABOUT 950 MILES SOUTHWEST OF THE AZORES HAS BEEN GRADUALLY ACQUIRING SOME SUBTROPICAL CHARACTERISTICS DURING THE PAST DAY OR SO. THIS SYSTEM HAS BEEN PRODUCING GALE-FORCE WINDS…MAINLY TO THE NORTH AND EAST OF ITS CIRCULATION CENTER…AND IT COULD BECOME A SUBTROPICAL STORM LATER TODAY OR TOMORROW AS IT REMAINS NEARLY STATIONARY.
I said before that “Pablo would be the name,” but actually, that depends on when the storm is named. If it doesn’t get a name until after midnight on January 1, it would be Arthur — the first storm of the 2008 season.
Olga strengthens — over land. Didn’t see that one coming.