Tag Archives: National Weather Service

ROCKY MOUNTAIN WEATHER GONE WILD!

DROUGHTS, WILDFIRES, AND FLOODS, OH MY!

Whether you believe in global warming or not, chances are good you or someone you know will have their lives turned upside down by a natural disaster.  From super tornadoes in the Great Plains and Midwest, to the lingering impacts of hurricanes in the Gulf and East Coasts, to droughts, wildfires and flash floods from the Redwoods to the Rocky Mountains, millions of Americans have had their lives, livelihoods, and futures turned upside down.

Courtesy Jeremy Papasso / Daily Camera
Photo: Jeremy Papasso / Daily Camera

Amplifying the effect of these natural disasters is the fact that many American cities and rural towns have grotesquely under-invested in infrastructure and have a backlog of overdue maintenance orders to repair and replace structurally deficient roads, bridges, dams and levees, as well as transmission lines, transportation hubs, rail roads, drinking water systems, along with solid and hazardous waste management facilities.  According to a recent American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report, the U.S. received a near failing grade of a D+ on its 2013 annual infrastructure report card.

2013 REPORT CARD FOR AMERICA’S INFRASTRUCTURE

These infrastructure vulnerabilities, combined with major weather-related natural disasters are a malignancy metastasizing into cataclysmic disruptions in communication, transportation, human welfare, and the tragic loss of housing, food, water and energy supplies, and, to a greater extent, cause lasting damage to our national economy.

Courtesy Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera
Photo: Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera

What were once considered issues for a distant future, climate change, urban sprawl, and a deteriorating national infrastructure have moved swiftly, front and center into the present, and Americans are finally beginning to wake up to the changes all around them.

A TRIFECTA OF WEATHER-RELATED TRAGEDIES

In June, President Obama told an audience at Georgetown University, “Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times. But we also know that in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet.”

Between the wildfires last year and this year, the unprecedented and continuing drought, and the recent rain storms that dumped a year’s worth of rainfall in less than 24-hours, the state of Colorado now sits at the epicenter of a perfect storm of tragic climate events.

But considering the 1,000-year rain and 100-year flood event occurred in the backyard of some of the world’s top weather and climate research institutions, we can be confident the event will be thoroughly researched, as both the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Earth System Research Laboratory are headquartered in Boulder.  Ironically, each office was forced to close during to flooding.

FLOOD IMPACTS

According the the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, at least eight deaths have been confirmed, with two more missing and presumed dead while dozens remain unaccounted for.  Over 11,000 people had be evacuated from their homes, with 700 being rescued by Black Hawk helicopters in what Lt. Col. Mitch Utterback of the Colorado National Guard described as the largest aerial rescue campaign since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Photo: Brennan Linsley/AP
Photo: Brennan Linsley/AP

Nearly 19,000 homes have been damaged, and over 1,500 have been destroyed.  The Colorado Department of Transportation estimates that at least 30 state highway bridges have been destroyed and an additional 20 are seriously damaged, with repairs for damaged bridges and roads expected to cost many millions of dollars.  Miles of freight and passenger rail lines were washed out or submerged, including a section servicing Amtrak‘s iconic California Zephyr.

DROUGHT IMPACTS

According to the National Climactic Data Center, the globally-averaged temperature for August 2013 tied with 2005 as the fourth warmest August since record keeping began in 1880.  August 2013 also marked the 35th consecutive August and 342nd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.

Credit: National Climate Assessment
Credit: National Climate Assessment

Until the biblical floods barreled through Colorado, 90-percent of the state was in various states of drought; in some instances dating back to a decade or more.  National Geographic’s Sandra Postel, believes “the long-term drought that has parched the area and gripped much of the Colorado River Basin over the past 14 years may be partly to blame for the severity of the floods.  Drought tends to harden the soil.  When rains do come, less of the water can absorb into the ground, so it quickly runs off the land.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor drought map of Colorado valid September 10, 2013.
The U.S. Drought Monitor drought map of Colorado valid September 10, 2013.

WILDFIRE IMPACTS

And if the floods and drought weren’t enough, the 2013 wildfire season was the most destructive in Colorado’s history.  Over a dozen fires charred more than 150,000 acres, or approximately 234 square miles.  “Fires can lead to worse flooding, because they remove vegetation that can slow down and trap rainfall,” said Postel. (See “Fire and Rain: The One-Two Punch of Flooding After Blazes.”)

Kevin Hyde, a post-doc studying post-fire erosion at the University of Wyoming, says “the compounded damages from the cycle of wildfire and flooding could very well be amplified on the Front Range in coming years. Climate models foretell larger regional storms, and scientists have also predicted bigger, more intense wildfires in Colorado’s future.”  What is that going to mean for the people living in the mouth of these areas?” wonders Hyde.

burned-forest-colorado-june-2013-e1372351982661

If the historic droughts, record-breaking wildfires, and the 100-year flood that besieged Colorado this summer, along with the personal tragedies of lives lost and dislocated, hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure repair costs, crops lost, communities isolated, water quality problems, and lost revenues to businesses, are any indication of the future living in the Rocky Mountain State — with all its majesty and splendor — people better get ready for the new normal.

To support the ongoing Colorado relief and recovery efforts, donations can be made to:

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8 Years Ago Today

Courtesy of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Hurricane Katrina: Courtesy of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster that some have described as biblical in scale and unprecedented as a human tragedy.

“The Storm,” as the locals call it, was the most destructive natural disaster in American history, laying waste to 90,000 square miles of land, an area the size of the United Kingdom.

Before The Storm

As the sheer size of Hurricane Katrina became clear, the National Weather Service’s New Orleans/Baton Rouge office issued an ominously worded emergency alert predicting that many areas throughout the Gulf Coast would be “uninhabitable for weeks” after “devastating damage” caused by Katrina.

Contraflow lane reversal, voluntary, and mandatory evacuations were issued for coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  Approximately 1.2 million residents of the Gulf Coast heeded the evacuation orders, after hearing the following cryptic message, and fled their homes.

During The Storm

After making a brief initial landfall over Southeastern Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall near Louisiana/Mississippi state line, passing over the cities of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Mississippi.

The Storm featured winds in excess of 120 mph and churned up a powerful 27-foot storm surge, which penetrated 6 miles inland, and in some areas up to 12 miles, along bays and rivers; killing close to 300 people and causing billions of dollars in damage to bridges, barges, boats, piers, houses and cars.  Thousands were left homeless, destitute, and entombed in mud.

Extreme weather photographers Mike Tice and Jim Reed captured harrowing video footage as the storm surge slammed in Gulfport, Mississippi and ripped through their hotel.

After The Storm

While the coastal Mississippi communities of Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, D’Iberville, Gulfport, Pass Christian, and Waveland Mississippi where completely washed off the map because of the massive storm surge, New Orleans was overwhelmed by flooding.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff described the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as “probably the worst catastrophe, or set of catastrophes,” in the country’s history, referring to the hurricane itself plus the flooding of New Orleans.

Katrina’s storm surge caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans, submerging eighty percent of the city.  The levee breaches and the subsequent flooding were responsible for killing over 700 people.

Survivors and evacuees reported seeing dead bodies lying in city streets and floating in flooded sections of the city well into October. The advanced state of decomposition of many corpses hindered efforts by coroners to identify many of the dead.

In the days following Katrina, residents in New Orleans who “rode out the storm,” resorted to looting stores in search of food, water, and medical supplies.  While others took advantage of the situation to loot non-essential items like televisions and tennis shoes.

All told, more than 1,833 people died.  The results were tragic loss of life and human suffering on a massive scale, and an undermining of confidence in our governments’ ability to plan, prepare for, and respond to national catastrophes.

 

What Happened When Superstorm Sandy Hit NYC

On October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy came ashore just northeast of Atlantic City, N.J., with a wind speed of approximately 80 mph. The storm had the worst possible trifecta of characteristics: an extremely large diameter, strong winds and high tide at landfall, which generated massive storm surge that inundated the coast from New Jersey to Connecticut.

Record surge levels were recorded in several areas of New York and New Jersey, with over 12 feet of surge in some locations. Subway tunnels flooded, airport runways flooded, power outages occurred all along the coast, natural gas lines were broken, and when it was all over, at least 650,000 homes were damaged or destroyed from the storm. On top of the estimated 72 people in the U.S. who were killed as a direct result of the storm, many more lives were lost as a result of hypothermia, house fires, vehicle accidents and other indirect causes.

This National Geographic documentary chronicles the events leading up to and immediately after Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Atlantic Seaboard.

When Nature’s Fury and the Politics of Disaster Collide

Released in December 2012, seven years after the most expensive disaster in American history, this 95-minute documentary film gives you the round-the-clock news coverage and a comprehensive look behind the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, human error, false media reports, political corruption, government bureaucracy, and a substandard physical infrastructure.

Using comprehensive analysis of events, hours of government audio tapes, and personal interviews, National Geographic takes viewers into the eye of Katrina to uncover the decisions and circumstances that determined the fate of the Gulf residents.

What is a Storm Surge?

The greatest potential for loss of life related to a hurricane is from the storm surge!

Storm surge is simply water that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the storm. This advancing surge combines with the normal tides to create the hurricane storm tide, which can increase the mean water level to heights impacting roads, homes and other critical infrastructure. In addition, wind driven waves are superimposed on the storm tide. This rise in water level can cause severe flooding in coastal areas, particularly when the storm tide coincides with the normal high tides.

Hurricane Specialist, Bryan Norcoss, from the Weather Channel, explains the science behind a storm surge in the days leading up to Hurricane Isaac in August 2012.

Because much of the United States’ densely populated Atlantic and Gulf Coast coastlines lie less than 10 feet above mean sea level, the danger from storm tides is tremendous.

One After Another After Another

The United States experiences more than 1,000 tornadoes a year.

While most storms are weak and occur in sparsely populated areas, recent storms have inflicted heavy casualties in more populated regions of the country. Moore, OK, Tuscaloosa, AL, and Joplin, MO are the most recent communities to suffer.

Tornado_Courtesy of Gene Robertson
Image: Gene Robertson, PDS Storm Chasers

Tornadoes form when large air masses of different temperatures collide; when cold, dry air runs into warm moist air, which rises, condenses into heavy rain, and then falls in powerful downdrafts.   These conditions occur most often in the Great Plains, where the high altitude jet stream from the west converges with warm, moist air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico, and warm, dry air from the southwest.

One week after a devastating tornado hit the southern Plains of Oklahoma; a similar weather pattern is being repeated.

Earlier today the NWS Storm Prediction Center issued a moderate to severe threat warning for thunderstorms, tornadoes, large hail, and damaging winds, Wednesday afternoon and evening for parts of the central and southern Plains, including parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

If you live in the areas of high risk, please be alert to changing weather conditions.  Look for the following danger signs:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
  • Loud roar, similar to a freight train.

If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to TAKE SHELTER IMMEDIATELY.

Hurricane Sandy Information Clearinghouse

“Hurricane Sandy” is an information clearinghouse for accurate, timely information related to Hurricane Sandy and subsequent recovery efforts.

This “Hurricane Sandy” Facebook page is an information clearinghouse for accurate, timely information related to Hurricane Sandy and subsequent recovery efforts.  Since Facebook has changed the way pages shows up in news feeds. If you want every update, you must:

1) Go to the “Hurricane Sandy” page.
2) Hover your mouse over where it says “LIKED” and click on “Add to Interests Lists”

If you do this, you will receive ALL of the posts and the Hurricane Sandy page will not be “removed” by Facebook from what shows up in your feed.