Here in New York City, and all along the US’s eastern seaboard, we had an epic Monday night. Here are photos and videos from the trenches and links to our picks of science reporting answering your questions about superstorm Sandy.
(1) A monster storm surge submerged Lower Manhattan, Red Hook in Brooklyn, and just about anywhere else within 9 feet of sea level.
Ars Technica‘s Casey Johnston looks into new research and reports that by 2200, 9 feet above current sea level will be the new normal, thanks to climate change.
(2) What I thought was a lightning storm turned out to be a transformer blowing.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a tropical storm and hurricane data archive that stretches back to 1851. But looking at each storm individually doesn’t have nearly as much impact as seeing them all projected onto a map at once. Data visualization expert John Nelson combined data on historical storms’ paths and intensities to create this stunning image, where the color of a dot represents that storm’s intensity.
The photo links to a larger version, but for a resolution high enough to see each individual point, click here.
Image courtesy of IDVsolutions / flickr
Every year, the coming of warmer weather in the spring brings with it the scientific parlor game of predicting how many storms the impending Atlantic hurricane season will bring. But could meteorological prognosticators soon begin to predict storms years in advance, and not just months, with some accuracy?
It is possible, a team led by Doug Smith of the U.K.’s Met Office says. In a study in Nature Geoscience, Smith essentially modeled the climate of past to see if the team’s system accurately predicted the Atlantic hurricane season.
The researchers used nine versions of its decadal prediction model to “hindcast” Atlantic hurricanes each year from 1960 to 2007. The model was set to May 1 for each of those years and then was asked how many storms would come that season. Averaging across the nine versions, the model results closely matched the changing number of hurricanes that occurred over those decades. Smith says: “We’ve found that there is some skill there.” [Science News]
At 8 a.m. EDT on Nov. 5, Tomas’ center was about 80 miles south-southeast of Guantanamo, Cuba and 160 miles west of Port Au Prince Haiti…. Tomas is moving to the northeast near 10 mph, and is expected to speed up over the next couple of days. [NASA Press release]
The hurricane is currently a category one, with sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, and is expected to continue strengthen throughout Friday before weakening on Saturday. The hurricane’s strong winds and flooding may hit the country hard: Haiti’s earthquake in January left the country particularly susceptible to land slides.
“Haiti has a really serious history of big landslides, almost all of them caused by tropical storm or hurricane rainfall,” said geologist David Petley, the Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk at Durham University in England. [LiveScience]
If the hurricane stays on its current course it will pass just to the west of the small island nation, but there may still be plenty of damage and human misery. Many Haitians whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake are still living in temporary homes that won’t be able to stand up to the winds.
The insurance industry’s weather simulator is more awesome than your weather simulator. It can hold nine houses, create hurricane-force conditions on its interior via 750,000-gallon tanks of water, and it just opened.
The Institute Business & Home Safety, an organization backed by the insurance industry, built the $40 million hangar of destruction in South Carolina.
With an update next year, “we’ll shoot hail down from the rafters of the building to simulate hail storms,” said Tim Reinhold, senior vice president of research at Tampa-based IBHS. The goal is to improve building codes and maintenance practices in disaster-prone regions. Such labs, insurers say, help reduce their exposure to catastrophic losses—even at a cost of $100,000 for each large hurricane simulation. [Washington Post]
IBHS conducted its first tests yesterday, blasting a normally constructed house and another made of stronger materials with winds stirred up by 105 giants fans.
As Tropical Storm Earl grew into Hurricane Earl this past weekend, NASA had a plan: Fly a plane into it. A DC-8 aircraft, used for NASA’s new Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) project, darted around the storm to trace the movement of atmospheric aerosols–particles suspended in the air–and to drop weather sensors, giving NASA researchers data on how such storms form and strengthen.
NASA’s DC-8 aircraft left Fort Lauderdale at 10:05 a.m. EDT on Saturday heading for St. Croix for a multi-day deployment that targeted (at that time) Tropical Storm Earl…. On Sunday, August 29, the DC-8 completed an 8.5-hour science flight over (then) Hurricane Earl west of St. Croix. The research aircraft flew at altitudes of 33,000 feet and 37,000 feet and descended to 7,000 feet northwest of the storm area to collect measurements of atmospheric aerosols. The flight originated in St. Croix but diverted to land in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., due to the degrading weather forecast for St. Croix associated with the approaching hurricane. [NASA]
The city of New Orleans’ defenses are certainly better than they were five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina breached the levees and flooded the city. With the five-year anniversary of that disaster upon us, however, the question that hangs in the air is: Would those refurbished barriers stand up to another Katrina, or something worse?
In the last five years, the federal government has invested about $15 billion to revamp the New Orleans levee system.
This time, tougher foundation material like a mixture of construction clay and cement, is being used in the soil to hold structural sections of wall designed as an inverted T instead of their previous I-shape. The new design is considered stronger, allowing steel pillars to bracket each end into the ground. Total completion is expected in June 2011. [Christian Science Monitor]
Alex was by no means a whopper, reaching category 2 status at its height and blowing with winds just over 100 miles per hour. While mild by hurricane standards, it meant that only the largest ships, like those doing the relief well drilling and oil capturing, could stay out at sea.
Hundreds of shrimp boats that were converted into oil skimmers now sit in port, and the tall waves tossed boom that was holding back the oil onto the beaches of Grand Isle, La. The beaches are now too dangerous even for cleanup crews. “Those booms, they don’t seem like they were designed for this kind of wave action,” said Matthew Slavich, an oyster fisherman hired by BP for cleanup efforts. He was out on the open water trying to lay boom today, but didn’t stay long [ABC News].
Besides hampering cleanup efforts, Alex also negated some of the work crews already did.
Hurricane predictors warned us this season could be a bad one, and could bring unknown consequences for the ongoing BP oil spill. We may soon find out what those consequences are, as Tropical Storm Alex moves toward the Gulf and may reach hurricane status today.
Supposing Alex reaches the spill, it might not be all bad.
Waves churned up by Alex — as high as 12 feet — could help break up the patches of oil scattered across the sea. The higher-than-normal winds that radiate far from the storm also could help the crude evaporate faster. “The oil isn’t in one solid sheet. It’s all broken up into patches anyway. It will actually work to break those patches down,” said Piers Chapman, chairman of the oceanography department at Texas A&M University [AP].