Monday, August 31, 2009

Batten Down the Baja for Jimena

Unless something incredible happens and Jimena loses a lot of steam very quickly, Mexico's Baja Peninsula is going to be slammed in the next few hours by a Category Four storm. With maximum sustained winds of 155mph as I write this, if Jimena gains even a little strength, it will become a Cat 5. This storm is going to be catastrophic. I have to admit, my focus has been on the Atlantic, because it's more likely to affect my area. In the meantime, this massive storm has formed in the Pacific and made a beeline for land.

Because the peninsula is just a narrow strip of land, and because the storm is going to be so strong, I think I would evacuate if I lived there. Of course, I don't know the terrain. Maybe there's some higher ground that will be safe from storm surge, if the structure is sturdy enough to withstand a constant battering from extremely high winds over several hours.

Structures built on high land also may be at risk of mudslides washing out the foundation. I've seen that happen in hilly areas of Mexico and the Caribbean Islands when they're hit by a hurricane.

Bottom line, if you're reading this and you're in Baja California, please be safe. Make informed decisions based on official sources, such as the National Hurricane Center and your local government. Consider what the intense winds, storm surge, and heavy rains could do to your home and your neighborhood, and be safe.

Please take pets with you.

If you are staying, be sure you have enough food and water for your family and pets for at least three days. Barricade the windows with wood or metal sheets to keep flying debris and pounding winds from breaking the glass. Check supplies of flashlights, batteries, portable radios. Be sure you have enough prescription medication, if you take any. If there's any chance of flooding, have sandbags ready to keep water out of your home.

Put valuables in plastic storage tubs or plastic bags. That way if water does get in, over the doorjam or through a damaged roof or windows, maybe some of your things will be spared. Know where your insurance paperwork is.

If your home sustains damage, remember, you can and should make temporary repairs as you are able -- please be careful -- and document what you did. Your insurance company will want to know that you tried to minimize the damage as much as possible.

God be with you.

Folks on the Atlantic and Gulf Coast should still be keeping an eye on the big red blob now in the Atlantic. The computer models are all over the place, meaning there's no telling where this thing will end up. It's taking a long time to develop into anything, which is good. Maybe it will never get very strong. However, the fact that it is a red blob (as opposed to orange or yellow) means there's a very good chance this system will become a named storm.

The American Red Cross has just debuted a new website with fun ways to learn about and think about preparedness. It's part of a campaign called Do More Than Cross Your Fingers. Visit the site, play the games, and think about your own emergency plan. Are you ready?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Now there's T.S. Danny

The red blog last night is Tropical Storm Danny this evening. Though the NHC is calling Danny "poorly organized," forecasters are predicting that the storm will become a Hurricane by Saturday. Expect to feel some outward effects of the storm in North Carolina and states north of there; the cone of uncertainty brushes the edges of several Atlantic-coast states and Washington, D.C. The track keeps the eye of the storm at sea for the next several days. New England and Canada will likely take another hit.

If I lived in those areas, I'd make sure to pick up lightweight lawn furniture, outdoor ornaments, and toys that might get blown around in a strong wind, and I'd keep an eye on the storm's track and intensity in case anything changes.

Meanwhile, there's another tropical wave off the coast of Africa. That one bears watching.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Another Storm Brewing in the Atlantic?

The orange blob I blogged about last night is red tonight, meaning the National Hurricane Center thinks that low pressure system is going to develop into a tropical depression soon. The computer models available over at Weather Underground continue to suggest that the system will follow a similar path to Hurricane Bill, up the eastern seaboard between the U.S. and Bermuda. Some of the models have it hitting New England or Canada. Others have it spinning out into the north Atlantic. If you live on the east coast, it's worth checking the NHC website each day to see what effects you might see in your area.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A New Area of Interest

Bill has broken up in the north Atlantic. Now the National Hurricane Center is watching a new area of interest. This morning, the area was yellow, indicating a low chance of development into a tropical depression. This afternoon, the area is orange, indicating a moderate chance of development.

Computer models forecast the low pressure system following a similar path to Bill's. North in the Atlantic, somewhere between the Eastern U.S. and Bermuda.

It may fizzle out or it may strengthen. Keep an eye on it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A hurricane is not a show.

I was saddened and angered to hear that a seven-year-old girl was swept out to sea by Hurricane Bill. The child was with her family, on a rocky coastal overlook, watching the waves. The parents will have to live with this mistake for the rest of their lives. I guess they thought it would be pretty or interesting for the children to see the force of nature. Perhaps they considered it educational or just a weekend diversion.

Up and down the east coast, you can find reports today of people who drowned or nearly drowned in high waves and rip currents exacerbated by the passing hurricane. Surfers always think they're safe, but the fact is that no one, even the most experienced swimmer, is truly safe when a violent storm passes by. The waves are volatile, the winds gusting and changing, the tides higher than normal.

These deaths were completely preventable. These people could have stayed home, stayed away from the beaches, and watched storm video on The Weather Channel or the internet.

In addition to the lives lost, Coast Guard teams and lifeguards put their own safety at risk to rescue or try to rescue people who willingly put themselves in the danger zone for a pretty view or a bitchin' wave.

No one will learn from these tragedies. The next time a storm passes by, people will flock to the beaches and coastlines to see for themselves the force of nature, to ride the waves in defiance of the storm's wrath. Some of them will never come home.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bill Heads North

I'm very happy to hear that Bill was not too rough on Bermuda. It looked like it was going to be a very large and dangerous storm, but luck was with the island and the hurricane's intensity diminished, in addition to the track taking it farther west than had been anticipated a few days ago.

Now Bill is heading to New England as a Category 1 storm. It still poses a threat of storm surge and flooding, as well as some wind damage.

It is always better to err on the side of caution, and to stock up on supplies, be prepared with an emergency plan, and take every step to prepare your home and family for the worst. I would rather be ready and not need my supplies, than to not prepare and have the damage be worse than anticipated.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bill's Getting Bigger

According to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Bill is about 510 miles across. Hurricane force winds extend out 105 miles from the eye (that's one way). Tropical storm force winds will be felt up to 260 miles from the center. Sustained winds are currently 125 miles per hour, a strong Category 3 storm. It's good that the winds have fallen down a bit, although the NHC advisory says the storm could pick up strength again on Friday. The U.S. east coast and Bermuda will experience storm surge, and will very likely feel a lot of wind and rain.

The latest track seems to have Bill passing a bit further west of Bermuda than it showed earlier in the week. Of course, there's always a margin of error, hence the "cone of uncertainty" that appears around the forecast track on most maps.

If you're interested in reviewing the accuracy or inaccuracy of the National Hurricane Center's forecasts, here's a great place to go: the Graphics Archive. That link will take you to a list of choices. I like to use the 5-day forecast with cone of uncertainty. When you click on the link, you'll get a slideshow of all the forecast maps since the NHC has been tracking the storm. You can use the controls at left to STOP the automatic loop, then use the little arrow buttons to toggle one frame at a time. This is good because the size of the map changes sometimes, resulting in a kind of jump cut that can be disorienting.

It's very interesting to see how the storm's track changes while still generally staying within the "cone of uncertainty."

Otherwise, the tropics remain calm, after a somewhat surprising burst of activity over the past week.

I wish everyone well who's anywhere near the path of Hurricane Bill.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bermuda Officials Give Warning

A few hours after my last post, and the sports story has been replaced with "Breaking News: People urged to prepare for Hurricane Bill today."

It's about time.

Is Bermuda bracing for the blow?

I'm a little mystified by the Royal Gazette's coverage of Hurricane Bill. First of all, I went to the Bermuda's paper's website and it was the fourth item down. Top story (breaking news) was some sports story.

Then I read the article. They quote a Bermuda Weather Service forecaster as saying, "It is a long way away. If it does come up towards Bermuda, the forecast says that it will pass to the west of the Island."

Hurricane Ike passed about 350 miles south of Pensacola, and we had flooding from some storm surge. (I arrived at that 350 miles figure by looking at the storm's path. Pensacola is on the 30 latitude line and the storm passed on the 25 latitude line. One latitude line is about 70 miles, so by my calculations 5 latitude lines=350 miles.)

Looking at the satellite photos of Bill, if the storm's eye passes about 100 miles from Bermuda (as the aforementioned forecaster suggested), it's still going to be a nasty hit to the island. A hurricane is not a dot on a map. That's just the eye. Yes, the winds are usually worst right around the eye, but there's a lot of destructive power spread out over hundreds of miles. As well, the forecast has Bill tracking west of the island. You never want to be on the east side of a hurricane, at least not in the northern hemisphere.

In 2005, Katrina made landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, about 152 miles west of Pensacola, and my power was out for three days. Not that I'm complaining, I'm just demonstrating that the reach of a major hurricane goes well beyond that little dot on the map.

I hope that the people of Bermuda are taking this more seriously than their newspaper seems to be and that they're stocking up and making plans to take themselves and their pets to the highest ground they can find.

I'll give the paper some points for including a checklist of supplies to buy and steps to take in advance of the storm, but they don't really seem to be stressing that the time to take action is now.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Brace Yourself, Bermuda

Bill is going to be a major hurricane when it passes by the little island of Bermuda in a few days. The only thing we can hope for is that the track continues to shift east. Since the winds are typically strong on the storm's east side, if Bill were to keep Bermuda to his left, the island might not suffer quite as much. It's still going to be bad.

Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast has been spared, for now. Claudette wasn't bad at all and was quickly downgraded after making landfall just after midnight. In Pensacola we had some rain, and it was quite a breezy day, but things weren't bad at all. Ana has dissipated and the National Hurricane Center is no longer issuing updates. It was surprising that Ana developed at all. That system was never really well-organized, which is good news for everyone in its path. Let's hope it continues to fall apart and doesn't re-form.

While hunting for information about these three systems, I discovered a new service which, for the moment at least, is free. Emicus is setting itself up to be a clearinghouse of information from difference community sources. If you're in a disaster area, you can send reports by iPhone or text message. They get feeds from Twitter, they have a tracking map for hurricanes and other dangerous weather situations, they offer checklists for disaster preparedness.... but what made me say, "Cool!" was they offer a quick and easy way to let the people important to you know that you're all right after a disaster.

Here's how it works: register on Emicus and create a list of emergency contacts. You can list phone number/text number/email address. Say a hurricane hits or an earthquake strikes. You're very busy and communication is spotty, but if you can get through a single text message, you can reach everyone on your list. Simply text "I'm Ok" plus a short personal message (like "I'm ok, a little roof damage, but we're fine") to 364287 (spells Emicus, clever huh?), and their system will forward it to everyone on your list. If all you have is a voice number, they'll even call and read it aloud. Isn't that a great idea?

I just registered and listed my mom and my mother-in-law so I know I have a way to reach them. You can list friends, family, co-workers, whoever it might be important to reach after a disaster. Here's a hint -- to enter your names and numbers in the box, you have to click "edit" on the right side of the screen, then it opens up all the fields to type into.

This service will save you time and ease the minds of your loved ones, friends, and colleagues when they're watching the devastation on the Weather Channel or CNN.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Triple Threat - Here's Claudette

While we were at Wal-mart, buying a few extra gallons of water and some fresh batteries, the low pressure system in the Gulf strengthened to Tropical Storm Claudette. That storm is offshore a little bit east of where I live. We have had some rain today and we'll see more overnight and tomorrow.

Ana has now been downgraded to a tropical depression, and according to the National Hurricane Center's track, they don't expect it to restrengthen to storm status. Let's hope they're right. The track also appears to be taking it further west, meaning folks in Mexico, Texas and Louisiana should pay particular heed to updates. The Caribbean islands, including Cuba, should expect wind and rain.

Bill is still a tropical storm but is expected to become the season's first hurricane. The track is still showing a northern turn. Most models show the storm remaining at sea, though some have it making landfall in Canada.

If you live in a coastal area, please watch for the latest advisories from the National Hurricane Center to assess whether any of these storms will affect you and your families.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Double Whammy: Two Named Storms

I looked at the National Hurricane Center website last night before going to bed, and we had three low pressure systems. The forecasters said one of those was likely to develop into a named storm.

Tonight, I finally get a chance to sign on, and now we have two named storms, Ana and Bill. Long term forecasts show Ana coming into the Gulf and heading right this way, with Bill veering north up the east coast.

Of course, these forecasts are just educated guesses. That's why they give us the cone of uncertainty, because a slight wobble today could mean several hundred miles difference in where the storm ends up a week from now.

I'm not a trained meteorologist or hurricane forecaster. I'm just a very interested amateur. As I'm analyzing the storm and its path, I like to go to the National Weather Service website and look at the 6-day outlook maps. Scroll down, and you'll see eight little maps that you can click on for a bigger image. The maps show how high fronts and low fronts are expected to form and move over the next week.

How this helps in tropical cyclone forecasting is that the cyclone aka tropical storm aka hurricane is a low pressure system, and lows are attracted to lows. A high pressure system, on the other hand, will push the tropical system away.

If you look at the map for six days out, you'll see a high pressure system that extends into Northwest Florida. That's good for me, here in Pensacola. That means Ana probably won't hit here, though we will probably feel some effects, such as rain bands, some wind, higher tides and possibly some flooding around the coast or rivers.

Now, I must point out that those highs and lows may not develop or move in the way the National Weather Service thinks they will. If that high doesn't sweep down into NW Florida at exactly the right time, the storm could come right this way. Plus, the highs and lows aren't the only things that affect tropical cyclones. Other atmospheric steering currents will affect movement, and water temperature affects intensity.

You can see Ana and Bill on the NWS outlook maps. They've got Ana moving across the southern tip of Florida (kind of like Andrew did in 1992), and that's why it shows as a Tropical Storm on the 5-day outlook and a Low on the 6-day. Crossing land weakens the storm.

The National Hurricane Center and Accuweather show Ana passing south of Florida and remaining a Tropical Storm as it enters the Gulf. That means it would remain at T.S. strength and possibly get even stronger, fueled by the Gulf's warmer waters.

Now, let's talk about Bill. Bill is expected to be a full-fledged hurricane by Monday. Most of the computer models show this storm curving to the north with a path that could affect Bermuda and/or New England and/or Canada's east coast. At this point, one model shows the storm making a sharp turn west and hitting the Carolinas. Sometimes a path that's really drastically different from all the other models means that the particular model either didn't account for something that all the others did or there's a error in the calculation somewhere. Or maybe that's the one model that got it right. Landfall is several days away and a lot of different factors will play into which way this storm goes.

If you live along the Gulf Coast or the Atlantic Coast, for the next week or so it's going to be important to pay attention to what's happening, take some preliminary steps to prepare, and be ready to do what it takes to protect your family and property.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ultimate Disaster Survival Guide

The former Invest 99 aka Tropical Depression 2 seems to be fizzling out. Meanwhile, off the coast of Africal, Invest 90 is gaining strength and heading straight towards the Caribbean, according to a number of computer models.

We'll be stocking up on canned goods and bottled water this weekend.

Now is the time to think about what you'll do in the aftermath of a disaster, and Popular Mechanics offers a great guide online. Survive Anything: Your Ultimate Guide to Disaster offers a number of great articles such as
  • "5 Steps to Get Ready for Disaster"
  • "22 Steps to Save Yourself When Natural Disaster Hits"
  • "4 Steps to Power Your Home When the Grid Fails"
If you live on the coast, it's a great time to print a emergency kit checklist, like the one found on the American Red Cross website (see links, right) and have it handy when you go to the grocery store and hardware store so you don't forget anything important.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Atlantic Gets Busy

Invest 99 is now Tropical Depression 2. The track seems to be taking the area west-northwest in the Atlantic. Hopefully this one will stay far away from land. The National Hurricane Center is also watching two disturbed areas but there's a fairly low chance either one of them will develop.

If you live on the coast, it's a good idea to check out the NHC regularly. You can watch for anything developing that might affect your area and get that much more advance warning to make your preparations.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hurricane Season Begins

Just yesterday, I took a look back at hurricane seasons for the past 30 years, courtesy of Unisys Weather. I already knew that, in recent years, we'd had a named storm or two or nine by this time in August. I had to go back to 1992 to find the first named storm of the season forming in the 8th month -- that was Andrew, which turned into the Cat 5 monster that devastated south Florida. Here's a few more examples of late-starting seasons:

T.S. AlbertoAugust 5, 1988tropical stormCanada
Hurricane ArleneAugust 8, 1987Cat 1Carolinas
T.S. ArthurAugust 28, 1984 tropical storm none
Hurricane AliciaAugust 15, 1983Cat 3Texas

This morning, the National Hurricane Center is watching a tropical wave off the coast of Africa. Conditions are fairly good that this will develop. Early computer models available on Crown Weather and Weather Underground (see my links to the right) suggest that the system will move west northwest. Maybe it won't turn into a named storm. Maybe it will stay out in the Atlantic. If it does make landfall, it could strike anywhere along the eastern seaboard from Florida to Canada. If it makes a southerly turn, it could threaten Caribbean islands or any location around the Gulf of Mexico.

Yes, that's a lot of ifs, but if you have made no preparations for a hurricane and you live anywhere along the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts in North America, now is your chance to make a few moves.

  • Buy a few extra gallons of water and some food that doesn't require refrigeration.
  • Make sure you have a battery-operated radio and flashlights AND fresh batteries.
  • Check your medicine cabinet or first aid kit to make sure you have Band-Aids, antibacterial wipes, rubbing alcohol, aspirin or acetaminophen.
  • Think about how you'll prepare your home and family if the storm comes your way.
Be aware of what's happening. Check the National Hurricane Center website at least once a day, so you'll know if this area of low pressure strengthens or if another storm forms. Download and print a disaster supply list from one of the websites listed to the right. Look it over and see what you already have and consider what you'll need to buy.

Some people do nothing before a storm and rely on the government or other agencies to help them if they need it. Some people wait until the last minute, then run willy-nilly through the grocery store, throwing $200 worth of water, juices boxes, crackers, bread, and canned goods into their carts.

Think calmly and rationally now, when you're not under an immediate threat. One gallon of water per person per day is a good plan, because it'll be hot and you may be exerting yourself physically to clean up damage.

If you have a lot of food in your freezer, do you have a way of keeping it cool (generator) or of cooking it (gas stove, grill)? If so, you may not need to worry about having three days worth of canned goods.

Look at what you have in your pantry. Can you make breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a couple of daily snacks for your family for three days without electricity? If so, you won't have to spend a lot of money on food.

Think ahead now to special needs -- do you rely on prescription medication, oxygen, or home health aides? If so, talk to your providers and understand what will happen if electricity is out or roads are impassable. Is there a special needs shelter? Should you go there? Can you get on a list of "first response" at your power company? These are questions to ask now, not when you have a storm bearing down, offices are closing, phone lines are jammed.

Don't wait until the storm is at your doorstep to make plans.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Perfect Emergency Kit Food

I just learned about a company that makes pre-packed snacks and meals that require no refrigeration and have a shelf-life of up to two years. The company is GoPicnic. They started out making meal packages for the airline industry. Now, before you say "Ugh, airline food!" GoPicnic's products sound really good. I think I may have had one or two of their snack packs before on flights, or at least something similar, and they were quite tasty.

I wouldn't suggest buying enough of these GoPicnic meals to feed the whole family for a week, but a few of them would add variety to the canned tuna and peanut butter that are staples in a post-storm blackout. You could open one and let each member of the family choose something or give everyone a box of their own to open.

If you're lucky enough not to use these during hurricane season, they make great snacks or lunches for school or work. Buy a few more going into the next season.

The important thing, as always, is to have enough provisions to feed your family for at least three days. After that, maybe the National Guard and Red Cross will be passing out MREs somewhere or major stores will be re-opening.