Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Storm For The Record Books

A Storm For The Record Books

October 30, 2012
Even with a week to watch and model the projected outcomes of the hurricane dubbed Sandy, which joined two other wintery weather systems late yesterday to become the hybrid super-storm now squatting over central Pennsylvania, the historic event has meteorologists marvelling at its sheer size, strength and behavior.

The storm, now called a post-tropical cyclone, slammed into coastal New Jersey Monday evening, shoving catastrophic volumes of ocean water up over flood barriers and deep into coastal communities -- including New York City, which saw a 13-foot storm surge devour parts of lower Manhattan, inundate subways tunnels and flood office buildings, among them the lobby of the New York Daily News. New Jersey's Atlantic City was experiencing dangerously high floodwaters into Tuesday morning, and officials were calling it the worst storm in the city's history.

But unlike Hurricane Irene -- which inundated the East Coast in August of last year and caused some $16 billion in damages, chiefly from inland flooding arising from that storm's prodigious rainfall -- the current storm's most powerful artillery derives from its record low pressure, sustained Category 1 hurricane winds (nominally between 74 mph and 95 mph), and its sheer size, which stretched some 1,000 miles in diameter as it swept up the East Coast. These factors, along with the timing of the high tide -- and, perhaps, new meteorological variables arising from a warming planet -- combined to deliver the worst damages to low-lying coastal areas.

Various reports have put the U.S. death toll due to the storm as high as 33, as of this writing, which doesn't even factor in the scores killed in the Caribbean.

"Sandy's barometric pressure at landfall was 946 millibars, tying the Great Long Island Express Hurricane of 1938 as the most powerful storm ever to hit the Northeast U.S. north of Cape Hatteras, N.C.," noted Jeff Masters, the co-founder and director of meteorology at Weather Underground, in a blog post late Monday evening. "New York City experienced its worst hurricane since its founding in 1624, as Sandy's 9-foot storm surge rode in on top of a high tide to bring water levels to 13.88 feet at The Battery, smashing the record 11.2-foot water level recorded during the great hurricane of 1821. Damage from Superstorm Sandy will likely be in the tens of billions, making the storm one of the five most expensive disasters in U.S. history."

In terms of sheer kinetic energy -- a measure of the windspeed integrated over how wide an area the winds are blowing -- the super-storm also shattered records going back to at least 1969, said Masters, a former "hurricane hunter" with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a phone call with The Huffington Post Tuesday morning.

"That includes Katrina, Andrew, Wilma -- all the Category 5 storms -- Sandy had them beat," Masters said. "If you take the size of it -- it was so vast and it had winds blowing over such a wide area of ocean -- it put a tremendous volume of ocean water in motion and carried it with it as it moved northwards. And guess what? When that water hit land, it had nowhere to go but on the land and generate a record storm surge."

Add to that the moon phase, which happened to have the ocean at high tide, and sea levels that have risen more than 7 inches over the course of the 20th-century, Masters said, and the makings for an epic storm surge were more or less in place. "I wasn't surprised that it generated a record storm surge, because it had that record amount of energy," Masters said. "But it was a surprise to me that it smashed a record by such a wide margin."

Rain is still pummeling many areas, but Sandy appears to have a lower precipitation payload than Irene, which arrived in August last year when ocean temperatures were at their peak. In late October, meteorologists note, the oceans aren't quite as warm and therefore can't evaporate as much moisture into the air, which means less moisture is available for heavy rains. Meanwhile, Irene arrived on the heels of weeks of heavy rains that had already saturated the soil and lifted river levels to near-flood stage. Such was not the case with Sandy, Masters noted. "River levels were below average, soils were drier than average, so we're not seeing as much river flooding."

That said, the storm is still lingering dangerously over Pennsylvania, moving at roughly 10 miles an hour, with sustained winds of 45 mph, according to the National Weather Service. With models predicting a northward turn across Western New York and into Canada toward the end of the week, the ultimate toll of the storm will likely not be known for some time. But experts have suggested that a variety factors -- including several that suggest climate change may be playing a role in the storm -- are conspiring to make "Frankenstorms" like this one a more clear and present danger than they had been in the past.

As Andrew Freeman at the website Climate Central noted last week -- even as Hurricane Sandy was still gathering strength in the Caribbean -- it is rather uncommon for hurricanes with Sandy's origins to move inland into the U.S. this late in the year. "Normally, hurricanes that form in Sandy's location do head seaward, particularly in October, when strong cold fronts moving off the East Coast tend to sweep tropical weather systems away from the mainland," Freeman said. "In fact, there may only have been a couple of cases in the historical record dating back to the 19th century when a hurricane took a track in October similar to the one Sandy may ultimately follow."

Sandy followed the path it did in part because an unusual high pressure system has been parked over Greenland. That system is acting like a block, preventing anything from pushing northward through it, including Sandy, which instead took a devastating westward turn into New Jersey and onward into Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, the jet stream -- the steady, eastward-moving air current that undulates around the Northern Hemisphere, including across Canada and the U.S., and which would normally sweep storms along -- has been losing speed. In some areas, the drop-off has been as much as 14 percent, according to Jennifer Francis, a research professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University. That loss of speed, Francis recently noted, could lead to storms in the East appearing to get stuck, not unlike what is now happening to Sandy over Pennsylvania.

One theory for the drop-off in jet stream speed? The steady loss of Arctic sea ice as a result of global warming.

"There is evidence that Arctic sea ice loss might be responsible for that sort of behavior of the jet stream," Masters said. "Whether it was the case for this particular block, we don't know. Our sea ice losses are a relatively new phenomenon, and we don't have a lot of years of data to study. But there certainly is a lot of potential for climate change to affect a storm like this."

As of 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, the National Weather Service reported that the storm had slowed in forward motion and that it would continue on a westward track through the afternoon before heading north later tonight, entering Canada by Wednesday. "Due to strong and persistent northerly winds," the service noted in its latest bulletin, "coastal flooding along portions of the Great Lakes is possible."

Said Masters: "I hope this hurricane season is over."

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Monday, October 29, 2012

In Hurricane Sandy's Fury, The Fingerprint Of Climate Change

Monday, October 29, 2012
Last month, Mike Tidwell, director of Maryland's Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the author of the 2006 book The Ravaging Tide -- which detailed the expected rise in extreme weather events that will come with global warming -- received a pamphlet in the mail from his insurance company, Travelers. The full-color flier depicted a typical suburban home with a lashing storm looming on the horizon.
Federal Agencies Prepare For 'Unprecedented' Storm
Hurricane Sandy Could Displace Urban Rats, Spread Infectious Disease
Top Oil Lobbyist Primed For Leading Role In A Romney Administration
Experts Say Hurricane Sandy Could Cost New York City, Region Tens Of Billions Of Dollars
New U.N. 'Atlas' Links Climate Change And Health
Paul Douglas: Tracking the Frankenstorm -- What You Need to Know (Live Updates)
I'm tracking Hurricane Sandy and I'm sharing some of my thinking with HuffPost readers who may be personally impacted over the next few days.2012-10-29-ScreenShot20121029at11.24.50AM.png
Kevin Welner: A Modest Hurricane Proposal for Honoring Climate Change Deniers
Here in the U.S., the explosion of climate-change deniers has given us a wealth of names to choose from. No more Dorians and Humbertos! Bring on Hurricane Lungren and Tropical Storm Milloy.
Mike Lux: Thankful, and Not, While Frankenstorm Bears Down
I know based on past snowstorms and bad weather that everyone after the event will be there to help each other dig out and make the best of whatever happens. That's the kind of country we are, at least right now. Let's hope we remain that way.
Dr. Reese Halter: Hurricanes: The New Normal
In Galveston, Texas, one such storm surge hit the coast and killed 8,000 people in 1900. So what conditions create such violence?
Paul Yeager: Frankenstorm: Fact and Fiction
With so much information being generated from weather and non-weather sources, it's difficult to separate fact from fiction. If you're in the potential path of the storm, then follow local sources of weather information extremely closely and take any necessary actions to best prepare yourself.

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Bourdain Bashing, Power Outage Tips, Foodie Backlash And More

Monday, October 29, 2012
Anthony Bourdain is more mainstream than ever these days, having parlayed his wildly successful Travel Channel program "No Reservations" into a forthcoming food and travel show on CNN, a reality cooking program on ABC with Nigella Lawson and a PBS program with David Chang. He owes this perhaps to his famously vulgar and slightly misanthropic take on gustatory adventuring, which despite itself, has enjoyed more popularity than notoriety.
Hurricane Sandy Shoppers Create Storm Of Their Own At New York City Supermarkets
10 Of The Most Scathing Restaurant Reviews
Celebrity Chef Has Bizarre Culinary Use For Tampons
When Foodies Go Too Far
Power Outage Food Safety: What To Toss And What To Keep
The Daily Meal: Fast Food Restaurants You Probably Haven't Heard Of
Fast food is no small industry here in the U.S. -- Americans spend nearly $100 billion on fast food every year. There are close to 50,000 fast food chain locations in the country, according to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and of those, McDonald's is the largest fast food chain.
Daniel Klein: WATCH: Japanese Food Porn
Need a break from the storm? Check out these three minutes of intense Japanase food and travel.
Louise McCready Hart: Mark Bittman and Florence Fabricant on Cookbooks, Food Blogs, Apps and Foodies
"Cooking is all about compromising. You never have enough time, enough ingredients, enough skill. If I have good ingredients, I try to take advantage of them, but I don't always have the best." -- Mark Bittman
Michael Sanson: Should Restaurant Customers Get Bread or Not?
I also have an issue with restaurants that offer free, but poor-quality bread. It suggests that they feel obligated to offer it, but don't care enough to offer something decent. Isn't it better to serve no bread than bad bread?
Anneli Rufus: Why Do We Like to See Food on Fire?
Flambéed dishes and drinks mix primal fury and campfire comradeship with old-school elegance -- that taken-up-a-notch flair (or, more accurately, "flare") that tells us we are having something special. It's good to get primitive sometimes.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tens Of Millions Prepare For Unprecedented Storm

Tens Of Millions Prepare For Unprecedented Storm

October 28, 2012

SHIP BOTTOM, N.J. (AP) -- Tens of millions of people in the eastern third of the U.S. in the path of the unprecedented freak storm had hours Sunday to prepare for the first raindrops that were expected later in the day, to be followed over the next few days by sheets of rain, high winds and even heavy snow.

The warning from officials to anyone who might be affected path was simple: Be prepared and get out of the way.

Hurricane Sandy was headed north from the Caribbean, where it left nearly five dozen dead, to meet a winter storm and a cold front, plus high tides from a full moon, and experts said the rare hybrid storm that results will cause havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.

"I've been here since 1997, and I never even put my barbecue grill away during a storm," Russ Linke said shortly before he and his wife left Ship Bottom on Saturday. "But I am taking this one seriously. They say it might hit here. That's about as serious as it can get."

He and his wife secured the patio furniture, packed the bicycles into the pickup truck, and headed off the island.

The danger was hardly limited to coastal areas. Forecasters were far more worried about inland flooding from storm surge than they were about winds. Rains could saturate the ground, causing trees to topple into power lines, utility officials said, warning residents to prepare for several days at home without power.

States of emergency were declared from North Carolina, where gusty winds whipped steady rain on Sunday morning, to Connecticut. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday.

Officials were particularly worried about the possibility of subway flooding in New York City, said Louis Uccellini, head of environmental prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sandy was at Category 1 strength, packing 75 mph winds, about 260 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moving northeast at 10 mph as of 8 a.m. Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was about 395 miles south of New York City.

The storm was expected to continue moving parallel to the Southeast coast most of the day and approach the coast of the mid-Atlantic states by Monday night, before reaching southern New England later in the week.

The storm was so big, however, and the convergence of the three storms so rare, that "we just can't pinpoint who is going to get the worst of it," said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

"You never want to be too naive, but ultimately, it's not in our hands anyway," said Andrew Ferencsik, 31, as he purchased plywood and 2-by-4 lumber from a Home Depot in Lewes, Del.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was criticized for not interrupting a vacation in Florida while a snowstorm pummeled the state in 2010, broke off campaigning for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in North Carolina on Friday to return home.

"I can be as cynical as anyone," said Christie, who declared a state of emergency Saturday. "But when the storm comes, if it's as bad as they're predicting, you're going to wish you weren't as cynical as you otherwise might have been."

Up and down the Eastern Seaboard and far inland, officials urged residents and businesses to prepare in ways big and small.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to prepare to shut the New York City's subways, buses and suburban trains. The city closed the subways before Hurricane Irene last year, and a Columbia University study predicted that an Irene surge just 1 foot higher would have paralyzed lower Manhattan.

Amtrak began canceling train service Saturday night to parts of the East Coast, including between Washington and New York. Airlines started moving planes out of airports to avoid damage and adding Sunday flights out of New York and Washington in preparation for flight cancellations on Monday.

The Virginia National Guard was authorized to call up to 500 troops to active duty for debris removal and road-clearing, while homeowners stacked sandbags at their front doors in coastal towns.

In Arlington, just outside Washington, D.C., a few shoppers strolled in and outside a Giant supermarket. Cathy Davis, 40, said the supermarket was sold out of the water she wanted to purchase, but she wasn't doing much else to prepare. She figured she would bring her outdoor furniture inside later in the day, and might make some chili.

She said the storm did lead her to decide against decorating for Halloween.

"I was like, 'eh, it will just be blown away anyway,'" she said. "What's the point."

President Barack Obama was monitoring the storm and working with state and locals governments to make sure they get the resources needed to prepare, administration officials said.

In North Carolina's Outer Banks, there was some scattered, minor flooding at daybreak Sunday on the beach road in Nags Head. The bad weather could pick up there later in the day, with the major concerns being rising tides and pounding waves.

DeWitt Quinn, 63, from the mainland city of Badin, N.C., was in the Outer Banks for his annual fishing trip when Sandy promised to disrupt his plans. He spent all day Saturday fishing from shore and a boat as the storm built up. A former member of the Coast Guard, Quinn said he was planning Sunday to spend the day inside with his buddies cleaning and preparing a two-foot-long puppy drum fish caught Saturday for cooking.

"We've got cards. We've got computers. We've got food. We're going to cook our brains out and eat very well," Quinn said.

In New Jersey, hundreds of coastal residents started moving inland. Christie's emergency declaration will force the shutdown of Atlantic City's 12 casinos for only the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalized gambling here. City officials said they would begin evacuating the gambling hub's 30,000 residents at noon Sunday, busing them to mainland shelters and schools.

The storm also forced the presidential campaign to juggle schedules. Romney scrapped plans to campaign Sunday in Virginia and switched his schedule for the day to Ohio. First lady Michelle Obama canceled an appearance in New Hampshire for Tuesday, and Obama moved a planned Monday departure for Florida to Sunday night to beat the storm. He also canceled appearances in Northern Virginia on Monday and Colorado on Tuesday.

Eighty-five-year-old former sailor Ray Leonard had a bit of advice for those in the path of the storm. Leonard and two crewmates in his 32-foot sailboat, Satori, rode out 1991's infamous "perfect storm," made famous by the Sebastian Junger best-selling book of the same name, before being plucked from the Atlantic off Martha's Vineyard, Mass., by a Coast Guard helicopter.

"Don't be rash," Leonard said Saturday from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. "Because if this does hit, you're going to lose all those little things you've spent the last 20 years feeling good about."


Breed reported from Raleigh, N.C. Contributing to this report were AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington; Emery Dalesio in Nags Head, N.C.; Karen Matthews and Samantha Bomkamp in New York; Randall Chase in Lewes, Del.; Jessica Gresko in Arlington, Va.; and Nancy Benac in Washington.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Chemical Industry Uses Wallet To Block Tighter Regulations

Friday, October 26, 2012
In an effort to block a ballot measure in California that would require the labeling of genetically modified foods, shape a Senate race in Ohio with potential repercussions for fracking, and influence a host of House contests key to toxic chemical reform -- the chemical industry has been busy wielding its wallet, say environmental advocates.
Historic 'Frankenstorm' Looks Increasingly Ominous To U.S. Forecasters
BP Spill Trial Delayed Until After Super Bowl And Mardi Gras
Major Food Companies Spending Millions To Oppose GMO Labeling Law
Rising Ocean Temps Threaten The Ocean Food Chain
Why So Many Hurricanes This Year? Blame El Niño
Stephen Cowell: Reports of Clean Energy's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Have we forgotten about the dangerous summer heat waves that threatened dozens of states? Or the hurricane that affected the schedule of the Republican Convention? What about the tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and massive droughts we experienced all too recently?
Jonathan Marshall: Climate Change and Mideast Insecurity: The Hidden Connection
For all the talk of violent threats to American security in Syria and North Africa, neither candidate has connected them to a powerful contributing cause: climate change.
Kumi Naidoo: Africa's False Dilemma
Ecological and economic welfare are two sides of the same coin and having to choose between developing economies and societies on one hand, and protecting the environment on the other, is a false dilemma.
David Katz, M.D.: Are We Out of Time?
We are hard wired to notice minutes, hours, days, and to some extent, weeks and months. Years are already a bit blurry, and decades were mostly beyond the limits of consideration for most of human history. And our reaction to perils in the modern world remains bounded by this biology -- if we let it.
Peter Cannavo: The Real Frankenstorm
With at least 30 million viewers tuned in to each debate, there was an opportunity for serious discussion of this crisis, or at least a chance for the candidates to argue their differences. Yet, not a word by a candidate, not a single question from a moderator or the town hall audience. Why?

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