Monday, March 18, 2013
Thursday, March 7, 2013
At the time, two years ago, there was effectively no official quantitative flood forecasting system for Jakarta, which is incredible for a city of ten million people. That has recently changed.
Original caption: A woman stands in her food stall in the flooded business area in Jakarta January 17, 2013. Heavy monsoonal rains triggered severe flooding in large swathes of the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Thursday, with many government offices and businesses forced to closed because staff could not get to work. Weather officials warned the rains could get worse over the next few days and media reports said that thousands of people in Jakarta and its satellite cities had been forced to leave their homes because of the torrential downpours this week. REUTERS/Enny Nuraheni
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
The AP asks "Did New York's rats relocate after Sandy?" Experts are of two minds. The city health department collects extensive surveys of rats and found that, although large storms can flush out rats, many also drown. In the end "the net effect of large storms is often a decrease in the rat population".
Some fear that the rats relocated into new territory and there has been a rise in calls to exterminators. According to a pest control expert "'They are adaptable. They can swim. They can move distances,' he said, citing radio telemetry studies showing that rats can move several miles if displaced by environmental conditions."
But this being New York, even the rats are resilient. "I have seen them dive over 70 feet (21 metres), swim 500 yards (450 metres), give me the finger and head for the hills," a rat hunting expert said, "Hurricane Sandy is not going to affect these critters."
The article mentions a serious blow to the rodent population, however- the loss of thousands of research mice in the basement of New York University's Langone Medical Center.
Monday, February 18, 2013
I stepped off the train at Southern Cross station in Melbourne and smelled smoke. I looked to my phone and opened EmergencyAUS (free). I started to submit a report. My options were:
“I can see”
“I can feel”
“I can hear”
“I can smell”
I picked “smell”. I was then guided through another series of multiple choice options to describe my situation. Eventually I constructed:
“I can smell… smoke… at my current location… now.”
EmergencyAUS then showed me that a lot of other people in Melbourne smelled it too. By the looks of the map of everyone’s observations I was on the western edge of the plume; icons of noses were densest in the northern suburbs but there were reports extending straight down to the coast an hour away.
Noses in and around melbourne- other people who smelled the smoke (sorry for the terrible picture- my phone is my usual camera so this is a webcam of my phone)
Some people didn’t just smell the smoke, they saw it. Craigieburn to the north had a cluster of icons of eyes: “I see… a plume of… smoke… at my current location… less than an hour ago…”
One of the eyes on Napier Street (3.4 km away) uploaded a photograph of a large plume of smoke that I could download. This made me realize that when I sat down at work this afternoon and looked out the window, I also saw the plume of smoke but didn’t know what I was looking at at the time.
Ordinary citizens aren’t the only ones on EmergencyAUS. The metropolitan fire brigade submitted its own blazing red icon on the map indicating “Non structure fire: going. Not yet under control- more resources requested” (upper right)
The Country Fire Authority (CFA) had its own white icon with “fire warning advice”. The advice described the situation, gave advice on what to do and included links to more information and where to get situation updates.
Earlier today EmergencyAUS pushed alerts to me that happened within 1 km of my home. For example, 6 minutes ago an alarm went off on Collins street. Earlier this weekend, I heard two sirens drive by and after checking my phone I knew where they were going. Bigger search areas are possible but the city is a busy place and I didn’t want warning fatigue.
EmergencyAUS is not just about fire. Citizens can report and learn about floods, earthquakes, tsunami and so on. They can report that they are being evacuated by the police, are without power or even are looking at a destroyed bridge (!). There is mutual community support: “I need…a generator…at my current location… now” through to “I know where to get… bottled water…”.
Who is doing this? EmergencyAUS says little about what is supporting it except to say it’s “Built by Gridstone and powered by Ripe Intelligence”. The application is free for use in one state. To subscribe to all states is $24.50, or $4.50 per state for a year.
Extra: there is another app called FireReady. While EmergencyAUS is all emergencies, FireReady focuses on bushfires and gives more detail. It too says that 30.79 km to the north 70 emergency vehicles have been attending to a large (1900 hectares) grass fire since yesterday. There are reports of wildfire on the roads and the app gives a list of what to do to stay safe. I first learned about FireReady driving by a billboard.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Late last week, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke to her citizens, addressing their concerns about the impending end of the world on 21 December. Here is the transcript
"My dear remaining fellow Australians. The end of the world is coming. It wasn't Y-2K, it wasn't even the carbon price, it turns out that the Mayan calendar was true. While Australia's best and brightest at the [government research agency] CSIRO have not been able to confirm this, I'm confident in [local radio station] Triple J's prediction that the world is about to end. Whether the final blow comes from flesh-eating zombies, demonic hell-beasts, or from the total triumph of K-Pop [Korean pop music].
If you know one thing about me, it is this, I will always fight for you to the very end and at least this means I won't have to do Q&A again. Good luck to you all."
The predictions are based on the end of the Mayan calendar and have prompted NASA to put up a webpage reassuring people that there is no scientific evidence that the world is going to end. For example, from their Q & A section
Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then -- just as your calendar begins again on January 1 -- another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.
On the topic that a rogue planet will strike the earth on 21 December, NASA tells us that such an Earth-killing body would have been seen by now on telescopes.
NASA is just one opinion of many. When faced with a thorny prediction problem (including recent presidential elections), people often turn to markets for guidance. According to news.com.au, some markets are stating that a Zombie Apocalypse is unlikely. Specifically
Sportsbet is running a 'novelty market' on the end of the world. While the spread of a new incurable killer virus is coming in at the shortest odds at 20-1 and being eaten alive by zombies is sitting on the longest odds at 1000-1, Sportsbet spokesman Shaun Anderson said zombies was actually the most popular bet.
The payoff on a doomsday bet is an interesting concept. Years ago I saw Al Gore give his traveling "Inconvenient Truth” lecture and at one point he made fun of a cartoon that showed a balance scale with on one side a stack of gold bars and on the other the earth. The idea was the balance and tradeoffs between conservation and economic growth. However, Gore's point was “it doesn’t matter how attractive the gold bars are, if you lose the earth you lose everything and the gold bars will be worth nothing.”
Therefore, if the Zombie Apocalypse could cause potentially infinite damage, even if the probability of it happening is extremely small, then it would always work out that the cost of protection would always be justified.
What do you think? Comment below while you still can!
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
It is 10:08 pm in Phnom Penh on 28 November 2012. I’m in a hotel whose name I don’t know and whose rate is $7 per night. The bar across the street advertises “no knifes, no guns, no hand grenades”. I wonder how often hand grenades are found during pat-downs.
Tomorrow I make one last visit to the Mekong River Forecasting Center before flying to Kuala Lumpur and then back to Melbourne. That will then be the end of 475 days (16 months) of traveling around the world to more than two dozen countries.
Today is the annual Water Festival (Bon Om Touk) celebrating the annual reversal of the direction of flow of the Tonlé Sap River. That bafflingly complex system deserves its own series of “hydrologic oddities” posts. During part of the year the Mekong flows North up this tributary to quadruple the size of a large inland lake. Then when the Mekong river is low, the lake drains South back towards the mainstem and to the ocean.
It seems too that tomorrow my inland lake of travel experiences will stop filling and the entire system will be momentarily still.
My bags are packed and the contents of my luggage have only gotten more impractical through time. There are a few shirts, a few pants, a fat wad of foreign currency, a cannonball’s worth of overseas coins, bags of computer cables, a stack of hard drives, medicines in five languages (none of them English) and hundreds of pages of notebooks, reports and interview notes.
This blog has only been updated through February. I underestimated the difficulty of trying to travel and write at the same time. The blog doesn’t include the visits to
Egypt: to see the world’s oldest streamgage and to see the sand dunes
Vienna: to speak at Europe’s largest meeting of Earth Scientists
France: to go to the Paris river forecasting center and to be a visiting scientist at IRSTEA, studying how to model extreme floods
Luxembourg: to go to a workshop on how to read a landscape and use that to build better computer models of its river
Scotland: to visit Mike Cranston’s group at the SEPA forecasting center and to get out into an experimental catchment in the highlands
Northern Ireland: to try (and fail) at a pilgrimage to Galway, the Mecca for hydrologists… A visit to some natural wonders would have to suffice
England: to go to the UK Flood Forecasting Centre, to talk to the developer of that country’s forecasting system, to study at ECMWF (in time to witness the landfall of Hurricane Sandy), to hobnob with the Royal Society’s elite at a forecasting uncertainty workshop
Italy: to find the source of the European Flood Awareness System (one of the most modern river forecasting systems in the world) and to give a guest lecture in a risk management course
and finally Cambodia: to shadow Australian hydrologists Terry Malone and Alex Minett during their visit to the Mekong River Commission’s Flood Forecasting Center
When passing through the Malpensa airport in Milan there was a plaque on the floor “Tuttu i passi che ho fatto nella mia vita mi hanno portato qui, ora.”
The translation is “Every step I have taken in my life has led me here, now.”
Come Friday when I land home Australia, the pause will end and the direction of flow will change.
Friday, November 9, 2012
From a recent story in USA Today about Hurricane Sandy and the performance of the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasts:
AccuWeather's Mike Smith, author of Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather [said] "… the bottom line is that forecasters nailed this storm days ahead of its arrival. The people behind Europe's model should receive a Nobel Prize in physics, this was that powerful a moment in weather science."
There is no precedent for a meteorologist winning the true Nobel Prize (except perhaps the 2007 prize for IPCC and Al Gore).
So today I awarded the staff of ECMWF their own “Noble [sic] Prize in Prediction” for the production of exceptional Numerical Weather Predictions during Hurricane Sandy. It was my last day as a visiting scientist there.
The head of the research department Erland Källén (a Swede, right) graciously received the trophy (bottom center) on behalf of the employees (back).
On behalf of the operational departments, Erik Andersson (another Swede) and David Richardson (English, but still a nice person) accepted Pop-Tart prizes (bottom) and a mélange of home made cookies (back left).
During past disasters retailers report massive sales spikes in Pop-Tarts and have taken to pre-staging them based on the forecasts:
The experts mined the [past sales] data and found that the stores would indeed need certain products - and not just the usual flashlights. "We didn't know in the past that strawberry Pop-Tarts increase in sales, like seven times their normal sales rate, ahead of a hurricane," Ms. Dillman said in a recent interview. "And the pre-hurricane top-selling item was beer." Thanks to those insights, trucks filled with toaster pastries and six-packs were soon speeding down Interstate 95 toward Wal-Marts in the path of Frances.
The monetary prize (a 5 pound itunes gift card) was donated to charity, partly to avoid the inevitable conflicts of dividing it 250 ways among the staff. Others are encouraged to donate to the Red Cross a show of support for those impacted by the national tragedy.
Several days before Sandy came ashore in New Jersey on Monday night, forecasters were warning of a superstorm that would make a highly unusual left turn into the coastline. Anyone who didn't know a big storm was coming wasn't paying attention. This was a triumph of modern meteorology that undoubtedly saved many lives. In the era of satellites, supercomputers and instant communications, "surprise" hurricanes, such as the one that killed hundreds of people in New York and New England in 1938, are largely a thing of the past.
But before Americans get smug about their superior scientific sophistication, there is this to consider: Of the two main computer weather-forecasting models, the American and the European, the European was by far the better performer on Sandy. In the middle of last week, the British-based European model, known as the ECMWF, was already showing an unusually powerful storm moving up from the Bahamas and slamming into the mid-Atlantic coast.
A few days ago the Daily Show had a piece praising the effectiveness of preparations for and response to the storm.
The New York Times reports that the subways are operating again only a week after the disaster.
It has been less than two weeks since the most devastating storm in the New York City subway system’s 108-year history. Seven tunnels beneath the East River flooded. Entire platforms were submerged. Underground equipment, some of it decades old, was destroyed.
The damage was the worst that the system had ever seen. And yet, the subways have come back — quicker than almost anyone could have imagined. Less than three days after the storm hit, partial subway service was restored. Most major lines were back within a week. Repairs came so quickly in some cases that the authority was ready before Consolidated Edison had restored power.
“Some of what they’re doing borders on the edge of magic,” said Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy group that is frequently critical of the authority.
The forecasts lead to the protection of critical infrastructure and this is partly responsible for the rapid recovery compared to other disasters.
More protections of subways
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Closed due to the apocalypse.(Ocean City)
This aerial photo shows burned-out homes in the Breezy Point section of the Queens borough New York after a fire on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. The tiny beachfront neighborhood told to evacuate before Sandy hit New York burned down as it was inundated by floodwaters, transforming a quaint corner of the Rockaways into smoke-filled debris.
Photo: The day after Hurricane Sandy struck New York City sand and muck covers a car in Coney Island in Brooklyn, Tuesday, October 30, 2012. (Charles Eckert/Weather.com)
Photo: A firefighter who lived in one of the approximately 100 houses destroyed by a fire that resulted from Hurricane Sandy, searches for his wifes wedding ring, in the Breezy Point section of Queens, Tuesday, October 30, 2012. (Charles Eckert/ Weather.com)
Photo: Waves wash over a roller coaster from a Seaside Heights, N.J. amusement park that fell in the Atlantic Ocean during superstorm Sandy on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Photo: Kim Johnson on Tuesday surveys the destruction around her flooded apartment in Atlantic City, New Jersey—one of several southern New Jersey coastal communities that bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy's storm surge Monday night. Rivers of seawater gushed down city streets, swamped buildings, and destroyed a section of the city's iconic boardwalk.
Photo: "We saw the glow and we couldn’t do a thing," deputy fire chief Lou Satriano told the Wall Street Journal's Metropolis blog. Satriano added that roads were also swamped and the burning homes themselves were standing in several feet of water—all of which gave the blaze time to spread. "It was a domino effect. Houses just caught and caught and caught fire."
A woman sifts through her mother's damaged home for items to save in Breezy Point, Queens.
Flood protection examples: From sad…
… to serious.
Want to know the real way to defend yourself against floods? Read the Army Corps of Engineers flood fight handbook.
Finally, there’s a chronicle of someone’s experience during the days of the flood:
As New York sleeps, Sandy speeds up. Morning forecasts presage an ocean-going, full-scale, "life-threatening" weather demon. Lower Manhattan's pavements clear to let it pass. In certain parts, you can cross entire blocks without encountering more than a handful of people. In case you think you've misread that last sentence, that's whole blocks. …
About half an hour later, with the wind and the rain beating against the windows, the lights go out. Via phone message, word comes of an explosion down by 14th Street. A transformer has blown as floodwaters from the East River sweep into Manhattan….
After dark on Tuesday, there are two New Yorks: the one with power and the one without any power or mobile phone signal and, in parts, without water….
Uptown, the world suddenly comes back to life. It's as if nothing has ever happened. The storm debris has been cleared away; shops are open; restaurants are serving hot food.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
Here’s a brief review of some news items about Hurricane Sandy…
The Daily Mail has four giant stories with lots of photos and videos. They will keep you reading for an hour. They cover
Police provided cellphone charging stations. I’ve been at some airport power points that look like this.
3. The next storm that’s approaching the area and the damage done to the shore
4. The struggle to get gasoline
There are frenzies over supplies of gasoline which at one point were declared free (10 gallons per customer, 11,000 gallons total). It was later clarified that emergency services/first responders (even off duty) would have first priority.
Now there are long lines for transport into Manhattan
John Paxton, a lifelong resident of Atlantic City, said: "This is the first time I have been down to see it. It is devastating, it looks like a bombed-out area. It is the first time I've seen mass destruction like this." Like many, the 75-year-old ignored evacuation warnings. He showed us how three feet of flood water had even left the food drawers in the bottom of his fridge filled with foul water. His home of 57 years is now caked in mud and sludge. He said: "When I saw the road outside had become a river, there was nothing else to do. I went to bed."
New York Times documents life in public housing after the storm.
Opened fire hydrants became community wells. Sleep-and-wake cycles were timed to sunsets and sunrises. People huddled for warmth around lighted gas stoves as if they were roaring fires. Darkness became menacing, a thing to be feared….
A few residents shrugged off the hardship, acknowledging that they had been told to evacuate and now were paying the price. “It’s just an inconvenience. Half the world does not have electricity,” said Ralph Lopez, 73… “I grew up in a cold-water flat with no heat at all. And this is just for a week. So boohoo.”"
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Yesterday a film crew came and interviewed scientists from the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the place where I am currently a visiting scientist. Above is the link and below is part of the transcript.
“Thousands of miles from the storm here in England, that group of scientists were making cutting-edge calculations last week providing an early warning of the damage Sandy would do. It was a storm warning that must have seemed incredible to some. And because it was so early helped millions of Americans prepare for the worst. One week ago today, last Wednesday, Al [Roker] relayed a dire forecast on “Today” scientists in Europe predicting Sandy would hit the east coast.
On the right is the prediction from the American model, on the left ECMWF. The European Center pretty much nailed it from incredibly far in advance. This prompted MIT scientist Kerry Emanuel to write a piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why America Has Fallen Behind the World in Storm Forecasting”
The early call came from the European Weather Center in England, 250 staff posting 150 million weather observations every day but have seen nothing like this: A hurricane making a left hook into the Northeast. [To meteorologist] When you first saw this, what was your reaction?
Alan Thorpe: “Obviously we were concerned. Even eight days ahead we could see the tropical cyclone developing. To assess the odds of Sandy hitting the east coast, their super computer had created 51 forecasts; all had one outcome. All took the storm north and then towards the eastern seaboard.”
This is the map room on the second floor of ECMWF. In the middle is Anna Ghelli, a world authority on forecast verification.
Reporter: By the weekend, the American and European models had converged. Without these forecasts the human cost might have been far worse. [To meteorologist] Essentially you and the other 250 scientists working here probably saved lives?
Meteorologist: I think it certainly motivates all the people who work here”
Alan Thorpe (left) and reporter (right) in front of “The Big Board”.
For more updates on the storm, easily the biggest coverage is over at the Daily Mail, lots of large photos and videos. There is a gallery of damage on Coney Island. Early estimates of damage are around $15 Billion, but some as high as $50 Billion- Hurricane Katrina was about $100 Billion.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
The skyline of Manhattan is dark.
"This will be one for the record books," said John Miksad, senior vice president for electric operations at ConEdison. "This will be the largest storm-related outage in our history."
The site of Ground Zero has been flooded with sea water.
On Tuesday, the New York Stock Exchange was to be closed again - the first time it's been closed for two consecutive days due to weather since 1888, when a blizzard struck the city.
Twitter’s photo of a PATH station flooding through an elevator shaft.
NBC New York has some video of Queens ablaze that looks like a post apocalyptic scene in the Terminator movies. I’m sure when dawn breaks in New York City, the media is going to go completely apeshit.
An out-of-control six-alarm blaze is ravaging the Breezy Point neighborhood in Queens and has destroyed more than 50 homes, the FDNY tweeted early Tuesd. FDNY Queens dispatcher directing units to fires, telling them they'll PASS other fires en route!
More on twitter: BREAKING: The water level at the Battery in #NYC has reached 11.25 feet, surpassing the all-time record of 11.2 feet set in 1821.
Not exactly sure where that number came from, but here’s the tide level at the Battery, NY. The blue line is the normal tides, the green line is what was added because of the storm. The red line is the two added together. For the southern tip of Manhattan the storm surge and the high tide’s timing couldn’t have been better (or worse depending on your perspective).
Some people went whole hog when preparing for the storm. In this photo I can see a baseball bat, disco ball, and a Samurai sword.
NPR has fewer updates but of bigger stories, whereas WNYC is doing fast updates (WNYC also has an interactive webpage to show current flooding – drawing on National Weather Service forecasts). The Daily News is a good source for rapid updates. The weather channel has a good photo feed.
The USGS has a tide mapper that is running a little slow but their regular page for river gages is doing alright (at the moment New Jersey is not reporting any data). Eventually I’d like to write a story about the emergency gauges that the USGS installed, but the press releases are here and here.
Google Crisis Response has a Sandy webpage.