Saturday, June 30, 2012

Colorado fires hit home, literally

Three days ago, my wife’s parents’ home in Colorado Springs was consumed by the Waldo Canyon fire. The news came as a brief note:

“The alarm company just called and the whole house exploded. All of the window alarms went off.”

Within a day, an image was emailed showing the property as a smudge of white ash. 

Pic of Subdivision

The house was in the upper left of the yellow box

Later it appeared in the middle of a channel 9 video:


Other video from channel 9 shows homes turning into fireballs at night against the dark silhouette of the mountain:


The reporter describes: “This is really very close to that worst case scenario that so many people in Colorado Springs talked years and years about. This is why people were so adamant talking about mitigation efforts… and that when you have to evacuate, you may have to do it quickly. And that happened for tens of thousands of people today.”

A fleeing resident describes leaving irreplaceables behind

My heart was pounding as I made one last sweep through our little house in Raven Hills. I wondered if my family would ever celebrate another birthday here. I paused at the window where we saw so much wildlife in the woods outside. Where we always put up our Christmas tree.

In the garage, I stopped at the wall where we traced our kids’ profile, measuring their heights to document their growth over the years. I took one last picture of the shark mural in my youngest son’s bedroom, grabbed my oldest boy’s high school letterman’s jacket, took a photo of my daughter at Disney World and began our escape.

From a gallery of ghosted houses at Buzzfeed

He then witnessed hell in the rearview mirror:

Intersections were blocked by panicked drivers trying to escape. Sirens wailed all around. I felt trapped in a horror movie… I had to go west, toward the flames, to escape. But that route was blocked as well.

Finally, I went into four-wheel-drive, hopped a curb, blasted down a hill, across a soccer field and over a trail to reach Rockrimmon Boulevard where six lanes of traffic were headed east on both sides of the median.

And there I sat in traffic. It’s a memory I’ll never forget. I teared up as I scanned the surrounding cars. Everywhere were children, scared and crying, their parents looking deathly afraid and, in my rearview mirror, a view of the gates of hell.

A friend on facebook shared this photo of the fires above Boulder


And another friend wrote

That kind of disaster never seems to happen to someone you know, until it does.

Friday, June 29, 2012

“It was like a scene from Armageddon” Cork, Ireland Floods

Yesterday 50 mm of rain fell in about 3 hours near Cork, Ireland.

The #corkfloods twitter feed is a good source for the latest information and the Irish Examiner has several stories of the resulting floods, such as this one with the headline “Everything is just destroyed again — for the fourth time”.

Cian Coleman had to help emergency services take his pregnant girlfriend Michelle McCarthy to safety: "I went downstairs and the dog was swimming around the kitchen. It was coming in through the door and I was trying to push the door in. Michelle has only two weeks to go, they took her out in a boat, which was floating in water above the front wall outside."

As [someone whose house had been destroyed] started to wade back through the drive to her front door, her daughter Fiona returned from a check on their neighbours.

"Look what someone’s after giving me," handing her mother a pink-covered photo album that was found in a nearby green area. It had clearly been among the items from their front room carried out the door in the early hours.

"They just came up and asked did I know who it might belong to. I opened it up and there was a picture of myself," said Fiona, laughing at the coincidence and irony of an otherwise disastrous morning.”

The Irish Examiner also has this eye witness account:

“The first inkling I had that something was wrong was sometime before 5am when I heard a car go through the estate — Meadowbrook in Glanmire — with the driver beeping and roaring out the window.

I was all set to give out to him until I looked out the window and saw what looked like a river running through the estate.

I rushed downstairs and tried to stop it coming through the door but at that stage, it was too late. It was a strong torrent of water and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

The power of it had to be seen to be believed. It flowed straight into the estate. It was covering the floor of our cars at that stage.

We all managed to get out, we got our dog Sophie out, and we were lucky enough to save our cars. Then all we could do was lock the door of the house and leave…

It was as high as five or six feet in some parts of the estate. The fire brigade rescued those who couldn’t get out of their homes, and helped others move upstairs.

By the time I got back to my house, it had been ruined. All the floors had come up, the furniture was destroyed, but we were no different to anybody else. Luckily, no one was injured or killed.

I managed to wade to other parts of the estate where the water was even higher. I knew there was an elderly man living nearby who slept on the ground floor of his house, so myself and two firemen managed to wake him up and move him upstairs in his house.

It was like a scene from Armageddon. The fire brigade had brought a RIB [Rigid Inflatable Boat] and punts to rescue people, water was nearly covering the cars. It was something else…

One woman on the estate had her goldfish bowl washed away but the goldfish were found swimming around the garden and rescued by hand, which was pretty amazing.

Ironically, I got a text message telling me of a flood warning in Bandon. I was standing up to my waist in water when I got the message, thinking ‘What about bloody Glanmire’s warning?’

It felt a little bit like the blitz in England during the war. Everyone pulled together. The community centre was offering teas and coffees to people and Liam Griffin from SuperValu sent across a load of grub.

It was a hairy few hours. It will take weeks to clean up. Looking around, what was a sea of water just a few hours ago is now a sea of mud.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More animals in the streets/The cone of uncertainty

Following on the recent post about a seal running around in Duluth, a twitterer tweeted this photo of an alligator using a crosswalk recently during Tropical Storm Debby in Florida.


Like that other post, there are lots of photos of submerged cars in Florida:


Perhaps the most interesting to me though was to see the hurricane path forecasts of Debby. Here’s South Florida Water Management District’s plot of the computer model guidance from 3 days ago (22 of June 2012):


Each line is the possible track of the eye of the hurricane, as predicted by 15 different forecasting models run by various agencies. Things seem sure for the first 2 days that the storm will head north, but then after that it was anyone’s guess if it would head west to Texas, north or east across Florida.

Here’s the actual path (in purple) with another way of displaying the most recent forecasts (i.e. as a cone of uncertainty, than a spaghetti of possible scenarios).


And then here’s the equivalent spaghetti plot for the most recent model runs:


Notice a tighter clustering of the model runs now, they all head off in the same general path. The important thing to take away from this is that sometimes weather models give confident results with high certainty, but in some situations the results can be all over the map (literally). In theory, sometimes the cone of uncertainty should be narrow, sometimes fat.

Do notice, however that the legend for the graph labels the orange cone “historical std dev [standard deviation]”, a measure of the typical error versus leadtime for all the historical predictions, averaged over a number of years. The width of this cone then, in practice, doesn’t change, even if the forecasters know that a particular situation is more uncertain than another. That said, requiring the forecaster to predict both the center of the cone and its width every time is an extra operational workload, and it’s something that takes extra training to do accurately.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Flood causes seals in the streets of Duluth

Photos are coming from Northeast Minnesota, US, showing record or near record flooding. One of those includes a seal waddling down Grand Avenue:


The original caption reads “This seal is one of two that escaped from the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth during last night's floods. Zoo officials say the seals were returned safely.”

Strangely enough, this is the second story I’ve read today about exotic animals run amok during a flood. Earlier today I discovered the story behind a photo of a lion holed up in a church during a Texas flood a few years ago. That article includes a quote from a local “When you think you've seen everything, you find something else”.

NPR’s audio story from Duluth describes how aging water pipes have cracked, burst, then sucked down gravel to form sinkholes that have swallowed cars, like so:


Original link

Minnesota Flooding

Some of the pipes and a manhole cover are visible in the above picture. Original caption: A car fell into a huge sinkhole in Duluth, Minn. on Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Duluth Mayor Don Ness said he would declare a state of emergency after the deluge of up to 9 inches of rain that he said caused extensive damage to the port city of about 86,000. Ness said the order would start the process to obtain federal aid. Gov. Mark Dayton said he would travel to Duluth on Thursday to discuss how the state can help. (AP Photo/The Duluth News-Tribune, Bob King )

Minnesota Flooding

Road eroded from flooding

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hydrologic Oddities: Turf blisters

There is a recent video from Portland, Oregon showing someone jumping up and down on a patch of grass like a trampoline:


CBS News says that a reader explains:

Depending on where exactly this is, often times, landscapers will lay down plastic sheet on bad soil then plant sod on good soil laid on the plastic. If this is the case, a water line may have broke and now you have water under the plastic liner, hence the bubble. If it's not liquid, natural gas could also be a cause. The safe bet is though, there is a plastic liner under the sod and whatever is under the liner has caused the bubble.

There's an animated gif of someone walking on a turf blister:


Easily, the most impressive example comes from Greywolf Golf Course where this 18" high blister formed because of a pipe that broke under “creeping bentgrass on our fairway that has two much thatch.”



Greywolf also has this video of the blister popping:


But for a further introduction, here's an enthusiastic place to start with videos of bubbles under grass:



This dog didn’t quite know what to make of the bubble:

Because of the combination of artificial grass and underground pipes, these things seem to happen at golfcourses, such as this video:

Here some golfers laid down on the blister like a waterbed:


At around 0:16, a golfer lanced one of the boils with a club:

After popping this blister, water gushed out:


Monday, June 11, 2012

Hug a climate scientist day

June 10th is hug a climate scientist day. According to “Crikey”,

Did you know that our own decent hardworking Aussie Climate Scientists regularly receive death threats and are sent pictures of dead animals? It is true…. This situation got so bad at he Australian National University, they had to move their climate scientists to a secret location… We need to let our climate scientists know that we love them and appreciate their hard and very important work.” 



Find a climate scientist, give them a hug and let them know it’s going to be alright.

After that, maybe you want to post a photo on the “I *heart* climate scientists” facebook page.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hydrologic oddities: The loss of happiness in France

The happiness is lost in France.

Specifically, “The Happiness River” (Le Bonheur) in southern France flows along the surface for a bit until it reaches limestone rocks. From there, the river disappears underground at a place called “The Loss of Happiness” (La Perte du Bonheur).  


Where The Happiness disappears

Hydrologist Vazken Andréassian (a fellow fan of strange rivers, which he calls “monsters”) indicated to me that there was something uniquely French about a place where happiness is literally driven into the ground.    

Where the river emerges is called Bramabiau, named after the word for ox. From one description (google translated) “During high water, this resurgence with its waterfall is loud, which is amplified by the walls of the canyon, like the cries of an ox”.


Shortly downstream, the river comes back to the surface at “The Abyss of Bramabiau” (l'abîme de Bramabiau).

We can only hope that the French spirit is just as boisterous when the happiness returns.