Saturday, October 27, 2012

National Weather Service Blows it on NYC area Warnings re: Sandy

 In  direct contrast with the urgings of The Weather Channel, the announcements of the United States Coast Guard, and its own predictions, the National Hurricane Center of the National Weather Service  has stubbornly refused to issue Hurricane watches or warnings, or even tropical storm watches and warnings, for the US Northeast ahead of Hurricane Sandy. The decisions is being criticized by most other weather professionals and first responders.

A flabbergasted Jim Cantore, reporting from Battery Park in Manhattan for The Weather Channel, questioned the wisdom of the decision and urged NOAA to change its mind, while TWC Tropical Weather expert Dr. Greg Postel referred to the NWS decision as "not good judgement" on his national broadcast.

Meanwhile, the United States Coast Guard issued “Port Condition X-Ray” warnings for New York Harbor, the last stage before boats are required to tie up securely or leave. Port Condition X-Ray, by Coast Guard standards, is issued 48 hours prior to expected landfall of a hurricane.

As renowned weather blogger Mike Smith wrote,

“…Meteorologists, as a group, get hung up on technicalities. Even though the storm, until dissipation, will always be the swirl of clouds known as Sandy at its center, over time the storm may transition from having a warm core (classic hurricane) to a cold core (hybrid) two miles above the ground. Other than meteorologists, who cares?

Everyone knows a hurricane is really bad -- and we believe this storm will be really bad. So, a hurricane warning would have told everyone what they needed to know.

Non-mariners don't know the definition of "gale force winds" (FYI: 39 to 54 mph). Disregarding that using hurricane warnings would be clearer, the NWS is going to get hung up on "gale, storm, high wind, inland high wind" and their alphabet soup of warning types with Sandy. Plus, with each individual NWS office having warning responsibility, rather than the National Hurricane Center, inconsistencies may develop. This occasionally occurs with Nor'easters and similar storms.

I believe this is an unfortunate decision by the NWS.”
The National Weather Service itself acknowledges on their site that the storm is a hurricane, and may even intensify prior to landfall:

In spite of this, and in spite of expected storm surges of eight feet along Long Island's south shore, the NWS has refused to issue the normal warnings. Stung by criticism from all other weather sources, the NWS issued a statement just a few minutes ago explaining their actions:


("Highly Disruptive?"  For who?  For their web designer who would have to change the page?)

Yet, as of 3:17 pm today, no such warnings had been issued for anywhere in NY or NJ!

In the meantime, officials in New Jersey and New York are attempting to encourage evacuations of vulnerable coastal areas, without the added ‘encouragement’ of the NWS.  Fire Island (NY) ferries have been ordered shut down Sunday mid-day, and the barrier beaches of New Jersey are now under mandatory evacuation orders. This afternoon’s high tide in New York was already one foot higher than predicted, and current predictions are for five-and-a-half-foot surge on top of a five foot astronomical high tide. Computer models at RMS, a company used by the Insurance industry to predict losses from weather events, have suggested that Sandy will be more destructive than Irene, and could cause more property damage (in dollars) than Katrina.

Still, the National Weather Service steadfastly refuses to issue warnings of any type for the NY area.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Perfect Storm...then, now

Andrea Gail. Satori. Tamaroa. Hannah Boden. 

Names that probably mean little to many people…but for some of us, the emotion felt in the gut more than 20 years later is as raw and powerful as the days we learned of them in October 1991.

As many of my readers and Facebook friends know, I was raised on the ocean.  My family arrived in New York in colonial days as Dutch sea captains, and, but for a single young brother who stayed home in port, my ancestors were lost to the ocean they loved in 1705 when the Castel del Rey shipwrecked outside New York Harbor in a sudden ice storm.

For my part, the ocean was generally a far gentler mistress. Growing up on Long Island’s south shore, swimming in the ocean, clamming in the bays, fishing with my grandfathers, partying at remote bayhouses, walking on (and occasionally falling through) the ice of frozen canals, and exploring expanses of salt marshes and mudflats that no sane person would venture on were all just a part of growing up.  And even when a rip current once took me for a ride, I never really felt fear.

In 1990, I moved to Martha’s Vineyard and took on a state job as the island’s Transportation Program Manager.  Being an island, ‘transportation’ largely took the form of ferry and boat traffic, bicycles, and finding new and exciting ways of cramming 100,000 cars on an island designed for ten percent of that in July.  Because no one simply arrives on – or flees from - an island quite as easily as on the mainland, our office was also the civil defense headquarters for the Vineyard.

If you compare Google maps with current aerial satellite photos for the Vineyard Town of Oak Bluffs , you will find a curious difference: maps still show a long waterway along the northeast coast of the island named “Harthaven Harbor;” the satellite image confirms that most of it is gone.

The ocean decided to take it.  

It was October 1991, and it was the only hurricane in recent times that the National Weather Service chose not to name.  Many people refer to it as “The October Hurricane,” or “The Hallowe’en Nor’easter,” but Vineyarders would always call it the “No-Name Nor’easter.”  
 Author Sebastian Junger would popularize the phrase, “The Perfect Storm,” and chronicle the events of those days with impeccable, moving detail in his book (and subsequent movie) by that name.

The storm was birthed when a typical winter nor’easter absorbed the remnants of Hurricane Grace in a process that exploded on October 28, 1991 off of Nova Scotia. By November 1 the system evolved into a full-fledged hurricane with peak winds of 75 miles per hour (120 km/h), but the National Hurricane Center chose to leave it unnamed.  The toll on New England, New York, New Jersey, and people’s lives had already occurred. 

The Andrea Gail, a fishing boat out of Gloucester, had tried to turn home from the Flemish Cap, the eastern-most edge of the Grand Bank fishing grounds, on October 24 – heading directly into the meterological equivalent of two textile mill rollers, pulling in and flattening everything in its path.   It had been mentioned by fishermen that 35-foot seas was enough to scare even the most hardened seafarer.  The buoys off of Nantucket were registering 75 foot seas.  Further along towards the George’s bank, those waves rose more than 100 feet – some 30 feet higher than the top of the Andrea Gail’s highest mast.

Contact with the six-man crew ceased on October 28.

 Meanwhile, off the shore of Montauk, Long Island, an Air National Guard helicopter ran out of fuel and crashed in its efforts to find another boat, the Satori; the Cape Cod-based Coast Guard Cutter Tamaroa would be sent to rescue both crews.  On the Vineyard, the waves were pulling out docks and boats to sea..and completely obliterating the northern entrance to Harthaven Harbor.  Another boat was sinking off of Staten Island.  

For many, I suppose, these are ‘stories’ they hear on the news, or tales that weather buffs like to tell.  

For Islanders, for fishermen, for people who live in the pulse and fury of the sea…it is a much, much, deeper, almost primeval emotional connection.  Every fisherman lost at sea on the Vineyard, or Nantucket, or from Gloucester or New Bedford brings an entire community into mourning in a way that is hard to describe to outsiders.

And so, our news folk tell us that almost 21 years to the day, Round Two is upon us.  Hurricane Sandy is moving up the coast, where she will combine with a northeaster and a cold front.  This time the resulting behemoth – being named “Frankenstorm” by some – will explode closer to land.
 Sandy may crash into New Jersey or Delaware, which means the northeast storm quadrant – the harshest – will pound Long Island and New England.  And this time, unlike the storm of 1991, it will occur during an astronomical full moon and high tide.

 Or, she may follow a path similar to Hurricane Irene, which followed the Connecticut River Valley and dumped enough rain in western New England to devastate roads in Vermont, the Catskills of New York, and western Massachusetts.

 I currently live in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, right on the Deerfield River.  During Irene, the river rose some 15-20 feet, breaching its banks and destroying homes and businesses and much in its path.  Massachusetts State Route 2 west of Charlemont was washed away. The Vermont landscape remains visibly scarred from the waters that scoured out valleys, collapsed banks,  and carved new channels.  Huge boulders I knew well from relaxing at Rock River in Newfane were literally pulverized into sand by the waters power.

 Yesterday, the authorities-that-be were opening the dams to drain the river of as much water as possible in anticipation of “Frankenstorm.’ And I admit to feeling a combination of anticipation and unease as we wait…for us, but also for those on the greater waters.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dr. Andrew F. Brimmer, American Economic Prophet, dies at 86

Dr. Andrew F. Brimmer, the son of a Louisiana sharecropper and the first African-American appointed as a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, died Sunday at the age of 86.

Unlike many within the Federal Reserve who are seen as allies of powerful Wall Street Financial houses, Brimmer spent his life warning Americans about the growing disparity between the poor and the wealthy, and the effect that the outsourcing of American investment would have on low-income Americans.

And that was 30 years ago.
Brimmer earned an  undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Washington – Seattle in 1950 and a master’s degree the following year. He then studies economics in India before attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, where he earned a doctorate.

He served as a staff economist to the Federal Reserve Board, and was the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs in Washington when he was appointed to the Fed Board of Governors by President Johnson.  Having travelled extensively in India and Africa, his particular concern at the time was the outsourcing of American investment dollars and jobs overseas, and the resulting growing schism in America between the very poor and the wealthy. Controversial at the time, he revealed a growing “schism” between middle-class American blacks who were educated and had marketable skills, and a black underclass that lacked access to education and jobs.

The Wall Street Journal criticized his Fed Board tenure.  At a time when racial tensions were high, the Journal ran one front-page headline reading “Desire to Aid Negroes Could Make New ‘Fed’ Member More Liberal.” 

Dr. Brimmer was part of a federal delegation sent to Los Angeles after the 1965 rioting in Watts (Los Angeles) that left 34 people dead and tens of millions of dollars in property damage. He organized a study that revealed that the purchasing power of the average family in Watts had declined by $400 in the five years preceding the riots, while at the same time all other groups in America had experienced rising incomes. 

“I do feel that the economic plight of blacks is a serious matter,” he told The New York Times in 1973. “So I bring the same economist’s tool kit to that subject as other economists bring to examine other national economic problems.” 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Initiatives: Melissa Etheredge joins Coloradans in Likely Approval of Legal Weed

Colorado voters may make that state the first jurisdiction to fully legalize marijuana since cannabis in all forms was prohibited almost a century ago.

Not just medical marijuana.  Not just industrial hemp.

But good old-fashioned Weed.

Current polls in Colorado show that 50% of the public support the initiative (known as Amendment 64), while 40% oppose and 10% are undecided.

Adding a last minute push behind the measure is singer-songwriter Melissa Etheredge, who released a YouTube ad yesterday in support of legalizing marijuana.

Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer in October, 2004 and underwent chemotherapy. The singer made a memorable appearance in early 2005 at the Grammy Awards, where, bald from the chemotherapy  treatment, she performed a cover of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart." In a 2009 CNN interview with Anderson Cooper, Etheridge said she instantly noticed a difference in her pain after using marijuana.
Etheredge says,

 "The nauseous, the pain, it was terrible.  Prescription drugs were not helping. The only thing that allowed me to function and regain my strength was marijuana and I'm grateful for the relief it provided me. You know before I needed to use marijuana I just accepted the laws that treated marijuana users as criminals. But it's funny how a serious illness can give you a new outlook on life…I now see that it's wrong to arrest adults for using marijuana and it's even more wrong to allow gangs and cartels to profit from selling marijuana. Instead we should allow adults to possess limited amounts of marijuana and we should regulate marijuana sales in order to generate tax revenues for public schools construction and other community needs. To me, regulating marijuana is simply the right thing to do. Please vote yes on Amendment 64."

Proposals to fully legalize marijuana are also on the ballot in Washington state and Oregon.
  Police chiefs from all three states are frantically seeking to involve U S Attorney Eric Holder in the campaigns to oppose the measures, but so far Holder has been silent on all three.

Since marijuana is illegal under federal law, it is unclear what effect the ballot measures will have, even if passed.  The Obama administration has actually accelerated raids on state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries in California and Montana, but growing public support for legalization is now fairly significant on the east and west coasts and in the western mountain states.