15 September 2013

The Climate Change Debate Rages On

Hello again, fellow weather and climate enthusiasts. It has been awhile since you all have heard from me. I took a break from writing this summer, but as classes have started back up, so has my desire to continue this blog.

I may have taken a break but climate change sure hasn't!

There have been many terrifying, and awe-inspiring, weather events that occurred over the summer and are still raging on.

There was the EF5 tornado that killed 7 school children in the town of Moore, OK on May 20th.

"Homes damaged by Monday's tornado are shown Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Moore, Okla. A huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)"

Flooding was an ongoing issue this summer. The death toll from flash-flooding in Colorado is still rising. CNN reports that there are 6 people presumed dead and another 482 people still unaccounted for!!

A year's worth of rain totals in just one day!! Yikes!

There were horrific wildfires this summer as well. You might argue that fire is not a weather event.

However, sometimes weather is the start of these fires. A lightning strike can set dry brush or a tree on fire, thus sparking a spreading wildfire. Also, the weather plays a large role in how the fire spreads. The rainfall, or lack thereof, determines what kind of fuel the fire has and the winds can help drive the flames and make a bad situation worse.

I plan to cover the topic of how wildfires are a weather event in a future post.

As you can see, here in the States it has not been a quiet summer...

Now, on the heels of these events and with talks of what the winter will bring, the United Nations is about to release a report on climate change.

The New York Times had some interesting things to say about the report. The article,
A Climate Alarm, Too Muted for Some states that there are two fights brewing. 

1. "Mainstream science" believes that if we keep burning fossil fuels at this rate then the polar ice will keep melting. This means "the ocean could rise as much as three feet by the year 2100". There is some "outlier science" that believes the problem to be worse, with the rising waters possibly reaching five feet.

The argument: the report will use the lower number, as the "outlier science" was deemed not credible.

2. "Mainstream science" believes that when the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles, which is very possible, the Earth's temperature will eventually rise at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but more likely by 5 degrees. Now, the "outlier science" in this case believes that the temperature may rise to a number well below 3 degrees.

The argument: The report will use the lower number, as the "outlier science" was deemed credible.

Um? Wait... how is the extreme not credible in one case but credible in the other? Awfully convenient that the "credible" numbers are the conservative estimate in both scenarios.

The New York Times goes on to say that climate change skeptics usually accuse these periodic U.N. reports as using the skewed data to make the issue seem worse than it is. It seems this time the report is going to go the other way. Is it now too conservative?

The article does point out that we are not climatologists and that these two issues are vastly different. We need to rely on the scientists to interpret the data for us, even when the results don't make sense.

The group of scientists writing this report is one that I trust: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They are Nobel Prize winners after all.

The Times also points out that the report isn't finished. The information about these two arguments came from a leaked draft of the report. The published report could read very differently.

I agree with journalist Justin Gillis when he writes, "Assuming these decisions withstand final review, it will be fascinating to hear the detailed explanations in Stockholm."

This issue is so complex and there are scientists on both extremes of the issue, and some in the middle. It is very hard to decide just where the truth lies.

At least it seems that we are all finally in agreement on one thing though: climate change is real and it is happening now.

Now if only we could firmly agree on why...

I'm not sure I even care about the predictions on how serious the effects will be. 

How about, instead of arguing over a few feet or degrees, we start focusing on how to STOP the oceans and the temperatures from rising?

I'm no scientist, but that sounds pretty important to me...

14 May 2013

Attack of the Lake Ice!

Did you hear about the ice in Minnesota? Pretty crazy!

If you didn't, here is what happened.

Lake Mille Lacs (pronounced Mill Lax) is a popular vacation spot in Minnesota and on its banks is the Izatys Resort. It was here, and other areas of the shoreline, that watched helplessly as ice crept up onto the shore and toward the buildings.

This event occurred because of 30-40 mph winds on the lake that drove the ice ashore. An article on CNN,
'Ice tsunamis' sweep into homes by Brad Lendon, broke it down for us.

There are large blocks of ice out toward the middle of the lake. Strong winds start pushing them toward shore. As they approach they act like bulldozers, pushing smaller bits of ice in front of them. As the bulldozing blocks of ice approach the shore they push the gathered ice up onto land. The ice keeps comin' until the the large blocks are stopped, or the wind stops. 

Pretty creepy to watch!

I had never heard of this before, and it is pretty interesting. Definitely something I would like to see for myself someday!

07 May 2013

Adapting To Climate Change In Europe

For those of you who didn't know, I currently reside on the northeast coast of the United States. Because of that, the bulk of my posts deal with weather in the U.S. There have been a few posts where I ventured outside of my home country, like in When Lightning Strikes the Vatican and Earth Hour - Turn Off Your Lights!. Today, a recently published article in The Guardian caught my eye.

The Guardian is a U.K. based news organization and Fiona Harvey is an environmental correspondent who writes for the site.

The article that caught my attention is Adapt faster to changing climate, Europe warned, written by Ms. Harvey. It has been awhile since I wrote about climate change, so I thought I would bring this article to your attention. It is interesting even if you don't live in Europe!

Remember when I talked about storm surge in Let's Talk Hurricanes...? Storm surges are the large waves of water forced up onto land by a  hurricane as it approaches from the sea. Shallow coastlines are particularly susceptible to damage as the water rushes up onto the shore and spreads out. Most coastal flooding is due to storm surge.

This article suggests that coastal areas in Europe should consider building more flood barriers to protect against storm surge. There is already one such barrier along the River Thames. This flood barrier is really quite remarkable!

There are sections of the gate across a part of the river. Some sections don't allow for water traffic to pass through them. Other sections have a gate that rests on the river bend and then rotates up to create a barrier in the river. These walls prevent water from rushing too far down the river and flooding London.

The UK Environment Agency also has a great video on their site that explains how the barrier works in more detail.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) is "a major information source for those involved in developing, adopting, implementing and evaluating environmental policy, and also the general public" that currently works with 32 countries. It has a site, partnered with the European Commission, called the European Climate Adaptation Platform (CLIMATE-ADAPT) and is all about helping Europe adapt to climate change. This is where the recent report about preparation and adaptation came from.

Like the U.S.'s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the EEA has also acknowledged that effects of climate change can be seen and felt, and that adaptation is necessary.The EEA is also in agreement that there will be more and worse storms, flooding, droughts and so on. Already areas in southern Europe are seeing less rainfall and increased rainfall in areas of Northern Europe.

The average temperature has risen.

The building of more flood barriers is only one of many recommendations made by the agency. They also suggested changes to be made in agriculture (crops and farming methods) and policy. It also suggested other measures to be taken, like early warning systems.

There are also other areas in Europe with movable flood gates. The Netherlands has a series of storm barriers called the Delta Works, or Deltawerken.

These barriers, and others that have already been built, weren't in response to climate change specifically, but they do represent a means of protection against some of the effects.

As you can see, the United States are not the only ones who are actively pursuing adaptation as a means of dealing with climate change. Sometimes we forget that other places in the world are going through the same difficulties as us.

Climate change doesn't care where you live, what religion you practice, or how much money you make. It is everywhere.

Climate change is global.

Different areas will have to make different changes but we will ALL need to adapt.

06 May 2013

How To Handle A Hurricane

If you were adventurous and read my post, Let's Talk Hurricanesthen you already know quite a bit about them. What I didn't discuss was how to prepare for one and what to do during a storm. So, let's talk about that now, shall we?

The first thing to understand is the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning. The American Red Cross explains that a hurricane watch means that within 48 hours meteorologists expect hurricane conditions to reach that area. Once that time period becomes 36 hours, until hurricane conditions arrive, the watch becomes a warning.

The National Weather Service tells us that a watch means we should 'be on guard'! Keep an eye on the weather reports, go over your emergency plans with your family, and get ready! Then the warning means "this is it, get ready 'cause here it comes"!

There is plenty to do to prepare before any hurricane watches or warnings. Like I have mentioned in my other posts about preparing for bad weather, How To Prepare For Tornado Season and Flooding - It Could Happen To You, it is essential that your household have a family communications plan and an emergency kit., a preparation and information site managed by FEMA, can walk you through creating your own kit and developing your communications plan.

There are three main areas we are going to focus on in this post: preparing for the storm, what to do during the storm, and recovering from the storm. I gathered information from three sources to present to you: American Red Cross, National Hurricane Center/NOAA, and

Before a storm

  • Develop a family communications plan.
  • Build your emergency kit.
  • Find out if your home is in an area that is vulnerable to wind, flood, and/or storm surge.
  • Find out if there are any levees or dams that could affect your residence.
  • Be prepared to have to cover your windows. This may mean installing storm shutters or just having plywood on hand to cover the windows. Tape will not prevent your windows from breaking! 
  • Consider installing straps to your roof! Let walk you through it!
  • Trimming trees and bushes around the house will make them more wind resistant, and take off dead or dying limbs that may come down during high winds.
  • Make sure rain gutters and downspouts are clear!
  • Consider reinforcing your garage door. Wind inside a garage can do some expensive structural damage!
  • Make sure you have a place to bring in any outdoor items, such as patio furniture and garbage cans. Anything that can't be secured outside must come inside!
  • Consider purchasing a generator.

Storm is coming!

  • Listen for updates and information from the National Weather Service & FOLLOW ALL INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN!
  • Secure items outside and bring in anything that cannot be tied down.
  • Close hurricane shutters and doors, or place plywood over the windows and doors.
  • In case the power goes out, turn your refrigerator and freezer all the way up and try to open them as little as possible. This way, if the power does go out, your food will stay cooler for longer.
  • Make sure your car's gas tank is full.
  • Unplug all the small appliances and shut off the propane tank, if you have one.
  • Fill the bath tub and other containers with water, so that you have water to flush the toilet, or to wash with.
  • Review your communications plan, and ready your emergency kit!
  • Consider evacuation if:
    • the authorities tell you to leave the area.
    • you live in a mobile home, or other unstable structure.
    • you live above the 10th floor of a building.
    • you live in an area prone to flooding, such as the coast or a flood plain.

Storm is here!

  • If you didn't evacuate:
    • Stay inside and away from windows and doors!
    • Close the doors INSIDE your home!
    • Like with a tornado, stay in an interior room on the lowest floor of the home and take cover under a sturdy object like a table.
  • Try not to use your phone, unless it's an emergency, of course.
  • Be on the alert for tornadoes. As we learned in my post, Let's Talk Hurricanes..., the spiral rain bands can spawn tornadoes.
  • Don't be fooled by the eye of the storm! It may seem like it's over, but it's not. Once the eye passes the hurricane winds will come back at full force!

After the storm

  • Keep listening, or watching, for weather reports and updates.
  • Be on the alert for possible flooding even after the storm has passed.
  • If you evacuated, don't return until an official has told you it is safe to do so.
  • Try to stay off the roads, but if you must drive go slow and avoid flooded or washed out roads and bridges.
  • Keep a look out for downed power lines. If spotted, stay away from them and report them to the power company.
  • Take pictures of any damages to your home or belongings, for insurance purposes.
  • If the power is out use flashlights, DO NOT USE CANDLES. (This is a new one for me! We always lit candles when I was a kid, but then again we had bad snowstorms, not hurricanes.)
  • Don't drink the water until you know that it is safe.
  • Throw out any spoiled food, and remember, better safe than sorry. Trust me, not much is worse than food poisoning!
  • Again, stay off the phone.
  • Make sure you be careful, and protect your pets!

Feel free to check out all three websites that I used, for more information. Hurricane season is coming, so we might as well start getting ready!

Thanks for reading and be safe!

05 May 2013

Flooding in the Last Five Years: 2010

About a week ago I put up the first post in a series of five about flooding. That one was titled Flooding in the Last Five Years: 2009 and recapped the major flooding events that year. I also gave the total cost of damages and lives lost do to flooding. There were about 8 major events, with 51 deaths and just over a billion in damages that year.

Now, let's take a look at what the year 2010 brought us, in terms of flooding. I am pulling information from a yearly report provided by The National Weather Service/NOAA. There you can find more information about the year and each of the events.


  • March: Flooding in much of the Northeast due to an early thaw. First, in parts of New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts the snow melted right before a large rain storm. This over saturation caused flooding. Then a couple weeks later the snow in New Hampshire and Vermont melted, this added more water to already swollen rivers in Massachusetts. This month saw some serious flooding, especially in New Jersey's Passaic River Basin.

    The damages for the month totaled $330 million over the four states. Amazingly, there were no flood-related deaths.

  • May: Heavy rainfall causes flooding in Tennessee and Kentucky. Rainfall records were broken, and many rivers also rose to record heights. This flooding cost $2.3 BILLION and 26 lives were lost.

A tanker truck is pushed against trees after being washed away, 
Sunday, May 2, 2010 in Nashville, Tenn.
 (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • June: Flash flooding due to storms in Texas and Arkansas. This flooding caused towns to be evacuated in Texas. In Arkansas, campers by the Little Missouri River were wakened by flash flooding. This was another deadly event with 20 deaths and 26 people injured. This storm cost $9 million in damages.

    A second flooding event occurred in June, when a storm dumped heavy rains on Oklahoma City. The timing of the storm during and right before rush hour caused many vehicles to become stuck in the waters. There were 130 injuries, one death and and about $6 million in damages.

Search for Flood Survivors
Photograph by Sue Ogrocki, AP

  • July: The first of four flood events this month was in Alaska. Flooding from a storm caused washouts and mudslides. In Alaska, flash floods are rare, but they did occur with this storm. One person lost his or her life. The report did not list the amount of damages associated with this particular event.

    The second episode of flooding occurred in Iowa. Technically, the event started in June with many heavy rain storms. So, in late July, the ground couldn't hold any more water and the next round of storms caused flooding. This severely damaged the corn and soybean crop. There were no deaths or serious injuries reported, but there was about $50 million in property damages and an estimated $1 billion in agricultural damage.

Then, in Wisconsin, again the rains in June set up the scenario where the rains in July couldn't be absorbed, leading to flooding there as well. There was one death reported and about $27.7 million in damages.

The fourth notable flood event in July occurred in Texas along the Rio Grande. It started with the remnants of Hurricane Alex, and then Tropical Depression #2 pushed the river over the edge. The flooding lasted for about the entire month of July! The President declared many counties in the Rio Grande Valley as areas of Major Disaster. There were three deaths and over $110 million in damages.

KXAN - Jim Spencer/blog
  • September: Flooding in Texas and Oklahoma occurred due to Tropical Storm Hermine. There was $29 million in damages and six deaths.

  • September/October: Remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole met up with a low front, which led to intense rainfall and flooding along the Eastern Seaboard. It affected North Carolina's mainland and Outer Banks, the Catskills of New York, and parts of Pennsylvania. This storm also caused damage to crops, so the totals were $20 million in property damages, $70 million in agricultural damages and seven fatalities.

Well, looks like another bad year for flooding! Unlike 2009, we saw some serious flooding due to tropical storms.

So let's review the totals! Using the same chart as in the last post, provided in the report by the NWS, there were a total of 112 flood-related deaths and $5,041,227 in damages.

The amount in damages in 2010 was over 5 times the amount in 2009! And, over double the amount of fatalities!


Next in this series of posts we will examine 2011 in this same format. I know 2011 saw Hurricane Irene...

Then there was Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but Water Year 2012  runs October 1st 2011-September 30th
2012, so Hurricane Sandy will actually be included in the 2013 Water Year evaluation.

Looking ahead makes me think that these numbers are going to get worse, before they get better.

So, stay tuned for the third post in this five-part series about Flooding the the Last Five Years.

03 May 2013

Let's Talk Hurricanes...

Well, there is less than a month left before the start of the Atlantic hurricane season. The season begins June 1st and ends November 30th. There is already a lot of talk about what this season will have in store for us.

The last couple years have been tough for those of us on the East Coast with Hurricane Irene and Sandy. Down south in Texas, Hurricane Ike in 2008 made landfall and wreaked havoc across the Midwest. I am sure we all remember Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I live nowhere near New Orleans, I haven't even been there before, but I know I will always remember that storm and the devastation it caused.

There is so much to discuss when it comes to hurricanes. What are they and how do they form? How does that category system work? Who names them?

How bad will the 2013 hurricane season be?

I will try to answer all these questions, so be prepared for a longer blog post than my usual!

So, let's start at the beginning, how hurricanes form. According to one site I found helpful, these storms always start over the ocean. This is also where they gather their strength. The water temperature at the surface has to be at least 79 or 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to get the circular motion of a hurricane the Coriolis Effect has to take place.

At first, the Coriolis Effect confused me but then I watched the video below. Basically, the spinning of the Earth causes the wind to curve. Wind travels from high pressure areas to low pressure areas. It would do this in a straight line, but since the Earth is rotating, it causes the wind to curve to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere.

NASA explains that these winds need to stay pretty stable as they rise higher into the atmosphere. The winds need to remain at a pretty consistent speed and direction. If they start to change speeds or directions as they rise higher and higher, the winds "can rip storms apart".

NASA's SpacePlace expands on the process a bit. The moisture-filled warm air over the surface of the ocean starts to rise. There is now less air above the ocean, so this becomes an area of low pressure. High pressure likes to move into areas of low pressure, so it swoops down and adds more air above the ocean. The new air starts to heat and rise like the air before it, allowing more of the high pressure air to swoop in. The cycle continues.

All that warm air rises up and up eventually cools and forms clouds. More and more clouds form and the winds start blowing in a circular motion because of the Coriolis Effect. The clouds and wind create that tell-tale hurricane shape.

Below is a picture that shows areas where conditions are often perfect for storms to form and grow. They tend to start at the base of the white lines and then travel toward the arrows.

Places where conditions are right for hurricane formation.
So, out in the ocean we have a stretch of nice warm water. Storm clouds start building, causing a tropical disturbance. As the storm builds bigger and bigger, the winds start rotating faster and faster, the thunderstorm becomes a tropical depression with winds up to 38 miles per hour (mph).

If the winds continue to build and reach 39 mph it then becomes a tropical storm. Once the winds hit 74 mph it becomes a hurricane. It's all about the speed of the wind.

As the winds move faster the storm becomes more defined as illustrated in the picture below.

Picture from NASA's archives
Ok, now that we know how hurricanes form let's take a look at the different parts of the storm. We will work from the inside out.
In the center of the storm is the eye. When you look at pictures of hurricanes it looks like a hole. In the eye there are little to no clouds and only light winds. This area is created by the air at the center sinking down and tends to be about 12 to 40 miles wide. When the eye is very visible and clearly defined it means this is a strong storm, or one that is growing stronger. If the eye is weak, or less defined, the storm is probably weak or weakening. An eye that is hard to find could also mean that it is covered by clouds, which may lead a person to think that it is a weak storm when it is actually a strong storm.

Pictures from University Corporation for Atmospheric 
Research - Hurricane Features

Another image from UCAR - Hurricane Features
The next part is the eye wall. The wall consists of the strongest thunderstorms that rotate around the eye. This is where you will find the heaviest winds.

The third part of the storm are the spiral rain bands. The rain bands are clouds that extend (spiral) out from the eye wall for up to 300 kilometers, or almost 200 miles, and make up the bulk of the hurricane. These bands are storms that cause lightning and tornadoes.

Finally, the last part of the storm is the rain shield. ThinkQuest explains that the rain shield are areas of intense rain in the storm that are solid, or almost solid. The closer you get to the eye the stronger the rains.

The rain shield provides the majority of the rains, and the spiral rain bands bring the lightning and tornadoes.

Got it?

A friend asked me the other day to also explain the difference between hurricanes and typhoons. The only difference is where you live! UCAR explains that,
In North America, we call a storm that results from these conditions a hurricane. In other parts of the world, a hurricane is known by other names, including "typhoon" in the Western North Pacific and "tropical cyclone" in the Indian Ocean and the Western South Pacific.
Alright, so now we know how these storms form and the different parts that make up the storm. But, how do they get their names?

Sometimes there is more than one hurricane in existence at a time, often in different stages of development. Names help distinguish between the storms.

Jennie Cohen, of the History Channel, explains in her article, Why Do Hurricanes Have Names?, that people were naming storms in the 1900's by describing that storm. She gives the following examples, "the Great Hurricane of 1722, the Galveston Storm of 1900, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and the Big Blow of 1913".

Then in the late 1900's an Australian weatherman, Clement Wragge, started naming storms using "the Greek alphabet and characters from Greek and Roman mythology". He then switched to using the names of politicians he didn't really care for. This, not surprisingly, didn't catch on.

Then the U.S. Navy started to name the storms after wives and girlfriends back home during World War II. This then changed to storms being named using the military alphabet. Since, there are only 26 letters in the alphabet the National Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) ran out of names.

AAlphaAl fahNNovemberNo vem ber
BBravoBrah vohOOscarOss cah
CCharlieChar leePPapaPah pah
DDeltaDell tahQQuebecKeh beck
EEchoEck ohRRomeoRow me oh
FFoxtrotFoks trotSSierraSee air rah
GGolfGolfTTangoTang go
HHotelHoh tellUUniformYou nee form
IIndiaIn dee ahVVictorVik tah
JJulietJew lee ettWWhiskeyWiss key
KKiloKey lohXX-RayEcks ray
LLimaLee mahYYankeeYang key
MMikeMikeZZuluZoo loo

In 1954, the NWS started giving the storms women's names. Other countries followed suit, because at that time the U.S. was the leader in tracking storms.

Enter the women's rights movement. In the early 1970's famous activist, Roxcy Bolton, spoke against the NWS' system, stating 'women are not disasters, destroying life and communities and leaving a lasting and devastating effect'.

A few years later the system of two lists, one of men's names and one of women's names, were developed and are rotated year to year. Today, we have six lists for Atlantic storms that are rotated. There are other lists for other parts of the world too.

When a storm is notably destructive, like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Andrew, those names are "retired" and taken off of the rotation. Below are the names for the next six years, supplied by The National Hurricane Center (NOAA):

2013     2014     2015     2016     2017     2018

As you can see, names like Irene and Sandy are no longer in the rotation. When a name is retired, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) decides what name to add to the list.

I am still waiting for Hurricane Nyssa...

Now, let's talk about the different categories of hurricanes and the damage that they cause. Like I mentioned above, the rating system, Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Intensity Scale, uses wind speed to rate storms on a scale of 1 to 5. The links under the Damage column below will take you to the UCAR COMET description of the damages caused by each category. I am also going to provide this information below, after the chart.

Wind Speed  km/hr         mi/hr
Storm Surge   m          ft
  119-154      74-95  
1-2       4-5
  155-178      96-1102-3       6-8
  179-210     111-1303-4       9-12
  211-250     131-1554-6      13-18
      >250          >155>6       >18

Here are the descriptions of each damage category from the National Hurricane Center, which is part of The National Weather Center, which is in turn part of NOAA.

  • Category 1 - Very dangerous winds will produce some damage: Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.
    Category 2 - Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.
  • Category 3 - Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof, decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.  
  • Category 4 - Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
  • Category 5 - Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
While wind is very dangerous it is not the only damaging aspect of a hurricane. As the storm approaches the coast from over the ocean, it is pushing ocean water along with it. This "mound" of water is storm surge. Storm surge is what causes most the major flooding and damage on the coast. Different types of coasts are affected differently. The UCAR site has a great graphic to demonstrate the difference.

The graphic on the left shows what happens with a shallow coastline. This is coastline with those nice beaches we all enjoy, like the Jersey Shore and the Gulf Coast. As you can see the water continues moving up onto the beach and spreads out.

The graphic on the right demonstrates storm surge with a deep coastline. Coastline like this can be found in areas of New England. The surge rises up, but not always over, the top of the coast line. The water disperses back into the ocean instead of spreading out along ground. 

Other factors play a role in storm surge, like the moon, which played a large role in Hurricane Sandy. 

Lastly, let's take a look at five predictions for the Atlantic 2013 hurricane season. Once the season is over, I plan to come back and review these predictions in an end-of-the-season post.

  1. Meteorologists from Colorado State University, Philip J. Klotzbach and William M. Gray 
     - Season should be very active.
     - Chances of a major hurricane (category 3 or above) landing on the U.S. coast are above average at     72 percent.
     - Predicting "18 named storms, nine hurricanes, and four major hurricanes".*
  2. WeatherBell Analytics (a meteorological consulting firm)
     - Season will be normal to above normal.
     - Predicting 16 named storms, 12 hurricanes, and five major hurricanes.*
  3. North Carolina State University's Coastal Fluid Dynamics Lab
     - Season will be above average.
     - Predicting 19 to 28 named storms, 10 to 15 hurricanes, and four to nine major hurricanes.*
  4. The Weather Channel - Hurricane Central
     - Season will be active and above average.
     - Predicting 16 named storms, nine hurricanes, and five major hurricanes.
  5. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center  - Accuweather
     - Season will be above normal.
     - Predicting 12 to 18 named storms, six to ten hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes.
*This is in contrast to an average season of "12 named storms, 6.5 hurricanes, and two major hurricanes." 

One thing to note about the predicted number of storms, it doesn't mean all of them will hit land! We may see 15 hurricanes but with only one actually affecting us!

The scientists may be predicting how many storms will form, but they can't predict exactly where they will form or the paths they may take.

How do meteorologists come up with these predictions? Good question!

They consider data from past years, weather phenomena like El Nino, and other factors.  According to The Weather Channel, one such factor is the rising temperature of the surface water in the Atlantic ocean. We already learned that hurricanes loooooove warm water!

On the other hand, El Nino can actually lessen the severity of the hurricane season. El Nino is a weather event that I will cover in more detail in another post. For now, what we need to know is that El Nino brings cooler temperatures (bad for hurricanes) and strong wind shear (also bad for hurricanes!).

That being said, it doesn't look like El Nino will be happening this year...

Any way, with the consensus being that hurricane season 2013 will be above average we should all prepare for these storms. Since this post is already quite lengthy (a huge thank you to those of you who made it this far!) I will discuss hurricane preparedness in a separate post.

While I, personally, agree with the experts that this will be a very active season, I also hope that we don't see many of the storms make landfall.

We will see...

29 April 2013

Flooding in the Last Five Years: 2009

With the recent flooding in the Midwest, I thought it would be interesting to look at flooding in the United States over the last five years. I did some research into different areas that flooded, how badly, and how much did it cost. At first I was going to put all five years into one post, but it was turning out to be longer than I thought! I have decided to run this topic over a few postings. Here is the first.


Flooded homes, fields, and roads are shown from the air Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 near Chehalis, Wash.

Elsie, one of two Stensgard family dogs, sands on the earthen and sandbag dike surrounding the Stensgard home, not pictured, which overlooks a flooded outbuilding as the Red River continues to rise, Wednesday, March 25, 2009 in Fargo, N.D. Due to the flooding, the Stensgard home can only be reached by boat. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • April: Flooding in the Red River Valley in Oklahoma and Texas, due to a large storm system. Flash flooding also occurred in Kansas and Missouri because of thunderstorms. About $42.9 million in damages and five lives lost.

Flooding in Claremore May 1, 2009 (Courtesy of, Randy Lane)

  • May: Flood in Alaska due to ice jam. As the snow and ice from the winter melts pieces of ice break off and float down stream. They can jam together and block the waterway, leading to flooding in the area. A large jam caused "the worst flooding in recorded history" on the Yukon River in Eagle, Alaska. There were no deaths and about $29 million in damages.

Yukon River flood damage, May 2009. The river rose to 20 feet above flood level. Downtown Eagle waterfront looking East. Uploaded by AlaskaMark

  • June: Flash flooding in Wisconsin was caused by a band of thunderstorms. Each storm dumped a large amount of water in a short period of time. There was about 25.6 million in damages and no flood-related deaths.
A second flood event occurred in Michigan. Flash flooding due to storms caused 41.3 million more in damages. No deaths occurred due to this event either. 

  • August: There was flooding due to heavy rains in Kentucky and part of Indiana. Luckily, there were no lives lost, but there was about $45.3 million in damages. The rate of rainfall was amazing; "rainfall rates up to 8.8 inches per hour were reported"!


  • September: A large storm system across parts of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South and North Carolina stalled and rained for days. This was by far the worst flooding of the year, with 11 deaths and over $250 million in damages.

These were just the worst flood events of the year. The National Weather Service reported that the total deaths and damages were much higher than the totals of the numbers above. There is a chart in the NWS report that includes deaths and damages in all 50 states, plus Washington D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands, and America Samoa. The total number of lives lost due to flood in 2009 was 51 and the damages totaled just over a billion at $1,000,026.

This seems like a lot to me! Maybe this was a bad year for floods... or maybe this is the norm?

Next time I will look the major floods and total damages in 2010. Then for the next year and so on...

By the end of this series of posts, I think we will have a better idea of the flood trends that are happening currently. And, we may then better understand the risk of flooding in our country, and the damages it causes us.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the second installment, Flooding in the Last Five Years: 2010.