4/28/2010

Another forecaster predicts an active hurricane season


The News and Observer of Raleigh reported yesterday that Lian Xie, a professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences at North Carolina State University, is predicting that the 2010 hurricane season will be "unusually active."

Xie (whose last name is pronounced "Shear") forecasts that 15 to 18 named tropical storms will form in the Atlantic Basin between June 1 and November 30. Of those storms, nine to 11 will strengthen into hurricanes with winds of at least 74 mph.

During the past 50 years, an average of about 10 named tropical storms have formed each summer.

Xie and his team of researchers also predict a high likelihood that a hurricane will make landfall somewhere along the southeastern coast of the U.S. The NC State team said the chances are seven in 10 that a hurricane will strike there.

The forecasters also said that there's a better-than-even chance that a major hurricane with winds exceeding 110 mph will make landfall somewhere on the Gulf Coast.

Xie and his researchers based their forecast on 100 years of hurricane data as well as weather patterns and the temperature of water at the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes draw their strength from warm water, and temperatures in the Atlantic Basin -- which includes the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico -- are warmer than usual.

Xie's researchers included NC State professor of statistics Montserrat Fuentes and graduate student Danny Modlin.

The NC State forecast is the second prediction this year for an active hurricane season. Earlier this month, forecasters at Colorado State University predicted that 15 named storms will form this year, with eight of those storms strengthening into hurricanes.

4/20/2010

Iceland's Volcanoes: Where's the WWN When You Need It?

A couple of years ago I bemoaned the demise of The Weekly World News, a supermarket tabloid that was sort of a cross between the Mad magazine that I loved as a kid and the New York Post.

WWN's journalism was a blend of low-brow popular culture, primitive and pervasive human fears, and straight fiction. And I loved it. It was outrageous, unabashed, pseudo-journalism satire.

One of my favorite features in the WWN was the "Satan's Face" photos that showed up every so often. These were photos, usually of storm clouds or billowing smoke, in which you could see some hint of a demonic face. I recall three with captions that read something like "Satan's Face Seen in Hurricane Andrew" and "Satan's Face Seen in Storm Clouds Over Chicago" and "Satan's Face Seen in World Trade Center Fires."

The spectacular photos of the recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland have made me think of the Satan's Face photos in the old WWN. The WWN's strict black-and-white format would have diminished some of the impact of the color photos, but the eruptions would have been a perfect opportunity for the tabloid to speculate about the recurring presence of the Evil One.

So I'm passing along this amazing photo of one of the Iceland volcanoes, along with my sincere admiration of the skill of the photographer who got this spectacular shot. You can see a vague outline of a face -- fiery eyes in the upper right corner, a glowing nose beneath the eyes, and the hint of a mouth.

FYI, lightning often flashes in the clouds that form during an eruption. Scientists are still trying to figure out why this happens. Whatever the reason, the lightning combines with the belching flames to create truly unworldly special effects.


Photo by Jon Pall Vilhelmsson

4/19/2010

April 1935: Administrator seeks hurricane protection for veterans working in Florida Keys


This post is the latest in a series describing the events leading up to the tragedy of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

By mid-April 1935, veterans work camps administrator Fred Ghent was trying to provide hurricane protection for the 600 or so World War I vets building a highway in the Florida Keys as part of a New Deal construction project.

Ghent had lived in Florida since 1925 and was well aware of the death and devastation hurricanes can inflict. Miami had been nearly destroyed in September 1926 by what was then the most powerful hurricane on record. In 1928, an even more powerful storm came ashore at Palm Beach, roared across the Everglades, and shoved a deadly flood out of Lake Okeechobee that killed at least 3,000.

Ghent took over as the administrator in Florida for the federally sponsored work program for veterans on April 1, 1935. On April 9, he sent a letter to Joseph Hyde Pratt, a regional supervisor for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in Atlanta. The start of hurricane season on June 1 was less than two months away, and Ghent knew he had to come up with some way to protect the men living in three work camps on the low-lying Keys.

"We do know . . . that this area is subject to hurricanes, and in view of this knowledge, it is our duty to every man employed on the keys, in connection with this program, to furnish a safe refuge during the storm," Ghent wrote.

Ghent realized the men under his supervision could not stay on the islands if a hurricane came their way. The men were living in small, poorly constructed shacks on the beach, only a foot or two at most above sea level. The shacks wouldn't stand up to even a minimal hurricane.

Soon after he became administrator, Ghent proposed building a large, well-constructed hurricane shelter for the men in the Keys. But that plan was dropped because it was too expensive.

The only alternative was to move the men if a hurricane came their way. But that presented a different set of challenges. Drunkenness was a constant problem among the vets, and Ghent knew the men would be very difficult to control if they were moved even briefly away from the work camps.

"The chief source of all the trouble amongst the veterans seems to be caused by liquor," Lieutenant Colonel M.R. Woodward of the Florida National Guard noted in a memo he wrote on April 8, 1935. National Guard troops had been stationed near the work camps since March 1 after the veterans went on strike demanding better working conditions and improved sanitation in their camps.

But even armed soldiers weren't enough to keep the determined veterans from getting drunk.

"One of the main functions of the Guard is to keep out all illegal shipments of liquor," Woodward wrote. "The veterans resort to drinking shoe polish, hair tonic and other fluids that contain alcohol; this creates a very bad condition when men become intoxicated on these drinks."

Ghent knew that no towns would want the drunken, brawling veterans in their midst during a storm. But he knew he had to do something. He would spend the rest of the summer trying to devise a plan.

NOTE: The map at the top of this post, published in the Miami Daily News in 1935, shows the route of the highway being built by World War I veterans in the Florida Keys.

4/13/2010

Mascot Ice Hockey

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NOTE: The video embed above may be displaying as a black rectangle. But it should still play if you click on the "Start" arrow.

Jane and I recently went to a Carolina Hurricanes' game at the RBC Center in Raleigh. It's been a frustrating year for the 'Canes, especially since they were expecting a good season after making it to the finals of the NHL's Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoffs last year. But they lost to the Buffalo Sabres and later ended the season without qualifying for the playoffs.

Still, the game Jane and I attended had a few moments of fun. The 'Canes were celebrating the 10th birthday of their mascot, Smokey, who is, I think, supposed to be a pig in recognition of North Carolina's tasty, diet-busting barbecue.

Smokey's birthday was celebrated during one of the intermissions with a brief hockey game between teams of mascots assembled for the birthday celebration. I wish my old pals in Florida, Alan Snel and Jeff Houck, could have seen this contest. It reminded me of the days when we watched mascots race around the bases between innings of Florida State League games at Thomas J. White Stadium in Port St. Lucie, Florida. I remember watching one race when we wondered if an especially top-heavy mascot representing Wonder Bread was going to make the turn at third base without toppling into the dugout.

I would have posted this video clip weeks ago, but I've had problems getting it to upload to Blogger. I think I've finally figured it out. Anyway, during this 30-second clip, you can watch the Geico Gecko -- one of the few mascots who could actually skate pretty well -- score a goal. One of the other mascots had an assist on the play, but I couldn't tell which one it was.

So, Al and Jeff, this one's for you.

4/09/2010

CSU Forecasters Predict Active 2010 Hurricane Season


Forecasters at Colorado State University think four major hurricanes with winds exceeding 110 mph will form in the Atlantic Basin during a busy 2010 hurricane season.

CSU meteorologists Phil Klotzbach and William Gray also predict that the coming summer storm season will be much busier than last year. Klotzbach and Gray think eight hurricanes will develop from 15 named storms. The forecasters cite two reasons for a busier-than-average hurricane season -- the dissipation of the El Nino that kept the lid on the 2009 hurricane season and very warm waters in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

About 10 tropical storms with winds of at least 35 mph form in an average hurricane season. About six hurricanes with winds of at least 74 mph form during an average season, and about two of those storms evolve into major hurricanes.

The 2009 season saw nine tropical storms form, with three of those storms developing into hurricanes that spawned two major hurricanes.

An El Nino is a meteorlogical phenomenon that occurs occasionally in the Pacific Ocean off the northwest coast of South America. The event occurs when waters in this part of the Pacific are unusually warm.

When an El Nino forms, it diverts the normal flow of upper-level winds known as the jet stream. This disruption creates strong winds over the Atlantic Basin that disrupt hurricane formation. Gray and Klotzbach noted that the 2009 El Nino reduced tropical cyclone activity to about 70 percent of the average season. The forecasters think the 2010 season will see about 160 percent of the average season.

The CSU team also thinks there's a 69 percent probability that at least one major hurricane will make landfall somewhere on the U.S. Atlantic Coast.

CSU meteorologists, led by Gray, have been issuing preseason hurricane forecasts for 27 years. The forecasters incorporate 58 years of hurricane data into their predictions.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. CSU will issue another seasonal forecast on June 2.