Thursday, June 27, 2013

Katie Couric interviews Red Cross on surviving in place

Today, Katie Couric, on her ABC syndicated show, presented several wilderness survival stories, but followed up with a meeting with a Red Cross spokesperson. Sam Killie, to go over the contents of a home “go bag” and evacuation plans. 
The link for the presentation is here. It is called "The Ultimate Survival Guide". 

Every family or household should have one, he said.

He recommended having at least one crank radio, which could power cell phones and other devices.
He recommended a week of non-perishable food and water bottles.

Carry cash, and essential personal documents or copies (live driver’s license, ownership documents, especially insurance documents).

The biggest issue is that many people don’t have a survival plan at all.

A serious issue for people is loss of work or personal materials, the labor or effort associated with it not being insurable (see the “BillBoushka” blog, May 28, 2013).  Part of the strategy is to store data and some equipment in multiple locations, possibly an office, storage lockers, or safe deposit box, and in the Cloud.
In a really catastrophic emergency, insurance may not be effective at first, and people really will be in the same boat, equalized, forced to start over.  Could all the mechanisms of our civilization fail, as with an EMP attack (short of a nuclear attack), an asteroid hit, a super tsunami (as on the East Coast from the Canary Island Cunbre Vieja volcanco avalanche, etc).  This sort of possibility makes an issue out of “social capital”. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

ABC affiliate WJLA: "Surviving Severe Weather"

On Friday, June 21, 2013, ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington DC (actually Rosslyn in Arlington, VA) ran a one-hour special “Surviving Severe Weather” with Brian Van der Graaf, Adam Caskey, and Doug Hill.

The special emphasized the severe weather risks that are more likely in the Washington DC Metro area, and surrounding country from the mountains to the beaches.
The program opened with the severe weather outbreaks that had occurred just a week ago, three of them.

Early, the program covered the big derecho on June 29, 2012.  We had a small, low-end derecho in northern MD Thursday June 13.  A derecho usually starts in the mid-west and can survive the journey across the mountains when the air in the East us very hot and very humid, even without a strong cold front or organized low pressure. 

They did cover the huge tornadoes in Oklahoma in May  Large tornadoes (or anything above F-1) are rare in the DC area, but could increase with global warming.  An F4 tornado occurred in the mountains in Frostburg MD in 1998, and in La Plata MD (in southern MD, in low country near the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay) in 2002.
Adam Caskey showed a demonstration on the ability of houses to withstand 130 mph winds.  One house in Richburg SC blows away, and the next one has little damage.  They recommend hurricane straps to attach roofs, and certain kinds of nails.  Homes should be routinely built to withstand winds up to 110 mph with little damage. 

In the DC area, many thunderstorm complexes move gradually from SW to NE, and tend to split into distinct sections when hitting the highest, central section of the Blue Ridge (over 4000 feet), about 90 miles directly SW of DC.  The most severe storms seem to go through Harper’s Ferry Gap or the W Va Panhandle into Frederick and northern Montgomery counties and then over into Howard County and toward Baltimore.  The other branch, perhaps even more severe, tend to cross I-95 around Fredericksburg and track into southern Maryland, and game strength from warm water in the Potomac and Chesapeake.  Storms closer to DC may tend to be a little less severe because of the location relative to higher mountains.  But sometimes the mountains can create severe storms (without a line coming from the west), when there is a lot of moisture from the SE that can’t get over the mountains, and then cold air hits it.  In those cases, weather right in DC may be more severe.

A fit adult human being can walk pretty easily in winds over 70 mph, but not 90 mph.  (In nature, animals deal better with storms than do plants.)   Adam Caskey generated the University of Maryland test center that generates 115 mph winds. Later, Caskey demonstrated an experiment creating hailstones in a lab. 

The program moved on to lightning detection.  It covered lightning strikes happening suddenly to people.
I remember the day of Hurricane Sandy.  The highest winds came around 8 PM, and were not as bad as expected, maybe 65 mph at the treetops 75 feet up.  During the storm, pain in an arthritic hip disappeared, and did not come back.  I think low pressure is good for joint problems.  (Washington Nationals's Bryce Harper, take notice.  Prolonged exposure to a severe storm's low pressure will probably help your bursitis.)  
There was little damage, but a few strategic fallen trees on 16th St in Arlington knocked out power in Westover for two days.
Tornado potential has increased east of the Appalachians, particularly from Richmond south and in the coastal plain areas.   This could be because of global warming, or because of improved forecasting.
Tornadoes can develop very suddenly.  So far, sudden development of wide tornadoes has not happened much in the East the way it has in the Plains.  Cooler weather in April and May can delay the tornado season, but make it more severe when it comes.  The program says that the most severe weather in DC occurs in June and July, mostly from little microbursts from "cold fronts" but not from organized outbreaks.  Severe weather in the midwest and Southeast is likely to occur earlier. 

Late in the program, a storm chaser explained the El Reno OK tornado on May 31, 2013, which killed a storm chaser because it went in an unusual direction (to the SE), and exploded from a half mile wide to 2-1/2 miles in 30 seconds, with 296 mph winds at one point.  Fortunately, most of that was over unpopulated areas, but people were killed driving on I-40.

I can remember being caught in severe weather when driving a few times.  I saw a  small tornado from Rt 9  (crossing it) driving west from Rehoboth Beach in August, 2001; it missed me by a half mile.   In April 2005, on a Saturday morning, I was caught by a severe storm on I-95 driving south of Ocoquan; it had been cool and cloudy when  I left Arlington.  A tornado was reported near Richmond from that storm.  In August of 2012, I was caught in a prolonged frightening night storm in northeastern Maryland to the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel;  it disappeared south of Baltimore.  NE Maryland gets the jackpot in my experience for exposure to severe weather.  Then, just last Sunday morning (right after midnight), returning from Baltimore gay pride, and driving on 123 toward Glebe Road in Arlington to return, I missed being hit by a falling tree in good weather (weakened two days before) by about three minutes.  I sent a tweet to WJLA on that one.  
People can try to live in safer areas, but almost any area of the country can have some kind of disaster.  Insurance will take care of people and put them into hotels during repairs, but may not be adequate with very widespread disasters, which can become big social equalizers.
I think that the program should also have covered space weather – solar storms. A Carrington-sized coronal mass ejection (from "solar flares") could pose a severe test of the national power grids.   

Saturday, June 01, 2013

PBS Nova: "Oklahoma's Deadliest Tornadoes", about Moore, airs just before the May 31 outbreak

Thursday, May 30, 2013, PBS Nova aired an “emergency” documentary, “Oklahoma’s Deadliest Tornadoes”, after the May 20, 2013 EF5 tornado devastated Moore, OK (fifteen miles south of Oklahoma City on I-35).  The link is here. The documentary aired a day before another major outbreak May 31 (below). 

The film focuses on the science of explaining how tornadoes form so suddenly, and how warnings can be increased, and discussed the lack of basements and storm safe cellars in this part of the country.
The film also traced the history of the 2011 tornado outbreaks that destroyed sections of Tuscaloosa, AL and Joplin MO.  The Joplin tornado formed suddenly, and the Tuscaloosa outbreak resembled one in November, 2002, the “second tornado season”.
On Friday night, May 31, 2013 there was another large outbreak around Oklahoma City (especially El Reno), and another one in Missouri.  CNN gave heavy coverage of what appeared to be a possibly castastrophic storm.  There were fatalities on I-40, but there may have been much less property damage than feared.  But the maps of Oklahoma on Friday night were terrifying, as the storm seemed to form a land hurricane with very low pressure.

Preliminary reports on the May 31 storm suggest that many of the deaths came from people trapped in cars, especially by flood waters.
I went out Friday night to clubs in Washington DC, and found randomly that about one-third of people knew from their smart phones that there was a dangerous storm outbreak in a different part of the country.
On Saturday, CNN continued coverage, and interviewed a woman who had driven from Houston to volunteer in Granbury or Cleburn TX (where some homes built by Habitat for Humanity were destroyed a few weeks ago by an EF-4), and now volunteered in Oklahoma.  The CNN reporter asked her, “don’t a lot of these people want their privacy?  Aren’t they pretty self-reliant”.  She answered that the social climate was friendly to people who really wanted to help – but not everyone really does.  But “it can happen to me.”

CNN says that a tornado warning can leave as little as 13 minutes to act.  If in a car, drive perpendicular to the path, don't try to outrun it.

The National Weather Service had actually issued a "tornado emergency warning" Friday because large tornadoes were approaching heaving populated areas.   
I recall that in some New Jersey shore areas after Sandy, police did not even allow drivers into the areas at all.  It could be hard to help, unless it’s organized.  The same is true of Breezy Point in Far Rockaway in Queens, NYC, where NYPD police have checkpoints.  But that community has made tremendous progress in rebuilding, pretty much on its own.  

Picture: Oklahoma countryside at I-35 rest-stop north of Red River, personal trip, Nov. 2011.  I lived in Dallas from 1979-1988 and am familiar with the whole area in some detail.  I also have ties to Kansas (KU).