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When Did Irene Stop Being a Hurricane? 426

Posted by timothy
from the anything-with-cliff-mass-is-interesting dept.
jamesl writes "Cliff Mass, a climate researcher at the University of Washington and popular Seattle blogger, asks, 'When did Irene stop being a hurricane? ... there is really no reliable evidence of hurricane-force winds at any time the storm was approaching North Carolina or moving up the East Coast. ... I took a look at all the observations over Virgina, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. Not one National Weather Service or FAA observation location, not one buoy observations, none reach the requisite wind speed. Most were not even close. ... Surely, one of the observations upwind of landfall, over Cape Hatteras or one of the other barrier island locations, indicated hurricane-force sustained winds? Amazingly, the answer is still no.' Cliff supports his statement with data from NOAA/NWS/NDBC presented in easy to understand charts."
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When Did Irene Stop Being a Hurricane?

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  • Re:Who cares... (Score:4, Informative)

    by mellon (7048) on Monday August 29, 2011 @08:03PM (#37248382) Homepage

    Beach houses *did* get washed away; if people had stayed in them, the would have died. Tunnels in New York were flooded; if people had been in them, they would have died. The Hudson came up over its banks. The east river came up over its banks. Yes, the storm surge wasn't as big as anticipated. But measuring this storm by the number of deaths is completely fallacious. If that reasoning made sense, then we would measure the strength of earthquakes by the death toll as well, and earthquakes in countries with no earthquake code would always measure stronger. And then we'd assume that those countries just got stronger quakes, and there was nothing we could do about it.

    The reality is that we, and by we here I specifically mean people tasked with emergency preparedness, cannot predict exactly what effect any given storm will have. All we can do is try to guess accurately, and to make sure that our guess is more pessimistic than any realistic scenario, so that if that scenario happens to be the one that comes to pass, people don't die because we were afraid of over-hyping, and didn't do the prudent thing and evacuate them to higher ground.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 29, 2011 @09:56PM (#37249290)

    Taking names and other identifying info of people who won't evacuate is pretty standard procedure in places that see a lot of tropical weather and has been for a long time. Even though refusing a mandatory evacuation is illegal, there's no time to arrest people, and that doesn't do any good anyway. This procedure provides a record of the last whereabouts of people who go missing later. Also, it drives home the message that nobody's going to come risk their lives to save you if you choose to be stupid. Police do some shady things, especially these days, but this isn't usually one of them.

  • Re:Who cares... (Score:4, Informative)

    by adamfranco (600246) <adam@nOSpam.adamfranco.com> on Monday August 29, 2011 @10:06PM (#37249348) Homepage

    It wasn't much of a storm. people from Vermont just don't know how to respond to a Hurricane. It was barely a Category 1. Let a 3-4 roll through, and then come back and try to tell me Irene was a bad storm. I've slept through worse.

    We didn't have bad winds here in Vermont, but 10" of rain in several hours caused flash floods 7 or 8 times the volume of normal spring flooding. Almost every major road in the state has been washed out in at least one place and there are dozens of bridges gone or damaged. See: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20110829/NEWS02/110829007/Governor-Vermont-seeing-worst-flooding-century [burlingtonfreepress.com]

    As one example, my local New Haven River normally flows at ~200 cubic-feet/second (cfs) through the summer and winter and floods to 2,000-3,000 cfs each spring. Last night it flash flooded to 20,000 cfs [usgs.gov] and took out several sections of roads and bridges. In southern VT, the Williams river flashed from 80 cfs to 50,000 cfs [usgs.gov] (normal spring flooding of 5,000-8,000 cfs).

    I live on a hill, so we slept through much of the storm without worry. Those in the valleys had to be evacuated.

  • Re:Who cares... (Score:5, Informative)

    by chill (34294) on Monday August 29, 2011 @10:38PM (#37249484) Journal

    Get it thru your head. It isn't the Category, it is the rain.

    Read up on Hurricane Camille and what it did to Virginia [wikipedia.org] as a Tropical Storm. Not even a Category 1, and that was after going full inland from Mississippi, up and then over the Appalachian Mountains.

    You'd be awed at what a foot of rain, in mountainous terrain, over a period of about 4 hours will do.

  • Re:Who cares... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Torodung (31985) on Monday August 29, 2011 @11:13PM (#37249644) Journal

    This was still a nasty storm.

    No argument about that. That doesn't qualify it as an "evacuate NYC"-level of false alarm, however.

    You're right, but only in hindsight.

    Problem is, the time it takes to really "evacuate the island" is somewhat longer than the window of accurate forecast for this sort of storm. So basically, you don't know that it's going to fizzle when you're making the call. You just know that if you don't, and it doesn't, you're responsible for thousands of deaths, and you didn't give them the information that would let them choose between holding out, or fleeing.

    That's the government's job here, to provide the best recommendation for likely and possible, but not certain, worst cases. Even if it's a 20% likelihood. Not to spin a sugary story like this storm, (death toll: 38 as I post, btw), turned out to be.

    To give you an example of things not going well, we had a serious blizzard here in Chicago this past winter. Town hall did not close Lake Shore Drive, because it really didn't look like it was going to be a problem in the near term (several hours of safety were predicted). They decided to leave LSD open to get people away from downtown quickly before the worst hit. The thing blew a portion of Lake Michigan (as snow) onto the drive in a space of about 10 minutes. Basically, they had the right call, but then 10 minutes later, everyone on LSD was stranded and in danger of freezing to death. It was the damnedest thing I've ever seen.

    This happened because the storm was particularly large, not because it was necessarily intense.

    Now imagine that happens when millions of people are trying to clear out from a larger affected area, and the nature of the problem becomes apparent. In Chicago's case, 10 minutes later, after making a reasonable, responsible but ultimately wrong decision, they were hosed. Apologies all round. We pulled together and dug them out.

    What made this call was the size, not the intensity. There is more than one metric than wind speed at work here. There is moisture content, and radius, and tornadoes on the border. Even as a tropical storm, it deluged Vermont. Imagine if it had still been merely a Class 1 when it hit New York. That might have been a serious emergency. And historically, hurricanes like Irene [wikipedia.org] have ambled unpredictably up the East coast for centuries. It's not beyond the realm of imagination or even history. Any time something that big forms, no matter the current intensity of wind, which is capable of throwing large parts of the Atlantic onto Manhattan, you have to err on the side of caution. For the tunnels, evacuation routes may be flooded, which will then leave a lot of people stranded in traffic on suspension bridges in high winds. Manhattan is hard to clear once the festivities begin.

    This should give us pause to consider how hard it is to run a decent, rapid civil defense action on Manhattan. They're sitting ducks. If anything comes of it, we should realize and amend that so they don't have to make decisions like this so far beyond the window of reliable prediction. Not grouse about their lack of a Palantir to divine the will of nature.

    Until such time? They made the only decision they could. Individuals may choose to hold out, once the risk is firmly their choice and they have good information, but governmental bodies really and truly can't.

    Sorry if you were inconvenienced by the "mistake."

  • Re:CNN! (Score:2, Informative)

    by uvajed_ekil (914487) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @12:34AM (#37250044)
    Looks like you're admitting to being a real idiot if you live in a place that sees ridiculously destructive storms on a regular basis, and you're proud of your hurricanes. I nominate you for a Darwin award, in hopes of sparing the life of someone else who might be caught off guard or not expect a bad storm to be as powerful as they can be. They families of those killed by Irene, and those folks who live in areas that are traditionally much safer, are not so amused. Even something as "mild" as a tropical storm can wreak havoc on many areas, like what has happened in Vermont. Unprecedented destruction there. Get over yourself, and be thankful you've been so lucky sleeping through hurricanes, since you certainly haven't outwitted them.

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