Cyclone Road


Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The British tend to deliver a more unvarnished view of US news. As I emailed a friend of mine earlier, I think they see the writing on the wall that we can't bear to face.

This an excellent piece that appears in Slate. The writer is a native of New Orleans whose family has deep roots in the Crescent City. He talks about all the things he never had a chance to do. While my family didn't spend as much time there as his, and my parents lived outside the metropolitan area, I feel much the same. I love New Orleans and its people, and I'm sick to watch their suffering as that beautiful city slowly disappears in a lake of grime and debris.

I believe the headline that appears on the front page of Slate: "New Orleans as we knew it is gone." It won't come back. The time it will take to drain the city, clean the waste, and rebuild the infrastructure, is far too long for people to "wait around" to resume their lives. They will move away, find new jobs, or perhaps begin to improve large "tent cities" in the area.

I think many local and national officials know this, but it's not the time to say so. When they get the water out of the city--a task they must complete whatever the determination for the future--then it will be time to look at the money and the most sensible ways to spend it. We'll deal with reality at that point, and it will be more bad news for many residents, I'm afraid.

People with boats can now go and help personally. This note appeared in the WWL TV online blog:

"5:04 P.M. - Officials are asking anyone with a boat that wants to help with rescue operations to call 225-765-2706."

American Red Cross

Salvation Army

I want to make another pitch for these organizations. If you can donate $5, it will help a lot and it's as easy as ordering a book on Amazon. Easier, in fact.

We're looking at both the largest natural disaster in US history and the most acute refugee crisis. You can almost think of them as separate, monstrously unmanageable problems. What they have in common is that both will cost a tremendous amount of money.

The Red Cross and Salvation Army have incredible volunteers who are trained and ready to respond to these situations. They will probably bring volunteers from the entire nation to take up missions around the Gulf Coast, and their procedures and experience will save lives and alleviate suffering. We're very lucky in this great country to have well-oiled relief machines like these.

What these machines require to run is money. We're also very lucky that we can help so much by doing nothing more than clicking a few links, entering some information, and donating money electronically. That simple act will translate into targeted and efficient relief for people in desperate and terrifying situations.

You can make donations in someone's name, as a sort of gift, or in memory of people. I made a donation last night in the name of my parents, who lived in Slidell for many years. My parents have since passed away, but my father enjoyed his neighborhood friends who helped make his retirement more satisfying. My Mom worked downtown in the VA hospital and loved the people of New Orleans and their traditions, their humor, and their fierce loyalty of one of the world's greatest cities. I came to know many of my mother’s co-workers and you could not help but feel affection for people who loved life as they do.

Whatever reasons you can find to help, they need it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Tonight it looks as if New Orleans as we knew it is gone. I have paid close attention to estimates given by high-level officials on recovery time, and the numbers rise faster than the water currently pouring through the broken levee. This morning it was a few weeks, later in the day it was a month, then six weeks a little later. Now, the Mayor said that because of the levee failures and pump malfunctions, his estimate is 12 weeks. I think it's more likely that large areas of the city will be uninhabitable for more than a year. Most of the refugees will relocate and integrate themselves into other sections of the United States. I guess we will talk about New Orleans "before the flood" and "after."

Some people haven't had a chance to stay up-to-date with the Katrina story. Things changed dramatically today. Levees in New Orleans failed and the city's water level rose continuously throughout the day. Sections of the city that looked safe yesterday are now in 4, 5, and 6 feet of water, including the French Quarter and the Superdome. The Corps of Engineers launched a multi-pronged effort to seal the levee, but a few hours later they admitted their strategy had failed.

There are widespread reports of looting all over the city, and conditions inside the dome are said to be miserable, with a lack of water, food, and air conditioning.

The Governor of Louisiana ordered that all refugees in the Superdome and other shelters must be evacuated by boat or ship out of the city. The US Navy is sending several ships and maritime rescue resources, and FEMA is considering using cruise ships to load those stuck in the city center, where the water continues to rise.

The Mississippi River is flooding all along the valley, since Katrina continues to dump rain in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys.

About forty minutes ago, Mayor Nagin said that he expects the entire city to be underwater soon because the Corps of Engineers failed to stem the flow through the levee breach.


Salvation Army

American Red Cross

It's obvious this morning that we're witnessing, via live television, the most catastrophic natural disaster in US history. 80% of New Orleans is underwater. Several of the levee walls have been breached and water continues to pour into the city basin, filling areas that were previously dry. In fact, the video yesterday from the French Quarter showing dry and generally intact conditions was a huge false signal. What was happening around the Quarter--a very small neighborhood in the southern section of downtown--was rapid and devastating flooding, with major sections of Kenner, New Orleans East, and Slidell completely underwater. The Twin Span bridge between New Orleans and Slidell is completely destroyed. Hospitals in the city center are making evacuation plans because flood water is threatening their backup generators.

Further east along the Gulf Coast, the tragedy is beyond comprehension. Entire communities, like Bay St. Louis, Gulf Shores, large parts of Gulfport and Biloxi, are completely destroyed by wind and water. Thousands of homes and businesses are submerged. Katrina obliviated all structures built on the coast.

Tornadoes are tearing through communities in Mississippi and Georgia, some leaving what looks like F3 scale damage.

The human toll is beyond speculation. Hundreds or even thousands of people are trapped in their homes. They are locked in their attics and pounding on the roofs to alert rescuers. Some are ripping their way out with axes only to find their roofs surrounded by sea water rising at a rate of about an inch per hour. They wave shirts over their heads to alert rescuers. Nobody knows how many people are in this situation today. Drinking water will be the number one crisis within twenty four hours. Water treatment plants, like everything in the area, are swamped by seawater littered with debris, gasoline, oil, chemicals, and even snakes and alligators. Those facilities won't be online again for weeks or even months.

The only thing outsiders can do at this point is funnel money to the pre-existing rescue and relief organizations, like the Red Cross. I urge you to make a donation online for two or three times the amount you feel you can afford. If the website is down, you can call 1-800-HELP-NOW. Make no mistake, they will need the money. This is easily the costliest disaster in US history, and the Red Cross has never faced a situation of this magnitude.

The Salvation Army also needs help. Their number is 1-800-SAL-ARMY or their donation page is here.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Jeff Gammons reports that the areas of Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi that he and Chris Collura have observed this evening are “unrecognizable.” Jeff described the damage as catastrophic.

The Weathervine crew, including Jim Edds, stationed themselves late last night between Biloxi and Gulfport at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum and Convention Center. Their location on a sort of barrier island was within one mile of the shore. The convention center included a steel-reinforced parking garage several stories high, and a larger, fully enclosed coliseum structure as well as a hotel. Many other people also rode out the storm in this facility.

Jeff said that he witnessed storm surge more than thirty feet high, water that included debris such as cars, boats, yachts, gasoline, oil, debris from the casinos (including poker chips) and other material. Jeff said the surge arrived slowly at first, built gradually, and then, with the arrival of the eastern eyewall, increased dramatically with crashing walls of water and debris. The crew was forced to relocate their vehicles to higher ground several times. Many of the hotel guests pointed out their own cars floating in the water below, along with the seacraft.

I asked Jeff about the relative lack of video coming from that area and he said, “That’s because it’s completely catastrophic.” Jeff and Chris are attempting to locate an area with power and food. They are currently eastbound on Interstate 10 approaching Pensacola. Jim Edds remained in Mississippi.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Eric and I observed two supercells around Enid, Oklahoma yesterday. The first storm was the southern cell of a pair and produced an extremely brief funnel that we saw from a distance. This was north of Orienta around McWillie. We had noted a lowering alongside the rainshaft for several minutes, and were talking about it when, in an instant, a slender funnel appeared. In the time it took for me to reach in the backseat, grab my camcorder, open the shutter guard, and begin recording, the funnel dissipated. Within five minutes, the structure disorganized rapidly. We don't believe this funnel touched the ground.

The second storm was southeast of Enid around forty minutes later. This one showed a fair couplet on the velocity scan but we were behind it at that time. I've read that it showed a TVS signature as well. When we arrived in a decent viewing position near Covington on SR 74, there wasn't much to see. We experienced a heat burst and witnessed some interesting striations and strong rotation in an elevated updraft base.

For a one day August chase, I was happy for a few decent, isolated storms in a very marginal setup.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I'm surprised to report that I'll be chasing tomorrow. Setup for southern Kansas looks pretty fair, with a front in place in an area that should see numerous outflow boundaries from current convection, marginal deep layer shear and slightly above average 0-1k SRH. With around 3000 j/kg of CAPE, the right storm could do something briefly if it finds a boundary. Storms should quickly transition to HP then cluster for what could be a nasty MCS before all is said and done. We leave early in the morning.

I'm about as prepared to go stormchasing right now as I am to raise chickens in the backyard, but the possibility for supercells and maybe more has presented itself here in late August. With a few days before I start teaching three classes three days a week, it's hard to ignore.

I'm still working through this, but a few things about tomorrow in Kansas caught my attention after I saw the slight risk on the SWODY2. I haven't finished my process here so I'm sure the fatal flaw is yet to be revealed.

However, midlevel flow is progged around 20-25 knots out of the west southwest, with SR anvil level winds around 25-30 knots on the western periphery of central and south central Kansas. Deep layer shear isn't great, but some 0-1k turning and a modest LLJ yield SRH values ~100-150 m2/s2. These are interesting because it appears possible
storms will fire in and around outflow boundaries generated by convection from earlier in the day, or which may be still ongoing per the newest SWODY2.

In addition, the current weak surface front currently stationary over southern KS (see backed flow on sfc chart) should still be hanging around.
As for that convection, the 40km NAM moves the rain shield well east of a potential target region by 21z. I think there's a chance that an outflow boundary could spend some time in the sun prior to later, more isolated thunderstorm development.

There are plenty of problems, like increasing cap strength and subsidence in the wake of the earlier disturbance. But moisture and instability are not a problem, and the shear values are interesting for August.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Turns out I'm much pickier than expected about furnishing the house. The biggest problem is that I don't really know how to buy furniture. The last time I spent real money on a living room suite, the choices came easily--I bought the best of the few items I could afford. I can afford more now, and I'm trying to buy stuff that will last a while. At the moment, I have a couch in the living room, and a recliner on the way, both of which I like a lot. The library is empty but for the books and bookshelves. I know I want some kind of loveseat and chair in there, and the salespeople are pushing a loveseat/sleeper thing. If I put a sleeper in this house then I could remove the spare bed which is gobbling up a disproportionate share of this office, but adding another room to my calculus really makes my head spin. Man, I should definitely have gotten married by now. I need a second opinion on just about everything.

My big project tonight is arranging all my books by subject then alphabetically. This may not sound like much, but with probably close to 1000 volumes, it's no joke. I won't finish before Wednesday.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Tonight marks my third week back in Denton. I'm lucky that my job doesn't begin for another two weeks, so I've had plenty of time to adjust and settle into the new house. Most people go through this process while starting a new job, and the unpacking and rearranging takes far more time. I went through that in Florida in 1996 when it took months before the last box was banished from the property.

Today I caught up on email and reviewed a few stories for some writer-friends of mine, both of whom are promising young fictioneers. One has a novel being placed currently and the other took Indiana's top third-year MFA scholarship. An advantage of being outside the workshop is that you only have to read and critique good work. I'm also carrying a novel around from room to room with me, Buddha Da by Scottish writer Anne Donovan. This is Donovan's first novel, about a blue collar Glasgow family in which the father begins to investigate Buddhism, and it's a strong first effort thus far. Donovan was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Whitbread First Novel award.

I'm trying to work my way back into a reading and writing lifestyle, but it's proving tough with a comfy new couch out there, cable television (which I haven't had in almost one year) and a sound system that I can finally take advantage of without upstairs neighbors. The truth is that I feel like a couch potato suddenly. I have a plan to break the routine tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I've decided to put the storm chasing DVD on hold indefinitely. The bottom line is that I don't have the motivation to finish my chase reports, for whatever reason, so a video project is out of the question. There's two weeks until school starts and I can't spend them in here wrestling with some obscure video editing software. It's just not important to me. I'll make some small highlight reel for private gatherings and that sort of thing.

The last round of chaser infightning left a bitter taste and I think it will be some time before I seek out other stormchasers online or ask them to buy something of mine. No loss on either side--I didn't buy many tapes and few chasers bought mine. I think the best way for me to regard my documentation of storms is the way I did when I started: videotaping for myself and my friends without concern for marketability or suitability or anything else. I'll remove the advertising page later this week and change the lead image.

In other news, I have ended my longtime association with Stormtrack, which dates back to my first article submission in 1999. The online forum is going a direction I can't follow. I thought the Core concept was the last best hope to keep ST relevant and vital to more experienced chasers, but that idea was shelved when protests came from newer members, some of whom had been on the forum for less than six weeks, or were not chasers at all. A few big-name chasers weighed in against the idea as well, though their motivations were unclear. Now Stormtrack has multiple flame wars ongoing about membership requirements and other details. It's a relief not to be involved. My ideas, which were wildly unpopular, will definitely not be missed. The feeling is mutual.

More important than chasing or chasers, my furniture comes tomorrow! I'm excited about the first new pieces of seating I've bought in nearly ten years. The house will really take shape with the new sofa, chair, and coffee table in the living room. The library gets the love seat and the older coffee table. Once those are in place, I'll hang the pictures and declare the place finished.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Well, the great ST debate is over. The Core has been removed, the forum names have been changed, and management issued a stern reminder that everybody should follow the guidelines. Frankly, I'm relieved. Anything that helps me spend less time at this computer is welcome!

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